By Conrado A. Macapulay Jr.
“Do you smell something?”
“Smell something like what?” she replied.
“It smells like a dead animal.”
Suddenly, she turned nonchalant, continuing to brush a dirt-free sink while I scorn the foul odor that smothers me.
“Perhaps Quentin Tarantino has rented our neighbor’s abandoned mansion, and Oh! I also see Mr. Pinhead making rounds in there. Hostel merging with Hellraiser, a sure hit to the gores and morbids,” I joked as I watch our neighbor’s weeded backyards.
I turned again to her. Now she is staring at space, as if she was lost.
“I said it smells like a dead animal.”
She put down the scrub and locked herself in the comfort room. Seconds later, the unpleasant odor was completely gone.
“Are you okay?”
“Don’t worry. I’m alright,” she answered.
I thought she only did vomit, but the splash of water inside the comfort room tells me that she is already taking a shower.
I understand. Our parents raised Margaret like a princess. She could not even stand the smell of a fermented fish. She is my exact opposite, and our parents had thought of it ever since they caught me eating up my own shit when I was a toddler.
But ever since I returned home from a petroleum exploration project, she became inconsistent with her vanity.
“So Pare, what’s wrong with the machine?”
“Nothing sort of a really serious problem except that you have to get me a drink because I’m really fucking thirsty,” Paco, my high school classmate and an auto-mechanic.
“Okay, I’ll get you one.”
I broke through our front door, just as Margaret passed me by.
“Hey! You’re done. If I am a meat inspector, I’m going to mark your forehead 99.9% germ-free,” I teased.
“Good thing you’re not!” Margaret glowered at me.
When I left Margaret in the living room, she was staring mad outside. Perhaps she was watching Paco doing his messy stuff.
“Oh no, not again,” I muttered.
Truth is, Margaret does not only hate the scent of grease and machine tools, but also the mere sight of it.
Truth is, we have a heated argument about it a week ago. She banged the main door when I was about to sneak in. “Unless you’re wearing a clean shirt, you can only enter using the backdoor!” her irate pronouncements.
When she let me barged into the house using the main door despite of my ruggedness this time, I thought I was relieved of her. But seconds later, I heard the main door banged again.
“I’m sorry if I disgust you but that’s too much! You’re over-reacting,” I bristled as I gaze through her guilt-ridden eyes. She was somewhat frightened. Margaret ran upstairs and locked herself in her room when Paco called me up.
“Pare, it’s fixed. You can now use it again,” Paco cheered as I hand him a chilled can of cola.
“Did my sister talked to you?” I asked him.
“No. I was alone here rummaging this machine. Why?” Paco said.
“Nothing.” I replied.
“Okay. I’m going to leave. If problems persist, I’m just a text away. Wait, where’s my towel?” Paco asked after emptying the can of cola.
“I will not spend money for facial treatments only to use a filthy cloth,” I answered in defense.
“Of course you’re joking, ha,ha,ha. Anyway it’s only a towel, I have to go,” Paco said.
“Better find it in your tool boxes,” I growled after Paco bid goodbye.
“I’ll cook for lunch!” I told Margaret expressing my initiative to do something which I really missed after living a pseudo-bourgeois independent city lifestyle for years. I scoured for the contents of the freezer, only to find nothing in there.
“I saw some frozen meat in here before I left for a drinking-spree last night. What happened to it?” I asked Margaret. She was astounded.
“Aahm…after you left the house, I felt like two triceratops were doing the mambo on my stomach, so I decided to fry it all. However, I cooked it very bad that I have to dispose it off immediately,” she answered.
“Frugal woman!” I said in a tone completely devoid of mirth. I get my black cap, wear it, and check my wallet in my knapsack.
“Where are you going?”
“I like to cook, but I have to buy the ingredients first.”
“Okay, I’ll go with you!” she zestfully said.
“Are you sure? I’m going to a wet market, iha?” I emphasized.
“Yes I’m sure, and I’m ready.”
It’s weird, but as a Keane song suggests, everybody is changing. My cellphone rang when we are about to leave. It was a call from Iago, another high school best buddy.
“Pare, did I left my eyeglass when I came to see you the other night? It has a black frame with rectangular shades,” he asked.
“I haven’t seen any, but I’ll inform you immediately if I saw it.”
Margaret stared at me, very strangely.
First, there is the shuffling of agitated feet of men carrying heavy loads of frozen marlins. Then, there is a skirmish of thunderous voices to win a potential buyer. I remember when I was a child I used to complain to my mother how these people bump and step on my feet without uttering an apology. And how can I forget this fat lady who, without a word, would splash water as if she is suggesting her customers to take a shower with her fishes. But before I realized it, I already felt that cold water on my cheeks courtesy of a fat lady. Damn it! She was still alive, and she never changed. But it’s forgivable; after all I am in a typical Philippine wet market where respect is not necessary.
But where is Margaret?
She was staring mad to a brawny meat chopper of my age who I must say would qualify as an underwear model. It was Cadoy, whom I traded my spiders when we were kids.
“Are you going to buy?” Cadoy asked my sister who I think was in trance.
I ran to my sister. “Don’t tell me you’re going to brag him because of his messy stuff…” I mordantly asked my sister.
“No, I was thinking of a meal. Just buy a kilo of sirloin for dinuguan,” she requested me. I did. But when Cadoy handed me the goods, she demanded another bag of pork blood.
“And what’s that extra blood for?’
“None of your business!” she said. Then she was in a hurry finding her way out of the filthy place.
A strange clatter woke me from deep slumber. I became increasingly fidgety as the sound grew louder, as if somebody has barged into the house to ransack valuables. I get my baseball bat and headed to the kitchen, where the sound is coming.
As I drew near the kitchen, I heard a woman speaking in a velvety voice. I hid in the kitchen curtain and peeped.
It was Margaret.
“Who would have thought we’ll all be in the same old roof tonight? All of you will never dare to leave me again, yearning for this,” she enthused as she pulls off the strap of her short night gown, which eventually fell on the floor. Then she placed a box in the table just enough to be illuminated by the lamp post outside.
She started revealing its content. First, she took out a black framed eyeglass with rectangular shades.
“I waited you to dance me in the prom night, but you didn’t. Now, you will never have qualms to dance me because tonight, I am the best thing of beauty you could ever have,” Margaret mumbled as she sways her body with the object.
She placed the eyeglass inside the box and frantically took out a towel full of dark grease.
“Aaah, you sweat…very manly. Now you will sweat more for me because I am the best thing of beauty you could ever have,” she said in a fetish tone, squinting in the inanimate object. She rubbed it passionately in her body. Afterwards, she hung it in her shoulders and paused for a moment. Then she opened the refrigerator and took out a plastic bag with pork blood.
“You too are very manly, hard and still, a fortress that will protect me from any surging danger. But we can never be, because you wedded her,” she said, sobbing.
“But tonight, I will be your mistress, for I am the best thing of beauty all of you could ever have,” her breathy voice declared as she pour out the blood of a dead animal all over her.
Feverishly, she reached for other things inside the box, screaming out names which are all familiar to me. She would place the objects in her lips, passionately caressing it in her elbow, chest, between the thighs.
Until she moan.
“Still smell something like a dead animal?” Margaret, brushing a dirt-free sink, asked me the question I dared not to ask this morning.
“We might have purchased a product of a double-dead animal. I disposed the pork blood awhile ago,” she explained, although I’m not asking for it.
“I heard it in the news, and so did you. You’re not apathetic, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I answered cheerfully.
The door bell rang. Sluggishly, I opened the door. It was Donnie, our neighbor and Margaret’s high school batchmate.
“Kuya, have you seen my basketball which I accidentally dropped in your backyard early this morning?” the towering teen asked. I looked to Margaret. She returned a biting stare, and then ran towards the bathroom.
(Contribution for Literary folio)
He was there, lurking in the darkest pitch of coagulated blood that supplies the freshest offers of life. His resounding heartbeat signifies his immense propensity towards grasping life like no one did. He surely loves to live.
He was there, stretching those tiny emaciated legs in what his mother felt like a little kick in her stomach. Those infantile legs could perhaps belong to a great athlete someday, someone who could be a source of pride and honor of his country many years hence. But it wouldn’t be long enough when he would be taking his first few steps, and soon he would be playing with other kids in nearby playgrounds, go biking with his brothers and friends, and stroll in famous theme parks.
Soon, he would be hopping in to his country’s unchartered islands and swim in its unexplored depths. He could be a warrior of the wild, penetrating the jungles to take care of the extinct animals. At night, he would be hearing a chorale of crickets while being chased by a throng of fireflies. All things bright and beautiful, so goes the famous children’s poem that he would be whispering as he takes a grasp on the beauty of the world that awaits him.
Most of all, he could use those legs to walk for school and learn all things he needs to survive. He would be having the most of it, while he wanders around the classroom, mingle with his classmates, and be loved by everybody for his innate kindness.
The unborn aspires to be the most useful citizen of his country.
As a boy, he could help his mother clean the backyards and water the plants. He could help his father fix the broken shingles and scrub the cedar sidings. He could pick up those candy wrappers on the streets and throw them in the garbage everytime he sees one. At night, he could read his favorite books and study his lessons.
As he grow up, he could find a good paying job that best suits his interests and skills, so that he could pay his taxes and vote for the rightful public official who will craft laws he would obey without hesitation.
Perhaps he could be that public servant to emulate or a philanthropist who would always reach out to those who are shackled in extreme poverty.
Perhaps he could be a chemical engineer, turning raw materials into useful products, so that he could build an industry and provide jobs for his fellowmen.
Or perhaps he could be a writer.
First, he would be a student journalist, who breathes life into words that cause ripples to stir in the placid lives of his fellow students, crumbling the towers of apathy. Then he progresses into a prolific writer, who would sent those string-puppet tyrants shivering in their toilet thrones everytime his felt-tip pen inscribes truth.
Yes, the unborn was there, yearning for things he wishes might be, brooding for malevolent things he wishes might never be.
Ssshh…listen. He is telling a story.
Often times, the unborn would hear, not only the screeching sounds of his mother’s growling stomach, but also her urgent tones whenever she demands her husband’s meager salary. Although the sounds might only appear to him gibberish, he could fully sense its meaning. He could foretell what will happen next.
And he was right. His mother would muster up all her strength to owe at least a kilo of rice and a can of sardines from nearby stores. He would always hear the ranting of the store owner, who, instead of handling the commodities, would brag about their long list of debts.
Debts, the unborn wondered, would probably be passed on to him the time he was born. Little did he know that aside from those that are already jotted down on his family’s
debt list, he will automatically incur P43,649.57 amount of debt courtesy of his country’s external debts.
Back to their shanty, he would hear the cries of his hungry young siblings.
From somewhere in his subconscious depths, the unborn remembered the word rice. Everybody was talking about it. He would hear it from his siblings’ cravings. He would hear it from a talking machine that describes the long lines of people buying it in cheaper price, since the price of its commercial version escalates with the price of oil. He would hear his neighbors forcing their kids to fall in line and bear the scorching heat of the sun, so that they could purchase more kilos.
Having twelve out-of-school siblings, the unborn thought, his family has an advantage in the situation. Yes, if they got the bucks. However, they don’t have any. And for their altanghap (breakfast, lunch and supper combined), they would be feasting, not on rice, but on crackers – their daily makeshift meal.
Ssshh…listen. He is scared
Often times, he would hear his mother expressing her regrets for another pregnancy, blaming his father for using the same condom that broke in attrition on one of their intercourse. His conception was unplanned, and he is now bearing that obnoxious feeling his mother carries throughout her pregnancy.
His heartbeat grew increasingly fidgety, as he envisions that horrendous scenario of scattered medical tools while a quack doctor pricks his soft baby scalp with large needles, draining all the life in him.
No, he will not die in the hands of an abortionist because before it happened, the lethal brew of myriad of microbes was already consuming his helpless body, an indictment of his mother’s lack of access to health services.
Ssshh…listen. Listen if you have ears. He asks for help.
And if the unborn could only speak…
He would demand for his mother’s reproductive health. His mother is in dire need of prompt treatment and adequate education on safe motherhood, so that he would survive that nine crucial months alive and healthy, a bubbly cuddle in his mother’s arms.
He would demand for the upholding of his mother’s right as a woman who plays a crucial role in the development of every society. It is a fact that when a woman receives better care, education and equal opportunities, her children will grow into better individuals. Eventually, it leads to the enrichment of the society where individuals enjoy greater rights.
He would demand for a good paying job for his father because he knows that they would be forever shackled in extreme poverty if they will only rely on government subsidies, which only serves as an immediate solution to a public enraged of unabated commodity price hike. Such mechanism, which experts called economic populism, is not the very idea of sustainable development that every growing nation sought for.
He would demand his parents of family planning and responsible parenthood, which are very essential in raising a family where every member is ensured of enough resources to prosper and thrive. Family planning, as a right, gives every couple an opportunity to choose the number, timing and spacing of their children. It is an indispensable tool to destroy the bad cycles of poverty and to eliminate all of the misguided policies that promote only natural methods of family planning, which in the long haul might pose serious problems on food security, environmental, social, and political stability.
Finally, he would call for a conviction that will secure a brighter future for every unborn like him, a conviction that will protect their ambitions from the vicious fangs of poverty, so that he could live out all his aspirations in life, fully human, fully alive.
He is calling for a conviction for upholding family planning as a right.
Ssshh…listen. He needs you.■
1st Place, 1st UNFPA World Population Day National Essay Writing Contest, July 10, 2008, Edsa Shangri-La Hotel
Juxtapose with the heated issue on the National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE deal, rice crisis and the unabated oil price hike that resulted to a nationwide transport holiday is the reaffirmation of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) memorandum order No. 13 of 1998, all of which involved Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s executive decision.
The National Inflation Rate, which limits the tuition fee increase in the junked CHED memorandum order no. 14, describes the percentage of increase in the prices of commodities. Its removal equates to disservice to the Filipino students, forcing them to pay beyond what they should be paying as dictated by the national inflation rate. How could a Filipino student find salvation?
6:10 a.m. After a ten-minute soliloquy, I rushed to the C.R., took a 15-minute shower, got dressed in a mocha shirt with “When nobody hears you, shout! Let Your VOICE be heard.” print, and squeeze my all so that I would not miss the chance of meeting the Jedi.
10:00 a.m. La Salle Greenhills is a big school; we approached the guard with a panting breath. The guard, through his lips, point in the right direction to the conference room. We are approached by one of the organizers and a man in red shirt, who gave me the first question of the day. “What’s in your bag,” he asked. I giggled, adding that there are only two things inside a writer’s bag – a pen and lots of papers.
10:05 a.m. Entering the air-conditioned room, I was welcomed by the Jedi writing symbols in what I understood to be flowcharts.
The next minute is hard for me. In my attempt to capture the most striking quotes which will never be read in national papers, I can’t help but to compare myself to a medical transcriptionist, sweating for jotting words like “I am guided with right mindset and right attitude…” when suddenly the Jedi points at me, asking me a definition for responsibility. Dumbfounded, I said responsibility is conviction…without hesitation of the consequences (or shall I say towards a life, we can never regret). The Jedi asked my school, and I answered politely. “Responsibility is response-ability, the ability to response,” he continued. O.K. Forget about my answer.
When the Jedi emphasized he was not in the group calling for the President’s ouster, a deep silence ensued. Then questions from fellow campus writers came flooding in. One asked his reaction about a movie telling his life story. “I don’t think my life is interesting to be viewed as a movie” he said. I did not remember the other questions, but I heard him answering like “Trust and respect can never be applied, it was learned”; “Huwag kumilos dahil gugulo lang is an arrogant mindset, sinong ipapalit natin is an insulting mindset,”; “Election isn’t democracy”; “People Power is one of the greatest moment of Filipino people; don’t be tired of it, be tired of those who squandered it,”; “Huwag gamitin para sa sariling kapakanan ang ganansya ng People Power.” When someone raised question which asked if the president is evil, he said he wants to refrain commenting about her. I was bombarded with a myriad of undirected statements. I sighed.
11:45 a.m. “Majority of our readers are engineering students, any advice to the future engineers if ever they would be in the same shoes as you are?” I asked. He smiled. I never noted his contentions but I understand it was all about imbibing values in the practice. I admit I was never satisfied with the answer. Or was it just my question? No time. He ended up by saying “There are still lots of goodness in the Philippines…Marami pang Pilipino ang may likas na pagmamahal sa bayan.” Everybody drew near the Jedi, and suddenly the world was peppered with camera flash. The scene was inviting. In an instant, I saw myself beside the Jedi. Camera flash; and with his words etched in my spirit, I feel the freedom to go.
* ZTE NBN Scandal star witness Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr.