Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Damned

She can’t recall how she got there but she found herself one day torn between the devil and the deep blue sea; and it was the worst kind of nightmare because she can’t make up her mind whether to choose the devil or to choose the deep blue sea. She knew that she’d be damned if she chose the devil; and dead, if she chose the deep blue sea; so this heightened her difficulty, so that instead of choosing the devil over the deep blue sea or the deep blue sea over the devil, she hang suspended for quite a time, still trying her best to decide. It was so difficult. She wished she did not have to choose at all between the devil and the deep blue sea; she wished she were free. She wished there were no devil and she wished there were no deep blue seas but there she was, suspended between the devil and the deep blue sea, still trying hard to decide.She thought: what if there were only devils and no deep blue seas? Or, what if there were only deep blue seas and no devil? She found this unimaginable! But then, she thought, if there were only deep blue seas and no devil, then, she would have to choose only between the deep blue sea and the deep blue sea, which was not a choice at all, because it would feel so arbitrary; or if there were no deep blue seas, and only devils, she only had to choose between a devil and a devil, which she found so horrifying, she thought it was better to hang in there, suspended between the devil and the deep blue sea because at least, she had a choice! She can make up her mind between the devil and the deep blue sea; she can choose the deep blue sea over the devil or the devil over the deep blue sea. But still she wished she didn’t have to make such a choice, she wished such a choice were not this difficult, she wished she could escape from the devil and the deep blue sea, she wished there were no devil nor deep blue sea but there they were before her, both the devil and the deep blue sea, tearing her apart, pressing her to choose one over the other.She knew that if she chose the devil, she would feel so bad she would wish she had chosen the deep blue sea; and if she chose the deep blue sea, it would be so bad she’d wish she had chosen the devil. She thought the devil must be the deep blue sea or the deep blue sea the devil--but still. She would have to choose. Between the devil and the deep blue sea. She might choose the deep blue sea over the devil. Or, the devil over the deep blue sea. No, she had to choose the devil. Perhaps, the deep blue sea. No, it has to be the devil. No. The deep blue sea. The devil. The deep blue sea. The devil. The deep blue sea.No.Thedevil.Thedeepblueseathedevilthedeepblueseadevilbluesea.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Dork, the Pig!

(with honest-to-goodness apologies to the real pigs). Mga baboy ang mga lalaki. Men are pigs. They even neglect the children when they live under the same roof, how can you expect that guy to take care of a kid who is not with him? It was Sheilfa, her voice so calm and quiet; her face expressionless. But he promised, I said. Promised? You believed in a promise? We were inside that café at Humberto’s, which I liked because it reminded me of Umberto, the writer whose stories had a lot of communists, anarchists, Italian fighters, monks and lunatics scattered all about. Sheilfa was sipping avocado shake, and I was crunching under my teeth what tasted like raw peanuts from my salad when I said out of the blue that I still wanted to exact justice from the Dork. Sheilfa regarded me just enough to get the idea who the Dork was. Then, I gained enough courage to say that aside from wanting justice, I also wanted to get back at the Dork a little. I was, in fact, thinking about a machine inside one of the torture chambers in the Tower of London, used to exact confessions from the reformist movement gaining grounds during the time of Henry VIII, King of England. I wish to God the Dork will be fitted into such a machine so that such a machine, symbol of ancient cruelty, will finally serve its purpose. I believed the Dork, not the early Reformists, deserved to be there. For what did the Dork do to me after all? Yes, I said to Sheilfa, I also want to maybe, hurt the Dork a little. How? Sheilfa asked. You could not probably hurt someone who never had a sense of having hurt somebody in the first place? I was stunned because she was right. My mouth hung open for a few seconds. So, you’re saying, there is absolutely no way for me to exact justice? (Note: I did not say revenge). It was about 1 o’clock and the café was not crowded but the men next to our table started turning their heads to us. I’m sorry to say, Sheilfa said. Am I cruel? No justice in this world? I asked again, just to make sure I heard it right. From Sheilfa. Uh-humm. Sheilfa said, shaking her head. No, she said. Am I cruel? she asked. I looked at her and then out the huge window next to our table. The street outside was deserted. Directly across, stood a shabby building, its stone foundation slowly weakened by moss. No matter how I wanted to believe her, the proofs were already showing. Wood rots after the passage of time. Even rocks, too, will soften and crumble. The Dork will also rot inside him, will rot so bad he will slowly be eaten by maggots even while he was still alive. I'm sending him the first maggots now. Take it from me, Dork! I will eagerly await the fall of the Dork.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

When I think about Mother

No, we cannot blame our Mothers for the sins of Patriarchy. But why, oh, why hadn’t Mother given me a warning, at least; or, a hint that something was wrong? She was a good woman, a tough one, even if, seeing her close you can sense about her something that is fragile and delicate, although you can’t exactly point out what that is. We first learned from her our English Grammar, Reading and her beautiful handwriting, complete with all the loops and ears, which never failed to impress people. But how could she have failed to warn us? How could she have missed out on the most important things in the girl’s life? Did she expect us to figure out for ourselves, before it was too late, the position that society and culture assigned to us? Did she ever consider that figuring out might take a long time and that we might not be able to do it until it was too late? Or did she ever fail to get the whole picture? Has she completely inhabited men’s minds and men’s structures she had totally blinded herself to them, she could no longer see how they were killing her and how, sooner or later, they would also be killing her daughters and her daughters’ daughters? She was a woman used to being obeyed. When you see her taking off her thick eyeglasses to wipe dry her sweaty nose and put it back again to peer into something to read, you always get the impression she was a woman in control, even if she might not be showing it. She had a way of defying Father, without making him feel he was already being defied, the rug pulled down under his feet without his feeling it. That was Mother’s secret, her extraordinarily ability. Her decisions always made sense to us. She preferred food and books first, before frivolous dresses. (Although I remember now, there were really not many books when I was growing up at home except for her public school textbooks!) She preferred a small, happy house to a luxurious one; although the latter was not really within her choice. She scoffed at people’s penchant for jewellery that her vanity rested on the fact that she never wore one herself. She knew, as most women knew, the difference between need and whimsy. We used to get the impression that she believed in the strength of women; that she fought for our education because she believed in our worth and that she believed in her secret way in the equality of the sexes. But why, oh, why, did she forget to tell us life for a woman would be anything like this? Why did she forget to teach us to love ourselves as women before everything else? Why didn't she teach us to be selfish instead of teaching us very early in life eternal self-denial? Why did she forget to teach us about the primacy of economic power? Was she so afraid or desperate she made up her mind to just leave everything to chances and decided not to talk about it? Did she expect us to just fit into the mold, no matter how square, stupid, unjust and unreasonable, whether we like it or not? Did she perceive the various and subtle workings of women’s subjection to men and their structures? How did she feel about those structures? Did she nurse a burning desire to tear them down or raze them to the ground. Or, did she feel helpless, sad, angry or depressed? Did she feel anything at all? Did she love us enough to warn us against our impending doom or perhaps, to find a way of escape? But why, oh, why, did she leave us alone?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tsa Elim

I am seething with an ancient anger, an anger which had a beginning but had no end. It started at Tsa Elim, one of the old, decrepit commercial buildings that made up a whole bloc of establishments owned by Chinese merchants in front of an ancient university in downtown Cebu. The building housed on its third floor a student dormitory called exactly by that name. The building, itself, was rundown: paint flaking off its dirty walls; dark, musty corners smelling of cockroaches and disinfectant; rusty frame of windows squeaky with age and neglect. It had a landlady that reminded me of Nikolaevna Tereshvoka (whoever she was!) because she had pointy nose; thin, pouty lips; dry unkempt hair; and beneath the soot and grime of her unwashed face, a hint of fairness and unusual beauty. Her real name was Madam. She had a way of transforming the soft vowels into hard. Ilibin, she would say, when I asked her what time the canteen would open. Her green printed dress looked like it had never been washed for years; the brown stains and ugly blotches cluttering its faded green print design. But never mind. My anger had nothing to do with her. She was only doing her job collecting the P1,600 rent for a bed space every month from us. At first, I was accommodated in the third room of Phase One, the long row of rooms connected by the long corridor in the first wing of the building. Our windows looked out to Phase Two, which had windows and rooms exactly like our own. We slept on double-deck beds, two double-decks to a room good for four students. Each room had a built-in bathroom that never worked. Every night, a janitor ensures that the electric pump carries the water from a faucet on the groundfloor to a huge open tub where the students took their water for washing. It had hints of cockroach wastes settling at the bottom. The Janitor, wearing old tattered shirt and a pair of porontong, saw to it that the electric pump continued to groan the whole night because the maddening sound brought along with it the assurance that there would be enough water for bathing before classes started in the morning. Curious horde of students arrived from different parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, each horde looking like they came from different versions of Mars. The skinny freshmen from San Carlos city would pass me by the corridor, refusing to speak or to make eye contacts; the affable guy from Iligan named Jojo Palangan; the sweet mestizas from Cagayan de Oro, but looking back now, my fondest memories always went to a group of Maranaos and Tausugs in one room, their bright Maranao carpets prominently displayed, their dark tapestries hung on the wall. They knew loyalty and friendship. They would always fight and die for you once they consider you their friend, a trait I could only fully appreciate now. The year was the tail end of the 80s. Jane, a classmate who would later become a policewoman, had trained in Karate on the third floor of the adjacent building. Feeling like a cold war detective in a spy thriller that caught the imagination of some people in this period, I would clandestinely meet a group of political science students in another building called Raja Humabon a good one block away and we would secretly take the elevator to the seventh floor to lay out the campaign strategy for the next day’s student body election. Jane was crazy about Karate and Bruce Lee and Cindy Lauper and joining the movies. I had signed a waiver never to join a protest action while on campus. It was the beginning, not the end of my suffering; the Alpha and the Omega of my crucifixion; a struggle that could last a lifetime. My story started at Tsa Elim. It was quite a long story. I don’t know how to begin.