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This blog was created by a pool of aspiring writers planning to join the upcoming 2008 Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature. To keep busy, the authors are tasked to add at least 200 words per day to their entries. Please feel free to comment on any of the drafts posted.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Agency


First half ...

Agency

    "How long have you been writing?" Fernandez asked.
    "I've worked as a press release writer for KM for almost two years," Bryan replied.     "I resigned last October"
    "KM, the PR agency?"
    "Yes. But I've made contributions to the school publication back in high school and college. And some freelance work here and there."
    "What kind of contributions?"
    "News articles. Feature write-ups. Short stories and poetry. Stuff."
    "Do you have any sample now? Of any freelance work, I mean."
    "It's there. The Love Satellites review."
    "I didn't know you were a contributor to the Indie Times. You know Jake?"
    "Yes. He's the one who usually coordinates with me."
    "Cool. I did some editing work for him last summer. I may have come across your articles then. But the ad agency takes up most of my time now."
    "He still contacts me from time to time."
    "Really? You get paid?"
    "For the last one — no."
    Fernandez laughed. "Anyway, I don't think I should do more of this interview stuff," he said. "I know your work anyhow. Here, let me just give you something to work on. An assignment, if you will."
    Fernandez stood up and walked towards the photocopy machine. A tall man in his mid-thirties, he moved with an easy gait. He wore his short hair blithely as if he didn't care much about hairstyle. He sported a maroon sweater over black denim pants that fit comfortably. Black sneakers nicely complemented his over-all garb.
    Bryan took advantage of the distraction and looked around. The conference room was not much. Ash-gray blinds shielded the glass window from the three o'clock sun. Old magazines lay piled in one corner, rolled tarpaulins parked in another. Beside the heap, a shelf stood containing books stacked haphazardly. Marketing books, advertising books, graphic design books. A large table varnished in evening brown lay in the middle of the room's carpeted floor while a rattan couch was placed beside the glass door. Through the transparent panel, he could see Fernandez finishing up and approaching the room.
    "Here. This is a creative brief for a client of ours. You should be able to get background information about the campaign. What you need to do is this: Give me at least three concepts or studies for a print ad copy. It's totally up to you what you want to do and how you want to present it. Just base your materials on the data at hand. Email it to that address there — I wrote it on the first page — before Friday. So you got about three days."
    "Before Friday," Bryan confirmed.
    "Yeah. And depending on what you can come up with — well, let me just see your work first and we'll go from there. Okay?"
    "Okay."
    Fernandez stood and shook Bryan's hand. "Will be waiting for your email," Fernandez said and motioned to the door.
    "Thanks," Bryan said and walked towards the front desk to retrieve his ID. While the receptionist was rummaging in her drawer for the ID, he took a careful look at the wall behind her. Emblazoned in gold, the sign displayed "P.M.C." in large, bold letters. Underneath, it read "Pendulum Marketing Communications." The receptionist found his ID and proffered it to him. He took it without a word and made it to the closing elevator just in time.

---

    Barely three months but it feels like more than a year already, Bryan thought to himself as he took a Coke and headed towards the table beside the glass window. He sat and buried himself on the sheets of paper strewn on the table. There were seven pages in all. The first two pages contained a printed email from one of the account managers in the agency. It contained detailed requirements for a flyer project. On the first paragraph, the words "top priority" were written in bold-red font, followed by bulleted sentences in varying degrees of misspell and contractions. Bryan had the message printed earlier that morning. He had already underlined the important parts and key words and had written quick notes on the margins.
    The other sheets on the table were mostly used documents he collected from the messy pile beside the big office printer. These were usually erroneously printed pages dumped beside the printer or old statements of account discarded by the Accounting department. Some of these were studies of ad designs. Bryan had five of these sheets in front of him. He took one and started writing notes on the flip side. He was already working on a few headline options when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
    "I've been looking for you," said a woman roughly his size and height.
    "Hi, Bench," Bryan greeted her. She was dressed in a black shirt with stylish corduroy sleeves. Her faded blue denim jeans had seen too many years but she managed to make it look cool, they hugged her slim, petite figure perfectly. She usually wore a lot of jewelry but this time she aimed for simplicity. Speck-sized silver earrings and an ethnic braided brown bracelet went along well with the bronze-colored crucifix necklace she was wearing. She was a bit relaxed with her hair — letting her bangs hang loose on her forehead, with longer locks casually draped over the sides of her small cheeks.
    "Have you been here long?" Bench asked.
    "Ten minutes, maybe fifteen. What's up?"
    "I've got an accounting question."
    Bryan laughed. "I'm not the accountant. I'm the copywriter, remember?" he replied. "Go ask Kyla."
    She smiled, took off her fawn jacket and sat on the vacant seat. "She's busy," she said, her head collapsing on the table. "Come on, you know this stuff."
    He laughed again.
    "You graduated with an accounting degree, right?" she asked.
    "Yeah, but I don't practice it, never did. I graduated more than five years ago. I'm not sure if I remember anything at all."
    "No shit."
    "What about you, Bench? Back in grade school, I remember you were always in the top of the class. We always thought you'd be running for president by now. But then nobody ever heard from you after graduation day. I mean, nobody even knew where you went to high school."
    "It was some private school in Pasay. I went back to Cebu after high school. I got into deejaying back in college and then I quit school. I honestly figured I could do well at NU. I never thought they'd shut down the Cebu station. Anyway, Noel's wife Anne, she was a close friend of mine from the broadcasting days, she asked me if I'm willing to try advertising."
    "How do you like handling accounts so far?"
    "Almost four years now. It's tough. You know how it is."
    "Not really. I'm still learning the ropes."
    "You'll be alright. I have a good feeling you'll be okay, Bry. Besides, things have been looking up since you came in. Fernandez used to do all the copywriting himself but he's the creative director, he's supposed to be doing something else. Which reminds me, how are we doing with the flyer copy?"
    "This is it."
    "It doesn't look good."
    "It will be by the time I collate all these. And you're hampering my progress."
    "Sucker," she replied before taking a quick glance at her mobile phone. "Shit, three missed calls from you know who. I have to get back." She stood up to retrieve her jacket and turned to Bryan. "Tell me when you're done and I'll cajole Ken into doing a few lay-out studies."
    "Okay."
    "See you around."
    Bryan nodded as Bench headed towards the exit door.

--

    The first three months had not been easy. True, he had done some extensive writing for KM but working as a press release writer for a PR agency pales in comparison to working as a copywriter for a small Cebu-based ad firm. When he got the job, Bryan had thought he'd be joining a company with an existing pool of veteran writers. How wrong he was. As the sole writer, he had to comply with every copywriting requirement that came up. In the first two weeks alone, he was already neck-deep in all sorts of copywriting requirements: three flyer studies for a national cable TV company; full brochure copy for a local real estate firm; 500-word advertorial for an international school; five-minute AVP script for a shipping company.
    And that was not all. He also had to help Wilma, the business development officer, with her power point presentations, letters of intent, sponsorship proposals, contracts and memoranda of agreement. In addition to that, Kyla often bugged him to draft a demand letter to accompany overdue statements of account. Even Noel was pressuring him to come up with a better concept for an official agency AVP and brochure. The existing materials had a theme revolving around the concept of bowling and Noel had asked Bryan to think of something more institutional, but at the same time "accessible." Truth was, Bryan never really understood what his managing director meant.
    He was close to being overwhelmed.
    Good thing Bench was around. She and Bryan had gone to the same grade school together and that connection became the basis for a quick friendship. She became the perfect foil for his personality. While he was normally taciturn, she was constantly in high gear — monologue-ing, firing anecdotes here and there, and sometimes even breaking into out-of-key renditions of The Lion King songs.
    Bryan was a bit of an introvert but he didn't mind the attention. He secretly wondered if Bench held a weird fascination for him. She had, on one occasion, mentioned that as a frustrated writer, she tended to have a trivial veneration for people who were good with words. At that time, he didn't take it seriously because she sounded like she was just fooling around.
    Nevertheless, he welcomed her company. Even when he realized that the grown-up version has deviated so greatly from the twelve-year old he used to know. What was once a student achiever who had led her class during flag ceremony was now a near-chain-smoking dynamo. What used to be a crybaby in the playground had now become a force to reckon with in the conference room.
    But he remained unfazed by these changes. Even when she had hinted to him that she was not straight, he wasn't as surprised as he thought he should be. In fact, he was quite ambivalent to her hints. Or he might have just been in denial, he had thought on later occasions. He found himself disturbed at this.
    What they both clearly had in common was an eclectic taste in pop culture. They shared a weakness for musical artists that ranged from the likes of Cornershop to Portishead, from Sonic Youth to Urge Overkill, from Brilliant Green to Sugarcubes, from Ani DiFranco to Zarah Smith. He introduced her to Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman, while she recommended he read Amy Hempel and Alice Munro. When they were waiting for brainstorming sessions to start, they often discussed the merits of Wong Kar Wai's movies, Yann Tiersen's discography and Kelly Link's literature.
    Amidst the relentless pace of advertising, many CDs and books were swapped, ideas were shared, fancies were indulged upon. He didn't want to admit it but he was close to conceding that he might not have endured those first few months without her company. All the same, he was beginning to feel comfortable with the frantic rhythm of agency work. He was beginning to feel comfortable with himself. He might have chosen the right path after all.

--

    Bryan was late for the six o'clock meeting. When he got to Noel's office, several people were already seated in front of the managing director's desk. Fernandez took the seat nearest to the table, Steve the art director sat next to him. Farther from the table sat the two account managers, Lisa and Ellie. Bench stood leaning by the glass window panel. He approached her and occupied the space beside her.
    Noel's office was the biggest room in the firm. The northern wall was one big glass panel where you can see the city skyline over various edifices in the Cebu Business Park. On two separate walls hung framed paintings done by the same local artist. Directly behind Noel's chair stood a glass cabinet which contained CDs from artists like The Cure, Belle and Sebastian, Sigur Ros and Tears For Fears. On the opposing wall stood a bigger glass cabinet containing Peter Drucker books, marketing textbooks, car magazines, software boxes and various models of miniature sports cars.
    Noel was fiddling with his cell phone when Bryan entered the room. He sat cross-legged on his leather chair, unconsciously turning his seat a few degrees left and right. He was dressed in a white collared shirt, half-tucked in dark blue street shorts. He wore a pair of black trainers and he was absent-mindedly twirling his left foot to and fro while he was busy with his cell phone. A few years past forty, the managing director always looked and acted younger than his age. But on that day, the managing director looked tired — his lethargy somehow filtering through his week-old haircut and perpetually clean-shaven face. Noel cleared his throat loudly.
    "Listen," he said. "The Adventure Caravan is moved earlier, October 20 to 24, according to their last email. That's three weeks from now." Silent expletives erupted throughout the room. He continued, "Bench, how are we doing with everything?"
    "I spoke to Dwayne last week," Bench replied while looking at her Goth nails. "He's forming the Mindanao second unit as we speak. But he can't get commitment from his people unless he gets a go ahead on the budget."
    "Do we already have a budget for his people?"
    "I emailed the costs to you last Thursday."
    "Where the hell is Kyla?" Noel asked, turning his head around the room.
    "Bank errand, sir," Lisa replied.
    "That was three hours ago. Where is she now?" Nobody replied. Noel cursed. "Are you sure you already emailed the costs to me, Bench?"
    "Yep. I'll email it again to you for your convenience. As for logistics, Ellie's doing most of that."
    Noel turned to Ellie. "I got it covered," said Ellie. "What about the Halloween Fashion Show?"
    "Shit," Noel muttered under his breath. He glanced towards the wall calendar and sighed.
    "Have Lisa handle it for the meantime," he instructed. Lisa sat dumb-founded.
    "Lisa can't do it on her own yet," Bench said.
    "I know. That's why you're helping her out," Noel said with finality.
    Fuck. Bryan heard Bench whisper.
    "Let's move on to the collaterals," Noel said to Fernandez. "Same bunch of materials last year but I need a new look on the event logo and give me a better-looking race manual this year. Last year's was embarrassing. Do we have a full event script?"
    "I sent Pam the second draft but she says she needs to review it again," Bryan called out weakly.
    "How come?"
    "She doesn't like that part where the teams chase after the ping pong balls in the river." Fernandez and Steve exchanged funny looks.
    "Then give her another set of options. Work on it for the remainder of the week," Noel said before standing up. "I think that's all. We're done here. Fernandez and Ellie, you two get ready to come with me in fifteen minutes. We're dining with the Millennium guys tonight at Marko's Grill."
    There was a collective scraping as the group stood up and started exiting single file out of Noel's office. Bryan was standing beside Steve when Bench caught up with him.
    "Need to talk to you about something," said Bench. "I'll be having a smoke downstairs. Meet me there."
    "I still need to finish something."
    "God, Bry, it's almost seven. Can it wait until tomorrow?"
    "It's Ellie's PR. Just need to tweak a few parts. Ten minutes tops."
    "Okay. I'll wait for you outside. Make it quick."
    "Okay."

--

    Bryan was the last person to step out of the packed elevator. He sauntered through the ground floor's marble-tiled reception hall and took a quick glance at the wall clock. 7:23 PM. Damn.
    She didn't see him descend from the condominium's front steps. She was facing eastwards, at the partially-finished skyway under construction at the corner of Escario Street and Archbishop Reyes Avenue, just a mere block away. She threw the used stick carelessly on the trash bin as Bryan approached.
    "You said ten minutes," said Bench.
    "Sorry, got hung up by Ellie," Bryan replied, "you know Ellie."
    "She can't touch you, Bry," she sniggered, "you're the copywriter, remember?"
    "I don't want to end up like Ken. You know what happened to him."
    "Bullshit. Ken deserved his suspension. You're not like him. Everyone knows that."
    "Tell that to Ellie."
    Bench murmured something as she took the last stick from her pack and lit it.             "You're already pushing seven months, right?" Bench asked.
    "Eight."
    "You like the work?"
    He shrugged. "It isn't easy but it sure isn't boring."
    "You really are at home in the firm now."
    Bryan smiled, detecting the faint sarcasm. "At least it isn't as hard as my last job," he said. "Back at the PR agency, I had to do everything. Now, I'm just busy with the writing. And I'm okay with that."
    Bench just nodded wordlessly.
    "What did you want to talk to me about?" Bryan asked.
    She didn't reply. Bryan shifted in his feet at the uneasy silence. "You want out," he said in realization.
    "Yeah," she was slow in replying.
    "That explains everything. The sudden irregularity of your attendance in the last two months."
    Bench laughed weakly.
    "Does Noel know?" Bryan asked.
    "I talked to him last June, actually. I told him I wanted to resign effective by the end of August. I didn't even cite some reason, just told him I want out. I told him two months notice should be enough for him to find a replacement or train Ellie to replace me. You know him, he wouldn't hear any of it. Well, I wasn't backing out of my decision, either. I told him out I'm out before September starts, period."
    "But you're still here."
    "Yeah, because Anne intervened. She asked me if I could stay for a while, at least until the Caravan is over. She said backing out would be a mistake because Noel was considering me for partnership in the agency. That's what they told Jong back in 2003 but it never happened. Lucky for him, he still got the Dubai job one year later. Besides, I've seen the books and the numbers don't look pretty. But I still said yes. The thing is, I owed Anne big time. She once did something important for me back in the days and I've never repaid her for it. I figured that if I do this for her, we'd be quits. I promised I'd stay until the end of the year. That's why I'm still here."
    "No shit."
    "But I'm not staying beyond November, that's for sure. Noel is already bugging me for updates on December and January deliverables and like hell I'm going to commit to those. If I do, I'm never getting out, never. That's why I need your help."
    "What?"
    "From here on, Noel isn't going to listen to any bullshit from me, about changing my mind on the deal and leaving the agency. Hell, I could even tell him that I got a job waiting for me in Houston but he's not going to buy it, I know he won't. I need a better reason, a different ticket out. And this is where you come in."
    "You want me to think of a reason for you?"
    "No, Bry. Listen, everyone in the office knows we get along really great with each other. You know me, I've had rows with Ellie, Ken, Kyla and even Noel. But I've never had a quarrel with you, not only because you're such a nice guy but because you're actually pretty cool. Now, what if we give them the idea that we got something going on that's more than just the usual we're-just-buds shtick? You know what I mean, right?"
    "But you're not into guys — "
    "I know, I know. But none of the office people know that except you. Listen, what if we give them the idea that I've gone AWOL because we've had an affair that went sour?"
    "My God, Bench," Bryan muttered, shaking his head, "you've lost your mind."


Posted at 04:25 pm by iampaperbag
Comments (4)  

Agency


Second half ...

    The plan was simple. A week or two before the Adventure Caravan, Bench would start to act distant towards Bryan. She would refuse to hang around with him during mid-afternoon snack breaks. She would stay away from his workstation on the days leading to end of October. This would give everybody hints that Bench was in fact trying to avoid him. Of course, he had reminded her that not everybody would detect the signs at first. True, with the extremely busy days ahead, anybody could guess Bench would have plenty of things to do and wouldn't have any spare time left to loiter in the Creatives' department. She would display a complete reversal of the day-to-day persona her officemates were used to seeing — a persona characterized by aberrant silence and almost infectious lethargy.
    Still, Bryan worried that convincing the office people this way was kind of a long shot. Obviously, everybody would be pretty busy too in the days to come and it would be highly unlikely for them to catch in on what's going between Bench and him. He had told Bench about this and she said not to worry — she'll just have to find a way to expedite the process by engineering a "leak," through the one person who is likely to be believed, the one person who is sure to spread the message, the best word-of-mouth conduit in the entire agency — Ellie. Of course, the "leak" will have to happen in a week or so after the Adventure Caravan and Halloween Fashion have wrapped up. Doing so earlier would be overkill.
    Despite his uneasiness, Bryan had marveled at her cleverness at the same time spooked by her guts. He still couldn't believe that she would really push through with it. And the worse thing was, Bryan had agreed to it. He could have said no. Now he was kicking himself because he didn't.
    Truth of the matter was, he was scared. He was never comfortable with getting away with any fib. He had told Bench that he was never good with things like these. She had told him to grow up. Besides, she had insisted, Bryan won't have to do anything. It would be up to her to do the pretending. Technically, she would be the only one doing the lying. All Bryan had to do was be himself. The only reason she had told Bryan about the whole plan was because she didn't want Bryan to think she really was giving him the big cold shoulder. She said it was a "matter of courtesy" for their friendship. She said it would be unfair to him if she left him high and dry.
Bryan wanted to find comfort in Bench's words. He couldn't find any.

--

    She was true to her word. Since the second week of October, she was never seen hanging around with Bryan. When there came a need to brief Bryan about a certain new project for an account Bench was handling, she would easily find a way to let Ellie or Lisa do the briefing. When Noel scheduled a brainstorming session with Bench or Bryan, she would defer or simply wouldn't show up on the excuse of meeting a client. When asked to do something that involves Bryan's participation, Bench would politely refuse without offering any explanation.
    And her attendance has gotten increasingly peculiar and erratic. Fifteen-minute cigarette breaks turn into hour-long trips to only-God-knows-where, sometimes she wouldn't even return to the office for the rest of the afternoon. Bryan had heard Ellie complain loudly that she couldn't contact Bench's cell phone number at one time. When she did get by the office, she would sit with nary a word in front of her laptop all day long, except for the increasingly long cigarette breaks. On certain days, she would come in as early as 6 AM and leave the office before 4 PM. During lunch breaks, she opted to eat out alone in the nearby mall, in restaurants where she was sure no one in the office would go.
     When it was time for Bench, Ellie and Ken to fly to Cagayan De Oro City for a few days to handle the Adventure Caravan, Bryan realized he was actually looking forward to Bench's absence. For once, he could go to the office without having to worry about the awkwardness of his and Bench's situation. On any given day, he could probably disregard any officemate's ill-feeling towards him and get on with his copywriting duties without ever giving that person any ounce of thought. But it was way different with the current state of things. Try as he might, he just couldn't ignore the discomfiture and inherent weirdness of being shunned like that and knowing that all of it is one elaborate sham concocted by his almost-deranged friend and colleague. And the fact that he's completely in on it was giving him creeps of the different kind. Conniver's guilt is never easy, he realized.
    
--

    "Sit down, Bryan," Noel said without looking up from his laptop monitor, his hands busy typing on the keys. Bryan sat down on the chair in front of Noel's desk. The room was chilly. Bryan wished he brought a jacket.
    "I wanted to talk to you about Bench," Noel said, still typing. "But let me just finish this."
    "Okay," Bryan replied nervously.
    Noel straightened up and folded the laptop. Then he stared at Bryan.
    "You do know that the Adventure Caravan was a tremendous success. In fact, the client wants to do a Boracay version next year. All thanks to Bench's coordination. I hate her guts sometimes but frankly, I'm very impressed with the way she handled it. And so is the client. They're very pleased with the results and they want to thank her personally. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know where she is."
    "She went AWOL," Bryan muttered.
    "Looks like it," Noel said. 
Bryan looked down on his hands.
    "Ellie told me you and Bench were pretty close," Noel continued. "Former classmates in school, digs the same stuff Bench likes — Ellie told me you and Bench were practically like best buds."
    Bryan remained unmoving.
    "My point is — you might be able to tell me just what the hell is going on," Noel pressed on.
    "There's nothing to tell."
    "Ellie says there's plenty going on. She says you and Bench are — let me put it this way, socializing more than what's appropriate in an office environment."
    "It's none of Ellie's business."
    "Okay, I'll respect that. It's none of my business. But this agency is my business. And I need to know if there's something funny going on. With Bench currently unreachable and Kyla also missing, I'm bound to —"
    "Kyla? What do you mean?"
    "Just last week, Anne told me she couldn't reconcile several checks drawn to cash somewhere between the last week of October and first week of November. Anne says she couldn't figure out why those checks were drawn in the first place. She tried to call Kyla but she couldn't contact her."
    Bryan sat numb with the news.
    "No trace of Kyla," Noel continued. "She just disappeared. Right about the same time Bench went AWOL."
    "Are you saying Kyla and Bench — are you saying they both —?"
    "I don't know. I was hoping you could tell me."
    "It can't be. I know Bench. She wouldn't do something like that."
    "I think she already has."
    "What?"
    "Back when she had that deejay job. There was some fiasco about funds that Bench was directly in control of. Anyway, short version of the story is, it got blown into such a mess that the station had to let go of many people. Bench included."
    "Shit."
    "Anne, of course, thinks Bench was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Personally, I think she might have been involved. And now she may be robbing my company."
    "You don't know that."
    "I don't know anything, yet. But sooner or later, the truth will come out. Count on that." Noel stood up and approached the glass window panel.
    "I haven't spoken to Bench since, I don't know, early October," Bryan said.
    "You had a row with her?"
    "Something like that."
    "And she hasn't contacted you since?"
    "No."
    "How about Kyla?"
    "No."
    "Are you sure about that?"
    "Yes."
    Noel turned and sat back in his chair. He gave Bryan a serious stare. "I may call on you again if I have questions," Noel said.
    "I understand."
    "You may go. And tell Lisa I want to see her now."
    Bryan nodded before walking out of the room.

--

    Two days had done little in lessening the impact of what he'd learned in Noel's office. Since that day, Bryan had been in a state of combined confusion and utter numbness. He wanted to be knocked out of this stupid stupor. He wanted to get away, far away from the sight of his workstation, out of the office. He wanted to exist without devoting one iota of energy thinking about this recent mess. But more than anything, he wanted to see and talk to Bench.
    He was wont to admit it but it had taken its toll on his work. The copy he wrote barely met his personal standards. Fortunately for him, clients sometimes had the unusual habit of picking the studies that he least liked.
    That afternoon, a brainstorming session had gone nowhere. Bryan and Ellie struggled to come up with an event-driven campaign for an agri-feed client and failed miserably. Bryan wearily excused himself and headed back to his workstation to collect his stuff and go home. He unplugged the charger's cord off his cell phone and checked the liquid crystal display: 1 message received. It was an unregistered number. He opened the message and read: "tequila jos 5.30pm. dont b l8 sucker, i wont w8." He glanced at the time — 5:37 PM. Damn.
    In three minutes he was at the entrance of Tequila Joe's. Bench was sitting at the bar with her back to the door. Her head was tilted towards the TV screen propped seven feet up on the wall behind the bartender, American Idol was on. The glass of iced tea on the counter was already half-full. Bryan took the stool on her left.
    "Don't you wish sometimes you had a TV remote in your brain?" Bench casually remarked without looking at Bryan.
    "Why would you wish something like that?" Bryan asked.
    "So that I could just press mute in my mind whenever it's Paula's turn to say something."
    Bryan laughed.
    "I mean, Paula's always saying the same thing to anybody, anyway. She's like the judge on the Miss Universe pageant who always gives an 8 to every contestant. I can't stand her actually."
    "Neither can I."
    Bench smirked while she sipped the last of her iced tea.
    "Bench, Noel has been looking for you. He says — "
    "I already talked to him," Bench interrupted him.
    "Really?"
    "Yeah, last night at their house. We sorted out everything. Well, not everything, but the areas concerning me — it's okay now. Trust me."
    "Sure about that?"
    "Funny. Who would've thought that Kyla would do something like that. I mean, she's a world-class beeyatch and all that but … Damn, she's got guts, that's for sure."
    "How did you find out?"
    "Maimai from Camp Cebu, she's friends with Anne. She told me yesterday morning. Naturally, I had to talk to Anne, tell her I didn't have anything to do with what Kyla did. I had some explaining to do to Noel, too. God, you should have been there. Noel was really pissed, I mean really pissed. He was sure I was in on it because I disappeared."
    "Well, you did disappear."
    "Yeah. But the thing is — I chickened out." She laughed weakly. "That's why I was back in Cebu since Tuesday. I was in Davao the whole time, ever since the Adventure Caravan was done. I was really planning to talk to Anne eventually, to her alone. And then this ruckus just blew up. I could have done nothing. I don't even care a shit if Noel hated me for not showing up ever. But I did show up. I guess I didn't want him to hate me for the wrong reason. I mean I got issues, I know that. But I'm no thief. That's not who I am. That I'm sure about."
    "You got me scared. You did."
    She burst into laughter. "I got you, didn't I? I got you big time, Bry."
    "No shit."
    "I did tell them everything, about my plan to go AWOL. But I didn't tell them that you were in on it, too. That would be unfair to you. Bottom line is now they know how badly I want out of the agency. Anne — I guess she took it rather well. Noel — well, you know Noel. But I'm not scared of him, I never was."
    "So what happens now?"
    "The deal is, I stay until the end of November, just enough to turn over my accounts to Ellie. That's about three weeks — that should be enough. She's quite a capable lady, that Ellie, although she could use some chillin' out. As for Kyla — well, Anne is going to have to handle the accounting for now. They don't really know how much damage Kyla did to their funds. Anne mentioned about getting an independent CPA to sort it out. I wish him luck. As for me, I don't know. I'm thinking about finding work overseas. Or maybe school. I really don't know. All I know is I want out."
    Bryan remained silent. Bench took a crumpled mauve bill out of her pocket and unfolded it on the counter. "I need a smoke," she said, "let's get out of here."
    They stood on the paved sidewalk outside the restaurant. Bench absent-mindedly watched the cars whizzing by. Bryan stood three feet from her, staring at a large billboard ad recently put up. Bench took a step towards him and turned her head at the same direction he was looking.
    "Advertising has ruined my consumer life," Bryan said.
    Bench couldn't be sure if he was talking to her or himself. "Why is that?" she asked.
    "I could no longer look at any ad without mulling about how much work has been done in creating that ad — the copy must have been redone and revised many times over, the graphics going through endless changes, the many steps, the arguments. When I look at an ad, I don't see the product anymore. I just see the work behind it. And sometimes, the lie. I'll never be sold by any ad, ever again. Advertising has ruined my consumer life."
    "No, it hasn't. You'll be okay, Bry. I know you." Bench took out her cell phone and turned around. "Lex is here to pick me up."
    "Lex? A friend of yours?"
    "She's my — you know." Bench smiled.
    "Oh," Bryan said in comprehension.
    "You should get yourself a girlfriend," Bench said.
    "Don't need one."
    Bench grinned.
    "What's so funny?"
    "I know something about you, Bry. But I'm not telling. You're just gonna have to figure it out by yourself."
    Bryan didn't reply.
"I gotta go. I'll see you around?" Bench said.
    He nodded. She punched him on the shoulder before walking away. Bryan watched her walk towards the parking lot, her retreating figure finally getting obscured by the passing vehicles. He stood for a while with his hands in his pockets. He glanced eastwards across Archbishop Reyes Avenue. The skyway was finished. He sighed and walked away.

- END -

 

Posted at 04:16 pm by iampaperbag
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Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Untitled: Final Installment


Continued ...

    Bryan nodded before walking out of the room.

--

    Two days had done little in lessening the impact of what he’d learned in Noel’s office. Since that day, Bryan had been in a state of combined confusion and utter numbness. He wanted to be knocked out of this stupid stupor. He wanted to get away, far away from the sight of his workstation, which recently has grown so dull that he felt an almost unbearable urge to ask Ken to switch workstations with him. He wanted to exist without devoting one iota of a moment thinking about this recent mess. But more than anything, he wanted to see Bench.
    He was wont to admit but it had taken its toll on his work. The copy he wrote barely met his personal standards. Fortunately for him, clients sometimes had the unusual habit of picking the studies that Bryan least liked.
    That afternoon, a brainstorming session had gone nowhere with Bryan and Ellie struggling to come up with an event-driven campaign for an agri-feed client. Bryan nonchalantly excused himself and headed back to his workstation to collect some stuff and go home. He unplugged the charger’s cord off his cell phone and checked the liquid crystal display: 1 message received. It was an unregistered number. He opened the message and read: “tequila jos 5.30pm. dont b l8 sucker, i wont w8.” He glanced at the time — 5:37 PM. Damn.
    Three minutes he was at the door of Tequila Joe’s. He looked around inside the grill house restaurant. Bench was sitting at the bar with her back to the door. Her head was tilted towards the TV screen propped seven feet up on the wall behind the bartender, American Idol was on. The glass of iced tea on the counter was already half-full. Bryan took the stool on her left.
    “Don’t you wish sometimes you had a TV remote in your brain?” Bench casually remarked without looking at Bryan.
    “Why would you wish something like that?” Bryan asked back.
    “So that I could just press mute in my mind whenever it’s Paula’s turn to say something.”
    Bryan laughed.
    “I mean, Paula’s always saying the same thing to anybody, anyway. She’s like the judge on the Miss Universe pageant who always gives an 8 to every contestant. I can’t stand her actually.”
    “Neither can I.”
    Bench smirked while she sipped the last of her iced tea.
    “Bench, Noel has been looking for you. He says — ”
    “I already talked to him,” Bench interrupted him.
    “Really?”
    “Yeah, last night at their house. We sorted out everything. Well, not everything, but the areas concerning me — it’s okay now. Trust me.”
    “Sure about that?”
    “Funny. Who would’ve thought that Kyla would do something like that. I mean, she’s a world-class beeyatch and all that but … Damn, she’s got guts, that’s for sure.”
    “How did you find out about what happened?”
    “Maimai from Camp Cebu, she’s friends with Anne. She told me yesterday morning. Naturally, I had to talk to Anne, tell her I didn’t have anything to do with what Kyla did. I had some explaining to do to Noel, too. God, you should have been there. Noel was really pissed, I mean really pissed. He was sure I was in on it because I disappeared.”
    “Well, you did disappear.”
    “Yeah. But the thing is — I chickened out.” She laughed weakly. “That’s why I was back in Cebu since Tuesday. I was in Davao the whole time, ever since the Adventure Caravan was done. I was really planning to talk to Anne eventually, to her alone. And then this ruckus just blew up. I could have done nothing. I don’t even care a shit if Noel hated me for not showing up ever. But I did show up. I guess I didn’t want him to hate me for the wrong reason. I mean I got issues, I know that. But I’m no thief. That’s not who I am. That I’m sure about.”
    “You got me scared. You did.”
    She burst into laughter.
    “I got you, didn’t I? I got you big time, Bry.”
    “No shit.”
    “I did tell them everything, about my plan to go AWOL. But I didn’t tell them that you were in on it, too. That would be unfair to you. Bottom line is now they know how badly I want out of the agency. Anne — I guess she took it rather well. Noel — well, you know Noel. But I’m not scared of him, I never was.”
    “So what happens now?”
    “The deal is, I stay until the end of November, just enough to turn over my accounts to Ellie. That’s about three weeks — that should be enough. She’s quite a capable lady, that Ellie, although she could use some chillin’ out. As for Kyla — well, Anne is going to have to handle the accounting for now. They don’t really know how much damage Kyla did to their funds. Anne mentioned about getting an independent CPA to sort it out. I wish him luck. As for me, I don’t know. I’m thinking about finding work overseas. Or maybe school. I really don’t know. All I know is I want out.”
    Bryan remained silent. Bench took a crumpled mauve bill out of her pocket and unfolded it on the counter. “I need a smoke,” she said, “let’s get out of here.”
    They stood on the paved sidewalk outside the restaurant. Bench absent-mindedly watched the cars whizzing by. Bryan stood three feet from her, staring at a large billboard ad recently put up. Bench took a step towards him and turned her head at the same direction he was looking.
    “Advertising has ruined my consumer life,” Bryan said.
    Bench couldn’t be sure if he was talking to her or himself. “Why is that?” she asked.
    “I could no longer look at any ad without mulling about how much work has been done in creating that ad — the copy redone and revised many times over, the graphics going through endless changes, the many steps, the arguments. When I look at an ad, I don’t see the product anymore. I just see the work behind it. I’ll never be sold by any ad, ever again. Advertising has ruined my consumer life.”
    “You’ll be okay, Bry. I know you.” Bench took out her cell phone and turned around. “Lex is here to pick me up.”
    “A friend of yours?”
    “She’s my — you know.” Bench smiled.
    “Oh,” Bryan said in comprehension.
    “I gotta go. I’ll see you around?”
    He nodded. She punched him on the shoulder before walking away. Bryan watched her walk towards the parking lot, her retreating figure finally getting obscured by the passing vehicles. He stood for a while with his hands in his pockets. He glanced eastwards across Archbishop Reyes Avenue. The skyway was finished.
    He sighed and walked away.


Posted at 04:12 pm by iampaperbag
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Friday, April 04, 2008
Untitled: Second to the Last Installment


Continued ...

    Bryan shook his head and muttered, “My God, you’ve lost your mind.”

--

    The plan was simple. A week or two before the Adventure Caravan, Bench would start to act cold and distant towards Bryan, refusing to hang around with him during mid-afternoon snack breaks and just stay away from his workstation during the days leading up to end of October until the onset of November. This would give everybody else the subtle clue that Bench was in fact trying to avoid Bryan. Of course, Bench had reminded Bryan that not everybody would detect the signs at first. True, anybody could guess that with the extremely busy days ahead, Bench would have plenty of things to do and wouldn’t have any spare time left to loiter in the Creatives’ department. And it was generally known in the office that she sometimes had unexpected though rare mood swings, characterized by aberrant silence and infectious lethargy — a complete reversal of the day-to-day persona her officemates were used to seeing.
    But still, Bryan worried that convincing the office people this way was kind of a long shot. Obviously, everybody would be pretty busy too in the days to come and it would be highly unlikely for them to catch in on what’s going between Bench and Bryan. He had told Bench about this and she said not to worry — she’ll just have to find a way to expedite the process. Specifically, she’ll have to engineer a “leak.” Through the one person who is likely to be believed. The one person who is sure to spread the message. The best word-of-mouth conduit in the entire agency — Ellie. Of course, this “leak” will have to happen in a week or so after the Adventure Caravan and Halloween Fashion have wrapped up. Doing so earlier would be overkill.
    Despite his uneasiness, Bryan had marveled at Bench’s cleverness, at the same time spooked by her guts. He still couldn’t believe that she would really push through with it. She had really thought this through, he told himself, she must have really wanted to get out so badly that she would resort to this. And the worse thing was, Bryan had agreed to it. Or at least he didn’t protest enough for Bench to think it was a preposterous proposition. He could have said no. Now he was kicking himself because he didn’t.
    Truth of the matter was, he was scared. He was never comfortable with getting away with a fib. Back in college, her mother told him to conveniently “forget” to mention that his father had a source of income so that Bryan could qualify for a full scholarship grant. Although he needed not have done it in front of his interviewer, the omission on his scholarship application stared at him cruelly and unmercifully.
    And he had told Bench that he was never good with things like these. She had told him to grow up. Besides, she had insisted, Bryan won’t have to do anything. It would be up to her to do the pretending. Technically, she would be the only one doing the lying. All Bryan had to do was be himself. The only reason she had told Bryan about the whole plan was because she didn’t want Bryan to think she really was giving him the big cold shoulder. She said it was a “matter of courtesy” for their friendship. She said it would be unfair to him if she left him high and dry.
    Bryan wanted to find comfort in Bench’s words. He couldn’t find any.

--

    Bench was true to her word. Since the second week of October, she was never seen hanging around with Bryan. When there came a need to brief Bryan about a certain new project for an account Bench was handling, she would easily find a way to let Ellie or Lisa do the briefing. When Noel scheduled a brainstorming session with Bench or Bryan, she would defer or simply wouldn’t show up on the excuse of meeting a client. When asked to do something that involves Bryan’s participation, Bench would politely refuse without offering any explanation.
    And her attendance has gotten increasingly peculiar and erratic. Fifteen-minute cigarette breaks turn into hour-long trips to only-God-knows-where, sometimes she wouldn’t even return to the office for the rest of the afternoon. Bryan had heard Ellie complain loudly that she couldn’t contact Bench’s cell phone number at one time. When she did get by the office, she would sit with nary a word in front of her laptop all day long, except for the increasingly long cigarette breaks. On certain days, she would come in as early as 6 AM and leave the office before 4 PM. During lunch breaks, she opted to eat out alone in the nearby mall, in restaurants where she was sure no one in the office would go.
     When it was time for Bench, Ellie and Ken to fly to Cagayan De Oro City for a few days to handle the Adventure Caravan, Bryan realized he was actually looking forward to Bench’s absence. For once, he could go to the office without having to worry about the awkwardness of his and Bench’s situation. On any given day, he could probably disregard any officemate’s ill-feeling towards him and get on with his copywriting duties without ever giving that person any ounce of thought. But it was way different with the current state of things. Try as he might, he just couldn’t ignore the discomfiture and inherent weirdness of being shunned like that and knowing for himself that all of it is one elaborate sham concocted by one almost-deranged friend and colleague. And the fact that he’s completely in on it was giving him creeps of the different kind. Conniver’s guilt — it’s never easy, he told himself.
    
--

    “Sit down, Bryan,” Noel said without looking up from his laptop monitor, his hands busy typing on the keys.
    Bryan sat down on the chair in front of Noel’s desk. Without anything to do, he stared at his notebook for a while and then proceeded to cracking his knuckles. The room was chilly. Bryan wished he brought a jacket.
    “I wanted to talk to you about Bench,” Noel said, still typing. “But let me just finish this.”
    “Okay,” Bryan replied nervously. So it comes to this, he thought, I bet you didn’t see this coming, Bench.
    Noel straightened up and folded the laptop. He set it on the left side of the table and leaned on his chair. He took one last look at his mobile phone before putting it away inside his pocket. Then he stared at Bryan.
    “You do know that the Adventure Caravan was a tremendous success. In fact, the client wants to do a Boracay version next year. All thanks to Bench’s coordination. I hate her guts sometimes but frankly, I’m very impressed with the way she handled it. And so is the client. They’re very pleased with the results and they want to thank her personally. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know where she is.”
    “She went AWOL,” Bryan muttered.
    “Looks like it.”
    Bryan looked down on his hands.
    “Ellie told me you and Bench were pretty close,” Noel continued. “Former classmates in school, digs the same stuff Bench likes — Ellie told me you and Bench were practically like best buds.”
    Bryan remained unmoving.
    “My point is — you might be able to tell me just what the hell is going on.”
    “There’s nothing to tell.”
    “Ellie says there’s plenty going on. She says you and Bench are — let me put it this way, “socializing” more than what’s appropriate in an office environment.”
    “It’s none of Ellie’s business.”
    “Okay, I’ll respect that. It’s none of my business. But this agency is my business. And I need to know if there’s something funny going on. With Bench currently unreachable and Kyla also missing, I’m bound to —”
    “Kyla? What do you mean?”
    “Just last week, Anne told me she couldn’t reconcile several checks drawn to cash somewhere between the last week of October and first week of November. Anne says she couldn’t figure out why those checks were drawn in the first place. She tried to call Kyla but she couldn’t contact her.”
Bryan sat numb with the news.
    “No trace of Kyla,” Noel continued. “She just disappeared. Right about the same time Bench went AWOL.”
    “Are you saying Kyla and Bench — are you saying they both —?”
    “I don’t know. I was hoping you could tell me.”
    “It can’t be. I know Bench. She wouldn’t do something like that.”
    “She already has.”
    “What?”
    “Back when she had that deejay job. There was some fiasco about funds that Bench was directly in control of. Anyway, short version of the story is, it got blown into such a mess that the station had to let go of many people. Bench included.”
    “Shit.”
    “Anne, of course, thinks Bench was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Personally, I think she might have been involved. And now she may be robbing my company.”
    “You don’t know that.”
    “I don’t know anything, yet. But sooner or later, the truth will come out. Count on that.”
    Noel stood up and approached the glass window panel.
    “I haven’t spoken to Bench since, I don’t know, early October,” Bryan said.
    “You had a row with her?”
    “Something like that.”
    “And she hasn’t contacted you since?”
    “No.”
    “How about Kyla?”
    “No.”
    “Are you sure about that?”
    “Yes.”
    Noel turned and sat back in his chair. He gave Bryan a serious stare.
    “I may call on you again if I have questions,” Noel said.
    “I understand.”
    “You may go. And tell Lisa I want to see her now.”
    Bryan nodded before walking out of the room.


Posted at 05:33 pm by iampaperbag
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Friday, March 28, 2008
Jamais vu

"Where to?" asked the cab driver as I buckled up in the front seat.

 

"Cebu Business Park. The Keppel Building," was my sleepy retort. "And please step on it. Take the coastal road. I'm running late." 

 

The taxi sped towards the city. The radio played love songs, the air-conditioning was just right, and the air freshener smelled good– the canister told me it was apple scent. Tired and practically sleepless the night before, I was on the verge of dozing off.

 

"Have you heard of the Mayor's plan to put up a sign in the coastal road a la Hollywood? Sounds like a real waste of taxpayers' money to me."

 

"Yes I know that." I snapped back. I wasn't in the mood for small talk. In fact, as much as possible, I avoided conversations with taxi drivers. 

 

"And," he continued. "He even has the tendency to rule with an iron fist. But even though he acts like a big bully, he hasn't done enough to curb crime here. Good thing the vigilantes are doing the job for him and his useless police force."

 

"You approve of those guns for hire?" I asked. Although, quite surprisingly, a lot of people approved of the vigilantes—even some members of the media— I didn't think killing criminals was the best solution.

 

"Yes," He answered. "Anything to curb crime here."

 

"Killing muggers or snatchers will not solve anything. It's a crime itself. And are you sure it wasn't the mayor who 'inspired' all those vigilantes to execute all those alleged criminals?"

 

"Not really."  He answered. He was whistling a tune that drowned in the music of the radio. I couldn't understand how he managed to keep a cool composure amid the morning rush hour, where scores of vehicles clogged the road and made driving a tedious– even hellish –task. Harried-looking students, office workers, and other commuters littered the sidewalk, anxiously flagging down jeepneys, buses, and taxi cabs.

 

"Well, if you really eschew iniquity, then you should abhor every form of violence." I said.

 

He shrugged.

 

"I want to ask you a question."

 

"Go ahead."

 

"Who did you vote for mayor in the last elections?"

 

"Chikoy Meneses."

 

Meneses is the incumbent mayor of Cebu who ran for a second term and won. Strangely, I wasn't surprised at all. I expected the answer.

 

"I'm sure you knew of his reputation, even before the elections. Yet now you are complaining that he's a bad mayor. Then why did you still vote for him? Why didn't you vote for his opponent in the first place?"

 

"I didn't think his opponent was any better. But more importantly, I voted for Meneses because he was the popular choice. I didn't want to waste my vote."

 

I laughed. "But now don't you think you wasted your vote even more? You're close to calling the guy an asshole, yet you are one of the reasons he won."

 

The song "Simply Jesse" was playing on the radio. I winced. I hated the damn song. I asked the driver if I could change the station. He nodded.

 

I was fiddling with the controls when a dog darted out from nowhere. Cursing, the driver turned the steering wheel sharply to the left. I saw a brown blur zip past the passenger side: we had missed the dog by inches. But now, driving in the opposite lane, we were careening towards an oncoming truck. The taxi swerved back to our lane and the driver shook his head. I slumped back on my seat.

 

"Damn strays." He said, visibly shaken. 

 

"That was close." I agreed. 

 

"Do you mind if I smoke?" 

 

"No," I said. "Go ahead."

 

He rolled down his window and took a pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket. 

 

"Do you want one?"

 

"No thanks, I quit years ago." I said.

 

"Good for you."

 

Although he was a bit rough around the edges, the driver seemed cute to me. Cute enough to ask for his name.

 

"It's Rodel," he said. "Rodel Mendoza."

 

"How long have you been driving a taxi?"

 

"Right after I finished high school. I needed to help put food on the table."

 

I nodded.

 

"How about you? What do you do for a living?"

 

"I write."

 

"Really? I've always admired writers. What do you write about? Do you write in a newspaper?"

 

"I used to. Back when I was still in college I wrote freelance for the Metro Cebu Enquirer."

 

"What do you do now?"

 

"I'm a copywriter for an outsourcing company."

 

"Sounds good."

 

"I can't complain. It pays the bills."

 

A ringing phone interrupts our conversation. I fish out my cellphone from my jeans pocket.

 

"Jake here."

 

"Jake it's Benjie."

 

"What's up?"

 

"You're running a little late. Where are you?"

"I'm in a cab. Be there in five minutes tops."

 

"OK. Hurry up, I need you here ASAP. The boss has been on my tail all morning."

 

"Sure."

 

"Thanks Jake…. Bye."

 

I love you.

 

I didn't say those words aloud. I never have, as much as I wanted to. I am content to keep them as thoughts. And I've kept them inside for years: Words unspoken, words unwritten.

 

"We're almost here." Rodel's voice cuts like a knife through the silence.

 

I pull out my wallet and hand him several bills.

 

He looks at the meter. "Sir this is too much."

 

"Take it. And please. Call me Jake."

 

"Thank you Jake."

 

"Here, take my calling card too. Give me a call if you need anything."

 

******

 

"Pastilan, Jake Castro." Sonya says, "Haul your ass off that office chair for a minute. Workaholics die young. It's summer after all. You're already too pale."

 

"Sonya, I'm OK."

 

"No you're not. You need some sun. Let's go to the beach this weekend. I know a place. You'll love it in Calanggaman Island."

When I was a little kid my mother brought me to her hometown in Negros Oriental. We took the bus, an eight-hour ride. The trip made me dizzy and nauseous. The trip made me puke. I puked so much, my stomach hurt. I puked until I emptied my gut. I puked bitterly-sour digestive juices that scalded my mouth and burned my throat. I puked like I never puked before. My mother was so pissed-off she told me she wouldn't bring me along next time she went home. Then she beat me up in front of all the passengers. After that I didn't go on a long road trip anymore.

Until the trip to Calanggaman Island.

To get there, Benjie said we needed to take a four-hour bus ride from the North Cebu Bus station to a town called Maya, located at the northernmost tip of Cebu. We need to leave at 5 am, he says, to avoid the early morning rush hour. It is Friday, after all: a weekday. Then we will board a local outrigger boat or banca that will take us from Maya to Malapascua Island. Finally we need to ride another banca to Calanggaman Island. Sonya hates boat trips. She can't swim. Benjie is a licensed scuba diver. I don't hate boat trips; I'm a decent swimmer.

I hate road trips.

Hodophobia is fear of road travel.

My shrink—an overpaid balding asshole-- says that like all fears and phobias, hodophobia is created by the unconscious mind as a protective mechanism, and at some point in my past, there was likely an event linking road travel and some emotional trauma.

Duh. Tell me something I don't know, Doc. Tell me something worth the bloated fee I'm paying you per hour, Doc.

I'll tell you something I do know, however: One symptom of hodophobia is drying of the mouth. Another symptom is excessive sweating. Other symptoms are dizziness, nausea, shaking, heart palpitations, and the inability to speak or think clearly.

I know this because I felt all those symptoms as soon as I boarded that bus to Maya.
The passengers thought there was some lunatic onboard with them. My friends thought there was some lunatic onboard with them. What's worse is I puked all over the bus.

I'm just glad my mother wasn't there.

Like any tropical island, the beaches in Calanggaman Island are lined up with coconut trees. The sand is white with the texture of fine powder. A few years ago I went to Boracay alone. Going there didn't involve a long road trip. So I went. There's an airport in Caticlan, so I took the plane. The beaches in Boracay are also lined up with coconut trees. The sand there is also white with the texture of fine powder. But the place is crowded. My friends go there precisely because they like it crowded. They go celebrity hunting.

 

At first I didn't enjoy my stay in Boracay. Things changed, however, when I met a German guy named Felix. It was the first time I ever experienced a one night stand with a guy I barely knew.

Calanggaman Island is not crowded, it is peaceful. No celebrities, no crowds. No trash littering the beachfront. No noise caused by jet skis or speedboats. Because the island is deserted, there are no cottages as well, so we needed to put up a few tents. Calanggaman Island is so small; you can walk around the entire island in 30 minutes. There is a sandbar that stretches several meters across.

"Come on Jake, let's hit the water." Benjie says, peering into my open tent and slathering a generous amount of tanning oil on his arm. He's already in his board shorts.

 

"Jesus, you're still doing some work? I told you to leave your laptop at home."

"I think I'll stay here in the tent for a while," I said. "I got tired of the trip and I need to finish this."

"Sonya is already sunbathing in the sandbar. Don't you want to join her before we have lunch?"

"In a while."

 

"Come on Jake, life is short. Take it easy."

 

"Yes life is short. Especially for me."

"I didn't mean that," Benjie said in a low voice. "As you wish. See you later."

Inside the tent, it is warm and I am sweating profusely. I turn off my laptop and doze off.

 

******

 

"Come in." Dr. Lisondra said as soon as he heard the knocking on the door. It was a little past midnight and an odd-looking couple walked in. The man, my father, is middle-aged, burly, pot-bellied and dressed rather casually in a plain black t-shirt and jeans. He had a gun tucked away in his belt. I noticed the gun right away because it was silver. And even then in the dimly-illuminated room, it glinted unmistakably.

The girl, I gathered, was barely out of her teens.  I did not recognize her. She wore a white maternity dress that ended just below her knees. The girl clenched the man's arm tightly as she glanced around the room with unease. "Sit." barked the man, motioning to a monobloc chair nearby. Dr Lisondra approached him.

"Is she ready?"

The man fished out a pack of cigarettes from his jeans pocket. He mouthed one, lit it, and took a long drag. "She doesn't have a choice, Doc. I call the shots."

Dr. Lisondra frowned, shaking his head. "Just let me prepare my instruments."

My whole life I've been accustomed to total darkness, surrounded by shadows and obscurity, five months of swirling around in a liquid void. I never saw the sun; I don't think I ever will. The first time I saw light, I was almost blinded. That light is the same light in this room now, a faint glow coming from an old, dusty overhead fluorescent lamp.

The girl is crying now, and she is strapped to a bed whose once white sheets are dotted and caked with dried blood. She emits a loud howl not unlike that of a wild animal and not even the burly man almost twice her size could restrain her. He cups a big hand over the girl's mouth and she bites it, drawing blood. "You useless fuck!" he exclaims in pain, and smashes a fist into the girl's face. At once there is silence, and I see dark blood trickling from the girl's nose. "That shut you up."

Not long ago while swirling around in the warm liquid void I used to call home, I felt a burning sensation envelop me. Suddenly the warm liquid had become too hot, too scalding. It burned my skin, my eyes, my whole body. I screamed. But nobody heard me.

"You know this is a very risky procedure, especially for the mother." Dr. Lisondra says. "The surgical procedure always is, Mr. Castro. We can try the chemical one, which is relatively safer. We tried it on your wife a few months ago, remember? Again, this would involve injecting her womb with a brine solution and then…"

"Just get this over with, Doc." The man growled. "I need to be at the station early in the morning tomorrow. We opted for the surgical procedure, so we'll go with the surgical procedure.  Don't worry about her."

 

"Very well," Dr. Lisondra nodded, putting on his surgical gloves.

Even then in the dimly-illuminated room, Dr. Lisondra's silver instruments glinted unmistakably. Even then, I feared for my unborn sibling's life.

 

And I shiver in this jar.

 

******

 

I wake up to the sound of Sonya singing from her tent. I am drenched in cold sweat and disoriented from my strange dream involving my father. The events in the dream, especially a scene telling of an imminent abortion, are told through the eyes of my unborn half sibling, an aborted fetus swimming in a jar of formaldehyde.

 

Did I really see that scene in my dream for the first time?

 

Jamais vu.

 

It is darker than usual and a faint light resembling that of moonlight seeps into the tent. I unzip the mesh door and step out.

It is night time. A cold breeze blows and I'm shivering. I look around, and there is no sign of Benjie.

 

The singing is getting louder.

It is the most beautiful voice I've ever heard.

 

I call out Benjie's name. Nobody answers. I unzip Benjie's tent. It is empty save for a couple of plastic bags containing our lunches: sandwiches, some bananas, bottled water, and canned juice. The food is untouched. I grab a sandwich and a can of pineapple juice and set off to look for him.

I circle the island, and see no one. Sonya's voice belts out a sad song of farewell. It is in Visayan but it is not a familiar song. I feel drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Sonya's voice soothes my nerves and I forget my problems at the office. I forget the whole ordeal on that bus to Maya. I forget the whole ordeal many years ago on that bus to Negros. I forget that I hate my mother. I forget that my psychologist is a balding, overpaid asshole.

 

I feel my hodophobia vanish. I feel at ease.

 

I forget that I am stricken with AIDS.

I sit on the sand at the water's edge, and let the lapping waves of the sea lick my bare feet.

******

 

Letter from Benjie Delima to Jake Castro:

 

Dearest Jake,

 

Sorry for leaving you and Sonya like that. I know I worried you with my disappearance and I owe you an explanation.

 

I wish I can tell you that I know and feel what you are going through right now. But I can't. I can only imagine. I can only say thank you for trusting me enough to tell me about your problem. You are my closest friend. I've known you ever since we were in college, and I will never forget everything that we shared: our hardships during our activist days, sticking it out together as student journalists through the last year of an embattled campus newspaper, not to mention all our drinking sessions in between classes. You know that I owe you much, most especially for everything you and your parents have done for me. I wouldn't have finished college and landed a decent job if it weren't for you and your family's financial support. I know I couldn't repay you for your friendship but at least I would like to try.

 

There is this legend that the mythical creature sigbin who they say inhabits these parts can be a cure for AIDS. I know you might be thinking I've lost my mind but I don't want to discount the possibility that there is a certain truth to it. I am hoping that I might be able to bring home a cure to help you. It is this hope that has driven me to find this creature, if it indeed exists.

 

About an hour's boat ride from Calanggaman Island is a place called Nalumbusan where they say a vast population of sigbin can be found. While you were sleeping and Sonya was busy in her tent, I set off via rented banca and boatman to Nalumbusan. What follows are notes I've written about my experience so far.

 

I must say I haven't enjoyed my stay here that much. Even in the town proper, there is no running water, no electricity, and if, God forbid, any medical emergencies might arise, the nearest Health Center is at least a two-hour hike away. Because I decided to travel light, I only brought along clothes and my cellphone (which-- because of the lack of nearby cellsites in this place-- is virtually useless). 

 

I am by no means a picky eater, but I've grown tired nonetheless of subsisting on a daily fare of ground corn and balanghoy dipped in guinamos, or dried fish, canned goods and rice. In fact, I'd give anything for a bowl of steaming sinigang na baboy or humba right now. I also long for ice cold beer, but the only booze available in these parts is warm tuba which, when swallowed, leaves a sour and acidic aftertaste as though you were sipping vinegar instead of coconut wine. The only consolation I have here is the townsfolk. They are the most hospitable people I've ever met. I was greeted with smiles, not the customary wariness of jaded city folk such as myself. And Noy Domingo the town Mayor has been very supportive of my search since day one. He even sent Fredo and Lauro, -- two of his best tanods-- to serve as my guides and accompany me to the place where there have been recent sightings of the creature. 

 

The place, Barangay Kanduhawan, is a couple of days away on foot. According to Fredo, it is a densely populated area frequented by kaingeros. We were on our way to Barangay Kanduhawan (after bringing along some supplies of course—canned sardines in tomato sauce, rice, and dried fish that would last us several days) when I asked Fredo about the sightings. He reported that one day some kaingeros were making their way back to a heavily-wooded spot they set fire the night before. They were surprised as soon as they arrived because there wasn't a trace of a fire in the area: no burnt vegetation, no ashes, and no smoke.

 

"So?" I asked, not a bit amused. "Where's the mystery in that? Maybe the fire didn't spread because it went out. That's the reason why the trees and weeds in the area were not burned."

 

Fredo flashed me a knowing smile. It was a smile that annoyed me a little. He didn't seem to mind the mid-afternoon sun that was beating down harshly. "The fire didn't go out prematurely sir. It raged for hours. What's baffling is that when the kaingeros came back, the place was stripped bare but there wasn't even a speck of ash on the ground."

 

"I can vouch for this, sir." Lauro cut in. "One of the kaingeros is my cousin, Felipe. He said when they reached the area, it was very hot and everything smelled of burnt wood. But the surroundings told them otherwise. Everything was clean, as though the place had been cleared long ago."

 

"How is that incident connected to our search for the sigbin?" I asked.

 

"If you have done your research sir, you should know by now that the sigbin's staple food is human blood, squash, and charcoal." Fredo said matter-of-factly.

 

"Do you mean to say that a group of sigbins devoured the burnt remains of the kaingeros' site?" I asked, skeptical.

 

Lauro nodded. "It is obvious, Mr. Delima. There is no other logical explanation."

 

Of course there are other logical explanations. Much plausible explanations, I thought. Was it remotely possible that heavy rains washed away all the traces of a fire the night before? Probably not. But it was entirely possible that the kaingeros had fabricated their story.

 

It's ironic. I am acting skeptical about the existence of a mythical creature native to these Visayan Islands but deep inside I'm hoping against hope that I find one, and fast.

 

The journey to Barangay Kanduhawan was unpleasant to say the least. Sharp branches scraped my face and arms; annoying insects were everywhere, buzzing around my eyes and ears; I had emptied my water bottle and I was dying of thirst; I was exhausted and I practically begged the two guides that we stop for a few minutes to rest.

 

Fredo wouldn't consent. "Sir, we can't stop now. It's already past five. A few minutes more and it would be nightfall. We need to get to Felipe's house before it gets dark."

 

"How long before we get there?"

 

"There is a river nearby, sir." Lauro answered. "Across that river is my cousin's house."

 

"Could we at least stop for awhile when we get to the river?" I pleaded. "I need to refill my water bottle."

 

Fredo gave Lauro a worried look, and said: "Certainly sir. But we must hurry."

 

We quickened our pace and reached the river Lauro had described just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon. The setting sun cast an eerie, orange glow and illuminated the surface of the water. I refilled my water bottle halfway and took a long swig.

 

Suddenly a series of loud, high-pitched shrieks pierced the late afternoon air. It appeared to be coming from deep in the woods.

 

It made my skin crawl. The sound didn't come from an animal I've heard before. It didn't come from any bird or bat that I knew of and it was enough to for me to drop my water bottle and turn to Fredo and Lauro. I threw them a questioning look.

 

Lauro crossed himself.

 

"Let's go sir." Fredo said grimly. "You can drink later when we get to Felipe's."

 

We waded through cold, chest-deep water to the other side of the river.  It was dark when we reached Felipe's place, a small, one-room hut made of nipa. We ate a spartan dinner of sardines, some native vegetables in broth, and boiled, ground corn.


Posted at 07:21 pm by truepinoy
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Jamais vu (continued)

Two weeks have passed since I arrived at here at Barangay Kanduhawan and still no sign of the elusive sigbin. I am tempted to pack up and leave, but because too much energy and resources have already been spent in such a relatively short period of time, it would certainly be unfair to everyone concerned should I decide to pull the plug on this expedition. And of course, I am still clinging to the hope that I will catch a sigbin soon. I am counting on it.  

 

I will see you in a few days or weeks, my friend. Until then, please extend my warmest regards to Sonya. And please take care of each other.

 

Love,

 

Benjie

 

 

******

 

News Article from the Metro Cebu Enquirer:

 

Provincial News

 

Hikers discover dead body in ravine

By Danny Chung, Provincial Correspondent, Metro Cebu Enquirer

 

BARANGAY KANDUHAWAN, NALUMBUSAN, CEBU --  A group of hikers found a dead body in a ravine beside a river Saturday, causing a stir in a neighborhood that  has been known for its peacefulness.

 

The group found the man's dirty body near the river. It was in a ravine, hidden from plain view by a clump of trees near the house of a resident, Felipe Carpio. Carpio, a kaingin farmer, has been summoned by police for questioning. Initial interviews, however, have failed to produce any leads. Carpio has denied seeing anything suspicious prior to the discovery of the body. He has also denied recognizing the owner of the dead body.

 

At least a dozen Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) from the Cebu PNP investigated the scene for more than three hours after the group reported finding the body, shortly before 5:25 p.m.

 

Police Sgt. Jose Corbo said investigators believe the body, a 27-year-old man, had been there for more than 48 hours.

 

Medico-legal officials have not yet determined the cause of death, but "there seems to be no signs of foul play," Corbo said. Investigators have not ruled out anything in the early stages of the ongoing investigation.

 

The man, who is believed to be a city-dweller visiting from Cebu City, has been identified, but his name is not being released by authorities pending family notification.

 

Regardless of the nature of the man's death, the dead body concerned local barangay officials.

 

"For as long as I can remember, we haven't had a death here involving visitors," said Ferdie Vertudes, barangay captain. "I have instructed my tanods to cooperate with the police so we can solve this case as soon as possible."

 

However, he recalls at least five deaths to local residents, all due to natural causes, in the past two decades.

 

The investigation has attracted numerous residents in the area, who all expressed concern upon hearing the news of a dead body.

 

Residents have reported hearing weird cries by a wild animal in the area several months before the dead body was found.

 

Investigators have refused to comment when asked if they believe a wild animal had been responsible for the man's death.

 

******

 

Sonya Mendez's latest online journal entry (http://smendez.wordpress.com):

 

Celebrating Death

 

When my grandfather from my mother's side died years ago, he was cremated and his remains were brought back to his hometown in Bohol. My grandfather was already an American citizen at that time—he and my grandmother in fact had been living in the US with their green cards for several years already until the time of his death– but his children naturally decided that his final resting place should still be the land of his birth.

 

I remember that we immediately left for Bohol shortly after hearing the sad news. My grandfather was quite fond of me and my siblings when we were kids so I have vivid memories of him when he and my grandmother used to visit us here in Cebu. I sorely missed him. We all missed him. But what surprised me when we arrived in Negros was that the mood wasn't all that somber. I was re-acquainted with relatives I've hardly seen in years. There was rejoicing, as everyone celebrated the good life lived by my grandfather. One good thing that can be said about funerals is that they bring the whole clan together.

 

Or in this case, the whole friends together.

 

Two weeks ago I was in Manila with close friends and coworkers for the funeral of Jake. He was felled by AIDS, after an agonizing but hard-fought battle. It was a strange feeling because only nine months before that, we also attended Benjie's funeral. I was by Jake's bedside with Rodel at the Medical City hospital. That was the last time I saw him alive. By then he was only a shell of his former self: gaunt, emaciated, and severely weakened, his body ravaged by the incurable disease. I brought him gifts from my parents– a check from my father to help pay the mounting hospital bill, and a bead bracelet and prayer booklets from my mother. "Thank your mom and dad for me." He gratefully whispered. He could barely talk. And in his condition, I could barely look at him.

 

I visited Jake in the hospital a couple more times after that during my week-long stay in Manila. At first the prognosis was good, thanks to an experimental treatment culled from a mysterious package sent by Benjie before his death.

 

But as quickly as he had recovered, Jake was rushed to the ICU again. He had water in his lungs. He had pneumonia, a complication arising from his disease. The doctor said pneumonia and other pulmonary infections were a common cause of death for AIDS victims. It was all downhill after that.

 

When Rodel broke the news of Jake's death to me through text message, I was surprised that I didn't cry at all. But when at last I saw him lying in a coffin, when it finally hit me that our friend would never be with us again, and when I realized that gatherings and drinking sessions would never again be the same without him, the tears flowed.

 

We greeted Jake's death with mourning and grief. But as with my grandfather's death years ago, there was also rejoicing. I was re-acquainted with friends I've hardly seen in years. We mourned the death of a loved one; we celebrated the good life lived by a loved one.

 

Perhaps it was not AIDS at all that killed Jake. I have a suspicion that what crushed his spirits and his will to live was the news of Benjie's death several months before. I hope that wherever Jake and Benjie are right now, they are happy.

 

One good thing that can be said about funerals is that they bring friends together. One good thing that can be said about Jake's and Benjie's passing is that they are loved and that they will be remembered.

 

Always.


Posted at 07:15 pm by truepinoy
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Congress of the Vain

They say youth is wasted on the young but perhaps the old are just too practical.  Who can say, really?  What with dear Life being such a degenerate prankster and all.  You'd have to put up with the way she mocks your mortal frailties before you can see the secret joys of her trivial blessings.  Only the young and carefree seem privy to her humor.  Maybe because the innocents still have their invincible imaginations while the learned cynics only sulk at their prosaic preoccupations.  Forgive me if my logic is a bit muddled; I am new at being old.     

My abrupt coming of age began in a January dawn.  The cold nights of December petulantly lingered while the searing days of the incoming summer struggled to have their presence felt. A somber calm pervaded our little side street in Pelaez despite the muted din of people doing their morning rituals. Wild city birds and domestic game cocks were singing their sad songs in the distance.  It was a gloomy Monday, after the frolic and frenzy of the Sinulog festival.

I had been awake for a while, just staring at the ceiling, chasing a half-remembered dream.  I should have gone back to sleep but I was thirsty.  My mouth was dry.  I could taste the bitter trace of stale beer and cigarettes and good times ending.  Sinulog was over, the party was finished and I was really thirsty.   

I had to get up but I didn't have to go to school that day and wouldn't have to soon.  I'll get my psychology degree in March, and would join the throngs of people hunting for jobs.  It was not a prospect I was looking forward to, not as much as a glass of ice cold water.  I trudged my way down our wooden staircase, my head feeling like the wobbly hand guard which can barely support my full weight.   

I could hear my mother and father talking in our little kitchen-cum-dining room.  Even before I could see them, I already knew what I would find.  My father would be sitting erect in an uncomfortable straight-backed narra chair.  Sturdier than our staircase – my father and our chairs.  He'd be spewing jokes while my mother would be laughing and frying half cooked sunny side ups.  They were a perfect pair, happy and faithful to each other, comfortable with their compatible idiosyncrasies.

I must have interrupted their frivolity because they both stopped laughing when I opened our refrigerator.  I chose the coldest pitcher, opened the lid and drank straight from it.  As I was leaning into the ref to return the half-empty pitcher, I could feel my usually genial forebears staring holes into the back of my head.

"What?"  I had to ask.  My father just shook his head and they both cracked into the same smile.  The smile that says 'we don't understand you but we love you just the same.'  What was I to do except smile back and retreat upstairs to our little terrace?

Our house had a terrace too small it wasn't even big enough for a mahjong table.  I'm not complaining.  Having a terrace, no matter how small, can be considered a blessing when you live in a toilet.  My father inherited the toilet from my grandfather.  You see, my father was not only sturdy but also the most generous among his siblings.  The land where our house stands is a parcel of a bigger area where our ancestral home once stood. 

A huge fire in the 70's burned down the old house and my grandfather decided not to rebuild but to apportion the lot to his children instead.  My aunt got the living room area, my uncle got the kitchen and my father got the toilet.  The 70's was a golden age for Cebuano architecture when bamboos ran out of style and concrete and plywood became in vogue.  Thus, we lived in a small house with plywood rooms, plywood cabinets and concrete floors and a tacky little terrace. 

Our terrace was cursed with an eternal layer of dust rising from the wake of vehicles and pedestrians.  The trick was to look for the most recently occupied spot so that you could sit on the least dusty surface.  That is, of course, if you were too lazy to get a rug.  But why would I want to get a rug under the circumstances?  The point being that I wanted to sit down because I felt like lazing.

There was a scarred green ottoman at the corner, the only survivor of a five-piece set that once graced our living room.  He may not look much but he is a legend when it comes to having one of the cleanest surfaces in our terrace.  He has frayed edges, watermarks in his wooden legs, a tear or two in his upholstery and a deep round depression in the middle of his worn down cushion.  My lonely and depressed ottoman was haggard from a lifetime of carrying the weight of lazy asses.

I wondered what he must think of me; what with the lazy ass he has been carrying this last couple of years belonging to me exclusively.  I lit a cigarette to help me ponder, my first stick of the day.  He must think I'm just another insensitive, stinky, sweaty asshole in the long line of assholes he has been intimate with in his entire ass-kissing life.  But then again perhaps I give him purpose; my ass is the reason for his existence.  Maybe he is thankful and contented.

Nevertheless, I opted not to sit on my moss green ottoman with the chronic depression.  Instead, I sat on the ledge of our terrace, took one long drag at my cigarette and luxuriously exhaled.  I felt like I was in heaven inhaling the sweet and pungent fumes of hell, sweeter still because it is forbidden.  I had been trying to quit since the very first stick I ever smoked.  Why can't I, anyway?  I was thinking along those lines when all hell broke loose.

"Get a haircut!"  This is coming from my imperturbable mother. 

She's always bugging me about my haircut.  It's a constant battle we engage in.  I always try to be clever with reasons that could have felled down the Marcos regime if it were ever decided on a debate.  She always has a ready question to all my answers.  She always wins by default.  I don't know why I even bother, except that I know deep down in my heart of hearts that I do manage to annoy her even if she never shows it.  That, for me, was reason enough.

"I don't want to look like any of those kids with engineered hairs.  They all look so clean and contrived.  Every time I see one of them, I get the feeling that their personal barber is constantly shadowing them with scissors and clippers at hand, ready to pounce on that one stupid strand of hair which dares veer away from the upside down hedge he has meticulously constructed.  I don't want a barber lurking in my head; you've occupied most of the limited space already."

"Why wouldn't you want to look clean and contrived?"  She wins again.

Content that I have ruffled her feathers quite a bit, I felt a parting shot would not be necessary.  I stood up from my precarious perch in our little terrace and ostentatiously ran my fingers through my hair.  I have long and graceful fingers but they are not that thin, and my hair could barely even stand out between them.  For the life of me, I could not imagine why I already need a haircut.  But Ma is Ma and there is no arguing with her.  If she says so, I would get a haircut even if I was already shaved clean and the barber would have to dig into my scalp to extract every root. 

I was thinking about having my head shaved while I was sauntering down the stairs.  By the time I reached the landing, I have decided against the idea.  I'm sure Ma wouldn't like it.  It wouldn't be the clean and contrived look she wanted for the moment and there's not much remedy to a botched shave except perhaps a wig.  And I don't want her to even begin thinking along those lines.  I quickly dashed out the door before she could ever hear snippets of my thoughts.

I was about to open our gate when I remembered I was still dressed in the clothes I slept on.  I had to go back in and change.  I started tiptoeing back into the house and quickly realized the absurdity of what I was doing.  Why was I sneaking into my own house?  Was my conscience so confused as to loose its perspective entirely?  Did I do something unspeakable last night?

All I could remember was that there were six of us who went out together to join the thousands of revelers in the grand Mardi gras parade; four girls and two guys.  When the official street dancing was over and all the floats with their gigantic commercial logos and puny Santo Niño icons had passed, we went to a bar.  It was mutually agreed between us that we shall, to the best of our ability, extend the revelry as long as we could, providing of course, that the said revelry would include beer.

I would want to describe the atmosphere of the bar we went to as sublime.  The avant garde décor and the beautiful patrons swayed in their chic clothes and daintily carried their fashionable drinks.  Blue lamps, green strobes and multi-colored lasers pierced the languid haze of Capri's and Davidoff's, and Bose and Denon speakers blared mesmerizing rhythms of hip hop and trance.

But the truth was that the bar was pretentious and utterly without character.  The people looked strained; maybe I could judge them so effortlessly because we were all the same.  It was still sexy in a pathetic kind of way, like a sullen corner of hell where the once earthly people congregate to unwind for all eternity.  The desire for excitement was still strong but the thrill of novelty already long gone.

And so we drank, secure in our comfortable circle of six.  We told tall tales of common experiences and familiar exploits.  We all knew each story before it even began but we listened just the same.  The night wore on and we all got tipsier and tipsier.  The people became more alluring; the dumb perplexity of their expressions seemed to have become a little more profound.

I'm not sure how it really came to happen.  Perhaps it was the beer or the music or maybe the moment was already predetermined by Fate in her cosmic calendar of sorts.  I was dancing with my bosom friend Dianne and we were looking deep into each other's eyes.  We've done it a million times before but the things we saw at that moment were somehow quite different.  She blushed and I'm sure I did too.  It was the first time we ever felt awkward with each other.


Posted at 04:52 pm by eDON
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Kadtong dakong Aquarium sa mga Karpa

Adlawng Lunes, alas sais sa sayong kabuntagon;  ug mao pa usab ang pagbutho sa haring adlaw sa sidlakan, diin hinay na nga mipatuyhakaw sa iyang kahayag ngadto sa nahinanok pa nga kalibutan.

Sa imong paghangad imong mabatyagan ang usa ka anino sa usa ka butang nga hinay- hinay usab nga mitukob ug milukop sa palibot, daw sa misawo sa kahayag sa adlaw ug sa pipila lang nga mga gutlo kalit ra usab nga nawala dungan sa pag abli sa bintana ni Alberto, kinsa ning higayona mitambo ug mapahiyumong mitagamtam sa mga talan awon ning preskong kabuntagon…

Mitan-aw siya sa iyang palibut, iyang nakita nga misugod na paglihok ug lakaw ang tanan niyang mga silingan padulong sa ilang tagsa-tagsa ka tahas: ang mga estudyante padulong sa ilang mga tunghaan, ang mga trabahante padulong na usab sa ilang mga edipisyo, May mga managhigala nga nagpundok ug nagtabi samtang naglingkod sa mga bangko haduol sa dalan, Madungog na usab ang karal sa mga kaldero ug kawa, samtang ang mga ginikanan naghikling usab sa ilang mga pamahaw. Sa kadalanan madungog ang mga busina sa mga kotse ug mga sakyanang pampubliko diin tulin kaayong naglumba aron pagkuha ug hatod sa ilang mga sakay nga pasahero.    

Kining tanan daw usa ka maanindot nga talan awon alang kang Alberto, kinsa ning tungora nalingaw gayud nga nag obserbar sa lakang sa mga panghitabo. Dali kining mihikutir sa pag tan- aw sa iyang relo de pulso aron iyang masuta kung sya angayan naba usab nga magpreparar sa iyang kaugalingon ug maghikling na usab ug pamahaw aron siya makalakaw paingun sa zoo nga iyang gialigaran.

Tuod man

 

     

Posted at 03:13 pm by jam
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The Vertigo

Anne has just awaken from a long slumber, she remembered she had the flu just the day before and how she miserably spent the whole day at the office- checking the long line of papers and a haystack pile of journals she had to review.

She hurriedly went home at 5:00 pm just as she tackled the remnants of her work, said her goodbyes to her colleagues- busy as ever with their respective responsibilities but managed to wave a hand or two at her. She dropped by at the corner drugstore for some pills that might ease the heat and the nausea she's feeling.

Supper for her is just the average fast food- since living alone in the suburbs of Metropolitan Cebu is life on the go; she’s always on the runt to get a pizza or hamburger to let her hunger pass. Just as she was finishing up, a knock was heard on her front door. She watched the time and opened it up to see her best friend and confidant on the affairs of her apartelle, Martha, the laundry lady; who's come to take her weekly laundry and while at it, has also come to chat with her friend.

After an hour or two of talking, Anne thought it best to go to sleep as she felt drowsy again. Martha added in a few quips to help her with her ailment, but Anne thought it best to take a pill or two and go to bed, but carrying in a few precautionary measures like an extra pillow, and a glass of water, and two more pills just in case the heat goes back again.

4:00 am- she woke up in a drizzle or so she felt. Funny, she thought; the flu has gone away! Hmmm…that expensive pill really works! She hurriedly went to the mirror to tidy up herself and proceeded for a cold shower to wash the smell of medicine with the aim to give her day a kick start before going to work.

She hurriedly took her breakfast- fast as usual with the average sunny-side up, some Tocinos and a sandwich with a morning brew, conscious with the time as she wanted to get to her office to brush up on the documents she left the day before.

It was a rain pelted morning as she was strolling down the avenue to get to her establishment, and she felt an unusual chill in the air as though the coldness of the morning has really sipped in her bones.

She stepped in and took her seat, greeted her cheery colleagues- who were cheerful and to see her well and undulating off from yesterday's flu ordeal.

She proceeded checking a pile of papers- and encoding infos to her PC. Just then she noticed that the room she's in is getting colder with every passing minute and that the pc monitor gradually stains with fog. Perpetually she thought that the dripping weather could be the cause as to the freeze over of the building's air conditioning unit and just stop what she's doing every now and then to wipe her monitor.

By 11:00 am, the coldness of the room seems unbearable that it has called everyone's attention, footsteps from down the hall to the offices can be heard rushing in to the pantry and the eerie sound of the coffeemaker coupled with spoons against mugs brings the occasional rhythm every now and then. It seems everyone is anxious too for that hot coffee mug just to ease the freezing feeling that's brushing in.

Lunch time. As the loud buzz of the alarm echoed through the building, chatters and murmurs of people can be heard as everybody is on the rush for that hot meal to fill their cold and empty stomachs. Everyone rushed out of the building, to their surprise with the sight they met outside.




      


 

Posted at 02:52 pm by jam
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Untitled: Fourth Installment


Continued ...

“Okay. I’ll wait for you outside. Make it quick.”

“Okay.”

--

Bryan was the last person to step out of the packed elevator. He sauntered through the ground floor’s marble-tiled reception hall and took a quick glance at the wall clock. 7:23 PM. Damn, he thought.

The evening dusk had begun its regular onslaught. Gray clouds partially swathed the half moon from the shady skies. Northern winds blew cold gales and acacia trees swayed and rustled their defiance amidst the endless cacophony of car horns in the evening rush hour.

Bench didn’t see Bryan descend from the condominium’s front steps. She was facing eastwards, at the partially-finished skyway being constructed at the corner of Escario Street and Archbishop Reyes Avenue, just a mere block away. She stood unmoving, except when she shifted her weight from one foot to another. She held a cigarette in her left hand, her right hand easily tucked beneath the opposite forearm. She looked like she was in deep thought. She wasn’t wearing her jacket. She threw the used stick carelessly on the trash bin as Bryan approached.

“You said ten minutes,” said Bench.

“Sorry, got hung up by Ellie,” Bryan replied, “you know Ellie.”

“She can’t touch you, Bry,” she sniggered, “you’re the copywriter, remember?”

“I don’t want to end up like Ken, Bench. You know what happened to him.”

“Bullshit. Ken deserved his suspension. You’re not like him. Everyone knows that.”

“Tell that to Ellie.”

Bench murmured something as she took the last stick from her pack and lit it.

“You’re already pushing seven months, right?” Bench asked.

“Eight.”

“You like the work?”

“Yeah. Hell, it isn’t easy but it sure isn’t boring.”

“You really are at home in the firm now.”

Bryan laughed, detecting the faint sarcasm.

“I know it doesn’t earn much but at least it isn’t as hard as my last job.”

“Oh?”

“Back at the PR agency, I had to do everything. Now, I’m just busy with the writing. And I’m okay with that.”

Bench just nodded wordlessly.

“What did you want to talk to me about?” Bryan asked.

She didn’t reply. Bryan shifted in his feet at the uneasy silence.

“You want out,” he finally said.

“Yeah,” she was slow in replying.

“That explains everything. The sudden irregularity of your attendance in the last two months.”

Bench laughed weakly.

“Does Noel know?” Bryan asked.

“I talked to him last June, actually. I told him I wanted to resign effective by end of August. I didn’t even cite some concrete reason, just told him I want out, to explore other options, stuff like that. I told him two months should be enough notice for him to find a replacement or to train Ellie to take my place. Well, you know him, he wouldn’t hear any of it. I wasn’t backing out of my decision, either. I told him out I’m out before September starts. Period.”

“But you’re still here.”

“Well, that’s because Anne intervened. She asked me if I could stay for a while, at least until the Caravan is over. She said backing out would be a mistake for me because Noel was considering me for partnership in the agency and accordingly, HR would be reconfiguring my salary. That’s what they told Jong back in 2003 but it never happened. Lucky for him, he still got the Dubai job one year later. Besides, I’ve seen the company books and the numbers don’t look pretty. But I said yes anyway. The thing is: I owed Anne big time. She once did something important for me back in the days and I’ve never repaid her for it. She begged me to do this for her and we'd call it quits. She made me promise I’d stay until the end of the year. I couldn’t say no. That’s why I’m still here.”

“No shit.”

“But there’s no way I’m staying beyond November, that’s for sure. Noel is already bugging me for updates on December and January deliverables and like hell I’m going to commit on those. If I do, I’m never getting out, never. That’s why I need your help.”

“What?”

“From here on, Noel isn’t going to listen to any bullshit from me about changing my mind on the deal and leaving the company because of this reason and that. Hell, I could even tell him that I got a contract for a Houston job and I’ll be flying off to Texas before November ends but he’s not going to buy it, I know he won’t. I need another fool-proof reason. And this is where you come in.”

“You want me to think of a reason?”

“No, Bry. Listen, everyone in the office knows we get along really great with each other. You know me — I’ve had rows with Ellie, Ken, Kyla and even Noel. But I’ve never had a quarrel with you, not only because you’re such a nice guy but because you’re actually pretty cool. Now, what if we give them the idea, the illusion if you will, that we got something going on that’s more than just the usual “we’re just buds” shtick? You know what I mean, right?”

“But you’re not into guys — ”

“I know, I know. But none of the office people know that except you, Bry. Listen, what if we give them the idea that I’m going AWOL because we’ve had an affair gone sour?”

“My God, you’ve lost your mind.”


Posted at 05:21 pm by iampaperbag
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