March 16, 2014

Writing Badly # 73

Painting of a Typewriter

 

 

 

 

Here, while sitting beside writers and artists,
and listening to a legendary artist talk about
her life and her art, I wonder if I myself can
create art, too. I wonder if I can become an artist and
create things beautiful and true. I have written dozens

of verses in my life, but I feel I have not yet written
a single piece of authentic art. So here I am now,
sitting up properly, listening carefully, smiling,
laughing when appropriate, scanning the faces
of the crowd of real artists, old and new, inhaling

the air breathed by masters and students of the craft,
literally rubbing elbows with some of them; and I
wait, I wait for that spark, that throb, that tiny pulse
inside me that might propel me and urge me
to finally write that ever elusive animal called art.

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March 16, 2014

Writing Badly # 72

Painting of a Typewriter

 

 

 

 

Before I pour the contents of your soul
over the rim of my famished mind, let me first
touch you. Let my fingers trace the edges
of your spine. Let me feel the dimensions
of your being. Let me wrap you with see-through

attire. Now, I am ready to drink your thoughts,
your narratives and your claims to truth. But before
that first sip, before that first bite, let me lift you up,
now bare and exposed, and let me catch a whiff
of your scent: vanilla and ink. You are mine.

March 13, 2014

Writing Badly # 71

Painting of a TypewriterHe trained his handgun against me. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t pull this trigger,” he said.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.” His accomplice stood behind him with the loot.

A part of me was telling me that I shouldn’t have intervened but my conscience compelled me to act.

“Well,” I began. “We know murder is wrong.”

He smirked.

“That tells us that there is such a thing as a Moral Law, and therefore, a Moral Law Giver. It’s against God’s will for you to murder people.”

He lowered the gun. “Wait, let me think about that.”

March 13, 2014

Writing Badly # 70

Painting of a TypewriterI was known in high school for my legs. I was not bright or athletic, but I had nice legs. Few of my former class mates can remember my name, but many of them can’t forget “the guy with the legs.” It’s been 18 years and so much has changed in my life, but not my legs. They’ve remained as they were.

So it didn’t surprise me very much when my girlfriend confronted me about it one night.

“If you love me,” she said. “If you really, really love me, you will grow hair on your legs.”

We were at an intersection waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Next to a tall building was a huge Svenson billboard.

“Babe?” I said.

“You heard me,” she said. She folded her arms across her chest and continued gazing outside the window.

“I love your legs just the way they are.”

She turned and faced me. “This is not about my legs. You know that. I’m talking about your legs. It’s not normal for a guy to have flawless legs.”

I tried to peer into her legs, but it was too dark inside the car.

“There’s nothing I can do about it, babe. Nature has given me…”

“Don’t bring Mother Nature into this. There must be something you can do about it.” She lowered her arms and her voice grew tender. “Have you tried shaving them?”

“Uh, no. Why would I do that?”

“Shaving might stimulate your hair follicles. Have you tried taking biotin supplements?”

“No, what are those?”

“They’re water-soluble vitamins that can help increase hair growth. I’ll drop by the pharmacy tomorrow after my shift. Have you tried rubbing your legs?”

“No.”

“They can help increase blood circulation, you know. Have you tried exfoliating them?”

“What’s that?”

“Removing the dead skin cells from your legs. They may be blocking your hair follicles. You can use a loofa. Do you even have a loofa?”

“Of course, I do.” I lied.

“Good. Have you tried applying eucalyptus or rosemary oil on your legs?”

“No.”

“You must try that, too. I’ll check the Chinese drug store if they have any of those. What time do you go to bed every night?”

I looked at the clock on the dashboard. It’s almost ten-thirty.

“Usually, eleven-thirty.”

“That’s too late. You should sleep earlier than that. You need to get proper rest if you want your body to maintain its functions optimally. You don’t have to drive me to the hospital every night.”

“But your shift starts at eleven.”

“I can manage.”

“I don’t think taxis are safe for you.”

“I can ride with Amir.”

“Who’s Amir?”

“A fellow intern.”

“The Iranian guy?”

“Yes.”

“The guy with the mustache?”

“Yes.”

I tightened my grip on the steering wheel. “No, I can take you to work myself.”

“I told you, you need adequate sleep if you want your hair to grow.”

“I can wake up late.”

“You have to work in the morning.”

“I’ll ask my boss for a change of shift.”

“Don’t make this complicated, Jay. That is all I’m asking.”

She always had the final word.

I dropped her at the hospital and didn’t kiss her good bye. She didn’t ask for it. She slammed the door shut without saying anything. I saw her climb up the flight of stairs and disappear inside the Emergency Room.

For the next few days I focused on my assignment. I took two capsules of biotin daily. At work, when I wasn’t entertaining clients, I would reach down under my table, pull my slacks up to my thighs, and massage my legs. One time, I even brought a razor with me. It was during lunch break, and I had just finished eating my meal. I made sure I was alone in the office, then I pulled my pants way up so that I could get a better view of my legs. I took my shoes off and placed my left foot on the chair. I began shaving my calf, moving carefully from the back of my knee and down to my ankle. Then I moved up to my legs. Just then my boss appeared behind me.

“What are you doing?” she said.

I turned around abruptly and dropped the razor. The situation was kind of hard to explain.

“Oh my gosh, you’re bleeding,” she said.

I looked down at my legs and sure enough there was blood trickling down to my foot and toes.

I reached down to my pocket and took out my handkerchief. I pressed it against my wound.

“I’ll get the first aid kit.” She rushed outside the room in a sort of panic, and was back in a few seconds. She kneeled down beside me, put on a pair of gloves, took out some gauze pads and bandages, and began dressing the wound. She was systematic and calm. She applied Betadine on the area and covered it carefully. This was my first ever leg injury.

She stood up, removed her gloves, threw the used cotton and gauze pads on the garbage bin, and disinfected her hands with alcogel.

“You know,” she said, “for a guy, you have unusually nice legs.”

I stopped shaving my legs after that incident.

I haven’t seen Samantha for almost two weeks and I couldn’t stand it anymore. She explicitly instructed me not to call her unless it was an emergency. She said she needed to focus on her review as their board exams were fast approaching. But this was some sort of an emergency.

“Babe,” I said.

“Why did you call?” she said. “This better be important.”

“Babe, I miss you so much. When can I see you?”

“I told you not to call me unless it’s a matter of life and death.”

“I’m dying to see you.”

“Don’t be melodramatic.”

“You’re so cute when you’re angry.”

“I’m serious, why are you calling?”

“It’s just that, I haven’t heard your voice for so long. You don’t call me, you don’t reply to my texts, you’re always out of your apartment. I miss you so bad. When can I see you?”

“I already told you, after the board.”

“But that’s three months from now.”

“I already explained this to you, every single day counts. We already talked about this.”

“I know, I know, but… Can I not see you for at least an hour? Or if that’s too long, can I at least be near you for 30 minutes?”

She was silent.

“Fifteen minutes?”

Still, she wasn’t speaking.

“Ten minutes? Not even ten minutes?”

“How are your legs?” she said.

“Oh, oh, my legs,” I said. “Babe, I have great news for you. I tried everything you suggested. I’ve been taking 10 capsules of biotin everyday; I’ve been maintaining a well-balanced diet; I’ve been rubbing my legs at least three times a day; I’ve been exfoliating them twice before bedtime; I’ve been using generous amounts of rosemary oil; and I’ve been sleeping at exactly 9 o’clock every night. And you know what? This morning, I noticed the tiniest signs of hair on my legs! I’m so excited. Actually, that’s the reason why I called. I couldn’t wait to share this with you.”

“The tiniest signs?”

“Yes. I had to use a magnifying glass. But make no mistake, they’re there. No doubt about it. The situation looks very promising.”

There was again dead air.

“Babe?” I said.

“Jay,” she said finally.

“Yes, babe?”

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

I don’t know why, but there’s something about the tone of her voice that made my heart sink. I didn’t know what was coming, but already I felt like I was about to implode.

“Yes, babe?” My heart was racing, waiting. “Babe? Are you still there?”

“Please understand that this is so hard for me.”

“What’s so hard for you?”

“The fact is, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you this, that’s why I haven’t called. I don’t have the strength to break this to you, Jay, but you must know.”

My heart has risen above my chest and was stuck in my throat. “Know what?”

“The truth is, I haven’t slept for days because of this.”

“What are you saying, babe? What’s wrong? Why are you talking like this? This doesn’t sound like you. Where are you now? I must see you. I simply must. I insist on it. Tell me where you are.”

“Remember Amir?”

“Who? Amir? What’s he got to do with this? Did he hurt you or something?”

“No, he didn’t. I’m okay.”

“Then what? Tell me now.” I was freaking out. “Where are you?”

“Something happened between us.”

“What!”

“It’s nothing physical. Nothing like that. I’ve fallen for him.”

“Babe, this is crazy. This is not you talking. Where is my baby? Where is my Samantha? I must see you right away. I can’t bear to be away from you like this. I’m going to go mad. Are you in your apartment? I’m going there now. Wait for me. I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Jay. I’m so sorry, but you can’t. It’s over.”

“I’ll show you my legs. I’ll show you how hairy they are. Okay? Just wait for me, baby. I’m already inside my car. I’m looking for my keys. My hands are trembling. Babe? I think I’m going to cry. Baby? Sam?”

March 6, 2014

Writing Badly # 69

Painting of a Typewriter“We’ll be meeting again this Saturday, are you okay with that?” Pelagia didn’t bring her textbooks with her this afternoon. She was on vacation. She was in the cafe to catch up with her novels.

“Sure, why wouldn’t I be okay with it?” I smiled.

“Well, it’s Lent now, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Wouldn’t that make you feel uncomfortable?”

“No, not really.”

“You’ll overhear our conversations. You already know how outspoken some of the other members can be. You know, if I’ll inform them that you’re a Christian, they might be more sensitive about what they’re going to say.”

“There’s no need for that. You guys are free to talk about anything in my cafe.” I smiled again.

“Free even to critique Christianity?”

“Sure, you’re free to do that as well.”

“Well, I’m just a bit uncomfortable about it. You’re my friend, and I’m a bit sensitive about what you might feel about what you’ll hear from us.” She laughed.

“I’ll assure you, I’m okay with it. As long as you guys don’t bash my religion. Otherwise, I’ll throw you out of the shop. Just kidding.”

“Oh my gosh, see? You are sensitive about it. Do you want me to suggest to the group to move the venue of our meetings? But you’d lose your customers.”

“No, it’s okay, trust me.”

“Alright.”

“But I’ll be closed during Holy Week.”

“Oh, okay.”

She raised the book from her lap and continued reading. It was an Ian McEwan novel.

“Would you like more coffee?” I said.

“Yes, please. Thanks,” she said.

I went back to the counter and grounded the coffee beans. The grinder filled the shop with its noise. There was a group of teenagers sitting on the sofa at the corner of the cafe. They barely spoke with one another. One of them, a tall, Chinese girl, stood up and approached the counter.

I took a mug and placed it on the espresso machine’s drip tray. I pulled the grinder’s dispensing level twice and received the powdered coffee using the portafilter. I pressed on the coffee, making it compact, before attaching it to the espresso machine. I tuned the machine on and received the espresso with the mug.

“Excuse me, sir,” the girl said.

“Yes?”

“I was wondering if the books are for sale.”

“Yes, they are.”

“Oh, okay. How much for these?” She showed me several novels from the Classics shelf.

“Each one for a hundred pesos,” I said.

“Alright,” she said. “Can I pay them later, together with the coffee we ordered?”

“Sure.”

She thanked me but she remained standing near the counter. She was looking at the pastries on display inside the glass below the cash register. I took the mug to Pelagia’s table.

“Why don’t you sit down?” Pelagia said. She placed the book on the table.

“There’s a customer at the counter,” I said.

“Let her be. She’ll call you when she’s ready to order.”

“Maybe she won’t order if there’s no one there to take her order.”

“Just sit down for a bit. You’re always standing up, moving about. You need to rest once in a while.”

“I have a chair there behind the counter.”

“Why are you trying to avoid me?”

“I’m not trying to avoid you.” I chuckled.

“Then sit down.”

I sat down. She looked at me intently. She doesn’t look as geeky as when she’s wearing her uniform and glasses.

“Where are your glasses?” I said.

“I’m wearing contacts right now. I’m still getting used to them. I get teary-eyed every few minutes,” she said. She took out a handkerchief.

“You look different without your glasses and uniform.”

“Oh? Is that good or bad?”

“Good.”

“So I look bad with my uniform and glasses?”

“I didn’t say that. It’s just that, you look nerdy with your glasses.”

“That’s not very flattering.”

The Chinese girl called out from the counter. I stood up and approached her.

“How much for a slice of carrot cake?” she said.

“Thirty-five pesos,” I said.

“Give me two slices.”

I went inside the counter and took out the cake. I placed two slices on two separate plates and transferred them to the plastic tray. “I’ll bring them to your table, ma’am,” I said, but when I looked up, she was no longer there. She has re-joined her friends.

I took the tray and brought the cakes to their table. I returned the tray and went back to Pelagia.

“How long is your vacation?” I asked her.

“Four days,” she said.

“What are your plans?”

“My friends and I are planning to go to Bantayan tomorrow. Why? Do you want to come?”

“Thanks, but I can’t.”

“Oh, right. Sorry. What do you do during Lent?”

“Why, work, of course, just like everybody else. Except during Holy Week.”

“No, I mean, you guys are obligated to fast, abstain, and all that, right?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, Lent is primarily a time of self-examination for the Christian. During this period, we are obligated to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It’s kind of a going-back-to-spiritual basics kind of thing. I mean, it’s kind of like an athlete who goes back to training to hone his skills and abilities. Lent gives Christians the opportunity to go back to the basics of their spiritual life. So we pray, we fast, abstain from eating meat, give alms to the poor, help the needy, etc., all of which are different means of making concrete the reality of love.”

“So you’re not allowed to have fun, like go to the beach and stuff?”

“Well, I’d put it this way: there’s nothing wrong with having fun itself, like going to the beach, etc. Those things are good. But during Lent we Christians are given the opportunity to reflect not on the good things in the world, but on the One who is the source of all these good things. I mean, at the center of Lent is Jesus Christ — his life, ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection. That’s who we are asked to focus on. We are obligated to look to him, to examine our lives in relation to his, and to follow him. Things like prayer, alms-giving, fasting,  works of charity, etc., bring us closer to him and help us have a deeper knowledge of him.”

I could sense that she was losing interest about what I was saying.

“I’m not sure if I’m making any sense,” I said.

She smiled. “How about after Lent? Will you be able to go to the beach after Lent?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, I’ll invite you again after Lent.”

“With your friends?”

“Do you want them to come?”

“No, I mean, yes, if they want to. I mean, I can go out with you and your friends, if they won’t mind.”

February 28, 2014

Writing Badly # 68

Painting of a TypewriterI didn’t know there were so many lonely people in Cebu until I placed my advertisement on the local newspapers. “Friend For Hire,” it read in bold letters. Below it were printed my name and contact number.

Scarcely a day after it was published, I was getting phone calls almost every hour. At first, most of the callers were simply curious.

“What service are you offering?” one guy asked.

“Friendship,” I said.

“Friendship?”

“Yes.”

“Is this a joke?”

“No.”

Then he hang up.

Some of the calls were a bit bizarre.

“Hi, I’m calling about your ad,” one woman said.

“Yes?”

“May I ask, what are you offering exactly?”

“Friendship.”

“What kind of friendship?”

I had to pause and consider how many kinds of friendships there were.

“Just friendship,” I said finally. “Mere friendship. You know, we go places, hang out, tell each other jokes, pat each other on the back, do stuff, whatever, and then you pay me.”

“Let me get this straight, you’ll do whatever I’ll ask of you?”

I realized that the word “whatever” was pretty general and can refer to all sorts of potentially mischievous and downright dangerous things.

“I mean simply that the service I offer is that of mere camaraderie.”

“Would “love” fall under the category of camaraderie?”

“Well, if you mean Platonic love, then yes.”

Then she hang up.

But soon enough, the general public, or at least those who read the advertisement every Sunday, understood what I meant, and the curious inquiries became less and less frequent. I hadn’t meant anything sleazy. My business was legit, and later people complimented me for introducing this novel entrepreneurial idea.

I was getting swamped by bookings every week. I was meeting people from Monday to Saturday. I restricted myself to two friends per day, so that I won’t be overwhelmed by too much sociability, and allotted a maximum of four hours per buddy. But sometimes I had to customize, as some friends would thirst for more than four hours of friendship, while others would get jealous that I have another best friend waiting for my company that same day.

As a rule, I only meet friends in public places like malls, movie theaters, and museums. I avoid residences for the reason that it would be too awkward, as most, if not all, of my clients were living alone.

I confess that I have favorite customers, and I do tend to prefer them over the others. I am inclined to avoid friends who are too creepy or scary. I can take mild forms of eccentricity, but psychosis is not my cup of tea.

One of my favorite friends was Aris. He’s a bit on the nerdy side of things. He always wore large glasses and over-sized pants that looked like pajamas. His shirt and shoes were usually mismatched, but I am not very particular about fashion. I’m aware that friends aren’t supposed to be judgmental toward each other.

We would usually meet at the public library or at bookshops. I would listen to him talk for hours about the latest video games, gadgets, comic books, and famous philosophers. I didn’t know a single famous philosopher. In fact, I didn’t know philosophers were famous. But more to it, I didn’t know a single philosopher, period.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Aris said the first time the topic about philosophers came up. He was holding a copy of a book from the Speculative Fiction shelf.

“I’m serious, I don’t know a single philosopher,” I said.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he repeated, this time retreating a couple of steps from me.

“I’m totally ignorant of philosophy. Oh wait, Plato is a philosopher, right? Now I remember. He somehow reminds me of food.”

“Then you can’t be my friend.” He looked downcast.

“Hey, hey cheer up, buddy, the thing about me is that I am always willing to learn new stuff. In this case, I’m willing to learn philosophy,” I shuddered a bit, “if you’ll guide me.” I didn’t want to lose my clients, or rather, it pained me, naturally, to lose my friends.

“Do you even read?”

“Of course, I read. I read the Classified Ads every morning. I read the Nutrition Facts on the side of my soda.”

“You’re hopeless. Haven’t you realized that I was named after a famous philosopher?”

“You’re joking.”

“Do I look like I’m joking?” His expression convinced me that he wasn’t. “I was named after Aristotle, the father of logic, among many other things. Duh.”

For the next couple of hours he gave me a lecture on syllogisms, propositions, premises, inferences, deductive reasoning, truth value, modus ponens, modus tollens, and how the history of logic unfolded and who the key players in the game were. Needless to say, all of it went over my head and out my other ear.

Sometimes, our subject was a little less cerebral.

“You know, I once tried deactivating my Facebook account to see if my friends will miss me,” he said. “Yeah. But when I logged back in a year later, nobody even noticed I was gone. Imagine that! To think that I have over a thousand Facebook friends.”

My heart bled for the guy.

“One time, I got terribly sick. I had high fever and I was having chills all over. But I was lucid enough to announce the bad news in my wall before my parents rushed me to the hospital. It was dengue and I almost died. But nobody ever visited me during my confinement. Not one. Of course, my parents were there, but not one of my friends ever came to bring fruits or flowers.”

I was on the brink of bursting into tears, but guys aren’t supposed to cry with their guy friends.

My other favorite friend was Dylan. I liked him because he was almost Aris’ opposite. I liked Aris’ loquaciousness and intelligence, but often I found myself at the receiving end of too much information and knowledge. Dylan was usually timid and reserved, but interesting. Sometimes he would address someone beside him, and there would be no one there. It kind of gave me the goosebumps at first, but I got used to it eventually. The first time we met was at a little known coffee shop on the outskirts of the city called The Kaphenia. It was almost always deserted, which made me wonder how it remained in business for so long, but Dylan preferred the ambiance that way.

“Do you have a third eye?” I asked Dylan then.

“A third eye? No. Why do you say that?” He was tapping his lap nervously.

“Well.” I didn’t quite know how to put it to him. “Who’s your friend?”

“Oh, her? I am so sorry. Where are my manners?” He grinned. It was one of only a few times that I noticed him smile. “I forgot to introduce you two together.” I stared at the empty chair across our table.

“Maria Josefina Cervantes, this is my new friend Danny. Danny, this is my old friend Maria Josefina Cervantes,” Dylan said.

We shook hands. I wondered if I was meeting his grandmother.

“How do you do, ma’am,” I said. “Pleased to meet your acquaintance.”

Dylan is approaching the age of thirty-five. His favorite topics, when he was in the mood to talk, were wishes and dreams.

“I wish I were more brave when I was younger,” he said. “I should’ve taken more risks. I should’ve gone on to Law School or Med School. I’d probably be a lawyer by now or maybe an internist.” Often, we would while away the hours staring at paintings in art galleries. His favorite painter was Botticelli. I like art, but I confess that I couldn’t tell the difference between Impressionism and Surrealism when he asked me about it. He was severely disappointed.

“Why didn’t you pursue Law?” I continued our conversation. I saw it as an opportunity to draw him out of himself, so to speak.

“Oh, I wasn’t sure if Medicine was better,” he said.

“And why didn’t you pursue Medicine?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if Law was better.”

“I can see your dilemma.”

“Sometimes, I would picture myself standing in front of a court room arguing passionately for a case. I am passionate about justice. My blood boils every time I see someone being wronged.”

Somehow I just couldn’t imagine him having an excess of emotions, as he usually appeared apathetic and indifferent. Perhaps if he did go to Law School, he might’ve become a very good lawyer. Perhaps he would win each of his cases using only a few words.

“But sometimes, the smell of the hospital would beckon me out of my litigious revelry. Believe it or not, Dan, I love the smell of hospitals. Sure, it’s a place full of pain, anxiety, and misery, but I love it nonetheless. I love the intellectual stimulation of the profession itself. My favorite subjects in Nursing School were Anatomy and Pathophysiology. I loved studying the functions of the human body, and I loved tracing down the processes of diseases. Do you know where your clavicle is?”

“My what?”

“Your clavicle.”

I had a feeling it was a body part, but before I could speak, he proceeded to pinch my clavicle, and, to be honest, I was a bit taken aback. The barista observed us closely.

“You’re never too old to pursue Law or Medicine,” I said soon after I recovered.

“But I’m still not sure which of the two I love best, and I’m almost thirty-five,” he said, passing a piece of the apple pie on to Maria Josefina Cervantes’ saucer, whom I had forgotten was there listening to us.

“You’ll have to make up your mind, buddy. You can’t pursue both, obviously, and you can’t hesitate forever. Weigh the two options carefully and see which way the weighing scale tilts.”

“Maria Josefina Cervantes said the exact same thing the other day, didn’t you Maria?” He glanced at her. “Gosh, you two are so much alike.”

And then there’s Sophia, another favorite friend. The thing about Sophia is that she wouldn’t strike you as someone who would be short on friends. What I mean to say is, she is attractive, intelligent, funny, gregarious, fascinating and all that. When we first met, it was at a Japanese restaurant in I. T. Park. She treated me to some Yakiniku, Sake, and a whole array of Sushi and Maki. I must confess that among all of my favorite friends, she is the one I especially looked forward to meeting at the end of each week. I wished our meet ups were more frequent, that is to say, daily, but her schedule wouldn’t permit her to go out as often as she liked. Heck, I was more than willing to offer her my service free of charge. In fact, I proposed the idea to her once. But she would have none of it. It upset her that I even suggested it.

“If you won’t charge me,” she said, “it would appear as if our meet ups are in fact dates. And I don’t like that. No offense, but this thing between us is strictly business. That’s all this is and that’s all this ever will be.”

I have to admit that that sort of doused the fire inside me, so to speak.

“Don’t get me wrong. You seem like a really nice guy. But all my life I’ve been chased by guys who only disappointed me in the end, and frankly I’m sick of it. I don’t have a single male friend because all they ever wanted was to sleep with me. Excuse my saying so. This is where you come in. You will be my first male friend.”

I overlooked the Yakiniku, which I was supposed to stir. Black smoke rose from the electric grill and the pork and chicken meat became unrecognizable as charred pieces of flesh.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said. “Waiter, waiter!” I called out. “Let me order another one for you. It’s on me.”

“It’s alright,” she said. “Don’t bother. I think they’re still edible.” She was smiling, and that gave me relief.

Since the topic was still fresh in our minds, I took the opportunity of allowing her to continue talking about the male species, whose members she apparently loathes, in the hopes of eventually drawing from her a picture of her ideal guy. Hope flickered inside me.

“Things aren’t that hopeless, you know,” I said, trying to cheer her spirits up. “Not all guys are that bad. There must be someone out there for you, and someday you’ll find him, or else he will find you. What is your ideal man, by the way? Can you describe him?”

She eyed me suspiciously, and I quickly averted my eyes and concentrated on the chopsticks in my hand, which under normal circumstances I usually managed to handle without any difficulty or awkwardness.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Just curious.”

“Well, if you really want to know…”

“I’m all ears.”

“But I don’t know where to begin.”

“You might begin with what he looks like, for example. Maybe how tall he is, or what the shade of his skin is?” I’ve always been proud of my height and skin color.

“Those are only secondary qualities. No, what I really want, is a guy who has big brains. Not literally, of course. I mean someone who has a beautiful mind. I don’t need a guy who will bore me to death with his cars, biceps, and ego. I want a guy who’s cultured and well-educated. In short, a want a guy who knows everything.”

“Everything?”

“Everything.”

“You mean like an omniscient person? Someone who knows everything there is to know about absolutely everything in the universe? And someone who can read people’s thoughts?”

“Well, that’s a gross exaggeration. I meant simply someone who is literate about philosophy, science, art, literature, and so on.”

“You mean someone who knows logic, premises, deductive reasoning and all that? Someone who can tell his modus ponens from his modus tollens?” Apparently, Aris’ sermons weren’t entirely fruitless.

“Exactly!” Her iris dilated as she looked at me.

“Oh, I see.”

“But not just logic, you know, but everything else. I want a guy who can sweep me off my feet with his knowledge of the history of philosophy, which is the history of ideas. Ideas excite me. Someone who can fill my mind and heart with the biographies and theories of the great thinkers from Antiquity, like the Pre-Socratics and the Greek philosophers…”

“Plato and Aristotle, you mean?” I said casually.

“Yes!” She blushed. “And the great minds from the Middle Ages, like Augustine and Aquinas; and the philosophers from the Modern period, like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Leibniz, and all the rest of them; and the great minds from the Post-modern age, like Nietzsche, Sartre, and everyone else. I need a guy who can talk to me about metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“Absolutely.”

“He would have to be someone who is scientifically literate as well. Someone who is conversant with physics, astronomy, cosmology, and biology. Someone who can dazzle me with his explanations about the cosmos, quantum mechanics, multiple universes, natural selection and whatnot.”

“And someone who knows art?”

“Yes, someone who knows its history, who frequents art galleries, who has good aesthetic sensibilities and collects fine paintings.”

“My favorite painter is Botticelli. Yours?”

“He should be knowledgeable about literature, too. If not with Philippine literature, then with Western literature. He must know Homer’s epics like the back of his hand. He must know the Classics, also. I want no less than a Janeite. He must be able to recite to me whole passages of Pride and Prejudice, in particular Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Lizzie, her reply, and Lizzie’s retorts to and rebuttals of Lady de Bourgh’s threats and accusations. I guess what I’m saying is, he must be acquainted with the canon of Western literature. He must have a personal library, as well, and it must be big. There must be rows of bookcases inside his bedroom, and he must be in the habit of reading at least two books a month. He must be well-read, in short.”

“I’ve seen the movie Pride and Prejudice. Keira Knightley’s acting was superb.”

“Ugh. I detest that adaptation. It was unfaithful and too cinematic. And Knightley was too flirty, totally unlike Austen’s Lizzie.”

The waitress brought a pot of house tea, but I was starting to lose my appetite.

“He would have to be a published writer, obviously. Someone who churns out short stories, poems, and essays on a regular basis.”

I nodded weakly.

“And oh, before I forget, he would have to be either a lawyer or a doctor, too. I need someone who can protect me in case I get into some kind of legal trouble, unlikely as that is, or someone who can take care of me and our children with his expertise about diseases. And he must know how to play the pianoforte or the violin, so he can serenade me and the kids during family time.” She looked as if she was in a trance. Obviously, this was a topic she was absolutely passionate about.

“I’m sorry, I got carried away,” she said. “I could go on and on for hours, but that would be a good sketch of my ideal man. I have never shared this to anyone, by the way. You’re the first to know. Thank you so much for listening. You’re a good friend.”

“You’re welcome.” I was slumped in my chair.

I walked home that night. There was a bit of a misunderstanding about who was going to shoulder the bill. I paid for it down to the last centavo. But she was very gracious about it and took no offense at all. I concede that seventeen kilometers was not very near, but I needed the exercise.

I wasn’t able to get out of bed the following morning. I had a severe bout of leg cramps, but I didn’t mind skipping breakfast. I do that every now and again anyway when I needed to fast ahead of Lent. So I closed my eyes and dozed off. I awoke at half past three however when my stomach started to digest itself. It was more than I could bear, but I still couldn’t command my legs to move. I could feel them, but I had no power over them. I started to panic. I wondered if anyone will ever miss me if I’ll starve to death right there in my own house. Will anyone notice my absence? My neighbors will surely detect the stench of my decaying corpse in a few days, but will anyone really care that I am gone? How many people will attend my funeral? Will anyone cry at my wake? Hunger must have produced these morbid reflections. I banished them immediately out of my mind and tried to think of a course of action that I could take. Then I remembered my favorite friends! Luckily, my phone was within reach. I tried ringing Aris’ number, but he wasn’t answering. Calling Sophia was out of the question because the situation was too embarrassing and ridiculous. So I called Dylan.

“Hello, Dan,” he answered.

“Hello, Dylan,” I said. “How are you?”

“Not too good, I’m afraid.”

“Really? How come?”

“Maria and I had an argument last night. She hasn’t come home yet. I’m worried.”

“Oh, well, that’s too bad. I’m sure she’s alright. Perhaps she needed to spend more time with herself. You know, all of us need a little “me time” every once in a while. She’ll be back. Listen, buddy, I’m in some sort of a difficult situation right now. I need your help. Are you busy?”

“I think it may have something to do with you.”

“What has something to do with me?” My bedroom was rapidly turning into a sauna room.

“Our quarrel. I noticed her looking at you in a strange way the last time we met. I think she likes you.”

“No, no, that can’t be true.”

“I noticed that you were looking at her in a funny way, too.”

“That’s impossible. I will never do that.”

“Is she there?”

“What? No.”

“Are you guys cheating on me? What kind of a friend cheats on his friend?”

“But…”

“I’ll tell you, he isn’t a friend at all, but a conniving, back-stabbing, heartless, deceitful SOB. That’s what he is.”

“Hey, buddy, you misunderstood.”

“Don’t call me buddy. I now see why you keep on hanging out with me even if I’m boring. I’ll slit your throat with a scalpel if I ever see your face again.”

And he hang up. I stared at the ceiling, my body soaked in sweat. I wondered if Maria Josefina Cervantes was staring at me at that same moment. Maybe at my clavicle? I dialed the police hotline.

February 25, 2014

Writing Badly # 67

Painting of a Typewriter“What I don’t get,” said Pelagia, “is why life has to be so hard.” She prolonged the word “so” and pronounced “hard” emphatically.

It was a Tuesday, but she was at The Kaphenia, to catch up on her studies. She placed her bag on the chair and a textbook on the table and settled down on her seat. She brushed her hair aside and drew a long breath.

“Having a bad day?” I said. She didn’t answer.

She drank from her bottled water, took down her glasses and rubbed her eyes.

“Do you find life easy?” she said.

“Not in the least,” I said. “Is this about school?”

“Not just school, but everything. Life, everything. I’ve just begun Med School, and already I am overwhelmed.”

“They say the toughest years in Med School are the first two.”

“You have no idea. Actually, it’s hard from day one until the day you retire. But it’s not just that, it’s everything else. Life.” She drew another breath. “I live with my sister at home, and she has five kids. Imagine that, five kids running around the apartment with only my sister, mother, brother, and a yaya to look after them. That’s not enough manpower. I mean, to take care of five kids you need an army of people. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids, they’re adorable, but… I help out occasionally. But I have too little time to spare. My energy is already spent by the time I get home from school. Then, I look after the kids for a while, do a few chores, talk to the rest of the family, and so on. Before I know it, I have too little time left for studying. That’s why I am seldom home early. I stay at the library or at fast food restaurants with my block mates. My life is hard, but I guess that’s nothing compared to what my sister is going through. Without a husband and a steady income to depend on, she can barely keep her wits together. I’m sorry for unloading on you like this. Thank you for listening. I feel better now.”

“Would you like some tea?”

“Yes, please.”

She took out her notebooks and pencil case. She played with the marker with her fingers. I took the cup of tea to her, placed it beside her books.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

I went back to my counter and tied the aphron around my waist. I finished washing the rest of the cups and saucers from the sink and dried my hands. I then cleaned the portafilters and jotted down something on my ledger. There was a couple sitting next to the window; they appeared lost in each of their books. I had lined the walls of the cafe with bookcases filled with books, and I had arranged them according to genre. My business idea started out as a bookshop, but since I’m fond of coffee, I added the cafe months later. The books are for sale, but anyone can browse them for free. Sales are usually slow during office hours.

“How’s life?” Pelagia said.

“Same as always,” I said.

“I envy you.” She was now flashing a tired smile. “I envy your lifestyle. This kind of life can’t be hard. I mean, you’re doing what you love. You’re not trapped in some office cubicle from 8 to 5. Your time is more flexible. You are your own boss.”

I chuckled. “It’s not as easy and ideal as it sounds.”

“Oh? If I had a choice, I would want to have my own business. Be my own boss. Hire my own people. Do the things I really love. Read books. Sell books. Sell coffee.”

“You wouldn’t become a doctor.”

“I wouldn’t become a doctor.”

“Would that make you happy? Would life be easier for you that way?”

“Yes, definitely.”

I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what to say.

She closed her book and finished the tea. She gazed at the open window absentmindedly. A few cars whizzed by as if in a hurry. Traffic was still light.

She stood up and went to the counter. “Can I have more of this?” she said.

“Oh, sorry, I forgot to leave the pot with you. Let me get it. It’s okay, you can go back to your seat.”

“It’s okay, no problem. I wanted to stretch my legs anyway.”

I poured more tea on her cup.

“So why do you think life has to be hard like this?”

I laughed. “You’re still thinking about it.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know. Maybe life would be boring without trials.”

“I can deal with boredom.”

“Life wouldn’t be colorful, exciting, or at the very least, interesting.”

“I don’t think life has to be those in order to be easy.”

“So you want life to be easy, then?”

“Of course.” She laughed and tapped my wrist. “That makes me sound so lazy.”

“If you had any power to change your life right now in an instant, what kind of life would you like to have?”

“I already told you, this kind of life. Have my own cafe and book shop, serve people coffee, read books, talk about ideas with friends, meet different kinds of people, travel occasionally, and so on.”

“It’ll be an exciting and novel idea at first, but eventually it will wear off, and you will have to face the tediousness of it all.”

“You’re so cynical today. Maybe you’d like to have a sip of what you’ve served me.”

I laughed.

“You can give this business to me,” she said. “Then I’ll quit school.”

“I’m not sure you’d really want that. You’ll have to deal with financial difficulties. You’ll have to deal with exorbitant taxes, red tape, and corrupt government minions. Often, the money you’ll make is not enough to break even.”

The lady near the window looked up from her novel.

“I’m sorry,” I said, in a hushed voice.

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know things are like that with you.” She reached out and touched my hand.

“It’s okay. I’m okay.”

“I’ll pay you double for this tea.”

“No, don’t do that.”

“I insist.”

“No, that’s bad business.”

“How? Allow me this, at least this one time.” She smiled.

I felt so embarrassed.

“One answer to your question might be,” I said after a while, “that trials help build our character. Perhaps the purpose of life is not for us to be comfortable, but for us to become particular kinds of individuals, men and women who have good characters.”

“Why do you say that? It seems but natural for us to want life to be less strenuous and painful. We have this tendency to want things to be smooth and easy. I mean, wouldn’t you feel happy if you’re life were easier and more comfortable?”

“Like I said, eventually, you’ll get bored to death. I guess at a superficial level, we’re happy when things are easy. But pain and struggles give our life more meaning and depth.”

“I don’t know. For me, life is more meaningful when you’re just sitting around in a cafe all day, reading a book, and drinking tea. Where did you get this stuff?”

“It’s not commercial tea. I bought it in Carbon. They sell the tea leaves by kilos.”

“Show me where. Can you take me there one of these days?”

“Sure, whenever you’re not busy.”

“I must get back to my books. Time to roll the stone up hill like Sisyphus.”

I took the pot and followed her to her table.

February 24, 2014

Writing Badly # 66

Painting of a TypewriterI read the text out loud, “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.” I lowered the book down to my lap. “What do you think of that? Pretty interesting, eh?”

“I don’t know,” she said, smiling. “How can precepts give joy to the heart? I think that precepts or laws would limit your joy, instead of increasing it.”

“We’ll, they’re not just anyone’s laws. They are God’s. If they’re just human laws that are being imposed upon you, I guess that would limit your joy, but since these laws are God’s laws…”

“I don’t know.” She’s still smiling. “What are God’s laws in the first place? I’m not even sure that there is a God.”

“I know where you’re coming from.”

“Do you?”

“You’re an agnostic, right?”

“Well, I’m not entirely sure. I’d like to think of myself as an atheist, but I feel uncomfortable about it. It sounds too radical, and the name sort of has a negative connotation.” She adjusted her glasses. “That’s just between you and me, alright? Don’t tell the rest of the group.”

“I won’t,” I said.

Pelagia is a member of an atheist organization that meets in my cafe every Saturday. I don’t join their conversations. I only serve them coffee. But I listen to their weekly chats with great interest. After the meeting, she would stay and study for her class. She’s in Med School.

“Suppose God does exists,” I continued. “He would have to be morally perfect. I mean, it would be part of his nature to be morally perfect. And it would be natural for him to give commands. I mean, if he created the universe and everything in it, including intelligent life, including us, he would care about how we behave. He would care about our actions. He would care whether we do good or commit evil. These commands would be his rules, his precepts.”

“Well, what do you think they are?”

“In general, I think it would be to do good and avoid or prevent evil. To be just, loving, courageous, compassionate, excellent, and so on. But the Christian tradition in the New Testament summarized it as God’s two greatest commandments: Loving God with all your being, and loving your neighbor as yourself.”

“How would following those give you joy?”

“Well, when you do good to others, when you commit a selfless act for the sake of others, don’t you feel joyful? When you use your mind to the best of your ability, by studying medicine, for example, or when you excel in sports or some other physical activity, don’t you feel fulfilled, happy?”

“I guess. But that is if God exists. Do you think God exists? You sound like you’re a Christian, so I guess your answer is yes.”

“Yes, I do think he exists.”

“Why don’t you join us next Saturday?”

“I’d rather not.” I stood up and went to the counter. No one else was in the cafe.

“Why not?”

“Did you say you want another brewed coffee?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Perhaps someday, I will. I have a feeling your group is quite exclusive.”

“We’re not. We’re really very inclusive and open-minded. Although I may need to talk to Jake if we could let you join us. I’m sure he will.”

“Maybe next time. For now, I’ll just listen in to your discussions.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

I took the French press and went back to her table. I re-filled her cup with coffee and walked away. She opened one of her textbooks, picked up a marker, and started reading.

February 24, 2014

Writing Badly # 65

Painting of a TypewriterI like it here. Nothing happens here. The door is shut and locked. There must be more than a dozen rooms in this floor alone and no one will know where I’m staying. That is, no one who knows me will know where I’m staying. I haven’t told any acquaintance of mine, nor did anyone asked.

I like it here. It’s quiet. It’s absolutely still. The room is semi-dark. The carpet feels right. I’m taking my socks off. Nothing happens. I’ll sit here in this corner and hug my knees. The temperature is just about right. I’ll stand up and pace the room. I’ll open the bathroom door. Everything is as it should be. The towels are neatly folded and perfectly placed on the sink beside the mirror. I don’t like bath tubs. It’s a good thing this room didn’t have a bath tub. I like the shower area.

I’ll close the door. I’ll part the curtains and peek through the window. The traffic in the streets below is light. Nothing is happening there. Nothing is happening here. I breathe in the cool air. I love the smell of fresh linens. I love the smell of a well-cleaned A/C unit.

I’ll sit on the swivel chair. It’s perfect. My body is nestled perfectly on the leather seat. It’s neither hot nor cold. The TV set is turned off. I’ll never turn it on. Not while I’m here. The lamp shade casts its light against the wall. I love it that way. I’ll stand up and turn on the rest of the lights. I don’t mind the extra brightness. I’m alone, so it’s okay. Everything’s okay. I’m here, and nothing is happening.

I won’t be able to hear the conversations in the next room, if there are guests staying there, or the conversations in the hallway, if guests will pass through there. I won’t be able to hear the noise from the streets. It will just be me and the sound of my feet on the carpet, or the noise I will make when I’ll turn on the faucet, flush the toilet, or take a shower.

I’ll lie down on the bed. It’s just right, it’s just perfect. The bed welcomes my body like a mother. It gives me instantaneous rest. I’ll lie for a few minutes without moving, then I’ll take off my jeans and snuggle between the sheets. My head is swallowed by the large pillows and I am lost in the softness and smoothness of the pillowcase and blankets. No noise is heard except that of my breathing and the humming of the A/C unit. I like it here. I like it like this. This is want I wanted for so long. I’m finally here. Nothing happens, and nothing will happen as long as I’m here. No one will call, and no one is expecting my call.

I’ll curl like an infant and go deeper into my mind. My head is sandwiched between the giant pillows. My nostrils are filled with the smell of fresh fabric. Nothing will happen here.

February 24, 2014

Writing Badly # 64

Painting of a Typewriter

 

 

 

 

Mothers should have three pairs
of arms: One for each child on the bed
surrounding her. One for the baby girl
writhing for her milk. One for the baby
boy whimpering for her touch. And one
for the father wrestling with existential
questions in the middle of the night.