Chesapeake in one summer afternoon beside the river under the cool shade of the bamboo
By Norman Wilwayco
This is just unbelievable. I read it over and over again. This guy deserved to die. Poor fucker, I thought. Every sinewy muscle humming with life, each vein pulsating – bursting with the rush of adrenaline – from the creases of the eyelids to the tips of the fingers. At the pull of the trigger, the cocked pistol spews hot lead directly into the mouth. The crack cuts through the surrounding silence, with the sound of birds scampering in all directions. The afternoon sun spills on the ground, on scattered bits of brain matter.
Poor fucker, I think once more. Three-time loser. Once in fiction, twice in expiration, thrice in a statement of opinion from Inday. I place the book down and stretch my body, the bamboo bed creaks in protest to my rising. From the bed, crushed by my weight, I pick up a single fallen bamboo leaf. Mark the crumpled page, light a cigarette. Drag, exhale. Stand up and walk towards the river. My bladder is about to burst.
This guy deserved to die, a note scribbled on the margins of the page.
While pissing, my thoughts drift off to the events in the story. I think of the character Paxmore, who, once fired from the White House, concurrently brought shame to his family, then decided to commit suicide, thus, the gun to his mouth. No matter what shit he pulled off at the start of the story, he won my sympathy in the end. That is why that note took me by surprise. This guy…
…deserved to die. She holds the pen tightly and almost rips the page apart with the force of her strokes. She takes out a damp handkerchief from her pocket and wipes a tear. She always carried a handkerchief when buried in a book because she tends to cry easily. She is easily affected by stories, by tragedies that weigh on the characters. Like now, at this very moment.
She lies there for a long time, staring at the ceiling, ruminating on the story, particularly the part she read twice. She places the book on the bedside table and sits up. After ten hours in bed, her entire body was sore.
Good thing, I finished the book, she thinks.
No doubt, Tony should read this, she reflects. She debates on whether or not to call Tony. Earlier, around noon, she saw her older brother leave, carrying a basketball. She knows he went out to play at the town hall and would be gone for a while. Right now, she has the house all to herself. She rises from bed and leaves the room.
The house is still and silent. The curtains sway with the gentle breeze. Her parents are in Davao – selecting transistors and small appliances to sell at their radio shop at the market. They will be back tomorrow.
She saunters into the kitchen and makes herself a cup of coffee. She brings the steaming cup by the window, sits down, lights a cigarette and looks outside. The workers from PICOP are making their way home; the streets are crawling with them. Her thoughts stray once more to the book she just read. Again, her eyes burn with tears. Again, she produces her trusty handkerchief and wipes her puffy eyes.
She finishes her coffee. She goes to the living room, picks up the phone and dials Tony.
—Kuya! Phone! my younger sister calls out.
Right now I am wrestling with an algebra assignment. I find this interruption annoying. Of all the things I hate, it’s being torn away from algebra. The world will stop spinning without math. We can’t see the connection, the idiots would say. What the fuck do they know anyway?
—Who? I ask.
She turns her back and bangs the door without an answer. Bitch. It’s this habit of hers I can’t stand: Ignoring questions directly addressed to her, something that will endlessly infuriate me. In fifteen years, she will do this to me for the last time, skin and bones, on her deathbed, half of her body eaten away by cancer. I will ask her something and she will simply look at me, without answering. By then, I won’t be needing her answers.
I stand up and step out of my room, proceed to the living room and slump on the sofa. I pick up the receiver.
I recognize the voice immediately.
—Hi. What’s up?
—Nothing much. Mama and Papa won’t be returning till tomorrow.
—Who else is home?
—Just me and my brother.
Blank space. I have no idea how to phrase the next obvious question. It turns out, I didn’t have to. My gaze turns to bedroom door, thinking the algebra problem half-solved and how those little motherfucking x’s and y’s can wait.
—He’s not here, she added. —he’s at the gym.
That’s all I need to know. In less than half an hour, I am banging on her door.
The knock alarms her. She looks down at her hand, still holding the receiver. The knocking grew louder, more urgent. She walks towards the door, not bothering to check who it is, which she tends to do when opening doors.
She drags Tony inside and assaults him with kisses.
Thirteen years from now, she will open the door of her Brooklyn apartment to someone she mistakenly thinks is her husband. She will never find out who it is. Her last sight will be of a huge hooded figure, with a barrel of a gun aimed at her face, before the deafening bang.
Five years will pass before Tony learns of the incident, mentioned in passing by a childhood classmate accidentally bumped into at an IT convention. He will recall that afternoon when he utterly and completely adored Inday, that afternoon he read a novel she lent him under the bamboo trees in their old house in Mangagoy.
Behind the door, they feverishly kiss. They commence in the living room and conclude in the bedroom. After an hour of madness, they each light a cigarette and gaze at each other.
—There’s a book I want you to read.
—It’s really good.
—What’s the title?
—Chesapeake by James Michener.
—There’s so much stuff I haven’t finished.
—That’s because you never get around to actually reading them. You waste your time bowling with Bobot.
—It’s not like there’s a whole lot to do in Mangagoy.
—Yes there are.
—Huh? Like what, for instance.
—See, you can’t come up with anything.
—We don’t have TV.
—Huh? Where do you watch, then?
—Why don’t you buy one?
—Papa won’t have it. As long as German Moreno is alive, he refuses to buy a TV. That’s why all we ever do is read. And like you said, bowl.
—Your father is so boring.
—A boring ape he may be, he’s still my father.
A few moments of silence. They watch cigarette smoke drift outside the window.
—Let’s go to Danipas.
—Swimming? Hmmm. Why not? Sure.
—Yahoo! Bananas on me.
—Okay. Perfect, we have some porridge left over in the fridge, I’ll bring it.
—Forget it. I don’t want to eat porridge at the beach.
—How about tomorrow?
—I can’t, there’s laundry to do. Mama will have my head when they get home.
—Come on. I don’t have anything to do tomorrow.
—Read, I’ll lend you a book.
—Please ‘Day. Let’s swim tomorrow. Finish your laundry in the morning. What time will your folks arrive?
—See, they won’t be home till evening. Tomorrow, wake up early, do the laundry. In the afternoon, we’ll go to Danipas.
—Fetch me here.
—Why don’t you come over? It’s easier to commute from my house.
—My goodness. Fine.
They hear the door creak. They hear Inday’s older brother come in. After a while, they hear the water running in the bathroom.
—Time for you to leave.
—Alright. Tomorrow, then?
They quickly get dressed, tune their ears to movements. Then, they say their goodbyes.
On the front door, Inday suddenly remembers something.
—Hold on, don’t leave just yet.
She goes back to her room and picks up the book that dropped on the floor. She hands it to Tony.
—Please take care of it.
—Will you go biking tonight? Inday asks.
—I’m not sure yet. Something’s wrong with my bicycle. Bye, my love!
She looks out the window, at his retreating back.
I spend over an hour turning this algebraic equation in my head but I can’t seem to arrive at the solution. The racket outside my door is driving me nuts. My sister’s with her friends. They’ve been practicing nonstop for a dance number. The stereo is blaring hiphop mercilessly.
—Can you please turn that down!
The bitches pay no heed.
—Hey! I said turn it down! I’m doing my homework!
After a while, the music pipes down a notch. At last, I can go back to my algebra. Earlier, as I made my way home from Inday’s, I could hear the racket a mile away. Fantastic, I thought to myself. That noise will make it impossible for me to concentrate on my homework. I looked towards the bamboo grove. Dusk was settling so studying there was out of the question. Besides, the place would be swarming with mosquitoes by then. The best time would be noon, right after lunch, as you doze off to the lullaby of the babbling river and the whispers of the breeze and leaves. Perfect. Tomorrow, I will be spending the day reading Inday’s book.
But that’s tomorrow; today’s the problem. The noise is impossible and I have homework to finish.
—Thank god! My tormented brain breathes a sigh of relief when they turn down the stereo.
I start re-reading the algebra problem when someone knocks at my door.
—Who’s that? I did not bother to hide the irritation in my voice.
I knit my brows. Open the door. She enters without invitation. I peer at the living room, no one there.
—Where’s my sister, where are your friends? I inquire.
—They went to fetch Bingkat.
—Why did you stay?
—I’m tired of walking. I’ll just wait for them here.
—Can you please not play your music so loud? I’m studying.
—You know, Ton, you’re the only person I know who works on textbooks during summer vacations.
—What’s wrong with that? We’ll be working on them when school opens in June anyway.
She plops herself on my study table, sits on top of my computation sheets. She spreads her legs. I cannot stop myself from staring at the white wedge peeking from her short skirt.
—How about me, don’t you want to study me?
We forget ourselves in a span of a crazy hour. My knees are still quaking. After a while, we hear the chatter of my sister and her friends while walking towards our front yard. We scamper to get dressed.
—Not a word to Ruby, she instructs.
—Why would I tell her? She will surely tell on me.
We wink at each other before she slips out from my room.
Before we graduate, Chance will run off with the lead guitarist of a punk band passing through Mangagoy. She will spend two years being passed around like a dirty rag by musicians. She will become drug dependent and eventually, a liability to the band, who will leave her begging in the middle of a highway in San Frans. Here, she will start working as a stripper-whore in a nightclub. Our high school Practical Arts teacher will become one of her frequent customers. He will bring her back to Mangagoy (after having his fill) to her parents. Chance will commit suicide two months after returning to her parents’ home.
I take intense pleasure in the deliberate draining of my bladder. I think the piss drove the fishes away. My eyes flutter shut with delight. This guy deserved to die. Motherfucker, I think, the woman who said this deserves everlasting love. She is unlike any other. She gives reason to my being unlike any other as well.
Last night, since I couldn’t sleep, I started reading the book. I am practically halfway through by dawn. I take a catnap. Upon waking, I feed the chickens, then read again. By noon, I reach the part where Paxmore is at the Whitehouse. A few more pages, and I will finally finish this long novel.
I hear our rusty gate creak. I look over, Inday is here. Even from a distance, I can see her smiling from ear to ear. I remember, today’s the day we’ll go swimming in Danipas. I hurriedly finish my business by the river. Flushed with eagerness, I grin at the possibilities that might unfold this afternoon.
*For Greg Brillantes
translated into english by cha. edited by lourd. digs!
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Chesapeake in one summer afternoon beside the river under the cool shade of the bamboo
Posted by xyxo loco at 4:35 PM