Photo by Maya Newman
Asan ka na, John?
I’m in Cubao na. I’ll just take the LRT to Pureza…but wait closed na raw ang papuntang Recto eh. I’ll take a jeep going there then.
Sige, bilisan mo ha.
Yeah. From Pureza, I’ll have to cross the street then take a San Juan jeep, right?
Oo, then sabihin mo sa driver Agora ka lang. Paglampas mo ng tulay, near 7eleven you text me.
I often find myself in odd places in Manila, places I only see in movies with sexy themes made during the 90s. Sometimes I imagine myself as one of the actors in a film, eking pennies as a janitor or a porter at Manila harbor. Poverty is romantic so long as you do not live in it.
I got off a decaying San Juan-Divisoria jeep fearing for my life and recalling the reason as to why I was in that place. The reason escaped me. What welcomed me were sights you only find in films aimed at making a statement on poverty, crime, poor people having sex, corruption, prostitution, and the hopelessness of urban life. The place is a poor imitation of poverty I am familiar of in the Art. In Agora, poverty is exaggerated, so untrue. I wanted to close my eyes because it was staring straight to my face, forcing itself on me.
I was surrounded by flickering neon lights heralding the names of seedy karaoke bars. Interestingly, the lights are not at all similar to the ones you see in the malls where they have a tinct of gaiety. On this street, the lights are almost sad, dark orange red. Scantily dressed girls, whose profusion of colors they applied on their faces stood in lieu of the cloth that would have covered their bodies, were walking in circle, laughing once in a while.
They all seemed to be eternally waiting for somebody or something. A number of them are in their late 40s with bloated abdomen, wide hips, disheveled hair. Age has already taken toll on some of them, but none is succumbing to the pathos of their fate. The indefatigable human spirit. The wait might have taken them too long but no one is surrendering without giving a good fight. Boredom seems to fascinate them.
He was there waiting for me in front of an old house several blocks away from 7eleven.
Sabi mo malapit lang? I had to take two trains and a jeepney. Sabi mo 7eleven? You should’ve told me that it’s several blocks away.
The interior did not give justice to the promise and grandeur of the colonial American façade of the house. The walls are painted white similar to those in government hospitals; this effect is aggravated by the outrageously bright fluorescent light. I felt like I was being autopsied, my entrails scrutinized and probed to find the probable cause of my death. I could smell the drying paint that was probably applied two days ago. Shoes, used and newly laundered shirts that are indistinguishable from each other, uniforms, hangers, and old magazines were scattered on the floor.
He turned off the light leaving the fluttering streetlight outside to illuminate anything inside the room. Then it started to drizzle.
A neighbor’s cat purred that sounded more like a stray mini-tiger left to roam Agora’s dark alleys. The cat was probably in heat, attracting prospective mate, or challenging other tomcats to a fight until death for the love of the lone pussy cat known to prowl that street. No one knows.