I. Another Day
When he woke up, he knew he was already dead, only he did not know it would come out like this: He thought things would be different—a different time, say, a different place, a different person. It surprised him that things appeared the same.
He felt the same.
He felt nothing, which about summed up how he felt all his life—which was nothing.
For a while, he lay there without moving. He figured the exercise might prove him wrong. He shut his eyes and tried to picture the events as they happened, if they happened. There was no point really. Clearly he remembered it all, one fact after the other. And: even if granted he remembered wrong, the evidence was all over him.
He was dead all right, as dead as they come.
He slipped out of the covers, sucked on a cigarette, and showed himself out into the warm morning sun.
II. Detail #1 From A Painting By Hieronymus Bosch
Who are you?
That is not important.
Why did you come here?
That, too, is not important.
Are you going to hurt me?
Why do you ask?
I need to know.
You don’t want to know.
You just don’t.
Something crashing wakes me. Or was I screaming? I cannot tell.
It may be that I am dreaming again.
It may be that I am only dreaming again.
It may be.
He opened the window and leaned out to see what the noise was all about.
The icy wind bit his face.
Four floors below sirens blinked and blared.
What time is it, anyway?
He did not have his watch on and for a while he wondered about it. It was never his habit to take his watch off, not even in the shower. It was a black watch with a luminous dial, so that in the dark it glowed. It’s a fifty peso glow-in-the-dark for christsakes…
The alarm clock on the bedside table told him it was half past four.
There was no point going back to bed, really. He had to be up by six.
He thought about the coffee from across the street which was strong and hot and good.
Outside now it was colder than he expected.
He lit a cigarette and joined the crowd that had gathered in a circle.
At the center of the circle in the middle of the street lay the body. It had been covered with white linen.
“Do you think he’ll make it?” the woman said.
“Nobody makes it that high,” said the man who was with her.
“What did you tell them?” the woman said.
“Just what we saw.”
A pair of paramedics cut through the crowd and moved in dragging a stretcher where the body still lay covered with a sheet of linen that was not so white anymore. The two took their time getting the body onto the stretcher because now it was a bloody mess and they did not want the blood in their uniforms.
“What happened here?” said an old man who had just joined in.
“Suicide,” the husband said.
“I knew it.”
“He came straight down from up there just like that,” the husband said.
“We get them all the time,” the old man said.
“Pardon?” said the wife.
“Jumpers. Every now and then, it happens.” He wore a pair of black rimmed spectacles with thumbsized lenses so thick they looked like tiny cloudbursts ripe with rain. “That’s number three,” the old man said.
“Wow,” the husband said.
“It’s the weather.”
“What about weather?”
“Yeah, what about it?” said the punk who appeared as if from nowhere.
The woman moved back leaning close to her husband who turned to look at the character beside them. The skinhead was short and smelling of coconut and gin. He had sixteen rings all over his face that made him look like a Japanese pin cushion. Apart from that, he looked almost infant.
The old man waved a hand and did not answer.
The punk appeared bored and walked away.
The crowd from the other side parted, giving way to the two paramedics who were now about to wheel the stretcher across the street beside the lamppost where the ambulance waited.
Nearby, a policeman stood drinking coffee from a styrocup, talking to the driver who sat on a hump by the sidewalk.
The body was now gone but a few still stood there in the middle of the road looking down at the bloody spot.
“You know what’s strange?” said the man with the woman who was now looking cold and pale and weak.
The old man drew his jacket tight around him.
“That guy there did not just jump. It did not look to me like he was just jumping to his death.”
“What did it look like?”
“I don’t know. I must be seeing things.” He looked at his wife and then back at the old man who said nothing.”Tell you what, I know it sounds crazy but for a second there I thought I saw the same guy come out of that building just moments after the cops came in and then suddenly he was gone.” He looked at his wife. “You saw him, too, right?”
She did not answer.
“Well, we could be wrong.”
The woman held him close and held him tight: “Let’s go home.”
Just then the ambulance swung shut and came to life.
The noise was impossible.
A cop walked over followed by two other cops who proceeded to remove the roadblocks.
“Show’s over, folks! That’s all for now …”
The couple hurriedly turned and walked away without looking back followed by the old man with the thunderstorm glasses who disappeared inside the twenty-four cafeteria.
The rest drifted in a daze looking a lot like Sunday strollers after a very long and bad movie.
V. Detail #2 From A Painting By Hieronymus Bosch
Who are you?
Who do you want me to be?
Why did you come here?
You tell me.
Are you going to hurt me?
VI. Differential Parallax
Things that may or may not happen today:
The police pays you a visit.
The police forgets to pay you a visit.
The police forgets to pay.
There is empanada on the breakfast table.
The electric fan breaks down.
M comes and buys you a beer.
There is sugar but no coffee.
The Pope is taken hostage.
We all go to the mall.
The computer finally crashes.
There is money in the mail.
The phone rings.
The phone never rings.
The phone rings but nobody answers.
You eat the neighborhood dog for pulutan.
You eat the neighborhood for pulutan.
The president resigns.
The president never resigns.
The president resigns but nobody believes it.
A fire breaks out in the apartment building.
Mount Mayon erupts.
Three children die of suffocation.
Mount Apo erupts.
Their identities remain unknown.
Mount Pinatubo erupts.
The cause of the fire remains uncertain.
Mount Arayat erupts.
You finish the book.
The book finishes you.
You get a haircut.
There is news of another coup.
After five years your brother goes back to his loving wife and daughter.
The price of fuel goes down.
A spy camera shows the mayor shoplifting.
Ginebra San Miguel is still 20 pesos.
Elvis is sighted in a flea market on Apu Church.
Adolf Hitler is sighted somewhere on Fields Avenue.
You discover Rizal is dead.
The doctor tells you you’ve got a brain tumor the size of China.
The first Chinaman walks on the moon.
Suddenly bellbottom is back.
Somebody you do not know leaves you a substantial inheritance.
For some reason the migraine stops.
Nothing happens at all.
Day turns into night and night into day.
The sun implodes and swallows up the moon.
The moon explodes and ejaculates the sun.
Dinner will be served at 8.
You smoke a joint.
Everyone watches TV.
“Give me a beer!”
He poured it and held the glass in his hand.
“I can’t drink that!” the boy said, looking smug.
He cut the top off and held the glass in his hand.
The boy laid the money on the wood and when the barman saw it he gave him the beer.
Inside the café, the chairs still perched atop the tables except where the old man sat at the far side of the room where the draft was even and it was not so cold. It was still too early in the morning and there were no other customers apart from the old man and the boy who now sat at the counter.
“You’re eighteen?” the barman asked.
The boy lit a cigarette, blew it, and took a swig.
“So what do they call you? Ringo?” the barman said.
The boy was about to make a move but he knew better.
The barman was not that big but his eyes looked like he would enjoy the exercise. The boy knew enough not to give the man the pleasure but now it was too late.
“You got a problem?” the boy said. The words came and went and there was no way to take them back.
“Leave him be, Sonny,” said the old man who sat at the corner close to the wall. “I think we’ve had enough for tonight.”
The boy found his face pinned against the shiny mahogany. He looked up at the barman who had him by the ear.
“Let it go,” the old man said.
“You know Ringo here, Mr. Manolo?”
The boy’s ear bled badly and the barman did not want any of the blood staining his wood.
“You punks stay the hell off my place you hear!” the barman said. He grabbed the boy’s neck but before he could straighten him up the boy pulled away and moved back.
“Tell the rest of your girlfriends you are not welcome here!” the barman said.
The boy took one look at him and dashed out without saying a word.
The barman went after the boy and called out: “Hey Ringo!”
“Let it go, Sonny,” Mr. Manolo said. “He’s just a kid. And besides, we’ve had enough for tonight.”
Sonny stood outside the door, looking.
For a while he felt bad. He couldn’t help it. He did not really mean to chase the boy out like a dog. Why the hell would he? He made his point and that was that. He only meant to give him back the earring.
“Dont you think we’ve had enough for tonight?” the old man said. “We’ll I think we’ve just about had enough for tonight,” he continued. “I think we’ve just about had enough of that every night. I think we’ve had enough of it.” He was no longer talking to him.
Sonny stood there for a long time watching the shadow of the boy as it staggered along the sidestreet skipping past the dead lamppost and up into an alleyway until all he could make out in the black vastness that lay beyond was the fakely faint glimmer of the boy’s Rolex flickering out like a tiny dying star skittering into the dying night.
He’ll be back. They always come back. He felt the metal biting into his fist.
VIII. Detail #3 From A Painting By Hieronymus Bosch
Who are you?
I don’t know.
Why did you come here?
I don’t know.
Are you going to hurt me?
I don’t know.
What do you know?
I don’t know.
“The messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary”—Kafka
Fifty-thousand volts of live electricity surged across the switchboard past an opening behind the wall and into the room where it snaked up a chair lighting up the man who sat there like a bulb.
He was thin. He was a sack of skin.
“Now tell me where he is?”
“I have told you everything I know.”
“You tell me nothing!”
“I have told you exactly what I told the officer who came before you and the others before him.”
“You told them nothing!’
“I told them all.”
“You tell us shit!”
“I tell you the truth but you do not hear.”
“The truth? Come now—”
Earlier, he had tried to be nice, even tried bribing him against his better judgment. His superiors had been very particular about it, advising him that this was a “special” case requiring “special” treatment. “Remember we have no use for him dead. Maybe you can try to be nice for a change.”
He did try, and he was still trying…
The Officer squinted at the lone light bulb that hung low and made a circle over this physical novelty that now sat before him.
The man was almost skeletal it made you wonder whether you could actually see through him if you held him close enough against the light.
“Tell me, what good can this do for you, holding out like that?” he finally said.
“I hold nothing,” the skeleton said.
“One of your comrades has already spoken, and he has spoken plenty.”
“Let him sing.”
“He tells us it is you!”
“He speaks the truth.”
“How so? There is honor even among thieves.”
To this, he had nothing to say.
“You realize, of course, that we will hang him shortly.”
Again, he said nothing.
His orders were exact: “Get the leader. Leave the rest alone. We cannot afford to round them all up, do we? We need to keep it quiet. Real quiet. Cut the head and the body will fall.” The tip was as good as it got and it did lead them straight to their hideout. But the deal was for the leader and the leader alone: The man everybody feared. And now this—
“Look, my friend, It is really up to you. We can do this all night. Or, we can all go home to our families. Now tell me, where he is?”
“You are looking at him right now.”
“I have been telling you the truth all along but you refuse to believe.”
“I refuse to believe? Believe what?”
“The truth. Nothing more.”
“What truth? That you are The Leader? The most wanted man on earth? The enemy of all states? The One before whom all governments quaver? What do I look like to you? A fool? You cannot be the head of the Radical 12! You can never be the head of the Radical 12? Now tell me where he is?”
“I do not have to. He is already here.”
“As you wish.” The Officer raised a hand and again the man lit like bulb.
For a moment, the Officer thought he was looking at a broken lantern.
The lantern flickered like all lanterns do before they finally come to life, only this particular lantern was broken so you did not exactly expect it to burn so fast.
“Remember we have no use for him dead.”
It took a full minute before the Officer lowered his hand, killing the shattering noise that crept across the room. The Officer took the bottle of ammonia and held it to the man’s nose who shook and straightened up.
“Good morning,” the officer said. “Sleep well?”
The man twitched and strained to keep his head from falling. He was too weak to speak and there was really nothing to say.
The Officer held the bottle and again it straightened him: “Don’t worry, you’d be getting plenty of sleep soon enough,” he said. “You’d be getting all the sleep you want sooner than you think if you don’t tell me what I need to know.” He paced the floor, hands on his back. “So now, for the last time, tell me where he is?”
“I’ll tell you.” the man said groggily. “I’ll tell you exactly where he is right now.”
“All right, tell me!”
“I’ll tell you exactly where to find him and more”
“That’s my boy!”
“There—” said the man, pointing at the direction of the wall.
“You can find him there,” the man said. “There: between those walls and outside where I imagine it is warm and sunny and bright. And what if it is raining? What about the rain? The rain is also good and it cleans us all and he is there. Even here, inside this very room, in the very air we breathe, and in every dust that lands on your face, your skin, the sweat before it breaks out of its pore: every particle contains him—every strand of your hair, every vein in your body, every thought, every word, every breath! You need not seek him because he has already found you! He is already there in your heart and yet you do not see! How can you be so blind when all along it had been staring you in the face? Open your eyes! Look around you! You want the truth and I give it you. He is here, he has always been here: in us, through us, with us, about and around us. How can you miss it when he is everywhere? Break a bone and there you find him! Spit and there he swims! He is there in your guts and you know it, and in your loins, even in your shoes, the space between your toes, in the food we eat, he is there in your shit …”
The Officer stood watching the man through the one-way mirror. He had long since left the room and now he was puffing on a cigar. Behind him, two guards sat writing on the table by the window. For a while, the Officer watched the skeleton strapped in the other room babbling on. He shook his head and turned to the two guards who now stood in attention. “Boys, tell Pilate, my job here is done. We have no use for the man.”
The guards assumed the position and went about with whatever it was they were up to.
The Officer quietly left and shut the door behind him.
X. On Pascal’s Law of Communicating Vessels
Everything here will kill you: Coffee will kill you. Smoking will kill you. Drinking will kill you. Junkfood will kill you. The weather will kill you. TV will kill you. Books will kill you. The movies will kill you. Jazz will kill you. Drugs will kill you. Work will kill you. Marriage will kill you. Kids will kill you. Money will kill you. Tax will kill you. Traffic will kill you. The government will kill you. God will kill you. The Devil will kill you. Religion will kill you. Jesus will kill you. Buddha will kill you. Science will kill you. Time will kill you. Talking will kill you. Silence will kill you. Writing will kill you. Love will kill you. Sex will kill you. Art will kill you …