Me, You, Us

He was sixteen when he first saw her. Sixteen and bored and his mother had him attend a “summer” camp. Strange for a camp to be called a “summer” camp in Malaysia, which had just a monsoon and a dry season. Yet, “summer” camp it was, a collection of sixteen year olds sent to a out-doors camp in the quiet town of Sematan, with beaches to the front and a mountain to the rear. It was not a romantic getaway.

He barely remembered the camp, except for that one-day when he dropped a frog into the girls sleeping quarters, while they were bedding in for the night. The screams drowned out his own laughter, as panic ensued and frightened girls made for every available exit, whether door or window; it did not make a difference. The monstrous frog was going to slaughter them, digest them and make green goo out of their remains.

He exchanged high-fives with his laughing buddies as they stood behind the bush that grew along the front porch drain and then he saw her. This vision of porcelain skin, dimple cheek and a single braid cutting across her face. She had made it to the stairs yet tripped and fell. And in the chaos was being stepped on.

He leaped from his hiding spot, grabbed her arm and pulled her over to the side, as the stampede of girls rumbled down the yard and across the empty field.

Lights turned on and curious onlookers scrambled out to inspect the commotion. But it was all distant to him. He was here and here was with her.

“You want some chewing gum?”

Yes, the first words he spoke to her were about chewing gum. A pathetic first impression.

The memories of the camp were a blur, but he remembers writing her phone number on the wrappings of a stick of chewing gum. And losing that wrapper. And wondering where things would have gone, had he called her and told her how he felt.

This was the time before Facebook or Twitter, a time when phone stuck to the walls and not in your pocket. It was a time of change and though much changed over the years, the memory of her porcelain skin, dimpled cheek and that single braid cutting across her face kept appearing.

Fate did not give up on him.

He is thirty-nine now, and sitting alone at a table in a garden. He had stop smoking a year ago, and reverted back to chewing gum to curb the lustful sting for cigarettes.

And he smiled.

Nearing forty and with months to live, he reached out for support. Eventually meeting old friends from his child-hood and especially those with memory of that porcelain skin, dimpled cheek, single braid cutting across her face girl from “summer” camp.

He had scrawled her number on a chewing gum wrapper and this time, he kept it safe, tucked away in his wallet. He had called. She had answered.

“Do you still want the ice-bucket?” the waiter asked.

“You can take it away. But do bring another glass.”

The waiter smiled. Sixteen and already working tables, he thought to himself. I was sixteen and foolish. And I spent foolish years but at the time of my last year, I will make it right. His thoughts rambled along.

And then he saw her, porcelain skin, dimple on her cheek, with a streak of white hair cutting across her face. And he was sixteen again. And they were sitting at a table in a garden at a place called Summer House.

THE END

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To love when it hurts the most.

To love when it hurts the most.
by Maclean Patrick


He held it, as if it was cotton candy. Hunch over and seated, he read every word, whispering to himself as the sentences unfolded before him.  And when he was half-way through, he stopped to cry.

A sniffle. A tear. The words stung and he heard his heart break.

‘You knew it would end someday. I did not want to tell you but it ended for me a few months back. I am in love with someone else, but I still want to be friends with you. I still want to talk to you. Because I know, even if I became the devil; you would still love me.’

The old tree creaked as the wind picked up. Dark clouds marched overhead, and the unmistakable scent of rain filled his senses. The leafless, excuse for a tree was bad protection from the elements yet he did not want to move. Maybe if she saw him there, she would change her mind and come back to him.

What foolish thoughts, she was miles away in another state, oblivious to his broken state.

“Friends?” He mumbled.

He knew it was a lie. Former lovers make poor friends. Emotional attachments, when broken, are near impossible to mend and love cuts deepest when the attachments were fortified by hope and sacrifice.

‘I will never come back to you. I will never love you the same way again. But I still love you as a friend. My best friend.’

“Friends,” he mumbled. The word was a curse.

Where did it go wrong? Where had he err? Did he say something wrong? Did he not do enough? Why?

Eyes closed, he pondered the questions as the first raindrops fell. The tears mingled freely with natures’ blessing. Yet the grace of the heavens failed to wash away the dull emptiness clinging to him like his wet cotton shirt.

“Friends?” Saying it was painful.

Up to that moment, all his thoughts were on her. Missing her not in measured time but with every moment. And even as she broke his heart, the only thought he had; was to be by her side. To hold her and assure her, he still loved her. Even when she had stop loving him.

“There’s no such thing as friends. Love is love. Love doesn’t die; you just changed your mind about me.” With that he resigned himself to the pain of loving and being where he was. If the pain of being just a friend would allow him to love her. Then he would take the pain and live to love her.

He stood there; wet to the bone and prayed that the universe would honor his decision. For only he and the universe would understand the merits of such a decision.

To love when it hurts the most.

Train Man..sweet story

I just finished reading a book called Train Man. I bought it some time last year and only now I have gotten round to reading it and boy, did I miss something. It is a sweet, sweet book. It is a story that would make you smile and realize fairy tales do happen in the real world.

There is an online version of the story available here: http://www.rinji.tv/densha/

Densha Otoko, or ‘Train Man’ is the name of a very popular book published in Japan in early 2005, which tells the true story of a nerdy guy who falls in love with a girl who he saved from a drunk on a train. This entire story takes place on a Japanese bulletin board system called 2ch, or ‘ni-channel’, particularly in a thread called ‘Men Being Shot from Behind’, where single men get together and gripe about being single.

In typical Japanese fashion, after the tremendous success of the book, both a movie version and a TV drama series were released. ‘Densha Otoko’ is really the “it” book of 2005 for Japan. It’s a really great story and I hope that this translation helps you enjoy it, too.

I’ve heard of writers publishing their blog entries in the form of books but this is the first time I’ve come across a book that is comprise of forum postings. The replies from the other netizens are funny, ridiculous yet honest. It’s not scripted. Not plotted. Train Man is a simple story but what makes it special is the sense of community. You become part of the group, rooting for Train Man as he pursues his lady, Hermes. You are drawn into their discussions and at times you would disagree with them yet you see the fun side of things.

Give it a try and you’ll see why I am still smiling when I think of the book.

All Ends Well

The monsoon season came early this time, forcing the fishing fleet to remained docked and forcing the army of fishermen into temporary unemployment. Some laze over at the kopitiams but for me it meant fishing at the jetty I called the End Point.

East of the main docks from where we off-load our catch is a lone jetty. Partly obscured from view by abandoned cargo containers and off the beaten path, it provided me privacy to fish and to think. So it was no surprised when one afternoon, seeing the break in the weather, I headed to my favorite spot on the docks lugging along two fishing rods, a small COLEMAN cooler-box filled with live prawns, a red foldable chair and a backpack stuffed with junk-food.

Fishing is an art-form and the right equipment is necessary but rather than going straight to the various Angler’s R Us outlets in Big City, I bought my rods and accessories second-hand from the guys over at the docks. Maybe it is me but knowing that the rod I’ve purchased almost (yes, almost) snagged a whale shark, is motivation enough for me to dish out serious money.

There’s an element of luck involved in fishing and knowing your almost-snagged-a-whale-shark rod is with you, kind of up the chances of catching fish even when the waters are muddy and debris clogged.

Fishing during the monsoon presents its own set of challenges. One of it is clearly visible as I sat at the end of the jetty. The river water loses its normal greenish quality and is instead replaced by a color akin to coffee with too much milk. Fish are particular, and swimming in dirty mud-clogged water does not seem to suit them well. And then there is the debris that gets washed into the river by the tide. Thankfully for me, the jetty jutted out far enough from the shore, stretching beyond the debris field that was washed up by the storm the previous night. The river water was slightly clearer than the day before so I assumed the fish would be swimming happily just waiting to take a nib at the live prawn dangling from my fishing hook.

I baited my fishing rods, cast my lines and waited.

The Big City river cuts the city into two enclaves. The southern part of the city is more urban whereas the northern areas seemed to be caught in a state of limbo, between being urban or rural. It seemed a clear separation from haves and the have nots. The poor and the rich. Abundance and lack.

The Guilty and the Innocent.

It would be a far fetch thing to separate a city into two and place people on either side based on a Judgement of Guilt. Yet as human beings we do separate individuals based on our own judgement of guilt. We have a river that cuts our perception, that determines who we associate with and why we align ourselves with them. But who are we to judge when we ourselves fall under judgement?

There was movement to my right but it was not my fishing line. A small sampan was making its way to the End Point, paddled by a lone old man. He came up along the jetty, docked his sampan and made his way up the ladder with a single fishing rod. I greeted him with a smile and he replied in kind.
He sat to my right and cast his line and along with me waited to see if the fish would bite. He lifted his white skull-cap ever so slightly and mumbled, “Panas.”

I smiled and offered him my water bottle, “You want some water?”

“Thank you.”

He took a sip and returned the bottle to me.

“Lama duduk sini?”

“Lama juga…you’re from the village?” I asked, pointing to the other side of the river.

“Yes, and you?”

“I stay near the docks.”

“Off day?” He asked.

“Bad weather.”

I scratched an itch on my neck, the heat was getting to me but the fishermen’s stubbornness had struck me and I was desperate to see my almost-snagged-a-whale-shark rod catch something.

“Nice looking rod,” he said, “Looks like it can catch something big.”

“Well, this one almost…”

“Caught a whale shark?”

“You’ve heard about this rod?” I was beginning to feel very small.

He pointed at his rod, “Mine caught a turtle.”

“Turtle?” I asked, grinning sheepishly.

“Turtle,” he replied.

“Did it really almost catch a turtle?…er…” I asked, looking at him.

“Haji Sapiee,” he said, smiling as he adjusted his glasses and extended his hand.

“Ryan,” I replied, taking his hand.

We shook hands and he managed a chuckle.

“You shouldn’t believe all those stories when buying your rods. For all you know, it could have been gambar ikan paus.”

“And yours could have been gambar penyu too.”

“Haha…No. I was there when this rod caught a turtle. Over at the tanjung, two years ago. I had to jump into the water to unhook the turtle from my line. So I’m really sure what this rod can do.”

“Lucky you.”

“Not everything is luck.”

“Really?” I asked.

“It’s about being at the right spot at that particular time.”

“Takdir?”

“Takdir? Hmm…I think you can say that.” The old man replied, nodding in agreement.

“You believe all things are pre-destined? Even the two of us sitting here fishing?”

“Why not? Everyone has a role to play, a place in the bigger picture.”

“Even if things turn out bad?”

“If it serves the purpose…all is fair. Insya’allah.”

“The good and the bad would then serve a purpose. Nothing would go to waste and nothing would come back in vain. That’s an interesting argument.”

“You believe in Isa. Without Judas, there would not be a cross. Without the betrayal, there would not be a betrayed and there would not be someone to die. Everyone has a purpose even if it seems their role is evil or the outcome is bad.”

“But it hurts to lose so much and you’ll never see the outcome,” I said, my voice almost drowned out by the sound of the swirling wind.

“We were never created to see the future but rather to live in the present in surrender to our takdir.”

“But we can always change our takdir, not everything can be passed along to mere fate.”

“If you choose to, then it is your takdir to make better your life. Can we really read the mind of the Almighty when it comes to the doings of our lives? It is a matter of perspective. Not all things are bad, even bad things have the potential for being a good thing.”

“Your views…they…are different,” I nodded.

“The more I learn, the more I see things are not what they seem. I’ve been accused of being un-knowledgable in religious matters.”

“Serious?”

“Yes. But then fools will teach the wise.”

I looked at him surprised, “Sounds familiar.”

“I’ve read your Injil,” he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “I believe it is good to have knowledge of what other people believe in. What we do not understand does not necessary have to be bad. It just means, we don’t know enough to make a conclusion.”

I leaned back and turned slightly towards Haji Sapiee. The wind had picked up a little and we could hear the sound of Haji’s small sampan bumping against the jetty post where it was tied to. The laughter of children, carried by the wind, reached us from the other side of the river. The heat had driven these children to take an afternoon dip and I could see that Haji Sapiee was keeping a watchful eye on them.

“Anyone you know?” I asked.

“My grandson is among them,” he replied. “He can be naughty at times but he’s a good lad.”

“My son would have been that age by now.”

“What happened to him?”

“Accident…” my voice trailed to a whisper and I felt a lump in my throat.

“Are you angry?”

The question struck me. It has been more than a year since the accident, yet was I still suffering from it?

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Sometimes, I think I am but sometimes it seems

I’m not. Maybe I was angry at what had happened. Still I find myself asking why it happened to me?”

“There are many things too high for us to understand. We must accept and be thankful for the life we have, and do good while we still can. Do as much as we can, time is short but the effects of what we do can last a lifetime. No matter how small our task, it may help shape someone’s walk through life.”

Those words stayed with me as I watched Haji Sapiee paddle his sampan back to the other side of the river. His grandson greeted him and after saying goodbye to his friends, followed Haji Sapiee back home. Haji Sapiee walked a few steps and stopped a while to wave at me.

I waved back, knowing full well, I would see him again whenever I was at End Point and maybe in a serendipitous way it was his small task to help me along.

Love Chooses You – Short Story

Love Chooses You
By Maclean Patrick

The sparkle of sunlight on the waters caught him by surprise. It had been a moody day,downcast and gray,with the sun shy behind November skies. This sudden burst of sun rays was a welcomed surprise. He paused a while, allowing the reflected rays to bathe his face in hues of gold and yellow. The caressing warmth broke the grip of the icy water flowing between his legs as he stood just shy of the river bank with his fishing rod balanced against his belt.

He pulled the fishing rod a little, allowing the line to drift more to his right. Thus, avoiding the fallen tree to his left, whose branches jutted out like petrified tongues of fire. Having his line stuck on any one of the branches would be disastrous, he rather cut the line then to attempt poking his arm in the cold frigid water looking for a stuck fishing hook. He leaned a little more to the right, pulling the line a good five feet clear of the sunken derelict tree.

The fish were not biting and he mumbled a complaint about how the mining up river had affected the water and driven all the fish out of the area. The gold mine was reaching the end of its production life. Gold used to be plentiful in these parts but in recent years the yield had trickled to mere gold dust. The nuggets were long gone, mined off sometime in the early 1940s just before the war.

A rustle among the tall grass on the far bank announced the arrival of a deer coming to drink from the waters and he raised his head to get a better look at her. It was not too often one can catch a glimpse of a deer out in the wild, most time it was either mounted to a wall or crumpled up by the side of a road.

The deer as it quietly drank from the river, her slender frame bordered by an ethereal halo thrown off by the dim, reflected light of the sun. Her ears flickered wildly, casing away the pesky mosquitoes buzzing over its head. She did not seem to mind him watching her drink. Almost as if she welcomed the attention from the man standing in the river, pulling at a fishing line and hoping to avoid a sunken tree.

Simplicity.

Why can’t things be this simple? He asked himself. One could live free and not worry about so called necessities. Drink when one wanted, eat what one finds and lived where one wished. The deer had more freedoms than he could ever get and he was supposed to be the more advance creature of the lot.

He reached over to the right pocket of his vest with his left hand and took out the neatly folded piece of paper he had placed there two days ago.

Perfume lingered on the sheets of paper, scents of the giver, and it stood out from the scent of grass, mud and water. It was her scent. As distinct as the scent of all things in the wilderness. For it carried her character and personality and told the world she was present in that space and time. And as he read the words to the letter, he knew she was there with him; silently watching him, like the deer on the far bank, who by now had caught the faint scent of perfume in the air. The deer raised her head and looked in the direction of our fisherman. Training her ears at him, as if waiting for him to read the contents out loud.


Dear Matt,

It’s been a while since I wrote. How are you?

I know this is would come as a surprise to you but I had no one else I could think of who could help me. It had always been you and only you who would be there for me. Somehow, I know you would never refuse or turn me down. You love me too much.


The tug of the line drew his attention away from the letter. There was a biter on his line and a big one from the of pressure it put on his rod. He released more line and allowed the rod to slack a little and then the tugging stopped.

Better luck next time.


I was too young to understand. Understand why you loved me so much. I was care-free and just wanted to have a good time in life. I didn’t appreciate the things you did for me. How you stood by me when my father left, how you comforted me when I went through that failed relationship. The way you waited on me, night and day; ever ready to listen to me and offer all the help you could give. I was too foolish to see that I was constantly breaking your heart, yet you kept quiet about all the hurt I caused. I did not see it then but I understand now.


His fishing line moved a little to the left. He watched it inch its way towards a disfigured branch and stopping short of touching it. Changing direction, it now moved to the right. The fish was testing the line. He smiled and released more line, giving the fish room to think about its next move.

All the while the deer on the far bank watched.


I left you that day not just because I was chasing after my dreams. I was running from you. I grew to love you and it scared me. I had dreams and things to do and I thought you would be tying me down. So I left and told you to forget me. But I cannot forget what you said. It seem stupid to me at that time but now I realize; you had been sincere about all you promised.

You told me you would love me forever. Love forever. I just could not believe it, yet you did love me and now, I know you are the only person who could help me.


The deer moved a step back and turned to face the forest. There was movement coming its way and it was prime to sprint out of the way if it was a mountain lion or a bear. The rustling in the grass parted way for a fawn. The fawn had been down wind and her scent was lost to her own mother.

The bright eyed and curious fawn took tiny steps towards its mother and found its place next to her by the river bank.

He noticed this and smiled. “Your child is beautiful,” his complement met with an approving nod from the deer.


I have a daughter and she needs a father. I’m dying from cancer and would not live long enough to see her leave school. You have always been a father, friend and love of my life, to me and now I just want you to be the father to my daughter and hopefully she will learn from you, all the things I wasted my life forgetting.

Matt, you cannot refuse me this. I know you love me and have always loved me. I’m sorry for all the things I’ve done to you and I hope you can forgive me. You cannot refuse my request. Please.


The tug on his fishing line was strong. It was time to reel the fish in and after jamming the base of the rod into his belt, he pulled on the rod using his right hand and for a moment he hesitated. He had always loved her and now she was going to entrust to him the most precious thing in her life, her daughter. A daughter he knew nothing about what more to be guardian over. He hesitated, rod in hand as the tension mounted on the line. The fish was fighting hard.

He was nearing his thirties when he came across the troubled teen. She had been passed on from counselor to counselor, each time given over as a case too hard to handle. A hard case, no-one wanted nor could solve. Her case file came his way one sunny Monday morning and he arranged to see her for the first time.

The first meeting was far from ideal, she dive-bombed every question he threw at her. She was intelligent and adept at arguing his questions with reasoning of her own. She was logical in her approach and he knew instantly why the other counselors could not break through her shell. They had tried to bring her to their level when instead they should have gone down to hers. To see the world as she saw it.

So it was a surprise to her when he suggested she showed him the neighborhood where she lived.

She showed him the derelict government built flats she was raised, until the age of twelve, for that was when her father left and her mother decided to move in with the uncle, two floors up from their original apartment unit. The uncle was a perpetual drunk and to save herself from him she spent as much time away from the home as possible.

Truancy was normal practice for her and often times, he would find her hanging out at the old abandoned cinema by the dock-yards. Sometimes alone, most times with her delinquent friends, no better off than her.

But she had a spark about her. Beneath all that swagger of hypocritical toughness, she was still a little girl looking for love. And he slowly found himself falling in love with her. Love was a powerful medium and for a moment it help keep her out of trouble, for she grew to trust him and to listen to him. He got her back into school and kept her there long enough for her to get a decent education. Yet as she came into her early twenties, her wild streak showed itself again and she wanted space and freedom of her own. His love could not hold her back but instead he chose to release her, with the promise that he would always be available in case she needed anything.

She disappeared from his life (saved for the occasional Christmas postcard) until the Tuesday morning, he received the letter. He had read it in his office and pondered on the decision he had to make. Seeing that it could not be something he could decide quickly, he opted to go fishing.

A friend had mentioned about the river just north of the city, four hours drive along the highway and another two by logging track, up to a place where some gold mining was still done. It was remote enough and far enough for one to spend time to contemplate decisions. Far enough for one to ask, what should I do now? Or should I bother?


Matt, you cannot refuse me this.


She had always been demanding but in that line she had shown desperation. She had reached the end of the rope and she turned to the one constant she had left, the man who had loved her all along. But was he still that much in love with her?

Matt pushed his fisherman hat up, allowed the cool mountain air to cool his head and tousled his gray hair. He had chosen to keep it long, an image of coolness that allowed him access to the deepest of troubled teen minds. Being a counselor to young rebels can put a strain on one’s mind and his final case broke his resolve and he left the profession, choosing instead to pursue full time his love for writing. His writings offered him release but that final case lingered on like a mis-behaving ghost. Haunting him for years until it manifest itself in full glory that Tuesday morning when he opened the envelope and read the perfume scented letter.

The tug on his line was heavy and he could feel the shifting of the fish weight side to side. It was fighting hard, fighting to keep its freedom and he could feel the pulsating grind of his own muscle as he strained to hold on to the rod. In a single swift move, he grabbed hold of the rod with his left (crumpling the letter against the rod), lowered his right hand to reached for the lower right hand pocket of his vest and to pull out his pen-knife. Without much thought nor hesitation, he cut the line. There was a quick swish and the line was lost.

Looking up he caught the approving glare of the deer and the fawn by its side. They had not taken their gaze off him the whole time and were seemingly able to read the thoughts of Matt, the fisherman. Good, they seemed to say as the deer turned and, with fawn in tow, silently made their way back into the forest.

He tossed his rod onto the river bank and held the letter in both hands.


I remembered your promise. You promised to love me forever and it stuck to me all these years and when I hit my dead-end, those were the words that came back to me. Your image came back to me, and I remembered all the things you did for me out of the goodness of your heart.

I never took the time to appreciate all the things you’ve done for me. I never took the time to acknowledge you. I took you for granted and made you out as a mere convenience rather than a person who loved me.

For all that, I am sorry and I regret having to live all these years without realizing all that.

Please, fulfill my final hope. Take care of my daughter and allow her to have a life better than the one I had. Give her the chances I never had and never let her walk down the path I took. Please.


Love forever,

Melanie.


He folded the letter and placed it back into his right pocket and looked out onto the forest on the far bank. Somewhere in the thick forest a deer was walking with its fawn. She would take great cares to teach the little one the paths that crisscrossed through the forest, what to eat and not to eat and where the safe watering holes were. Somewhere in that forest was a mother and child navigating their way through a dangerous place.

Was not life like that?

Life itself was a forest, a jungle some say, and the wisdom of the elder was needed by the young in order to survive.

In her life, Melanie did not have any elder until Matt came along and now she was attempting to put right what had gone so wrong in her life.

Everyone needs a second chance at things even if it can only live on in the life of the next generation. Melanie needed that second chance and it would live through her daughter. Matt made his decision and as he stepped over to the river-bank intent on heading back to his parked truck, he stop in mid stride and turned to face the far bank of the river and for a moment he could see the deer again, nodding in approval to his decision.

Matt smiled and whispered, “Thank you.”

Noodles in his hair – Short Story

NOODLES IN HIS HAIR
by Maclean Patrick

There were noodles in the little boy’s hair and he chuckled as he reached over to pick them out. His son must have been playing too close to the entrance of the 7-ELEVEN convenient store just down the street from where they stayed. He had warned the young boy, not to pick through the garbage-bin when the customers left the store. The opening of the door would most certainly push him into the agape mouth of the garbage-bin and swallow his tiny head.

His son stirred a little, shifting to the right as he removed the last of somebody’s meal from his tangled hair. There was a bit of coal on his left cheek, which he gently rubbed off with his thumb. His son had been playing by the exhaust vent of the Chinese restaurant, two blocks from where the two normally bedded for the night. It was clear, he had not heeded his warning.

One day he’s going to get his eye-brows burnt, he thought to himself as the last bit of coal came off.

His son was naughty but he was a good kid in the pure sense of the word. Short for an eleven year old and skinny compared to the rest of the children living on the street. Too much junk food and the onset of a poor diet contributed to this gaunky stance. A hot complete meal was hard to come by in a city where the divide between the haves and have-nots was glaring like the noon sun. Last night’s meal was still tucked away in his siphon bag. It would last them another night or two and then he would need to find another meal.

Where am I going to find the money for that? He leaned back and exhaled. His gentle sigh went un-noticed by his sleeping son. He’s too young to face all these things. What can I do? I’ve got no money, barely can hold on to my job and there’s barely enough food for the two of us.

He buried his head in his hands and rub the lines on his forehead. His hair was receding at an alarming rate, soon he would lose it all. But loosing his hair was the least of his worries.

He was now a skeleton of a man compared to the chubby self of his younger days spent frolicking in the highlands of his village located several hours away from the capital of the Philippines, Manila City and nested in the mountain range that divided the province into two.

Village life was simple but tending to cows and harvesting pineapple from his father’s land could not curtail the lure of the city and one hot July afternoon, he found himself on board a jeepney heading for Manila City. He would find work, he would make his fortune, he would buy a house, send money back to his parents and be a man of the city. And he did become a man of the city minus the money and the house and everything else in between.

He met a girl from Mindanao, dancer at a local club he frequent after his hours at the construction yard, who moved in with him and a few months later she surprised him with the news.

She was pregnant. Add child to the the list of things in his life.

In the beginning, the prospect of life as a family man seemed welcoming, romantic even. His life seemed complete. Almost.

Then 1997 came along and everything seemed to ground to a stand still. Work became scarce and construction projects came to a stand still. He lost his job and worst still, his de-facto wife ran off with a sailor from Myanmar, leaving him with a young son and a perpetual migraine.

Why?

There was no point to rue over spilled milk but most mornings he could not help but feel sorry for himself. What else can a man do?

Yellow neon lights flashing CAESAR CASINO reflected off the dark tarmac in front of him. The sound of drunken laughter startled him. Drunken revellers with money to spare and time to pass streamed out of the casino and he wondered if they would walk down his way and give him a tip.

Not today, the group walked the opposite way, maybe tomorrow night he would have better luck.

There was movement from down the street and he knew that his neighbors were waking up. They would be making their way towards the water faucet to clean up before making their trip to the outskirts of the city. HIs neighbor looked in his direction and he gave her a slight nod. She returned the nod and managed a smile. Thanking him for allowing her first claims to the water. She gingerly brought her daughter to the faucet, turned the water on and gave her a cold morning bath.

His son knew how to count and could spell out his name, somewhat better than him, who neither knew how to count nor spell. But he knew the city and the roads and the people who called it home. He knew who lived on which street and who owned which water tap and who had first take on any food served out by the restaurants. There was respect for each other and noone cross the other for they had no need for quarrel. The city was big enough to support them. No-one would go hungry if they stuck to the unwritten code shared among those like him. They were the hidden nation, aliens in a strange land where they were citizens yet lived apart from their countrymen. They exist in silence, invisible yet visible to the populace. Often times only acknowledged when it came to festivities like Easter or Christmas. Often times, a means for corporations to gain additional tax-cuts from the government. They lived on the charity or kindness of people, whether sincere or not, it didn’t matter. All they needed was food to live another day. Motives mattered little.

His son stirred from his sleep and rub his eyes. The weiry father managed a smile. Start the day with a smile, keep their spirits up and maybe something good would come their way. His son smiled back and ran his small hand through the rough patch of hair on his head.

His father rub his back, much to his delight and quietly told him it was time to freshen up. It was their time at the water faucet by the street. The little boy sat up and watched as his father gathered their belongings and rolled up their bedding. The cardboard box had served them well and it was time they replaced it with a new one. The little boy had found the box by the 7-ELEVEN store and proudly showed it to his father. It had a bright red chicken painted across it and he found it funny that the last thing he saw as he slept was a smiling red chicken with a thumbs up sign that seems to say everything was going to be alright. The previous night his father had amused him with stories of the chickens from a place his father said was located in the mountains. One day, his father had promised him, they would go to that place in the mountains and he was sure he would find a bright red chicken living among the pineapples, giving him the thumbs up sign and telling him everything was going to be alright.

His son shivered as he poured water over his head and it washed down his chest, cascading over the form of his rib-cage and down his thighs.

“Cold?” The father asked.

“Cold,” his son replied.

“You got noodles in your hair. Stop playing by the store.”

“I just wanted to get the noodles,” he replied, wiping the water from his face. “Miquel almost got them before me.”

“Did you fight Miquel, again?”

“No. I took the cup and just ran.”

“Stay out of trouble. Fighting is not good. We don’t fight, we share as much as we can. Live at peace with everyone. You hear me?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“Good, we need to go early. Better be there earlier so we can start first. Remember what daddy told you we are looking for?”

“Cans and bottles.”

“Good boy,” father smiled and combed his son’s hair with his hand.

They packed their box with the smiling red chicken under a staircase and walked slowly down the street, hand in hand. This little boy and rough middle-age man were going to Payatas where hopefully they could make two dollars today. Two dollars to keep them full for another day and enough to keep his son out of the 7-ELEVEN garbage bin and no noodles in his hair.

Note: I spent 5 days in the Philippines last year and walked the streets around my hotel. I was struck by the human story I saw around me and the image of a father and son sleeping on the street never left me until today. This story is dedicated to the unnamed father and son I found sleeping just yards from the 7-ELEVEN store, where I had breakfast one morning in June of 2007.

A Lighthouse called Desire

This was never meant to be more than a simple post to vent out frustration but sometimes the words cut through the fog like shards of light from a ship lost out at sea. 

 

The Word needed safe haven and where else than the blank space of a writer’s mind. Yet sometimes that ship finds no haven, the harbor is not where it is suppose to be so the captain pours over his maps, wondering whether he had taken a wrong turn when passing through the Cape of Inspiration. He mulls over the landmarks called Talent, Ideas, Dialogue and Plot yet find no reference out of place. He should be reaching port but port seems to have shifted place overnight.

Our captain slumps into his shaky wooden chair, that creaks under his weight (got to lay off the food, he thinks) and plucks the pencil resting on his right ear. He draws a line from the last port of call and traces it towards the port called Finished Work. Yes, he should be nearing it, he should be able to smell the scent of fresh grass and soggy dirt yet all he smells is salt and the odor of dead fish. 

He frowns.

This is not where he wanted to be. Lost out at sea where the fog is heavy but fog only hangs around land yet where is the sound of crashing waves against rock or seagulls or the chiming of the church bells? Where is this port? He asks himself a simple questions and get a million more in return. He stands and checks his compass, His bearings are right. His directions are sure yet why has he not found land? 

He turns and exit the room, making his way onto deck. The fog hangs like a lazy curtain. White on white and nothing in sight. Darn, this will be the death of me, the thought stings him. He stares at the stars, his father told him that if you ever get lost out at sea, seek guidance from the stars. They would guide you home. So he looks up at the black sky and traces the line of stars with his finger. The North star is where it should be. Sagittarius lumbers above him, Pieces swims by. 

He is where he is yet he is lost.

“Desire”

The whisper startles him.

“Desire”

The word rings again in his ears. He turns around hoping to see one of the crew standing behind him but there are none. They are all below deck sleeping while he stands alone on deck.

“Desire”

Again the whisper speaks as if the voice is the fog which envelopes the rickety ship. Maybe it is the voice of the fog. Or could it be a mermaid sent forth by Neptune to further mislead his way.

“Show yourself,” the captain demands, his hand heavy on the musket tucked away under his belt.

“Desire”

“Show yourself! Foul creature,” his demand is louder. “Show yourself or bid your way.”

“Desire”

“Foul creature, you are. May the heavens curse you for leading a ship of innocent men to their doom.”

“Doom? I merely point you to what you seek.” The voice is melodic, a whisper carried upon the fog.

“Ney! You seek to kill us all.”

“Kill? No. You seek Desire. Find Desire and you’ll find your way home, my dear Captain.”

“You’ll surely send us aground.”

“No. Would we send the magnificent Word to a watery grave? We dare not, for her tale needs to be written.”

His hand is lighter on the musket and curiosity sets in. This is a strange thing, for he has found himself having a conversation with the Fog that envelopes his ship.

“State thy business and be on your way,” he says sternly, a Captain would always be a captain even when addressing a curtain of mist.

“You have all the skills, the talent and the tools yet you lack desire. The one beacon that can guide you home. It is not on your charts rather it dwells where-ever your heart sets itself to be.”

“You speak in riddles. I am a simple man, tell me where is this Desire?”

The laughter is soft, angelic yet eerie. Mocking our dear Captain.

“Point the ship in the direction you want to go. If that is your desire than you would surely find the safety of the harbor.”

“How would I know, I am going in the right direction?”

“You don’t but look out for the lights of the Lighthouse called Desire. It will point you in the direction you need to go.”

The Captain manages a nod, “Who are you?”

Silence.

He looks around him, “Who are you?”

He is met with silence save for the sound of the ship creaking as it rolls over waves.

He returns to his cabin and look over his maps again and notices something different. Under the light of his flickering candle he notices a new landmark, crossed over by the line he drew before. It sit halfway between his destination and his last port of call. It is a lighthouse labeled Desire.

“Follow the lights, it will point us home,” the Captain echos the voice of the Fog.