Chapter 3-The Case of Maria

beggarI have learned that there’s an ultimate bliss in running without the dense weight of baggage, neither a pebble worth on my palm. There was just heavy storm of burning heat and dry spasms of asphalt on my thinning soles. I walked and turned, past through the tombs of civility, then through the desolated remains of old city. It was a long stretch of buildings and houses with blotted walls, nearly familiar as my old house–my Aunt’s old house.

This part of the city has more traders of indigent kind. Across the fast food chains that stood from corner to corner, are miniscule stores that open all day and night, indiscriminately to all customers. Most kids hike next to their doors, strewed like lost cats and dogs. I wonder where they emerge from, where they come in and out. I guess I’m not alone in this pursuit, except that they have found a constant space in this street to squat when they tire. There’s an old woman waylaid behind the glass door of Ministop. Although her presence riled those who pass by and by those of the store’s crew, she knew it was her place. It was the safest to be and the 5 year old child she carries. Her pallid face, drying from the throes of heat and noise, occasionally looks up in hope for someone to look back. I decided my place is going to be close to hers. I sat down, my feet still holding against the weight on the floor, waiting for whatever they’re waiting. My knees, now quaking from starvation, supported the slowly nauseating head. The daylight fell in total darkness.

I woke up sopped in sweat and cold at the same time. A hand poked gently on my stiffened neck, it’s hard to tell if it was just a dream. My concept of time had become confusing that tonight seemed 2 nights ago or few hours passed.

“Are you hungry?” Her brown dyed hair dangled in place, nails tinted in shimmering black and skin glowed like a sun-kissed satin. This time, I refused to talk given the premises an utterance had brought me through. She waved a plastic of bread teasing for a sign of response. I held my tongue, waiting for her to give up. Oh I long for her to give up that bread. “Where’s your family?” I could decipher the old woman’s panting next to me, wishing it had been her. The attempt paid no heed so the food ended laid for my picking. She was gone in few seconds, right to the alley I have not been. I picked up the plastic and slowly gnawed the food with bare soiled hands, hoping that in doing so, I could remember the feeling of fullness when starvation hits again. An ominous watcher now pleaded in more obvious observance, hoping the generosity will not abandon her as it did on me. My hand extended 2 sheets of bread and watched as her eyes blazed like a fire. A fire greater than happiness—like happiness ashed with sprinkles of pain.

“Thank you,” a faint sound overcame a strange feeling. Power dwells in me.

Chapter 2

Santa Claus was right. It didn’t take long before we entered a hotel guarded by a man in uniform. He greeted and opened the door for the old man with an obvious animosity. The lobby was generously lavished with sculpted frames and paintings. The woman on the front desk paid the same courtesy, her mouth frigid as she examined my presence.

He continued a proactive discourse of his casual encounters in the Philippines and Thailand, of which, barely interests me. I’ve only found out pretty late that his name is Jorge, a retiree from Pennsylvania.

A small containment coming to life on its own interrupted Jorge while we stood face to face with its reflective mirror. For a first timer, the ride was like a turmoil within my insides, concocting a spiral of excitement and anxiousness. He laughed as I clung on to the wall to maintain balance. The increasing height further the convulsing feeling, almost similar to being succumbed by the ripples of water. Both hands instinctively covered the ears as I fear it will pop.

“Let me help you with that.” He collected a certain astute confidence, one who had walked a dreary road, maybe encompassing mine which is of only few years. Despite the authenticity of his familiarity, I resisted and stepped back as he attempted to meddle with my head.

“Swallowing helps.” I did as he told and once again, he knew of my affliction.

The elevator, as he introduced it, opened again as soon as the 11th digit blinked. The doors copulated by the impinging hallway registered a heedless mystery. His room resides next to the last door in the left wing. It was small but a monarch of comfort and class. I hesitated to enter, in fear that the floors be stained by my tattered slippers.

“Don’t be scared Maria. Come and make yourself comfortable.” His wan complexion garbed with brown freckles became clearer now that we’ve engaged across each other, I remaining stalled in his doorway. “And don’t bother to take off your slippers.” His bemused anticipation granted him the satisfaction while I follow his consequent passive orders.

From the inside, kitchen, bed and bathroom are clumped altogether in miniscule modernized compartment. I turned my head from left to right, awed by the new settlement I presume to be a brief acquaintance. On the left side of the foot of the bed, a camera stood on three metal tubes.

“Do you take pictures of yourself?” I blurted out. He looked surprised and I can only assume for many reasons. It had broken the long unperturbed silence and ignorance.

“Well yes. Sometimes the kids want their pictures taken. My friends would like to have fun and have their pictures taken too.” He explained it simply untainted by the intricate sense of its use. I avoided his eyes crookedly distorted by the old lines as he smirks. His hands reached through the shirt lining from behind showing off his skin whiter than anyone I have seen.

“Why don’t you grab some food in the fridge while I shower. There’s orange, grape juice, pasta if you like.” He offered encouragingly. The sound of it was as good as the last meal I had early today.

As soon as I hear the shower splattering the floors, the room came alive narrating its shredded parts of experience. Flashes of dim faces and voices possessed every inanimate witness. They spoke to me with trepidation despising and admiring my memories. Of course I knew about the camera. There’s one I saw from a constant visitor of Aunt Rina. Carlo proudly confessed his mother is a porn actress.

Amidst the adjoining nerves of thighs and stomach revolting from starvation and exhaustion, the inner resistance won leading my careful strut towards the door. I flee like I once did and in the budding essence of compulsion, I always will.

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