Biyernes, Hulyo 4, 2008

Quiapo by JOHN PAUL ABELLERA

It was only six o’ clock in the morning but Quiapo was already bustling with life. The streets and thoroughfares were filled with cars, jeepneys and buses moving at sloth pace. People of all kinds—from vendors with toothless smiles to professionals with frowns to hide their dentures—fought for space in the overcrowded sidewalks. The combination of various city sounds—cars honking, preachers shouting, beggars crying – threatened to break any sound barrier. It was only six o’ clock.All signs of morning life in Quiapo were lost on a young boy sleeping outside the doors of the Church of the Black Nazarene. He was shivering in his sleep. How the rags he was wearing could have protected him from the harsh cold was a mystery to everyone walking past him. He was dirty; his face and limbs covered with numerous bruises. In his sleep, he brushed his dirty hand across his dirty face, smearing his cheeks with the mucus flowing steadily from his nostrils.The young boy awoke with the sensation of someone tickling his sole. He opened both eyes and stared at the morning sky. The bright rays of the sun greeted him but they could not radiate enough warmth to keep his body from shivering. He looked at his feet and saw the source of the tickling sensation – a limp and dirty dog, a beggar like himself, was busy licking the sores at his foot. He kicked the dog away, and even threw a stone at it. The poor dog scampered away whining. He sat up, scratching the mosquito bites on his legs until they bled. Involuntarily his stomach growled. He suddenly remembered that he had not eaten since lunch yesterday. He willed his weak body to move and went to the nearest garbage can. He scavenged through it, sifting the pile of trash thrown by people comfortably placed on the opposite end of the economic bracket. He soon found what he was looking for – a big, empty can of Del Monte pineapple juice. He sniffed at it – the smell of pineapples was lost in the mix of hamburgers, chocolates, gums and feces.Holding the can firmly, he dragged himself to the doorway of the church. He leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the church’s interior. He stared in awe at the various icons of spirituality dressed in majestic robes and decorated with multi-colored gems. The pious ones, clutching faded plastic beads of the rosary, walked on their knees towards these icons. In a slow, trance-like way, they wiped these icons’ limbs with their handkerchiefs, which moments ago wiped away the sweat and mucus from their faces. The boy gathered his strength and ran towards the start of the line. Lacking a handkerchief, he rubbed his dust and soot-covered fingers across the Virgin Mary’s pristine white robes and ivory-smooth feet. For each smear of his fingers, he breathed a prayer for a better life. He closed his eyes and imagined the Virgin Mary leaning down to catch every wish that fell from his lips. Suddenly, he felt someone grab his shirt. He opened his eyes, and saw a burly man in white barong dragging him out of the church. He tried to clutch at the Virgin Mary’s robes, but he was far away from her. The burly man dropped him at the church’s doorway. He tried to get in again, but the refused to let him in.The boy finally gave up. He went towards the throng of people outside the church, and stretched out his can to the old men with canes and the old women with veils. He silently prayed to the Black Nazarene for these devotees to pity him and give him some of their copper, silver and gold coins. He closed his eyes and prayed harder that some would be kind enough to give him folded bills instead of coins. Three-quarters of an hour had passed but not even once did hear a single coin drop in his can. He shook the can, hoping to hear something move inside it. Nada. Tired and hungry, he sat down and leaned back on the church door. He observed the various kinds of people walking, running before him. It was during moments like this that he felt separated from the rest of society. He knew he was different, especially from the cigarette-puffing college students. With their good looks, clean uniforms and gadgets of all types, these students seem superhuman to him. They were fair, wingless angels walking on the dirty streets of Quiapo, answering the calls of heaven through their cell phones and beepers. How he envied them! How he wanted to be one of them! Then, perhaps, he would be able to leave his miserable life in Quiapo and start anew in the gold and marble laden halls of heaven. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself as one of those angels – puffing blue seal cigarettes and sending text messages to his fellow angels.Even through his closed eyelids, he can sense something blocking the sunlight. He opened his eyes and saw a tall man looming over him. The man was fair-skinned, with blond hair and an expensive camera hung around his neck. The man was saying something but he could not understand him. The language was different from the one he learned while growing up. The man brought out a magazine and pointed at the cover where he saw a pair of African children asking for alms. The man repeatedly pointed at the camera, the magazine cover and at him. Finally, he realized that the man wanted to take his picture. He immediately stood up and nodded his head excitedly. He arranged his rags and smiled at the camera. It surprised him when he saw the man vehemently shaking his head. He watched as the man stretched out his hand and made a pitiful face, just like those of the African children. He then understood that the man wanted to take his picture as a miserable child, not as a happy one. Pretending to be one of the African children, he stretched out his hand and made a pitiful face.The flash blinded him for a moment. Afterwards the man took a bill from his wallet and gave it to him. His dirty and callused fingers tightly gripped the bill. He watched the man leave, eventually losing sight of him in the crowd of people. He then opened his fist and saw the crumpled ten-peso bill. He smiled and looked upwards to the skies. Suddenly, he knew how it felt to be an angel. With the money in his hand, he thought of the five days’ worth of cigarettes he could finally buy.

1 komento:

John Paul Abellera ayon kay ...

Thank you for posting my short story! =)