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Category Archives: Stories within Urban Walls

01 The Followers (June 2008)
repost from here: http://ffete.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d1gldpk

Setting: Apartment – LRT Train – Apartment
6m x 2.5m room in an apartment in the suburbs; 8.5ft in wall/ceiling height
Open space; an inserted room for combined bath tub and toiletry; a sliding door for the outside porch

Tuesday morning.

Anna.

She was preparing herself for work. The digital clock said ’twas half past seven am. Nothing to worry about; office is just 15 minutes away. I would be there before 8AM strikes. She was striking her eyebrows with mascara, and puffing her cheeks with pale foundation. It was her daily morning ritual.

A cross pendant was her only accessory apart from her earrings; she wasn’t comfortable with jewelries. Today, Anna was in her casual red tank tops with a long sleeve-blazer, paired with a skirt cut just up above her knees. Her suit was gray. Her hair-band kept her shoulder-length hair on tight, with bangs covering her forehead.

It was 7:37AM; she was ready to go.

She locked her apartment door and proceeded to the elevator. Anna’s room was four floors up from the ground; taking the stairs down would ruin her cool. DING! The elevator door opened. An old woman from the fifth floor was the only passenger. Thank God. No pesky smelly drunkards on board. Anna stepped in, pushed the close button, and proceeded at the back. She silently watched as the analog displays every floor they passed. The old lady was at front and was also silent. By the time they reached the second floor, something softly tugged the back part of her blazers. It was a soft pull noticeable enough for her to turn around and look for the culprit. No one was there. She concluded maybe her back just got slightly stuck with something in her bag. The old lady turned her face around, and looked at her. She smiled back. DING! The elevator reached the ground floor. She immediately alighted and proceeded outside the apartment exit.

The light railway transit station was just adjacent to the street. In a walk-run pace, Anna entered the station, inserted her pre-loaded train ticket, and went up to wait for that train. As it was her daily routine, she was already quick in doing things around the station. The train arrived at 7:43AM. She went inside the train car. She was left no option but to stand, since it was morning and people were rushing to ride the LRT. She held the handgrip as the train started to move; five stations to pass before she reach her destination.

Anna was a teller in a bank in Cubao. She thought it was a fair job for a woman like her who finished an Accountancy course in an unknown college in the province. The pay was also higher than in her past job as a money exchange teller in Bulacan. Manila, she thought and as what most people think, was the answer to her prayers to be able to earn money for herself.

However, living in this metropolis almost made a robot out of Anna. Every day, the same things, the same events, the same faces to meet. Anna did not know if she can take this kind of life, but as long as she can sustain her living, it would be all right. If to become normal, then normality shall it be. Besides, I am just 25 years old. There’s still more to live after these beginnings.

Anna fell asleep while she stood inside the train car. At the last station before Cubao, she was awakened by a tug in the back of her blazer; the same kind of movement from the elevator earlier. This time, she was sure there was someone who tugged her. She looked around, but because the inside of the train was packed, someone might have accidentally done it. The event just faded once again in her memory.

The train arrived at Cubao station, and the buzzing crowd alighted from the train, almost leaving it empty. Anna was quick; she had already exited the vicinity and walking on the streets to the bank. She arrived there a minute past 8AM.

The whole day passed by.

Tuesday afternoon.

Yet another day had passed; another ordinary day. Anna bade early goodbyes to her officemates and left the bank at 5:15pm in the bandy-clock. Not like in the morning, the walk back to the train station was slow. She stopped by a kiosk serving kikiam and squid balls to buy some for a possible dinner in her apartment. It was all that she would like to have at the moment. “Another fresh kikiam for dinner,” she told the seller. “You’ll enjoy that much,” was the seller’s answer. After buying, she proceeded up the station, inserted her reloadable ticket, and waited for the train. It was a long wait, and this was what makes Anna feel anxious and sad. Longing for nostalgia.

The train arrived. Anna entered slowly. Though the train was not packed with many people, there were no vacant sits. She was still elected to stand. The journey home was a struggle of emotions and stress.

She held the grip by the right hand, and the bag and the plastic of food was in her left. She stared endlessly on the outside, looking at the buildings and the view as it pass by. Anna closed her eyes to rest it, but careful enough not to dose off. Suddenly, she felt a chill in her spine. Something cold was holding her hand. She thought she was already dreaming, but she knew she was awake. She immediately opened her eyes and look at her hand. A little girl was actually standing by her side, holding her left hand, clutched tightly, and teary eyes staring unto her.

Anna did not know what to do. She felt some compassion towards the girl. She offered a meek smile, and let the child hold her hand. Maybe some kid longing for someone who cares. She looked once again beyond the mirror glasses of the train and closed her eyes. The cold hand was still holding hers. How cute and touching of her to hold on to my hand. I feel like a parent. I wish I will have a family with a kid like her.

The train arrived at Legarda station. Anna opened her eyes and noticed she really fell asleep, and thankful that she awoke at her destined place. It was a moment before she noticed also that the little girl was nowhere near her, completely disappearing from the crowd. Anna smiled and immediately went off the train. A continuous walk was needed to finally reach her room on the fourth floor of the apartment. As she went off downstairs, she did not notice the little girl who held her hand was still inside the train car by the closing door. Anna did not notice that the kid had bloody fingers. Most of all, the girl was floating in mid-air.

Tuesday evening. 6PM.

Anna was alone in the elevator car. The air inside was a bit heavy. Dry. Sticky. The speed of the elevator was not usual. It rumbled in occasions and the push button lights kept blinking. Weirdness. Anna reached the fourth floor. She quickly alighted and searched for her keys in her bag while walking towards her room. She used the keys on the door and slowly opened it, and was quite surprised to see a pair of flyers on the floor, might have been slid in the small space underneath. It was some ad for a phone promotion. Anna picked it up; put it by the side of the kitchen sink. The paper became wet by the sides. She put her bag and the plastic by the table, and heard a dripping sound in the bathroom. She quickly opened the bath door. The tub was full of water, already overflowing. The faucet had water dripping although slow, but by the looks of it, it was open since morning to be able to fill the whole tub. Anna slid out of her shoes and went inside, her stockings becoming wet, and turned off the faucet. Anna also noticed the slight foul smell of the water, like a trace of formalin. She was sensitive to this kind of smell; it makes her stomach lurch. She went out of the bathroom and closed it, then dialed the maintenance number on the phone. “This is Anna, on room 406. I think the pipe system in the bathroom is broken. Could you please send someone over to fix it? Yes. I am on the fourth floor, room 406. What, tomorrow morning? But I have work, I won’t be available. Tomorrow evening? Why not now? Crap. OK, OK. What should I do for the meantime to hold it–“. The line went dead. Stupid maintenance. Can’t even tell me what to do. She replaced the phone receiver and went to the bathroom again. The smell of formalin was still there. Damn. Why does it smell formalin here? It might poison me. Anna covered her nose and mouth, and turned off the plumb meter to shut off incoming water. She then pulled out the tub plug and let the water drain. Anna noticed some black grain-sized residue on the floor. She was irritated. Off she closed the bathroom door, and started undressing. Cleaning to do after dinner. She was about to pull down her skirt when she caught a whim of rotting stuff. What now?! She traced the smell and noticed the flies over the plastic of her take-out food. She opened the container and out came the full smell of rotting food. She was alarmed by what she saw that she immediately threw the food on the trashcan. Anna was surprised. How the hell did that happen? I was sure it was fresh when I bought it. Besides, it usually stays fresh till the morning after. How did it rot so fast? Damn, so much for dinner. Ugh. Such a worse night this is. I guess I have to eat outside tonight. Anna completely undressed and wore her large shirt and tights. She put her headband aside, and tied her hair. All set, she carried her wallet and keys, and locked the door. She took the stairs instead of the elevator.

Anna had some barbeque and rice for dinner. It was the cheapest food around the area.

Anna came back to her apartment at around 7:30PM, and was surprised to see a man standing by the door of her room, knocking furiously.

“Excuse me, excuse me. Don’t bang at my door like that. No one’s inside there,” Anna walked quickly to the man.

“Are you Anna? You know you don’t have to call multiple times just to make us come over here.” The man was furious.

Anna inserted the key and unlocked the door. “What you mean? Who are you?” She opened it, and proceeded inside.

“I was the guy who answered your calls, in the maintenance division. Didn’t I say we weren’t available till tomorrow? Why did you kept on calling?” The man prepared his things outside, opening his toolbox and getting some plumbing tools.

“Oh, hey. I just called once you know. And you told me you’ll come tomorrow, and in fact I also said you come tomorrow evening. That’s it. And then I went outside the apartment and just came back now. How can I call you?” Anna put the keys on the table and opened the bathroom. The faucet was again leaking.

“Yeah I know that when you first called. But then you called again for three more times, telling me the same things over and over again,” the man came inside and into the bathroom. He was still mad. “What the heck is the problem?”

Called you three times? I wasn’t even here. This man’s just making up stories! “The faucet is leaking, even if the meter was turned off.” Anna answered straight.

The man used his wrench to tighten the pipes. The faucet stopped leaking. He turned on the meter, and then tightened the nipple of the faucet, shutting the water completely. He applied some sealant to block seams and spaces on the pipe. Anna was just watching by the door. The problem had been fixed, and the man stood up and quickly came out to put his things on his toolbox.

“Well, thank you,” Anna said. The man wasn’t seemed to be appreciating.

“Next time ma’am, please be considerate. We also have hours to keep.” The man was ready to go. However, Anna stopped the man by asking another question.

“Sir, by the way, the water coming out from the faucet has a smell of formalin. Isn’t it dangerous to having those mixed in water?” she was serious.

The man stopped, and looked at her, frustrated even more. “Formalin! What the heck? Why would the water have formalin? We keep it sanitized and filtered before distributing it to your quarters. Nonsense!” He continued walking towards the elevator, never to look back again.

Whatever you say, I’m just telling, Anna thought. She closed the door and locked it. She still heard the sound of the opening elevator as she went to her bed and lied as she got a book from a nearby side table. She couldn’t seem to concentrate on what she was reading, and instead grabbed the remote controller and turned on the TV. Great, my favorite drama series is on. She watched what was on TV until clock struck 10, and then prepared for sleep. Anna stood and went to brush her teeth. After which she put the trashcan outside the door, so the helpers would take it away on the early morning. She opened the door, looked around and put the trash outside. She thought she was the only occupant on the floor due to the silence, though all of it was occupied, by students, reviewers and those working ones like her. It was an unusual night not to see anyone by the corridor. Anna shrugged off any thoughts and closed the door. She headed straight for bed. Before tucking herself in, she looked at her mobile phone, but disappointed with no messages received.

A night prayer, and then she slept.

(to be continued…)

The Marikina midnight moon witnessed five young lads walking on the suburban part of the Concepcion area. Even at this hour, the air was sticky and hot.

We were on our way to visit a post-celebration of wedlock. An unexpected turn of events for the day. Just an hour ago we were sitting inside a bar down Xavierville, enjoying the food and listening to earth music. On the struck of 12, we’re on this another feast. Astounded, I was astounded.

This night could be my enemy. This night could be a friend.

An unknown territory, a series of strangers, a flock of mature intellects. This spur of the moment adventures give me the thrill, something worth a milestone in my life. A memory to erase a dreaded feeling. I was supposed to be worrying about someone tonight. Anxiety, my worst disease. But I must not let that idea eat me on for the rest of the celebration.

Never in my life have I been to something like this.  An unending rhythm of reggae fused music. Yes, it was Reggae Land. I’ve never been this happier. The sweet music absorbed me. The beats, the strums, the bass lines. I was the alien and they were the welcoming peace-huggers. The overflowing beer drinks were our rides to exploring the deepness of our culture. How I missed this. No wavering love stories to be told. Only laughter, only cheers. Such a lovely event to be marked in history.

The night was a friend. Silence began to brew in.

Until dawn.

My phone rang. I was sleeping and was awoken by the vibrating motion of the phone lying beside my pillow. It was Olivia.

I sprung slowly and made a short cough, and pressed the answer key. A simple and cold question of ‘yes?’. It wasn’t my normal way of answering business calls. Olivia wasn’t a client anyway. The other line was silent, and faintly I began to hear sobs. Another crying lady. What happened Olivia? She wasn’t answering. And now she’s breathing heavily. I’m sleeping, call me when you’re calm. I pressed the off-call and lay on my bed once again. I was sure she would call again. Five minutes later, while I was half-asleep, my phone rang again. I answered it without opening my eyes, without even stirring much on my bed. I hadn’t uttered a word yet and Olivia spoke on the phone. Amazingly, she’s talking in a clear voice. Crystal and piercing voice, as I call it. Meet me on the lobby in half an hour. I’m on my way there. She dropped off the call after just ten seconds.

It was always like this. But I was ready to be on this scenario again; I was always expecting something like this to happen anytime. Somehow, I wanted to see her too.

Still in bed, eyes closed and feeling the comfort of the fluffy cushion and pillows for the next fifteen minutes after the call. I was still lying there, motionless. Then I suddenly stood up. It was time to prepare for our meeting.

I walked out from the shower and was drying myself twenty minutes later when I received her message, saying she was already down on the road. I replied OK, will be there in another 10 minutes. I found myself then in grey loose shirt and a khaki short as I stepped out of my room. I walked the walls of the 18th floor of West of Ayala to get to the elevator. Slow movement. The elevator came, I went inside, and in mere seconds, I’m on the ground floor. Now where’s Olivia?

I came to the lobby to find her. She wasn’t there. I asked the receptionist if she had seen a lady waiting inside. She uttered a brisk no with a smile; I smiled back and said thanks, then went outside. I found Olivia dressed in a neat shiny black jacket and short leather skirt as she was waiting outside the entrance of the condo, puffing some smoke, staring at the passing cars. She sensed my presence as I came near. She looked at my direction and quickly threw off her cigarette. Let’s drink, she opened, as she popped on a candy to her mouth. From a couple of times that this scenario had happened, I had already known how to come up with a sweet introduction. I slowed my pace, and coming at her side, I kissed her cheek, and embraced her. The first thing I noticed was the smell of her thick long hair, which through the layer of smoke I caught a whiff of Pantene shampoo. What came next was a series of silent sobs coming from this girl. I miss you, let’s get away right now. I let her go and stared at her eyes. Those cat-like eyes, piercing as well as her voice, the eyes much like those of Olivia Wilde’s, which interestingly share this damsel’s name. I gave a chuckle and broke away. Nah, I’m tired. Let’s just stay in my unit until I plan something out. I walked away and proceeded towards the entrance door. She came walking after me, then joined my side. She put my right arm on hers, and then folded her arms. From another person’s view, it might as well be like a scene from a Wong Kar-Wai movie, a typical bad-ass guy together with a quiet girl walking inside a pub, the aura of an alpha male radiating without borders. I gave another smile to the lobbyists as we headed towards the elevator. They smiled back, but a faint smile as an answer.

Olivia broke away from my grasp and quickly turned around to face me. I think it’s game time again, I thought. She stared at me. I could see her eyes dilating. The bright glow of the whole building made me see her face once again. A thin lipstick cover, and though she wore no make-up, she was as pale white like a swan. I could hint some loss of sleep on her part. It never mattered to me. She was always like this.

Promise never to leave me? She asked. I was quite shocked by this sudden hold-up. The elevator came and opened. The people came rushing in. I stared at her for a while, and then held her hand as we walked inside. She kept her face down, and I looked blankly forward. Still I held her hand until we reached our floor.

Olivia went out first as the door opened. She was released from my grasp. As she walked along the corridor, I looked at my watch to see the time. Eight or nine minutes past 11 o’clock. Olivia stood at the front of Room 1808, waiting for me. She was still looking down. I reached out for the door and was about to slide the card key when she stopped my hand. I saw her smile. She let her hair fall. What an amazing beauty. She looked up at me, and I was thinking stop the drama please. But she was smiling brightly now. Let’s go to the penthouse instead. Let’s go to upmost floor. All I thought of at that moment was the helipad up. Helipad. Seriously? I felt a sudden urge inside my veins that tell me to accept the offer. I became thrilled.

Ok, let’s go.

I reached her hand again and we walked back to the elevator. I wasn’t sure if it was allowed or what, but I need to satisfy my urge. I also need to make this lady had the best joy in her life. No, not even sex can give. Not just plain chocolates or flowers. Something worth more than life.

We came to the topmost floor. From there we went to the fire exit to get to the stairs, then up to the helipad. It was potentially unsafe, of course, but it was fun a million times more. The danger, the excitement. Wasn’t sure of the security guarding the place, but we easily got on, opened the big red door that says STOP, and out to the vast cement field under the star-laden sky. We ran, yes, we ran as if neither of us cared if we die or the wind sweeps us to the edge. On the center we stood, back to back, and saw the bright lights that cover the whole Makati city. Then far beyond were the fiery lights of the giant buildings of Mandaluyong, and to the South, the dancing lights of Pasay. It seems like the land below reflected the glow of the stars above, for on both horizons the twinkles remain constant. I then realized at that moment that I don’t have anyone to depend on but her, as she on me, while we stood like the only ones left of this earth.

I sat in Indian position; she sat on a fashionably way. We were side by side, her head resting on my shoulder. What happened, Olivia? You were the star of our past, the most important person in our childhood days. The top of the class, the envy of all. I asked her without waiting for an answer. I think we understood how this process always went along.

We stayed there for the longest time, and we savored the chill of the early morn. Unexpectedly we’ll both laugh, insane as it may sound. At some point she would sob. Yet we never talked. Silence was our words.

I think I need to die now. Death. Dead then be reborn, she said.

I never understood what she meant. I always let her speak, for I know her mind was in chaos. I wasn’t even her lover, nor was she mine; I can’t expect myself to restrain her. We could be considered a couple with no commitment as neither friends nor lovers. We’re just plainly here, existing for each other.

I’ll kill you, only if you promise to be back anew, I followed her rant. We chuckled.

Olivia made a gesture, a smile. Her eyes looked upon me. I looked upon hers too. No kiss; it’s stereotypical. She uttered the words I love- and was cut off. Olivia as Olivia was dead. Olivia was born anew.