Thursday, June 30, 2011

sleep over

The day was arid and the breeze balmy at the park. People were mostly lazing around on the lawn; the men shirtless and the women in their bikinis. Some half-naked children were cavorting in the fountain. My friend and I were slumped on a picnic mat, finishing leftover wine and potato chips. From a distance, we could see a very young couple petting and necking on a bench, both of them seemed like they hadn’t grown body hair in the right places yet.

“That’s the reason why I’m quite apprehensive about raising kids here, if ever I would have kids” she quipped. And then we guessed how old exactly they could be. Nine? Eleven? Definitely not more than twelve.

A few feet from us, a slew of sick-looking pigeons were feasting on Buddha-knows-what. They’re also having a picnic, my friend said with a faint smile. On normal days, she regards the creatures with disgust and calls them ‘flying rats.’

Life seemed less harrowing that afternoon, especially under the shade of a flimsily foliaged tree, which barely shaded us from the evening sun (for the sun sets around 10 p.m. here). Homesickness, apprehensions, and other afflictions were momentarily dissolved in the boiling air as we discussed life, politics, intolerance, plans, and other people’s lives.

By and by, her boyfriend arrived and we started playing UNO cards. When a guy from another group of picnickers signified his intention, quite absurdly, to join our game, he—my friend’s boyfriend—told him it was our last game and we were about to leave. And we did, slowly, for such sun-drenched nights discouraged haste. The plan was to have dinner at their apartment and then continue playing cards, or just hang out.

At the apartment, another bottle of wine was opened and we feasted on bread, stinky (but great-tasting) cheese, and ready-made pasta. After some sumptuous dessert bought from a local boulangerie, we had three or four games of bingo chess (which they called Puissance 4). Each time, he won. I made a mental note of his strategy. Next time—maybe, just maybe—I would defeat him.

Several games of UNO came after that. They both made fun of my colorblindness. Fortunately for me, the cards’ colors were pretty solid and unmistakable in my eyes.

“Or maybe he can’t read numbers, too!” he later commented when, in between laughs, I made a mistake with the numbers. If they could see my grades in Math when I was in school, they would probably be convinced that number-blindness, indeed, exists.

I was luckier with UNO this time. I won several games. And even if we were just three, we still managed to gang up on each other.

“It’s two Asians against a European,” she said. Later on, he retaliated: “This time, it’s two boys against one girl!”

When we got tired of UNO, we started playing Carcassone, a tile-based German board game named after a medieval French town. It involved building a terrain with castles, bridges, prairies, and abbeys, and then stationing followers—vassals, more like it—on them. They both tried to explain the game to me as we played.

“Can I kill your followers?” I asked.
“No, you can’t do that.”
“Can I raise an army to invade your castle?”
“What if I wanted to?”
“Nothing of that sort. Your violent tendencies are showing!”

Since I was a neophyte, they were both kind to me and helped me build my fortified castles. By the time the game was done, I had the most extensive castles on the terrain, which of course, meant more points.

It was already midnight when we decided to stop. Since it was raining that night, he suggested that I spend the night there. Fearing that I would no longer get a bus ride home, I agreed.
He inflated an air bed, lent me some comfortable clothes, wedged earplugs into his ears, and then went to bed. She, on the other hand, decided to watch TV first. So I decided to stay up with her. We ended up just talking about scandals, gossip, pretentions, fathers, more gossip, table manners, life, and her school application. And then the night deepened. The balmy breeze gave way to a cool gentle wind. The aridness of the day had finally ended. Even in the absence of the stubborn sun, there was still no haste to go to rest.

But when I finally decided to sleep, I tormented their earplugged dreams with my divine snoring.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011


After an exhilarating jog in the woods, I head to the train station to begin the anti-climactic trek back home. With endorphin-enhanced senses, I notice everything around me down to the minutest details.

On the platform, an overexcited (drunk?) guy sings to himself. He stands up and saunters toward the vendo machine and dances in front of it, his plaid boxers peeping from his low-rise jeans. A woman looks at him and frowns.

A few minutes after, the train arrives. I sit beside a girl who is curling her eyelashes. One sudden jerk of the train and she would end up accidently pulling out her lashes.

A couple is making out in the middle. The guy suddenly stops and playfully brushes the girl’s hair off her face. It gets in the way, he seems to say. The girl slaps him lightly on the cheek. More tongue action after that.

Girl beside me is now applying eyeshadow.

An old woman with gray hair and long, black skirt gives a speech in rapid French at the far end of the train. She’s too far for me to understand what she is saying. All I know is that she’s asking for some spare change. She quickly walks down the center aisle without pausing to see if anyone would actually give her anything.

An adolescent boy in a Justin Bieber hairdo comes in with his two friends. Since he is curly-haired, he only manages to look like Tina Turner.

The girl beside me finishes her makeover session with blush-on.

The train stops.

A teenage girl gets up and stands by the door. She lightly gyrates to the music on her iPod. Despite her bulging love handles, her hip movement is actually sexy. She’s the second dancing passenger I’ve seen in the span of ten minutes. It must be something in the air.

The train stops. The doors open. I get off, realizing that the commute back home is not really as anti-climactic as I’ve thought.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

black bridal car

It all started with a black bridal car festooned with flowers and cheesy crepe paper.

“Lucky for them, they found each other,” the fortyish woman sitting beside me at the bus station suddenly blurted out as the black car sped past us. I gave her a polite smile and went back to reading my book.

“Oh yes, it’s good for them. Me, I’ve been alone for years now,” she continued. “And I’m telling you, it’s hard, it’s really hard. I decided to call it quits with my boyfriend years ago because he had been coming home late from bars. I couldn’t help but think that he was cheating on me. I mean, who would come home at six in the morning from a bar? Did he think that I didn’t know that he hooked up with some girl there?”

“Yes, perhaps he was cheating on you,” I curtly commented and started reading my book again.

“Exactly! And what if he brought home AIDS with him? That would have been terrible. So I decided to end it. The relationship wouldn’t have amounted to anything anyway.”

“Good choice,” I simply said as I uncomfortably leafed through the pages of my book.

“You’ll never know what you’re going to get these days. I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said, more to herself than to me. She went on to ruminate about relationships at this time and age, and how people should always be on guard.

By this time, I had already closed my book; the woman had all my attention now. I noticed that she was not so much into conversation as into prolonged monologues. During the rare moments that her pale blue eyes met mine, she sought confirmation and affirmation, not active dialog.

She was wearing an oversized white shirt with some colorful print in front. He baggy pants seemed haphazardly chosen and worn in haste. She had with her an empty shopping bag.

“And you know what else he did?” she continued while we both boarded the bus that had just arrived. “One night, he went out with my mother and they came back home after midnight. And then, that same night, he slowly crept out of bed and went to my mother’s room and locked the door behind him. What was I supposed to think?”

“How old exactly is your mom at that time?”

“Sixty,” she quipped. “But love knows no age.”

I asked her if she had talked to her mom about it. She said the sexagenarian replied that she was merely trying to live her own life. I have to agree. Everyone has the right to be happy. But sleeping with your daughter’s boyfriend might be going overboard.

“That’s why I decided to end everything. It’s no use staying with a guy like that, even if he was a prince.”

“A prince?”

Apparently, the guy was the distant cousin of the ruling monarch of Monaco. This was getting stranger by the minute. It was more than I expected from a normal morning bus ride.

Fortunately, before the conversation took more unexpectedly surreal twists, she said she had to get off at the next bus station.

“It was really nice talking to you,” she said. She gave me her name and her mobile number, which I wrote at the end page of my book. “Maybe we can meet up again to chat.”

I gave her an ambiguous smile. The bus pulled over by the station. And I watched her walk away. I slowly opened my book again, hoping not to see another black bridal car.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011


Returning to an old addiction after three years of hiatus can be exhilarating, to say the least. Like a freshly detoxified drug junkie going back to sniffing cocaine, or like the president of Alcoholics Anonymous, who, after having shunned the liquid for a decade, suddenly finds comfort in quaffing glasses of brandy again, I am back to my old habit.

My addiction.

My elixir.

My home.

There is much to be said. But to start in the beginning is to go against the tide. I won’t go back. Let it all ebb in. I’ve tasted pain in the past year. And it left an agonizing aftertaste. I won’t dare stride back there again, especially nine months ago, when, bursting into a posh hospital room, I saw hordes of doctors and nurses still trying to revive my dead father. And then, two months after that, my aunt, my father’s only sibling, passed away, too. I had barely stashed away my mourning clothes when I found myself wearing them again.

Whatever haze these events have left hovering above me is still there. But life, as it is wont to do, will not stop and shed a tear for anyone. It prods on. And I, too, found myself prodding on. Laboring.

Walking in the dense woods the other day, amid heavy foliage nourished by the first few rays of the summer sun, I felt so alive. Thankful to be so, actually. I knew it wouldn’t last long so I had to cherish it. Be grateful for the air you breathe, my father used to say. There is poetry in everything. There is beauty wedged somewhere between the cracks of dusty cobblestones.

Last Sunday, for instance, I saw a fiftyish man dance with a backhoe to the lyricism of La Callas’s arias within the courtyard of a renaissance palace. The night sky was still bright with a sun that was so reluctant to set. And it was drizzling lightly. Gathered around in our umbrellas and plastic ponchos, we witnessed how the giant, normally uncouth backhoe seemed to have developed its own emotions as it interacted gracefully with the human dancer. That was sheer poetry.

There is poetry in my life, somewhere. And that is what I intend to bring out yet again. Three years of silence has not exactly dried up my inkwell. No amount of detoxification or rehabilitation will keep me away from my addiction. Would that nothing make me kick the habit again.

My name is Slim Whale. And I am a blogger.

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