THE DNX ESSAYS | 125 days later

First of three parts

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Editor’s Note: DNX Essays is The Paper’s creative non-fiction section. We give life to stories by presenting them in a literary way. The following is based on interviews with people who don’t want to be quoted in news reports, and on field observations by DNX reporters and editors over the past weeks after the community quarantines of various degrees over Bacolod City since 15 March 2020.The people in the story are real though some had their names changed to protect their identities. The events happened in real life.

He missed the nightlife in Manila. Like staying out until two in the morning, emptying buckets of San Miguel Light that each come with free tapas of boneless lechon belly.

He pickled his liver nightly and enjoyed all the other diversions the big city had to offer. Until he came back to Bacolod.

Broke. Busted.

He was in the middle of a recovery when the pandemic came.

As they waited for a cab, he saw the sodium lamps cast a strange hue over the wet road that runs across the hotel, eerily similar to that scene in The Exorcist when Fr. Merrin arrives outside the house of Regan.

To the west, he can see a perpendicular cut of the main highway through the dark narrowing slit. Only a few cars passed. He counted three over 15 minutes. To the right of the intersection where the highway forms an L with the road he was standing on, he can see the outline of what used to be a coffee and doughnut shop he and his friends, young reporters like him, used to stumble into many years ago after a drunken night.

Usually at a local steakhouse where a politico “sponsored” the booze and steaks. Steak ala pobre was his favorite then.

“Damn, I should have had that pepper steak,” he thought as he recalled the favorite of his former favorite manong (elder brother) in local media who loved to wear media vests.

His recollection was broken by the sound of an ambulance’s siren that pierced the silent night air. Doppler effect, he thought, as the sound of the siren grew louder and as he saw the spinning red lights reflected on the main road to the east.

“Should we go back inside?” his wife asked him as she adjusted the backpack’s strap digging into her right shoulder.

He took out his mobile phone and called the dispatch of Faith Taxi. It rang until the maximum number of rings was reached.

22:22, his smartwatch said as it lighted up when he twisted his left wrist towards him. Faith Taxi used to operate a hailing hotline round-the-clock. He forgot that since the modified GCQ went into effect, Faith had been running a limited service.

“Bro, the operator goes home by 9pm,” his driver-friend, Rics, told him days ago. He simply forgot.

The wait and kitchen staff were starting to file out of the hotel as he opened the Grab app on his phone. The “Book Now” button was greyed out. No can do. Grab was busted, too.He recognized one of the waiters who passed in front of them.

“Sir, mauna kami ah (Sir, we’ll go ahead),” he recognized him as Joemarie, so he smiled and nodded.

Joemarie might have not seen him smile behind the N95 mask so he shouted back “halong (be careful).”

He was sure Joemarie had P500 to bring home to his family. The hotel owner, Mr Su, made sure of that. “Pila kamo kabilog dira (How many of you are out there?),” he asked Joemarie as the waiter poured San Miguel Pale Pilsen into Mr. Su’s glass. “Apat (Four), sir,” he answered.

Mr. Su then waved to a cooking staff with a black hairnet outside the glass door to come inside. He asked the same question, got the same answer.

Mr. Su took two blue bills from his pocket, P2,000, and gave it to the cook staff with black hairnet.

“You divide it among yourselves,” he said. “

Thank you so much, sir,” the employee said and half-bowed before making his way out of the meeting room.

The businessman nodded, his nose twitched as he motioned Joemarie to come over and gave him another pair of blue bills. He got the same reply from Joemarie who laid his right hand on his heart.

Like saying “namaste.”

Without words.

Mr. Su’s brows were thick, bushy.

He saw it behind the plastic frame of the prescription glasses the Chinese businessman wore, plastic frames that looked like the ones he had on.

“Is he wearing cheap plastic frames like mine?” he asked himself.

Mr. Su cut into his thoughts. “I have to pay them extra, they are not receiving tips lately,” Mr. Su told him as he raised his glass.

“How many used to work here before?” he asked.

Forty, came the reply.

Mr. Su’s hotel had stopped operations recently and only his coffeeshop slash restaurant had been operating. With a skeleton staff.

Mr. Su pointed to the dining area outside.

It was around 8pm.

“Usually this time at night there are a lot of people here,” he said.

Now, there were only chairs around tables. And the elegant-looking leather-covered table napkin boxes on top of these. Since the enhanced quarantine that lasted a month and the series of general ones until the modified GCQ still in effect today, at least 125 days have passed.Businesses, mostly hotels have closed.

At least in the meantime.

Village officials have been charged over suspicions that they filched money intended for beneficiaries of the government’s subsidy program, P12,000 per person spread over two months.

There was rain that night.

Binabaye (Like a woman),” as his older relatives would usually call it and as his friend Rics, the driver, call it, too.

The term refers to the erratic nature of the rains. Short torrential downpours that even the state weather bureau finds hard to forecast.

He thought of the polemics and the arguments of the “conscious” ones or the “woke” on the use of the term. Funny, though, the woke insist women are not erratic and should be treated like men.

Does gender equality mean women should act like men? Isn’t that reinforcing the so-called toxic masculinity? Whatever.

His thoughts were broken by a tricycle’s horn.

“Sir, diin kamo (Sir, where to?)” the driver who looked like Tony Jaa with a baseball cap asked him.

“Eroreco,” he said.

His wife climbed into the back of the sidecar as he made his way to the front.

Quarantine regulations require only two passengers per tricycle, and the installation of plastic separators between the driver and passengers and between passengers. Like the compartments of spiders in matchboxes he used to make as a kid.

He saw apples, oranges, avocadoes, papayas and wild mangosteen lined up in neat rows at the fruit stall as the tricycle turned left to Lacson Street, the main highway that links the city to the provincial north.

The street was named after a revolutionary army general, a landlord, Aniceto, who was one half of the leadership of the Al Cinco de Noviembre, the Fifth of November revolution in 1898 that freed Negros island from Spanish rule.

Parallel to Lacson is Araneta Street that leads out to the provincial south where Tan Juan Araneta, also a landlord in Bago City, had lived.

That revolution, or ruse to be exact, freed Negrenses through an infantry that surrounded the Spanish garrison. The Filipino fighters were “armed” with coconut fronds and rolled up bamboo weaves that looked like rifles and cannons.

It was a tactic that would have made Erwin Rommel proud.

He did not see the street walker, a 20ish prostitute, at the fire hydrant in one of the intersections that night. She had been gone since the ECQ, like the others who used to hang out at the public plaza.

At the Fountain of Justice, even the male street walkers – gigolo-looking with imitation cowboy boots that curl at the tip and jeans with bulging crotches have disappeared in a pop like the orgasms they give to matrons. If they can give it to their paying lovers.

Red House Shabu Shabu a new Taiwanese-style restaurant was already closed when they passed the junction with San Sebastian Street, named after the city’s patron saint and one of the many intercessors of the Catholic faith.

For weeks now, San Sebastian had been one of the saints to whom the faithful had been praying to during the oratio imperata or obligatory prayers against the COVID19.

From the speakers of churches across the city blare these prayers after the daily Angelus and every eight in the evening.

He was silent as they passed by Lacson Street that runs almost the entire length of the city from the northernmost village of Bata, which stands for Bacolod Talisay, Talisay being the next city past the bridge across the Matab-ang River. He was silent since they rode. There was nothing to talk about.

The habagat, the wind from the southwest, blew cold over the city that was fast becoming a sleepless one.

At least before the pandemic.

He was thinking of Gabo’s “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” that he had to finish reading when they passed by the junction of Rizal and Lacson.

To the left, beside a gasoline station, he saw the building that reminded him of the first striptease show he had watched with his pubescent highschool classmates. Macho Disco Bar was on the second floor of that building.

Or at least its floorshow and massage areas. A “VIP room” was at the landing between the first and second flights of stairs. He knew nothing about that room when they first went to watch the floorshow.

He remembers one of his classmates complain to him of a tightness in the crotch area. That classmate is long dead. He was kidnapped and killed by Communist gunmen who became the Red Scorpion Group headed by Joey De Leon, the namesake of a popular comedian.

The terrorists had demanded at least 50 million Philippine pesos from his classmate’s father, a wealthy businessman who might have been mistaken as a wealthier businessman in Manila who had the same name.

Stupid Communists.

Despite their so-called social investigation-class analysis, ideology is not an effective antidote to idiocy. Of course the Communist Party disavowed the RSG’s “criminal activities” that went against the “fundamental” beliefs of the CPP.

As if burning cane farms if a sugar planter refuses to pay their revolutionary taxes and killing peasants suspected to be “working for the enemy” were not criminal acts. Or perhaps sanctioned criminal acts are not criminal when having Party imprimatur.

To be continued

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