Spent the whole morning trying to alter the date of birth on the identity card of a young deserter who turned up this morning and firmly requested this service - with the same confidence with which others have asked for a clean shirt or some food. It is much more difficult to do than one would think, even though the type of my machine is fortunately of the same size as that used in his document, the difficulty being to put the new figure precisely in line with the others. And clumsiness is lent to one's fingers by the thought that the boy's life may hang on its being done well.
April 17, 1944
Dear reader, I left you for God knows how long, but definitely much too long. Much comfort to be had from a space like this, you know? Ah, the delight of an audience not at all captive. This fact gives me a breath of freedom. I generate little expectations, very little carrot on the proverbial stick, so that if you don't like what I'm serving, the door's open for other tables. Always the happy presence of invisible eyes, silent judgments filtered by binary and clicker-happy surfing.
I missed this.
I haven't told a straight story in a while, have I? I must tell you, I'm sorry when I'm hermetic. Too many identities to protect, too many lives to hide, so that sometimes I seem to speak to myself. I repressed the basic storytelling impulse so much. I suffered a string of headaches.
Dears, let this not happen too much along so narrow a stretch as this here world.
Before I ramble on again, let me thank you for the company you deigned to bless my miserty, much gratitude for all the anonymous poison you held for me and helped me distill. I have several stories for you. Some, I've published (one recently, for example, if you'd care to pick up the April 18 issue of the Philippine Graphic, "The Imitation of Veronica"). And also some very small ones I'll tell you right here, right now.
You must note, I grew obsessed with the question of how the dyaryo-bote-garapa gatherers distinguished between bottles they'll pay for and those they wouldn't. Size, maybe? Or type of glass? The substance previously contained therein?
For a long time, I harbored the unverified assumption that they may profit from even those small bottles they declared didn't count: fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, medicine bottles. I suspected thus because they asked for these bottles anyway. Why did they? What would they do with trash? "Another man's grabage" principle applies here. What the magbobote defines as trash should be those stuff from which they stand to profit nothing save for extra weight on their carts.
I'll spare you details of many thoughts and turnings from this simple, seemingly worthless problematique. Let me, instead, narrate a twist to this query, one courtesy of my father. My father showed the magbobote in Quisao the sardines bottles he saved for him. You know those sardines? Those overpriced bottled Spanish, Portuguese, oh my! let's just say Romance-tongued sardines in hot veggie oil sealed in with chilis and superthin slices of carrot and pickle? Well, we just love those and spend beyond our petit means to grease our lips with them little fishies.
The magbobote said that the bottles wasn't worth a cent. Dad had around twelve, all of which he thus pulled back, putting forward instead the relevant dangkal of newspapers. The magbobote however still asked for the bottles while palm-spanning the newsies. My father asked in turn, "What for?" maybe inferring something along the lines of his son's hypotheses.
The magbobote replied, "We don't have glasses at home."
I'll end the story there though my petty investigation continues. As you know, I'm cursed with doubt. This makes me a good humanist but sometimes, methinks, a lousy human being. For example, after my father's breakfast story, I entertained the thought that this may have been too ready an answer from the magbobote. You can be certain I'll doubt, I always say.
I must tell you, still dear reader, that since I began publishing stories in print last year, I've been less than forthcoming in this space. Maybe because I feared my story ideas would be used before I got to refining them. Better not show the raw ore, I thought. But hey! Who was I to argue when my head spoke against my miserly conduct in aches. The migraine, for all the evil it has wrought - barring me from classes, meetings, dates, oh all these occasions we need to remind ourselves of the other - well, this has regularly done me some good as a sort of emotional or moral spidey sense. Call it Conscience or Muse, but hell, it tells me when I'm not doing good, goddamnit! My sin? I kept myself from you, much too long, my dear pretty faceless. So here, I just set the ground for another little story, haven't I?
Two or so years ago, I ate at this Chinese-style not-so-fast-food. Breakfast, and I had the pleasure of zero bustle chitchat atmosphere, a few quiet newsie readers minding their anonymous business, and an uppity threesome from the crew working the tiles and tables with mops, rags, sprinklers, and early bird smiles.
After marking a table with my things, I went to order. I was not buena mano. That honor went to a man in maybe sixties, dressed in drab, unremarkable clothes, as nondescript as my get-up. I went to the next counter, got my number, and left him still dealing with his cashier in the hush of his manner.
Minutes, coffee, half a plate, and about ten pages later, the crew cleaned the area behind me and - maybe seeing how I was too engrossed with my book - freely discussed the old man.
"He just ordered siumai! Then, after his sliced kalamansi, he began asking for more. Some more calamansi. Some more calamansi."
Laughter while sprinkling away, and the two others laugh too, though, clearly, even with my back to them, it seemed that nobody still got anything from the spare sentences. Until one of the fellows asked. "So, how much more did Jean finally give him?"
"Seven! Twelve halves in all, plus his two halves. Imagine Jean's face, guys. Imagine: eight calamansi for four siumai!"
More laughs, but that's not all.
"Then, our man asks for a couple of sugars. He just got siumai, guys, remember. No coffee whatsoever. So what's he going to do with sugar?"
"He turns his back, goes with his tray of siumai, kalamansi, and sugar, and all. Jean displays her dumbfounded face to everyone else in the counters and the kitchen. And where did our man go?"
"To the water dispenser, a glass of water. Water! Math, guys! Equals?"
I scanned the resto for the man. No sign of him. My plate instantly emptied, I left for work. The last thing I remembered reading was an epigram from Nietzsche. As you know, Nietzsche played with some poetry himself and, some claim, with most success in his epigrams. The epigram I recall read: "Poets treat their experiences shamelessly: they exploit them." Well, yes. Yet too, I noted just recently: maybe we're just trying to get to our recommended daily Vitamin C allowance the best way we know how. I'm also just going for the juice.