The heat woke me up forty minutes earlier than my five-thirty alarm. Just as well, I thought, and went downstairs for e-mail. Ma was awake and, as mothers are wont to do, inserted her opinion in how I conducted the morning. She even fixed the things that I stacked on the sofa.
I wore a white sleeveless shirt, my bloomed-bottomed jogging pants, and a pair of blue shoes from my brother’s stack. Shoes had been ground by wear and tear, but I didn’t need to look pretty and it seemed like it would hold for a couple of hours. Had a bag with me that contained my journal, pens, Bautista’s Tinik sa Dila, and a pair of nunchukus. The plan was to walk along the Pasig River to the Makati Park, do some drills, and record everything in sight. A couple of poems to be read if the hand got too tired or everything in sight would not yield insight.
Walked my walk, drilled my drills. But the heel of the right shoe tore from my foot. It hung like a limp wing. Felt the need to go home before these shoes gave up their soles. I mean shoes and soles too, for the left shoe also felt too loose for comfort. My brother must have given the pair for Ma to get it fixed by a shoe repairman near her school. Even after repairs, he never wore it again.
I did though; that’s okay. I walked with steps that kept my foot low so that the heel trails more than hangs. There were many people in the park by then, but I did not have to care. If it took me fifteen minutes to get to the park, I figured that the way back could take twenty plus.
Kept my eye on the sidewalk for cord. One could be lying around or tied to some post from streamers cut with haste. Found some too, gray straw. Plastic, the type we use for most of our packing purposes. Just the right size, a few inches shy of three spans. It was dry, been out in the sun long enough. Also meant that I passed it earlier and paid no attention to it. I thus doubted if it would hold; what if it was as dry as an old leaf? It survived the twining though, two tries to be precise. I figured out a better way to tie up the heel after a block.
What were the chances of coming across the needed cord? One could think of statisticians. One could think of Jung. One could think of God. Or one could think of utility in the light of existence and see how two pieces of trash can help each other in this world. And what would that make the world? The happy garbage bin.
It is possible that there exists in this case three pieces of trash. One unfortunately sentient, possessing the interesting ability to remembers to look for things and friends from sidewalks in times of need. For indeed, with eyes framed by such a worldview, we see necessity as much the pure progenitor of invention as it is the sole legitimate mother of friendship.
Generic gray straw: a friend indeed for a friend in need.
I felt lucky not to come across a familiar face. Several were in mind though, and a light despair came out knowing that each friend had equivalent to values, had equivalent I could need them for this or that, emotional support, ego gratification or physical, affirmation, belonging, free pasta, a forwarded joke, or those tears on my shoulder that make me feel important, my consolation had value, I was needed. The inescapable need to be needed then.
Oh, this was just a light despair, don’t mistake me. A morning despair. A despair that is accursed exactly because it will not crush me with its weight, and it will linger as age lingers.
I couldn’t lift my eyes from the sidewalk, even if the shoe felt a lot more secure. I looked as a man looking at the ground for direction, as a man looking at the dregs of tea, as a man who couldn’t look up. There might be a familiar face, and too early in the morning.
Grass, grass, thistles, cigarette butts, a variety of plastic wrappers, crushed crowns, and a dead kitten. Fortunately, it was not bloated.
Now why would it occur to me that a kitten was luckier to be dead rather than dead and bloated? Most of the dead cats I’ve seen were bloated, as if their aversion of water were justified. But this kitten? A gray and white thing, most of its fur intact, curled with eyelids shut as if shut by a jaw too slack, and the jaw slack as if the hunger had not left.
Just dead above dead and bloated: why? Because it was prettier that way? It preserved the cat, the alive cat. Why do I ask of death to preserve the image of the alive cat when it has let go of everything else anyway.
Just a few steps, a block before I reached our welcome mat. The billboards came in sight, I had looked up. The biggest billboard, built with more smiling surface than the combined floor space of a four-family compound, displayed with jubilant beach bodies a softdrink’s decalaration of summer. Like a sun god, a mob god, the great yellow billboard was attended by three lesser frames inhabited by four female faces, faces of goddesses advertising clothes. More face and company font than textile. Two of them resembled former girlfriends.
The people who lived near the billboard complained because they feared the beams would destroy them come storm or quake. The company, anchored as it was on church land, would not tear down “the signs” nor give any monetary concession for the homeowners to fortify their homes. Even the nasal rumor that some of the residents of the area were drug users came into play. I lived beyond this stretch, but why beyond?
I thought as I approached the signs how awfully interesting the morning would turn out to be if one of the two faces crashed down and killed me. That would seem too contrived.
What if two faces came down on me, at once, equally killing me? That would come out absurd.
Predictably, I chose absurd over contrived. Predictably, I chose to shelve the speculation, walk beyond the shadow of the boards.
The pandan needed watering, I saw as I rang the door. My sister opened it, my sister who was a day old after yesterday’s birthday. I showed her the shoes and the straw before I threw them. I tried to contemplate on their “throwness” for a while longer, but nothing in me budged. I had put more in the trash than I thought. Opted to have a few laughs for breakfast.
23 April 2006