In a Time of Ammonia
Recto, Manila, 3:00 PM
It’s not too often that I find myself freaked out. Not that I got robbed at this infamous place, but because of the many things I found out about this seedy section of the capital city.
In a word: ammonia.
The long weekend, no thanks to the President herself, leaves me bored on the very first day. Once again, I decided to commute to wherever the road will take me. In this case, the train tracks. After a lunch at some eatery at Katipunan, I decided to take to the LRT station and go to Recto. After all, I have to buy a book for my sister back home.
The moment I left Recto Station, the rank smell of piss filled the air, so much that I just had to smoke. As I walked along, the ammoniacal smell of urine grew stronger. Then I came to the source: a woman was pissing right on the sidewalk like it was a normal thing. As she stood up and walked away, you could still see trickles of piss falling from deep under her skirt. Even the most perverted won’t go there.
As I was walking along asking vendors for book titles, I realized that I didn’t have the monopoly of questions at Recto. Save for those kids tugging at my jeans asking for loose change – which I didn’t have – the enterprising cheaters and tricksters that populate this section of the Metropolis ask me to violate my honor in my face.
“Boss, pagawa ka ng diploma?”
“Pards, transcript? Mura lang.”
So I bought the book needed by my sister, and decided to walk around to see what these sidewalk bookstores have to offer. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. Maybe it’s because I don’t have patience, maybe because I’m in the wrong section of Recto, or maybe because this is Recto. By the time I got to the infamous seedy bars and GROs who start hawking their… services, at 2:30 in the afternoon, I was entreated to “literature” that pass for “erotica.” Right by military supply stores you would find all sorts of pornographic magazines and novellas that discuss everything from incest to sadomasochism. Rags that talk about “love tunnels” and onomatopoeic transcriptions of primal coital screams.
Then, seeing it from the corner of my eye, an insane man was defecating near a pile of construction cement.
“Now I’ve seen everything,” I said. Maybe saying it out loud sent the wrong message to a scantily-clad woman in a red tube top and an extremely abbreviated miniskirt, who asked me if I could take her to the nearby Sogo “for P500.” In broad daylight. Then she told me she needs the money for tuition.
That did it for me, as I walked far away really fast, huffing and puffing on the filter of my Philip Morris, knowing that maybe there’s no semblance of decency in Recto. If there is, it’s very hard to come by.
It’s not too often I find myself disgusted by Metro Manila, knowing that I made the choice to stay here. I’ve seen my own fair share of “dark underbellies” in this complex of 17 cities and municipalities over the course of three months: the motels and “dance clubs” of Pasay, the poverty of Commonwealth Avenue, the annoying traffic of Cubao, and the tasteless pomposity of Ortigas, Eastwood, and Makati.
I’ve always thought that whatever moronic report is broadcast on primetime news is merely fantasy. Like murders, robberies, pickpockets, rapes, and the literal diploma factory that is the “University of Recto.” I thought wrong. There’s ammonia everywhere here: not only in the urine of old women and the feces of madmen, but also in the very souls of people who make a living out of whatever soul that there is in the bodies of the desperate.
And then you feel it stick to you. I am a cog in the wheel of this abyss of skyscrapers and congested roads. Every day – whether it’s work day or a day off, is a time for ammonia.