Thud… the back of my head banged up against the concrete post in my apartment. I was willing to literally bang my head up, give myself a bit of a concussion, accelerate the prospects of dementia, taste my own blood, and perhaps fracture my skull. Anything, just to shake off a really horrible case of writer’s block. I was trying my best to write a short story for some event I want to go to, but I was running out of ideas. After a few more thuds, I realized I was getting a bit dizzy, and all this self-inflicted pain will get me nowhere near my story.
Not that I’m a good writer or anything, but I need that story. Somehow, I had to find a story somewhere. I had to find an idea somewhere. Since you can’t find that in an apartment, and you can’t make ideas out of banging your head on the wall, you might as well head on over somewhere to look for one. So I crawled out of bed, freshened up, and went off to somewhere – anywhere – to find my story. I boarded a bus, paid my fare, and found myself a few minutes later at Ayala Avenue.
The moment I disembarked from the bus, I had to curse myself. Great, Marck, I muttered under my breath, you had to go here. It seems that I find myself at the Makati Central Business District every Saturday night walking around, visiting random 7-Elevens and MiniStop stores buying cola and cigarettes, and depressing myself with the sight of boring skyscrapers and glass-covered office condominiums.
I could also depress myself with the sight of people huddled at parking lots over at Valero; people chewing on convenience store for lack of money for a meal at McDonald’s, or those fearing the consequences of getting retrenched. I could depress myself at the sight of hidden stairs or corners along Perea or Legaspi, where there are cardboard boxes laid out that turns the CBD into a mini-hotel for street-dwellers. Those were the stories I wanted.
It’s a cool night, so I walked around puffing cigarettes and drinking a 7-Up, looking for those people and those stories. If they weren’t at CBD, they were probably in Salcedo. If they weren’t there, they were probably at Bel-Air. If they weren’t at either, they were probably hanging out at Glorietta or Greenbelt. My MP3 player belted out everything from AC/DC to Blur to Rage Against the Machine to N*Sync to 911 to Ogie Alcasid to Joey Ayala (how appropriate). Pretty soon, I ended up scouring every block of the CBD looking for what I wanted. None, nada, zilch.
I wanted to throw up, literally. I was tired, my lungs were sore, and my body was out of calories. From the swanky streets of Bel-Air, I trudged back to Ayala, dragged my living corpse to the EDSA-bound lane, and made up my mind to go to Glorietta for anything in the way of dinner. All this self-mutilation was making me hungry.
At the sidewalk I was approached by a woman who seemed to be fresh off a job interview; the brown envelope sealed inside a plastic envelope was all that was needed to know where she came from.
“Sir naririnig niyo ba ako?” I forgot I had my earphones on, so I removed them. From the breeze, I think a random passerby would snicker at the thought of this wannabee rockstar listening to Ant & Dec.
She was on her way to Buendia; she just got accepted at some call center. It’s her first time in Manila, so I mumbled the directions to the bus station where she’s supposed to go. With tears in her eyes, said that she didn’t have enough money for the fare back to Batangas. She spent her allowance at a print shop to have her resume printed, and she was willing to get by the trip to her home province, but she was horribly short on fare. I kinda figured a scamming going on, but looking at her frayed blouse and the really worn dress shoes patched over with shoe polish, this wasn’t a scam.
Then I remembered how much dumb luck I can get because of random people in the streets. I’m not superstitious, but I think I got some dumb luck a year ago because of an old woman who asked me for spare change over at San Miguel in Ortigas, and the next day, I found myself employed. Not that charity makes me feel good – it’s almost certainly a case of more for them and less for me – but I can’t stand the thought of wondering what would happen to this woman if she wasn’t helped.
“Magkano po kulang sa pamasahe ninyo?” I asked. “Beinte pesos lang po sir,” she said, almost embarrassed at the idea that she was short for only that much, and was asking random people at Ayala Avenue for that much. It was not vagrancy; it was just the misfortune of having your resume printed over by some overpriced shop in that abyss of skyscrapers and swank called Ayala. It’s not your fault that you’re here; it’s just pakikipagsapalaran. It’s just an exodus to better fortunes, without assurances and without guarantees of achieving it. It’s just Dick Whittington, Filipino-style: without a Fitzwarren, without the Bells of London, without streets paved with gold.
Tired and suddenly depressed, I reached into my pocket, and sorted through receipts and cigarette lighters and a cigarette box and a cellphone, and found a twenty-peso bill. I needed it, too, given the state of the economy and the state of my stomach, but I kind of figured I won’t miss it.
“Salamat po, sir,” she replied, and walked according to the directions I gave her. As I watched her go, a flash of all sorts of stuff went through my head. I stood there dumbfounded for about a minute, with plots and sentences and stories passing through my veins, a lot like an electrocution of inspiration.
Off I ran. Stop-turned the corner into Paseo de Roxas, and after a few blocks, my lungs gave way. I sat down the steps of a building closed for the weekend, fought the urge to throw up, and a smile – maybe a smirk – curled up on the corners of my lips.
Laughing quietly, I made my way back to Ayala Avenue, boarded a bus home, and while I was twenty pesos poorer, I had my story.