Thursday, March 24, 2005

Short Story in Progress I (draft) First Flash of Blankness

It must be because of the proximity of their place to the business district and the sea, kilometer away to the West with some portions reclaimed, never reached them with its smell of brine, that the young people there would engage in regular reunions, former classmates in school in which one of them, amid the humdrum of routinary work in cramped office spaces, would think first on contacting the others and those few who had migrated to other cities for arrangements. If someone would take notes on what usually do they talk about during these get-togethers, he would notice that they delve on superficial details concerning their advancing careers, and, when everybody have slackened off due to the languor of consumed calderata and pancit bihon, when what left in their hands are wine and beers, they mainly savor the pleasure of repeated exchange of tidbits of a shared past.

One of the young people who subscribed to this was Jose Centeno, an abled man with no practical worries to make him look older than his age, and reunions for him were welcome rituals by which he used as an instrument to navigate how far, or how near, he had sailed from his boyhood, and also to compensate for the slow ripple of his social life. This year, the news about an upcoming affair came to him through his cousin, Dominic Crisante, constant classmate in school, who relayed to him that Carmelita Alonzo had dropped by at their compound, and brooched the idea for another get-together. Dominic had told him that she had had visited the others as well and a tentative date had ben set on when they would discuss the details.

This prospect ran like an excited cat in the head of Jose as he combed the tuft of hair in his forehead with callous fingers, halfway done recording on the computer the birth and death certificates of the population of Hawaii, circa 40, from a roll of microfilm. The thought took a toll on him and he felt an urge to refresh himself that he stood up, stretched his numbing limbs, and surveyed for a moment the rows of computers around him, listening to the perpetual clatter of keyboards being pounded relentlessly at an average speed of 45 word per minute, before he walked past the working area, straight for the comfort room. He found that several of his officemates were there already, cigarette smoke hovered in the air like a morning fog slowly dispersing and being sucked by the exhaust fan. He relieved himself on the urinal, then fished for a cigarette in his back pocket and lit it. His officemates were entertaining themselves with wild juvenile imagination of having a hot chick for a wife. "That would be good," Jose joined in, "just don't go abroad for you'll writhe anxiously in your bed that she is making out with other men." "That must be like hell," one replied.

When Jose returned to his seat, he checked whether he had had recorded the certificate seen in his viewer, and verifying that it had been, resumed encoding the next data. Engulfed for hours in the repetitious process of typing names, dates and causes of deaths, hynotizing task in which his brain felt the sensation of being massaged to an extent of getting dumb, when, brought probably by the wisp of air from the air-condition that whirred in the background, a flash struck him. His excitement about his previous preoccupation was replaced with transparent urgent concern. It was a casual conversation with former classmates as they stood on the bridge near another classmate's home, time before they discovered the pleasure of holding formal reunions. He mentioned to one of them a case of mischief they had done, with accomplices, during one of their school days. But the quick response was: "Sorry, but I don't remember it." The reply baffled him, quietly exasperated by unseen benign terror. He could have had retorted by saying: "Of course you remember it", and offered further elaboration to construct a detailed past, but the conversation was a merry one, straying spontaneously into other topics, that to delve on an uncertain past was uncalled for and unnecessary. Thus the realization that he alone remembered it hung in the air, had dived in the subterraneans of his soul and stayed there for a long time in slumber, but resurfaced only now.

"Common." A seatmate. Jose snapped out of his reverie. Everybody around had started to stand up, bustling, rushing toward the counter to pass the unfinished recorded microfilms. He pulled the microfilm in one sweep from the machine, put the film inside the brown envelope and stood up. The next shift, crowding in the corridor and spilling over already on the door, was about to enter the working area any minute now.

He chose a seat by the window. When the conductor issued him his ticket, he unconsciously crumpled it into a ball with his fingers, rolling it until the sweat in his fingers rubbed on it. Humid air slapped his face as the bus speeded along the highway. The lush of billboard ads' lights preoccupied his vision but they did not register in his thoughts, since it stubbbornly dwelled on the issue which to some would be treated by casual attention as a simple case of forgetfulness. But Jose felt otherwise. He was bothered. He tried to find a resolve to this, taking as a reference point the events in contemporary times, raking his soul like a philosopher searching for explanation on everything by sheer logic and reason. Jose took the case of his officemates. They would remember years later the habit of sneaking out to smoke in the comfort room during this stint in their job. Then repeated shirking would etch a strong impression in their memories that it would be certain that, if the situation called for it -- when an early evening chat with their aging wives begged for casual exchange of anecdotes or when their children had grown up and would be on their first job and needed stories to teach them about work-place scenarios -- Jose's officemates would be able to remember and tell about it. But what if three of them, instead of sneaking out to smoke in the restroom, decide to proceed downstairs, go out and eat at the open-air eatery beside the building. Then on their way back to work, encounter a ragged old man begging for loose change. One of them, out of naughtiness and for the purpose of having a good laugh, gives the beggar an antiquated coin that would be without use for the old man and then they go back to their work guffawing. Decades later, when fate have separated them, either to pursue other jobs or migrate in other cities, two of them chance to cross their paths in the street. As an old acquaintance and for the purpose of saying something special to share, the first one would suggest about that afternoon with the old man. But the other, surprised, would deny he was with him in that situation. He remembers they usually smoked in the restroom, yes. But about the case regarding the old man? No, he does not remember it. The one who opened up the subject would be left dumbfounded. He alone the keeper of what was once.

The conductor hollered: "Evangelista! Evangelista!"

Jose alighted the bus feeling the gravity's pull heavier than usual. He strode for the jeepney terminal, which was two blocks away, and still rolling the ticket in his fingers. At the sight of the terminal, he flicked the ticket onto the pavement, settled on the slow stream along the gutter, then, as the ticket drifted into the sewer, he took one last look at it and bid it with a fool's farewell by murmuring: "I'm the only one who remember you." He heard the backer yelled for the last seat in the jeepney, he ambled faster and hopped in in inside.

to be continued......

To the readers: Feel free to bludgeon this blogger by comments, criticisms or questions on whether the piece above is readable, clear, and resembles any tinge of rhythmn in his narration, for the writer himself sees a blurred picture of what the hell he has written so far. Don't ask what the point of the story is, it will be delivered in the second installment, where the Second Flash will happen, as soon as he has collected his wits.

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