radioactivelizard

fiction | nonfiction

Chanting

It is one of those things I don’t really care about.

Yet they keep bringing it up.

Again and again and again.

Into the conversation.

Religion. God. Family.

To all of these I reply in the negative.

And all their conversations tend to revolve around these topics.

“You shouldn’t say ‘Good Luck.’ You should say ‘God willing.”

This was before the job interview.

We were in the lobby waiting for each of our turn on the hot seat.

His skin was too smooth, his lips were too red.

He was wearing make up.

Hair too slick and shiny.

Suit, tie, black shoes.

“Luck has no role in it. It’s all in God’s plan. It’s all in his time.”

‘In his time.’ That phrase has been making the rounds lately.

Like last year, I was talking with my then-boss with our then-prospective-donor.

‘In his time.’ The business will prosper. The family will be healthy. All in his time.

My boss was being all friendly with the lady. She owns several jewellery stores in the city. Early retirement, lots of time, need for a sense of purpose.

It was a non-profit, church-sponsored, for the improvement of the lives of the indigenous peoples.

I got the job from my uncle. He was friends with my then-boss.

I stayed in that job for a year, going to meetings, hiking to the mountains, talking to the elderly community leaders, the community organizers. I remember staring at the mountain range where the people we were supposed to help have lived for a long long time.

From afar, the mountains were slightly blue-colored, all covered in mist.

There was a ritual from the tribal elders for our arrival.

A pig was butchered and roasted on an open fire.

While the pig was being turned round and round, the shaman started chanting.

He was standing behind a table in the middle of a clearing.

On the table were a lit candle, several candies, a few coins, uncooked polished rice, coins and a bottle of whiskey.

we, the visitors from the non-profit, were seated in front of the table. The chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing the table.

After almost an hour of this, occasionally interspersed with shots of whiskey, a chicken was brought out.

The chicken was black. With a swift slash of a short curved knife, a gash was opened on its neck. The blood steamed as it streamed out of the wound onto a big plastic bowl. The chicken stiffened and shook, then it weakened and finally died.

The killer of the chicken handed the shaman the bowl.

While he chanted, the shaman dipped a finger into the bowl and then made a cross sign on the back of a visitor’s hand. He also did the same thing to the feet, or the shoe. All the visitors had their hands and feet marked.

Afterwards, he placed the bowl on top of the table. He continued chanting some more, said something to his assistant, then sat down on his chair. He smiled.

Some more shots of whiskey for everyone. Then there was talking, talking, talking. The ceremony was over. It was time to feast.

The people were called upon, and old and young gathered inside the large nipa-roofed communal hut.

Rice and meat were placed on the pieces of banana leaves that were cut earlier into squares.

All these were laid on the bamboo floor. There was no table.

Old and young squatted side by side on the muddy bamboo floor.

They ate with their hands silently.

That was my last day at that job. After that I got really sick. It must have been something in the water, or the food, or the air.

The young man with the bright shining future, a believer in the deceny of humankind was called inside the interview room.

At the end of the hall was a window. The window opens onto a vast expanse of sky. We are somewhere in the seventh floor the building. The hallway is airconditioned. Several of the applicants carried books while waiting for their turn.

Didn’t get the job. Well, the wording was, we will call you. But I’m not the hopeful sort of guy.

Apocalyptic Cat Scenario [Dream]

Another apocalyptic scenario dream. I was looking for this cat. It was an evil, disgusting cat. Earlier, it was midnight, but there was a brief moment when a portion of the sky lit up in purple light so bright I could see the clouds surrounding the source of the light. It was as if the moon became hyper or something. It was unusual. After the light died down, it was morning. I was looking for this cat because I knew it was going to do something evil. It ate a hotdog and what remained of the hotdog melted as I lifted it. An earthquake while looking for the cat. I told my brother who was there with me looking for the cat: ‘I hum this tune whenever it’s quaking so I won’t be afraid.’

05 DEC 2014 [Journal]

The biggest news now is the storm, named ‘Ruby,’ international name ‘Hagupit,’ that’s coming. There is a feeling of dread and excitement. In the news we saw people evacuating to safer grounds, the memories of last year’s catastrophic typhoon Haiyan which killed around eight thousand people still fresh in their minds. The typhoon will pass through the same path taken then by Haiyan. The Philippine Eastern Sea is the birthplace of typhoons. I imagine it like some dark, primordial, primeval, mystical, fog-covered place. Maybe the typhoons are gods of destruction, and the Eastern Philippine Sea is where they are born. I seem them encased in something, like they’re inside an egg, just under the sea, developing, maturing into the destroyers that we so rightly fear.

Again, there was panic buying. Again, there was the announcements by the authorities not to panic, be safe, etc. At least this time people seem to be listening.

‘You say don’t be blue …’ sings Natalie Imbruglia. That part induces frisson, it’s so perfect. The song is ‘Leave me Alone.’

‘Emotional Diarrhea.’ I was washing the plates earlier, and the TV was on the background. There was the usual fighting and crying, exchanges of unpleasantries, children being all cute and asking stupid questions to adults, overall the usual fare of drama in this beautiful island-nation. The idea occurred to me while I was scrubbing this one glass plate that what this particular style of drama is, is ‘Emotional Diarrhea.’ It’s all just this outbursts of emotions, feelings all over the place. People who lead not-so-interesting lives of course don’t have that many opportunities to be all dramatic. By watching these shows, by the magic of empathy, they vicariously experience said emotions. Where are the shows that depict intense, cold rationality? We need those in this country.

CLOYING. Is what the child’s voice is. This kid who talks in a high-pitched, cutesy, baby-talkey way to arouse the adult characters’ sympathy. What a manipulative little shit.

What people in this country find ‘cute’ really isn’t. If stupidity, if acting like a petulant puppy is cute … puppies are actually cute, well not all puppies. The ‘cute’ here easily slides into the grotesque: Mahal, Mura, that fat dark child, Nora Aunor’s doll, etc. Do people here actually find these things cute, or once again, am I wrong in my assessment? Appealing to the baser aspects of humanity works, will make a person wealthy, or at least well-off. Baser? Hierarchy of instincts? Of course there’s a hierarchy. Some instincts are better than others. Counter-argument: all instincts are the same. They are beyond morality.

IDEA: Vignette/scenes that illuminate character.
– Think of it like you’re ‘proving’ the character’s well, character.
– Place the character … or rather imagine scenes for that character.
– Idea taken/sparked by Flavorwire article: ‘Genre Novels That Should be Classics, esp. item : The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald

- – –

This kid posts the most inane, stupid things. And people like ‘like’ his posts. What has this ugly world come to? Has it always been this way? Am I the crazy one here?

A psycho-analysis of this guy would yield some interesting findings. He’s supposed to be smart, but he has the emotional maturity of a five-year-old. It’s not even the ideas he espouses really. It’s the way he presents them. Persecution complex. Megalomania. Arrogance. There’s this one time he had a flame war with a professor he once had. I think the posts between the two must have reached past a hundred. The kid it turns out is a rabid anti-communist. The professor on the other hand is a somewhat well-known leftist teacher and activist. Days after this interesting display, he makes a post about all the teachers that supposedly inspired him. The activist teacher’s name appeared in the list. The kid also gets into this theological debates with people, then asks for nods from those who’s friends with him online. He always has this desire to be right. Maybe he’s reading too many books or something. Maybe he’s watching and listening to all the wrong things, things that only buttress his already-formed opinions. He lives in this narrow space which is his own head, an echo chamber, just being all right and self-righteous.

What can be done to save this child from himself? First, we must let go of the idea of ‘saving’ someone. So are we just going to watch him do all these inane things? Have all those kinds of stupid ideas? Sadly this seems to be the case. The truth is that people like him, people who share his ideas compose the majority in this beautiful country. He is the politician type, he is the religious leader type, he is the demagogue type. Already he has amassed a not insignificant number of followers online. It’s like watching the rise of some sort of monster.

Tales of the One-Eyed Man

In the stories they tell their children for a restful sleep, there is always the figure of the one-eyed man. He is never the main character in these stories. He is in the sidelines, a friend of the protagonist. He is not a villain either. He is just there, he exists. The one-eyed man sits in the corner of the room where the story being told to the child is taking place. He is thin and cadaver-pale, like he hasn’t been outside for a very long time. The bear is talking to the girl with the golden hair, asking why she ate all the pudding. The girl replied to the little bear, then to the big bear, then to the mama bear. But these are bears, and no matter how civilized they appear, one always has to be cautious around them. The little bear lunged for the girl’s neck, where its teeth tore through the veins and arteries and tendons and muscles. It was a mess. There was brain matter on the ceiling, on the walls, and on the floor. The mama and papa bear just stood there. Papa Bear’s arms were crossed and his head was bobbing up and down in agreement with what baby bear is doing. Mama Bear had a vacant expression on her face. Then the one-eyed man stood up. His hand stretched and reached the chest of papa bear. He pulled out papa bear’s heart. He did the same thing to mama bear with his other hand. Baby Bear was too busy to notice all these, and it happened too fast anyway. When finally Baby Bear looked up from the mangled bones and flesh of the little girl, he found his parents and the one-eyed man on the corner were gone. The moral of the story, the mother telling the story to her already sleepy red-cheeked child said, is that violence will be met with violence. The one-eyed man restores the order of things. So go to sleep, go to sleep, another story is waiting for you the next night.

Car Trip

“Don’t change the radio.”

“I won’t”

“I said don’t do it.”

“I’m just going to find something good.”

“That song was good.”

“That song was trite derivative bullshit.”

“Oh so you’re a song expert now?”

“You don’t have to be a song expert you know. You just have to have taste.”

“I have taste.”

“Hey, slow down. What is that?”

“What?”

“Oh, I thought I saw something.”

“Could it be a ghost?”

“Stop, don’t even go there, man.”

“Oh.”

“Oh, what?”

“It’s just you know, I’ve heard stories about this place.”

“Don’t man, shut up.”

“A long time ago, a young woman was found dead here. I don’t know the exact place, but it was somewhere here. It wasn’t like this then. It was just a narrow road with tall grass on both sides. They said she was a college student and she was chopped into pieces and …”

“Fuck you.”

“Hey, okay okay, I’m sorry.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Okay, no more ghost story.”

“You did not see that?”

“See what?”

“I swear I saw …”

***

The bodies of two college-aged males were found two days later. Their car was hidden in a grassy secluded spot near the intersection of the new highway. They were chopped up cleanly. Heads and limbs were separated from torsos. The limbs were separated by the joints. There were no signs of struggle.

Breakfasts

The house wife wakes up, pretties herself, then cooks breakfast for her husband.

It is a two-story house. The rooms are on the second-story. The smell of the food cooking wafts onto the rooms on the second floor.

The husband wakes up. He prepares himself for the day of hard work he is to face. He washes his face, brushes his teeth, dresses himself. His clothes were prepared for him the night before by the wife/cook/house cleaner. Elbows on the table, he reads the newspaper.

The children, two of them, are still asleep.

“Say honey,” the husband says.

“Yes dear,” the house wife says.

“I’ve been noticing something,” the husband says.

“What dear?,” she replies, turning her attention to him, a smile on her face. The husband looks at her. They stare at each other. Frozen smiles, healthy gums, pearly-white teeth. The birds are tweeting outside, it’s a sunny day. There is the constant humbuzzing from the wires between the electric poles. People are jogging and walking their dogs. There are puddles here and there on the sidewalk and street. It rained the night before, not that hard, just a drizzle, but it lasted the whole night and did not let up until a few hours until sunlight. Black smoke rises from the pan.

“Oh dear me,” she says and swiftly douses the burnt egg with water from the faucet. The husband grimaces, frowns, his face contort terrifically. Eyes bulging red, jaw clenched so hard he could feel his teeth sinking deeper into the jawbones, veins prominent on his neck. But then he relaxes, his face falls back into its neutral pleasant smiley state. Birds are chirping outside by the window.

The children wake up. First child is a girl. Second child is a boy. First child is two years older than the boy. Their parents have been taught that proper spacing of children is important in a growing family. Allow a gap of at least two years in between children. The ideal number of children is three or fewer. Depending on the growing family’s economic capacity, one could add more. But five children is the maximum allowed. Psycho-sociological research have shown that the optimum number of children to have in this modern-day and age is three. The parents could only devote quality attention to three children. Beyond that, and one or more of the children could exhibit undesirable social and psychological behavior for lack of love and attention.

“Juice,” the boy says to the housewife/mother.

“I want cake,” the girl says to the housewife/mother.

“Now, now sweetie, you know you can’t have cake for breakfast,” the father says to the female child.

The mother/wife places a glass of juice on the table in front of the boy/child. The boy looks up and smiles, in that totally adorable smile kids do where their eyes almost close, at the mother/wife/provider of juice.

The girl/child sees this and her face contorts. Her voice is low and grizzly, like it’s not her voice, it’s the voice of a large adult male person. “Mother, I want cake, I want cake, I want cake.” She shouts this instruction to the mother. The father looks on smiling adoringly. She bares her teeth so her mother could see how serious she is. She clenches her jaws and raises her lips some more to expose her gums. She holds her face like this for minutes while the boy/child drinks and finishes drinking the orange juice. “Yum, yum, yum,” the boy child says, licking his lips to emphasize the deliciousness of the sugary liquid he just imbibed. The girl child turns to face the father. The father smiles at her. The girl child turns to face the child/brother/boy. She wants him to see her face, her reddening bulging eyes, her gums, her teeth.

“Well, I guess have to go to work now.” The father/leader of the household stands up and kisses the wife, stoops to kiss the little male child, walks to where the girl child is sitting and stoops down and kisses her too. The girl child is still making the face.

The mother (wearing her apron), the male child, the female child (still making the face, clutching a glass of orange juice), all stand on the patio. They all wave goodbye at the father/provider of money. The father is smiling. He is waving at them as well.

Mental-Physical Space

The room was a machine that measured my condition: how much of me remained, how much of me was no longer there. I was both perpetrator and witness, both actor and audience in a theater of one. I could follow the progress of my own dismemberment. Piece by piece, I could watch myself disappear.

― Paul Auster, ‘Moon Palace’

I stare at the whorls and the swirls, the patterns on the wall of my room. My room is a cube, a white cube. I live here. I haven’t gone out of the house in a long time. I have severe social phobia. Though this phobia only manifests itself in this town where I grow up and still live. Walking among strangers in a vast city, I have no problem at all. It’s when I encounter these people whom I have a past with, that’s the time that I have a problem. It’s not shyness, I realize now. I am not a shy person. If I know how I ‘fit’ in the scheme of things, if I know what my role is in a situation, if I know my purpose, then I have no fear. This could be a sign of a deep-seated conservatism on my part. Not a political conservatism, but a psychological and philosophical one. Given the choice of participating in something that I am not comfortable with and just staying in my room and doing something that I like, I will choose the latter every time. Could this be a sign of what is called ‘perfectionism’? I doubt it.

There are empty hangers on a line in my room. The line is held up by these nails that I have hammered onto the wall. The line is made of nylon and they twine around the nails. My room is tiny, and exactly three steps from where I am sitting and typing these words are my dumb bells. There are four of them. Two large ones. Two little ones. I have recently taken up lifting weights once more. It helps me deal with the boredom. It helps me deal with the isolation.

I tell myself to keep things ‘light.’ By this I mean not to think too much of dark and depressing things. This is why I avoid the news as much as I can. It’s not so much that I am saddened by the misery happening in the world, it’s that this very misery is making me feel not so bad about my situation. That feeling of comparing my suffering to others’ sickens me. It’s what the Germans call Schadenfreude. It’s not so much taking pleasure in the misery of others as feeling a bit less miserable because of that suffering. At least that’s my interpretation of that specific condition. So I avoid the news because it brings out this ugly aspect of myself. By this ‘lightness’ which is my ideal I mean humor. Funny things. A light-heartedness. The Thai have a specific word for it and which translates into English as a ‘cool heart.’ I want a cool heart. I want a cool heart and a cool head. It is said that we desire what we lack. Do I lack these things?

I sometimes have these manic episodes where I just clean my room. I dust the furnitures, my books, my things, I sweep the floor, I then mop it, I arrange things. The arranging takes quite a long time. It’s like I want everything to fit into this schema that has suddenly appeared in my head. It’s a mental itch that does not easily go away until it falls into the reality of my room. Often when after hours of arranging, things still do not ‘fit,’ I just overload and stop. I drop whatever it is that I am holding, I leave things half-way done. I simply give up, sit down, like my mind has encountered an error and has to shut down for a while.

I like repairing things. The electric fan that I am using now I repaired myself. It’s a Frankenstein sort of thing, with parts from older damaged fans that I have cobbled together using wires and electrical tape. The electrical tape is red in color. The propeller does not automatically turn left and right because I pulled out those parts of the machine that makes the electric fan do that motion. The grills that cover the propeller gathers so much dust sometimes that I am very careful not to touch it for fear that the dust would be disturbed and fill my room.

I keep the center of my room empty. All my furnitures – the table, the plastic containers with my clothes, my table on top of which are placed my laptop, my scanner and other electronics – all are arranged around this empty center. Above this center, on the ceiling, is the fluorescent light. It’s a white cylinder of glass that has been in use for so long that it’s no longer very bright. It used to be that I could barely stare at it. Now I can look at it just fine. There are spots on the surface of the glass that are yellow in color. I wonder how it came to be there.

My books are arranged to my left. By ‘arranged’ I mean piled one on top of the other so that they look like mini sky-scrapers. I have read most of these books. I collected them through the years. These are the distillation of more than ten years of collecting and donating and lending, and sometimes stealing. I have books borrowed by friends that are still to be returned. One book is entitled ‘The Art of Loving’ by Erich Fromm. It was borrowed by a classmate of mine in a history class back in college. Another book is ‘Living Dolls, A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life’ by Gaby Wood. It was a lucky find of mine in a secondhand bookstore around 2008 back in college in the City. I remember the cover was very iconic. It was a photo of a hand of a marionette. The back has a square hole so that you can see the mechanism inside that makes it move. A few years later I would use that book as a source in a paper on the topic of cyberpunk.

I am now sitting on my bench which also functions as my bed. It is made of wood and it is cushioned. This bench/bed does not have a backrest so I placed it flush to the wall, so the wall acts as a backrest. It is early morning here, and cold, and the fan is blowing air straight into me shooing the mosquitoes and other insects away. I love the sound it makes, I believe it’s called ‘white noise.’ I wind down at around two in the morning, and fall asleep to the sound of the fan filling my room.

Bookbinding

Weird Dream 15 Nov 2014

My folks and I were travelling some place and we stopped by a sari-sari store to get something to drink. Just then I noticed this massive mountain-eclipsing wave. It reminded me of that traditional Japanese print called “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” (1829) by Hokusai. It loomed like a wall behind the mountain range. This mountain range was about a few kilometers from the side of the highway where we were standing sipping our drinks. 1280px-The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa

People looked up from whatever it was they were doing and started to panic. They scampered off, parents dragged their children, lovers hugged then ran, people just ran like hell. Dad remarked that maybe it was time to get inside our car. The wave was just standing there, it was caught in suspension, like some force is keeping it from falling down. This lasted for a few minutes, just enough so that we could run to the car parked on the other side of the road. Just as I closed the door, the wave slammed down.

It was a bit anti-climactic. I was expecting massive damage – huge buildings reduced to debris, houses reduced to rubble, water at least ten meters high, etc., instead it was so weak it sort of like flowed into where we were. The water just reached up to our knees.

What was funny though is that I remember before the wave came down, I saw this guy balancing himself on a plank of wood on the side of the wave. He was wearing only shorts. He was surfing.

Butterflies

I was at my aunt’s house. My parents left me there because they had to look after grandmother. “Grandmother is very sick,” they said. They had to be at her side at the hospital. I argued I could look after myself, but they said “no, you’re too young, you don’t even know how to cook and wash your clothes,” and all that stuff. I was so mad, I didn’t want to go to my aunt’s house. She lives alone, and has too many cats, and why couldn’t she look after grandmother? Well, they said, “you know how your aunt has social anxiety and everything. She gets really uncomfortable going outside and meeting new people.” I sulked inside my room the whole day. My mom packed my clothes for me. I frowned all the way to my aunt’s house. We arrived there at noon. My aunt is sweet and everything, but again, I just didn’t like being around so many cats.

That night, while watching television, documentaries after documentaries about animals – sharks, then meerkats, then hedgehogs, etc., I wished I wouldn’t have to stay a long time at that house. The cats were pampered and they walked all over the place, on the tables and counters and chairs. At least they were trained by my aunt so they wouldn’t pee and stuff inside. Have you ever smelled cat pee? It’s the worst smell ever. Well, anyway, after hours of the show, my vision started to turn fuzzy. My aunt smiled and in her really soft voice, said that maybe I want to go to sleep. I wanted to argue and say, no I can still watch all these stuff, but she was right. So I walked to the room prepared for me, and went to sleep.

I dreamt about butterflies. I was alone in a field and it was very bright. There were so many of them, of different sizes and colors. Blue ones, red ones, yellow ones, orange ones. Some were even multi-colored with different and unique patterns of swirls and polka dots and everything. I ran and some of them followed me. I felt so light, like I had a different body, so I tried to jump. I jumped so high in slow-motion, like in those old black and white movies of astronauts on the moon. I jumped, and the rainbow of butterflies just followed me everywhere. After a while, I felt tired, so I sat down. The butterflies were gone and I must have been so busy playing I did notice it was already sunset. You know those moments in a dream when you realize you’re actually dreaming? It was something like that. As I sat there, I recalled my grandmother. When I was small, we used to visit her in her old house. Whenever I think of that house, I always remember two things – the big clock that would chime very loudly, and this huge framed collection of preserved butterflies. These were all in the living room. I remember looking at all those dead butterflies, their wings so colorful, while being held by my grandmother. This was years before she started getting sick and they had to move her to a home.

I remember my grandmother telling me stories about the war, about my grandfather who was a soldier in the war. She said he was very brave and it was a shame I didn’t meet him when he was still alive. It was all too boring to me.

So while sitting there, I saw this single butterfly land on my toe. Somehow I am always barefoot in my dreams. It was not the prettiest butterfly, in fact, it was kinda boring-looking. It was small and faded-yellow in color. But this butterfly caught my attention. I stared as it flapped its wings slowly, flew everywhere and around me, went in circles around me as I walked.

Cats have this stereotype of being calm and silent animals who just sleep all day. This is not true. That day I was woken up by a loud screeching sound. Angry cats hiss and screech and emit all sorts of shrieks when they fight. I stared at the ceiling and was surprised at first. I thought, hey this doesn’t look like my ceiling. That’s when I realized I was actually in my aunt’s house, so anyway, there it was, I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. The faded-yellow butterfly was there. It was on the top of the bedpost to my right, the one above my head. Just then, I heard a knocking, it was more like a tapping really. While my aunt knocked, I watched as the butterfly slowly flew towards and out of the window. I stood up, opened the door, and there was my aunt in tears stroking a sleeping orange cat. She said she has something important to tell me.

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