What follows is one of the two stories that got me into my first Baguio workshop back when I was nineteen years old. I wrote it in thirty minutes, back when I could still do that sort of thing and call the end result a story. It got me into my first workshop where it was received rather well, although my other story got the better comments. This one earned a mal mot from Carlos Aureus which went "This is the reason why a lot of kids today don't read books." The two stories earned me a lot of friendships still relevant today.
Ser Butch Dalisay has always misremembered this story as written by Luis Katigbak, which I only found out during a breakfast on my second Baguio workshop - five years after my first - where one of the Filipino-language fellows asked Ser Butch about the potentials of flash fiction, the de/compression of time in narrative, etc etc, and Ser Butch then proceeded to talk about a story he said was Katigbak's, and went on to summarise the story you are now about to read. After the summary, I told Ser Butch that that was actually one of my stories, and he replied with "Ah, sa'yo pala yun."
This story also had the pleasure of having its title sung by Ser Ricky De Ungria when it became apparent that only two people among the assembled knew what the title meant, and where it was from. Ma'am Jing Hidalgo - whose marginal comments pepper my copy of the manuscript - called this story "speculative fiction," because of the quite literally speculative nature of the piece. Ser Butch called my other story - "Fifteen Photographs" - as an example of what he called the New Biography, ie "creative nonfiction." And Vlad reminded me: Ser Jimmy Abad complained about the story's lack of carnal detail, saying "I want to see them faacking!!!" and then quickly embarassedly apologising to Ma'am Jing for being so uncharacteristically vulgar. Such is the power of Story.
I thought I had lost this manuscript to the storm. I found it bunched up with all my friends' bound theses I helped out on. Rereading it, I felt this rush of hopefulness I remember I used to feel way back then whenever I sat down and typed out and finished stuff in less than an hour. That youthful optimism has turned into youthful assurance. Lord knows what that will turn into in three years' time.
I typed this story out in my brother's PC, and with that PC being my brother's, it enjoyed frequent reformattings every time a new OS or update of said OS would come along - which would be every other week - so this story was promptly lost as quickly as I typed it out, and has just now been retyped for your enjoyment. It felt funny retyping something I hadn't read in more than half a decade. Funny, stumbling and falling on my old patter and rhythm. It's all very uneven, very chunky and apologetic and self-conscious (and self-consciously pa-cool). It's all very very young. The urge to correct and shorten and rephrase was very hard to suppress, but it does us well to leave our naked baby photos unflatteringly unPhotoshopped, if only for comparison of penis size's sake. Look at my mole! See how I've grown.
Ever since I was old enough to commute alone, I’ve been having this fantasy play out in my head every time I ride a jeepney. It doesn’t matter if there’re only three of us inside the jeep, or if there’re twenty of us. As long as there’s a female among the passengers, my mind would automatically go into fantasy mode.
The fantasy mostly plays out during the day, as I can see the female passengers better when the sun is up. The thing about my fantasy, I need a female Partner to make it work. So, the first thing I do is look for a suitable (and unsuspecting) Partner among the passengers inside the jeep. Not the sort of Partner that you need several bottles of beer in you before you even look at her. By suitable, I mean good-looking. I have high standards, you see. That’s how my fantasy starts. More often than not, though, I don’t get to see the ending, as usually, the jeep gets to my street before the fantasy plays itself out.
The event in my fantasy almost always happens when we’re speeding through P Tuazon. Sometimes (only sometimes), it happens when we’re crawling about the place when there’s a traffic jam in front of the Araneta Center. Wherever we might be, whatever speed we might be doing, the fantasy’ll always be the same.
It’s a B-movie type, post-apocalyptic scenario fantasy: I’d see the flash-effect through the gaps between the passengers’ heads, and our jeep would do several tumbles across the ground. Sometimes the sonic boom would toss the vehicle up in the air, like an empty paper bag. We’d fly about and hit other vehicles (JolliBlu delivery vans, Antipolo jeeps, Indians in scooters), and then we’d suddenly drop out of the sky. Our jeep would end up lying on its side (mostly, it’ll be lying on my side of the jeep). I’d end up with some scratches here and there, the knees of my jeans torn. My Partner would be in my arms (as she was tossed towards me as the jeep tumbled), unconscious, but pretty much unharmed. I’d look around the jeep, at the other passengers, even check the pulses of the ones near me, but they’d all be dead.
I’d crawl out of the jeep and would be greeted by a dead Cubao. Sometimes Cubao would be a barren, desolate place, like the recent photos of the Titanic, all algae-covered and corroding. Sometimes (and this is the creepier version, I think), Cubao would still be there, looking very much as it did before the event, but it’d be as bloody quiet as an orgy of mimes. I’d be shouting out for people, see if there were other survivors, but my voice would just echo off unanswered. I’d go back to our jeep and wake up my Partner, and then I’d explain to her what had happened, where we were, and what we’d need to do.
The years would go by: I would drag out all the dead bodies from our jeep (and from the neighbouring vehicles and buildings, too) and stack them all up at the Edsa underpass in front of Farmer’s Plaza. My Partner would go to the nearest Rustan’s supermarket and fill up dozens of shopping carts with grocery (mostly food and cleaning products). Our clothes would be a varied selection of New Age brouhaha from EarthLife in COD, commercial-branded stuff from SM, and house clothes from the bangketa strip beside the National Bookstore SuperBranch. We would make homely places out of Ali Mall and ShoeMart, furnish them with living room and bedroom sets from Ideal Home and SOGO, pick out carpets from SM’s fifth floor selection, and finally get that Sony Vega and Philips DVD entertainment combo I’ve always wanted from the appliance stores.
I would win my Partner’s heart with flowers from Farmer’s Market, munchkins from Dunkin Donuts, and teddy bears from the Blue Magic outlet in Ali Mall. I’d ask for her hand in marriage, and she’d say “Yes!”, probably more out of her survival instincts than my wooing. We would get married in the in-door chapel beside the videogame arcade in Ali Mall, and have out honeymoon inside the Araneta Coliseum, live-out our exhibitionist fantasies by doing it in the middle of the arena and pretending it was Standing Room Only inside the Coliseum.
We’d have six kids: three boys (Bethelehem, Nidum, and Simon) and three girls (Babylon, Michael, and Milou). We’d raise them with a steady diet of Happy Meals , root beer floats, stuffed-crust pizzas, and go-kart races in Fiesta Carnival. And way up in the fourth floor of National Bookstore’s SuperBranch, we would educate them on the World and on Life, on the concept of God, and on the highs and lows of Love according to Victoria Holt and the SVH twins. I’d read (and re-read) them the entire Tintin collection, and when I’m finished with that, they’d say “More, Father, more, please!!” and then I’d laugh and say “Tomorrow, children. The night has already spread its dark wings over Cubao. Come, I’ll walk you to SM, as it’s time to sleep…”
And time would pass, and the children would grow into adults. “With adulthood comes independence,” I would tell them. “Yeah, I remember when I was your age, I was already making a suitable home for your Mother and I … it’s about time you did the same.” And I would give them detailed maps of Metro Manila. In the maps, I would point out several possible cradles of survivors (if there are any), and the possible perils they might find: “Two kilometres from here, there is a place called Ortigas Center. It is a large place, easily three times larger than Cubao,” I would say. “You will first encounter a building with a big red R on its side. Take care when you pass by this place, especially if you decide to camp in it for a night or two, for in my childhood, I remember rumours of a carnivorous snakeman living in the bowels of that building…” They would nod and kiss the back of my hand and I would give them my blessings. “Go forth and multiply,” I would tell them. And with that, they would go seek their fortunes in lands elsewhere.
And time would pass again, my Wife and I would grow old and grey and crooked. We’d both be in our deathbed, staring up at the Ali Mall skylight, and she’d ask me “Our life in Cubao … was it good? Was it rich? Was it everything you imagined?”
I would turn to her and say “Yes, my Love. Everything I had imagined.” And I would be the only one to get the joke, and die a happy man.
I still have this fantasy in my head, everytime I commute in jeeps. The names of the children change from time to time, but all in all, it’s pretty much the same thing.