Sunday, July 13, 2008
The sound screamed in Jeff’s head like a recurrent knell in Camiling’s ancient belfry. He must have plugged everything in his ears—from cotton rolls to I-pod earphones—just so he’d muffle the ringing, yet the reverberation persisted, mocking him with what seemed like slow, diabolic laughter. He actually pleaded for it to stop, but in every breathed word the sound cackled even more. He ran out of cocaine and had to subsist on half a case of Red Horse if only to calm his frenzied self.
“Slutfucker! Leave me in silence!” Jeff cussed, squeezing his ears with his palms. The echo played on, sounding a spine-tingling Ha-Ha-Ha in the distant space.
Old folk in the barrio told him it was un-uni. Whether or not this primitive wisdom was infiltrated by the modern explanation of an echo sounding many hours too late, he had no idea. In his youth, he and his cousins would play tag by the sunset-lit meadow till whacks of broomsticks sent them home whining, and deep in the night he would be roused by noises of their own laughter when he and his cousins raced and tumbled down the twilight field strewn with withered fireflowers and yellowed leaves. It petrified his heart to hear their own shrieks such that he’d call on to his readily awakened yaya, who scolded him for staying out late in the dying day, when all the spirits would begin to roam the earth and to toy with whatever humans left—in their case, the delayed sound of their voices.
“Serves you right,” his aged nanny blurted out in her disrupted sleep. “Next time, barok, stay out later, till ghouls rise out of their graves and snatch you.” Jeff heard running kids breaking into boisterous laughter that sounded disturbingly familiar. The heartiness of the chuckles was actually his and his cousins’, but he wondered who the midnight children were, much more their parents who allowed such listless playing in so unholy an hour. Un-uni, the elderly wagged their tongue. Un-uni in time of Walkman and MTV; now, un-uni still, in time of I-pods and MP3s.
He would have reached for the abortion scissors lying next to the corpse of the woman whose womb he pulled a fetus out of. The pair lay there, glimmering in blood and faint bulb light, waiting for him to do a van Gogh and be finally freed from hearing all sorts of eerie echoes emanating from their backyard of a meadow which, according to hearsays, became an execution site during the Japanese invasion. Postwar, his maternal grandparents reluctantly homesteaded near the killing field because of its fearsome reputation, and even as his mother inherited the house, she would not deign live in it, choosing to educate Jeff in the jungle of Manila despite the scarier disposition of city beasts. Meanwhile, an older Jeff found the house just perfect for his angst-driven trips, from taking home his conquest-for-the-moment to this—putting up a makeshift abortion clinic where he could operate on the women he impregnated. A few of the wild women he had one-night stand with and some of his girlfriends got knocked up, earning him the notorious title “sharpshooter,” but he was not humored by his good-for-nothing barkada’s jests. He knew he had to escape this imminent trap, and the ancestral house in Camiling provided an answer. Now, he has been so accustomed at pulling fetuses out of his women that he could shoot the jelly-like mass of lifeless little humans right into the liquid-filled bottle containers a couple of feet away. The jars did not stay long in the cabinet next to the operating implements; on an ungodly hour, he would trek to bury the fetuses in the moonless meadow where half a century ago, bloodied and bayoneted bodies provided a gruesome landscape in the ill-reputed area.
Jeff’s latest girl was anything but regular. If his former flames and flings were women one can find in Malate discos losing themselves in tequilas till the wee hours of the morning, this one learned well (or so Jeff thought) from the convent school adjacent to the upscale university he attended. Prior to this girl, he courted party animals for one week, tops, and got them to bed in predictably less time. But this girl made his gym-sculpted body and star-material looks less important than what was inside his beautiful package. In short, the girl was a challenge for someone like Jeff who frequently accessed everything using face value.
“Go serious now with this girl,” Jeff’s mother would coax him. He grew so lost in concentration he stopped pumping iron altogether. All of 23 and he has a mother who still hounded on like his conscience. If his mother were his conscience, the least he expected was to have one that wore dramatic black dresses with matching theatrical makeup and jewelry a few karats’ shy of Imelda’s. He imagined his past women turning into this motherly fashion, and he had the urge to ride his F-150 and squash all his mother’s and women’s clones on the way to his hometown in Tarlac, where he could be king without the benefit of stupid advisers.
“You can’t even tell that to your husband,” Jeff wiped off his sweat that made his upper torso glisten like a sun-kissed tropical paradise.
“Your father is a one-woman man,” the matron was about to let out her litany of histrionics until Jeff’s retort silenced her forever.
“Your husband is a multi-timing faggot who probably will not think twice about sucking the cock of his own son,” Jeff’s volcanic anger erupted, more as he got reminded of his father swishing merrily with two gorgeous hunks outside a gay hub in Orosa-Nakpil. He felt like crucifying them all—his fucking father, his fucking mother and all the fucking whores he had bedded all these years. “All of you, you’re pathetically alike,” were his parting words before speeding off and regaining his cool upon fetching his virginal catch somewhere in posh Gateway. His ad misericordiam, despite his macho self, so touched the girl that she promised him company. He drove his girl all the way to Camiling, where she—an animal caged by the circumstances of his beguiling captor—could not help any more but yield to Jeff’s demands. He succeeded in getting her laid, and found that the girl was just like the rest of them—she’s a whore, yes; only different.
And seeming to prove she was somewhat unlike his past women, she was now a cadaver in the makeshift clinic unlike his liberal women who danced in bars till kingdom come just two weeks after abortion. Like the convent-bred girl that she was, his latest vigorously objected to his killing the offshoot of his sharpshooting skill. But that was when she and her unborn baby were still very much connected to this world. Now, he managed to kill two with just one bird.
“No, Jeff, not our innocent child,” he remembered the girl pleading as she and Jeff waited for the North-bound MRT, the sun sinking in the dust-sprinkled distance. The chain of Makati skyscrapers looked like purplish elephants instead of white, but Jeff’s feeling was trains and beers and hills away from being fine.
“I am not prepared to traipse down the aisle with a bride swelling at the belly,” Jeff scowled, positive that the girl would give in if she saw him lose his cool. “Besides, what are you gonna feed your baby with? Insults of social hypocrites?” Together they disembarked in Kamuning, where they ransomed the repaired car which he rammed against his father’s parked Starex a couple of days ago, accidentally discovering within it a delirious gigolo being sucked by Jeff’s very father. The quibbling continued, but no amount of words could dissuade the man running the show, and off they went again to Camiling, where they’d perform just a little operation.
But she’s now dead, and in the room that used to reek of pleasured moans or scandalous screams from intoxicated women being operated sans anesthesia, his yells tried to surpass the magnitude of the sound emanating from the meadow. The combination of cocaine and booze must have finally made a hallucinatory impact in his system, since he got distracted upon seeing a shadow standing by the sprawled carcass of his girl. A blink and the silhouette vanished. Hardly clear-headed, he motioned to clean up his mess—it was such a pain to peer at the anguished face of the dead woman whose child he just bottled up. The antique clock bonged twice; he still has an hour to cover up his crime.
Armed with a shovel he headed for the benighted meadow, his heartbeat racing even after loads of liquor and drugs already washed his nerves. The firetrees of his youth swayed with the chilly wind, resembling guffawing witches who ladled their concoction left and right. The eyes of the murky heavens grew blind as he commenced to dig a shallow grave for two of his latest kills.
He was already flattening the soil amid the shape-shifting shadows when the unexpected jolted the shit out of him: the echoing Ha-Ha-Ha started to rent the quiet atmosphere. “The substances are taking effect,” he convinced himself, but the sound became clearer and clearer for every passing heartbeat. Not Ha-Ha-Ha but Uha-Uha-Uha actually assailed his ears. The infantile yelping that seemed to originate from below grew in unison that soon rendered him bawling his lungs out and squirming on the ground. Even though he tried, he could not close his terrified eyes nor move his helpless body when thirteen spots around him heaved underneath and little arms thrust out of the black earth. The un-uni inevitably drowned his screeching and thirteen crying fetuses, all bloated, dark and decomposing littlest humans, were suddenly upon him.
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