Tuesday, March 07, 2006

in medias res

On my way to work, I saw a young couple engaged in a rather violent confrontation. I slowed my pace to eavesdrop on their conversation, the writer in me not bothered in the least by the violation of their privacy – after all, if you choose to air your dirty laundry in public, you’re fair game for any and all observers. As I neared them, I realized that almost every other passer-by had slowed down as well, as if all of our feet were suddenly mired in invisible molasses.

The girl, long-haired and attractive in a purely conventional Filipina way (I do not mean to sound disparaging, but you know the type), was repeatedly striking at the man with her purse. The man, baby-faced , dark-haired and dressed in a blue shirt and yellow printed tie, was deflecting each blow with his left arm, his face contorted in anger as words spilled from his mouth.

SHE (striking): Bakit ka ganyan!

HE (blocking): Basta! Bahala ka sa buhay mo!

SHE (striking): I hate you, shit ka!

HE (blocking): Mas shit ka!

I was about to pass them, drawn by the inertia of predetermined daily route. Though the voyeur in me wanted to stop and listen and see the drama through, I could not bring a halt to my cadence. She continued to hit him, each blow successively weaker, as she broke into tears. He stopped blocking when the strikes were reduced to mere tokens of protest and took a step back.

SHE: Bakit mo ginawa sa akin ito?

HE: Wala akong choice.

SHE: Shit ka.

HE: Bahala ka. Whatever.

And he walked away.

Several steps later, I fail to resist the temptation to look behind me, to see if the girl was still there. She wasn’t, her body swallowed by the small torrent of pedestrians who, seeing that the drama was over, took her back into the collective stream of shoes and heels.

In the elevator of my building, I thought about what I just saw, the writer in me spinning delirious scenarios, answers to the unspoken questions of the scene I chanced upon in medias res.

The most obvious story is that of a broken heart, a betrayal of trust, and variations on the rhetoric of goodbye. It got me thinking even as I sat down in my office, set up my laptop and checked my day’s task list and email. For some reason, an old memory came bubbling up to my consciousness. It did not seem linked to what I had just witnessed. Or maybe it was.

When I was a younger man, before I got married, I was a firm adherent to the notion of the easy fuck. To get free sex, I’d say whatever the girl wanted to hear, relying on my easy charm to overcome her defenses. After sex, I’d say goodbye, promise to call, and promptly forget her name.

When places like Faces were hip and hot, my friends and I would go dancing to pick up girls. In the flash of light and hypnotic dance beats, I would dance unabashed, knowing that it didn’t matter if I weren’t the most handsome guy in the room. What mattered was my attitude, the dance, the way I looked at people, the way I carried myself. Besides, once I got talking, the battle was practically won (yes, I was an arrogant snot in my youth).

One time at the now-defunct disco of Shangri-la, I targeted a pretty girl, looking at her meaningfully before transforming the eye lock to nothing more than an accidental glance. She moved to the ledge above me and suddenly reached down and yanked my hair, forcing me to look up at her.

SHE: I like you. Are you a model?

ME: No, but I like you too.

In bed later I went on automatic, going through the preliminary motions of small talk and foreplay. I never rushed into the main action, savoring the oncoming fuck as I would a desirable main course. As I began to undress her she stopped me, suddenly anxious.

ME: What’s wrong? It’s okay, it’s okay.

SHE: No, no. Wala. I’m just- I have a scar on my tummy.

ME: Show me.

She slowly raised her top, revealing her pale stomach inch by inch. I first saw the dark edge of a scar and I remembered thinking that it wasn’t that bad. But as she continued to lift her t-shirt, the scar continued on and on until I realized what is was.

She looked at my eyes as my fingers traced the edges of her Caesarean section and I felt her tremble like she was about to explode, perhaps to explain or to excuse the fact that someone so young was already a mother. After a while, she found her voice, and when she spoke it had the texture of hope.

SHE: Okay lang ba?

I honestly cannot recall what I replied.


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