Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Of Flies and Lions

(Payatas is a huge mountain of garbage that is home to thousands of urban poor filipinos struggling to eke out a living as scavengers. It's the latest infamous landmark after Smokey Mountain. This short story is a satire on the urban tragedy.)

Loud, obnoxious, and drunk as hell, the three men strode unsteadily along the narrow street bordered on both sides by rows of shanties. The great beast appeared a few yards away, the enormous head brushing against the shanty walls. They froze and waited for hopefully a swift and painless death but as the three men collapsed in terror the creature in one mighty leap catapulted itself above them, landing several meters away before disappearing into the night.

Lt. Pocholo Tango was about to lapse into another asthma attack at the sight of the unexpected guest, a bearded, hairy caucasian in ridiculous skin-tight pink leotards who spoke like some alien from outer space, a Santa Claus stricken with anorexia. The lieutenant called out his trusted right hand man.

"Cabo!" SPO1 Alex Marino rose from his sleep the way that Lazarus came slowly ack from the grave. Half-awake and half-asleep, he tried to salute but his hand wouldn't oblige, instinctively reaching for his mouth instead to wipe off dripping saliva. The lieutenant brought him to his senses with a resounding slap on the face using a folded newspaper.

"You crazy bastard you're sleeping on the job again. Talk to this Martian invader and see what he's up to!"

And so began the tactical interrogation by the police officer of the Man from Planet Mars. But nothing he would manage to say could make any sense. The two police officers could only scratch their heads in desperation.

"Aha!" SPO1 Marino's eyes lit up at the sudden rush of a brilliant idea. "I think I'll get me an interpreter".

"An interpreter, at 2 in the morning, are you nuts? The lieutenant was at the end of his fuse.

"Just leave it to me, Sir", and Cabo disappeared.

Lt. Tango couldn't believe his eyes when PO1 Marino returned less than an hour later hand in hand with a long-legged blue eyed blonde with a plunging neckline. Immediately, the blonde bombshell and Mr. Pink-leotards-from-Planet-Mars started conversing in what sounded like an alien extra-terrestial twilight zone type of language. Recovering his senses, the lieutenant pulled Cabo aside - by the ear. "What in hell's name are you doing? And where did you get that interpreter?"

"Well, Sir, ah, ehr... I got her from ... er... the Pegasus strip club", the dimwit assistant responded sheepishly.

"What? You crazy bastard, what do you think of this office, a red-light district? Take those two nuttheads out of here or I'll blow your brains out".

"But... but Sir, you yourself say we can't get an interpreter at this darn hour, Sir. So, I got this lady here, by the way isn't she hot? The name is Anna... Anna Kournikova, well, I know it's just an alias, but she's one of those imported hookers from Belarus, who now works at Pegasus. See how it rhymed? From Belarus to Pegasus... she sure came a long way, Sir. And look, she and the Planet Man seemed to understand each other. See?

Anna turned to the lieutenant. "Welld Mizterd offizered, diz handzombed young man iz Brutuz, and by the wayd, hazd yourd azziztandt tolded you my named izz Ana?

"Damn right, Anna, and since you told me he's Brutus so maybe you might as well call me Popeye the sailor man. Hey miss, do me a favor, will you? Quit calling this damn thing a man or I'll have you booked for, let me see, grave insult to humanity. Or wait, you must be on dope to say those shitless things you say. You wouldn't want to do time in jail do you? I only see creatures like this on science fiction movies so don't go tellin' me he's a man. Take him back to his space ship and tell him to go back home to Planet Mars where he came from. Then maybe we can forget about this whole damn fiazco".

"Okayd. But juzt a zeconded Zir, wouldn't you liked to maked a quick milliond buckz? Anywayd, were leavingd nowd. Goodered luckt to you, Zir!"

The lieutenant's eyes widened, dollar zigns flashing out of them. Anna had a funny way of saying it, but the sound of a quick milliond buckz, was too loud and clear to escape the lieutenant's curious ears. "Hey, wait a second!" the police officer said, smiling. "It's quite hot in here, why don't we go inside my office? You and this handsome young man here can have coffee and chips while we talk business. A million bucks, you say?

Slowly, it all began to unravel. Brutus, the famous lion trainer from Russia had an accident. He fell asleep on the wheels while driving, so the van toppled, and the lion escaped. The beast, the undisputed star of the famous Russian circus is easily worth a million dollars. He's in fact considered a national treasure in Russia. "Help me and name your price" Brutus dared the lieutenant. But how can you go looking for a lion in the city without the people calling you sick in the head?

A loud banging outside startled Lt. Tango. Dashing out of the office, he found his assistant banging the phone.

"You crazy bastard, take it esy, what are you up to now?

"Well Sir, it's been a bad day for the two of us. First, we had this visitor from outer space, and now, you wouldn't believe it. I just received a prank call from some crack-head saying he's seen a lion, Damn right, sir, a lion. Can you believe this? A godamn lion in a goddamn city. Those goddamn idiots.

"Where you say did the calls come from?"

"Bastard says he's calling from Barangay Payatas. A lion in Payatas, by God!

Lt. Tango grabbed his assistant who was already bracing for the customary slap but the lieutenant planted a kiss on the startled assistant's face instead.

If they had arrived a minute late, it would have been all over for the big cat. Angry Payatas residents armed with lead pipes, rusty bolos, home-made guns, slingshots, and even kitchen utensils were all poised to attack. The runaway lion was cornered inside a hole the size of a small cave dug on one side of the garbage mound.

As expected, the Payatas folks would not be denied a share of the bounty the moment they heard the story. They bargained with the police officer on a sectoral basis the way they do it in any democratic republic, as their leaders would say. The youth wanted a dance party with master-rapper Andrew E. providing live hip-hop music. The jobless bums demanded a new basketball court be put up. The women wanted immunity from arrest when they play cards and bingo games in the afternoons. The neighborhood drunks, who took credit for being the first to find out about the lion, requested a week's supply of gin bilog. The born-again Christians asked for a prayer hall, with the latest sound system.

In return, everyone agreed to take turns guarding the lion day and night to prevent its escape and in addition, they will all help in laying down the trap to catch the beast. Cash advances were made from the richest businessman in the neighborhood, the owner of the lone grocery store in Payatas, for food and refreshment to be paid for when the money arrives. For several days, the Payatas folks held vigil but the lion would not come out. Brutus wouldn't dare get close to his runaway pet, aware of the big cat's temper - hungry and all - in a situation like this.

They came to encounter many startling discoveries. One is that, at high noon, when the sun is up and the heat in the rotten mountain of trash becomes unbearable, the lion roars like crazy, and it could be heard from miles away. To camouflage the mighty jungle call, the solution is to hold a daily noise barrage at the same exact hour. On the first day of the vigil, they launched a noise barrage against the greedy oil companies because of their oppresive oil price hikes. The second day, the Payatas folks went up in arms against prostitution, sex-trafficking and the exploitation of women in media and in this, our male-dominated society. The third day was their turn to launch a noise barrage against graft and corruption in government. Slowly the entire barangay was transforming into a society of political activists. But after the fourth day, as soon as the noise barrage for world peace ended, and with the angry residents having already lost their voice and their patience, a trap is laid and they made up their mind to get the lion by hook or by crook.

"We'll get him out!" boasted Asyong Lasenggo, the tubercular thug and self-styled drunken master of Barangay Payatas who volunteered to be the live bait. He will walk into the lion's den and let the beast come after him. For his sacrifice, he asked to be paid the kingly sum of ten thousand pesos to be divided equally among his four common-law-wives if something happens to him, a condition explicitly written in his last will and testament hastily-prepared by Payatas' resident lawyer, yes, a lawyer in Payatas. He used to be the celebrity of the neighborhood before this lion came to take the title. Then, the resident doctor of Payatas, yes again, there is a doctor in Payatas, took Asyong's blood pressure and vital signs, just to make sure he will not drop dead or die of fright at the sight of the lion.

And then finally, in what was to be hailed the high point of Payatas folklore, Asyong bravely baited the beast to emerge from his cave, but the suspense was short-lived. To everyone's shock, the monster that had terrorized their imagination day and night had been reduced to a walking model of canine skeletal system, its body covered with cankerous boils and pus, in which colonies of flies are having a feast. Life in Payatas was just too much for even the king of beast. After walking a few feet, the poor animal lapsed into what seemed like an epileptic seizure and then died with its tongue hanging out.

Just like that, everyone stood speechless. Their rags to riches ambitions came crashing down, without even taking off from the rags stage. Lt. Tango and PO1 Marino were lucky to escape being lynched by an angry mob, but the lieutenant was struck by a serious asthma attack from the chase. Anna and Brutus eloped during the meelee, never to be seen again.

But the Payatas folks, forever adapting to the foul moods of fate, were swift to find a way to turn disaster into jubilation. Gin bottles were quickly passed around and the dead lion was skinned, boiled and tenderized into a mouth-watering pulutan. The entire barangay partied day and night for two straight days until food ran out and then they lived unhappily ever after.

6 comments:

Signe said...

Wow...great ending. Can't imagine where you come up with it!

D.A.S. said...

Great job of writing about Payatas...very creative.

Martin Miller-Yianni said...

A unique piece of writing which enjoy immensly. Well Done! :)

Rohit Tripathi said...

ohh a bit long post.. but stil enjoyed reading it.. nice way of writing.. keep it up

New Post :
I don’t want to love you… but I do....

JOSEPH GELB said...

very pathos rich

Anonymous said...

ha, I will try out my thought, your post bring me some good ideas, it's really amazing, thanks.

- Murk