“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2
(a short story I wrote about a man who stopped believing there is light at the end of the tunnel)
“I was there last night,” I told my friend in near whisper.
It is a place I used to frequent to with a bunch of friends. It is a place where people stand by from dawn to dusk and do nothing but talk about anything to let time pass and, at times, remember bitter memories. When you are there, you always have a chance to look over an array of beautiful scenery in the city, more particularly the twinkles of lights from high-rise buildings out there, coupled with the twinkles of the constellation of stars up high. It is popularly known as Jack’s Ridge. To Davaoenos, it is akin to a gateway to heaven. For God’s sake, it was.
The last night I was there, I saw most of the lights busted. The rundown well, near the pool on the way to a long line of small cottages with beautifully sculpted photos of our heroes, was nowhere to be found, except the stand-alone old, huge telescope that allowed us to take a more clear glimpse at the amazing views of a city that lives and a city where people live a suburban life. They can hardly be social slicks.
We tagged along in coterie. While chatting with friends, I surreptitiously observed a sexagenarian man, in his gray long pants paired with a maroon shirt. He was alone. And he seemed lonely, too. Catatonic as he was, none of us bothered to ask how he got there. He must be limping up the way to Jack’s Ridge. He laughed. He cried. He shrilled. He must have had a problem. And I didn’t try to know it. I marveled at how his family allowed this schizophrenic man to go out of the house and trudge through a dimly road to Jack’s Ridge. It occurred to me then that his family shrugged him off. After all, I told myself it is usual for the mundane among us to not bother to care a man of his psychological status.
Shamelessly I sneered at myself, coercively egging myself on to ignore a portent that might come after, as I peregrinated down a poorly lit narrow aisle towards the pine trees that stood still even after the supertyphoon Ruping wrecked havoc in the entire city and the neighboring municipalities.
Many questions popped into my mind. “Who was that man really? Why did he like to come here? Why did he become insane? Was it hereditary? Or, was his insanity predisposed by his environment filled with apathy and indifference?”
I knew I would not be able to easily find answers to my questions. I knew I would very soon be able to forget the old man. Outlived by superstition, I gave in to the thought that he could be someone sent down to Earth from heaven to test our humaneness. I even gave in to the idea of helping him — without of course thinking of something in return — get out of his heart-rending, hapless situation lest something bad might eventually happen to me. Nevertheless, after a very short while, I thought, with a friend Alfie’s line of thinking in mind, that it was just some sort of an ephemeralistic thinking born out of sheer irrational fear of becoming a victim of gaba (a Cebuano term that is equivalent to bad karma).
The whole night was indescribably eerie. Not even a single bird twitted. Not even a single mosquito bite pissed me off. Not even a moaning by a surviving family of the dead from the nearby cemetery could be heard. There seemed to be an inexorably deafening sound of nondescript silence. This led me to another level of thinking that somehow eroded into a virtual dearth of my capacity to empathize to others and led me into an inevitable admission of the shameless grim of reality – that the no-haves in life are forsaken and that the haves in life, out of stupendous display of pretentiousness, help the no-haves in life.
I reached the place where the tallest pine tree stood tall in silence. The pine tree, along with the barbed wires atop the concrete fences towards the end of the line of cottages, was witness to my disconcertingness that sent me fuming deep inside. “You are terribly apathetic, Dani! You are no different to a murderer who mercilessly kills his hapless victim!” I muttered to myself, resigning to the fact that I was not the same Dani brought up by my parents to be a person with a high sense of righteousness.
I sat silently on the bench, belted in the pine tree, as though I were alone. I couldn’t help but cry. I couldn’t hear anything, except the exacerbated palpitation of my heart. Faster, then faster, then faster did the beatings of my heart go. I was still in the state of disconvolution. Conjured up in my mind was the image of a man, longing for love, for care, and for attention. He was the same man I saw in the lanai of a mini-hotel near the ingress to Jack’s Ridge.
“What will I do? Will I help him? If I will, what will my friends say about it? What will his family feel about it? Won’t they be slighted for it?”
Momentarily, my longing to find the right answer to my questions was lifted out of my confused mind when my friends called me to go upstairs.
“Dani! Dani! Dani! Where are you? Come upstairs. We’ll take our dinner. Aren’t you hungry?”
That was the message of the voice I heard. It had reverberated all throughout the vicinity. Thanks God, it hadn’t awakened the dead from the nearby cemetery. I wasn’t able to recognize whose voice that was. I could only surmise it was Alfie’s voice because it was sort of a screech, in rhythm with a cacophony of a deafening sound of an infinitesimal insect during nighttime, though it was somewhat melodious and seemingly augured well with my inenarrable feeling that time. As I was very hungry, I immediately went to where they were. We then gaily walked towards the stairway, with a humungous crack, to a small coffee shop, painted in dirt yellow paired with a blinding black, near a messy, little restroom lit only with a 50-volt fluorescent lamp twinkling, looking like a star that had just fallen from the mesosphere. Even then, it was the only light that brightened the stairway.
We sat down on the stairs and took our dinner. I was the one who prepared the variety of sumptuous foods we ate. You see, they all liked the foods, thanks to my ever obsequious friend Alfie, my mentor in cooking.
“Dani, please give me a piece of fried shrimp taco,” Bryan requested me hesitantly.
I knew he was so excited to eat it because it was so crispy. Cooked in fresh tomato broth, prickled vegetables and warm Chile heat, the shrimp taco gave him another level of eating experience.
“Did you find it yummy, Bryan?” I boastfully asked him.
“Yes, I did,” he replied. “In fact, it tasted better than that of Alfie’s ….” he added.
“Psssstttttt!!!” I cut him short, without saying a word any longer.
I was very happy then. While eating, in between boisterous laughter, we heard a series of shouts of help.
“Help! Help! Help!”
There was a commotion. And the old man — the one I still have had in my mind at that time — was the one who caused it. It began with the bullying by a group of five drunk, duping young men, in their early 20s, on him, whose plight for which I struggled when I was still a college student. In my mid-teenage years, I was among those who straddled on the streets to demand the government to include among its priorities the creation of a program that would strengthen moral and spiritual fibers of the society.
I rushed to the rescue of the old man who was punched in the face, helpless. He shouted for help at the top of his voice, as if to supplicate, in tears of hopelessness, from the Above, but still ended up a sorry victim of heartless scores of people who cannot understand his plight.
“Alfie, why were you just looking at us?” I asked him.
While I had a beef about how things had gone on after the fisticuffs, I felt extremely slighted at the manner by which Alfie reacted to the situation. He was glued to where he was, as if unafraid of the coming of the day of reckoning, during which one’s eternal destination is determined. He did nothing, really! The situation has given me a vivid allusion of an eternal perdition that will certainly be meted out to the one who cannot simply be pathetic about the haplessness of a man in dire of need, a man whose life’s circumstance, to many, should just be relegated to oblivion. In my realization, it is apparently a negation of the biblical verse that calls upon a person to help those in need. In this case, a man who has a severe bout of schizophrenia.
“Alfie! Alfie! Can’t you just help us?” I asked.
“If you want to help, then do so!” he retorted.
At the moment, his retort astounded me. I could not help but shy myself, together with the old man, away from the group of young men who mauled him to a near pulp. Right then I hailed a taxi cab by my Iphone 4, rode it with the victim, and took him to a nearby hospital. Nonetheless, without my knowing it, Alfie, together with Bryan, trailed us to a government hospital, where the sexagenarian was immediately administered a set of five medicines for his serious physical injuries. He suffered some contusions in the face, arms and some significant parts of his torso.
“It’s good that you and Bryan followed us here,” I told Alfie.
While conversing with Alfie, it occurred to me sporadically that what happened to this man could have happened to a relative of his psychological status. I have a maternal uncle, who, having had a bout of insanity for years now, would go berserk at times and neighbors would appease him by mauling him until he would become unconscious.
But his case was different from this man’s. This man did nothing, except singing along with the young men, a lanky, sporty young woman, in his late 20s, told me. His singing, out of tune, could have irked the sentience of these young men, who sang, also out of tune, ala vocalist of the famous Aerosmith. Who then among the sane would hurt the insane? I reiteratedly asked myself, apparently oblivious of the fact that these young cabals, straddling on the vermudaed ground battling the ugly spirit of intoxication, went terribly out of kilter.
“Do you have money,” I asked him bluntly.
“Why?” he queried querulously.
“We need to buy a medicine,” I told him.
Without any misgivings, he said “OK.”
This is what I really like about Alfie. Many know him as tight-fisted, but he does not foist off on others. Frank and straightforward, he would not be spending money for nothing. At this time, therefore, he handed me two thousand pesos without qualms.
We, yes, bought medicines for the old man. A week after, the old man, in a quandary, asked us where he was and why he was there.
I didn’t answer him. Instead, I cried tears of pity.
“I want to die! I want to die! I want to die!” he shouted.
He was lying on a bed by the window, where he could be seen from outside. On that day, which was a Friday, a heavy rain fell. Floods were everywhere. Thunder roared somewhere. Lightnings struck anyhow. Lights twinkled like stars. Other electric gadgets faltered. Nurses were hauled in the nursing station. Doctors were nowhere to be found inside his ward.
I was so sad.
Again, he shouted, “I want to die! I want to die! I want to die!”. At this very moment, the twinkling lights fell upon him while the lightnings angrily struck his whole body.
- Haiku: Hope keeps us going (thewriternubbin.wordpress.com)
- Friends (prefacme.com)
- Approaching Peace (67paintings.com)
- Rikuzentakata’s ‘miracle pine tree’ now restored (japandailypress.com)
- Strong storms damage white pine trees in Conn. (newsday.com)