Saturday, August 20, 2005
11:39 PM |
A Tragedy of Chickens
By Ian Rosales Casocot
The day the small town of Dumaguet ran out of chicken, Pedro Murillo was feeling particularly cocky, like the cliche of a man walking on air. For all those who saw him that morning -- an old, bent woman who was almost blind from cataracts; a feline street boy smoking a thin cigarette while ogling the purse of a fat, heavily made-up woman whom he was certain to steal from; and a handsome policeman whose kittenish wife of six months had left him, only the previous day, for a professional sabongero
-- there seemed to be a lightness in the way the man strode towards the center of town.
The man, they quickly noticed, was dressed not too immaculately in a red silken collar shirt and a black pair of pantaloons, the hems of which fluttered slightly in the soft but sudden breeze. He did not strike any of them as particularly commanding the way an army general or a film star would, and in truth they even found him a little disheveled, and scruffy-looking. But he walked with such presence, an uncomfortable gravity that pulled the nearest attention like a black collapsing star. For that, they were certainly sure he was walking on air. He seemed, in fact, to glide
, but of course that was impossible, they quickly thought. For how could anyone glide through the air?
They quietly admonished themselves, thinking that growing blindness, petty crime, and love lost certainly made illusions happen. The old woman, for instance, only yesterday mistook a chicken leg for her dead husband, and had refused to eat all day. And then that same night, she thought she saw the entire world with profound lightness that she could see everything. The delinquent, on the other hand, had often gone hungry that there were days he clucked like a mad man, and only the germ-laden fill of pagpag inasal
could calm his aching belly -- which would be perfectly all right if it were not for the taunting delusions he had of fat women suddenly feeding him, with ferocious love, a wealth of meat to his ready mouth. Lastly, the young policeman, hen-pecked to the very day his wife left him, had been daydreaming ways to wring her unfaithful neck as if she were some soft spring chicken, and then making love to her in an abandon of forgiveness.
There were always visions of ghosts and murder. And now there was this specter of a gliding man in red silk shirt! The world
, the three of them felt -- a silent camaraderie suddenly falling between strangers on the street -- the world was surely laughing at them
The world crowed
with utter ridiculousness.
Yet they would also quickly forget him the moment Pedro walked past them. Each one, in the instance of seconds, went back to the vagaries of their own lives -- there was a dimming vision to mourn for, there was a purse to steal, and there was a bleeding heart to tend -- but when the same startling news came by day's end, they would all somehow think of this man for apparently no real reasons except that they remembered he glided.
The bulletin came with the local news dressed up as a human interest story: apparently, there were no more chickens left to butcher and eat in Dumaguet town. Feathers and all, they had disappeared. Just like that
. The television anchor only laughed at the bizarre story. "For how could any small town lose all its chickens at once?" he asked, and everybody who watched him laughed, too. People sometimes laugh before tragedies of chickens strike
, the old woman, the street boy, and the policeman would think at roughly the same time, suddenly uncomfortable with the secret knowledge, and knowing somehow that the man in the red silk shirt had something to do with it.
In truth, the man in the red silk shirt had nothing to do with anything. His only crime, perhaps, was in falling in love so recklessly and perhaps in liking too much the taste of manok inato
Nearing the center of town, the man who would be affected most of all by the coming turn of events continued to walk like a cock. There was good reason to the manly spring in Pedro Murillo's steps: only a few minutes earlier, before he sauntered into the bright sunlight from an inconspicuous apartment shaded by the lone acacia tree along Avenida Sta. Catalina, he had finally -- at the unforgivably virginal age of thirty-three -- managed to make love to a woman.And not just any woman
. It was the beautiful girl who once waited on him in the city's most popular chicken restaurant off Hibbard Avenue. She had waited on him for some more months -- six months to be precise
-- before succumbing to the desire that burned too brightly in his eyes.
It was perhaps that startling sense of passion that made the surrender to the man perfectly understandable, for Pedro Murillo was not a handsome man. He was rather plain: an ordinary nose squatted on the center of his face, and underneath that slightly bulbous protrusion, there was a stretch of thick lips that rarely smiled. There were days when he could say in front of a mirror that he had the countenance of a blank wall, and sometimes the thought amused him. Often, it was only an irritable acknowledgment of his shortcomings, because this one rendered him strangely invisible. People sometimes could not see him
. "But how could that be?" he once asked his mother, who died soon after from a freak outbreak of a deadly strain of chicken pox in Dumaguet, which disappeared as quickly as it manifested itself. (Sometimes Pedro thought it only appeared to take away his mother's life, for which he was eternally grateful.) "How can anyone ever be invisible to the naked eye?" he asked.
But even his own mother did not say anything. She only looked past him, like he was not there, and then barked like a dog. Or crowed like a chicken?
He wasn't exactly sure.
Pedro Murillo could only claim to be extraordinarily tall, although his shoulders were also wide and strong, enough for him to be considered overtly masculine. And yet, despite the generosity of his frame, and perhaps because he had the tendency to blend into any background like a wall flower, he became painfully shy, and grew his hair just enough to be able to hide his face from the rest of the world.
What the rest of the world did not finally see of Pedro Murillo was that he had the slightest streak of blue in his dark eyes, something that came out only when the monsoons from the South would pour down on Dumaguet, around July or August after the summer sun had done its fierce rampage. In the sheets of rain and the clash of thunder and lightning, Pedro's eyes would burn blue into the night, to cease only when the last drop of rain would fall from the dark clouds.
But the blue had never sparkled so sharply like now. Six months ago, he had gone into Jo's Manok Inato to get his fill of Dumaguet's famous chicken dish -- a grilled concoction of choice drumstick or chicken breast marinated overnight with a strange and secret combination of milk, sugar, and aromatic spices.
From the moment the woman who waited on him asked, "Paa o pecho?"
Pedro Murillo looked up, and knew -- like one had knowledge of an immediate need to pee -- that he was in love
.To be continued...
Labels: fiction, philippine literature, writing
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