Tuesday, March 24, 2009
12:55 PM |
Archived Fiction: Cruising, Part 4
[read part 1 here
, part 2 here
, and part 3 here
The cold sea air blasts my face as I exit the heavy doors out of the darkness and the music. I need a little air, I needed
a little smoke, Curly Hair be damned. Dumaguete at night looks like a flirt. The street outside crawls with night traffic. The scooters roam in moaning whir, like ants sniffing for stray food: blue, red, black… but they all look pale gray and lifeless under the orange glow of sodium light. So are the cars, the jeeps, the occasional Volkswagen. The night sky is cool and dark, but I do not see the stars. I only notice the bright lights of neon springing at me with an enticing punch. I notice the little throng of badly-dressed young men, eyes roaming, crowding the little cigarette-and-candy stalls beside the street. I walk to one with an old woman in flowered prints, my legs striding cool, noticeable.
I walk like sex.
When I get to the old woman’s stall, I take my pick of nicotine sticks.
“Excuse me, manay
,” I intone.
Philip Morris. Light. The old woman hands me my cigarettes, my change, and a matchbox. The first matchstick breaks in my fingers, and I hear myself saying “Shit.”
“Excuse me, manay
She nods, and I light another matchstick. My cigarette burns.
Nice inhale. I can feel the smoke massaging my lungs in a menthol hug. Very nice.
I walk a little to the crossing of San Juan and Cimafranca Streets. And there you are under a lamppost, a lean boy looking at me with intentions barely buried under traces of teenage pimples. You seem nervous. You look away, twice, which irritates me.
“What do you want, kid?” I ask.
You stammer in answer. “Sorry, sir. I... I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just wanted to ask if... if...”
“If... if you happen to know where… Ever Theater is. Do you know where it is, sir?”
“Ever Theater?” I grin, quickly sizing you up.
Ever Theater is notorious for its sexy Tagalog movies. I look at you again. You’re only a little boy. You are thin, boy-thin
, your cheekbones prominent on your angular features. You fidget, your hands carefully tucked away in the secret pockets of your khaki pants.
“I’m sorry if I snapped at you,” I tell you.
You breathe more easily. You even try a little smile.
“Come on... See that road?” I take you around gently by the shoulder and point down the Cimafranca Street. “You go straight down ahead for two blocks. Then turn left. The movie house is right there. But, hey, it’s almost nine o’clock. You might be late for the last full show.”
“Uhh, thank you, po
You do not go away.
“Aren’t you a little too young to watch ST films? You in high school?”
“Never mind... Anyway, the theater’s just down that way. “
I repeat, “It’s down that
way, kid, like I told you.”
You cough again.
“Come on, what else do you want?”
“I... I... I just wanted to ask sana, po
, if... if... you know
You look away. The traffic drones around us, and little by little, beer bottles litter the paved walk beside the Boulevard’s beach. You look at my face, into my eyes—and, like a cosmic joke, God turns and pushes the mute button on his universal remote control: I am dimly aware of my own shallow breathing, the lapping of distant waves, the fall of cigarette ash on my silk shirt, the trample of asphalt beneath my leather shoes.
You look at my face.Oh my God
, is all I can think.
“You can’t afford me, kid,” I say in a low voice.
I can talk! I try to sound angry, to scream against this bullshit slapping my face.
“You can’t afford me. Not with some high school allowance you might have. Besides, I don’t go for kids.”
Something catches at my throat. You are silent.
“Look at me, kid. I’m 19 years old. What are you? Fourteen?”
You rummage through your pockets, the stain of sweat showing through your gray shirt. A varsity shirt. Like the one I used to wear in high school. “I have seven hundred pesos here, sir,” you speak slowly. “Just for one night. Tonight’s Friday. Wala’y klase ugma
I laugh out loud. “Jesus... Are you really serious about this? You’re so young...”
“I saved for it po
You tell me that in a firm, polite voice.
Yet later, I find myself sitting back with you in the darkness of Ever Theater, wondering what I am doing here. You sit uncomfortably on your seat, which reclines backward when you push forward with your thighs. You look at the projector lights punching the darkness, and then you furtively watch my face, as if waiting for cues, for signs. I tap your hand. I gesture to the back where the anonymous faces are, where there are the constant shifting of walking, preying feet, and the quick looks, the groping hands, the pretentious travels to the toilet door. The door is on an eternal swing—in, out
—the hinges already worn out like the tired red light above the door spelling the word Men.
“Do you want more Mr. Chips?” I ask you. “I like nacho cheese.”
“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught, sir?” you whisper.
I do not understand why I laugh.
“Caught?” I shake my head. “That’s how they, the theaters, make money... show all these sexy films to entice these men who never really watch the movie.”
On screen, Rosanna Roces runs almost naked through a deserted street pursued by good-looking thugs, her breasts popping out from behind her crossed arms.
You say, “A friend once told me things happen in the parks, too.”
“In the park...,” I say. And then, after a while, “Listen, is this your first time to... you know...?”
Rosanna cries for help.
“Look at me.”
“Sir? What?”“Look at me.”
“Give me your hand.”
I take your hand and lead it to my crotch. I did not expect your fingers to grip my groin like that, and suddenly—without knowing where it comes from—I feel violated.
“There... You feel that?” I say, an edge to my voice.
“Now, kiss me.”
Your lips are soft and small, nacho cheese and Coke clinging to your tongue. I feel like crying, but I don’t.
Music. Suddenly, there is music. Frank Sinatra warbling a tune, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin…” I breathe deeply, standing as the lights go up, and then braved the long walk to the door into the night outside. You run after me, but I do not hear or see you. There are no theories to explain this.
I run a quick litany in my head. Foucault, Sedgwick, Altman, Butler, Halberstam, Weeks, Garcia. All the saints in academic heaven are suddenly mute to my violation. The last thing I see on the glass of the revolving theater balcony door is my face on your face, reflections quickly blurring together—burning in my mind the way memory lurks and deepens the more one struggles to forget.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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