"welcome to civilisation," my friend texted me when i told him i was about to fly to manille.
after six months in the boondocks (where wifi is as french as merlot and internet connection is as erratic as my mom's drunken behaviour), i decided i had enough.
without much dramah, i packed some of my things quietly and told mother i am leaving.
"what?!" she asked in disbelief. she was having her after lunch coffee (she takes coffee like six times a day and often times even until midnight if she can't sleep. i know, i know. coffee + insomnia = sounds like me.) at the airy bamboo kitchen outside the house.
it was 10 minutes past 12. the air smelled of dust. it just rained. a quick one, that rain.
it was so hot i was sweating chili sauce.
mother, as usual, looked like she has just taken a shower. she was fanning herself, while drinking coffee.
i sat beside her.
"i have to get out of here before i lose my marbles and start looking for crispin and basilio in the neighbourhood," i said calmly, sipping her black coffee. i almost spilled the bitter liquid on her flowery designed green house dress (duster na bulaklakin gagah!)
"why?" she asked again, her eyes a bit moist.
we have been bonding for the last six months. i have to take a break from my work in a cosmopolitan but surrealistic city in the first world to be with her. she has been sickly after her husband died. she missed him terribly and wouldn't stop telling me that she felt his presence all the time anywhere, even in the bathroom. ewww!
my parents have been together for more than 50 years or most of their lives. while they quarreled a lot (every minute of every day), they truly love each other. heck, they won't have 36 children if they don't!
"because i think i have enough of sleeping at 9 in the evening after you have watched all the stupid telenovelas on tv. of having to turn the tv on and off for you. of having to repeat the dialogues of coco martin or bea alonzo if you did not hear them right. of waking up at 5 in the morning just to have breakfast with you. of managing this unmanageable house, tending the garden, going to the grocery, calming down your crazy children. i have enough of talking to ghosts in this house. i am tired of you too!"
of course i did not say that. i can't. i luv her. i don't want to hurt her. not like this.
instead i said:" my boss is asking me to go back or i will lose my job. my working visa too is about to expire and i have to go back to have it extended."
she looked sad now.
it was harder than i thought.
"ok. i will go with you to the airport," she said, wiping her tears.
"no. stay. it will be exhausting. and it's so hot and dusty." the airport is a two hour drive from our place, right in the middle of nowhere. "you might get sick from all the heat."
"the car is airconditioned," she said firmly.
before i could even say "please stay", she rose from her seat and went inside her room.
a few minutes later, she was ready. fully made up, smelled of fresh flowers and citrus (her signature scent courtesy of clinique), dressed in black (her uniform since the old man died) and a huge dark shades covering her face.
this must be how the mourning widow jackie o looked like if she lived to be 83, i thought.
as soon as my plane landed in manila, i called another friend. hoping he would fetch me from the airport and offer me his place where i could stay temporarily while i house hunt in manille.
instead, i got a cold "no you cant stay with me" answer right there and then. how cruel. images of meryl streep in devil wears bench came to mind.
but it did not deter me. the fag will pay for this, i thought as i hailed a cab.
i asked the airport taxi driver to take me to the nearest hotel with wifi please and free breakfast (i missed eggs benedict!). but it must be cheap.
"how cheap?" the driver in a well pressed white polo shirt asked. his sleepy voice sounded like a bored housewife. he must have heard this so many times. i would too if i were in his place.
"ahhh." i am poor with figures. i can't come up with a number.
"two thousand, three thousand, four thousand a night?" the driver asked, as if reading my mind.
"less than that?"
he looked horrified. as if edsa has just been sliced into two like the red sea.
he smiled and brought me to this seedy motel.
i was tired, sleepy and needed a hot shower, so i did not complain.
at the reception (or what passed as one), the fully made up lady asked me if i am interested on their short-time package - only 490 pesos for four hours, with free massage. before i could even answer her, the phone rang.
"sir you need to get out in 10 minutes or you will have to pay more. yes our short time is only for four hours. yes sir, sorry sir."
while she was talking, a couple arrived. the girl looked like a tramp, the guy as burly as my cab driver. they were kissing right behind me. loudly like in a porno film. this is so surreal, i thought.
"sir, sorry. you have to pay another 490 if you want to extend," the front desk clerk said to whoever was on the phone. then she hung up.
"yes sir?" she turned to me now.
"i am staying for two days and i want a no smoking room," i said. i wanted to add: please don't give me a room that has been used for quickies and hook ups, where the dirty white sheets smelled of human secretions and cigarette butts are everywhere.
"sorry sir, all our rooms are smoking rooms."
"ok. how much?"
"four thousand six hundred sir for two days."
"does it include breakfast?"
the room smelled of cigarette smoke and body odor. the sheets looked like they have been unwashed for a year. the hot water was not working. the small tv was broken. i even saw a cockroach in the bathroom.
welcome to civilisation.