13 Setyembre 2012

Angel of Death

Outside in their garden, a large mango tree -- already hung with the tire swing -- spread its branches over their concrete fence, screening their backyard from view. His suicide will go unnoticed. The rope he bought three days ago from a neighbor's sari-sari store -- it was made from woven plastic, bright blue and tough -- was too long and he took a while to cut it to the length he needed using a kitchen knife. He positioned an old chair carved from a single piece of driftwood, one of the four his parents bought as a dining room set, underneath the tree in the place where its roots hadn't turned up the earth, where there was no grass, where he could see the window of his room clearly.

On his bed, which he had made up before breakfast, he left two typewritten pages stapled together addressed to the Manang Charing. She came every Wednesday and Saturday to clean the house and wash his laundry. When he was younger, she lived with his family until his sisters moved out, his parents died, and he couldn't afford her full-time services. Now she worked in the wet market gutting fish and when she to spend her days with him he often found her asleep on their couch, two pillows tucked beneath her head, her mouth slightly open, and exhaling a fishy smell.

The rope held when he tested his weight. The branch above his head was sound and did not creak. Bark chipped off and peppered his hair and shoulders but he concerned himself only with the coarse rope chaffing his skin where it lay, barbed and scabrous, around his neck. It was Friday, late in the afternoon, he had just finished his afternoon cup of coffee, the mug lay drying beside the sink. There were wet spots all over his mother's yellow kitchen. He was leaving the house in relative order -- some dirty clothes were left in the hamper, he couldn't help that, while socks and bed sheets hung over his lawn to dry. He couldn't help that. The boy thought he wanted another cup of coffee. After all, why not. When they cut him down, his teeth will be stained brown with nicotine and his moscovado sugar.

Their house was painfully the same, still dark and crammed, the walls too close and the floor was warm as ever. His father insisted on using long, white fluorescent lights and they had never been changed. When he flicked them open and they illuminated the corridor he saw his guardian angel tucked into the breakfast alcove with its circular table and its one chair for his mother. The angel was smoking a cigarette and puffs of smoke wafted towards him. It was a tobacco variant he  had never experienced and it smelled like burning tires. Maybe it was burning rubber. It was an angel, he had wings, although he faded in and out of opacity, translucent, everything about him swayed with the light, except his face and its expression like the angel wanted to shout at him, berate him within an inch of his life. The angel took on his mother's countenance and the hallway filled with the smell of river water and freshwater fish. Air wafted lazily over cold running water carrying damp sprays to wet his face.

I'm not impressive, the angel said by way of greeting, pero tignan mo naman ang sarili mo. It gritted its teeth and pursed its lips and continued to stare down at him where the angel in its fog and light formed and exploded. Tingin mo papayagan kita magpakamatay?

The angel was all light and strange shadows but when it spoke, it was a clear, high voice, like a bell ringing in a closed room. He wasn't afraid -- after all, this was his guardian angel -- and the familiar high walls of his home were a comfort. He moved towards the kitchen where he invited the entity to sit at their table, pulling back a chair and sitting opposite him. His guardian angel hovered at eye-level, his stare was yellow and slightly vacant and there was nothing that held his shifting form in place.

You're in my father's chair, you know, he said. He thought about making coffee and then decided against it.

Tingin mo ano mangyayari sa'kin kung magpakamatay ka?

I don't know. You get another person to look after? Anyway, this isn't your fault. He said. The floating angel spat clouds and dust in his direction, incessant. Hands and fingers -- long and bony riddled with veins -- moved towards him from across the table, grasping.

Madedemote ako! Mawawalan ako ng benefits. You can't do this to me! The angel settled, only glaring, it moved around the kitchen, opening drawers. It picked up forks, spoons, knives, and plates. It broke a cup and a saucer, it glared at him from a window. Mawawalan ako ng kaibigan! Magiging loser! Hindi ako sasahod! You can't do this to me!

The kitchen was the largest room in this house. Upstairs, the masters' bedroom perched directly on top opened to a terrace big enough to accommodate four or five people. Big enough, certainly, for him and his three sisters. The angel hovered next to him, reached into his mind with a hooked finger, and dragged memories of his childhood to the forefront of his mind. Here, his sister being chased by their large dog. Another: the first time he climbed the mango tree as a dare. Wala ka'ng excuse, maganda naman buhay mo.

Puwede ba, wag ka na magdrama? 

He began preparing coffee for both of them but there was only enough sugar for one cup. Do you want some coffee, he asked, because he was polite and the angel was still raging against him. You can kill me, if you want. That way, there will be no suicide. You'll do me a favor. That's why you're here, isn't it? To stop a suicide? He put the cup of coffee beside the wavering form of his guardian angel and waited.

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