14 Setyembre 2012

Divine Intervention

At the precise moment before the stool toppled over and out of view, as he gripped rough plastic woven into thread and woven again into the rope around his neck, Ton stared at his own kicking feet and at that last second, his guardian angel jumped, shrieking, to stop him. An invisible force pushed Ton upward, suspended him in midair, safe from choking to death as the Angel hovered beneath him and between his legs, just a pair of yellow eyes and a crooked grin as though to say not again, Ton, not again. Ton eased the noose over his head and held it in his hands and he stepped off the stool, arms crossed.

Ton stood beneath the mango tree in his backyard in the space where its large roots hadn't upturned the earth, a space free of grass and moss. It was a cool space bordered on one side by the tree's massive trunk and by the concrete wall of their house on the other. It was a close space invisible from their neighbor's fence. The angel towered above him, stooping over small, middle-aged Ton standing on stubby legs, barefoot on the earth. Ton glanced up at the shadowy form above him and stared into the window of his room where, on his bed, he left a letter addressed to Manang Charing. I left a note this time, he said, in a tone that brooked no argument. The angel laughed with the same chirruping notes of a tricycle refusing to run or the noise of a young child's surprise before landing on concrete. But this time Ton was ready for him.

I'm glad you're here, he said. It was half-past five and cars gunned down the street. Incapable of full manifestation, the angel hovered like a ghost. Even in the faltering daylight, only the angel's face was truly physical: his grave energy written in long, deep lines on his brow, sagging jowls, a mirthless frown. His face and hands clasped tight, withered and aged, deep veins green like leaves ready to rot. I don't have to commit suicide if you help me.

I'm not a genie, you know. Except the angel didn't speak in a voice, he spoke with all available sound: some wind rustled, a honk extracted from some horn, the hard 'I' sound from a creaking door. I don't do wishes. He spoke in the colloquial, using the same jargon to prove that he had been there all through Ton's life. I don't do Aladdin.

I know. No wishes. Ton hadn't moved. Man and his angel stood on the same ground as the mango tree stirred. There was fruit up there, Ton smelled it in the bark and the honey-sweet smell of the sap pooling at his feet. He climbed onto the chair, the noose dangling at shoulder-height, to stare at the angel and his sad eyes, the rest of him wavering in and out of colors and sounds. There were two points of light in those eyes, like a light from far away. When Ton shivered, the chair rocked.

No more wishes from me but if I were to fall by accident, you see, then no one's to blame, least of all you. There, he had said it. It would take, he continued, only a second -- half a second, even -- while you flickered in and out of life. His guardian angel blinked. Wouldn't you like that? You'd get a vacation, a little reprieve. A short, much-needed rest. The eyes in that head were ancient and gnarled, like a dark place that had never been visited by light but Ton stared on, his own eyes watering. Ton wasn't a complicated man -- just someone who knew how to get what he wanted. He took the noose carefully in his hands, slipped it on, and waited. But the angel didn't move, didn't flicker out of sight, and there was no wind to speak of. The last thing Ton knew was the mango tree's leaves: dark green and worm-eaten, falling as though shaken, all around him. It must have been an accident, a powerful gust of wind that shook the leaves, that turned the earth, that tiniest push on the small of his back.

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