Why Spain?

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“In Spain there’s the king – and then there’s Antonio.” Melanie Griffith

“WHY Spain?”

My boss puts my resignation letter down on his desk and looks at me, as I gather to compose myself. I have already practised what to say. I have been memorizing my speech since the day I received the BIG news. My boss arranges the pile of printed memos scattered on the table and stirs the coffee that has long been cold. He looks at me waiting for my reply.

Why Spain? I repeat the question in my head. But before I can open my mouth, he proceeds to talk. “Are you sure you want this?” He says in a low voice. I nod my head. “Are you ready to give up everything for this?” He looks at me in the eye. I nod my head once again. He is referring to my current position at work. I have just been promoted for the second time. I have just gotten my first ever car from the company. I am a District Sales Manager. I handle at least fifteen people. I am enjoying the respect of my colleagues, not to mention the perks and bonuses that the company has been giving me. Am I ready to give this all up?
I glance at my resignation paper that my boss is still holding. I mindfully chose the right words when I wrote that letter. I consciously didn’t want to part in a bad tone. I want this to be perfectly fine. I know they will understand. This is my dream. Going to Spain has long been my dream for years now. They know that.

“Yes, sir. I am.” I speak softly so as not to make my voice shake.

“You will give up your car, your position, the benefits, your bright future in this company. Have you thought about this? You are giving up a lot of opportunities for your future. Aren’t you worried about what if this Spain thing of yours will not work out and….”
I decide not to let him finish his sentence. I open my mouth. “Yes sir, I have thought about this a hundred times. I am ready. I am prepared for whatever is in store for me in Spain.”
My boss doesn’t react. He stirs his coffee again and this time raises the cup and leans forward to take a sip. He reaches for his pen and signs his signature at the bottom part of my letter. “Did you also furnish a copy to Human Resources?”
I nod.

“Well then. It seems that you have already made up your mind. I wish you good luck and I hope you made the right decision.” He offers his hand. I stand up to reach it. I take a deep breath and give my boss a smile. This has been easier than what I have imagined.

“Why Spain?”, echo the five voices surrounding me right now. The news has spread throughout the office and I have been bombarded by questions about my resignation. The five curious faces are now looking at me as if I have committed the most heinous crime against humanity.

You see, I have kept everything a secret. From the time I applied for the scholarship up to the time I received the result. I thought it was surreal. Finally, my chance of going and living a life that I have dreamed of. I didn’t want to jinx it. Only my family and some selected friends knew about the exciting news. I perfectly remember that afternoon when a friend called to inform me that I was in the list of lucky scholars bound to study in Spain. I was about to jump for joy and hug everybody only to later on realize that I was in a conference room having a meeting.

Of course they already knew about my Spanish classes every Saturday afternoon. But to actually pursue something as big as this, they never thought I would go this far. They were only aware that I was the odd guy learning Spanish. Just to pass time. One of my bosses even joked about it. “Why Spanish? Why not take French? Or German? Spanish is a dead language.” They couldn’t understand why I would waste my Saturday afternoons learning this “dead” language for nothing. What good would it give me, they argued. Spain is not a world economic force to reckon with anymore. Why even bother to go there. I just shrugged off whatever remarks they said. I was not going to let them affect me nor my dream of one day, living in the land of Don Quijote. I assured them I just loved what I was doing and I loved Spain for that matter. It was my breather from the stress my job was giving me. They skeptically accepted my line of reasoning. They tried to hide their cynicism so as not to offend my enthusiasm. They feigned support so as not to upset me. They concealed their doubts so as not to pull my spirits down. Until today.

“Are you really really sure? One hundred percent sure? You are leaving us for Spain? Do you know what you are up to?” One of the five voices echoes through my ears.

I can’t blame them. Their reaction is predictable. For most Filipinos, America is the only country outside the Philippines that can offer a bright and promising future. The land of milk and honey. Though, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for three hundred years, we don’t show much affinity with our former colonizer. After the Spaniards left the Philippines, the Americans took over. The pro-American stance taken by past and present governments left the Philippines finding itself alienated to its one time colonist.

We may not speak Spanish, but the Spanish culture is a great influence among Filipinos. We are 80 percent Catholic. We are the only Asian country that has Spanish sounding surnames. We celebrate fiestas all year round. We employ 20 percent of Spanish words in our language. We are even described as the Latinos of Asia for being happy, cheerful and friendly, traits that we share with the Spaniards. Sadly however, for most of us, Spain is just a thing of the past. A former colonizer, that is. The old world. Nothing more than bullfighting, paella, guardia civil or Julio Iglesias or Real Madrid and Rafa Nadal for the younger ones. Nothing more.

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I must admit though that I was once one of the many who thought of Spain this way. But this did not stop me from exploring the possibility of visiting this once great nation. It all started after watching a documentary about Spain. I was intrigued by its beauty and magic. I was beguiled by its grand culture, its fascinating history. I woke up one morning telling myself I was Spain-bound.

Actually the truth was, I wasn’t sure how this whole Spain thing was going to happen. Maybe luck would just come knocking at my door one day, like a long lost rich grandfather looking for a long lost grandson to bequeath his riches to and that grandson turned out to be me. I would then use that money for Spain. I would be living my dream. Everything would be like, wow! But this was very far from happening. First and foremost, my two grandfathers are already dead and were not rich. I had to do something to make my dream come true. In between salivating daydreams, I took Spanish classes at the Instituto Cervantes in Manila. It was heaven. I couldn’t describe the satisfaction that I felt being with my classmates knowing that we shared the same interests and the love for Spain. And whoever said that Spanish was a dead language must be skinned alive.

I FASTEN MY SEATBELT. I can’t contain my excitement. I am finally going to Spain. There are still passengers standing in the aisle looking for their seats. I look outside the window. It’s dark. I feel my mobile phone vibrating. A text from my brother, reminding me to pray the rosary during the flight. Obviously it came from my mother. I can’t help but smile. After 28 years, I will be away from my family. I will be living alone in a foreign land. I press the keys and type “Okidoki.” I switch it off and recline my seat. In 18 hours, I will be in a totally different world. I hear the flight attendant speaking on the PA system telling everyone to settle down. In a few minutes, the plane starts moving and prepares to take off. I comfortably rest my head against the window. This is it, I tell myself. I reach for my pocket, fish inside it and take out my rosary. But before I start to pray, I hear myself saying.

“Why not Spain?”

Taking a break, pressing the brakes

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I´m sitting on a bench near the Bicing bicycle parking waiting for  someone to return a bike that will take me  home when I catch a father trying to teach his son how to ride a bike a few feet away.  The boy, around seven  can already balance himself on his bicycle.   Perhaps father and son have been practicing  for some time now. He just wants his dad to walk behind him.

The path is going downhill.  The  father signals the boy to turn around and avoid the way down. The boy wants to drive downhill.  His father  gives in and gives his son  a reassuring nod. Off pedals the boy. At first, hesitant but later on, having  the right rhythm, the boy  bikes down smoothly.

The boy seems pleased with what he is doing.  He pedals and pedals.  Faster and faster until he can no longer  control his speed.  He is going down quicker than he is supposed to be.  His dad  panics and immediately runs after his son.   The boy starts screaming. Calling his father´s name.  He is losing control of the bicycle, the boy  is going to fall.    His dad, doubling his pace,   finally gets to grab the saddle  with his right hand in time before the bike falls to the ground.

The bike skids a bit.  It doesn´t fall.  The  boy doesn´t fall off his bike.  Now he is sobbing. The boy´s dad tries to console his son. He points to the brake of the bicycle.

“Use this if you want to stop.”

He doesn´t want to ride his bike anymore. The boy runs to the bench where I am sitting.  He sits on the edge of the bench with arms  crossed and head bowed down, sulking like a seven-year-old  kid who has just had a not so pleasant bicycle incident.  His father smiles at his son, leaves the bike unmanned, walks towards the bench and puts his arms around the boy.

“It´s okay to go fast.  Just use the brakes.”

The son looks at his father and nods slowly. He wipes his tears away,   walks to his bike and gives his dad a wide smile.  He is ready to roll his bike again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another morning, every morning

 

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I hold on to the blanket as tight as I can.  I fight the urge of opening my eyes.  Not because I am still sleepy.  Well, yes I still am.  But  because it is coming to me now, just like every morning.   It is attacking once again.

Yet I don’t have a choice.  I need to open my eyes, get out of bed and get out of the house.  I slowly open my eyes.  In an instant,  my heart jumps, my pulse skips.  I am catching my breath. I close my eyes again.  The trembling stops.  It´s pitch black but my world is peaceful once more. I wait for my breathing to get back to normal.

My brain is begging  my heart to calm down. I need to be brave.  I open my eyes again and as if on cue, everything is back. All the shaking and  trembling. Heart pounding, pulse racing. The attack is overwhelming. And  I am no match for it.  It´s overpowering. It absorbs all my energy. I want to shout.

My stomach tightens. All the food I ate last night wants to go up and  out. I am going to throw up.  I race to the toilet. I catch my reflection in the mirror. I hardly recognise myself.  I look horrible. Having only slept  four hours or even less.   My stomach  tightens again.  I lean on the toilet bowl and attempt to vomit.  But nothing comes out. My stomach tightens a little bit more.

I sit on the toilet bowl with my head resting  on both hands.  I stare at the blank space in front of me.  I reach for my mobile phone lying on the small table in the corner.  Play some music.  A happy one.  A fast one.

As soon as the music starts playing, my heart slows down a bit.  I try to calm down.  I close my eyes.  When will this stop?  I hate this every morning. I can’t  have a morning like this everyday.

I stand  up and rip some sheets of toilet paper and wipe my bottom.  I take off my shirt and my  shorts and step inside the shower.  I feel the cold water splashing against my back, then my head.  Drowning myself under the sound of the music and the water.

I can stay here. Forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Moon, where are thou tonight?

 

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Where are you Moon?

Sitting on the same bench.  Same spot.  Same time. Almost everyday. Five days straight except yesterday.  Were you here Moon, yesterday? Sorry I wasn´t able to come.  For  days now, I have been looking at your spot.  Same bench. Same  time.  But today, you are not around.

Mr. Guitarman´s plucking is soothing.  The waves waltz with the sand.  The wind tangoes with the sailboat from afar.  Oh, where are you Moon?   I miss seeing  your silhouette peeking in the sky hurrying Mr. Sun to go hide behind the clouds. Are you shy today?  Don´t wanna show your face? Are you blue today?  Don´t wanna show your tears?

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Sitting on the same  bench.  People walk by. Mr. Guitarman  plucks, strums.  I close my eyes.  I´m swimming deeper in the labyrinth of melodies of each song.  Trying to forget that I´m missing you, Moon. I´m drowning. Down. Drifting. Lost in  the  sublime euphony of Mr. Guitarman´s strings.

Oh Moon, where are you?  Soon, Mr. Sun is saying goodbye too. I will have another one song, Moon. Mr. Guitarman is about to begin another one.  And then, it´s time to go.  I hope to see you tomorrow.

Same bench. Same spot. Same time.

But for tonight, it´s going to be a moonless night.

 

 

 

 

Barcelona, Spain

 

 

 

The mystery of the missing farm fly wings

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I was once a fly. Yes, that famous insect of the order of Diptera. That eeky and intrusive creature you run after with a swatter. Voted as one of the most disgusting insects on earth.

A long long time  ago, I was a fly in a play.  Which play was it?  Oh, never mind.  It was a forgettable one. But surely,  it was not about a scientist who went inside a capsule sort-of-thing and became a monstrous two-winged insect. I think the play was about a grandmother who had lots of animals on her farm. Sort of a female version of Old MacDonald. Maybe it was her wife or lover. Or was it  the old grandma who lived in a shoe?  Whatever.

Anyway, I was her fly. Why did I have to be a fly, you might wonder. There are a lot of animals in the world, right? Why a fly? What was our teacher thinking? Why did I even accept such unglamorous role?

Okay let me see. I was just eight back then and kids at that time were taught not to question grown-ups who considered flies as farm animals. Neither did my mother. It  didn´t occur to her that it was her parental obligation to be bothered by the thought that her child was cast as a hideous insect in a play full of lovable farm creatures. I was expecting her to storm my teacher´s office, wring her neck and demand a credible explanation. What in the world was  a fly  doing at Mrs. Donald´s farm?

It turned out that my mother had other things in mind. If her son had to be a fly, he would be the cleanest fly ever. She bought me a neat pair of black tights and a plain body hugging black shirt. For my wings, she hired somebody to sew them. Not ordinary-looking wings, mind you. She saw to it that they would look like real fly wings with thick black wires forming the shape of the wing pattern and transparent plastic with thin black strings intricately sewn in a zigzag fashion for the wing cells. It was awesome. I was the fly with cool wings.

As I said, the play was yawn-worthy. I can´t even remember how it went. Did we sing? Or dance? Did I have speaking lines? Or did I get swatted halfway through the play? Not sure. But I knew that my mother was very pleased by my performance. Until she saw that something was missing.

“Where are your wings?” My mother was eyeing me suspiciously sounding like a real mother bird shocked to find out that her baby bird´s wings had disappeared and that her offspring was totally clueless about it. I heard her all right but I didn´t dare reply nor wait for her to repeat her intimidatingly unanswered inquiry as I immediately dashed back  to the auditorium. Back then, I was not supposed to curse. So I just swallowed my saliva that was as thick as a yarn ball and prayed to God that nobody had taken interest in my wings. Where did I leave them after our performance? I nagged myself. It was a blur. Like in a film where the character is totally wasted and wakes up in a total stranger´s bed, completely spaced out. I could have absentmindedly dropped my wings somewhere. Perhaps, somebody might have nicked them. After all, they were nice wings.

Expectedly, my mother didn’t waste time giving me an earful as soon as we got home. Like I said, I was brought up not to answer back at a furious parent nagging me about lost wings. Deep inside though, I was fighting the urge to ask what the fuss was all about. Those were just wings! I could still be a normal person without them, right? Like, I still have my legs, haven´t I?  I didn’t dare answer back of course. I shut my mouth that not a single fly could enter.

The next day, I asked my classmates about the lost wings. Nobody saw them except one: the cow. From the play, that is. My heart jumped for joy. Finally, I would be reunited with my wings and would be able to fly again.

But the cow turned out to be a shrewd one. Dreadfully wicked! Exceptionally heartless. A shameless devil that smelled of dung! “Your wings are mine now! Finders keepers!” Finders keepers my ass. I didn’t say that, of course. Everyday, I would bug the cow to give me back my wings. And everyday, he would tell me the wings now belonged to him. I reasoned out. It was okay to reason out with somebody your age, especially with someone who stole your wings. I bargained. I negotiated. I begged. I threatened. But the cow proved to be a real pain. Such a stubborn schmuck, this fucking cow. On second thought however, what if this scumbag was just pulling my leg? Just his way of getting on my nerves. Maybe he didn’t have my wings after all. But that was beside the point.

One day, he offered another revelation which eventually dashed my hopes of finally getting my wings back. “You can have your wings but you can no longer fly in them. I undid the strings and ripped the plastic. And oh, I used the strings to tie my shoes.” The cow said with a sinister smile. I wanted to see the strings, I demanded. He refused. I stared at him contemptuously,  smelling blood. I studied the cow wondering to myself how I could turn him into a can of corned beef.

I told my mother about it and she too couldn´t believe such an evil cow could exist in this world. She told me to forget all about my wings and move on. Soon, the fucking cow would be in an avatar, she consoled me; chopped and ready to be served on a beautiful plate with sauce and spices. I smiled at the sordid thought. “Who needs a pair of plastic wings?” Certainly not me. I wouldn´t be a fly in the future play anyway.

Definitely, not a cow.

Dear Universe,

 

 
I thought I have moved on already
But I haven’t
Two and a half years seem like yesterday
When we said goodbye to each other
blaming the distance was getting in the way
We parted ways
without a tear and sorry voice
I regret that
I could have said something
I could have done something
But I didn’t, we didn´t
Two and half years and no closure
I still see your face everyday
Hear your voice
Smell you
God knows how much I miss you badly
How could I let you know that I miss you terribly.
That yes, I am still in love with you. As I have always been. Really.
I don’t know if you know it. Or if you also feel it.
I miss you very much and telling you I love you is just an understatement.
I want to kiss you. To smell you. To hold you. To listen to your voice. To see your smile. To touch your skin.
They say good things come to people who wait. Two years and a half.
I will wait here. Until that time comes.
But until when?
Love,

 

Me

A hell of a hostel

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The guy enters the  room  and  hides under  a cart filled with   severed human limbs.  He then takes a sledge hammer and bludgeons the  butcher who is in the process of incinerating the corpses.  He drops the sledge hammer,  grabs an ax and starts to…okay, before I get  carried away, I have to stop.  This is just a scene   from the   crappy B-movie I saw on the bus coming here. I try not to scare myself with creepy thoughts as I enter the room.

I close the door,  put  my rucksack on the wooden chair and  look around. No sledge hammers, no severed limbs  ready for cremation.  I am standing in front of  a big brown   door-less   wardrobe with nothing but two sad-looking  plastic hangers.   I can hear conversations coming from the rooms downstairs  blending   with  the sounds of cooking pots  clacking and  tap water gushing  from the  restaurant   two floors below.

So here I am in a rundown  hostel  in  Santiago de Compostela for an overnight stopover before catching an early bus  to the beautiful town of Tui tomorrow as there are no trips that go  straight to Tui from Madrid. The problem began when our arrival in Santiago got delayed  because of  a  huge traffic jam in Leon and instead of arriving a couple of hours before midnight, I got off the bus at quarter past eleven.  The only place that has a room and is willing to admit me close to midnight is this   hostel.

I  lie down   and try to  whisk  away the graphic scenes from the stupid movie the bus driver made us watch during the ride.  I am about to doze off when I am  distracted by  loud voices   outside my room.  Shouting  in a very thick Galician  accent, I  can easily tell that the two are arguing about money.  The angrier voice,   demanding  the other  to pay  his two-month unpaid rent, I assume belongs to the owner of this hostel.   The receiver of the accusation is equally fuming too.  He is  insisting that he has already paid his dues and even  accusing the owner of overcharging him.  Their voices get louder and piercer, getting more intense by the second. I try to cover my head with the pillow but I can still hear their heated wrangle. I get up and  reach  for  my CD player.  As the music starts booming into my ears, I   drift into deep slumber.

Then I wake up.  I check my watch. It says three  a.m.  Everything is pitch black. I perfectly remember that I purposely left the lights on. Who turned off the lights?  Much that I don’t want to scare myself, I just can´t avoid thinking of  the  gory movie on the bus.   A mad killer is  on the loose inside a motel and goes on a  killing spree and spares nobody in the place.  I suddenly  recall  the two men arguing outside my room. Could  the owner be the one  who turned  the lights off? Instead of getting back  at his tenant, he  decided  to punish the entire hostel for the unpaid rent!    All I see is the stark darkness of the room.  Everything is quiet. No footsteps. No cooking pots clacking. No toilet bowl flushing.

A  power  interruption  perhaps?  A faulty wire maybe?   Then I realize that the entire room is freezing.  Even if I am under a  thick winter blanket, I can feel my teeth  grit and my feet  shake.  I don’t have to go near  the heater to  know that it has been switched off as no trace of heat breathes inside the room.  The owner of this shitty  hostel must  be  really desperate to recoup the lost money from the uncollected rent that he has   turned off the central heating and electricity at midnight.

I calm down. My heart obeys my mind. I brush off any  mad killer-on-the-loose thoughts.  I curl up into the fetal position and doze off.  I open my eyes  with a funny feeling that the whole room is shaking in total darkness.   My alarm clock is hysterical as it screams: “Seven o´clock! Time to keep your  bum going!  You have a bus to catch!”   With the little light coming  from my mobile phone,   I grab my rucksack and shoes. I  lean against the door and listen to the sound outside  before opening  it.  Sensing that I am the only person already up and awake in the entire hostel, I slowly open the door.  I am welcomed by a blanket of darkness  as I start my pace.    I tiptoe up to the bathroom with the guide of my  mobile phone,   switch  the lights on   and yes, no fucking lights!  More upset than  frightened, I remember the second floor.  The  bathroom is separated from the toilet and  maybe,  the lights work there as there seems  to have more occupants on that floor.

I gently walk downstairs careful not to stumble.   I  try the hall lights.  Not a chance.  I find the bathroom.   It´s closed. But the lights are on! Somebody is inside. I head to the toilet instead. The lights  are on too!  I am about to finish brushing my teeth  when I   hear someone  coming out of  the bathroom.  I put down my rucksack and pull down my pants. I place  pieces of toilet paper on the toilet bowl seat  and close  the door.  The door doesn´t shut tight,  leaving  a space open  just enough for a would-be murderer  to peep in and start ramming the door with his sledge hammer.  I  push it hard but  it  just creates a loud squeaking noise against the floor.  It´s not  budging!   I give up.  I am about to start to do my business  when suddenly the lights go out! This is what I call a one big mierda!

I sit still. I don’t know what to do.  Here I am, about to relieve myself in this  shithole of a hostel, inside a  toilet so small my knees can even touch the slightly opened  door that anyone can just pop his head  in and say hi to me.  In complete darkness.

It really boggles my mind why the  only place in the hostel where the lights are on is the  bathroom. Is this where the killer is supposed to trap his victims?  I immediately check the door. It closes tight. Relieved and  ready to have a nice shower, I take  my toiletries out of my rucksack and take off all my clothes. Standing under the shower,  I study the red and blue knobs in front of me. I expect  warm water to touch my face as soon as I turn the  red handle.  I nearly yelp when a   very  chilly sensation hit my face. I feel  the  shivers down my spine.  The water is   unbearably freezing! I  reach for the red and blue knobs again trying to mix the two with  my body away from the shower. Fucker!  I hear myself cursing as I put   my clothes back  on. I reach for my rucksack, put all my toiletries inside, fix my shoes and get out of the bathroom. I no longer tiptoe once in the hall. I don’t care if   my footsteps have become hard thuds now.  I mentally check my things. All accounted for. No need to go back to my room to  lock it.

I march down the ground floor and open the main door. The cold air hits my face instantly sending chills to my whole body.  I arrange my scarf well enough to cover my neck and half of my face.   Still foggy and dark,  I am the only one out. The murderer can be  just lurking outside for all I know.    To hell with the  killer, I  am  so out of here. I am about to close the door when I remember the key.   I fish inside my pocket and place it on top of the drawer  beside the main door.  I stare at it for a while.  I can actually take the key with me; for the dead heater, malfunctioning door,  its self-imposed blackout and for depriving me of a hot shower! But I change my mind.  I place the key back on top of the drawer then step out to the street. I tap myself, first my head, my arms, then my legs.  All accounted for.