The kid walked opposite the direction of the waves. At dusk, the wind crashed the trees and the squat houses by the beach—an olfactory experience he’d regard as religious, almost sacred. There was the sound of the water creating violence against the sharp rocks, in rhythm and then at times, syncopated. He’d make quick stops, processing the chilled air on his cheeks and fingers. He would listen to a faraway sound played in his mind, many years removed and its place of origin, its discovery, he’s already quite unsure of. Was it the music of the jazz man his father was fond of? Or a spilling from the interstices in a firmament of reality played by a dimensional being? He would wonder on these things on the stops he’d make later in his life which were no longer short.
The kid wore a t-shirt many times as big as his frame. In the rage of a cool north-east wind that swept the beach and the distant bamboo poles that held the net of the fish pens, the kid resembled that of a puppet in strings, played by a whirlwind, crumpled and then straightened out by an invisible spider-like hand of the night, crawling smoothly towards the end of his curly hair only to be impeded by a hat. He was fond of his older brother’s hat, which was handed over to his brother by Mr. G as an heirloom. Seeing no practical use of the hat, Mr. G, a notorious man about town who enjoyed the company of scoundrels and prostitutes and, loved to be seen in the seedy sections of the neighborhood, gave up the demands of society life and retired to tend goats and write a book of no singular purpose which he would later call, The Tennis Court Curses of J. Albert Abubo, passed its ownership without ritual to the older sibling. Of course, it would not see a daylight, locked in his drawers, feasted by vermin, his attempt at literature.
The kid ran errands for Mr. G. The windows were drawn shut, not letting in that first darkness of dusk touch the inside the house: the kid inspected himself in the mirror. His eyes, big and black, were pulled deep inside his skull resembling that of hollows, dark pits where he could stash away coins, grocery list for Mr. G, etc. A light from a kerosene lamp on the table reflected the mirror, bouncing forth and capturing forms such as the framed photographs on the wall, contraptions invented by Mr. G himself at the height of his madness, personal effects abandoned to forgetfulness – strewn all over the large table at the center of the room.
But his eyes did not shine. Even his nose that held a sweat did not shine. His nose that looked like a sprinter, speeding forward and away from his face, going the opposite direction as that of his eyes have set a mark. Even his pursed lips, that Mr. G inspected one day with his index finger, “Like that of a clown,” he said and continued, “I might forget your laughter, joker.” The light reflected the kid’s pale skin and he did not shine, as if it is like a gateway to the underworld, consuming the bright, it touched him, and it did not bounce off – spread generously like a cream and then just died there at the surface of his being.
The coat stand stood by the door where the kid’s older brother left the hat and went to bed with empty stomach and bruised back and buttocks. He had to lift the farthingale which was ensconced, together with the books and mails, under the disproportionately large table. The table was never used for partaking of meals. It was in the center of the room as a consecrated thing: gathering mementos of love, hysteria of self-acknowledgment, the insanity of keeping the gears turning and screws tight in their places. The stand looked like an empty tree. It was tall, and the kid had to bring the chair beside it, set it quietly and climbed it and reached the top hat hanging on one of its hooks. Breathless, he examined the exquisite construction, tapping softly the crown with his fingers and then caressing the brim, its melusine cover was black and shiny. He then flicked the hat like that of a gunslinger, a story told by Mr. G many times – in a swift motion of his wrists the kid was confronted of another darkness, the inside of the hat was a fissure, rendering the kid paralyzed for a bit. He then let his hand wander the insides of the headgear, hesitant at first of what might devour his crooked fingers. The kid suddenly panicked, for what his hand discovered was unfamiliar, a construction unknown of this laughing house. The kid felt a sensation that resembled the first time he saw the tigers in the cage.
“It is time to go,” he told himself. He jumped off the chair and like a feline, noiselessly sprinted towards the mirror. He made a sound as he collected saliva from the corner of his mouth and spat on his left hand and greased his hair with it. He put on the hat and marched at the door’s direction.
“Tell them exactly what I told you,” a voice crept in the space between the door and the floor, reminding him again that exactness eliminates doubt and confusion to whichever ears they may fall. The voice sounded dry, like words were marinated on a tongue soaked in a vat of rum. But the kid didn’t know what a voice soaked in a rum sounded like. What he knew was that there was a physical form the voice seemed to manifest, expanding the chasm where it found its way in the living room and sharply slashed his ears. After the words, came Mr. G, like smoke bursting forth in the interstitial space of the keyhole, stood by the door in his night gown.
Mr. G’s belly looked like a three-layered coil, wide at the base that was fastened in haste to a hunger artist’s hips. The gap between coils would masticate the striped pajamas as his belly, an animal with its own mind, heaved up and down. It seemed to have an ear for rhythm – perfectly waving in the sound of the rapping of the wind against the outer wall of the house. The living room, then dimmed by the creeping darkness, flickered like a firefly on a verge of resuscitation: an intermittent phosphorescence steadily getting stronger, dominating the space of the room at first, and then leaking through holes and passageways, naturally and unnaturally acquired by the house.
His eyes leaked of laughter and light. The light got smaller and denser as if there was a machine inside his head that’s eating it, piece by piece. Then there was only the black in the center of the balls, the then white surrounding of his eyes turned dirty, almost that of jaundice and, one can map out the formation of cataract like an investigation of the geological processes of a mountain range.
“One must have the patience to wait,” declared Mr. G, his thinning hair, gray and curly, flattened in a single direction, was blown by a strong wind as he opened the door to smell the night air. Mr. G said the exact same words the other night the kid was to relay the message to certain misters.
“What else should I tell them, Sir?” Asked the kid. “Should I press the old gentlemen to stay in the ditch of your appointment?” The kid continued that almost sounded like a prayer.
“Make sure the bums understand the importance of the place where we’ll have to meet. There is a tree a stone’s throw away from the ditch. I believe it is a willow. A willow by the ditch. They always go together, my boy, you know that?” Abruptly ending what seemed like a long-winded speech with a question.
“What go together?” asked the kid.
“A willow tree and a ditch,” said Mr. G while inspecting the premises with his sad, long face.
“But we don’t have willow trees around here, sir,” pressed the kid. The young one understood the peril of holding it out with the master; a verbal shootout was no less an ideal circumstance to be embarking against the old man, let alone squandering a volley, for the anguish of anticipation not answered was the highest fault one was to attain. For the first time the kid felt a gushing out of courage shooting nervously through his very pores. Once the honorific address flew out of his mouth, the kid was able to pick the word, dithering as it traversed the abbreviated space between him and Mr. G: he was able to see its specific size against the air, the way the old man, in his disinterested cursive style create lines on paper. The kid wanted to take back the last word he uttered.
“Ah, impertinence!” Mr. G’s voice boomed, creating a ring from the speck of dust collected by the house. The dust framed a face that seemed to belong to another time. His mouth opened showing a universe of decayed matter and dental event horizon. As it was about to close, it seemed to suck the sonic undertones – the collateral product of their sparse exchange.
Perhaps it was another time and place. Even the kid with the hat seemed to belong in one of the random pockets of his jaded memory. Like in the sagas of the north the narrative is crafted around the fallibility of thought, enhancing the fickle nature of storytelling with doubt and uncertainty. Mr. G had this ability to stretch time like that of a rubber band, to a point where the white appears, almost breaking the tiniest particles that hold it together, erasing the flimsy idea that at some point it grew limbs and faithfully followed a circular trajectory for all eternity to come. The images painted in the old man’s mind manifested the way he perceived reality – they were elongated, grotesque.
Mr. G had been putting off the meeting for a very long time. Perhaps life happened, or, Mr. G imposed his vastness to happen to the best of them; and, the worst. It was difficult to trace the beginning nor the shape of the trees that limned the very idea of the waiting and the coming. The bums of the world; the little people trapped in their precious pavement, the beggars sniffed the miasma of the cultivated rot. As longs as they were in their appointed place, the bums of the world, waiting or not, within the dimension of a constructed time or not, in a way transported their hopes to the very center that Mr. G called, the machine, which he would locate for the boys, as he would check the bloat with his index finger the zaftig of a stomach while extrapolating the virtues of transforming faith into excrement. “Here is the machine, my lads,” he told them one morning, and then following up the seemingly profound exclamation with a fart that had the sound of an accompanying ordure. “Here is where you chuck your wishful thinking and turn them into that powerful, dark coils. The smell is as real as your suffering, the way your dreams are worded, and you sibilate, because it is what you hear in your heart. Your heart hisses because it hugs the ground and it is the only sound it understands,” he continued and then laughed.
“Let me walk with you to that tree line,” Mr. G declared with his head cocked in the direction of trees. The house looked worn and tattered on the outside. The whitewashed wall suffered the malignant visitations of typhoon in various iterations; from the dizzying spectrum of assigned nomenclature that goes from the ethnic to Kastila to modern Anglo-Saxon to mainstays of your local street drowned of their everyday dose of alcohol: down to the degree of their strength and their insidious capacity to affect harm.
“May I put on the hat, sir?”
“It is getting cold as the night matures. Go on wear it. If you must grovel like a dog, then fight like your very last breath depended on it. I normally don’t allow this – the idea of taking something that doesn’t belong to you. I understand that one must stake a claim even to a stump, or a carrot, or a chicken bone.” The old man departed the patio while blurting what was inhabiting his mind for a long time. He inspected the hedgerows of tanglad, wide enough for a wheelbarrow to pass and then arrested the attention of the boy who quickly buried his head in the hat, the slit of his eyes barely followed the motion of Mr. G’s fingers. He pointed at the scar that rent the outer wall, the ceiling that occupied an ecosystem that gave birth to this river which almost reached the foundation of the house.
“They are striking out the name on the list of names.” Mr. G said, nonplussed by these curious little incidents as he summoned the lilting of his grand chin towards a blasé of incongruous ideas tapestried on a lawn that was divided by another hedgerows, but this time of bougainvillea.
“Do you see where that path leads?”
“That goes to the sea, Mr.”
The two were both quiet for a considerable time. It seemed that they were listening to a conversation that was happening in the sea. The black table that occupied the best part of the lot lit with tiny, red eyes: there was a whisper that was audible enough to reach a grounded man’s ears, where clouds swirled in answer to its biding, where wind separated the sky’s cotton like that of the fingers of a dark deity sorting some fate of men, where moonlight touched the shadows of the crows on the table, illuminating their secret conversation. There were teacups and plates on the table. They’d gather dust and rain in the open. The birds color shone the darkest as they turned the splintered table black. The kid thought that the crows resembled that of a lost wing of a broken bird.
“We haven’t used that table anymore.”
“I’ll collect the wares tomorrow. What should we do with the birds, sir?”
“Set a trap for them. They are particularly delicious.”
He continued the conversation in his head; of the blackbird’s possibilities in a pan. It would go along, fitting the bill haute cuisine, the only taste for weeks or months the haute kitchen would feature, with our lord Mr. G conducting the sleight of hand and also, singing the pieces of the obscure opera composer from the province of Liaoning, a certain Wei Peng. “A cider brined crow breasts,” he said to himself in a low voice, resembling that idea of note to self.
The kid had the impression that they were gliding over the muddy passageway, interspersed with irregularly shaped rocks: the rain that continuously poured for two weeks successfully soaked the protruding roots of the trees that kept the lawn as green as algae, turning some mushrooms into barnacles. The kid gathered a breath and lowered his eyes, inspecting the old man’s pajamas of dirt. He was surprised the old man was all barefoot, the ancient stalky hair of his toes electrified from the cold soil and night air. He turned his shoulders toward the direction of the house and realized the distance that they already gained. The windows stared directly at everything outside, those wall openings, the kid believed, had a secret conference with the door, a joke they share in a night such as this. Surely the joke was directed at the insanity that was the hedgerows of tanglad.
“Don’t linger too long, boy.” The old man cautioned the kid.
“It’ll turn you hard and bitter.” He continued sleepily, drawing near the tree line at arm’s length. The old man’s face in the moonlight suddenly turned mellow and sweet. The hard lines under his eyes had the same quality, like abandoned riverbeds, but they seemed dried out by the curse of domestic bliss. It must be the moon that changed his countenance – fragile, brittle has been. What the kid must believe was that all these façades were temporary. Mr. G could strip all these masks and invent new ones but the only face that mattered was the one buried the deepest.
“This is where you are parting with me.”
The passing of moments blended into each other, and then blurred their edges as they became a unity – round, pear-shaped, self-absorbed boundaries. A flock of papans flew low, pierced some thin clouds that were about to paint the night sky with horizontal strokes. The passing birds made that distinct cry, activating the default setting of the ignorant who would attribute the sound to a wak-wak. Mr. G and the kid traced the flight, the trajectory stunted as the ducks finally became one with the trees. Some stars that created distance from the moon gave off faint twinkle. Mr. G had not been out of the house for quite some time and savored this quaint adventure. His senses elevated as he stepped on dried twigs and leaves. These things made crackling sounds, the old man noticed. He was about to whistle a lonesome rendition of an old favorite, but the sound of these dead things underfoot stopped him. All these inconsequential activities signaled a return to the house was at hand.
“When they ask me about you, sir, of what you’re doing? What should I tell them?”
“Tell them exactly this: He does nothing.”
The kid entered the trees like a revolving door that lead him to a solitary road. The country road gradually ascended, like a low hill swept by the wind, because low hills and rolling valleys had been swept by winds since man started telling stories. He looked back at the beach that was partially covered by the trees. There was the house with the great lawn, its side faced the sea, an island that isolated itself from the low houses not that far from its south.
The kid covered a distance long enough to make his feet hurt. The land slowly crept and it featured long stretches of nothing, patches of craggy landscape from afar – a glance at it seduced the kid’s dormant violent tendencies. The quality of dusk in these regions was well regarded by both locals and foreigners to inspire dread, almost terror. The moon hung low, its light seemed to lead the kid into another world where moonbeams could be manipulated by insidious magic. There was a cat curled in the dusty road. The limestones that pimpled the unpaved roads of the country disappeared, as if the kid’s dragging of feet pulverized them, now a gray dust which was lifted occasionally by the murmur of air.
The kid stooped low and seemed to engage the animal in conversation. The moon rose steadily, almost reaching its peak, shadows sputtered all over the land as its light intensified in the whirring of the wind, the thin clouds crawl in the corner where the celestial river twinkled. His shadow approached closer the furry animal. The cat stirred from its slumber and directed its attention to an approaching stranger. Its eyes were not reflected by the light, but the kid was able to make out its colors – a chromatic peninsula of yellow, black and white.
“Come boy. I am the pied piper.”
The cat leveled its eyes on his chests; too lazy to lift its head and acknowledge the weather that forecast his face. The animal waved its paw back and forth in the air, dismissing the boy in disinterested fashion like that of a regent to his court jester. It coiled back to its original position, its paws held close together on its neck. The animal made a sound that was barely audible – its purring was subdued by the croaked of the bullfrogs in the ditch. If he wasn’t mistaken, the cat uttered a command, “Go.”
Not far ahead was a tree. The kid quitted the country road and found himself inspecting what was beyond it. Further the tree, the kid could hear people talking. He jumped across the ditch and barely held his footing on its low bank. The soil was loose, and he made sure not to slip into the mud collected on the ditch’s bed. It was a boundary notified by the fallen leaves everywhere, as if a carpet was readied to acknowledge the arrival of someone special. The part of the land which he just entered was dominated by shadows, a strange atmosphere which was captured and then immitted by the earth in tiny fireballs that shoot in random directions. There was also an impression that everything that occurred in this place already happened at some point in the past.
“I’m done thinking. We must go. I smell me; the one that comes from the sea.” The man with a rope on his neck said.
“It is not allowed.”
“An aberration, indeed.”
“Time for thinking is done.” The man with a pipe said. He puffed from his pipe and blew a long one that enveloped everything, like that of a fog only that it smelled tobacco and it was warm. The passersby went on their way.
The kid couldn’t make out anything in the smoke. He kneeled for a long time on the tree’s root and cautiously popped his head out to study the events that unfolded before his eyes. The fog turned into mist and the outline of two men standing were visible against the silhouette of the approved tree of appointment. The kid thought that these were the men that he had to inform of Mr. G’s failure to come.
“Come out there, boy!” Shouted the man whose boot was halfway out his foot. He noticed the intruder when the passerby, who wore a rope round his neck, obscurely referred to himself as someone who smelled sea. It was a strange thing to say because the sea was a month’s walk from where they wait for Mr. G. What was stranger was when he implied he’s got a double who just arrived. He understood that repeating one’s self was an aberration that can be avoided. The past cannot be brought into poking a hole in the present and then indulging itself, with relative ease, the selfsame aberration that was Albert in the middle of the cycle. They must be separated so that they would not influence each other’s plane. The mister pondered on the things to come and couldn’t really sit on the idea like a tangible boulder, that he got used to hugging in his sleep. It wasn’t different from one who dreamt and spent a night in the ditch. Now would be the selfsame present tomorrow.
He walked awkwardly as he met the messenger. The other man summarized what happened to them that day, as if there was a person of authority he had to answer and inform their days’ worth. As soon as he noticed that the kid was approaching them, the man kept quiet and became weary. It showed in his slumped shoulders and impatient face.
“Was it you yesterday?”
“Do you have a message for Mr. G?”
“He is not coming this evening, mister.”
“But he’ll be here tomorrow.”
“What does he do?”
“He does nothing, sir.”
“What he does is not of our concern.”
“What am I to tell Mr. G, sir?”
“Tell him you saw us.”
The boy traced his way back to where he came. It was decided that he would walk faster this time, back to the old house. He left the men without saying goodbye and headed the country road where it didn’t lead to the sea. He was going to stop and look around but realized that the evening in this country was peculiar. The kid heard one of them said they were going: he turned his head to have a quick look at them and noticed that they did not move. G