Thursday, February 20, 2014

An Excerpt from "The Red Cup"

By Francezca C. Kwe

There are cups from which we all drink, such as that from which pours our shared suffering in these dark days, when no one is safe in the government’s crackdown on its enemies, and there are cups such as the one lodged in my pelvis as I wait to see Dr. Sacramento at her clinic. It is nearly six, time for the evening news to console us that all is well, the price of rice has gone down, and so have the margins of poverty, and the army trucks from Camp Aguinaldo are on their way to replenish the checkpoints. I have to call my husband to see if he is all right, if he has gotten home from one of his meetings as the head of the now-outlawed Association Against Forced Disappearances, meetings which now—since the state has clamped down on protest and dissent, visible or invisible—can only be held in the storerooms of small bookstores, and in internet cafes, which have at least been allowed to keep their opaque glass storefronts.

I can no longer count the number of moments I had decided to stand up and leave, but as happens in the cruel game of waiting rooms, the more you stay, the harder it is to go, and the closer it gets to nightfall, the more I dislike the idea of being out on the heavily patrolled streets, and the more sensible it seems to stay where I am, stay waiting for the doctor, until the revolution mercifully comes. And, though the order in Dr. Sacramento’s roll call is as arcane as in any doctor’s clinic—none of us knows who is next or last—the closer I get to crossing the border guarded by her ferocious secretary, the more keenly I feel what has been bothering me all day: that wayward cup that has disappeared into the recesses of my vaginal canal. It has been a very long day, and I have fished around my insides as much as I can stand, and my panic has now crumbled into misery.

At this hour, the hallway is still crammed with people shivering in the Arctic drafts of the central air-conditioning; since Dr. Sacramento shares her office with a pulmonologist, the music of our dreary wait is a bronchial volley. One elderly man who got here ahead of me keeps coughing into a huge plastic bucket so forcefully, his organs are bound to slide out any moment, and a sick child is barking close by like a Chihuahua. The rest, perhaps gyne patients like me, are wearing those anxious frowns customary in hospital waiting rooms, but which are nowadays common fashion, on the streets that the army and police have sectioned off, and in the workplaces—banks, offices, stores—from where quite a few have been hauled away by uniformed, or worse, plain-clothes state agents. It is really quite nerve-wracking to have to be in the hospital at a time like this, instead of being home—locked, gated, curtains drawn. But then, home has also ceased to be a safe place. I look down the hall that has slowly been shortening as lights go out along it.

As more and more doctors close their clinics, the darkness moves closer to where we sit, and we all flinch with every snap of a light switch, as if a lash has come down on our backs. I feel a little guilty that I am not, strictly, in the same category of pain or discomfort as my comrades here—for we are all comrades in our ills—but at the same time, I feel certain that my need is as urgent. I close my eyes and try to sense the minute rippling of my uterine muscles, as if I can pinpoint the cup’s location by listening to my body’s subterranean sonar sweeping over its seabed. It’s the only thing I can do at the moment, for comfort; I’ve tired myself out with continual visits to the bathroom to hunt around in my vagina, squatting on the grimy, tiled floor, wincing up at ants crossing the ceiling. The attempts have so far ended in frustration; I return to my seat dejectedly, offering a meek smile to my comrades, who seem to recognize me less and less the longer my bathroom excursions take. •

> Francezca C. Kwe has published short fiction in a number of anthologies, magazines, and journals and has received the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award and the Nick Joaquin Literary Prize for her work. She teaches full-time at the University of the Philippines–Diliman, and works as a copy editor on the side. She collects dogs, cats, and sunglasses. 

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