Sunday, February 16, 2014

An Excerpt from "Basta"

By Glenn Diaz

“KASI YOU JUST don’t leave your stuff somewhere and expect it to be there,” I tell Scott, in a rickety bus from Pagudpud to Laoag. “This is a tourist place. Someone will take advantage of you. Now we’re going to the ano, the police station. Basta.”

Once he had called my attention regarding this “intervention of the native tongue,” a common stumbling block, he said, in the learning of a second language. Even so, when I talk to him, “kasi” and “ano” and “basta” still litter my sentences, like pesky rocks in an otherwise powdery shore. In the years that we have known each other, he has probably devised a system to deal with these pockets of unintelligible words, these “interventions” that working at a call center had been unable to remove. Now they’d become as predictable as our fights, the little harmless repartees that we enjoy, no matter how secretly.

“Bes-ta,” he repeats, mimicking my low fidgety drawl. Plastered on his sunburnt face is a mischievous grin, signaling in me something both sinister and sweet.

“What a way to say thank you,” I turn in my window seat. “Asshole.”

“Oh, Alvin,” he says, in that patient tone he takes when I’m supposedly being childish. “The logic of what we’re doing—going to the provincial capital, venturing a field from “the scene of the crime”—escapes him, he explains, as strongly as the wind inside the bus is ruffling all things light enough to fly, foremost his bedraggled strawberry blond hair. It’s so noisy, too—listen—the vehicle abuzz with talks of Me-ni Pe-ki-yaw, who apparently has a heavily anticipated 12-rounder with some Mexican later this Sunday morning (Saturday night in Vegas). “All I’m saying is, a resort town with no police detachment is a bit weird.”

“Well feel free to leave,” I tell him. “What’s stopping you? I’ll help you pack.”

“Jesus Christ, Alvin. There is no bag to pack. It was stolen, remember?”

I sigh. “I’m sorry.”

He sighs. “I’m sorry, too.”

Behind me, I detect a minor ruckus when Scott leans over to give me a peck on the lips. We are seated behind the driver, who himself takes a brief but similarly judgmental look via his rear view mirror. Always happy for the attention, Scott puts his arm around my shoulders, never mind that it is a bumpy ride and around 35 degrees. The position is awkward and will leave his arm, in a matter of minutes, besieged by the pricks of a thousand invisible needles.

“Thank you, Alvin.”

His lips so close, I feel his words vibrate in my ear. “Just doing my job, sir,” I almost say, in instinct. I exhale and tell him, “It’s nothing,” and the bus accelerates noisily, its engine clearly overworked, in the throes of death. •

> Glenn Diaz is currently finishing his MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, from where he also obtained his degree in secondary education. His works have appeared in several literary publications, including Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Likhaan. He is the 2013 recipient of the M Literary Residency at Sangam House, outside Bangalore in India, where he will work on his first book.

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