Desire (Cont.): from MANILA NOIR

He thought he heard the policeman say, Ngunit — but — and then, “mga estudyante.” Epifanio did not want to listen anymore and turned away.

He found a few of the men gathered by the front door, whispering urgently to one another. Epifanio forced himself to approach.

As he took a step forward, and then another, he felt a slickness on his shoes. He looked down, and dully noted that something dark seemed to have smeared the soles of the sneakers that were practically brand new, bought from Gaisano Mall the day before he left Bacolod. He didn’t understand. His thoughts were slow. Perhaps that was Sheryn’s laugh he had heard, ringing in his head when he reached the urgently whispering men.

“Epifanio?” said Benedicto, the big man from Murcia. “Did anyone tell you what happened?”

Sheryn’s laugh was almost ear-splitting. The day was just beginning, but already he detested and feared it.

“Gonzago here thinks he heard something,” said another man, the one Epifanio knew only as Baby. Epifanio had heard some of the men gossipping about Baby. It was strange: he had angered his in-laws by slapping his wife, and they had made it impossible for him to remain in his own home, constantly abusing Baby in front of his own children.

Gonzago was old, almost forty. Everyone knew he roamed the halls in his sleep.

“If I did hear something,” Gonzago said, “it wouldn’t have helped. I might have heard this man’s soul leaving his body, yes. It sounded like water slipping down a riverbank.” Gonzago gestured, his right arm driving cleanly through the air.

Only then did Gonzago realize that the floor of the lobby was covered with the same dark substance that stained the soles of his sneakers. It was everywhere. There was even some of it smeared across one of the lobby’s light blue walls.

(To be cont.)

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