“Desire” in MANILA NOIR (Akashic Books)

The story hardly made a ripple. But it’s more important to self that it be read. So, she’s going to post it on this blog, in sections. Here’s section 1. The setting is Ermita, which is an older neighborhood of Manila.

She wrote this story in one go, to meet a deadline. She’s expert at writing things in one go. That is why flash is her little playground. This story is a bit longer than her usual.

The Assignment: to write something noir. Her stories are noir but she never had to decide they would be noir before writing. So, this story was an experiment (as the publishing here, in sections, is an experiment)

DESIRE

by Marianne Villanueva

Which parts of a bird are edible?

Epifanio did not know.

He would guess. Yes, he could do that. Not the internal organs. Not the beak. Not the feathers.

He wrote, laboriously: eyes, tail, breast.

Afterward, when they were gathered in the small lobby, they were offered warm Coke in thick glasses, no ice.

Why would anyone ask them a question about birds? They were there to study to be seamen: most of them were from Negros, like Epifanio. The rest were from Marinduque, Zambales, Cagayan de Oro, Davao. After two years on one of the inter-island ferries, and provided they received good evaluations, they might get the chance to work on one of the cruise ships that went to Hong Kong and Singapore. Epifanio clung to this hope.

He liked the young woman who had been waiting to greet them the day they arrived in Manila, but there was no sign of her the next day, or the next. By the third day, he began to notice a fat man who sat in a little room on the first floor. The room had desks and filing cabinets, like a regular office. Epifanio learned later that the man’s name was Leandro.

Epifanio pretended that the young woman had kindly shared with him a tube of toothpaste and he wanted to repay her. “Is she coming back?” he asked.

The man smirked. “She’s sick. Morning sickness. What’s your name again?” Epifanio gave his name. The man gazed down at a sheet divided into two columns.

“From Bacolod,” he said, and smirked again.

“Silay,” Epifanio said. And he thought: I have been to college. I have had two years in San Agustin. And you — ! He lowered his gaze and shrugged and gave a self-deprecating smile.

When Epifanio later replayed the conversation in his head, he hated the way Leandro seemed to know instinctively what Epifanio was after. And Leandro’s smirk would return again and again to his memory.

The rules of being a seaman: The shared toilets must be cleaned and ready for inspection at five a.m. When a passenger requests assistance, the seaman must smile and show his willingness to be of service. Even the most unreasonable guest will appreciate a smile.

Manila, this teeming city, pressed on him: dense, impenetrable. The sounds were many and various and ill-tempered. They abated only a little, towards dawn. His eyes were heavy from his dreams. Sheryn, I love you, he would dream himself saying aloud. In the dream she always laughed, as if she could hear him speaking, even across so many islands. I love you, I love you, I love you, he would say, his fists clutching the sides of the thin mattress.

 

On the sixth day, there was no one in the little office. Papers were scattered on the floor. The filing cabinet drawers hung open. The desk had been overturned. A policeman stood by a window, speaking into a cell phone.

Epifanio stared.

(To be continued)

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