I knew after finally leaving the ship and the naval station and crossing the bridge into Olongapo, where the big bars were ablaze with lights and the music of sex and jeepney exhaust and sinuous neon, and the pent up energy of sailors and trolling women—I knew that catching a ride that late to Subic City would be challenging, with the flood of money feeding the fire like gasoline. The side road off Magsaysay where Subic City jeepneys parked during the day—there were two jeepneys there now, but both were Olongapo locals. The only other way to reach Subic City that night was by trike, a motorcycle with a sidecar. The consensus among sailors was that trikes were unsafe and the drivers dishonest, or ran drugs for gangs. Only hire a trike, it was said, if you were staying in Olongapo among crowds, or if you were too drunk to care about being robbed or knifed or found floating face-down in the river. The most persuasive reasons against hiring a trike, however, involved girlfriends. A faithful girlfriend would never let her sailor ride a trike alone; and if she were riding with her sailor, she would fiercely beat down the price with the driver, until the cost of the ride was a fraction of what the sailor would have paid by himself.
The first time Trina had taken me home with her was after I’d missed the last jeepney out of Subic City, and she refused to allow me to take a trike back to Olongapo, or even hire one for me. I could hear her scolding me for hiring a trike that first night back—such a sweet scolding. How better to demonstrate my devotion to Trina, after spending 106 days at sea, than by braving the menace of a night-trike ride to Subic City. I loved her then, and in knowing this I was determined that nothing would stop me from seeing Trina that night.
There were almost as many trikes as jeepneys puttering along in the snake-crawl of traffic on Magsaysay Road. The sidecars of most of the trikes were empty, which led to my larger perception of how infrequently I’d seen sidecars occupied by single riders, day or night, and then more often by couples or pairs comically squeezed in or piled on top of each other. The drivers were mostly male and young, smoking cigarettes tightly clenched between or dangling from their lips, positioned to project maximum swagger and toughness. Their hair was usually long and stylishly feathered. I caught the eyes of two drivers in the road and quickly looked away, but one of them cut off a jeepney and nosed through to me on the sidewalk. “Joe,” the driver said, “I got your ride.”
I asked him how much to Subic City and he said, “Fuck!” and laughed. “I ain’t going to Subic this late.” I walked away and he started calling after me: “Joe. A hundred p to Subic, man. Come on, let’s go.” I kept walking. “Motherfucking Joe! G.I. Joe!”
On the day the Constellation left the last time, Trina and I had ridden together in a jeepney down to Olongapo with other sailors and their girlfriends. We held hands and after we arrived and were about to part before the bridge, she threw her arms around me in a wrenching display of emotion that was for Trina extravagant. I was fond of her cool and steady disposition, after working so hard to warm her trust. She was actually a few months younger than me, having just turned 19, but supporting her older sister and her baby had, as the saying goes, matured her beyond her years. Trina worked as a bookkeeper for a bar called The Rooster, and she lived with Delia and her niece in two rooms in a row of tiny wooden apartments with a primitive shared kitchen and separate community shower and outhouse behind the building. Although I was not naïve about the living conditions for so many in that part of Luzon, I was initially appalled that Trina and her family should have to survive in such meager circumstances. Yet compared to my own existence on board ship in an 80-man berthing compartment, with a tiny locker and shared head, I don’t think I ever felt greater freedom or happiness than in spending time with Trina walking among the chickens and the dogs and the not unfriendly community that lived in what most anyone back in the states would consider a squalid hamlet.
Out on Magsaysay, I was further than ever from hiring a trike to take me to Subic City when I found myself in the middle of an argument. One of the sidewalk bar hustlers was in a dispute with a young woman who was sitting on her trike and parked at the curb in front of the hustler’s bar, called Rodeo. Hustlers were like barkers hired by bars to pull in sailors, and they protected their patch of sidewalk like it was their mother’s grave. Since Rodeo’s hustler was speaking Tagalog—he was a paunchy guy with a permanent sneer and wearing a tan, cop-looking uniform—I could only guess from his tone and stance that he was angry at the trike driver for parking in front of his place, like he was expecting a limousine full of celebrities. The young woman had responded to him with her own capable sneer and sporadic shouts between plucking noodles with chopsticks from a compact take-out box, until he said something that prompted from her a glare that was followed by a shout, and then she hurled the take-out box that caught his chest full-on, leaving his pretty faux-cop uniform noodle-spattered. In addition to his face and neck bulging volcanically at this outrage, the hustler’s big slick of hair seemed to lift like a plume of smoke from the back of his head. I was dreading that he was about to retaliate against the woman, and a small crowd of sailors and locals seemed to have stopped to watch with the same expectation, except with perverse amusement—when the hustler’s expression slackened into uncertainty, and then at what seemed indignation at his own impotence. I had caught from the driver the end of a rapid yet complex gesturing of her fingers that had perhaps intimidated the hustler. She was giggling softly and glancing at the crowd as it drifted away—our eyes met and immediately she knew: “Need a ride, Joe?”
“Subic City?” I have a soft spot for formidable women, probably because of my mother. “Got a girl up there?” She was cute and scornful, dainty and fine-featured, wearing eye-shadow, a Bruce Lee t-shirt, and Trina’s cuffed jean shorts. Still sitting on her saddle, she lit a very long cigarette and crossed her skinny legs at the ankles. “Hundred p to Subic.”
“Fifty,” I said.
She inhaled deeply, her cigarette blazing orange with contempt, and cranked her trike as if about to swing into the road.
“Hundred p,” I said.
She flicked her head at the sidecar and I walked around and climbed in. “Her name’s Trina,” I said, like they knew each other.
The trike blasted out of Olongapo and we had risen on the rain-eroded hill road, on our way to Subic City ten miles north, when the bay appeared down to our left, the reflection of stars glinting across the still surface of the deep water. Otherwise it was dark, the shy sliver of the moon further obscured by a high haze. The lawn mower whine of the trike’s engine was deafening, not only preventing conversation, but unsettling the night that surrounded us. We veered right into the trees—jungle. I thought of Trina waiting for me at The Rooster to lift myself from the tide of uneasiness creeping up my chest and into the back of my throat. The sidecar was tight and low, pinching my upper arms and shuddering explosively after every divot and pot hole, until I felt like a child being dragged in a milk crate behind a truck driven by an abusive parent. In the beamed tunnel of the trike’s headlight a monkey with coat-hanger arms skittered across the road, and above our heads in an opening in the trees I sensed a voluminous flapping and scattering of wings. My tailbone was sore and my ass worn through from bouncing when the driver speeded up and lit a cigarette and after taking two drags, tipped the embers over me in the sidecar. I yelled at her and squirmed to free my arms—they were numb below the elbows. The driver slung us out of the trees and we puttered down an embankment, behind the lights and thrum of the city, and after landing on pavement she stopped in an alleyway between two buildings. This was not Subic City. She slipped from her hip pocket and theatrically clicked open a switchblade. With my arms numb, the sidecar clutched me like a fist. A knife-tip scratched the back of my neck before nicking a slit there. “Give us your money.” A man’s voice behind me had said this, leaning over the knife.
“I can’t move my arms,” I said. “I can’t reach my wallet.”
The driver slipped off her saddle and stood over me and played the knife over her breasts and crotch before raising the blade at me like an erection. She then set the blade tight under my jaw and forced me to stand in the sidecar. Still dead-armed, I leaned away from her blade until two more knife points steadied me by pressing against my kidneys. The knives held me in place while my wallet was yanked out of my back pocket, and then a hard shove toppled me in a sprawl over the pavement. I wasn’t knocked out but without my arms to break my fall I was lucky not have landed on my head. In a stupor after the fall, I watched the driver use her knife to lift the left leg of my jeans, tickling my shin and convulsing me with a primal terror that she might be about to cut off my gonads. Instead she pulled down my sock and the 200 pesos I’d stashed there fell out. She repeated this action on my right leg—another 50p gone. Then she gestured at me with her fingers, a signal similar to the one she’d flashed at the hustler outside Rodeo.
After hopping on the trike, the driver gunned the lawnmower engine and zipped away, down the alley to the street. I sat up and found myself—alone. My growing fury at being robbed and the return of feeling to my arms sent me plunging out of the alley and into the street. I was back in Olongapo, farther down Magsaysay and away from the base and the big bars, with mostly locals walking around. The people walking around—they were my enemy, they hated sailors as much as the thieves who’d rolled me, and were probably hiding them. It was as ugly as I’d ever felt toward anyone. I lumbered two blocks in a savage mood, daring pedestrians to bump me, and when a few did I glared at them, and those who looked at me wore puzzled or indignant expressions, as if I were just another drunken sailor polluting their city. I hated myself then for having a conscience, for knowing I was acting like an idiot, when I was the one who’d just been robbed. Across Rizal Square, in the exhaust-clouded bustle of people and traffic, I spotted a cop in his royal blue uniform standing under the tense shade of his short-billed peaked cap. A weapon slung over his shoulder looked like a portable machine gun, and a child no older than 6 or 7 years old was crouched over the cop’s boots, shining them. After weaving through traffic and being buffeted by horn honks, I paused several feet from the cop—paused at that kind of weapon out in the open, like a barely leashed attack animal, and much more lethal. Shyly I walked up to him. “I just got robbed.”
The cop hawked and spit in the street and wiped a trickle from the corner of his mouth. “Where’d you get robbed?” I told him an alley and pointed up the road and was still pointing when he said, “Stay out of alleys, sailor. This your first time in Olongapo?” I explained that I was taken there by a trike, and that I’d been trying get up to Subic City—“Goddamn,” he said, “you hiring a trike to go up to Subic this late?” I spent ten minutes reliving how I’d been set up and had a knife at my throat, and lost 400, no, 500p, and that the driver was a woman—the cop smiled at this, and then I knew there was no way I’d ever be able to convince him I was a victim, but just another stupid sailor who’d let himself be taken advantage of, and by a woman, no less. The shoeshine kid finished up with his boots and the cop absently flipped him a coin and the kid stood there pouting with his eyes sliding tensely over the gun when the cop unhooked a radio from his belt and started speaking into it in Tagalog. “Wait,” he said to me, and then gave the kid a mean-dad scowl. I had some coins left in my pocket and I handed them to the kid and he took off. I’d given him the coins to piss off the cop and I could tell that he understood this by the way he ignored me after he got off the radio and then shifted the weapon to his shoulder closest to me.
I was eventually picked up and driven in a black police jeep farther down Magsaysay to a two story concrete building with chain links covering the windows. The civilian driver was a very skinny guy with veiny forearms and a huge, angular head that could have been carved out of a block of teak. Between having a smoke with the cop in Rizal Square and then transporting me at a hair-raising speed to the police building—the jeep had no siren—the driver had said to me only, “We got to take your story.” I followed him through the reinforced front door, the opening of which had required someone inside taking their time answering a buzzer, and after walking down a tiled hallway between ranks of framed and historic ochre photographs on the walls, we stepped into a spacious office with a large desk and a smaller desk with a computer and next to it an old Olivetti typewriter. The Olivetti fascinated me, since the only typewriters I’d seen were at the property disposal yard back at North Island. Their cases had been removed which gave them a decomposed look, exposing the skeletal fingers of the keyboards. The driver sat down behind the typewriter while I continued standing and rollered in three sheets of paper separated by two sheets of carbon paper. He started typing, rapid fire, with the sheets wagging between the rollers. As fast as he could type, I understood why he wouldn’t want to switch to using a computer. He stopped typing half-way down the page and sat still for a minute or two, a clerk at prayer, and then prompted me by saying, “What happened?”
I told the story again in all its humiliating details, details I concentrated on to keep the clerk typing, since he could type faster than I could talk on that old machine, and I thought if he kept pausing to let me catch up, he might grow impatient and finish the interview before I was done. Then, still telling my sad story, my eyes shifted onto the big desk, a massive yet elegant and brass-trimmed, dark-wood behemoth that reminded me of a royal heirloom. Sitting on the front edge of the desk was an enormous, foot-high nameplate even more impressive than the desk itself: another hunk of wood out of which had been sculpted flowing figures of oxen and women carrying baskets and men carrying machetes, and jungles, and in the middle of it all, in painted-white gothic script, was a name: Polycarpio Y. Magellan. Next to the nameplate was a pipe stand, from Peterson’s in Dublin, for a “Sherlock Holmes Collection” of seven briarwood pipes for seven days of the week, with one slot empty for that day.
I had begun to catch the sweet, dense smell of pipe smoke for several minutes before Magellan walked in, puffing on Tuesday’s curled briar. He immediately came to me on a sliding, front-footed step and clasped my hand. “Here’s my sailor. I’m Magellan. Are you giving Oggie the full story, buddy? Powers, isn’t it? You done with our guest, Oggie?” He continued in Tagalog, peering over the clerk’s shoulder. Oggie started typing again. “Come over here, buddy, and let’s talk. How much money you lose? 500 pesos? We’ll get that back for you. Come on and sit.” He pulled over a wooden chair for me, and then rolled around his own high-backed chair with a seat cushion and sat down, watching me closely and without speaking while continuing to puff his pipe. Magellan was wearing a yellow linen shirt embroidered with flowers, and a pair of blue linen pants. His face was deeply tanned and his forehead lined, and his thinning hair was wavy and combed straight back. He continued to puff on his pipe while his expression shifted more than once between something like a jovial uncle to a more avid and professional appraisal. Oggie had stopped typing and I was beginning to feel the inevitable pressure of the silence, scented, then swarmed by Magellan’s pipe smoke. He did not speak but kept watching me, until I glanced at his desk. “I like your name plate,” I said. “Some sailors have them on ship. That’s the biggest I’ve seen.” I noticed that the woman carrying the basket was topless and had bountiful breasts.
“I don’t think you got what it takes, son.” Magellan rested his pipe on his thigh. “You know what I’m talking about?”
“What don’t I have that you think I need?”
“You think it’s only a few crooks rolling you in an alley, but if it happens to one sailor, it happens to ten Filipinos right here in Olongapo—ten times it happens with the same gang.” Magellan tapped his pipe stem against his chest. “It ain’t a sailor problem, it ain’t the United States Navy’s problem. It’s my problem, son. If local people get hit, robbed, beaten, they don’t talk because they’re afraid. Snitches are bitches, you know, and you know what happens if they talk, not like you, son, you got that big bird farm, that aircraft carrier in the bay you can hide in. We’ll get your money back, son—and we will—and you can sail on home. But the people here, the citizens of Olongapo, they got nowhere to hide.”
“Was it a gang that rolled me? Is that what you’re saying?”
“You lost 500p, but people here get robbed, 80 pesos, they can’t pay their rent.”
I said, “If they’re robbing other people, local people, I don’t want anyone to get robbed. I want you to find them, I’ll identify them. I’m not afraid, if that’s what you’re saying. It’s not just about—I do want my money back, but what they did was a crime. In the states they wouldn’t get away with this shit.”
“You don’t think we want justice?”
“I want to see justice everywhere.”
Magellan slipped his pipe stem between his lips. “Maybe you got what it takes.”
I sat around after this, with Magellan leaving and returning to the office twice before Oggie pulled my statement out of the typewriter and carefully separated the original from the carbon copies and gave it to Magellan. He looked over both pages and set them on the corner of his desk for me to read and sign, and then left the office with Oggie. The statement was two single-spaced pages, without one correction or typeover, and was such an exact narrative of my account that it reopened the wound and sent the blood of my anger surging once more, until I was alarmed at reading Trina’s name and The Rooster, as if I’d implicated her in the robbery. I desperately wanted her name removed but was fearful that if I insisted it might make Magellan suspicious. When he returned and saw that I’d not yet signed the statement, he said, “What’s the problem?”
I signed the statement.
I left the station with him and he drove us in another black jeep up Magsaysay, to Rizal. On the way he smoked a cigarette that he’d hand-rolled from a packet of Drum. It was after midnight and the formerly busy street was mostly empty. After he asked me what I did on ship and I told him I was a yeoman, Magellan said, “Oh, paper pusher, like Oggie. Oggie’d make a helluva fine yeoman.” He tipped the ash carefully from his cigarette, like it was a joint. “Big business when we got a carrier in port, sailors coming off ship treating our city like whoretown, right? You married in the states, son? Got a sweetie?” I said no and he said, “If the women too good for you there, in the states, you think you can buy sluts to fuck here.” He held up his hand. “Not saying you, son. You’re a good boy. Found you a nice girl up in Subic. Trina, right? Nice girl. No bar slut for you, right, Powers?”
“She’s a bookkeeper,” I said.
“Nice girl working in a bar in Subic City. Trina—she’s a smart girl, got her a nice, clean sailor. You want to marry her, son? Here comes the bride! Ho!” I pretended to ignore him. “Don’t forget,” Magellan said, “these robbers, the gang, they stopped you from seeing Trina. What’s she doing right now, without her sailor? She still keeping the books?
In Rizal Square dozens of empty trikes had been pushed together. Magellan parked and was immediately approached and saluted by four uniformed cops who called him Chief, and he then stood surveying the trikes like he was about to send them all to the junkyard. One of the cops was addressing him in Tagalog and Magellan stopped him with a little wave. I was looking over the crush of trikes, expecting at least one of them to jump out at me, but except for different paint jobs, none of which were familiar, most of the sidecars were too similar for me to tell apart. Magellan said, “You having a problem, Powers?”
“I can’t find the one I was in. They’re too alike.”
“Who told you to find only one? Most of these trikes got some dealing with bad stuff. You pick ten, your driver’s probably in there. The other nine we need to check out anyway.”
“How can I say it’s the trike if I can’t be sure?”
“If you don’t know for sure, you pick ten, like I said, to give us chance. If you don’t pick, we’ll pick ten, the ones we think might be involved. If you don’t pick the trikes, you’ll make us pull in innocent drivers.”
“It doesn’t matter if I do or not. You’re going to pull in ten drivers, no matter what.”
“Buddy.” Magellan was rolling another cigarette. “Maybe what you’re saying is it didn’t happen at all. Maybe your girlfriend, Trina, she took your money and you want to cover for her by saying it was a trike robbery. Maybe we should bring her in.”
“Everything happened—I’m not lying. Trina’s not involved.”
Magellan licked the paper, sealing it, and lit the cigarette between his lips. Then he gestured at a cop who came over and seemed to stand waiting for me. Magellan said, “He’ll drive you back to the main gate. We’ll bring your girlfriend in—Trina—and if she says anything, we’ll let you know. Son.”
“She’s got nothing to do with this!”
To stop him from forcing me to leave—Trina?—I tapped the sidecar of a trike and then started walking, having turned my back to Magellan to prevent him from seeing my expression, and began randomly gesturing at other trikes, and finally holding my eyes from the last three while choosing them to avoid imagining their drivers being dragged out of their beds.
Having been returned to the police building, I sat in Magellan’s office with Oggie. He wasn’t typing but smoking in his chair, staring into his smoke with profound focus or vacancy and his left leg crossed paralytically over his right knee. He never even glanced at me, and the longer he was able to gaze ahead the more intently I found myself staring at his carved face, as if the cops had forgotten me, and I started to wonder if Magellan had mentioned bringing Trina in as a bluff—
The door opened and a uniformed cop, grinning, bounced his eyes at me. I followed him out and near the end of the hallway he opened a door that let out a potent gasp of cigar smoke, and through the door we trudged down a narrow concrete stairwell to a smoke-fogged room dimly lit by two weak, glaring bulbs fixed to the walls. I stood at the bottom of the steps and on my left three cops were standing around Magellan, who was sitting in a wing chair. All of them were puffing on cigars, the tips flaring in the stifling gloom. I coughed and Magellan said, “We brought these drivers in for you, son. You ID’d their bikes.” A light was switched on that blazed through the drifts of smoke and flooded a line-up of men standing or squatting against a wall. One of the cops shouted an order in Tagalog and the guys squatting slowly stood. Except for one old man they were younger, well under 30, and all of them were wearing only skivvies. They were barefoot and their expressions were sleepy or wary or sullen. The old man stared into the floodlight with blind defiance. It was as if the cops had dragged them all out of bed, just as I’d imagined up in the square.
Magellan rose from his chair and tipped ash onto the floor behind the eye of the portable floodlight. “Buddy,” he said, “I never even asked if you wanted a cigar.” I didn’t like being called buddy, but I liked it better than being called son. Still without offering me a cigar, which I didn’t want, Magellan waved me forward into the light. “C’mon. Let’s get a look at these—hardened criminals.” The line-up tensed or grew furtive as we stood before them, with two barely-teenagers trying to stand at attention. The old guy—his unblinking eyes might as well have been hammered into rock. We walked the line, Magellan puffing out smoke, here and there a driver darting me a venomous glance. “If it’s a baby bad guy,” he said —we were passing the teenagers—“we get ‘em young, maybe they’ll stop robbing sailors. Sailors are very important to Olongapo business. If sailors keep getting robbed, you get restricted to the base, bad for business. Bad for sailors. No more girlfriends, and then we get stuck with the girlfriends. They ain’t no good except to the sailors. U.S. Navy pulls in here, takes these women for whores—we got no use for them once they been with sailors. The way sailors treat women—goddamn!” Magellan had not once looked at me while saying all this; he gazed at each face, smoking, tipping ash. “The least you can do for us, son, is help us get the criminals who are criminals because the Navy’s in town.”
“There’s crime everywhere,” I said. “Everywhere there’s people.”
Magellan held up his cigar. “But these guys rob sailors. They got records. No sailors, no trike robberies. If then, these dudes might be—dentists!” He laughed at his joke, and the cops by the flood light laughed. “Since you’re a sailor got robbed and you ID’d these guys, you got to pick one. It’s one of these.” He stood staring at me with a hard-rubber face.
I said, “It’s none of them. The driver who robbed me—she was a woman.”
He squinted at me. “You put that on your statement?”
Had I? I couldn’t remember. The cop in the square had laughed when I told him about her.
“You been lying to us,” Magellan said. “You should’ve said it was your girlfriend. What happens if you lie back in Dago—San Diego. False official statement. That statement Oggie typed—you swore it was truth.” He removed the cigar and scratched his chin with his thumb. “Maybe the victim here—maybe you’re the criminal, son.”
“The trikes—they looked like they could have been the one.”
Magellan shouldered past me to the end of the line and the old driver. He was still staring without expression at the floodlight that was exposing every wrinkle and swollen pore and freckle on his tough face. He did swallow at Magellan’s arrival, and his skin began to glisten with sweat. “This old buzzard,” Magellan said. “I’m giving you a break, son. This old sonofabitch runs the biggest gang of trike robbers in my city. He’s the sonofabitch robbed a hundred—a thousand sailors! And now you got him, son. You say he’s the guy, and he is the guy, ‘cause your robber works for him. Come here and get a closer look.” I walked over and Magellan spoke to him in Tagalog, adding a chuckle, and the driver’s face lifted at me and his tongue rolled like a tiny, wet cannon and fired a glob of spit that hit me between the eyes. I’d just wiped off the snot-glob with the back of my hand and was blinking droplets from my eyes when, with a swift and soundless exertion, Magellan raised his left hand and chopped it down across the old man’s neck. He crumpled to the concrete from the blow, seizing breaths and clutching at his throat. Magellan removed the cigar from his mouth. “Now you know this is the guy, the big boss. Now you see how much he hates sailors. You want to save other sailors from what happened to you. Time for him to be prosecuted!”
“You said something to him before—”
He snorted and surged into my face. “He’s the guy runs the gang. All those trikes you said in Rizal, those are his trikes, his robbers, and if you say it ain’t him, you’re lying to me! You wouldn’t lie to cops in Dago but you’re lying to me and just like those cops I’ll put your ass in jail for lying!”
“He’s not the driver who robbed me. He’s not the guy. He’s not the guy!”
Magellan’s face receded and he was standing over the old man, who was sitting up and taking gentle fish breaths and holding his neck and staring blankly at Magellan’s knees in a way that might confirm his actual blindness, when Magellan whirled and with another swift and noiseless exertion drove a punch into my gut.
The cigar smoke—when I could finally breathe, curled on the warm concrete floor, it was like trying to find air with my face held next to an exhaust pipe. Through the agonizing process of learning how to breathe again, after Magellan’s punch, I heard shouting and then running and some ominous thumps, and perhaps a man crying. This was the lineup of men being removed. I felt the residue of the old man’s spittle drying between my eyes. Still curled up, partly faking it because I didn’t know what was coming next, two sets of hands reached down and dragged me by my arms across the floor. I sat up slowly, next to a pair of gray-green snakeskin boots. Magellan sat over me in his wing chair considering a fresh, unlit cigar and flanked by two cops. He said mildly, “We brought your girlfriend in, son. You know, from Subic City. What’s her name?”
“She can encourage you to do your duty. Stop your lying. You sailors have turned my city into a crime nest, and sailors got to help me clean it up.”
The flood light was still turned on, sending forth a bath of white-ish-yellow illumination that was both smoky and liquid. Behind the flood light itself it was dark, but I could sense and then see there a pair of deep shadows that began to move and then to be materialized by the light.
It was not Trina but a young woman of much more recent memory who seemed to have perversely replaced Trina there—the trike driver, still wearing her Bruce Lee t-shirt and Trina’s jean shorts, the young woman I’d wanted to see arrested and the one whom Magellan had turned over half his city looking for, and chopped down an old man in a jailhouse bunker who’d spit in my face.
“Here’s Trina, son,” Magellan said, taking in my confusion with an expression of calculating casualness. “I thought you said she was a bar slut. But she does other kind of work, it looks like.” He turned his head at her, a few feet away. “This your sailor boy, Trina?”
I said, “She’s not Trina.”
“Not? Come on.” Magellan rocked out of his chair and stood next to the driver. “If she’s not your bar slut, son, who is she?” He moved behind her with the cigar in his mouth and placed his hands on her arms. The woman had fixed her eyes ahead of her with an abrasive stare, the woman who had pressed her knife against my neck and robbed me. Magellan was watching me over the driver’s shoulder. He knew what I was thinking and what would happen, and then he started to do it anyway, his fingers trickling down the woman’s arms and then slipping between her arms and down her hips, hitching both thumbs in the belt loops of her shorts … I launched off the floor at them when the cops caught me and one of them clubbed me across the face. They dragged me back while I pawed tears and blood from around my nose and mouth. A cop stepped on my other hand and held me in place while I watched Magellan thrust his hands deep into the pockets of the woman’s shorts. She shut her eyes and clenched her fists in front of her and Magellan tore his hands out of the woman’s pockets clutching two fistfuls of peso notes. He hurled the money at me with a bark of laughter and forced the driver to kneel before me and then squatted down and grabbed her face. “If this isn’t your bar slut, son,” he said. “Who is she?”
In the bloody porch of my mouth I felt on my tongue something hard and sharp. I nudged it up to the front of my mouth, about to spit it out, and felt the gap where the tooth had been.
Magellan further contorted the women’s face with his grip. “Who is she?”
“Get off my fucking hand!”
“Who is she, son? Who?”
I rolled my head, tucking the tooth under my tongue, wanting to save it all costs. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before.”
Magellan released the driver’s face and patted her head like a child.
Then, like a man left behind in a desert—the only one left who still believed there was water to be found in that desert—they left me down there. The floodlight was turned off, like an extinguishing of the sun, and then they were all filing up the cement stairs. I lifted my stepped-on hand, perhaps in an impulse to gesture at them, except that the hand was so bruised that I couldn’t close it. The last cop turned off the wall lights and then the faded panel of light at the top of the stairs was sealed off by the closing of the door. In the darkness that followed, I experienced what it must be like to be a ghost and yet still live, to be sightless and disembodied in that black hole, with only pain for my light and rancid cigar smoke for air. I milled around blindly in a persevering shuffle into a wall or object—the floodlight—and then needing to piss but holding on with a childish expectation and resentment that Magellan wouldn’t let me urinate in his bunker, until that was what I did, on his floodlight. The release of peeing left me deflated and I soon found myself sitting on the floor and yelling, cursing Magellan at first, and then random shouts, serious and silly, and finally lapsing into a wordless, animal bellowing and grunting. I lay down on the concrete, as if buried, trying to remember Trina, but could only recall the face of the trike driver.
I was likely only down there for hours but as I passed from expecting to be released, to fury at being ignored, to a pleading desperation, to a cringing solitude—all of these stages I passed through in a slow suffocation of consciousness that began to stretch into infinity like the end of my days.
A door was opened to light, a light that deceived me at first because it was not at the top of the steps but from a back door level with the floor. I stared at the light, uncomprehending, disbelieving, mistrustful—then crawling and scrambling to my feet and hurtling toward the door. On the way I swallowed the knocked-out tooth that had been my only companion in darkness. Outside I stood blinking and teetering in shadowy daylight—in an alleyway. I made my way to the noise and exhaust and traffic of the road. I was walking, trying not to be seen, self-shunning, and then frustrated at still being seen, and dumbly angry at the people out there.
“Joe! Hey, Joe! Want a ride?” This was a trike driver, a male, trailing me in the street. “Give you ride back to base. Come on, 20p.”
Trina—I saw again the face of the woman trike driver. “Subic City.”
“Ah, shee-yit, man, too far.” I started to walk away and he said, “All right, man. Subic City. Hundred p. Let’s go.”
He stopped and after pausing I left the sidewalk and climbed into the sidecar.