Attorney Miguel Cabrera watched silently as the door slowly closed in front of him. The gold-plated doorknob was dull from misuse and hardly reflected any light. He noticed a roughly taped poster at the back of the door. It had a cartoon drawing of a cat holding on a tree branch. It read Hang in There. He felt the dilemma of the cat. It would be so easy to just let go and fall freely. Miguel wanted to walk back through the door and retrace his steps. He hoped that if he did it fast enough then he would turn back the clock. Unfortunately it was too little too late.
In half a second Miguel would have to face his Doctor. He already knew the result. His body had been giving him little messages. Miguel closed his eyes and listened, his body was quiet. Why his body wasn’t quiet those many nights ago where he struggled for air? Where he was all alone in his room, where the only words he could mutter was ‘Help me.’
The door gave out a loud thud. The quick clasp of the metal tongue against its holder sounded like an embrace of long forgotten rivals. Quick and cold.
Miguel turned around walked on a large green carpet. The little fibers bent under his size forty brown leather shoes and this reminded him of a lush park when he was much younger. He remembered breathing joyfully when he ran up a slight slope and fell down under a mango tree. Back then being out of breath did not mean he was going to die. How he wished he was under that mango tree once more.
It took him three steps to reach the dark cherry desk. The nameplate read William Cullen. ‘Good afternoon Doctor.’ He reached out his hand and met the white palm of Doctor William Cullen. Miguel dragged the cloth covered seat by an inch and sat down. He tipped his right foot and bounced his heel.
Doctor Cullen ran his thumb through a stack of manila envelopes and found one with the name Miguel Cabrera. He flipped the lid and removed two identical folders. He moved his nameplate aside and settled it beside framed photographs of his wife and two daughters.
‘Miguel let’s cut to the chase shall we?’ He took one of the folders and slid it across the table. He placed his rolled up fist against his mouth and politely cleared his throat.
Miguel took the smooth folder. The chilling air circulating in the room pricked cool spikes through his fingertips.
‘I have looked at this several times.’ Doctor Cullen adjusted his thick horn-rimmed glasses. His bushy eyebrows squeezed together as what looked like two caterpillars cautiously building their cocoon.
Miguel sensed some anxiety in Doctor Cullen. The smile that exposed tobacco stained teeth was not there. Nor were the cheery dimples that comforted him on his many visits. Instead, Doctor Cullen’s deep blue eyes scanned nervously through the document in his hands.
Miguel tried to comprehend the technical terms and numerical results of his tests. This just confused him and placed his mind in greater discomfort. He leaned back on the firm chair and crossed his legs. He straightened his beige cotton barong and looked around the office. There were frames nailed on the freshly painted walls. Certificates from various medical institutions ‘UST’, ‘Harvard’ and something from a state organization, Miguel was slightly impressed.
‘There is no easy way for me to say this.’
‘William.’ Miguel called out in his most charming voice. William lifted his head. ‘We have been friends for a long time that is why you are my doctor.’ Miguel fixed a half closed button which rested third from the top of his barong. ‘Tell me what did the tests say?’
‘Dilated Cardiomyopathy.’ William closed the folder and leaned forward. ‘You have an enlarged heart.’
Miguel looked at the document resting on his leg and read his rival taunting him page after page. He felt the quick and cold embrace as the hair at the base of his neck stood up all at once.
Miguel stared at his favorite picture in the office. A black and white photograph of William Cullen when he was much younger, rowing with a group of friends. This man has an esteemed profession, a wife and two beautiful daughters. He had travelled the world and lived a wonderful life. He felt his body tremble. Miguel embraced himself and rubbed his arms.
‘Listen Miguel this is a serious disorder.’ Doctor Cullen pulled open a top drawer on his right. ‘But it is manageable.’ He pulled out a prescription pad and grabbed a multicolored pen from his medical coat. He clicked on the black button and wrote on the blank paper. ‘We can medicate and together with some lifestyle changes we can control it.’
‘Control it?’ Miguel mumbled under his breath. This was the only time in his life that he felt totally out of control. Miguel shut the folder and stood up. His knees trembled and he held on the chair arm-rests to balance himself. ‘William I need to get back to work.’ Miguel dropped the folder on the desk. ‘Can you send all of the changes and prescription to my office tomorrow?’
‘No Problem Miguel.’ William stopped writing and rose from his seat. ‘Listen why don’t you come by for lunch this Sunday? Cora is making a feast.’ He clicked on the pen and slipped it back in his front pocket. ‘She is pregnant with our third child.’
‘Congratulations!’ Miguel felt the lump on his throat as he released a slight croak.
‘So I will see you then?’ William asked.
‘I will be there. Can I bring my sister along?’
‘Yes of course. If there is anything else that you need just call me.’
Miguel smiled. He spun around and walked the three steps towards the door. He patted the head of a skeleton by the doorway. ‘Goodbye Michael.’
The door swung open. A young girl wearing pink nurse uniform stood up and held her round stomach with both hands.
Miguel walked carefully. ‘Congratulations Cora!’
Cora smiled. She took the file handed by William and placed it on her desk. The office furniture was cluttered with various books on baby names and magazines half-opened on pages of cribs. ‘Oh why thank you Miguel.’
‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ Miguel asked.
‘We don’t know yet, but William is hoping for a boy.’
‘About time we got a boy.’ William spoke loudly from the archway.
‘Too many girls for you honey?’ Cora giggled.
William patted his big round belly. ‘I’m more than enough man for all the girls in the world.’
Cora held her waist and replied.’Mmm-hmm.’
Miguel kissed Cora on the cheek. ‘Sorry I am getting late for work.’ He tapped his watch and walked around the reception desk. Past old leather sofas, a scratched weighing scale and an ancient dark green filing cabinet. He waved at the couple and they disappeared out of sight.
Miguel stepped out into a long dull corridor with gray walls and matching gray tiles. Rows of seats were screwed on and seated families waited for their turn to see their doctors. Miguel watched as a young boy wearing a striped shirt and knee-length shorts pushed his grandmother around in her wheelchair. Outside another office a mother took a paper towel to the mouth of a sick boy as he coughed continuously. The creaking, squeaking, and rough discharge of phlegm did nothing to comfort Miguel.
In his mind he was dying and nothing else mattered to him. Not even the fact that he forgot to pay the bill or that he was heading the wrong direction.
Shiny gray tiles turned to scratched white blocks. Several service carts with dirty yellow bags and liters of nostril stinging cleaning products woke Miguel up. He looked around. The yellow embroidered title on the chest of a black jumpsuit read Sanitary Engineer. The jumpsuit was occupied by a bony man with small eyes. He dipped a mop in a pale of water and squinted. He tsked and continued mopping up a puddle of vomit.
Miguel backed up and headed the opposite direction. He passed the clinic of William and without looking gave out another quick farewell. He still forgot to pay his bill.
Miguel descended a flight of stairs and jumped into the main lobby. A makeshift chapel rested on his left and across that was a cashier’s counter. Miguel couldn’t help but think of the irony of a chapel and cashier on opposite ends of the hospital lobby. The battle for health rested between prayers and payments, he wondered what the score was. Maybe he was rooting for the wrong team.
He continued on to the drop-off point and greeted new patients as he walked out. A man leaned on steel crutches while his amputated right leg wrapped in blood soaked cloth swayed. ‘Where is room 213?’ The man asked. Miguel shrugged his shoulders and pointed towards the information desk in the lobby.
Miguel patiently waited for a taxi beside the hospital gift shop. They were having a promo. Buy a flower bouquet and get a funeral wreath for free. Just in case.
Miguel took a deep breath to calm down. He swallowed some foul smelling air. The disgusting trace of medical waste forced him to crumple his lips and stick out his tongue. His face faintly resembled his sister’s dog.
‘Haay naku!’ The elongated O sound emphasized the murderous hold on Jerry’s steering wheel. He looked at his side mirror as he pulled away from a crescent-shaped ramp. A man in a blue shirt stood counting a wad of bills. His gold-toothed smile was a stern reminder of the corruption in this country. ‘I work hard in my taxi twelve hours a day only to give this guy money for his coffee and bread!’
He just dropped off a Filipino-American family in Greenbelt for some shopping. With all the dollars that they were spending in these ‘Gucci’ stores they won’t even give him a little tip. ‘Kuripot!’ He pressed hard on his horn with the base of his palm. A teen-aged girl ran across his taxi carrying with her a set of paper shopping bags.
‘No loading and unloading.’ That is what this crooked policeman said. Not a policeman, a MMDA. They were as crooked as the policemen anyways. With his blue shirt and navy pants flailing about that little ticket book as if it meant life or death.
Palm trees lined up Jerry’s path. Slowly he exited the mall driveway. People merrily hauled their bags along printed with different brands. Top Shop, Zara and Nike gave color to otherwise dull people.
Jerry picked up some of these people before. All they ever asked him was how corrupt the president was or who was going to win in the next Pacquiao fight. Everyday that was all they talked about and no tip. After spending thousands of pesos on clothes they won’t spare twenty pesos extra. ‘Kuripot!’
Jerry headed straight and turned right into Pasay Road. This street was always bustling. It was full of restaurants, a subdivision, school, and strip-clubs. Every night he watched as men travelled this street with the hopes of picking up a girl.
The girls walked around in their short skirts, smiling and yelling out to all of these foreigners. If he ever saw his daughter do that he would disown her. What happened to the times when there were decent people in the world? Respectful of women, working hard to support their families, now all there remained was corruption, prostitution and selfishness. ‘Kuripot!’
Jerry continued down Pasay Road. He passed several hotels and a local handicrafts store with a wooden statue of man carrying a deer on its back. He rolled down his window looking out at the pedestrians and asked if anyone needed a taxi. A man unloaded from a shiny jeepney. The man ran a half knee raised stride and masterfully unbalanced a few ceramic plates. The stack of ceramic plates tilted smashed into five hundred and twenty seven pieces on the pavement. Jerry was not sure about the count, he was quite sure that this man was going to blame him for breaking his concentration.
Stolen of his income for the day thanks to that gold-toothed mercenary, Jerry decided at this point that he would be better off trying to find a passenger in the nearby hospital. It was a five minute drive and he was more certain of picking up a passenger there. He would just waste time searching here or end up giving more of his money to hungry policemen.
As soon as he reached an all boys high school, he turned right and down the road past the McDonalds. The adjoining building housed several stores that sold pirated entertainment with full cooperation of the police. Down the road and past a string of Japanese KTV’s where men paid for a girl to sit with them as they sung in their worst high-pitched voice. This place used to be a high-class cinema, but now it was frequented by people with a fondness for the perverted.
Jerry reached the stoplight at the edge of the street. The hospital was painted orange and yellow. A hint of white highlighted the posts and multi-level boundaries. The tall spiral structure loosely mirrored the coliseum of ancient Rome. He imagined young doctors as gladiators running around the hallways in their white coats hoping in their heads that they didn’t end up killing anyone.
The signal light turned green, Jerry shifted the gear into place and perfectly balanced the mixture of clutch and gas driving the taxi forward. Numerous cars approached the steep incline. Giant SUV’s either black or white in color took full advantage of their size and swerved into position. A uniformed driver gave Jerry a bad look as if he showed them a disturbing gold-toothed grin.
Waiting outside the lobby of the hospital was a tall man in his thirties. He wore black slacks and a beige barong. He must be a banker or someone who worked along Ayala Avenue.
Jerry smacked his lips at the prospect of a good fare. Depending on the traffic, that stretch of business offices was less than ten minutes from the hospital. Jerry would certainly pick someone up from there for another quick trip, which would make this a profitable occasion. He smiled at his change of fortune. ‘I just hope he is not Kuripot.’
A white cab pulled over in front of Miguel. It looked like it had seen better days. Battered bumpers on both front and rear, the paint chipping off, and the words ‘DISCOBOYS’ was written in big bold letters. The oddly violet tinted windows rolled down. A dark brown man with a thick moustache spoke ‘Ser! Ser! Where do you want to go?’
Miguel hopped into the taxi cab. He was pleasantly disappointed to not see a disco ball, rather a fairly intricate display of SpongeBob Square Pants sat on the dashboard. The cartoonish smile briefly cheered him up.
Miguel told the driver to go to Bonifacio Highstreet. The open space and the greenery there was a nice place to ponder about the news he had just received. The frequency of dogs running around the place would also give him a lift to his spirits. Last time he saw a Chow-chow. His sister was really excited. She started calling him Fro-fro hinting the obvious gift she eventually got for her birthday.
Miguel still hasn’t broken to her the news that he had developed a heart condition. As far as she was concerned he went to visit the dentist. He wondered if Fro-fro would be an adequate replacement. In reality he would actually be a better companion to her than he ever was.
‘Ser!’ the driver spoke. ‘What do you think about Manny? Do you think he can beat Cotto?’
This bout was the talk of the town but Miguel really didn’t care at the moment. ‘I don’t know.’ He sighed. ‘Maybe the radio can tell us something?’
‘Ser you know I think Manny will win! He is the people’s champion after all.’
Miguel leaned back and just stared out the window. This man was chatting on about a boxer that he cared nothing about.
They drove through the central business district and passed the Stock Exchange Building. Miguel watched as commuters got on and off buses. Giant ragged battering rams belched out black smoke as they ate up the whole road. Causing traffic and the sudden rise of blood pressures with every horn honked. He noticed a young girl. She seemed to be her late teens to early twenties. She was wearing a pink halter top and bright red shorts with large stainless steel snap buttons on the flaps of the rear pockets. Her features were very common, flat nose, round eyes and brown skin. She had thick legs and seemed to have no problem carrying around her navy-blue backpack. She pulled out a note and occasionally looked at it as she glanced upon the tall buildings.
‘Who is she? I wonder why she is here.’ Miguel followed her with his eyes and mumbled under his breath. ‘What is her name?’ The girl had disappeared amongst the crowd of pedestrians. He pressed his hand against the warm glass. ‘Would you trade places with me?’ He asked the girl through the purple haze.
The cab moved on from the Business District to the Commercial District. Full of malls and adjacent condominiums, the girl still occupied Miguel’s mind.
The driver was now talking about politics, another topic that Miguel really did not care about at the moment.
‘You need to have a big heart.’ Miguel woke up from his trance. He grabbed the blue headrest with his hand and pulled himself to the center aisle. He stared at the taxi driver and asked him. ‘Excuse me? What did you say?’ The driver tilted his head back, rolled his nose towards Miguel and replied. ‘You need to have a big heart if you want to be happy in life.’
Miguel relaxed himself, his hand still gripped on the blue headrest. It seemed ironic that a person who lived selfishly was now diagnosed with a big heart. Should he be happy now?
The driver turned his head around in full circle and smiled. ‘I am happy in my life because I give myself to everyone.’ He pointed a finger upwards. ‘My wife, she married me. God rest her soul because I cared for her more than anything. I gave her everything. I was not kuripot.’
Miguel dozed back in his thoughts of Susan. That was the name he gave the mysterious girl.
Jerry was hoping for this man to alight quickly. Long trips tend to cost him time for new passengers. ‘I hope he will give me a good tip’.
This man was fairly quiet. He just sat idly and stared at the scenery. Not that Jerry blamed him. The scenery in this part of the city was beautiful. More than beautiful it was hypnotic. McKinley was lined with various trees, large mansions and a beautiful church.
They reached the church and Jerry stuck out his fore and middle fingers. He lightly touched his forehead, diaphragm, left chest, right chest and ended with kissing the nail on the back of his thumb. He always performed the sign of the cross and paid his respects to God whenever he passed by any religious monument. Whether it was a church, cathedral and in some instances a cemetery.
A little shopping arcade bordered the church. From the street Jerry could make out a supermarket, coffee shop and drugstore. There were other little points of interest as well such as a bakeshop, restaurant and several medical offices.
Again Jerry noticed the foreigners and their big SUV’s. Here they look dignified, kind and not like the perverts on Pasay Road. His daughter worked in one of these mansions as a maid. He smiled contently knowing that she was safely away from all of the immorality that occurred in the city.
They headed back to the line of trees. One of them Jerry recognized as a mango tree. The fruits were bunched up in a little green ball. Jerry started salivating. He would have liked some bagoong and smeared it all over freshly cut mangoes. Each bite of the sour mangoes blending with savory flavor of the bagoong transported him to a new world.
He smacked his lips and imagined life as a boy. Back in Bulacan he always ate this snack when in season. He would remember playing sipa with his friends all morning. His mother would lay out a large plate of mangoes and bagoong late into the afternoon. All the children would eat together before continuing their game. Life was simpler and so much sweeter back then.
A loud blasting of the horn accompanied sudden screeching forced Jerry’s eyes open. A young man in a motorbike was riding alongside his taxi. The young man screamed and pointed him to stop at the side of the road. Jerry was unaware of the reason for the aggression. He decided to keep his cool and ignore the young man.
The stoplight at the end of McKinley was about to turn yellow. Jerry stepped on the gas and tried to catch the light. He not only hoped of ridding himself of the nuisance beside him but engaging in a new passenger as well.
The light blinked towards red. The young man would not let Jerry go as he went faster. The young man charged further like an enraged bull. He sliced in front of the taxi barely two inches from the dangling bumper. Jerry’s vision blurred away. Everything slowed down, turning black and white like an old streaky movie.
Jerry stepped on the brakes. The tires dug deep in the road, imprinting traces of rubber as the red brake lights shrunk in anticipation of impending doom.
The motorbike swiftly maneuvered to the right and the young man screamed. ‘Gago!’ While displaying his prized middle finger and swerved away.
The stoplight was red. Jerry released a sigh of relief. That was very close. He looked at the rear view mirror and watched his passenger occupy himself on his phone. Jerry opened his mouth to express his apologies. ‘Ser.’
There was a light tapping from Jerry’s window. He turned his attention to the knocking. His ears stiffened similar to that of a Doberman. There he was… a man in the blue shirt.
‘License Please.’ No gold-toothed grin.
Jerry asked. ‘Boss what is the problem?’
He chuckled before replying. ‘You woke me up from my nap. License please.’
Miguel scanned through the contacts in his phone and engaged himself in a conversation with William. This driver got himself in a bit of a mess. He didn’t mind. He was not a rush to anywhere.
After arguing for ten minutes the policeman and driver decided to go to the police station.
Miguel still didn’t mind. Miguel and William were discussing several alternatives to drugs and lifestyle changes. All temporary solutions aimed at delaying the symptoms of the damaged heart. Miguel needed something more permanent. William was stalling but they have arrived.
The police station was an abandoned shipping container parked in the edge of the parking lot of the Fort Strip. This place was packed with dispensers of artery clogging food and alcohol. Complete with a gym facility. Every member stealthily avoided the gym in favor of the donut shop around the corner and end up wondering how they gained that extra kilo in the past week. That’s good business for the gym. As they often say ‘Location! Location!’
William brought up the topic of transplants. ‘It’s hard to find a heart donor.’ William paused. ‘The list is long and the precautions are hard especially one that matches your blood type.’
Miguel did not like the tone in William’s voice. He hurriedly flipped the clamshell closed and entered the makeshift police station.
The poor driver was now talking with the captain of the station pleading his case. It was just a formality to being asked for bribe money instead of revoking his license.
‘Sir, are you the passenger of the taxi?’ A policewoman stared at Miguel. Ruby lipstick and baby powder masked the small cracks appearing at the edges of her face.
‘Sir, please review the statement given by the driver of the taxi.’ Scanning the document Miguel read the driver’s name. ‘Jerry Suarez.’ He went over the document once more. He flipped his phone open.
‘Miguel.’ The voiced cracked on the other end of the line.
‘I need a favor.’
‘How soon can you come to the police station in Fort Bonifacio?’
The call ended and a slight hiss buzzed in his ear. William pressed on the red button and watched momentarily as the light dimmed from his screen. He paced around his living room. Circled the glass coffee table and pondered on what to do.
It had been five years since then. Five long years that he had buried that monster inside. Miguel helped him through the worst of times. Cora had supported him through his recovery. Now with his two daughters and another child on the way, he was a new man. He was a family man.
He walked to the foyer and opened his black briefcase. It was full of files, one of which was Miguel’s. He opened the folder and like earlier in the day he studied it. ‘If what he said is true then they are a match…possibly…I am not sure.’ He closed the file. He walked over to the kitchen and stopped as he saw Cora by the counter.
‘Who was that honey?’ Cora asked. She was busy preparing a sandwich. Two slices of wheat bread with a layer of cheese on one of them. She took in her hand a roll of salami and sliced it with a grooved knife.
‘It was Miguel.’ William crept up behind Cora. He rubbed her stomach and kissed her on her neck.
‘What was that for?’ Her tone hardly masked the smile in her voice.
‘I need to go back to the clinic and pick up some things. I don’t think I will eat dinner tonight.’
‘I am almost done with the sandwich.’ She lowered the knife on the chopping board and turned around to face William.
‘I need to go and do something important.’ He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
‘What is it Willie?’ she cupped his face and massaged his cheeks with her thumbs.
He clenched his fist and coughed politely. He put his glassed back on. ‘Remember that cooler we got for picnicking?’
‘Where is it? I need it tonight.’
‘It is in the pantry.’ she dropped her hands on the kitchen counter. ‘William what are you not telling me?’
The only time she called William by his formal name was when he was in deep trouble. Like golfing when her parents came to visit or…or that incident five years ago when they first met Miguel. ‘I need to help Miguel out with something.’
‘Like going on a picnic?’ Cora asked.
William walked to the pantry and pulled out the red and white cooler. He went over to the fridge and took out the ice tray. He unlocked the cooler and pulled the lid open. He turned the tray over and filled the contents of the cooler. The clattering of ice and plastic drowned out whatever Cora was repeatedly asking. It was the same question over and over. Her voice was getting louder but William did not have a response. He did not even know why he was going through this.
The cooler filled up only a third of the way. William made some mental calculations and decided that he would need to pass by the convenience store for more ice. First he needed to get his tools from the clinic.
Cora appeared in front of him and held his hand. ‘William why are you so secretive?’
‘Remember when Miguel helped me those many years ago?’
‘You mean five years ago?’
‘I was a monster.’ William closed the cooler shut.
Cora rubbed her upper arm.
‘I have to…’ William ran the tray under the running sink faucet.
‘You have to what?’
‘I have to save Miguel’s life.’ William opened the refrigerator and slid the watered ice tray in its position.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘It’s better if you don’t darling.’ He grabbed the cooler and walked towards the living room.’
‘William!’ Cora ran right behind William. Her cheeks turned a light tinge of red and her lips trembled. ‘You are not a monster!’
‘Not after tonight.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I have to be that monster once more.’
Cora’s eyes teared up. She fumbled her way to the couch. She sat the deep double arm-rested chair and muffled her sobs with her hands.
‘This ends tonight.’ William turned towards the main door. He rubbed the varnished wood for what could be his last time and pressed on the latch release. ‘Don’t wait up for me.’
‘Boss I did not do anything. There was this motorbike you see he came in and tried to cut me.’ Officially Jerry was held for reckless driving. Unofficially he woke up the lazy guy. He looked back and saw his passenger talking on the phone. He didn’t know why he was still here. Maybe the police want to use him to get more money. Anytime now he will be asked for something to help them. He just gave one guy one-hundred pesos today. He had three-hundred pesos left. Today was a bad day. In addition he doesn’t think this passenger will pay his fare. Not after ending up in a police station.
The passenger was smiling as he walked towards Jerry. Jerry thought that was a good sign. The passenger whispered to Jerry’s ear ‘I can help you. Just listen to me ok.’ Those were very comforting words. The passenger was indeed a good guy. Not kuripot at all.
The man in his barong shirt radiated a holy aura. Like that of an angel. He started a conversation with the captain and Jerry began to relax.
This police station was barely decorated. With Brown laminated tables and empty floors. The uncovered steel echoed every footstep. Pictures of old commissioners and a poorly maintained flag of the Philippines adorned the walls. Together with a promotional calendar from a local whiskey brand depicting a half naked woman riding on a white horse. The name of the brand was White Horse of course.
The captain crooked his finger at the female officer. She stood and wobbled to the captain’s table. She took her instructions and asked Jerry to follow her to the back room.
The entrance to the meeting room was draped over by shimmering yellow fabric. It looked like an entry way to some poorly maintained photo studio or fan club of an ex-president.
Jerry followed the police officer. She held the drapes aside and created an opening for him. He took a step forward and then remembered the passenger. He turned around and awkwardly asked the name of his kind savior.
‘Cabrera…Attorney Miguel Cabrera.’ He responded casually and continued his discussion with the captain.
Jerry walked through the doorway. He smiled and revealed to the policewoman the missing canine tooth on the upper left of his mouth.
Flickering overhead lights swung loosely. The faint glow highlighted a table and two chairs made of white industrial plastic. No doubt this room was designed to intimidate.
The captain entered and offered Jerry to take a seat.
Slight stubble had set across his upper lip, dotting an otherwise clean face. ‘Mr. Suarez.’ He nervously clicked his tongue twice before continuing. ‘Attorney Cabrera has offered to help you in this case and while we are waiting for him to join us I would like to go over your statement.’
‘Along McKinley you mentioned that you were provoked by a man on a motorcycle is that correct?’
‘Yes ser. He kept on trying to put me to one side. I don’t know why.’
The captain clicked his tongue again. ‘You mentioned that this person cut you and that led you to stopping abruptly? Is that correct?’
‘Yes ser. I thought I was going to hit him and I stepped on the brakes immediately.’
‘Ok Mr. Suarez.’ He nervously clicked his tongue once more. ‘The good news is that you have a very powerful friend in Attorney Cabrera. He was able to find out the man on the motorcycle. The other driver should come in shortly to clear things out.’ The captain stepped through the curtains and left Jerry in his thoughts.
This was great news. It seemed like today was a fortunate day after all. What were the chances of Jerry picking up a powerful lawyer as a passenger? Jerry settled back against the uneven seat and relaxed. He continued his daydreams of green mangoes and bagoong.
Seconds turned to minutes and Jerry started becoming restless. The curtains parted and revealed Attorney Cabrera. An old man all dressed in white followed in behind him. The old man held a shiny briefcase on one hand and a small plastic container, which seemed like an ice cooler on the other.
The old man spoke ‘Hi Jerry.’
‘Jerry. May I call you Jerry?’
Jerry nodded his head. His arms crossed across his chest and his teeth nibbled on the edges of his thick moustache.
Miguel continued. ‘Meet the man on the motorbike.’ He patted the shoulder of William. ‘We shall clarify everything now.’
‘Ser?’ Jerry looked confused. ‘I do not understand. Who is this man?’ Jerry flapped his hands towards William.
‘Why Jerry it is the man on the motorbike.’ Miguel took a step back. ‘He cut you on the road didn’t he?’
‘No ser! That man was young… not like this old man.’ Jerry pushed his shoulders forward and his hands cupped his knee-caps.
‘Jerry how can I help you if you don’t help me.’ Miguel took another step back. He was now beside the shimmering curtains. ‘This is the man isn’t he?’
William opened his briefcase and pulled out two clear plastic bags.
Jerry held his temples and then flashed his palms open at Miguel ‘Ser! This is not the man!’
‘Are you sure Jerry?’ Miguel asked.
‘I am sure of it!’
Miguel pulled the curtains slightly and spoke through the gap. ‘Captain I think we have a problem.’
The Captain stepped in accompanied by two muscular officers. They walked towards Jerry and surrounded him on all sides.
Miguel approached Jerry while gently moving the empty chair out of his way. ‘Jerry we are all trying to help you.’
‘Jerry.’ Miguel took a deep breath. Thankfully he did not swallow any traces of medical waste. Although he could tell that the policemen had adobo for lunch. ‘Today I saw a girl, her name is Susan. I think that is her name. Anyways she seemed very mysterious… very alluring.’
‘Ser I do not understand.’
‘Of course not’ Miguel paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. ‘Today you said that you are happy in life correct?’ Miguel turned around and faced William.
William was carefully wearing the rubber gloves hidden in the first plastic bag. The tight slap of rubber to skin echoed throughout the room.
‘Yes ser, because I give to people.’
Miguel faced a nine by five mirror speckled with rusts at the bottom corner. He watched the shaded reflection of Jerry struggling in his seat sandwiched between three policemen. ‘Because you give to people…you are not selfish right? You are not kuripot?’
The three policemen chuckled.
‘No ser… I am not kuripot. I am happy because I like making people happy. Just like what you are trying to do now… You are not kuripot.’
William tore open the second bag. He held it by the ends. Little steel rods fell on the plastic table.
Miguel turned to face Jerry. This was his first act of honesty in a long time. ‘You see Jerry today I was thinking about Susan. I don’t know her but I think she might be kuripot.’ Miguel took some time rolling up his sleeves. The soft cotton fabric hung loosely around his forearms just below his elbows.
‘Jerry I like Susan. She is…she is very mysterious, but she is kuripot just like me.’ Miguel stretched his left arm towards William. ‘This kind man here tells me that I have a big heart.’
‘That is good ser! A big heart means you are not kuripot. It means you care about people.’ The police captain held on to Jerry’s shoulder and pulled him back against his seat.
‘That is where you are wrong Jerry. I don’t care about anyone except myself.’
The two officers pushed Jerry’s arms down on the arm rests. Jerry screamed Attorney Cabrera. ‘Ser? What is going on? Ser?!?’
‘Are you ready William?’
The old man in white adjusted his glasses. He picked up a shiny rod from the table and he shifted his weight towards Attorney Cabrera. Jerry could barely make out their hushed conversation.
‘Are you sure?’ William asked. Attorney Cabrera tilted his head. The single nod signified his affirmation.
The old man’s steps were heavy and crooked. Each toll shook Jerry’s chest.
He stopped in front of Jerry and took small rapid sips of air before leaning forward.
Jerry smelled the tobacco from his breath.
The old man held up the silver rod into Jerry’s direct view. He flipped it around and slowly exposed the sharp edge that reflected under the hanging light. He breathed heavily. The old man skimmed the knife across Jerry’s cheeks and traced the outline of Jerry’s face.
Jerry was too afraid to move. His eyes trembled as he followed the shining object.
The old man started from the left and gradually moved across.
‘Ouch!’ Jerry screamed. A clean cut sliced Jerry’s skin.
The old man whispered in Jerry’s ear ‘You should be happy.’
Jerry tried to open his mouth but he could not find the right words. He was still feeling the sharp pain from the sting of the blade.
‘You are going to make someone very happy. You are not selfish right?’ The old man laughed evilly with a hint of mockery and then continued. ‘You are not as you say it… kuripot.’ He straightened up and their eyes locked.
Jerry kicked the old man’s stomach and jumped out of the chair. Suddenly a bag was placed over Jerry’s head and he was beaten on all sides with batons. Each painful blow an attempt to crack his ribs open.
Jerry struggled harder. He kicked the air, hoping to break free. The chair tipped over and the grips of the policemen loosened. He had a chance to live, but he had to be quick. He took a runners starting position. His limbs outstretched as he prepared his legs to sprint out of there. He remembered that his keys were on the chubby policewoman’s table.
Jerry reached for the top of the bag. He pulled it off his head. He took in a big breath of air and then exhaled. The bag reached up further to his nose. His vision returned and his eyes slowly adjusted to the swinging light.
He searched for the same shimmering curtains that brought him to the lions den. The bag fell off the top of his head and his muscles tightened.
He lunged himself into mid-air. His arms bent in right angles and hands stiffed in a knife edge shape. The next move was crucial. He needed to regain balance and force a darting run.
Jerry’s flight descended. A baton wrapped around his neck and brought him crashing down on the steel floor. The fall cracked his back and joints and Jerry twisted in agony. He stretched his arms outward against the hard surface and bent his knees trying to push his beaten body to a crawl.
A kick to his gut and another thundering strike of the baton across the back of his skull knocked him flat onto the ground. He rolled onto his back and laid there coughing blood. His head felt like it was spinning. His vision blurred into bright spheres that faded out in the darkness.
William closed the lid of the cooler. He pulled out the bloodied gloves and threw them on the remains of Jerry. He rubbed the base of his neck and felt his way behind his ear. Just below a bunch of his graying hair he pulled out a cigarette. He smoothed this with his bare fingers. William tapped the end of the butt on this fingernail and lit it with a plastic lighter from his pants pocket.
He took a long breath and waited until the smoke had replaced whatever oxygen his lungs craved and then released. He had told Cora that he quit. Not the long talk they were going to have when got home to her…if she was still waiting for him. The smoke sprayed out of his mouth and nostrils. William licked his lips and tasted the tobacco before he took in another.
‘So is it done?’ Miguel walked over and touched the cooler.
‘Almost’ replied William. He breathed and released the smoke on Miguel’s face. ‘It ends tonight you understand.’
Miguel straightened his sleeves.
‘No more favors, I don’t owe you anything.’
‘We are going to burn his body. Put in whatever things you need in his body bag.’ Miguel picked up the cooler.
The policemen packed up Jerry’s body in a plastic sheet and dragged him through the shimmering yellow curtains.
William gave them his coat and bag which contained his tools and the patient file of Miguel.
‘I have a family now, I am not the same person I was five years ago.’ William took in another breath of his cigarette.
‘You were never that person William.’
‘Promise me it ends tonight.’
William threw the half-burnt cigarette on the ground and stomped on it until it died off. ‘After this I can’t be your doctor anymore.’
‘So am I uninvited to the Sunday lunch?’
‘I’m afraid Cora would not be too happy if you came.’
‘I haven’t told my sister yet.’
‘Then there is no problem.’ William followed Miguel through the shimmering curtains and out of the makeshift police station.
They both hopped in the back of the police van. The body of Jerry wrapped in a plastic sheet laid on the floor in between the two benches. They both took the bench on the right and sat beside each other. Only the cooler separated them.
Miguel tapped the roof of the van and sirens blared as they drove away. Miguel knelt over and whispered something to the lifeless body of Jerry. He ran his hand across the dusty plastic and slipped something from his pocket through an opening he found.
Miguel returned to his seat and clasped his hands.
‘What was that for?’ William asked. His raised eyebrows formed deep horizontal lines across his high forehead.
Miguel sat quietly for a moment and twiddled his thumbs. He looked up at William and spoke. ‘I gave him his fare.’
‘Excuse me?’ William asked. ‘I don’t understand.’
Miguel sighed. ‘I gave him his fare for the taxi trip.’ He looked down at the body of Jerry and cracked his neck. ‘I…I did not want him to think that I was kuripot.’