- Shabu is the term for crystal meth in the Philippines. It is the drug of choice for 90% of the Filipino drug users. Shabu is commonly made from cheap medicines containing ephedrine. Police in the Philippines say that Shabu is often made in industrial style labs capable of producing over 1 ton per day.
- Rizal Park s one of the largest urban parks in Asia/Manila/.
- Imee – the meaning of the name is “all-consuming fight, warrior”.
- Camiguin is an island province in the Philippines, located in the Bohol Sea. Population: 84k.
- Chicken caldereta – a tomato-based stew made with cheese , olives, chili peppers, carrots, and potatoes (sometimes added liver spread).
This is an idea for the book: I have compressed 50% of the book into 4500-short story. Read part 2 & 3 tomorrow.
* * *
“Is this your presidential bet?” William says as he pours himself another glass of whiskey. He is seated on the lone leather chair in the room, right in front of a large flat-screen TV that’s broadcasting an election in the Philippines.
The people on TV are celebrating over the newly elected President, who’s all smiles and has irresistible charm, but carries no substance or grace whatsoever. A people’s favorite, but the puppet of the higher class. Clara affectionately calls him Mang Chapo.
Across the room, Clara sits by the windowsill, watching the drizzle turn to strong rain. The people outside rush to find cover: some find one, others are still running. A person should always be willing to adjust for a rainy day, because raindrops lives everywhere: inside of the plants, air, animals, our hearts.
“He will play his part nicely, don’t worry,” Clara says. “He only requests 8 million dollars every month, a house and secure life for his kids in the US. Not much of a big deal.”
“I’m surprised that you even considered him, after all he’s done. Can he be trusted?” William asks.
“He already laid the foundations for the Southeast Asian branch to be established. I’m just returning part of the deal,” Carla shrugs. “Besides, it was all John’s doings. I’m simply finishing what he’d started.”
There is a minute of solemn silence between them before William speaks again.
“Yeah, good job, Clara,” he empties his glass in a few gulps and sets it on the table rather harshly. “John picked the best partner for this mission. I would never have thought that you’d be one of our best agents.”
Clara shifts her gaze from the window to the TV, where a reporter is interviewing the newly elected President. Her left-hand throbs as the politician speaks as if it remembers the damage that he has done to her. She hasn’t forgotten nor forgiven.
The broadcast shifts to another news segment, but Clara is stuck in the interview. She keeps replaying the words that she hasn’t used for a long time, tries recalling what her hometown had looked like: Manila streets, the sights and smells of the rotten houses, the rolling syllables of her country.
How she ever got to this place, to this kind of life, from basically being nothing – a worthless Filipino girl, Imee NoOne Knows Your Name.
Her past… all she can remember are only the tiny bits and pieces.
* * *
The clearest memory of her childhood is a dining table with chicken calderete made from the leftovers of a Jollibee restaurant, 10 packets of shabu and a lot of books.
Imelda’s mama, Tala, always tells that studying is important, reminding that Isko, the oldest brother, had flunked out of high school and is now working as a runner for a cartel. Most of the time, Imelda’s brother is calm, ignoring the endless ranting of their tired mother and focusing on sealing his shabu bags for night shifts. But sometimes, when the sales get tough or someone from their area is dead (again!), Isko lashes out, saying that their mother is a damn whore and that she, Imee, didn’t even come from the same father.
Imee doesn’t wait for the cussing and the cursing to stop. She usually hauls her books, calls for her younger brother, Jejo, and together they go to sit by Rizal Park, where the air is clean and fresh. Only there Imee can do her homework in peace.
Imee is thinking of going to Rizal park again when Isko notices her by the doorway.
“Need some help, kid? With anything?” he says, while loading the packets of shabu in his fanny pack as casually as he can. Imee finds it ridiculous that Isko insists on hiding his drug racket when it’s all over the house.
Imee shakes her head, hops on the bench near the window, pulls books and pencil from a bag. Isko stops, scoots closer to her left side, and offers to turn the pages of her books. Mama peers from the door of the kitchen and casts a wary gaze at them. Isko ignores the look.
“You’re good at this, girl. I’m jealous,” he smiles.
“You’re better at this than me.” Before her brother dropped out of school, he was a biggest math wizard in the area. He’s smart, maybe even smarter than Imee; that’s why he doesn’t need to go to school, giving the opportunity to his little sister instead. Or so she thinks…
Isko shrugs and points out a correction in her equation.
“Listen, Imee, I saw a bookstore that’s selling secondhand books. Do you want me to buy some?”
Imee nods, feeling happy and enthusiastic – ah, just imagine, she will have another book to add to her collection. However, her mother overhears their conversation and appears at the doorway again.
“Instead of buying those darn books, why don’t you buy us something to eat, huh? Put some good use to that money of yours.” She shouts to Isko.
“I am, I am, woman,” he replies. “Just leave Imee and her books alone.”
“Who do you think has to clean up after you all?”
“Whatever,” Isko stands up from the bench and ruffles Carla’s hair. “I’ll see you and Jejo later, okay? I’ll buy you a book, I promise.” Then he heads out, to be seen again late at night.
“Your brother is so stupid, wasting money like that…” her mama says. When she notices that Imee is listening, she changes the subject. “Where is Jejo? Did you see him after school?”
Imee shakes her head. “Mmm, Je is probably playing outside again.”
Her mama huffs. “Boys… I wished I had 3 girls, much more disciplined, always staying inside the house,” then she begins her long daily rant, not bothering that Imee has stopped listening and went back to her homework.
When the night falls and her mama reprimands Jejo for coming home too late, Imee finishes her assignment. She crawls onto the floor, right next to Jejo. Imee look at the space reserved for her older brother with sadness. It’s only in the middle of the night that she feels his presence right next to her, with the stack of secondhand books.
Imee doesn’t even get to flip the pages of her new treasure… because she loses her brother and her hand.
* * *
Isko is all over the news. His face is blurred, but Imee (and Jejo) recognizes his favorite shirt, the lean body frame, and the fanny pack that he always forgets to take off at night.
Isko had been arrested.
“You are lucky to be alive,” says Aling Lualhati, their long-time neighbour. She is old, grey and has no sons left. She knows the pain of losing them. ”I think it would be better if you, Tala, moved back to your family in the Camiguin province, what do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Tala mutters. Besides her, Jejo is fixated on the TV, listening as the newscaster describes their brother as a drug peddler who resisted arrest and fought against the police. Only one of the facts in that sentence is true – ‘The mother is not at good terms with her own parents and family…’
Night. Jejo should be sleeping right now, but he can’t sleep without Mama, and she is at the police station, weeping her eyes out.
It had happened so fast.
The dead of night, the odd crunches outside their house; then comes the figures in the dark, equipped with guns and one order in mind. There are flashes of bullets and screams of mercy, and then Imee notices that her hand is bleeding. Later on, the doctor tells her that she’s fine, but they can’t find her fingers to be reattached.
Next morning Aling Lualhati pats the wrist of Imee’s injured hand.
“It’s not safe to stay here…” she says.
Imee moves her arm and seems she feels the twinge of pain in her middle and pointy finger. But no – they’re gone. As well as her brother. Her books might as well be gone since she can’t get back to her house to retrieve them – too many officers around, some of them might be responsible for arresting Isko.
One of them appears on TV as part of the live interview. He doesn’t look like the standard villains in FPJ’s action movies – with thick moustaches and dark-tinted glasses. He is cleanly shaven with soft eyes and a pair of glasses on the bridge of his pointy nose. He is calm and collected, utterly charismatic to fool everyone.
“We are glad that no one is injured from this incident,” he lies. “This is a successful police ‘operation’!!”
No. No, it is NOT!
“Ineng,” Aling Lualhati chastises. “Look at him, Imee. Ah! If your mother doesn’t want to go back to the province, I know a safe place where she may stay. Let me tell them in advance so they can pick you up.”
Imee doesn’t answer. She keeps staring at the police officer until the very end of the interview.
Mama comes home, crying, and Aling Lualhati talks about a safe place again. Imee can’t pinpoint the times where her mama hooks onto the story and is frantically calling for anyone in her family to help them. To pacify the situation, old neighbour tells them about RSP organisation that helps people in need, about a house where Tala’s family can wait until this whole deal blows over.
Imee’s mama reluctantly accepts, and soon a man by the name Mr. K picks them up around 7PM.
“You can stay there for as long as you like,” K says as he ushers them into his van. The van looks new and smells nice, but Imee spots the blood at the back seat. “You’ll work for the RSP (Revolutionary Society of Philippines) organization, Tala. Well, just some menial household chores here and there. Food and clothing will be provided. The kids will be homeschooled for obvious reasons.”
Imee’s mother helplessly nods while Jejo stares straight ahead as if he’s still at Aling Lualhati’s place, watching TV.
“Can I get my books?” Imee asks, with hope in her eyes.
Mr. K looks at the girl using his front view mirror, gives an apologetic smile.
“We’ll try to get them later, Imelda.”
They never get her books…
Next – Left Hand Clara (part 2 and 3), tomorrow