The Sounds of Maligayang Pasko
By: Joungbihn Park | Posted on: January 14, 2018
Two motorcycles, streaked with mud and gravel, come roaring in and screech to a halt at the entrance of an alley. The tumbledown shacks, built out of planks, some unfinished, range along the path flanked by metal poles and taho stands. Laundry, some punctured with holes the size of lanzones, is pegged out on thin lines that draw parabolas between the unstable shanties. Humidity rises like amorphous ghosts from the pavements, after which the rotten smell of sewers mixes with the smell of gasoline burst by the motorcycles, smoke belched out in thick clouds that grey the indigo evening sky of December. A cat, whose rib cage sticks out like the iron grating of prison cells and whose white, greasy hair shows stains of mud and dirt, lets out a high-pitched meow and hides behind the garbage heap it was scavenging, startled at the closeness of the screeching wheels of the motorcycles. Four men, who rode in tandem, get off from the motorcycles. Two are about the same height and two a little shorter. The men have their faces covered with black masks and bonnets, showing only a glimpse of their eyes and bushy brows. They each hold .38-caliber revolvers in their hands.
People say the men in black masks also killed thirteen-year-old Pongpong’s aunt Mayann Yabut three days ago, just across a Ministop in Mandaluyong City. At the wake of his aunt Mayann, who was an occasional drug user, Pongpong stood facing her coffin, picturing her tilted head, her closed eyes, her face, her body, her light blue-grey pants imbrued carmine, carmine roses, lips, rubies, carmine crabapples, the color of her shirt, newspapers shattered, unfinished meal peacefully, too peacefully, resting in her plastic lunch box and her blue rubber tsinelas, thrown on the asphalt floor, drops of blood, water trickling out a faucet.
Elsewhere, under the crepuscular light dotted by paróls and Christmas lanterns, people crowd like a swarm of ants, invading the canopy tents stretching down Divisoria market. The evening adds a darker shade to the market splashed with patches of red, blue, green, yellow, orange. Handfuls of plastic shopping bags, presents wrapped in Christmas-themed packages, balikbayan boxes of food and souvenirs, figurines of Santa Claus and nutcrackers, some missing their legs, and inexpensive beléns with Baby Jesus’s indistinguishable facial features. An old woman, a thin pair of glasses clinging to the edge of her flat, round nose, her nostrils widened to support them, scrutinizes the glitter of the Christmas ornament she is going to purchase, checking if every single one of the minuscule light bulbs are bright enough. The mellow fragrance of freshly baked pan de sals wafts in with a breeze the metropolitans of Manila seldom enjoy.
The men in masks shoot Richard Cruz three times: one bullet slides past his cheek and pierces his earlobe, while the others embed themselves between his eyes. As Richard’s body shakes limply and plunks down into the ground, the men almost turn away, at last to catch Richard raising his arm. “Don’t,” hisses Richard’s wife Angelina in her sharp, whispering voice, covering her mouth with her hands as they vibrate in fear and shock. When the killers notice the slight movement from Richard, they begin shooting again, letting ten bullets penetrate through the man’s body. The crackle of gunfire pauses when, at the tenth bullet, Pongpong throws himself to protect his father, with the eleventh bullet drilling into his leg. He clings to his father as if he were to disappear in ashes the second he lets him go.
“Shoot the man. We have one bullet left.”
One of the men raises his arm, perpendicular to his body, fingers quivering on the trigger.
“Please! Please leave my father alone,” begs Pongpong, howling at the top of his lungs.
“Poor boy,” utters the man under his breath, as he puts the pistol back in his pocket. Pongpong hugs his father’s body, a battlefield of metal beads.
“Mahal kita, papa,” he mumbles between his heavy breathing and punctuated sobs, his lips parched.
Elsewhere, confined to translucent bubbles of privilege, people stroll through High Street, Bonifacio Global City, hands loaded with shopping bags, smooth, even smoother than their own lives, imprinted with names of multinational brands. Carols swathe the huge Christmas tree, which has been glowing red and white since September, with the countdown to Christmas airing on TV Patrol and 24 Oras. A certain Juan grabs his mother’s shoulder and points at the new iPhone displayed at the iStore, widening his charcoal eyes and giving his usual longing look.
Elsewhere, houses fill with titas, titos, lolos, and lolas, bags and clothes dispersed on marble floors, parades of lumpia, pancit, kare-kare, kakanin on generous tables, the smell of pork and beef stew circling in the air. There are mothers calling their children. “Anak! Bring the dish back.”
In the vigor of December evenings — the sounds of honking jeepneys, the chatter of busy crowds, the thud of distant electronic music from clubs, the hum of dangling electrical wires, the glow of green neon lights — there resounds the crackle of occasional gunfire, followed by the sharp shrieks of terrified women.
The sounds of gunfire are not so foreign anymore in Mandaluyong City, or anywhere else in the Philippines.
Having trespassed so frequently, they now blend in with the customary noises of the last hours of December evenings, as if they have always belonged to this whole family of holiday sounds.
The Sounds of Maligayang Pasko was initially published by The Kill List Chronicles