The Wire: Part IV
I slept fitfully. I rolled from one side of the bed to the other, changing pillows, wanting one that was cold, hot, different. There were wild dreams, some that seemed to border on hallucinations. They woke me and I wanted to go over them, but could get
no further than a scene or two and then I lost it and again sought sleep. I felt no hunger, even though my stomach was empty and I had had nothing in the last ten hours or so other than the lumpy pork dog and the warm San Miguel.
Somewhere in the middle of all this restlessness, I woke to some screaming, loud screams—or so I thought. And then banging or thumping noises, but whether on a floor or wall I did not know. At one point, I thought that someone was slugging the wall between my room and Biceps’ room, which was adjacent to mine. But on sitting up and trying to make sense of what I was hearing, or thought I heard, it all ceased. I fell asleep again, but for how long I don’t know. It could have been mere minutes. It could have been an hour or two. And then there was a knock on the glass door. I had the opaque curtain drawn and couldn’t make out who it might be. There was a second and a third knock. Each one was louder and more insistent. I ignored them, thinking that it was probably the cleaning lady and she could wait. Their daily schedules are as unpredictable and irrational as the reasoning of provincial Filipinas.
As I started to fall asleep for the seventh or eighth time I wondered if the person at the door had been Biceps. I looked at my watch. It was a little after nine in the morning. I thought I’d told him I wouldn’t be up until around noon. I couldn’t recall that he had a watch.
It was almost eleven when I finally got the energy to drag myself out of bed and get a shower, and then see if Biceps was up and about. I figured that if he hadn’t eaten we could have something at the restaurant adjacent to the bar and the pool on the lower floor that I’d seen when we arrived.
His room, like mine, had a double sliding door with tinted glass. You couldn’t see inside unless you got close, and then it was possible to get a view of the double bed, the entrance into the nearby toilet, in fact more or less the entire room. When I had just about fallen asleep while we checked in and then went to the rooms, someone had pulled the long green curtains together to make it impossible to see into my room. Biceps, I guessed, had also closed his curtains. But there was a considerable gap that allowed me to get a good look at him sprawled out on his bed face down, his legs spread wide to the corners, his arms similarly extended, as if trying to grab onto or hold the mattress edges. He was completely naked. I noticed that both of the pillows were on the floor at the foot of the bed. They seemed to have been thrown there from a distance.
Near one of the pillows was his black travel bag, small enough to have been used as a carry-on. On top of the bag, which looked partially unzipped, were what appeared to be two four-by-six photos. The room was sufficiently dark that I couldn’t see the photos clearly, in fact not at all. There were other photos, five or six in number and the same size, scattered to one side of the bag. A couple of them were turned over. Again, there wasn’t enough light to see what any of the photos were about. Some two feet away and near the wall abutting the bed my eyes fell on a messy pile of torn squares, by all indications photos that had been torn up.
I could see no reason to wake him, or to wait for him to get something to eat. I was hungry, and I needed my morning fix: several cups of strong, black coffee. I thought I’d go downstairs and get a table to watch for him while I got something to eat. It was a good time to finish a small, yellowing paperback by J.B.S. Haldane, On Being the Right Size, that I started reading somewhere over the Pacific. I’d grabbed it on a whim from my university office during office hours, two days before leaving.
I still didn’t know Biceps’ name, and on the way down the circular staircase to the hotel restaurant I was tempted to stop at the check-in desk and come up with a pretext to look at the registration card that he’d filled out. It would have his full name and age and address in the U.S. On getting to the desk, however, I decided that this was uncalled for snooping on my part, and that in any event it wouldn’t be long before I’d simply ask him. It was quite out of character for me to not have already done so. That I hadn’t might’ve been nothing more than his odd demeanor, at once strange and secretive and threatening. Or perhaps unpredictable is a better word than threatening. But then too I must confess that I was beginning to take pleasure in letting him tell me about himself, and his story, and in his own time and place. I’d made a bet with myself that this wasn’t going to turn into a bad trip that would rebound on me. I embrace risk, but I have limits.
After I finished the last of the Haldane essays, one titled “Some Reflections on Non-Violence,” I ordered a Spanish omelet and home fries and bacon, and a second pot of black coffee. I could feel the energy beginning to course through my system, and I could see no reason to sit around and wait for Biceps. I decided to walk down to the beach and have another coffee or ice tea and find someone to chat with. This is usually pretty easy, especially if you see an expat who’s bought into the idea that drinking is all pluses and the best way to remain sensate until the next drink arrives is to pull a stranger into your world of real and imaginary stories, all part of what long ago I’d come to think of as the interweaving subtext or backcloth of suicide on a delayed timer.
I hadn’t really planned on going to Edie’s, one of the larger open bars closest to that edge of the bay where most of the bancas drop off and pick up passengers going and coming from Batangas. But there’s always something going on in the bay, and Edie’s is as good a place as any to register the commonplace and novel comings and goings: the speckle-eyed tourists, the thick and gruff Germans, the one language French, the hookers returning to work from their Filipino boyfriends and parents in denial.
The bancas of many types and sizes lie some twenty to forty yards from the thin and dirty beach, the beginning of a long cement pathway to the string of beach-fronting hotels and dive shops. The larger bancas that leave a couple of times for Batangas in the morning and then once in the afternoon have their passengers come to the waiting banca in tiny twelve foot flat-bottomed boats that are moved about with long poles and paddles, the passengers standing for the very short journey while hanging tight to their luggage. They pack fifteen to twenty passengers in the small boats, getting them to walk over large slippery and dark green algae covered rocks to get on, not the safest way to go anywhere if you’re carrying a heavy piece of luggage or have a baby in your arms. On my past visit, I’d seen one overweight mother with her very young child slip and fall into the water. It was not a pretty sight, especially when I saw the blood all over the baby’s face and the mother with a large cut on one leg.
I arrived at Edie’s a little before the next banca was to leave with the thought that I’d watch the boarding. I was there for about ten minutes when a Brit at the next table—obvious by his accent—invited me to join him. As I would soon discover he was nursing his third tall glass of rum coke since he’d arrived. Or so he said it was the third one; real alcoholics I’ve discovered through the years have a difficult time counting once they get beyond the first or second liquid meal of the day.
He told me his name was Nathan and that he’d spent thirty-five years in the merchant marine and had travelled the world. Eleven years ago he had come to Sabang expecting to stay for a week or two and never left. In his third or four year—he couldn’t ‘t remember which, and after a string of two- and three- and four-month flings with hungry and obliging Filipinas in their early twenties, he’d married a woman who he’d met at a bar in White Beach, not too far from Sabang. He gave her money monthly for her family and they got on well for about eighteen months. Then she began demanding that he give her more money for her nine brothers and sisters and sick father in Cavite, one of the poorer areas of Manila. She also insisted that he increase an allowance that he had been giving her since they formalized their relationship. He rebelled, and she took what he would come to see as revenge. She started cheating on him, fucking anyone who propositioned her at the bar where she worked in the afternoons and early evenings. He confronted her, she denied having done anything, claiming that it was just his imagination gone wild. A fight ensued, and she would up with a black eye and a cut on her chin. He claimed she had fallen. She told the police he had hit her. He spent six days in jail and had to pay 70,000 pesos to get out. When he returned home he got further information to the effect that she’s been cheating on him for seven or eight months, with all kinds of men, including some of his drinking friends. At this news he packed his bags in front of her and left and said that he’d pay the next month’s rent and that she could do whatever the fuck she fancied doing with her fine little Filipina ass. Shortly thereafter she returned to Cavite and that’s the last time he’s ever seen her. Ever since he’s been spending most of his days at Edie’s. Drinking his rum cokes—always without ice, chatting with anyone who wanders into his small corner of Edie’s, watching the hookers going to work, and then staggering home to his small apartment, often with the help of someone at the bar, he confessed. It’s not just the alcohol. It’s the lungs too. It’s the four packs of cigarettes he’s been smoking since he was sixteen.
He tried to hit me up for some money, claiming that he’d had 17,000 pesos go missing two nights earlier when he went out drinking to some of the girlie bars with friends. It was the kind of story I’ve heard a hundred times. I told him he was out of luck, that I didn’t lend money to anyone unless the person needed to get the last hundred yards to an emergency room to save his life. His persisted, pleading that he couldn’t pay his rent and he’d send the two hundred dollars he needed at the first of the month. I smiled and wished his well in finding his missing money.
I wandered aimlessly through the narrow and dark pathways among the many restaurants and open dark wood bars and come-on dive shops, looking for an internet café to check a few sites and send a note or two. When I found one, it was dingy and small and four kids who couldn’t have been more than ten or twelve were playing video games on all but two of the six computers. There was two young and fairly attractive Filipinas on the other two computers who, I guessed, were exchanging faux love notes with gullible foreigners who were sending them money, prey with brains smaller than their hungry dicks. I had to wait a good half hour to get my hands on a gummy keyboard. I was on for a half hour and it cost me ten pesos, twenty-five cents.
By the time I got back to the hotel it was after four. I expected that Biceps would have gotten up and perhaps gone looking for food. Maybe a place to drink or play billiards. I didn’t expect to see him sitting at the edge of the pool, the only person about. He had his feet in the water and was slowly swaying from side to side, his hands gripping the pool edge. I half imagined he was listening to a song he’d heard a hundred times.
From the sloping entrance into the hotel where I got a first glimpse of him, I stood for a long minute or so to take his measure. Right away I saw that there were six fat whiskey glasses running off to his right along the edge of the pool, all of them empty, it appeared.
I approached him in a way that made it obvious for him to see me, but he didn’t look my way or wave or indicate that he’d seen anything. When I got to him, standing to one side, I said, I tried to get you earlier but you were out.
Yeah, yeah, yeah… One of those nights, you know. Like I had to have after Dixie. You know Dixie? I told you about her, didn’t I?
No, I said. First time I’ve heard the name.
My high school honey. A sweet one and all night fuck before I got deployed. We was going to get married, that kind of for all time shit, man. Know what I mean? You been married, right?
She let my best friend plug her up the ass and everywhere. She done this while I was doing his cocksucking war and he was doing the student thing at the junior college. Didn’t know right away what was up, man. I was too fucking dumb and numb to see it all right there in her blue eyes and great lips. Know what I mean, man?
I kicked off my flip flops and sat down beside him and put my legs in the water. Welcome to the world of men as hungry dogs and women as bitches in heat, I was tempted to say. But I didn’t want to provoke him, get him pissed off and flying at me. I finally said, I only said, I know what you mean, man.
There was problems right away with Dixie when I got back. Problems I couldn’t straight out say or tell her, man. Right from the day I walked in and she give me this pretend fucking hug and love your ass kiss I had to tell her but I couldn’t. She wanted to… He stopped. He shook his head. He turned away and toward the row of empty whiskey glasses. He shook some more, now all over. Then with one finger he pushed one of the empty glasses into the pool and watched it sink. It wiggled and swayed its way to the bottom, unpredictably.
The water’s warm, I said.
No man, it’s cold. Then he said, I remember thinking once before I leave this life I’m going to get fucked and sucked in Las Vegas. Just one time, that’d be enough, man. Some lovely all legs cunt with a big mouth and nine pound hooters, know what I mean?
I kicked the water. I tried to picture nine pound hooters, a mouth big enough to enjoy one. I remembered walking by the Las Vegas Disco when we arrived. I had told him what went down there, that he could have a young Filipina for the whole night for forty or fifty U. S. At his age and looks he could have anything. All he had to do was smile and show some pesos.
So you showed me where to go, man. That was good of you, knowing what I might be thinking. Then last night after you was gone into your dreams and shit I went down to the Vegas and got it together with Alisha. Tiny little pretty cunt with a kid, she told me. Two or three, something like that. She was twenty three. Didn’t mean nothing to me, all this about her kid and all. I just wanted what I needed, know what I mean, man? We got back and she swallowed me. Everything. Everything I got.
Every… He stopped, and he began shaking all over. Then he dropped his head and pushed another glass into the water. Another trip to the bottom. I thought I saw a tear run down the corner of one eye. I stared at his imposing biceps and model’s waist and his thick beefy thighs. An iron man, I thought. Maybe not, I thought.
I saw two more tears, and then he pushed off with great force and fell into the water on his face. I wondered if he was going to try to do what he said he couldn’t do. I jumped in after him and got behind him and pushed him to the edge. It wasn’t easy. We were in shallow water. Damn good thing we were in shallow water.