ATMs, Talking Statues and Mona Lisa Smiles: The Art of Boredom

I’ve never been much of an artist. The only thing I did that was remotely close to being artistic was that one time where I had an amoebic stomach attack and puked an impression of Mona Lisa all over my Grandparents’ kitchen floor. My Grandma almost had a heart attack. Not because she was deeply moved by the stunning resemblance of my work with that of da Vinci’s, (which was flawless by the way) but by the fact that she would have to clean it up afterward. The putrid stench filled the kitchen; to them it was vomit, to me it was the sweet smell of artistry. I was rushed to the hospital afterward. Enough said.

"The Mona Lisa"

No, it didn't really look like this. Mine was much better!

I am currently enrolled in a Humanities 1 class and the teacher asked us to look at “Diwata”, a statue of a less-than-modestly-dressed female, carrying a net full of fishes doing raspberries (which is impossible since a fish has no tongue by the way). This statue symbolizes the College of Fisheries in the University of the Philippines Visayas, a school deep in the mountainous regions of Miagao (yes, our school is in the mountains, got a problem with that?!). Our teacher asked us to express what we felt when we see the statue in the form of a painting, drawing, dancing, fire-eating etc. Like I said, I’m no artist, so lest I want to puke all over the floor again, I decided to just write about it:

Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story is real. Any resemblance to any character, living or dead, is purely coincidental. And no, statues can’t really talk either.

Messenger of the Sea

The brisk air fill the night as I make my way to the only bank in town. Being in a university situated up in the hills of Southern Iloilo, it’s the only sensible thing to do.

In the morning when the hustle and bustle of daily life comes into play, crowds of people would line up extending to ad infinitum just to do bank transactions. The harsh Visayan sun only adds to the scorching heat one would feel being compressed with all those people like a can of spicy sardines. The pungent smell of sweat mixed with cheap perfume does little to improve your current situation either. The only salvation you have is the fact that the line is moving; yet ever so slowly, like a funeral parade. Of course, with just enough twist of fate coupled with sheer bad luck, the red sign that says “OFFLINE” would flash before your very eyes just as the person before you was done withdrawing – a situation where ironically, I was always in.

So to avoid the madness, I decided to do my transactions only at night, when my only companion is the deafening silence of the night, broken only by the occasional creaking of the crickets.

Holding the ATM card in my right hand, I slowly made my way up to the top of the hill where the bank was. Cool, night air seemed to pass by me leaving a trail of cold sensations in its wake, sending chills up my spine like it’s something supernatural. Like God Himself was breathing down my neck. I look up and I see the stars in the vast regions of space spread out beautifully in a stunning array that not even angels can fathom.

Orion’s Belt was especially bright that evening. The middle one was glowing red like it was engulfed in flames. I read it before; in ancient Celtic beliefs, they said that the red glow of the middle star in Orion’s Belt marks the beginning of the Azurian Solstice. During this time, the line between the human world and the spirit world is blurred. And it is the time when the spirits and the ancient ones communicate with the mortals. Was any of that true? I can only imagine.

Thoughts kept flooding through my mind as I moved towards my destination. I then realized that I already arrived at Villadolid Hall. The entire building looks creepy at night. Like when you stare at one of the empty windows, you could almost swear you saw somebody staring back at you. It was frightening. So to absolve myself of the horrors that was in my mind, I looked away. All the way to the opposite direction. All the way to where the statue of a maiden hulling in a net filled with bounties of the sea were.

I gazed through her eyes. Something was off. Like she was staring back at me. Like she was alive or something. But she couldn’t be, right? After all she was just a statue. A statue that one of the former chancellors decreed to be made to symbolize a College. A statue that was left unfinished due to budget cuts and possible fund corruptions.

So why am I so afraid? Why does my heart feel like it’s about to leap out of my chest? But before I can bat another eyelid the statue spoke out…

Why do you look so frightened human? I hope it’s not because of my rather unmodest choice of clothing.”  I gulped.

“You can talk?” was all the words I could muster up.

“I have already spoken to you have I not?” she sheepishly replied. “Tell me, are you lost?” she added.

“Wait, you can talk?!” I asked again, more out of shock than curiosity.

“You’re kind of slow for a human aren’t you?” she spoke back.

“How!?” I was still at a loss for words. “How is it that you speak English!?”

“Well, I am a spirit and I can read your mind. You were thinking in English so I spoke to you in the language you were most comfortable using. Kung nagpanumdom ka sng Hiligaynon, teh, ma-Ilonggo man ko tane eh! Baw ah!” she exclaimed.

“Hmm.. good point.” I said.

“You still did not answer my question. Are you lost?”

“What? Why? Of course not!” I exclaimed.

“Foolish human, you are so lost, you have not even realized it yourself.” She gave out a big sigh and then continued “All of humanity is lost. They have turned their backs on their mother and laid waste whatever bounty she has bestowed upon them. Each and every single day, I see nothing but destruction. The vast oceans that were once home to creatures great and small are now reduced to nothing more than graveyards. The seas that were once bountiful were abused and polluted and all those that were living in her embrace were hunted down and killed. And for what? Nothing more than human greed.” She bowed her head. “Do you know why I tell you all these things human? It is because I too am lost.”

I’m not entirely sure if spirits can cry or are allowed to cry but I was pretty sure I saw tears streaming down her face.

“Do you not notice that I am facing in the wrong direction? The sea is right behind me, but why do I face away from it? I look away because it is too much of a burden for me. I cannot stand seeing the oceans in this condition. It is just too painful. So away I face. For I know that the seas and the earth itself face impending doom. As long as there are humans, there will always be greed. And where there is greed, surely death and destruction are the only rewards that lie in wait for us all.” Tears kept flowing from her eyes.

“Don’t count us out yet.” I said.

I really had no idea where the words came from, but it all felt natural, like it was I was supposed to do.

“Yes every day there is death, it is an undeniable fact. Yet where there is death, new life springs forth. Every day, new life is born. And where there is life there is hope, I mean that ought to count for something right?” I remarked.

“Look, I may not know all these spiritual mumbo-jumbo you’re talking about, but I refuse to believe that there isn’t any good in anybody. I still believe that there is hope for the world and more importantly, there is hope for humanity.”

She turned to me, bewildered as if she didn’t understand a thing I said.

“Even more dangerous than greed is apathy. As long as people do not care for anything then it is the same as letting greed pass.” She said.

“But we still have to try!” I exclaimed.  She paused. She paused for a long time; as if she was pondering about everything that I said.

“All right human, I will give you the task of informing all of humanity the impending doom they are facing if they do not change their ways.”

Before I could answer, I woke up. I’m in my room. It’s 6am and I am supposed to take a bath for my morning classes. But when I was about to reach for my cell phone to check for any messages, I felt my ATM by my side, and right by it, a sea shell.

(P.S. that Celtic legend is no legend at all.  I made it up. Thought I’d just clear the air in case you might think of making this a reference for some academic journal or something. I don’t want to go to jail, OK?)

Like I said, statues can't really talk and fishes don't have tongues.

Bar Room Tango

There she was again, the same time as usual. As usual, she wore her long, black, flowing hair neatly behind her head – not exactly a ponytail, but whatever it’s called, she made it look outstanding. She’s beautiful. No doubt about it. The kind of beauty that would subtly resonate throughout the entire room without stirring the crowd. Her silent beauty gave her a mysterious flair. The kind of beauty that can make you think, “What’s with this girl? Why can’t I look away?” She thumbs through her hair as she looks around the place. As usual, her dark, soulful eyes almost made her seem helpless as she tries to find a place where she can settle. Like an innocent child looking for her mother. Beneath her eyes, streaks of black liner smeared almost to her cheek. She’s been crying – as usual. She’s been frequenting this place for a week now. Always the same time. Always with that sad look in her eyes. Always with tears. Always for the same reason.

Though the flashing lights are emitting a confusing blend of hues, I could see her pain. And though the speakers are pumping loud, ear-splitting music, I could hear her heart slowly breaking with every beat. For most people, this place is a haven. A place where you can go and have some fun, drink a couple of shots, dance the night away and maybe bring someone home just for the night. But what it actually is, is a cesspool of lonely souls drowning their misery in whatever indulgence there is available – alcohol to wash away their worries; music to drown out the thoughts in their minds; lights to distract them from their troubles; sex to feed their loneliness. I guess the flashing lights burned their eyes so bad that they’re too blind to see that when they wake up in the morning, all the problems they tried so hard to forget about are still there- multiplied exponentially by the things they did along the way, trying to forget their troubles in the first place. It’s insane. But I guess the suffering loneliness can cause is enough to drive anyone to insanity. This place then is just a big asylum with fancy lights and music and everyone here’s a nut job. Except her. She’s not like the rest. She’s beautiful. How can someone so beautiful be so mad?

I looked at her again. She saw me. She smiled a familiar smile as we locked on each other. In a place where the temperature is as cold as the heart of the people who are in it, her smile was a warm ray of sunshine. She drew her hood over her head as she walked towards me, hiding her beautiful face. I got jitters as she approached me. My insides were boiling as she drew closer and closer. My mind went blank. For a moment, I was caught between infinity and absolute nothingness. Thoughts kept rushing through my head like a torrent like water from a broken dam.” What is this feeling? Could this be what I think it is? Is this love? Whatever it is I know it would be unfulfilled, after all I’m just a” – but before I could finish, there she was, right in front of me. As always, she was breathtaking.

She sighed heavily, placed her elbow on the table and gently placed her delicate cheeks on her palm. She stared blankly into space for a moment. With tears running down her face, she once again told the story. I knew it all too well by now. Two weeks ago, she caught her boyfriend in bed with her sister. The night before, the three of them were here at the same place at this very table. She and her boyfriend were celebrating their third anniversary and her sister tagged along. She never thought things could go way out of hand later on. Who would? Her sister was only fifteen. Sweet and innocent. Who would have thought she was capable of something so dastardly? As the night went on, she got a call from her boss. Unfortunately, there was an emergency at work and she had to do some extra paper work to get things going at the office. The company would lose a substantial amount if it’s not done on time. She was up for a promotion and passing this up would also mean passing up the chances to someone else. Her boyfriend approved of her leaving early. She thought he was being sweet and understanding. She kissed him tenderly for being the best boyfriend in the whole damn world. She thought he really understood for letting her leave without a fuss. She was dead wrong.

Excited to go back, she finished her work as quickly as possible. She finished earlier than expected. She hurried to her boyfriend’s apartment, expecting welcoming arms to be spread for her on her arrival. What she got was a painful slap from reality. As she approached her boyfriend’s room, she could hear sounds; two people almost like howling in ecstasy. She knew very well what it meant, but she couldn’t believe it. How can she accept that the man she loved for three years would stab her in the back like this? Silently, she approached the room. The door was slightly open. She leaned closer and took a peak. She struggled not to fall apart with what she saw. Her boyfriend was in bed with another woman. But who? And did he at least have the decency to bring her sister home. Her mother would be furious if she found out she’s been out all night drinking. But as she looked on, the jagged teeth or reality began gnawing the back of her spine. It was her sister. Her boyfriend was having sex with her fifteen year old sister! In an almost frantic daze she dashed out of the building.

Her tears are streaming down her face now. All I could do is watch helplessly as she spaces out again, almost like in a trance. From this angle, she was astonishing, even as silent tears were flowing down her cheeks. “slut” she blurted out. Then, her fingers began fidgeting. Twitching. She moved her fingers across the table and over to the broad side of my body. The sensation was amazing. Her fingers were tender yet electrifying as she caressed every inch of my body. Her soft delicate hand frolicking in my body, playing their way up to my neck. Then, without hesitation, she grabbed me, pulled me in closer and gave me a passionate kiss. Her lips were soft and warm. Soft and delicate like a pillow. Her tongue was playful, tickling their way on the rim of my mouth and exploring their way in. It was exhilarating. She broke off, took a deep breath and smiled. Her sad, soulful eyes betray the grin that is now on her face. it pains me to see her like this. But I enjoyed every moment of that kiss. And without a word she grabbed me again by the neck. Pulled me in and kissed me again. It feels so good, it almost hurts. She’s sucking me dry. But it’s just too damn good.

Suddenly, her phone rang. It was her boyfriend, calling to say how sorry he is. He went about saying how stupid he’s been and how he and her sister were only drunk when that happened. Of course she didn’t believe it even for just a second. But I know she’ll give him another chance. That’s why she’s been here for the past week. To muster the courage to accept that what was done was done. She got up, wiped her tears and left the room. The taste of her strawberry lipstick lingered as I watch her leave. Goodbye my love.

The waiter then walked up to the table, grabbed me by the neck and put me on a tray. He carried me to the back room and put me in the case where the rest of the empty beer bottles are.