Staring At A Blank Sky
rating: +12+x

Carlos stares at a blank sky, expectant.

He knows He’ll come soon, any moment now. He’s felt His presence almost all week, and he knows his friends would call him crazy, and an idiot, and Cayo even threw a rock at him and Carlos beat his ass and they both got yelled at by Don Gerardo, but he knew He was coming. He’s sure of it.

The first signs were the shivers. Carlos knew shivers were bad; Rotina, from two houses above, got shivers once and she died a month later. They said her skin had turned black and purple, and her eyes bled blood the whole time, but it wasn’t like that for him. Unlike Rotina, Carlos had never played near the black patches the smokestacks left behind when the wind was too strong, the same patches you’d find sticking to the skin of the fish people from the houses down, down below that spent all day swimming in the black waters surrounding Retro-Manila, in search of weird food like three-headed fishes and alimango crabs, who the old people said once were tasty and had pure, white flesh but now have awful, black-green skin, and they taste like sad and regret. Don Gerardo says some of them have faces on their back-caparaces, and Donya Martina says that that is what happens to people who eat the alimangos; they’ll turn into skittering crabs and be caught and disemboweled and eaten.

The shivers were a good thing. Carlos knew this. It meant he was breathing the same air as Him. Not the bad air the smokestacks produced, the air that was black and ugly and looking like a huge moss-rock like the one growing under his bed back home and under his desk back at the kolehiyo. The air He breathed was pure and invisible, or maybe white like the sheets of his bed, which were white but if you stared long enough, you could see through them. Yeah, He was breathing sheet-like air, and so was Carlos.

Then came the hair rising. Carlos had only had the hairs in his arms rise before, and that was when He first appeared before Carlos. He was so beautiful, and so long. So, so long. Don Gerardo says they used to make Them like that ‘back in the day’. Like ‘culebres’ or ‘culebras’ or something like that. It was a good thing, apparently, because They were long and beautiful, and everyone cheered for Them, and people threw their pesos and centavos and piloncitos at Them, and the more money you threw, the better They would become. Now everything is made of bronze and metal and ceramic, Don Gerardo says, and they all look like alimango crabs. Carlos was scared of the idea of crabs the size of Him. Maybe every other culebre ate alimango crabs and turned into them. Maybe He was the last one of His kind.

The hair of his arms and head rose, and it also meant the air around Carlos was the same air He felt. He and Carlos were connected; he had felt this way ever since that fateful day, when he was four, and He rose from the seas, parting it like… like… like a character in the bibliya whose name Carlos could not remember now. Carlos wasn’t good with names, especially those taught in history classes. He’d never been a fan of memorizing stuff he couldn’t see with his own two eyes.

That connection, between him and Him, had happened high above. Higher than the stilt dwellings and mud constructs of the fish people and the bruise bearers. Higher than the scavenge offices and soup kitchens Carlos and his family frequented. Higher than the rowhouses and communal rooms he and his friends from the kolehiyo lived in, than the concrete courts and ‘non-burnable trash designated’ areas they hung out at. Higher than the toy factories and coconut smelters, yet not higher than their smokestacks. Nothing was higher than them, other than the Sun (Which is why the factories hated it, and blocked it as much as possible) and Him. And maybe the Batuan boats that would bring fruits and vegetables and fuel from the other isles.

The third and final sign was the burning in his throat. Carlos had felt something like this before, when He rose from the seas and parted the skies. He had breathed in air, and had expelled out red fire, then blue fire, then purple fire, and that same warmth had covered all of Manila; all of Luzón. It hurt, and it made it hard to breathe, but Carlos knew it was love. The burning that traveled from his throat into his chest and stomach meant one thing; He was warming all His people’s bodies. All their hearts. Donya Martina says that a person dies when their hearts grow cold, and He knew this as well. Ever since then, Carlos’s heart had never felt cold.

As soon as the burning in his throat began, Carlos knew the day had come, and he began walking up the stairs, upwards, towards the highest point in town. He had missed kolehiyo that day, but the teachers would understand. This was more important than calculus or Don Rizal. He ran past all the places mentioned before, past broken doors and taped-up windows, past even the cités and conventillos where the factory workers stopped to have lunch, where Carlos would sometimes go after classes and they would give him snacks and coins and shiny rocks and Don Alberto would ruffle his hair, leaving his hair the color of the sea or the color of the sky, but now Don Alberto is not there anymore because a very hot piece of metal cut him in pieces, like mom cutting ampalayas.

”Cuidao’ mijo, se va’caer y partir la jeta uno’destos dias!” Donya Martina yelled at Carlos as he passed by the three-walled house she lived in, in that weird espanyol they were teaching in school but Carlos couldn’t wrap his head around. He knew it was bad, because she would only use it when she was angry, so Carlos sped up, hearing more funny words coming from behind him, but it was too late, he had already squeezed himself in between two houses, up another set of adobe steps, and finally, he had reached it.

La Simbahang San Agustin, they called the half meter of wall and the half-melted figure that stood atop an artificial hill, and people would come here and pray to Him, and also to San Agustin, who seemed to be a previous man who felt the same things Carlos was feeling right now. He had stood on these ruins, when these ruins used to be a building of prayers, and he had met with Him, and He had blessed him, in the same way Carlos had been blessed back then. Carlos didn’t know what had happened with San Agustin, but he could only assume he’d lived a good life. He wouldn’t allow for any other way, Carlos thought.

And it was with these thoughts that Carlos had begun staring at the blank sky, expectant. And waited. And waited. He had waited seven years since that day, Carlos thought, and so he would wait some more. He would wait all night if necessary.

But it wasn’t necessary.

An incessant tremor begins, and Carlos knows the time had come. He falls on his knees, and puts his hands together, because Don Gerardo had said this was what you did when you met with Him, and he couldn’t remember if he’d done it back then, but it had to have happened, otherwise Carlos wouldn’t be here today.

The seas part, just like in the book, and from it comes a long, long creature. He’s blue-and-white colored, and had many red-and-yellow eyes on His head, which was shaped like a house, or maybe like the kolehiyo. Maybe houses were shaped like Him, and that made sense, because he felt at home right now.

Many elongated limbs with ten-fingered hands rise from the sea, and He uses them to begin climbing the Intramuros, which separated Retro-Manila from Not-Retro-Manila, and even if the land shook and people shouted, either in fear or annoyance, Carlos felt at peace.

“Ladies and gentlemen, people of Luzón — Bakonaua has come to greet the people of Great Manila before His fight! Greet our great fighter!”

All radios and loudspeakers were on, but Carlos wasn’t paying attention. Not to the static noise once it was done, or to the ‘Mabuhayang Bakonaua” and ”Viva Santo Bakonaua” cheers, or to the horns from the boats and the galleons floating above him. All Carlos cared about was the massive head poking past the muros, and the seventy-two eyes it had, all staring at him.

Time stops, but it keeps going. It wasn’t a matter of time: He was waiting for Carlos to speak. Carlos swallows, even if it hurts or tastes like blood.

“Don Bakonaua,” He starts. “I’ve waited for your coming for many years! Seven years I waited, and the bibliya says seven is a holy number, so I knew you would come this year; today. I want to thank you, Don Bakonaua, because you have blessed my life. Ever since we met seven years ago, I’ve been happy, and so has been my family, even if dad sometimes comes back from the factory with no money, and mom cries and we are hungry, we have remained happy and together, unlike everyone else from math class, or history class, or gym class.”

Don Bakunaua nods in understanding. Carlos continues.

“It’s thanks to you that dad hasn’t lost a finger or a hand or his whole body at the factory. Even in that fire where everyone ended black and crusty and could not work anymore, he was fine. And it’s thanks to you that mom can keep cooking curry and sisig and pata and even flan and bistek for my birthdays, when so many complain of eating rat and crab, like the fish people or the kids who become coal tossers instead of learning in class.”

Don Bakunaua blinks, turning towards Palawan Island, far in the horizon. The moon was beginning to appear, past the smoke columns; past the zeppelin-bleachers.

“As I’ve been blessed with life by You, I want to return the favor: Please, allow me to follow you, like the apostoles followed You once. Tell me what to do, where to go, and that I’ll do; there I’ll go.”

Don Bakunaua, the reason Carlos and his family were healthy — No, more than healthy, full of life, closes His many eyes, and Carlos knew he was considering it. He was old, at least as old as Don Gerardo, and even older, but even He could be moved by a fervent boy’s words. If people like San Agustin and Don Rizal had been breathed on by Him, and had become His apostoles, then Carlos could too.

With a scratching noise followed by a loud whistle, the loudspeakers came to life again.

“And now He goes, to defend our country, to defend Great Manila! Mabuhayang Pilipinas! Mabuhayang Repúblika!”

The words pass by, and Carlos knows it’s time for Him to go. His country needs Him. Everyone else does. He cannot stop stealing His time.

“Mabuhayang Pilipinas. Mabuhayang Repúblika.” Carlos finished his prayer, and lets go of Don Bakunaua. With a huff, He nods, and breathes life into Retro-Manila, just like He had done all those years ago. With a flame, first red, then blue, then purple, the black fumes above Luzón are set ablaze. It lasts mere seconds, but that’s enough: The black sky is gone, replaced instead by one full of life.

Then, bibliya words resonate within Carlos’s head. Words he’d read and repeated so many times.

”He who believes in me, shall live forever. Go forth, my apostol. Live forever. That’s all I ask.”

With that parting gift, Don Bakunaua jumps off the intramuros, landing into a black-and-red sea, small waves washing ashore tumorous fishes and man-faced crabs for the fish people, and unearthing bronze statues and sunken ships for the common folk to explore and scavenge. He, now a mere blur slithering beneath foam and oil-spill, swims towards the arena where He will fight, and He will win, and then seven more years will pass.

It takes Carlos two minutes to realize tears are falling down his face. It takes five more minutes for the burning in his stomach to move to his chest, then to his throat, then to be expelled out his mouth, in a mix of badly-processed food and expired chunks. As a second parting gift, the sheer elation makes Carlos spew out the anisakis parasites he’d consumed, hiding in the snacks he’d received from workers a week ago. There’d be no more shivers, no more hair-rising, no more burning.

In a daze, Carlos makes the trip back home to tell his parents the good news; he was an apostol now. His joy was met with a wooden spoon to the buttocks for skipping class. He took the pain with a smile; it was a fair price for salvation.

Five hundred kilometers away, a giant culebre defeats a giant crab with the face of a man on its back.

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