1. My family attends mass at 10 am. I go to church at 10:30.
It happens every Sunday. My mother wakes me up at nine and I get up at 9:30. By the time I’ve taken a dump and a bath they are long gone.
The church is just a few streets away, a 15-minute walk. But just in case, to save time, I neither eat nor brush my teeth.
We live in an underground apartment. And every time I walk up the stairs leading to the street I have to be on the lookout for dogshit. It’s because those Mormons living next door to us never close the gate. I always close the gate, because a walking carcass for a dog always comes underground looking for food and shitting on our stairs. This Sunday I close the gate and I see the carcass lying in the middle of the street. I throw stones at it and it goes away.
Down the street I go, then right then left then right then straight ahead, encountering more dogs and dogshit and those Jehovah’s Witnesses in the big house who let their dogs mangle my sister last year. Also, I pass by Mang Mar’s store and catch a glimpse of Marian, who has big boobs, and her kid sister Marion, who has small boobs but is the bigger slut. They call me Kuya and I curse God they’re underage. But assured that the years will pass I go along the streets.
It’s a left, right, left and then left again. Along the way I see the Protestants and their cars in their small church and I thank God I’m Catholic. Protestant masses start at nine and last two hours and you can’t come in late because that’s satanic. Also, they don’t believe in saints and purgatory and can’t watch Pokémon or read Harry Potter. I’m really glad I’m Catholic because we don’t have to give 10% of our income to the church. A few pesos everyday and you’re going to heaven straight or at least have people to pray for you to get there.
I pass by guys who used to play cards with my father and drink with my father until my father got a heart attack and became a hermit and stopped drinking and playing cards. One of these guys recognizes me and calls me my nickname. I give him two raised eyebrows and a smile.
When I arrive at church the homily is already on. It’s because it’s Advent and they don’t sing the Gloria, but when regular time returns I’ll appear less late. I go straight to the front where my family sits. Mama insists we sit in the front because at the back noisy children will disturb her listening.
The priest is the Burmese guy from Burma and as I sit he’s making the people shout alleluia. But the churchgoers remain silent and some hide their faces and one day I really have to tell the Father this is a church not El Shaddai. Most churchgoers are like my Mama, they don’t like their quiet listening disturbed.
But I like the Burmese priest, even though his sermons run for hours. He knows about globalization and doesn’t think we’re stupid. Our parish priest, who is a Filipino, once told a homily explaining why God had three persons. He said it was because God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that we would construe three as meaning “I love you.” I was so upset I walked out and didn’t return until everybody was kneeling. My Mama would have gotten mad if I missed communion.
Minutes pass and the Burmese priest winds it up. We stand up and pray and kneel and pray and pray some more. Then we give the old ladies with baskets a few pesos and then hold hands to pray. The only good thing about our parish priest is that he comes from a good family, i.e., he’s rich, so there’s no need for a second collection. Our church is getting renovated and there’s no need for us to fund the Catechists.
More prayers are said and we are made to stand for the concluding rites. But the announcer has more announcements to make and we have to endure standing while listening to the Sisters of Mary’s meeting schedules. Finally the Burmese priest blesses us in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and we go home as one family, my parents, my sister and I, and we find out that the Mormons left the gate open again and the carcass has left shit all over the stairs.
2. I read novels while I shit. My father has his newspapers. My mother brings her bible. I read novels.
And when I say novels, I mean novels. Usually two. I finish one chapter each and then concentrate on my waste disposal. Sometimes though, I forget where I am. Books have that effect on you. Instead of our yellow bathroom tiles I see the walls of Jericho crumbling down. Replacing the drip-drop of water from our faucet is Jesus’ blood flowing from His side. My own foul smell goes away, and I am immersed in Magdalene’s ministrations.
My usual thirty-minute drops then last for an hour, maybe two. Which upsets my parents. They bang on the bathroom door and shout severe punishments. Allowance cuts, sodomy. Don’t get me wrong. They’re good parents, give me lots of presents and listen when I talk. Religious people, go to church every Sunday and give alms to the poor. But shitting is a need. Like sex and love. And when you have to go, you have to go. You forget who’s your son and you forget cursing upsets God and you just have to get in the bathroom and come down the toilet bowl.
Today is a typical violation on my part. My legs are inch-deep in water because of a pipe my father fixed the day before. I don’t care. I am reading Nikos Kazantzaki’s The Last Temptation of Christ, debating myself as to whether or not it is really better than the movie, or whether the sumptuous atmosphere of my reading nook is just affecting my aesthetic judgment.
I am about to go on to another chapter when thunder shakes our wooden bathroom doors and splinters hit my eyes.
“You’ve been there two hours.” It is my father. I am dead. I put my book on the wooden bookshelf he installed beside the toilet bowl – so good of him – grab the soap, and wash my ass. Toilet paper here, there, and everything dry. In pulling up my shorts I bump my bookshelf and the rattled Last Temptation almost falls into the ever-rising flood. I grab it just in time.
I think about bringing it with me but then I remember I haven’t eaten lunch yet and so I drop it on the bookshelf with six of its fellows. Then I head out.
I pull on the silver doorknob and in comes my father. Still in his church suit, he doesn’t even give me a glance and just pulls down his pants. I am about to tell him that the mini-flood caused by his plumbing is going to destroy the patent-leather boots he is wearing but then he farts so I just close the door.
My mother is still on our lunch table. Yes, lunch table. We have three other tables: breakfast, dinner, meryenda. As I sit my self down she gives me a dirty look but can’t get any scolding out, her mouth full of fat.
We are having lechon, because it is a Sunday. Every Sunday for my family is a celebration. It is a celebration for my parents because in mass they are assured they are going to heaven. It is a celebration for me because I get to eat lechon.
I love lechon. Although, I have to say, my mother loves it more. With a gulp of Coke she washes her throat, then wipes her mouth dry on her sleeve. Then she stands up and prepares my lunch. She gets me a bandehado of rice and hands me the basket of remaining lechon. We ordered 2 kilos, but between my mother and father I am left with only half of it. Thankfully, my sister is enslaved by the phallocentric Judeo-Christian conception of beauty and doesn’t eat lechon. I can hear her singing outside our house, washing her clothes.
“Join me,” I say to my mother. “Have another lunch.”
She stokes my hair, leaving rice and oil in it. Then she sits down and we eat with our hands. We eat in silence but I know she has forgiven me for staying in the bathroom too long.
We finish eating after an hour. She stands up and I remain sitting. She takes the plates to the sink and I pick my teeth. She wipes the table and I sip my Coke. She starts washing the dishes and I see my glass is running low. I am about to call out to her to ask for a refill when our wooden bathroom door bursts open and splinters hit my eyes. Tears and blood blur my vision, which is a good thing too, as my father bursts into our dining room ass-naked and wet. My bookshelf and books in his arms.
I am about to ask him for a refill when the bathroom flood comes churning forward and washes my words away.
3. I am in my room. On my bed are my books. The sunshine shines down through the closed windows to dry them. I sit on the far side of my bed looking at them: Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha. They are wet, but safe. A pity I can’t say the same for my Nikos Kazantzakis. Or my computer. Or my VCDs. Goodbye The Life of Brian. So long Dogma. Farewell The Last Temptation—Oh. Christ.
Tears are drowning my nose. I try consoling myself that I can always order from Amazon, but then I remember my computer is busted.
C’est la vie. So it goes. Shit happens. The sun also rises. The sun will come out tomorrow. Que sera sera.
God I just hate my father for letting this happen. He could have prevented the bathroom pipes from bursting. The door opens.
“Father, I just hate God for letting this happen. He could have prevented the bathroom pipes from bursting.” (Plus, how come my books got wet and Mama’s bible, which was in the bathroom too, didn’t?) My father shrugs and starts hanging my underwear on the clothesline he just made some minutes ago: a pipe from our bathroom, now parallel to my bed, extending from wall to wall.
My father finishes and I pick up Vidal and try riffling through his pages. But then my sister comes in carrying her just-washed clothes, gives my hanging underwear a dirty look and I know she is about to order me around when the phone rings and she picks it up and starts yapping. I put the book down and just stare at the ceiling. One can’t read while women are yapping.
I used to share my room with my brother and sister. It was very messy then. My brother went to work abroad, and now I only share the room with my sister. That doesn’t mean the room has changed for the better. If anything else, it’s become messier.
Our room is claustrophobic small—15, 20 cr cubicles tops. It is divided by my brother’s old closet. Per square meter, my sister has the bigger share. Because, God knows, women need space. Lots of it, or they go whacko.
My bed is located in front of the door, to the right of my brother’s old closet. I sleep on the upper part of the double deck I used to share with my brother. When he was still around I slept on the lower part. He’s in Abu Dhabi now. Him leaving and me ascending was one of the most triumphant events that happened in my life. The lower part where I used to sleep now serves as my hamper. The upper part where I now sleep smells like a hamper—that is, of bodily fluids.
All around the room are tawas molehills, the price I have to pay for having a sister with white underarms. The tawas makes a rather nice light/shadow play with the dust that’s also all around the room. Dust accumulating on our two electric fans, on our low ceiling, on our windows that are never opened. Now dust will accumulate on the clothesline, too. My mother used to clean our room. But then she got old. And when you have an old mother you don’t get your room cleaned anymore.
To the left of the door to the front of my brother’s old closet stand two more closets, mine. One is a four-drawer Orocan. The other is a four-drawer wooden one. While I call them my closets I actually share them with my sister. The Orocan has her pants while the wooden one houses her shirts. She has another closet at her part of the room. That one’s full of clothes. Because, God knows, women need clothes. Lots of clothes, or they go whacko.
It’s pretty hard sharing my room with my sister, since she’s a woman. But I’m not complaining. And I haven’t killed her. Yet.
“Hey toilet boy, would you mind stepping out of the room?” Her ex is on the phone. I can tell, her eyes are shining. “And bring your books with you, God they smell like shit.”
4. I am home. My parents are out returning the lechon we ate, what is left anyway, 1/10 or so. It is spoiled and cost much money. My sister is bathing, in the bathroom. I am in my room, on my bed. Mama’s bible, she gave it to me to read to lessen the pain in my stomach, is on my lap. Beside me are bits and pieces of lechon. Tears are drowning my nose. My stomach grumbles. I fart.
The phone rings. I jump off my bed but into the room rushes my sister and she pushes me aside, grabbing the phone.
“Hello? Love?” Her face breaks into a smile, soapsuds dripping down her body. I cover her naked body with my bathroom towel, and walk out the room. Mama’s bible in my hands. I fart—this time with bits and pieces of lechon spilling out with it.
Water from the bathroom is flooding our dining room. I go inside the bathroom, with Mama’s bible to read. Grabbing the silver doorknob I close the wooden door. Hurrying, I pull down my pants and sit on the toilet bowl. Solidliquidgas: my heart is lightened of its burdens.
I riffle through Mama’s bible’s pages. “Let there be light!”
“And Adam, to preserve the human species, had sex with the different animals of the earth and the different birds of the air, and they gave birth to mankind’s different races.”
“The author is God. If you find any mistakes, contradictions or aporias in this text, rest assured they are only like that to you.”
“In the beginning was the Bird, and the Bird was with God. And God had a Bird.”
“This book is not sexist. It is just so that its female characters are evil, or stupid, or both.”
“Consumatum est, now get me the hell down from this cross.”
Thunder and lightning shake our wooden door. I manage to block the splinters from hitting my eye using Mama’s bible.
“I’m still bathing.” My sister.
“I’m still shitting.” I fart for emphasis.
She keeps on knocking on the door, over and over repeatedly. I can’t keep up my blocking and the splinters are really damaging Mama’s bible. With a sigh I say I need five more minutes. My sister keeps on knocking. Standing up to wash up, I put Mama’s bible on my bathroom bookshelf. The bookshelf’s wood, because of the floods, is weak and rickety, the whole structure is doing a Pisa, but it still stands.
I grab the bar of soap, the dipper. Splishsplash. Tissue here, there, and everywhere. I push down the flush but the toilet bowl doesn’t flush. I flush. Nothing’s happening.
Flushed, I ask, “Is the toilet bowl flush broken?”
No answer. I repeat my question.
Nothing. “Why is the toilet bowl not flushing? Is it broken? Excuse me, the flush is not flushing!” Shouts this time. I knock on the wooden door.
“Hurry up there.” Is that the only thing she can say? “And by the way, the flush is broken. Use a pail, use it twice. I don’t want to see even a bit of shit remaining. If I know you it’s got to be a big pile.”
“It’s not a big pile.” I look at the toilet bowl and stare at the big pile I just made.
The only pail with water is the big one beside my bookshelf. She’s telling me to flush with a pail of water twice when she’s the one who used up the water from the other pails. Women! I stare at the big pail. I don’t like using that one because it’s heavy. Thunders and splinters. I breathe in deep and grab the big pail. Up two inches from the floor I drop the damn heavy thing. It slams against my bookshelf and Mama’s bible is knocked into my big pile of shit in the toilet bowl.
Sunday Times Magazine
June 21, 2002