Monday, May 09, 2005


This much is known:

The first time she ate at The Hot House, Sophia Decena was served chicken bloodier than a menstruating vagina. Grilled, the menu said. Grilled without heat probably. Sophia swallowed every piece of flesh, and would have done the same with the bones had Tyrone not raised an eyebrow.
She had been giving him the eye the whole semester, but he only spoke to her last Tuesday, a week before Finals. She had thought her nose got in the way. It turned out he was just biding his time.
A day of texting, three nights on the phone. This was their first date.
Lunch, he had paid for lunch. He was every bit as poor as her. They were aliens at the College of Mass Communications, where the prevailing Weltanschauung went like so: "I've seen you in the get-up already. You wore that last month."
Sophia stared at him as he fruitlessly tried to cut his pork barbeque with his plastic fork. He had, he told her, a part-time job at Burn, a Katipunan restaurant that specialized in sizzling sisig. She, on the other hand, worked as a student assistant at the Department of Journalism at the CMC.
He was wearing pants full of holes, as she was, and mojos covered with dust. She was in her dead brother's rubber shoes. His polo shirt, of a brand with an unpronounceable name, was a gift from his sister he said was a caregiver in the United Kingdom. She was in the "UPyours Fighting Morons" t-shirt she bought with her first salary.
The Hot House was located at the back of the Main Library of the University of the Philippines. As regular classes were now officially over, nobody ate lunch during lunch time anymore. They were the only customers.
Sophia could not understand, surely the management knew about UP's academic schedule, why did they cook so much food? Mechado, asado, adobo, sinigang, tinola, paella, eggplant with bagoong, salted egg with tomato, grilled meat of various leanings and denominations. Nobody was buying anything. Around them were empty chairs and tables, bored table cleaners and barbeque cooks.
“I’ll get us some water.”
Sophia smiled at Tyrone. He did not have enough money for soft drinks.
Watching him walk toward the water dispenser she could not help but sigh. He was brilliant in their Comm 100 class, exchanging barbs with their coño classmates, parrying their power-tripper teacher with insults so subtle she knew she was the only one who understood. “We’re just two lost souls,” Sophia sang in her head.
He came back and gave her her glass. She nodded a thanks and as she drank she noticed that it was not only The Hot House but the whole campus that looked abandoned. The soccer players usually seen at the Sunken Garden were nowhere. There was only grass there, dying under the sun.
There were no jeepneys too, Sophia recalled. Tyrone was a bit late coming from Molave dorm, he said he waited ten minutes before giving up on the idea of getting a ride.
She had come from Kamia residence hall and had walked, it was only a short distance after all. “But, but, but,” she thought, “I didn’t see anyone while walking.” In fact, she remembered that as she headed for the dorm’s exit, Ate Lucy, Kamia’s receptionist, was not at the counter, where she should have been. Neither was Ate Diamond, their security guard, at the door.
“Sophia? Sophia?” Tyrone brought her back to earth.
Silly musings, really, irrational. It’s because she was with him, that’s why she could not see anybody else. She knew, the moment she saw him enter their classroom on the first day of class. He was late and Prof. Tolentino berated him for his clothes (anybody else would have melted then evaporated from humiliation but not him—he had a quip ready: “At least I don’t look like I’m in a funeral” and everyone laughed), she knew she loved him.
“Sophia? Are you okay?”
She had been holding the already-empty glass to her lips. She put it down. “I’m okay. Just thinking, that’s all.”
“Yeah,” he removed something from the tip of her nose, “you’re always doing that.”
It was then that she smelled the burning barbeque. She looked up and saw that no one was manning the grills. The smoke of charred meat obscured the sky and filled up her lungs. “What’s happening?” she asked. “How come?” She looked around but did not see the table cleaners who were supposed to be there. “And where the hell are those street children who are always asking for money?”
Tyrone seemed oblivious to their surroundings. He kept on forking the piece of pork on his plate. He was muttering as he did so.
“Just use your hands.”
He gave her another raised eyebrow.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind. And who’s here to see?”
He did not say “Okay” or smile or even nod, he just took the meat and shoved it into his mouth.
Sophia forced a chuckle as Tyrone gathered the rice on his plate onto his hands and stuffed himself. She could not help but wince as he chewed loudly, grunting, with the occasional barbeque bit spilling out.
She licked her lips. She tasted blood.
Up her body stood, like a knee jerking from a doctor’s mallet. “I have to go to the comfort room.” Oh God! The Hot House did not have crs. She would have to go use the Main Library’s. “Excuse me.”
Tyrone did not react.
Sophia grabbed her backpack and practically ran to the stairs that would, she hoped, lead to somewhere sane. But as she walked she saw that the Varsity Christian Fellowship tambayan was empty, and, in front of it, so was the Rifle Pistol Team’s. She felt something drip down her chin. She had no handkerchief so she wiped it with her hand. Viscous liquid. She took a look at her palm.
Sophia took her cellphone out. It was a 3200. It used to be her sister’s. She died because she did not give it to the man who threatened her at the alley some blocks from her boarding house in Blumentritt. The man slashed at the Cynthia’s bellybutton. He did not get her cellphone.
“No signal, one bar battery,” Sophia said out loud. “And the inbox? Empty?” She did not bother to find out.
Back it went into her bag and up the stairs she rushed and found the library’s entrance without security guards. Kuya Robert, the man assigned to the bag counter, whom she sometimes flirted with, was not there to give her his usual smile. Around her the computers used for finding books and call numbers, each always with someone researching on it, were bare. Sophia did not bother to glance at the Social Science library, the one beside the males’ cr, and she covered her eyes passing by the General Reference section, which was to the left of the females’ cr.
She knew they were empty.
Inside the comfort room she tried to wash her face. Not only did the mirrors fail to reflect, but the more water she splashed, the harder she scrubbed, the more blood came from her mouth. With her stained hand she took her cellphone out again, and again she found it useless for communication.
She tried to speak but couldn’t. She wanted to scream but there was only blood.
She fought back her tears but could not help but fall to the floor. Her ass felt wet. She looked down too inspect the tiles, and found the blood from her mouth had flooded the comfort room.
She got up. Her pants were wet now. Her shirt was too, thanks to the continuous flow from her mouth. With all her might she opened the door and ran from the Main Library. Outside she turned right, toward the UP Chapel.
Her vision was blurred. She concentrated on the ground beneath her running feet. The world around her did not matter anymore. It was empty and she was dripping blood.
“At least I don’t need to look both ways before crossing the street.”
The College of Engineering was mute. The College of Social Work and Development did not exist. Sophia could only pray that the Chapel would be where it was supposed to be.
It was. But the gates of its gardens were locked.
“This cannot be.” Still, she accepted what she saw and jumped over the spiked sculpted fences.
She made a sign of the cross.
The walls of the Chapel where murals of the suffering and resurrection of Jesus were painted on, Sophia found blank. Blank, not even white. Not even black. Just blank. And the back to back sculptures of Jesus, one on the cross and one come back from the dead, must have been taken to heaven, for Sophia couldn't find them.
A line from a comic book she read long ago echoed in her head: “Father in heaven, get me the hell out of here!” Only Sophia’s thoughts remained strong. Her legs were wobbly and her back ached. As she climbed over the Chapel’s fences she slipped and fell on the road.
She could not stand up.
She crawled.
Right in front of her, just a few meters away, was the University Infirmary. Surely if there was a place she could go to, that would be it! “I can make it,” she told herself.
And she crawled.
The blood from her mouth streamed down the streets. She broke her nails on the asphalt and the holes of her pants ripped. She persisted. She may have gone insane, but she still had determination.
She made it.
It was some time after twelve when she met Tyrone for lunch. The sun was down by the time she reached the infirmary.
A nurse met her at the entrance. At least she looked like a nurse to Sophia. She wore white pants and a white t-shirt. And a smile. And a nurse’s cap. Plus, she had a clipboard.
“Help me.” The words remained in Sophia’s head.
The nurse said, “Of course, that’s what I’m here for.” She lifted Sophia from the ground and onto her shoulders. “Come right in. You’re my last patient for today.”
Of the nurse’s face Sophia could only see the nose. Large and flat, with nostrils evolved to survive the severest asthma attack, akin to hers.
She was taken to a room that did not look like a hospital’s. Of course, she was at an infirmary. But why were the walls black? Why was the bed hard? Where were the other patients? This place was made for every member of the UP community, there weren’t supposed to be private rooms. Yet Sophia found herself in one.
The nurse took off her bloody clothes and put her into a hospital gown. She put a pillow under her head and a blanket over her body. “Wait here. I’ll go get the serum.”
Doubts still lingered in Sophia’s head, her eyes following the nurse’s fading figure, but at least her fear had given over to hope.
She fell asleep.
When she woke up the walls were still black and the bed was still hard but she was not alone. The nurse offered a glass of water with a straw. Sophia took a sip.
“Listen now. The serum stopped the bleeding. But getting back to a world where other people exist is up to you.” The nurse took Sophia’s palm and put a red pill there. “You decide if you want to drink.”
The pill was heavy on her palm. She could not imagine herself swallowing it. Once, when she was twelve or thirteen (she did not want to remember), she was attacked by an unknown illness. Astronomic temperature, lungs filled with phlegm. Her parents brought her to a doctor who, after touching her face and stroking her hair, instead of a prescription, gave them a bottle of special tablets. Bought at an astronomical price, Sophia drank her medicine religiously. But she didn't get better. The first bottle was soon empty. They bought another one. Sophia held on to her faith, believing she would soon be standing and playing. That she would soon go back to school.
It did not happen.
When she had swallowed all the tablets of the second bottle she told her parents she would drink no more of the special medicine.
That day she began to recover.
The doctor was a fraud, it turned out. They found out that they were not the only ones who were fooled with, investigations showed, salt tablets.
After that episode Sophia vowed never to believe in anything other people told her was the cure. Not even for headaches. Not even for dysmenorrhea.
After that she was unable to trust anybody. People would befriend her. People who proclaimed care. She let them come. She embraced them even. But always she remembered the doctor. And always she sent these people away.
She frowned and let the pill fall to the floor.
“I understand. I’ll come back with the same proposition tomorrow.” The nurse left, leaving Sophia to stare at the door she left open.
Sophia tried to sleep. She couldn't. When she closed her eyes all she saw was the empty campus of her yesterday and the blood that had burst from her mouth.
Her eyes went from the ceiling to the walls to the corridor the nurse had, Sophia thought, left open for her.
Most of the time the corridor outside was empty. But sometimes, sometimes, it was filled with visions. A boy who could not be older than eight hopped and skipped as he passed by, wearing a doctor’s uniform, complete with a stethoscope.  A man (a woman?) in silver armor wearing a green cloak marched by from time to time, once glaring at Sophia’s direction.
The sight that disturbed and elated her the most was the woman in red, the sight that Sophia saw the least, the sight that she waited for. The lady in red always passed by with pride, her stride was sure. In her many weeks at the room, Sophia came to admire the woman who walked with dignity.
The vision that she saw and dreaded the most was the green giant. He was always slow and muttering something under his breath. Always he punched the walls of the corridor as he passed by.
Sophia did not understand why, perhaps it was because of her idleness, but she came to believe that the lady in red and the monster were the same being.
She saw these visions seldom. Most of the time she daydreamed, putting her hands in front of her face to block any other sight. In her daydreams she made projects. Plans about her career in journalism. Plans for a family. Memories of her dead siblings. Forecasts, schedules, deadlines, recollections, lists. Incapacitated as she was on the bed, these plans remained plans.
Everyday the nurse came, everyday Sophia declined the promise of recovery. Everyday the door was left open. All this time the nurse’s face remained obscure. Sophia decided it had something to do with her cap.
One day, after Sophia had dropped the red pill to the floor, the nurse took the glass of water she was sipping from and poured its contents all over her loins. Shivering, Sophia shouted in surprise. This was how she found out she had regained her voice. She was about to express her gratitude when the nurse spoke: “Don’t you want to live? Why accept this paralysis?”
Sophia was about the express her anger and confusion when the nurse stormed out. The next day she came back minus her daily offer. They did not exchange words. The day after that Sophia spent alone. She howled but no one came. More days passed but the nurse did not come. The visions came more frequently. Sophia shrieked at the boy doctor, at the cloaked figure, at the woman, even at the green giant. They paid her no mind.
When the nurse returned along with a glass of water she had a red pill with her. And a frown. “You are upset? Speak.”
Sophia sighed. “You left me knowing I was alone. That’s torture. Evil.”
The red pill flew into the air and landed on the nurse’s palm. “You focus too much on the pain. You torture yourself.”
“You do not know the shame of being covered in your own blood.”
“On the contrary.” Off went the nurse’s cap and for the first time Sophia saw her face.
It was the visage that UP’s main library failed to reflect. It was her own.
Sophia saw her mouth open. Only it was not her mouth, it was the nurse’s. Words were heard. It was only then that Sophia realized they shared the same voice. “Trust.” The red pill was put on her palm. “Drink.”
Sophia could no longer lie to herself. She swallowed it, followed by the water that washed the blood that was long gone from her mouth but remained in her mind. She had run for her sanity, she had crawled for her life. She needed to go back to the real world.
Sophia felt her eyebrows grow heavy.
“Good. You’ll be better when you wake up. Then you can get out of this hell hole.”
Sophia could not help her yawns. “It’s not so bad.”
The nurse snorted.
Sophia closed her eyes. “I’m thankful.”
The nurse walked toward the door. For the first time she looked like she was going to close it. “Don’t be. You helped yourself.” The door was closed.
Sophia nodded to the darkness. She understood everything. As sleep came, she hoped that she would wake up to Tyrone’s voice, that they would be eating at The Hot House on their first date, that her mind had only fell asleep for a few moments.

Specifics of what happened next are scant. It is known definitely that Sophia’s hopes were dashed when she regained consciousness. It is known definitely too that she did not die because Tyrone’s voice was not the one that awoke her. It can be conjectured that she began reconnecting with the real world, with those who disappeared the first time she ate at The Hot House. It may be hoped that she began executing the plans that she daydreamed about. It would not take much to imagine her repeating the nurse’s words in her head, resolving to find what was lost and never eating chicken raw again.

Philippines Graphic
May 9, 2005

Saturday, January 01, 2005


She prefers to be addressed as "Ma'am." She is not a teacher. But the people, mostly women, who come to her get one of their biggest lessons in life. No, this is not another Tuesdays with Moron rip-off, though encounters with Justine Kaye Llanes are all about life and death.
Ma'am JK is the unofficial head of the University's abortion corps.
There she is, getting off her bike. She has just come from the clinic, known to those in the know as "Room TBA." She's wearing jogging pants and a t-shirt. Her coat and white pants are in her backpack.
She opens their gate, pulls her bike in, and rushes inside.
It is high noon, hours before she's supposed to be home. Just before lunch break she almost sent a student to the same place she had put her fetus.
Diarrhea problems.
She kicks opens the door of their boarding house's comfort room. She fights through her roommates' panties, hanging from a makeshift clothesline, and drops her underclothes as she drops on the toilet bowl. There is a spurt of shit. JK sighs and looks at her watch. Plenty of minutes before she is needed at the clinic. She grabs a pail of water and cleans up.
She steps out of the cr. Nikita, she knows, is at the library. Leonida, at her boyfriend's. "Only God knows where Mikaela is." She shares a room with these three women. She is the only one who is not a student, and has performed an abortion for all except Leonida. It is a small house, the only other bedroom being their landlords'. Mr. and Mrs. Kero know about JK's job. They have a daughter who is studying nursing at Manila. She stays at her aunt's house, and has been promised a free abortion, if ever it is needed.
JK gets her cellphone from her bag (no messages) and sits on the sofa at the sala. She thinks about texting Juanito. Instead she checks her sent items and rereads the greeting she gave him this morning. A good morning, an I love you, a see you this afternoon. They will meet at the Sunken Garden, at the benches in front of the College of Law. That is the plan. He has not replied.
He has been behaving badly lately, punching posts, kicking cats. When they do meet he is silent, when she caresses him he tells her he is thinking about his classes. He is a junior Education major. She met him when he brought his former girlfriend to her clinic. Nerissa? Marrisa? Charisma? Whatever. A timid girl, glasses, braces, shoulder-length hair. Newly rebonded then. She backed out at the last moment, she was already on the table.
"They were only freshmen." It was the start of the second semester. They had a fun sembreak.
She died in childbirth. So did the child. Juanito was at an exam. Math? Who cares? They buried her and he blamed himself. When JK met him again he was down drunk near a bench at the Sunken Garden, in front of the College of Education. It was where the girl agreed to become his girlfriend.
JK jogs the academic oval every afternoon. She wasn't supposed to stop and help him. In fact, she would've stepped on him had she not recognized him. It was a good day, three abortions and three happy women. She earned enough to buy a bike. Pay It Forward. So she did. She took him home, and her three roommates patched him up, sobered him up, filled him up with food and got the whole sob story out of him. Afterwards they became friends. He would drop by the boarding house, bringing oranges and bananas and pirated VCDs. Sometime he would drop by the clinic and they would have lunch or dinner together. This was what, a year ago? Yeah, probably a year ago.
Today is their third monthsary.
"Just my fucking luck falling for an eighteen year old." JK pockets her cellphone and grabs her bag. She closes the door, gets her bike, locks the gate and pedals to the clinic. A patient is waiting for her. She pops an Imodium and aborts the student's twins.
It is three in the afternoon, she is at the lounge drinking coffee, when Juanito arrives. A bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates. His hair is in a ponytail, his torso in a tight-fitting Duffy Duck shirt, his legs in elephant pants, his feet in leather shoes.
"I have another patient waiting."
"Give her a pro-life pamphlet and tell her to think it over." He touches the tip of her nose and smiles.
"Lazy doctors don't get to buy cars." She kisses him on the forehead. "I'll wrap it up quick."
He nods and she goes to the girl.
"For the love of God Neferti, use modern methods next time." The operating room is cool and comfortable. JK's heart is happy.
"Yes Ma'am..."
She begins, and finishes quickly. It is Neferti's third abortion, the last two times with JK as attending physician. It is a different man each time. Neferti is a Fine Arts major, and writes poetry on the side. "I'm so Goth I'm dead" get-up (black leather, silver piercings), face perpetually wet with tears (even, so the second fucker told JK, while fucking), both parents working abroad (father Engineer at Saudi, mother care-giver at Canada), students like Neferti are the life-blood of the clinic. The flood of these middle-class asses is the reason why Dr. Ciracio "Sir" Dimagiba, JK's uncle and mentor, was able to transform Room TBA from a pile of plywood into a concrete complex. A year ago JK was skipping lunches and aborting left and right so she could afford a bike. Today she picks her customers and has enough money for a Crosswind downpayment.
"I mean it Neferti, I don't want to see your face again." They are back at the lounge.
"Yes Ma'am..." The girl was holding hands with her boyfriend ("He's the one, the one Ma'am" she told her back at the operating room). A jock, this time, "UP yours Fighting Morons" his jacket said. The first one was a sculptor. The second, a teacher at the College of Mess Communications.
"Very well. Take care now. E-mail me, okay?" Juanito takes JK's bag and together they leave. "Where to?"
"Two destinations. Just follow me."
She is surprised by what she finds at the parking lot. "Your father is going to kill you."
He picks up her bike and places it the back of the pick-up. "Relax, I borrowed it from him."
"You told me that the last time," she says as she steps inside. The scar on his forehead reminds her to doubt.
"Trust, trust," he says as he starts the car, "isn't that what you tell your patients?"
"Whatever," she sits back and sighs, "with a shadow."
Room TBA lay at the outskirts of the University. The pick-up traverses CP Garcia swiftly. Juanito makes a right into the University Avenue, turns right at the sight of the administration building, then a left. Following the flow of the academic oval he makes another left and then another before turning right into the parking lot to the left of the College of Law. From the backseat he gets a picnic basket and blanket. It is December and the sun is making another early exit.
The two walk to the center of the Sunken Garden.
She watches as he lays the blanket on the grass and sets up the food. He motions her to sit.
"How's class?" She begins chomping on a banana.
He is sipping on a Sprite in can. "The Creative Writing class is great." An English subject, it's the last he'll be taking outside his College. "Our teacher had his friend give a talk. He's a real writer, published, award-winning. He has this story where a guy offers to buy the soul of a street urchin. For twenty pesos. The kid signs a contract and the guy takes her picture. Isn't that funny?"
JK spits a hard part out. "Isn't that kind of sick?"
"I swear, the things you find amusing."
He finds an apple. "Look who's talking..."
She growls. "A fetus is part of the woman's body, it..."
"You watch Bubble Gang! You take part of a show that parades skin! You enjoy it when Michael V. makes fun of Diego, calling him ugly and stuff. You revel in slapstick!" He takes a huge bite. "Besides, I meant 'funny' in a deep way, like profound, ala Apocalypse Now."
She finishes her banana and starts peeling another. "Okay, fine, you win. You always win."
"I'm sorry," he drops the apple and cups her face, "I didn't mean to insult you, or beat your head in. I just wanted to tell you about the interesting story. That's all."
"Forget it." She kisses him smack on the lips.
He kisses her. It is longer than a smack. Inside her hand JK's banana is squeezed out of its skin.
They spend the rest of the hour holding each other, silent, eating fruits and sipping softdrinks. When sky turns black Juanito stands up.
"Let us go, then." He reaches out his hand.
She fixes the blanket and puts their garbage into the picnic basket. "Where to?"
She grabs his hand and lifts herself up.
Humming they head for the parking lot.
They do not find the car.
Juanito takes the picnic basket from JK and throws it down the asphalt road. "Who would steal a pick-up?" He starts jumping up and down, kicking and punching in the air. She watches him for a while, then brings out her cellphone. He begins attacking a young tree, grabbing its leaves. Passerby stare at them. "Did any of you see the fucks who stole my car?"
The UP police finally pick up. She talks to them for a while. "Juanito..."
"My father is going to skin me!"
"Juanito!" He persists in wailing. When he gives the heavens the finger she hits him on the shoulder. "Juanito!"
He turns to her, looking constipated. "I'm sorry, but I really will die..."
"The police are coming. Compose yourself, you look like you would steal a pick-up."
He sits himself on the street and starts crying. She takes a seat beside him.
The police arrive in a long owner painted with "Mayor Sonny Belmonte" on both sides. A Laurel and Hardy team, the fat one interviews them while the thin one declares he will walk around the College of Law. This takes him thirty minutes, enough time for fat boy to repeat "And you parked it where?" three times. They take Juanito's number and leave, the owner belching a cloud of carbon monoxide.
She attacks his tears with her handkerchief. "You want to drop by the boarding house?" It is just a few blocks. "That'd be a romantic walk..."
"No, no," he takes the handkerchief, gives his face a huge wipe, and gives it back to her. "I'm taking you to meet my father. That's the plan anyway. But if you're against commuting for some reason..."
There they are, getting into a jeepney headed for Pantranco. It is quickly filled, and Juanito rests his head on JK's shoulder as the ride begins. "Hush my love, hush." Meet the Parents scenes flash in her head. She shudders.
At Philcoa all but an old woman and they get off. The driver gives them back their fares and they are forced off the jeepney. Juanito, hand and cellphone inside JK's backpack, texts his father. A Quiapo arrives. There is space only for one passenger. Juanito is forced to hang by the railings at the entrance of the jeepney. A man in a trench coat gets off in front of Wild Life and Juanito barrels in, plopping down beside JK. His sweat is milk-white.
"God, I almost lost hold when he accelerated at Visayas Avenue."
She laughs at this, punches his shoulder and kisses him on the cheek. "I love you," she whispers.
"I love you too."
This does not reassure her. From his stories, JK knows that Juanito's father is not a nice person. It is probably true that he will skin him for losing the pick-up. They are a family of six, and all of Juanito's brothers took up Engineering on his command. Only the youngest was allowed to follow his bliss. "Father wants everybody to become an Engineer. No doctors, no lawyers. The world will be a better place if everybody becomes an Engineer. He probably thinks Mother wouldn't have died had she been an Engineer."
Mrs. Romualdo. She was a teacher, right up to the day she died. She and JK met, at the University, lunch at Chocolate Kiss, back when she and Juanito were still only friends. He told his mother she was a teacher, at the College of Home Economics. Mrs. Romualdo taught at an elementary school, when she was young she dreamt of teaching at the tertiary level. She called JK "Ma'am." JK liked it, and told everyone that was how she was to be addressed from then on.
Mr. Romualdo, in the three times she called through their landline, sounded like he wanted to eat her. In the pictures Juanito showed her, he looked like a cross between a Filipino porn star and a polar bear. In the stories Juanito told her he was worse. He told his eldest son's girlfriend, to her face, that she was fat and ugly. He was in a good mood then. His other brother's girlfriends Juanito's father did not even allow to enter their house.
What will he think of her? He does not seem to be impressed with the lie about her being a teacher, how will he react when he finds out she is an abortionist? Will he call her fat and ugly? Will he even let her step inside his fortress?
JK is chilled at the thought his father will forbid Juanito to see her. She has seen enough telenovelas and talked to enough sobbing patients to know that that happens in real life. She does not want to lose him. She wants only to be with him, hug him, kiss him, tell him how much she loves him. He is the only man she has met that did not vomit upon finding out about her profession. No one, not even the Archeology professor who proposed marriage on their second date, no one chooses to stay with her the moment she tells them the truth. She loves Juanito. And more important than that, he loves her.
In her mind she sees his father, shouting at her, calling her killer murderer perpetrator of the rape and slaughter of children. She sees Juanito crying, saying goodbye, going to Holy Cross cemetery to visit his dead but moral ex. Her stomach rumbles in fear. "I love you," she repeats in her head. "Stay with me."
A family of skeletons gets off in front of the Children's Hospital, producing more space for their asses. The two of them sit in the middle of the left side of the vehicle. Traffics stops at the Agham-Quezon Avenue intersection. There seems to be an accident. The honking around her causes the beating of JK's heart to accelerate.
A street urchin gets on the jeepney. She drops on all fours and, crawling forward, starts wiping at the passengers' shoes with a dirty rag. JK pulls her feet away when the child approaches her. She sees a strange grin form on Juanito's face.
Wiping the last pair of shoes the girl stands up and holds out her hand. She stops in front of them. JK squeezes Juanito's shoulder and looks away. Moments pass but still she feels the child's presence. JK returns her thoughts to the inside of the jeepney. She finds her boyfriend in a staring match with the kid. He is holding out a fifty peso bill, gesturing to his legs, sticking out his tongue. The kid is nodding.
What the hell?
The girl drops once more to the jeepney's floor.
Realization comes seconds before the street urchin begins licking. JK, with the other passengers, stares in horror as saliva shines Juanito's leather shoes. An ambulance blares outside. They will find out later that someone died in the accident.

24/7: Walang Panahon: The 2004-2005 Philippine Collegian Anthology, edited by Carlos Piocos III (Quezon City: The Philippine Collegian, 2005)