Tuesday, October 6, 2009


by Carljoe Javier

Kaps the kapre walked through the main entrance of SM North and into a rush of filtered, air-conditioned air. No matter how many times I go in and out of here I’ll never get used to this kind of breeze, he thought to himself as he put his arms up to allow the guard to frisk him.

The guard looked up at the gigantic Kaps and smirked. He ran his hands across Kaps’s back, moved lower. The kapre huffed at him, dismayed by the formality. Then Kaps jumped up in surprise as the guard cupped his butt.

Nobody had ever touched him like that before. The nerve of that human, if he knew what I could do to him, Kaps grumbled to himself. No, there’s not much I can do to him. It’s their world now, paved over mine. He tried to calm himself, live with it, live with the things that happened and let things happen as they did, as they always did and always would since humans had taken the world for their own. Resignation still couldn’t erase the idea orbiting his head: that guard just grabbed and squeezed a chunk of my big mythological ass.

As was his nature, he pulled out his pack of tobacco for a smoke. Then he remembered the No Smoking signs all around and put the pack back into his pocket.

A couple of uncouth youths had started following him when he was getting ready to light up and he noticed them trailing. He looked back at them and had to admit that in the centuries he had been interacting with humans, these kids had to rank among the most absurdly dressed. Screaming bright shirts draped over dark skin, pants so big that they would have fit him, shorts so long they might as well have been pants, bandana, upside-down sun visor, backwards cap. No wonder he could walk through the mall without being noticed much; some humans looked more outlandish than mythological creatures. What did humans call this ill ilk of theirs? Jologs. Sounds awful, like the Lord Melu putting a curse on you.

He caught their talk, some of which was about him. It wasn’t hard since they were rowdy and loud and acted as if they were the only people around. He wished he could set his old friend Tikboy the tikbalang on them so that they would get lost somewhere. These were the kind of people that made co-habitation with the human race so hard, people who made it more appealing to leave this land and go to the brighter regions.

“Let’s just follow him a while. See where he goes.”

“Okay. ‘tol, check out my new phone. It’s got a camera. Let’s take a picture of that guy.”

“Tama. Go take it. Hey, where did you get your phone? Okay a chong.”

“This?” Chong said as he was setting the phone’s camera to take a picture of Kaps from behind. “GSM, ‘to ‘tol. Galing sa magnanakaw,” he said with a smile.

“Ayos. You have to take me where you got that. My 3310 isn’t cool anymore. Where have I seen this guy before? I know I saw him on TV or something, I just can’t remember.”

“A big black guy like that; has to be a basketball player.”

“Right, chong, I think he’s the new import for San Miguel.”

“Yeah. Hey did you see that beer commercial with Patricia Javier’s boobs?”

He couldn’t stand much more of their talk so he swerved away, turning from the mall’s main aisle into the department store. He walked through the men’s clothing section, then passed by the men’s accessories. Gold lighters glinted at him, like a blink from a pretty girl on the other side of the bar. But he knew they weren’t blinking at him, they were probably blinking at the guy behind him.

He walked past, watched as a man in a long-sleeved shirt and tie came over to hold the lighters. I can look at them, Kaps thought, but I can never take anything home. Wanting to feel better, he headed to the middle of the department store, to the record bar. Music soothes the savage mythological creature.

When he got there Kaps shook from the clatter crashing from the speakers. The sales ladies were having a good time, swaying to the euro-pop beat and squawking to each other. They were playing one of those Christmas carol remix tapes. He wondered why Christmas was starting earlier each year.
He and his kind had been scheduled for celebration only during late October. Not one of his relatives had been featured on Magandang Gabi Bayan and the people were already preparing for some other holiday. He thought of the self-help books he had seen the other day he was roaming around, wondered if it could help him feel better if he read about nurturing his self-esteem in this modern age, or finding a sense of himself.
Sense, senses, seeing the sun rise through the tobacco smoke atop his tree. These were the things that could make him feel better. But his tree was gone and there was enough smoke up in the air to block out the sun. It was like he’d lost his senses since he couldn’t use them the same way anymore. He could rarely feel the earth.

His thoughts were attacked by a crash, some mad animal ravaging a splash cymbal, then the sounds multiplied. He reeled from what sounded like all the animals in a forest had decided to go on a noise barrage.

After a few seconds it ceased and he could think again. The megamix had segued. He didn’t know what had a more ear-splitting pitch, the sales ladies’ shrill screeches or the doomp doomp doomp of the Mambo No. 5 beat playing with chipmunk-like vocals. It sang: “A little bit of Prancer all night long/ A little bit of Blitzen by my side/ A little bit of Donner’s all I need.” He thought it was sick when his cousin Jun had tried dating a tikbalang, but this was too much.

A headache set in, the urge to smoke and clear things up. He headed for the rear entrance facing the car park, and there started smoking his tobacco. Cars drove by, clucking and crowing like a flock of chickens disturbed. He took in deep breaths, losing himself in the rhythm of inhale, hold, exhale. There were no cars or mall or euro-pop Christmas bestiality. Only the important things remained: him and his homegrown tobacco.

He didn’t actually grow the tobacco anymore. His tree and the land that he haunted around it had been plowed away and the mall built over. When that happened his magic had been taken from him. He was lucky that his brother who moved to one of the brighter realms had sent him an enchanted tobacco pouch that conjured up his smokes.

After a few puffs he went back into the mall. He let himself be frisked again, and this time went by without incident. He placed his pouch in his back pocket and started walking around again.

Feeling hungry, he headed to the food court. He checked out all the stalls. Then he walked around and checked them again. Everything seemed so appealing and he still couldn’t pick what he wanted.

He thought meat. He missed having something bloody. Then he remembered again what his brother had written in his letter about staying away from raw meat because they found all kinds of nasty things in them. He thought of all those nasty things crawling around in the meat, like maggots that you couldn’t see.

It was because of that letter that he tried to quit eating meat. He’d gone on a vegetarian diet, but after a few days missed the feeling of chewing on flesh too much. He just felt it was different, it fulfilled something in him to be chewing on some dead animal, even though he hadn’t had the pleasure of hunting it down and killing it himself.

Besides, he’d convinced himself, they’d been eating that raw meat for centuries, and the worst they got was a case of kapre LBM. It didn’t matter to him whatever was crawling around in there. He needed meat.

He could taste the crackle of the oil and feel the meat slapping against the grill a couple of stalls away. He hustled over, fast as his long legs could take him, and salivated over the red meat turning brown.

At first the woman working the stall looked at him as if asking, “Have you got money to pay for this?” because Kaps could barely keep his mouth closed as he looked at the long ribs crackling, bright bones turning brown as the fires licked them.

He stood there in front of her, and because he’d made no big movements or did nothing to draw attention to himself, she seemed to have forgotten that he was even there. It was almost as if he could disappear if he stood long enough in front of certain people.

He grabbed a rib off the grill, juggled it until it cooled, then tore the flesh away, his teeth scraping against the bones until they had turned white again.

He sat back and had a smoke. He felt happy to have the smoke, but as he puffed and watched the smoke sway and squiggle in the air in front of him he remembered the pale moonlight that the smoke used to dance in, the breeze that blew away the ashes at the end of his fat cigar, the quiet clatter of the forest that he had power over.

His eyes were glazed over, staring at the past, until he crashed back into the present when one of the jologs tailing him earlier came by and grabbed his pouch. In the half-second that his mind made the time jump and his eyes had to get used to the pale not of moonlight but of antiseptic fluorescent, the thief had made enough distance to be out of reach of Kaps’s long arms.

The thief made a break for the escalators but Kaps caught up with him, his long legs taking strides that no man could outrun. He grabbed the boy and threw him against the escalator. The sharp, serrated edges of the escalator steps scraped the kid’s face.

Kaps grabbed his pouch and got onto the escalator. As it ascended he climbed up to the step where the boy had slumped over. When the boy saw him he tried to scramble up the stairs but Kaps struck him with a backhand against the side of the head and the boy slammed against the escalator’s rail.
Kaps grabbed him by the collar and threw him out onto the floor. Kaps got off the escalator and looked up.
The boy, lying on the ground, covered his head waiting for another blow. He looked up when it didn’t come, wondering how his luck had turned so quick.

Kaps couldn’t stop staring at the Christmas tree. It towered over him, a monument of mockery directed at him. He felt himself shrinking, losing his essence as it was taken by the Christmas tree.

His tree: plowed over and replaced. This monstrosity, artificial and alien, had taken its place. He forgot about the thief, forgot about his pouch, forgot himself, as he stared it.

With Kaps distracted the thief crawled away and made a run for the nearest exit, alerting security guards about a large, dark, hairy man that looked like a foreigner that had assaulted him.

The rage that had filled Kaps when that guard had grabbed him, when he remembered his tree, when that punk had tried to steal his pouch, all came to a head as he stared at the Christmas tree. He wasn’t even aware that he was slobbering like a dog, hunched over in some primitive stance ready to pounce. He roared, then charged at the symbol of his world’s end.

He lunged at it, but couldn’t shake the deeply set foundation. He thrashed at the branches, but the plastic just swung back and forth and smacked against his face. Then he felt the thwack of a security guard’s stick on the back of his head.
He held his neck and crumpled on the floor. He rolled, trying to evade the next blow. He looked up to see the guard that had harassed him when he came in.

“So, you think you foreigners can get away with things like this, huh?”

A boot crashed into his ribs and he lost his breath. He felt himself fading, the loss of self and the physical weakness wearing him away. It took so much to maintain his form, and now all that energy was seeping away, the kicks and blows taking him apart. He watched as the last of his magic was destroyed.

The guard punched Kaps in the face, leaving him bloody and beaten. Then he walked away. He didn’t even notice that he had trampled and crushed the pouch, and that the pouch was now gone.