Sun(ny)spots on a neurotic mind

Second Breakfast

I normally stay away from McDonald’s, but it was 7.30 AM and I had to wait for my bank to open. It was going to be a long day so I decided to park myself in one corner of the fast-food joint. Bottomless java for less than 30 bucks; I was a happy little bee fueled by a caffeine buzz.

Well… almost happy. I was dreading the hours ahead, the long day I had to go through. I didn’t have a car and had to hitch a ride to Makati (hence, killing time at the merry golden arches was in order). Next stop was Quiapo, which to me was like crossing 7 mountains on foot just to get there. I normally enjoy my trips to Old Manila, but I do not savor the jaunt when the sun is showing off its dazzling rays and going full blast on every pore of my body. It felt like summer all over again. I was not scared of getting a tan (although I absolutely abhor tan lines); it was the energy drain I was afraid of. The sun is like a greedy vampire (how ironic, isn’t it); it pilfers the living daylights out of me from every recess and crevice it finds whenever I step out of the shade. Think of the sun in Camus’s “The Stranger” and how it became a major player in the story as it hounded Meursault through his ordeal. That same sun is mine enemy. I started to commiserate in silence as I go over my route to the old city.

Fortunately, the room provided me with enough distraction from my worries about my adversary. There were not a lot of people in my section, but I could spy on a lot of them from where I was sitting. I didn’t really have to put that much effort to listen in on their conversations; most of them were talking out loud, oblivious to the eclectic collection of sleepy-eyed consumers. Their stories echoed in the near empty room and reverberated in my head. A couple was planning a vacation, a gaggle of giggling girls, fresh from their shift at a nearby call center, was marveling about their new co-worker, and a forlorn man 2 tables away from me, newspaper crackling as he flipped through the pages, would sighed heavily between his constant checking of his wristwatch.

The noisiest group was in the middle of it all—a bunch of old men in their short-sleeved barongs, fiddling with the gold clasp of their clutch bags or excitedly waving their chunky gizmos in the air and half-blinding their audience with their bling, were gaily explaining their latest sales coup to a set of enthralled little ladies. The youngest of them all (she of the perfectly rebonded hair and tiny, armpit bag) barely touched her scrambled eggs. She was frozen in her seat, pointy pumps firmly planted on the floor, her arms across her chest, guarding her folder with her life. She was gazing inwards, as if she was meticulously taking notes in her head. At least I hope that she was. She reminded me of those new Japanese robots that were featured on the German channel recently—perfect skin, beautifully primped, and wide, almond-shaped deadpan eyes. Almost real.

I down a cup and got up for another refill. The sun was gaining ground and was slowly extending her searing tendrils across the window. The soon-to-be vacationing couple in the next booth moved to a safer table. The clock was racing to tomorrow and my bank was surely open; in a couple of minutes I would have to brace the heat and face her assault full-force.

It took me 20 minutes to cross two streets, go inside the bank and do my thing, brave the traffic again, and step inside the nearest mall. In that short period, the sun had already scorched a part of my brain; I felt my eyeballs wiggle and I stumble over invisible steps. I plodded through the mall with jelly knees to get to the metro station. I was exhausted, but at least I was safe from the sun’s razor-sharp fangs.

Cooled down by the surprisingly fresh air-conditioned atmosphere, the ride on the MRT and then the LRT 2 was swift and hassle-free, and I was in the heart of Recto in under an hour. I stepped out of the train and was greeted by a throng of sizzling commuters. The sun seemed more infuriated here and she was taking out her anger on the frantic pedestrians rushing off to their classes, the market, and the church. I joined them and was quickly engulfed by the blistering, humid air.

After a few meters I had to duck inside an optical shop for a short reprieve from the sun’s ire. I pretended to look at the store’s display case, but was actually observing the rushing crowd outside. Sealed off by the glass windows, I could not listen to the conversations between the people passing by, and could only hear the steady hum of the air-conditioner and the occasional jingle and jangling of the bell tied to the door.

As with the group in Makati earlier that morning (or what seemed light years ago), I was witnessing another hodge-podge collection of normal people living their lives, jockeying for the best position in the rat race we are in. Without sound, I could only imagine what was happening out there. Across the street, a woman clutching a colorful handkerchief and wearing a deep frown on her face was haggling (?) with a bent, reed-thin man with leather skin and unruly hair. He would frequently point inside his well-worn plastic bag and beseech her with an exasperated look. Were they lovers, perhaps, and he was asking her why she was trying to return his gifts to him? Or maybe he was the one negotiating for a rebate for the defective merchandise he got from her? A stone’s throw away from them was a group of colegialas sipping dull pink drinks with straws sticking out of clear plastic bags. They were hanging about next to a stall decked with peculiar looking organic objects. They were checking their pockets for change (?) and would look at the stall and point their lips at something. Were they planning to get candles or herbs to entice an unsuspecting man or were they going to buy materials for a brew to exact revenge on their algebra teacher? Or maybe they just want a snack to go with their drinks?

Someone cleared her throat, yanking my mind back to my body, and I turned and faced a bored sales clerk. She asked me if I was looking for something in particular, and I replied (thinking fast and secretly hoping she would go away quick if I ask for a weird pair) that I wanted tangerine, cat-like, granny glasses with a thin black stripe around the rim. I was going to add that I would rather look for an alternative on my own when she quickly left and returned with a tiny canary yellow pair with black stripes around the rim. She brandished them under my nose and inquired if they were okay enough for me. Hello, Jolly Bee! Did I just make that happen? Quiapo does that to me sometimes. Too weirded out, I hastily thanked her and rushed out the door. I took note of the address though; I am on a lookout for funky frames.

With the short intermission behind me, I started trawling the sullied streets of Quiapo and was left at the mercy of the livid sun again. The pause served its purpose, though—I was still mistrustful and worried of my depleting reserves, but was more hopeful and was, in fact, looking forward to more opportunities for eavesdropping, story spinning, and peculiar coincidences. I knew that when I return home that night, my sandbag body would rip at the seams and spill me all over my room. As with other days spent dueling with the sun, I would crash and spend the succeeding days or week putting myself back together again. It was the story of my life, a normal day for a girl with sunspots in her brain.

The air began to shift around me and a cool blast of air came out of an open doorway. With catlike grace, I darted and slipped in through the door. The sun will take its toll at the end of the day, but I still had energy left to dodge it and rush off to my next adventure.

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