MAGE: Manila

In The Dark

... no one will see you change

7:00 PM.

Tiyaning Tatum’s Turo-Turo (or T4) was alive with her dinner patrons, drivers of different vehicles, residents and passers-by. On the table were different home cooked dishes. Lola Ning, T4’s proprietress and cook still did all the cooking herself, at the ripe old age of 60, she could’ve gotten several helpers, but she refused to let any of them touch the stove. That was hers and hers alone.

Cham sat at his regular table, outside and close to the alleys and side streets of Quiapo, he had a great view of Quiapo Church. On his table were several bottles of San Miguel Beer, a half empty long neck bottle of Tanduay rum, two small quatro kantos of Ginebra San Miguel and several toppled shot glasses. He was having dinner, Bicol Express and Rice, with Chop Suey and whatever soup was available, he was guessing it was Nilaga.

“Hey man, how about a shot?” Cham would ask whomever passed by. Most of them know Cham as a regular, who did odd and end jobs for the old woman, in exchange for food and occasional booze. She keeps saying that Cham is the nephew she never had. Everyone else thinks Cham freeloads off her.

There was no reason for tonight to be any different, but it was for Cham. Roger the Factory Worker had just returned from work at the Canning Factory, brought with him a bottle of unknown drink, supposedly something that they got from work. Not one to turn down free drinks, he set it down on Cham’s table and poured a small glass to celebrate his good fortune. “Man, I just got a raise from work!” Roger said, “A small toast for my good luck.” Cham picked up his glass and raised it up. “Whoa! What’s going on around here?” Ferdie, the cab driver said as he picked up Cham’s glass and chugged it down, much to Cham’s displeasure. Sitting down next to Roger, Ferdie stuck out the glass for another shot. “One more!” he exclaimed. “It’s good, smells fishy, but good.” Ferdie said. “Must be the smell of the Canning Factory.” Roger said as he poured a second shot to Ferdie.

Cham watched as the two became three, then five. His table was full of people who celebrated with Roger. Cham sighed as he pulled out a deck of cards and some cigarettes. “C’mon boys, drinking is no fun without smokes and a little game of cards.” Cham offered the men, who then sat down and started shuffling the deck of cards.

One hour later, Cham sat with a small fortune in loose change in front of him. “I think he’s cheating.” Ferdie who was on his last peso whispered. “Yes he is, how could anyone have such luck in cards without cheating?” Tonyo the paper boy agreed, he already lost his money and was just watching the game already. “Bah! You’re all crybabies, let’s see him beat my hand!” Igno the neighborhood tough claimed and slammed his 13 cards on the table. “Sorry, Igno, you lost. Pusoy pa!” Roger laughed. “Putang ina! I have a great hand and still lost? Pre, I think you’ve got to be cheating!” Igno roared at Cham. “Pre, you may have a great hand, wala ka lang diskarte, kaya palagi kang talo.” Cham retorted. Igno stormed off in a huff while Cham raked in the coins. “Tiyang, bayad po.” He paid for his dinner and most of the drinks on the table. “One day, iho, those people will get revenge on you. I don’t know why you hang out with sore losers…” Ning told Cham. “Ay Tiyang, the best people to tease are their kind.” Cham said. “I’m going to take a walk, Roger’s new booze has a fishy odor, I smell like Patis already.” Ning just sighed. “Okay, take care, fool boy. Drunk and angry men are not the best people to encounter tonight.”

Cham was simply darting through the different alleys and side streets of Quiapo. “Oi! I found him.” Cham heard from behind. he swore and turned around. “Igno, you really need to get people to do your dirty work? Can’t do it yourself eh?” Igno chuckled. “No, I just needed them to make sure the old lady didn’t see this. You’re a slippery one. We’ve been tracking you in circles, but we’ve got you now.” Igno pulled out a balisong and charged Cham. “Hay naku. Lasing at pikon.” Cham said as he sidestepped the clumsy charge, but was surpised as Tonyo struck him from behind with a sucker punch. “You’re a cheat, and cheaters shouldn’t be allowed to prosper.” Cham grunted. “Okay, then you better be ready to lose again.” Cham feigned a punch and stepped away just as Igno charged in. the burly man slammed into poor Tonyo who crumpled under the weight of the man. Cham picked up a piece of broken chair leg and hefted it. “This will do.” Cham charged towards Igno who stabbed at him. Stopping a few scant inches in front of the knife, Cham smashed the chair leg at Igno’s knee.

crack Igno falls to the cold wet concrete, and the rest of the gang scattered. “Kids shouldn’t play with Big Boy toys.” Igno mutters, “Ang Init! Ang kati! Hayop!” Cham espied what seems to be a scaly lesion from Igno’s chest as he unconsciously scratched. He pulled from Igno’s hand the bottle of “fishy alcohol” and concentrated. Bonnie Tyler’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart sprang to mind. The bottle had been around places, but it originated somewhere near the Port area. This will bear some investigation, Cham surmised. Fastest way possible? Rooftops. The whole place was tattered with makeshift houses, squatters and poorly scratch built homes.

Not a good idea to be seen, Cham thought and looked around for a way to hide, fortunately, several articles of clothing held over from Halloween were being hung out to dry. A pair of slacks, a black tux like thing (probably a rental), a black cape, and a half mask. All Cham needed to do now was sing and he’d make a great Phantom of the Opera. It wasn’t long before Cham found a commotion.

In the middle of streetball court, families were being herded together by a rather effluent man with a bunch of ruffians. The guns were being used mostly as a prod and tool for intimidation rather than to kill. Sigh, hoodlums needed to be taught a lesson. This was where he was supposed to go, Cham sighed. Can’t really avoid this without being caught.

From the edge of darkness and rooftops, Cham started to belt out “Lagot Ka.” by The Masculados. Trying to catch the attention of the gunmen, as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop, drawing their fire, a stray bullet zinged past him and knocked a street light on top of a goon, knocking him out. That was all it took for the enraged citizenry to surge forward and fight off against their hostage takers. Cham didn’t even get to stay to see the final fate of the man who was their leader. He had a sari-sari store to go to.

Removing his outfit, Cham clambered down a water pipe and stepped out into the streetlight. Here was the sari-sari store where the alcohol was bought.

“Ate pabili nga nung bagong alak!” Cham said as he fished out a few coins… and a hundred peso bill. He must remember to thank Igno later when he wakes up. And with his new acquisition, he takes a jeep and returned home.

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