Black Panthers and Starred Sharks

 

          Roosters and scooters and doggies tread under yellow flags that wave and greet another sun tropic day. Yellow edged verdant houses and huts, triangles, suspended, dust worn streets and basketball tracks yellow land. Under green palms the yellow land pushes change through jungle old like stone, lava, and absent black panthers.

          That's what it was like when we first came to this land, so we were surprised it turned into something different. But as things are in this world, so they are changing, sometimes for good, sometimes for worse. Anyway, this is the story, and I warn you, it's not for the faint of heart.

          "Damn I love this place . . . freedom, that's the word I'm lookin' for . . . freedom . . . this place has got more of that than the states has, easy peasy . . . "

          "Like how?"

          "Well, for example, like I need medication, you know, and here you go to the pharmacy, explain your symptoms, and the pharmacist suggests a medication. No doctor, no appointments, just walk in, have a chat, and walk out with your meds. Try that in Yankee Land."

          "I ain't no Yank, that's for damn sure."

          My wife prods my side.

          "Taxi's here," she says.

          "Gotta go, nice meetin' ya . . ."

          "You bet, take care now, and remember I ain't takin' about the freedom Plato was talkin' about, I'm talkin' about the easy life. And don't forget about the whale sharks, you gotta see those critters."

          We bid farewell to our American acquaintance, aware that we'd never see him again.

          "He sure doesn't like the states," says Linda.

          "What's to like?"

          The taxi rolls off  at a walking pace because the traffic is insane. Jeepneys, scooters, taxis, and a million cars jam within inches of one another. Sweat trickles down my ass crack, and a skim of sweat covers every inch of our bodies.

          "Rush hour, huh."

          The taxi driver, he understands and says no, not yet, another hour before rush hour.

          The air conditioning works scraping a slight ease of humidity. I think that's what gets you here, the humidity.

          There is a tap, tap on my window of the car. Outside my passenger front seat window, there is a boy. He is signalling me, holding his three fingers to his mouth, he mimes how hungry he is, mimes 'please sir, can you spare money so I can eat?'

          I look over to the taxi driver, and he says if you want, you can give. I look back to Linda in the back seat, and she says to give him something. Winding down the window, just enough to slip out a 20 peso bill to him, then the boy disappears into the crowd.

          The taxi inches ahead. There is dust in the air, and beside the city congested chaos, is a ratty blue tarp with a woman sitting under with a look of peace on her face, a look of meditation.

          Soon, there's another tap, tap, tapping on my window. This time it's a girl. She's older, stronger, and I look at her. She has a forlorn look, a look that says, 'I'm so hungry, money, money, please sir.'

          Again I look at the taxi driver, but he says nothing, just keeps looking straight ahead into the dust, noise and traffic chaos. Again, I look back at Linda, and she doesn't say a word. She is nervous. I can tell.

I can't look at the young girl's face outside my private abode. My private, poor air-conditioned comfort. She's still outside, still tap, tap, tapping, but I ignore her. I cannot bring myself to look her in the eyes because it will never stop. I don't mean kid after kid will show up, tapping for money when word gets out, no, of course that would happen, but that is not the reason I don't look her in the eye. It's because of a guilty and shameful circumstance. A circumstance I have no control over, for I have been conditioned by western society, a society that is 'me for me, and fuck you.'

          Now I'm thinking about what that American said, you know, about Plato, and how he fought against society, how he said it was like fighting shadows. But this girl, her incessant tapping, is not a shadow, but I cannot look her in the eye. Now, finally, the taxi begins to move ahead. I am thankful.

          The girl, she knows I won't give her money, so she raps once, hard on the window, and I hear as plain as day, 'Fuck You.' She walks away, and I breathe deep and close my eyes dreaming of whale sharks for a long second.

          That's what I wanted. There is no need to say: If you're not careful a starry shark will slurp you down and in like krill. My choice was untied to starry night skies, baffled constellations and veins of timeless silver dripping air and in like krill. Surfaces and liquid plummets leaving whirlpools of what had been.

Frank Wayne