by M. Leland Oroquieta
Hotel Adonis rises ten floors, panting for the pleasures of silence, solitude and other satisfactions for single men over thirty. Most of them are sporty-types, attuned to the body’s penchant for myths conveyed in body-art replete with ancient patterns, confessional lines, or figures that give superstitions life and longevity. The more you see such art on its guests, you start to wonder if they are members of a tribe, or some discreet brotherhood unified by ethnic diversity. No doubt the guests are citizens of networks that monitor the whereabouts of certain destinations worldwide.
In fact, first-time guests had a way of looking at me, as though they had seen my face or heard about me before, perhaps from travelers who had reviewed my services in chat-rooms or forums, and had talked about my muscular, five-nine frame, its meaty, large feet, and the most soothing massages from my hands, making me one of the baddest masahistas or masseurs from the armpits of Tokyo, to the inner-thighs of Lagos, or the hairy navels of Dusseldorf. But forgive me, po, for sounding like this: Vanity is simply contagious: It empowers itself around people who are born beautiful, or those who strive to embody symmetry in physical beauty, by virtue of exercise and surgical transformations. Indeed, the hotel is home to this kind of family, men who know how to find the establishment through camaraderies of discretion.
Now most of my sessions would start with a conversation about the Polynesian designs around my arms. They’d lick it with admiration in English, riding on Japanese inflections here and there, or Arabic, Dutch, and a dozen other languages and local dialects. Then, there’d be that vague hush the moment I’d hand them a calling card with the photo of the artist in it who resembles like Manny Pacquiao, a former lover, a man so equally committed to expressions of national pride and the charms of his hands that once thickened my nights with desperations. My usual cut from this sideline partnership never entered my pockets, but immediately went to my sister’s needs in the province.
Soon, dim lights would colonize the room, as nerves chilled under my hands spreading massage oil evenly on smooth or hairy backs, under the pulse of disco, house, or porn of any orientation played in subdued-volume, anything that relaxed hyperboles for an hour or two from running amok in the new regime of President Duterte. Indeed, it will always be fun in The Philippines, though at its heart is Manila, the reigning beauty-queen to souls -foreign or domestic- who crave for the ecstasies and sensualities of hospitality. She glitters around you with 24/7 excitements for your addictions, a loud but caring diva of superfluous dreams amidst mounting body-count under the president’s bloody war against drugs.
But one evening, the bitch in the diva got under the skin of my neighborhood. I was turning a corner, when police officers fired shots on a drug suspect being chased, and happened to cross my path. Two bullets found their way on my body and just missed my head: one hit my right shoulder, and the other on my right thigh. Then, a chaos of feet, voices and noise engulfed me, before the world passed out of my mind on the ground. But I don’t remember entering a bright light in my closed eyes after that, or seeing myself outside myself, although two days later, things felt like vague extracts from a dream in my hospital room, floating in surreal ease.
And so suddenly, the city threw me out of its body, disposable as happiness caught in the inner linings of condoms. No doubt the police assumed I was dead, and left me on the sidewalk, just another collateral damage, though not quite a statistic. And so suddenly, at twenty-seven, I am back in my home province, under the care of the moralist who condemned my lucrative job in the big city: my older sister, a mother of two girls, but already a widow, whose husband was a casualty of a mining accident.
A shipwreck near the island of Cebu had orphaned us, just eight years ago. The unbearable death of two parents severed me from finishing college, and from the orbit of dreams and plans already taking me by storm. Desperate for funds, I turned inward, and derived solace in my athletic body: I engorged it with a regimen of workouts, skills, and mythical images around my shoulders, to prepare myself for the market’s demanding tastes and choosy eyes.
Up here in the hills, days are weary-eyed through my bedroom window, waiting for the bone fractures to heal in eight weeks or more, after the bullets were taken out. As always, scenes of lush plant-life would fill my time. But YouTube dilutes boredom into soundbites, giving days a new addiction for clips, of Pinoy classics, local beauty contests, travel documentaries, and Korean zombies drooling in dystopian hunger determined to eliminate humans to oblivion. Every sub-plot advances me to the day I’ll stand with the aid of crutches. But for now, the ex drives the wheelchair around the yard on his visits, and loves to over-speed on jokes that punches me out of their lines.
Occasionally though, my bro would push my chair deep into the woods on narrow pathways, where we’d simulate porn under a rural night-sky. There, we’d let the silhouettes of bromance collide by the acacia tree, and for a while forget that we are inveterate disciples of family life, and see ourselves as future fathers and husbands, the kind who shy away from legal documents that consecrate two men into fashionable, progressive marriages. But recently, he drew a crown of thorns around my injured thigh, perhaps to brand a new phase in our friendship, after telling him I’m depending on his ideas to improve my tattooing skills, while still in recovery.
Now the fourth month after surgery is about to start, and a new pain around my thigh is punishing me from sleeping properly most nights. My face looks bonier now, submerged in beard that prefers length, courtesy of my ancestors in the Middle East, through my father who found romance in an overseas worker. But my new commitment to graphic design and body-art offers a surge of energy for my mind, raging against painful nights that make mornings feel lethargic and groggy. Each time I take my pain pills, the hills would stretch my line of sight, and imagine the curves of bodies, in smoky, midnight rooms, a kaleidoscope of excitements that appears oblivious to the politics of Duterte. One time, I received an email from one of the hotel’s night managers, which underlined my popularity among foreign guests, and that I still have the old job, if I want it.
It was a message from a world bustling with celebrity gossip, strippers at Club Genet and Club Narciso, and the hard reality of extrajudicial killings; it is a world half a day away from fresh, cool air in high altitudes that’s now transforming me to sedentary routines. Last week, a Maori and Celtic design I drew on the arms of new friends spurned modest praise, after chatting about the president’s son telling the country – or perhaps giving his father and extrajudicial killers a footnote – that tattoos and body piercings do not make a drug addict.
These days, I have a new appreciation for tattoo patterns from tribes indigenous to the country, and have gathered numerous designs in folders and notebooks. I can see Igorot and Mangyan geometries around my ankles in a month or two, spreading further down to where I feel calm and excited in memories of tongues indulging me, always desperate for love in our ways of touching that have no equal in the latitudes and attitudes of care.