Four Hours It Stared

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For me, life was a whirlwind of lights and smoke, music and men. I lived in a beaten up shanty close to North Edsa, crammed in a closet-like room with a bunch of other woman. We slept on mats on the dirt floor and shared the space with mange-infested dogs, flea-bitten cats and cockroaches. My wardrobe consisted mostly of skimpy skirts, tank tops and the cheapest high heels you can buy in Quiapo.

After a hard night at the bars of dancing and exposing myself, sometimes spending time in a back room with a heavily drunk man and my eyes like a dead fish staring at the ceiling, I earned enough cash to go to the thrift shop. The weather in Manila had become chilly at night, and I needed a sweater.

I took a walk down a few streets that smelled of garbage and human urine mixed with the smog from jeepneys, tricycles and trucks that never ended. It wasn't long before I found a street lined with second-hand clothes, undoubtedly from American charities but somehow grabbed by greedy merchants looking to make extra pesos.

The sweater was like a pearl in murky waters as it lay neatly on top of a bunch of tattered, motley clothes. Wondering how someone had not yet bought it, I quickly took it in my hands and studied the richness of the fabric. It was as soft as a rabbit's fur and just as warm. Across its front was a large pouch where you could put your hands into for warmth, and that's where I found the note on a crumpled piece of yellowed paper. It smelled like the section of a library where ancient books could be found. Dust and dank. On the paper where scrawled the words:

Where: 67th Banawi Street
Pay: One thousand pesos a night.
Job: Lie on the bed. From 11pm to 3am, keep your eyes shut. Never open them. Past 3, your money will be on the dresser.

Banawi Street. The note did not say which city, but I recalled the name of a street in Quezon that one of my roommates used to visit for a client. It was where the more upper class people lived.

I stuffed the note in my pocket and paid the merchant. Only thirty pesos, not bad. The sweater was wonderful on my skin and made me glow like a snowflake. I felt like one of those young starlets on our local Kapamilya TV network. And in my pocket was the promise of an easy, high-paying job. Those came so rarely. I must admit that, even if the job seemed sketchy, the promise of a thousand pesos a night was tempting. I could get myself out of my situation. Maybe go to college. Find a real job.

After a lot of asking and searching, I found the house that night. 67th Banawi Street was in desolate condition, even if it was in an upper class neighborhood. A single story house surrounded by a short wire fence. Yard unkempt, weeds stuck up like tousled hair. Boards molded, loose, shingles chipped, paint faded. Windows cloaked with dust. Still it was a hundred times better than the shanty I slept in. The light of the patio was on as I approached, and when I knocked, the door opened as if ajar.

I called hello. No answer. The interior smelled aged and sour, like wet laundry left in the wash for days. I stepped inside, leaving the door slightly open so the light from the patio can illuminate my way. The floor felt as if it might give way beneath my weight. I felt the walls pressing in on me, heavy and damp. The place reminded me of a body they had found in the sewage canal close to where I lived. Bloated and bruised, deteriorated. I passed the dark living room. There was a TV, a battered couch. A coffee table with an ashtray and some empty cans. The room reeked of cat urine and dried feces. No one there. I attempted to turn on some light switches but found them useless. I turned away and headed down a hallway, noticing a pale light glowing beneath a closed door.

I called again. Absolute silence. I clasped the handle and pushed, ignoring the greasy residue it left on my palm. I found a single bed covered in drab sheets, one dresser beside it with a digital clock. It illuminated the time strongly through the darkness.

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