… screamed a little boy playing at the bottom of the stairs, when he saw the strange brown man treading down the overpass. Whether the kid, who’s wearing a dirty school uniform, was bantering or not, the strange brown man still smiled at the lad without a hint of irascibility. He kept on walking, ignoring the pinch of the hostile rhyming words thrown indirectly at him.
Beside a legal large green trash bin, he stopped and stood, reached inside the left pocket of his gray pants and exposed a pack of Marlboro. He pulled a stick with a SPDC mark before the brand name and lit it.
The first ruck of nicotine died shortly in the middle of his wind pipe. Another puff and the man could then feel the trail of tar from the upper part of his tongue going to his lungs. But the flavor was too light. It was like tasting a burning page of an old Bible. Smooth but vapid. Almost empty. Dull.
Breathe in the smoke. Draw out. Inhale. Exhale.
He observed the passing droves in all aspects that he could grasp. Though being intrigued by the bumble-rushing people in a not-so bumble rush hour of a Tuesday, he found it new. He found it refreshing.
Brisk walking while Facebook-ing without looking at the road. Yeah, that’s a skill.
“If this is Avenida, three or maybe eleven of them might lose their iPhones in the next few seconds.” he mumbled and grinned slightly.
But he wasn’t in Avenida. He wasn’t even close to Quiapo nor Welcome Rotonda. He was in a foreign land where he is considered a foreigner. He was a stranger. He was a stranger in a strange land where buses only load and unload passengers in the designated areas. He was in a land where there’s no traffic jam in a small two lane road. He was in a land where people rabidly run in the right side of escalators. He was in a land where roaches are rarely seen and Myna birds are everywhere but in pet shops. He was in the land where Marlboro costs nine times more than how much he knew it. He was in the land of undefined guarantees and employee ratios. In the land of particular risks and ambivalent decisions.
He looked at his inferior phone to check the time and he was surprised:
“Alas siete?!” he said aloud.
The real time didn’t rhyme with the still bright sky.
“I have to move…”
He took a series of rapid puffs and threw the cigarette butt in the water-filled ash tray above the bin.
“…but I need to pee.”
The nearest public toilet was located in a mall about two hundred and fifty-seven steps far. The strange brown man headed towards the basement and something amazing hit upon him. The lower ground level of the commercial complex had scads of retail stores selling books and magazines.
Shelves. Books. Shelves. Books. Magazines. Books. Books. Shelves. A convivial beam suddenly molded out from his face.
He’s a book enthusiast.
Is this heaven or is this heaven?
He walked on a slack pace so he could take a gander on everything that he would pass on by. More shelves and more books greeted him on his mini promenade to the comfort room. But his attention was aroused by two things that he found more interesting than paperbacks and bestsellers.
I’ll get back to that… and that… after I lose this excess liquid.
“Hi, I was just passing by…” he murmured and rehearsed the generic lines like a trite script of a television show. He pressed the stainless button with green and red blinking lights that summoned a gush of water to rinse the pale yellow fluid in the urinal. He didn’t know it was auto-flush. He looked at the mirror and wiped the traces of oil in his face with his pink handkerchief, avoiding the small zit above his right eyebrow.
It was a nice men’s room.
Target one: the store beside the lift.
“Hello. How can I help you?” asked a tall Indian guy behind the glass estante while dipping a piece of prata in a red-orange curry sauce.
Looking dapper in his well-pressed, black polo, the strange brown man smiled confidently and pointed outside. “Hi. I was just passing by and I saw the ad in front that you are in need of a retail…”
“Sorry mister.” cut the Indian guy. “We already found.”
There was no need to finish the sentence that was already dotted. In that concise exchange conversation, both of them understood each other. The strange brown man smiled again. “Okay sir, thank you.”
Target number 2: the one with the poster of Hercule Poirot’s shadow.
It was too quiet. Three men were sitting inside and loosely listening to the echoing footsteps in the hallway. One guy was relaxing behind the cash register; the other one, with the round glasses, was settling almost at the far end of the shelves; and the third person, who was wearing a black shirt with the Images and Words print, was near the entrance.
Already had set foot inside, the strange brown man smiled. “Hi. I was just passing by and I saw the ad outside…”
“You PR?” asked the supposed DT fan.
“No sir, but…”
“NO NO NO NO NO NO!” the supposed DT fan quickly responded in a staid and semi-furious face and tone.
“Okay thank you, sir.” the strange brown man smiled for the last time and went out of the store. Two slow footfalls after turning his back, he heard the three douchebags laughing loud. He didn’t look back and kept on going until he’s outside the entire establishment, oblivious to the inviting images of over-crowded books inside the countless shelves.
“Nice.” he said in sarcasm.
He stood beside a legal large green trash bin, a few meters from another overpass. He reached for the pack of Marlboro in the left pocket of his gray pants, pulled a stick with a SPDC mark before the brand name and lit it.
A progressive flux of over-hurrying people were coming in all directions in that busier part of the vicinity. He soon became aware of the strident voices and the cacophony of strange consonants that then, were smoothly resonating and panning from his left to right ear. A little boy in a dirty uniform was running down the footbridge. Their eyes met and the boy screamed…