This makeshift hospital bed is anything but comfortable. The foam is barely half an inch thick. I can feel the cold of the metal springs underneath it; they’re making my back go numb.
I scan the room for something pleasant to divert my attention to. Attached to the ceiling is a flashbulb that’s emitting this seizure-inducing orange light. All the walls have to offer are thin cracks that, if you look long enough without blinking as I’m doing now, seem to be interconnected. They look like the red veins that decorate a peeled balut.
That reminds me, I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday. Fasting for a whole twenty four hours is supposed to be integral to a successful operation. I tried to compensate by drinking lots of water but my body’s just not used to this sort of deprivation. I’m craving for rice. Any ulam would do. I just really miss stuffing my mouth with spoonfuls of rice.
I let out a sigh.
So much for a pleasant diversion.
How long have I been lying here? Twenty, thirty minutes tops. The doctor (well he was in a lab coat) said he’ll come back when anesthesia kicks in. So far, the only part of my body that’s exhibiting remote signs of paralysis is my back. And I doubt it’s due to the thick yellow substance I was injected with earlier. Are anesthetics even supposed to look like that?
Of course it wasn’t an actual anesthetic you dimwit. You’re in a makeshift hospital room, lying in a makeshift hospital bed, about to be operated on by a makeshift surgeon and you expect genuine drugs?
So, what was that yellow stuff? What else could possibly be used to induce numbness? Lemon juice? Guava leaf extract? My grandfather had always said that guava leaves possess sedative qualities; they’re also supposed to help small cuts and bruises heal faster. I wonder if herbal remedies would work on the sort of wound I’m about to have. I wonder how big it’s going to be. How big should a hole be for a kidney to fit through it?
Shit. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat. When will that damn anesthetic start working?
Calm down, chap. Relax. Everything is going to be all right. You’ve been through this a thousand times. You don’t drink, you don’t smoke. You’re barely eighteen and you get enough exercise. You’re in top shape. A perfect candidate for kidney donation. Clear your mind of all inhibitions. You’re already here and you’re going to push through. Someone with some kind of chronic illness gets a new organ and you get those elusive tickets. It’s a win-win situation.
Death. Okay, what about death? You are not going to die. Stop being such a hypochondriac. According to majority of those online articles you’ve been reading the past few days, the risks are minimal. You don’t drink, you don’t smoke. You’re in top shape. You’ve been through this a thousand times.
You’ve got to stop worrying. Later when you wake up, the worst part would’ve already been over. The best thing to do now is to get some shuteye so start counting those sheep.
Think of the concert. Think of seeing them live. Think of how enthralling the encounter is going to be.
I look out the window and see nothing but clouds. I wonder what’s under them. Probably countless hectares of slums. My well-to-do classmates would always talk about how seeing the country from the stratosphere is a hundred times worse than being in it. You don’t realize how shitty the place is until you look at things from a different angle, they’d quip. As such, I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for my view right now. There’s something about staring at the infinite expanse of clouds outside – soft, pink, cotton candy clouds – that soothes my soul. I wonder what it would feel like to freefall into that mass of condensed water vapor. I get an urge to break the window open and jump out of the plane, plummet down to whatever it is that’s under those clouds, be it hell or paradise. I bet that would feel liberating, more liberating than jumping off a ten story building, or putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger, or finding out that you can finally replace that organ that has recently started to malfunction on account of thirty years of binge drinking you obnoxious rich piece of—-oh no.
Oh please, no. Not that throbbing pain again, please. Please. please. That hurts. No. No. No. They could’ve at least given me some painkillers – like a measly pack of aspirin. That’s not too much to ask for, right? Oh shit. Please make it stop. Let those good old endorphins kick in. Anything to take away the pain. Distractions. Distractions. Search for distractions. Okay, seated next to me is a bespectacled middle-aged man. He’s sleeping, his mouth slightly agape. Down the aisle is a pretty stewardess handing out beverages. She’s entertaining a passenger – judging by his white hair and liver spots, my bet is that he’s well into his seventies. Okay, pretty stewardess now looks irked. Very irked. Albeit still smiling. Her grip on her metal cart tightens. Old man has turned out to be a creeper. Old man’s hand comes into contact with pretty stewardess’ hip. Pretty stewardess keeps composure. Still grinning from ear to ear. Old man shows signs of giving up. Stops making overt advances but is still talking. Pretty stewardess looks in my direction. Seems to realize that I’ve been staring at them the whole time. She mouths something at me, then at the old man, and before I could piece things together, pretty stewardess is standing right beside the row I’m in.
“Sorry, I didn’t know what else to do,” she says, her smile a hundred times more genuine than the one she had on before.
“Don’t mention it,” I reply, having finally understood why she’s here.
Her smile widens even further and I can’t help but think of the gesture as an invitation.
“Can I get you anything?”
“I’ll have what he had.” I motion to the man beside me who, incidentally, begins snoring. She showers me with lighthearted chuckles. Sweet laughter that boosts my ego, goading me to extend the conversation. After it becomes evident that I’m trying to make her stay longer, she picks something up from her cart and places it on my tray table.
“Thanks again,” she says and she’s walking back down the aisle, talking to one last passenger before retreating behind the curtain.
I stare at the glass of red liquid before me. She didn’t even bother to tell me what this is. It could be strawberry juice and I’m allergic to strawberries.
Now I know what it feels like to be a dirty old man.
I recline my seat, my eyes still fixed on the prize I got for helping pretty stewardess get out of a sticky situation. I suddenly remember Ma. She has this decrepit juicer she’d use from time to time, usually when there’s a special occasion like a birthday or whenever I get good grades. Her all-time favorite fruit to juice is durian, especially when it’s in season and thus, sold at incredibly cheap prices.
I wonder what Ma’s doing right now. I see her standing in front of the sink, her hand forcing durian meat into the small mouth of the blender, the fruit’s thorny husks scattered everywhere.
I navigate my way through the crowd as carefully as I can, my right hand covering the area where one of my kidneys used to be. Nevertheless, limbs still manage to come into contact with my wound, instigating series of shooting pains. It’s no big deal, I suppose; nothing a little teeth-grinding couldn’t alleviate.
It’s pitch black save for the neon arrows purposefully scattered on the ground. They’re meant to guide you to your seat but in my current state, they’re not of much help. Thankfully, I’m naturally good with directions. After making a few more turns, I finally reach 25C – it’s a meter or two away from the VIP section, which means I’m situated about twenty feet from the stage. Good enough. I’m sure I’ll be able to clearly see the band when they make their appearance since, even in the dark, I can easily make out their instruments. There’s Al’s prized Gibson Explorer, in all its monochromatic glory, standing beside the microphone stand. And before I could start imagining Al producing mind-blowing riffs on his guitar, a huge spotlight materializes, illuminating the center of the stage.
My heart skips a beat.
Fans roar in unison.
“Thank you, Manila.”
Someone thanks Manila in an accent that’s distinctly British. In an accent that’s distinctly familiar.
“From the bottom of my weary, weary heart.”
A person shows up in the spotlight. Caucasian. Has stringy blond hair. He’s holding a microphone. He’s teary-eyed.
Al. It’s Al.
It’s Al who’s thanking Manila. He’s thanking us and his eyes are glistening. It’s Al. Al from all those music videos. The person I listen to whenever I’m sad and angry and feeling like complete and utter shit. The same person who wrote all those lyrics I’ve come to know like the back of my hand. It’s Al and he’s alive and breathing and he’s here. Al is here. Standing on the same ground my feet are on.
Two other spotlights appear, making visible the remaining members of the trio. On the far left, sitting behind the drum set, is Jean who’s looking as solemn as ever, his stick-wielding hands dangling lifelessly from his upper body. On the opposite end of the stage, at a height of seven feet, is Fred. He’s already sporting that manic smile of his. With his leather outfit and the length of his curly black hair significantly longer, he looks a hundred times more sinister.
“No bullshit, no bullshit.”
Al is talking again.
“My deepest gratitude goes to this lovely city – this lovely, lovely city.”
He says things twice. Like he does in his interviews.
“If it weren’t for this city,”
His voice is hoarse.
“for the beautiful citizens of this beautiful city—“
Now his hand is over his eyes. Tears. Tears are falling from his eyes. They are relentless. He holds the microphone with both hands. Both trembling hands.
“This city saved me.”
He inches forward, limping, still crying. Something’s not right. He stops and grimaces. Puts a hand on his stomach.
Someone in the crowd yells “Don’t cry!”
My shirt starts to get really wet. I’ve been sobbing the whole time.
Then I see it. Some sort of white fabric underneath his shirt, taped over his skin.
“Someone from this city… saved me… literally saved me from death.”
“And all I can give as a token of my appreciation is this performance.”
No fucking way.
“Jean and Fred will help me out. I’m in good hands. Good hands. We’ll do our best.”
Cue wicked drum roll.
A bright shade of orange suddenly lights up the entire stage, swallowing the band members’ individual spotlights.
Everyone’s screaming again, ten decibels louder this time.
Fred begins to strum his bass as Jean continues to tap his crash cymbal.
It’s my favorite song. They’re opening the concert with my favorite song.
Al, his voice a mellow baritone, starts crooning and I’m brought down to my knees. The iridescent glow of the stage lights magnifies. So does the pain in my abdomen and the numbness in my back. But none of it matters. None of it really does. All that exists is Al’s serenade – Al thanking me from the bottom of his weary heart. I reach out my hand and I sing along. Al and I are singing together. We’re singing my favorite song.
Jose grew up in Davao City and graduated from Ateneo de Davao University. He likes to play online role-playing games.