Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cebu by night

A PERSONAL emergency brought me to face a side of Cebu that I rarely encounter. For nine-to-five drones, the daily reality is the wall of heat that hits one on the streets, which are clogged with vehicles seemingly leading to the same direction.

When we rushed to Cebu City two hours before midnight, a drizzle left the streets into a slick, shiny state. The scene reminded me of toy cars running by remote on the plastic platform our boys played with when they were still at an age riveted to repetitious patterns.

The illusion dispelled when we entered uptown Cebu City. The yellow coin of a moon hung over black moving masses that spilled out of a well-known watering hole.

The slang is inadequate for the scene I witnessed personally for the first time. In the literal sense, it is a pool where animals regularly visit for a drink.

Colloquially, a watering hole is a “social gathering place”. I didn’t have such an affable reaction, perhaps because I imagine that, with an actual watering hole, the animals slake their thirst according to a system that dictates a species approaches the water when its natural predators are not nearby. Otherwise, no drinking will take place; only slaughter and feeding.
Do the city authorities see what I see: incidents waiting to happen or spiking the spread of sexually transmitted infections?

When I was a schoolgirl in the 1970s to 1980s, I saw the same area transformed from an affluent family’s residence, its high walls enclosing rolling, perfectly clipped emerald lawns and backyards where the only things stirring were lines of laundry swaying in the breeze into an uptown high-rise for a department store whose glass-encased display of rosaries in semi-precious stones seemed unspeakably decadent to our starched Catholic conscience.

When I was a schoolgirl, a risky adventure meant slipping past the school’s security guards during dismissal to purchase at a nearby bookstore a romance paperback my teachers dismissed as having no literary merit whatsoever.

Scenes from the watering hole I passed that night made those school excursions bleached and pale. Does youth always seek to scale the heights of the forbidden? Yet, there seems to be a world of differences between dallying with execrable writing and going into the deep with drugs, violence and HIV/Aids.

In the emergency room (ER) of a nearby private hospital, I waited with a stranger who told me about a bottle thrown by a drunk foreigner during a bar performance. The bottle shattered but in slightly fewer pieces than the man who threw it.

His mauling came not just at the hands of the bar bouncers but also of strangers who were less motivated by righteousness than from an amoral curiosity about the many ways the human body can leak fluids under unrelenting violence.

According to this stranger, who works for a firm that mixes and plays music—or what passes as music—in these places, the exhausted mob later dumped the broken body near some trash cans. Only when the morning shift heard the man groan did they act: the signs of life meant a hospital, not funeral services, was needed.

The usual ER parade of broken bodies saw night pass into dawn and morning. I cannot recall a warmer welcome I gave when I greeted a young day and the wall of heat slamming into eyes that will not forget its brush with Cebu by night.

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 24, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

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