Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Desiderio, The Afflicted

by Karl De Mesa

Had he been lucid he would have been the first to affirm that, yes, his state did not lack for exegetes. If only he could remember which superlative went where and belonged to which field, he would have had the time of his life.

One thing was certain: he was no longer among the lucid.

Often, he would wake to find his sheets soaked in blood. He would rush to the bathroom and wash himself until the small soap they gave him every morning was reduced to the size of his pinky.

His screams were routinely ignored. This only increased his rage. When the fury reached breaking point he would toss himself against every surface until he forced himself to calm down again, forced himself to befriend the walls and the floor and the bed. “Look! Look how I bleed!” he would declare and he would raise his wrists and try to lift his feet as well.

Of course the wounds were not there. They always retreated from day, dissolved by
the same light that had transformed him. It was different when night came. If only they could see him at such times, he would show them and then they would see, they would acknowledge his apotheosis.

He doesn’t remember what he had first prayed for, but he does remember that he had clasped his hands and bowed his head to the Lord ever since he got here. Somewhere down the line he became lost in devotion. The light, engulfing him, showed him the wickedness of his heart, the wickedness of those around him.

That day, his change could not be denied. To himself, that is.

This change could only be seen from within. Its mark on his flesh, the night wounds, was a continuing reminder that his doubts still lay claim to him in some small measure. Such a testament was insufficient for the nurses and doctors. Still, there was no other option. So he continually called to them when the wounds came, hoping they would see, hoping they would recognize. Until then they insisted he swallow pills and commanded electricity to heal him.

In this place light behaved erratically, shadows fell where they shouldn’t -- the chiaroscuro of things was reversed. Medicine, that bitter cocktail, was the only clock by which he judged the time.

Today, there was still enough light to discern the person who came in with the 6PM cup of pills. But there was one glaring mistake: the woman had become a man. This was not logical. Perhaps it was another trick of his gaolers? If it was, it was by far the most ingenious.

“Desi,” the man who had entered said, and approached.

He didn’t answer.

“Desiderio de la Cruz,” the man looked at a rectangular metal tablet in his hand.

Desi did not acknowledge him. He continued to stare at the bedpan at the foot of his bed. It was in the man’s way, but it was also concealed since it was colored so much like the off-white of the floor and the walls. The man would surely stumble on it or, if Desi was lucky, trip and break his nose. So far it didn’t look like he had noticed.

Although there was a bathroom in Desi’s room he had insisted they give him a bedpan –a steel and aluminum arinola. He had a weak stomach and his bowels were weaker still. Sometimes he didn’t reach the toilet before his guts burst. To force them to give him a bedpan he had taken to defecating on the floor. This proved to them his urgent need.

The man stood fuddled over his metal tablet. Today, Desi knew there were no feces inside the bedpan. It was covered, yes, since he had just pissed there a few minutes ago, piss yellow and rank from this afternoon’s pineapple juice.
He made a bet for the next minute: the man would notice the bedpan and sidestep it or the bedpan would remain unnoticed. It would take the man approximately five steps to reach the foot of the bed from where he stood.

Desi rooted for the bedpan.

Meanwhile, the man continued to look at his metal tablet as he walked forward. “Desiderio, how do you feel today? I’m your new doctor, my name is Dr. Herodya. Sorry for the confusion but management says we better rotate with you every month since you don’t seem to be responding to treatment. Anyway, I have a nice glass of gin-buko right here.” The Doctor shook the plastic cup in his hand where pills rattled within. “Hello? Do you know where you are, Desi?”

The Doctor took a step forward. Outside, the sun was going down at an alarming speed. It would be dark before the bet could be completed.

“Do you remember how you got here? Why you’re here? Anything at all?”

Another step.

Desi’s eyes widened as he mentally urged the Doctor to walk faster. The Doctor stopped.

“Desi? Can you hear me?”

No! No! Don’t stop! Take another step! He cleared his throat, “I hear. Desi cannot.”
“Oh? Why not? You have ears. Don’t you, Desi?”

It seems he must take a hand in the proceedings, “I have, but I am not he. He was a sinful man.”

The Doctor took a step forward. He stopped a few inches from the bedpan. “Then who are you?”

He shook his head and said to the Doctor, “He is not I.”

“Who are you?” The Doctor asked again, “Who are you if not Colonel Desiderio de la Cruz?”

The enemy clearly had the upper hand but Desi’s will was stronger. Was he not a soldier of the Lord, a commander who served the glorious Host? He knitted his brows and willed with all his might. Willed the doctor to lift his foot and put it in front of the other. Walk, Doctor, walk! The Doctor took a step forward and stumbled right into the bedpan. He knocked over the cover and spilled piss all over his polished leather shoes, right through to his white socks.

“Shit!” the Doctor said in a surprisingly crisp tone.

Doctor Herodya cursed again as Desi laughed. He sat back on the bed. He held his belly and enjoyed the mirth. Sunlight completely faded and the light on the ceiling automatically turned itself on.

The light. The memory of living and dying for a brief second. The pull of a trigger. Only God could have saved Desi’s men. Only God could have made the bullet ricochet across his helmeted temple, knocking him from the path of the rocket that quickly followed and allowing him to survive. To survive even as the shrapnel and explosion cut to ribbons the Sergeant and three Privates behind him. His men. He had ordered them to get as much cover as they could, but the terrorists knew just where to hit them, and just when. The enemy. They had been waiting.

He wasn’t God, you know. No. Not then. Not yet.

“You know who I am,” he said to the Doctor.

Desi cast aside the blanket and stretched out his legs to show him the red pinpricks on his feet that oozed blood. He held up his arms to display his twin, bleeding wrists. Desi wondered if he had the halo around his head as well. He would have given anything for a mirror but the awed, horrified look in the Doctor’s eyes was enough.

Meanwhile, the Doctor was about to burst from an inner quake. The cup of pills in his hand rattled to a rapid beat. It began from his piss-soaked shoes and rapped its percussion against his immaculate white pants, his ballooning torso, up to his tiered and three-chinned face. The tremor set the glasses on his nose askew. It knocked at his skull, whipping his thinning hair from side to side as if he was being slapped. Unable to contain the mystery before him, the Doctor averted his eyes.

He rushed out of the room, knocking over the bedpan again. He threw aside the cup as he opened the door. Pills scattered. The Doctor’s footsteps and his scream echoed down the corridor to clamor with the other petitions in the dark.
Desi put down his arms and smiled at the bedpan. It lay on its side, its cover a foot away.

“You won,“ he told it.

It wobbled to say that, indeed, it had.


for discussion, E103