|photo courtesy of wn.com|
Time is progressing rapidly towards midnight but to the four guys over two rounds of SanMig Lites, time, like previous nights of their lives, lingers forever. Today is Friday, and as usual, the night clubs at Torres Street is alive with colored lights and throbbing music. The four guys sit on the small square table over the edge of “kasagingan” coffee shop, drinking their cold beers without saying a word. This coffee shop, with its low green and blue luminous lights has been their “balwarte” for several years now. The guys all work as call-center agents at Cyber Traffic.
Padi, the oldest of the four feels tired and worn out. At 45, he feels he’s already more than half spent. Several white hair strands show up on the side of his head. His nursing degree failed him. Four years ago, the PRC officially shut down most of the nursing schools in the country because of the declining demand of Filipino nurses abroad. All the promises of the unknown is now gone. The routine of Cyber Traffic and the weekends at this coffee shop are all that’s left for him.
A couple of years ago Padi was hopeful. He sent several résumé’s to the big hospitals in the city. Several months passed, a year, his emails still consisted of Facebook notifications “Jokoy commented on a photo”. Doubts crept in, slowly at first, then an outburst, and he was drowning. Then he decided on small clinics and health centers. But luck was nowhere near him. The last straw was the small, dingy, remote maternity lying-in somewhere in Panabo. He personally sent his résumé there. The fat owner, wearing a pink floral “duster” came out and flatly said no vacancy. Padi wimped away like a dog with its tail behind its legs.
Then he chanced upon Cyber Traffic on a local paper. It was a call center wanting ten applicants. He sent his résumé and got accepted. The long, agonizing years of studying nursing finally ends to a job in a tight cubicle, taking calls, listening to angry voices over the other end of the line, boring his butt on a computer chair.
Padi breaks the silence, “Often, I wonder, why are we here?”
Jay-pee looks at him, “Are you delirious? It’s Friday, you forget that?”
Padi lifts his beer to his lips. Jay-pee is about his age, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Libera Arts is really nothing Padi muses. It’s a degree for the undecided. But he likes Japy-pee. His quick wit and brutal sarcasm can turn a boring discussion to a boiling argument.
“No, I’m not talking about us, here, now. I’m talking about life. Why are we here in this world?”
“Yeah. Adding to that, what is space? And Time? What is before all that?” says Noli.
Noli was a seminarian. Eight years ago he was on his way to the long narrow road of priesthood at Xavier Seminary. One afternoon, his Rector saw him drooling over a Victoria Secret magazine he’d tucked inside his backpack. His Rector decided to give him a furlough of one year. Noli was devastated. He loved his life in the seminary. But he had weakness - one that goes straight at the heart of a priesthood core vows – celibacy. The furlough turned permanent and Noli found himself at Cyber Traffic. He however, maintained his love for science, religion, and Philosopy.
“If space is finite, with a definite end, then what makes the end after all? Is there something beyond space, a wall, or just nothing, and if it is just nothing at the end of space, isn’t that something after all?” Noli adds. He doesn’t really expects an answer. He drinks the last content of his beer.
Sammy was until this time, poring over a new Crichton novel,
“I haven’t given much thought about why we’re here. In fact, I don’t really care why we’re here. I’m here and that’s all that matters”
Sammy often brags reading all the “Jason Bourn” novels and watched all the movies of it. He has this weird ability of maintaining a discussion with a novel at hand.
Padi takes another sip and brings the bottle on the table,
“Well, these types of questions always put God in the picture. You know, the bible says, in the beginning God…”
“Oh, common, you don’t really need to begin with God. Science has progressed and is progressing. There’s a scientific reason why we’re here”. Noli protests. The invocation of God pricks his memory of the seminary, his Rector, and that afternoon with a Victoria Secret magazine.
“Yeah? How about the big-bang? What is the scientific theory why the ball exploded? What made it explode?” says Jay-pee, smiling.
“What ball?” asks Sammy with a bewildered look on his face.
“Your balls, they’re exploding!” Jaypee exclaims. A wide grin appears in his face as he gulps his last bottle of beer.
“Seriously you guys. Don’t you ever think about the meaning of life? I mean, are we gonna grow old and die as call center agents?” Padi says. He looks at Noli and Sammy.
“I mean, look at you. You’re in your forties, un-married, and still living in your parents. Aren’t you bothered by that?”
They all fall silent. The loud chorus behind them goes “I will survive, I will survive”. The mockery of the song pierces through their ears. The subjugating feeling pins them down on their seats.
“Who cares?” says Sammy.
“What?” Padi asks.
“I said who cares about what’s the meaning of life. Whether it has meaning or none at all, does it make any difference?”
“I guess, Sammy’s right” Noli says.
“Whether you know the meaning of life or not, you’re still doing the same thing you’re doing, in the very same spot on earth where you’re born! You’ll still be a call center agent on Monday”
“Unless you change career, like, um, becoming a call boy!” Jay-pee says, laughing.
Sammy quickly puts down his Crichton book, looks at Jaypee and says, “Well, what’s wrong with call center agent?”
“Nothing, really. It’s just that, it feels like, it’s an unwanted pregnancy. You did not plan anything and it just burst out. And your life is kind of stuck” Padi quickly explains.
“Yeah. It’s like one of those times you say, ‘this is temporary’, and before you know it, ten years passed and the thing becomes, well, forever” Nilo adds.
Padi thinks about “trisikad” drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, sales clerks, and the majority of Filipinos. Most have college degrees he reflects, a nation of square pegs and round holes. We’re all just a piece of the big pie, a microcosm of a skewed nation. Padi looks at his watch and reads “12:56”.
“Yeah. Nothing really matters” he says. He signals to the waiter and asks for the bill. They all chip in and pay the amount and stagger as they stand up.
“Well guys, see you at Cyber Traffic on Monday” Jay-pee says and mockingly executes a hand salute.