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Where are we heading, Kiefer?

With each step, I was moving unobstructed yet wary, closer and closer to his vulnerability—a heedful admission to his countless submissions.

The stalls nearby were closing, and the service crew around us were rounding up the rattling tables and chairs. It’s past 9 PM, and the day’s almost over. Yet not the intangibility of time nor the howl of evening winds would dictate whether his day is over or not—only his choice. Only with his hidden agenda and desires.

DAY

That day, Manila fell between humid and tough.

He was sitting beside me. Across moderate traffic, he tried to recall the strange road heading to where his story started. He wasn’t sure if he could consider it his home, but deep inside, he knows that the life he had was enough for it to be so. The place is war-torn. And his enemy since then was not anyone on the battlefield—but the one retreating within him—himself.

We arrived at the metro, and as I asked, he brought me to places that remind him of who he was and what he has become, in his own predicament. It was long ago since the last time he had been here. His sunken eyes reflect the stray lights of day—hopeful, yet uncertain and cruel.

As we approached the nearby mall where he usually goes, we were treading against other humans. A momentary sonder occurred—he escorted me to a public yet personal space where his narrative took place a long time ago, which propelled his mind to recollect what it had to.

We visited the mall’s amusement center. The ambience of the arcade, the joy of striking wins, and the glister of gaming lights revitalized our energy. He was smiling widely as he told me how he spent most of his vacant time there—at the time when his days were as jubilant as those who won the programmable games; but life’s game isn’t fair nor programmable, just purely unpredictable.

While we were heading to the cinema, he opened up about something deeper. Kiefer is in a paradox of normality and distinction. Meeting the ends of his own alternate universe, be it through writing his fictional historical context is an imperative part of his self-reliant agenda.

“I like adventures, dreaming, imagining impossibilities, [and] aspiring to be great.”

We strolled around further. As we paced, his familiarity with the place became evident. The grooming stalls, fashion boutique, and even his favorite art store, which we noticed was gone, traced every inch of his immeasurable memories.

As we proceeded to our journey, he led me to the vicinity where most of his euphoric youth took place. The ride from the mall to where we were heading was a rough one. The close-packed journey prompted stern looks from other commuters. He was stern too; glancing from place to place, uncertain if he was just irritated with the dry air or skeptical to what we might find.

The sun vividly approached the west as we sauntered through halls and crossed busy roads. It was a Sunday and Espanya is rarely so peaceful yet desolated. Our bodies immediately responded to the afternoon heat—sweat dripping and feet sore from walking. The paved road of T. Campa was where he pointed to his favorite food spots and bars nearby, where he spent ecstatic nights of the floundering yet blissful student life.

We talked about pre-war buildings and history too. In that moment, I learned of his inexplicable fascination for history and its significance to his consciousness.

Being a former architecture student spurs his fascination for dilapidated pre-war buildings, structural art, and modern infrastructures. Thrill and adventure spice up his sheer admiration for survival; and he is a dreamer too, like most of the youth battling their paradoxical cycles and convoluted choices.

But now his dreams seem to fade down a little bit. Earlier this year, financial problems forced him to stop studying. So, walking along the same pavements while discerning what he used to be only induced his buried nostalgia.

NIGHT

“I feel like a different person.”

The sky turned into a majestic purple hue as the sun set. After roaming around Espanya, we went to a public mall nearby to eat dinner. For some, it was time to go home and ponder how their day went. But for Kiefer, his day only starts after the sun has gone—once darkness has devoured the atmosphere—murky and unpredictable.

We ascended to the fifth floor of the mall. We occupied one of the benches at the corner, then after a few minutes, he stood up, told me to wait for him, and moved towards the crowd who all seemed to be waiting for someone.

I knew what he was up to, so I calmly remained where I was sitting. I observed his gestures—he was casually standing from afar, recurrently checking his phone, and apparently peering through the crowd. He got tired, so he sat on the nearest bench. A few minutes later, a man in his 40s approached him. They shortly conversed—then they both disappeared from the crowd.

I followed them until Kiefer asked me to wait. When he came back, I knew that something sensual happened between them. Kiefer seemed to detest what happened, as he spat his tongue out as if he was vomiting from swallowing the guy’s seminal fluid after giving head. He said he got paid, and I was also surprised to learn that he had already met the same man and did the same thing—right in the exact place with the exact rate around the cold breeze of November 2016.

I think there’s something wrong with me kaya ko ‘to ginagawa. I don’t know.”

He was only 18 when he began engaging in sexual activities for money—a prospect of choice or a force that pulls him, with vast amount of unrelenting pressure, in his own vulnerable submission. It started during one of those ecstatic nights out partying when a man in his mid-30s spoke to him and insisted to bring him home, but instead brought him to a motel.

At first, he was reluctant to the sex. The dizziness made him incapable of contemplating the situation, but the man offered him money—and with the plethora of troubles he was dealing with, he decided to accept the offer. The man was a professor from a known university and since then, they continued to meet almost every day, and every time Kiefer gets into a room with him, he leaves with money in hand.

His dependence on the carnal industry started when he was waiting outside of the same mall in mid-2016. An old man approached him, and the prospect of the situation was too evident for him not to notice. They conversed and Kiefer was soon invited to the man’s condo unit where they got drunk. An invasion of sexual existence occurred, and Kiefer was paid with a large sum of money. Since then, the bed has become his workplace.

I wish kaya kong [gumawa ng iba pang bagay]. I wish hindi ganito.” It was fun, at least for him, but most of the time, he feels degraded and undignified with what he does. He wants to end it—no, not that he will slit his own wrists, but the very veins of his desperate desires and pumping blood of ceaseless guilt and regret. But the perpetuating financial issues force him to continue the flow of his self-made misery, making him part of the living dead every single day. The pleasure, he admitted, also holds him back from retreating from this war-torn industry. It is more than the erotic moans, clawing fingers, and curling toes—it is a sole hope that engaging in this abyss would lead him to survival, regardless of what he has to go through.

“Kung puwede nga lang ako bumalik sa dati, ‘di ko na ‘to ginawa, para may mataas akong value para sa sarili ko.”

Going against precepts has never been trouble-free. Repressive reckonings from his environment prompt him to put a lower value to himself.

“Kailangan mong gawin lahat para maka-survive, kahit labag sa loob mo.”

As the night continued to fall and city lights illuminated once more, his choices became more explicit. It is his chase for survival that manifests why not all choices are deemed as choices. Kiefer wants to escape, he really does, but not yet—not when he hasn’t mended himself yet.

This article was originally published in La Salleño Volume 25.