The American awoke in the soft and the cold, and the woman was gone. He shivered and placed a hand on the bed next to him. Smooth sheets, cold as stone. He had left the air conditioning on. Here the heat was way too much for him. He’d put it on full blast the night before. It was funny to him that after their shower she had been shivering, her teeth literally chattering, and had to cling tightly to him under the sheets. He told her that where he came from the rivers freeze solid in winter. His home had never been part of his identity until he left it behind.
Now it was too cold for him. He threw off the sheets and went naked to the AC unit and turned it down. He checked the time; 8 a.m. He collected his things in the backpack and got dressed, picking up the battered motorcycle helmet on the way out. He stepped out into the wall of Filipino heat but his skin welcomed it for a moment. He had about thirty seconds until he started sweating.
At the front desk, checking out, the woman gave him a sly look.
“Where did your friend go?”
“She had to leave.”
He paid three hundred pesos and stepped back from the desk, already putting on his motorcycle helmet – sweating, as predicted. Out from under the awning into the full blistering sun, past the hedgerow. He went out into the parking lot and stood there for a long moment looking down the road.
No motorcycles, plural. There had been a bunch of them on the grass there the previous night. He thought he’d left it in good company. He was hungover, so he blinked good and hard and looked again. Then looked left, and right again. It was definitely gone. He walked over to the spot where it had been and prodded the grass with one sandal, then paced back and forth through the space. It was not merely invisible. It was gone.
These were extreme measures to verify a state of affairs that his eyes alone could have showed him, but motorcycles cost a lot of money. He sighed, his shoulders slumped, and he hung his head.
At that moment a motorized tricycle was coming down the road so he reluctantly lifted a big white arm to flag it down. The guy puttered up to him, bouncing over a couple shallow potholes, squinting at him under the low roof of the tricycle. The American lowered his backpack into the foot- well and wedged himself down into the vehicle.
“Where you going, Superman?” the driver said, frowning at his motorcycle helmet.
The guy laughed. He wore a red bandana over his nose and mouth and a big pair of shades.
“Don’t arrest me, haha. You a cop?”
With a lurch they started off and the American grabbed the handrail. The driver said,
“You in trouble?”
“What’s the helmet for?”
“Whatever the day brings.”
The driver laughed.
“You ready for anything, huh.”
They pitched into the busy main street and stopped immediately behind a crowded purple Jeepney with Batman’s face painted on it. The exhaust dripped and spat fumes at his eye-level. Filipinas in business skirts and blazers looking at him. The driver hammered his horn to tell everybody where he was and said,
“You got robbed, huh.”
It took them about forty minutes to navigate five blocks. His left buttcheek was going numb when things really started to slow down, as they passed along Taft Avenue into Intramuros. Instead of traffic, throngs of people were crowding the road. People by the thousands, waving towels in the air, about half of them wearing yellow shirts.
“Ah,” said the driver. “I can’t go anymore.”
“What’s goin’ on?” said the American.
“It’s the Black Jesus parade.”
The American looked at him for a long moment.
“I can’t believe we forgot about the Black Jesus Parade.”
“I didn’t forget.”
“Why did we come this way?”
“I thought it would be ok.”
There were people behind them as well, pressing about, penning them in. The driver got out. With a sigh, so did the American, peering down through his tinted motorcycle helmet at the seething mass of people. On one street corner stood about fifteen cops in body armour with shotguns, smoking cigarettes. On the other, two ambulances were parked up on the curb. Paramedics came by as he watched with two men on stretchers.
The driver reached into his tricycle and pulled the clutch, then rolled it off the street.
“We need to go touch Jesus,” he said. “Then you get a miracle.”
“Okay, man.” The American gave him two twenty-peso coins. “You know what, I’m just gonna walk through to my place. It’s just across the river.” This was way too much for one day, and he was still hung over. He would visit the cops about his bike tomorrow.
Before they parted ways, the American said,
“What kind of miracle are you wishing for?”
The driver looked perturbed, like he hadn’t thought about it. He scratched his cheek.
“Next time for Manny Pacqiao to beat Mayweather.”
The American laughed.
“That would be nice. But it’s a tall order, even for Jesus.”
“Fuck you, man!” The driver glared and moved off.
The American shouldered his bag and pushed into the crowd, trying to make a direct line for home. He was able to watch the driver some ways on, forging a path for an overpass about two-hundred meters off. Upon that overpass a giant wooden statue of Jesus was making its way, bearing a huge black cross over one shoulder. His skin was black, his clothing bright red and garlanded with flowers. It was being borne on the shoulders of a thick crowd of people, packed from one side of the bridge to the other. Packed, in fact, over every inch of ground between him and it. As he watched, people strained to get close enough to touch the statue. About thirty people were physically riding on it, trying to hang on for purchase as others tore them off and climbed up. People leaping and clawing, jumping on each other, waving towels, throwing water, falling off the statue, the bridge. The American looked back and considered the ambulances he’d seen.
“Ok,” the American said.
As he made his way towards the waterfront, the sounds of a marching-band gradually grew louder. He cleared the crowds, the roar fading away, and looked down into the river. That was where the band was, on a ferry of some kind. Blasting as loud as they could with brass and cymbals, the same tune over and over again, a religious hymn he wasn’t familiar with. Over and over, ceaselessly. He watched them for a moment, leaning on the railing, wondering if they would get tired, but they didn’t appear to. He looked down and saw a bloated dead rat floating on a mass of garbage that had collected in the corner of the wall.
He had to dive back into the crowds to get over the bridge and across the Pasig River. It was nearing twilight by the time he crossed, and the band had been playing the same song for the entire hour he’d been within earshot. His main goal now was to get away from that sound.
He succeeded at about 6:30 p.m., trudging down the road towards his place. He was hungry so he stopped at a street-meat stand and got six pork-skewers. He stood there, dipping them in the bucket of sauce and devouring them. After he had finished, he picked his teeth with the skewers and wiped his hands with a napkin, whistling. A street woman was looking at him, squinting. She was about to ask for money, clearly. He had a couple loose pesos in his pocket, so he figured he could part with those.
“Sir,” the woman said, approaching. She didn’t have very many teeth.
“Hi.” He reached into his pocket, smiling.
She grinned shyly, pointing at his mouth.
“Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno.” She hummed a bit of the melody, wagging a finger in time.
The American laughed. He’d been whistling the song they were playing at the parade.
“Well,” he admitted. “It is catchy.”
“Sir,” her face fell suddenly as she took a step forward. She had a slip of paper in her hand. “I’m sorry. Please. I’m sick.”
“Oh, yeah. Right” He continued digging for money in his pocket.
“Look, sir.” She pressed the paper into his hand.
“Uh.” He studied it for a moment, frowning, one eyebrow slowly raising. “This is a… hospital admission slip? It’s not necessary to prove you actually… y’know… ”
The woman was nodding, eyes half-closed.
“I mean, who am I to assess your credentials as a beggar?” He gave her fifty pesos.
“Thanks, sir. Thanks.” She beamed. He handed the papers back. She was holding something out to him, a little dark figurine.
“Not at all,” the American was saying. “Oh, hey, you got a little Black Jesus.”
He peered at the tiny figure in her hand. She held it out for him to touch. The same as the big statue they’d been hauling earlier that day.
He touched the top of the head with his pinky finger.
“Thanks. Uh. Mabuhay Jesus.”
“Viva señor nazareno.”
It was pitch black out when he rounded the corner to the place where he was staying. There were flashing red and blue lights from two police motorcycles parked on the sidewalk right in front of his building. A couple of cops were talking to people and writing things down. His heart sank as he saw that all the glass had been shattered out of the front doors of the building.
One of the policemen looked up as he approached.
“Can I go in? I live here.”
The cop shrugged.
“Sure. Careful of the glass.”
“Some drunk guy. He stole a motorcycle and crash straight in the door of the building.” The cop gestured over his shoulder.
The American looked in past the shattered glass and a smile bloomed on his face.
“That’s my kind of miracle.”