Hells and Chris Cornell

by jenniferbalboa

When I still worked for the government, for the longest time, the only real highlight of my day was playing some music before I march off to the courthouse, wrestling my way through the morning slaves rush and racing to beat the demon bundy clock. I was way younger then, and angry about the fact that, in a way (and as a family member once shamefully pointed out) I was prostituting myself. It actually did feel like I was selling myself cheap, and so my every day felt like hell.

Everyday, I felt like leaving a hell for another hell.

It would be no surprise then if you’d hear me playing Rusty Cage loud enough to be heard in the bathroom, and possibly in the bathroom of neighbors too, every blessed day. Nobody ever complained, surprisingly. You’d think everybody else felt hellish every morning and that just maybe, they found comfort in hearing Chris Cornell echo their pent up lamentations. I found great comfort in hearing Chris Cornell growl out my lamentations.

One day – very early in November, about five or six years ago, I am absolutely sure it was a November because I could remember my dread of the traffic brought by the opening of the second semester of classes that day – a Chris Cornell song saw me not only through one of my hellish mornings but through real, life-threatening danger.

As usual, I was about to be late again for work. It was much harder getting up from bed around those times already because it was getting colder and colder. It felt much better to just stay in bed and lie in a fetal position, hiding beneath the sheets. I guess it was around that time when I first adopted the expression “gisingin n’yo na lang ako ‘pag pasko na!”

And as usual, my mother was yelling her staple “mag-resign ka na lang kung ayaw mo nang pumasok” morning mantra. She found me the job, it was understandable if she resented my growing disinterest on it. The thing is, that mantra never worked. Everytime I heard it, my bones all the more did not feel like budging.

I had to again drag myself through the routine: rise, turn on music, brush teeth, bath, wear uniform, drink warm water, turn off music, go. But that day, as I was about to turn off the radio (fixed on NU 107 most of the time), I heard the strains of a classical tune.

I instantly recognized it: Schubert’s Ave Maria. I turned up the volume, thinking, “why is this station playing a classical piece?”

Then, I heard Chris Cornell’s voice. “Chris Cornell is singing Ave Maria!” I exclaimed. Of course my mother did not care, all she wanted was that I beat the bundy clock, she had to exclaim back at me, “late ka na!”

But I couldn’t move. I crouched in front of that aged speaker. I was transfixed. I wanted to cry. I did not want the song to end. I did not feel like going anywhere. I just wanted to keep listening.

Of course the song had to end. And of course I knew I was already late. I did not care. I walked on still hearing the song in my head.

I took the endmost seat in the jeep that I rode, and slouched. I held my head, I wanted to sleep. I saw that I even did not care to fully button up the blouse of my uniform – anyway, I had an inner shirt – I looked like I just got up from bed, real pathetic, I thought.

I also noticed a young man, even smaller than me and also looking like he just got up from bed, insisting to ride our jeep despite it being fully packed already. I remember saying to myself upon seeing him, something like “mukhang holdaper ‘tong lokong ‘to”.

He was.

He rode the jeep as it stopped in front of U.S.T. He shoved his ass right in the very little space there still was between me and the passenger next to me. As we neared Isetann Recto, and as he pulled out from his back pocket what was probably the longest fan knife I ever saw in my life, he announced the hold-up.

“O, ‘wag na kayong papalag,” he said, or something like that, probably to address the men also in our jeep. I remember we had a lot of them during the ride, all dressed in office garb too. They all did as that little, pathetic looking guy said. Not one man moved.

Even before I saw the knife in all its unfurled, deadly glory, I was already shaking as I saw him reach for his back pocket. I was expecting him to point it to me, after all I was just next to him, and he got me cornered against the end railings. Instead, he pointed the knife to the two teen-aged looking girls who also rode in U.S.T. The girls were holding their cellphones out in the open. Apparently, the guy followed them. They handed their phones without resistance, then the guy ran off.

Here’s the part where I’d assert that it didn’t matter that I looked like a slouched, pathetic loser who had nothing anyway, and that it didn’t matter that those teeners foolishly held their fancy phones in the open – I believed I was spared from danger because I heard Chris Cornell sing Ave Maria, giving the song due respect as I refused to go until it was finished. I was blessed through the song, I thought.

Maybe. Yes, it was just a song. Maybe I would’ve not gotten to share the ride with the hold-upper in the first place had I just gone quickly through the god-forsaken routines and left the song. I really don’t know.

It felt as if my knees wanted to give way as I alighted from the jeep and walked all the way past the giant Manila City Hall clock, all the way to the bundy clock awaiting me. I was still in one piece alright, and the entire piece trembled. In disbelief. In awe.

Things are much better now. There still are hells, seasonal ones, for which I still need the necessary re-assurance. Lately, over the holidays, I saw Great Expectations again after a very long while, and was directed to a song I have forgotten all these years – Sunshower. It’s no hell song, though. That one deserves a new, clean sheet.

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