“Skipping between Timelines”

“He believed in an infinite series of times,
in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of
diverging, converging and parallel times.”
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

1

DESPITE ITS MATHEMATICAL TERRORS, the curiosities of quantum mechanics have drawn me in. Since last year, I have buried myself into reading its concepts, especially its framework of space, time, and reality. According to its theories, time does not run in a straight line; instead, timelines bifurcate infinitely: all moments, the theories supposed, exist simultaneously—the past, the present, the future—and are like branched-out threads weaved together into a singular rope, which, hypothetically, makes up the whole universe.

          A god sees the universe as a finished race—its beginning, middle, and end all perceived in a single flash of a moment. All this is indeed difficult, maybe even impossible, for us to grasp since the whole idea stands contrary to what our senses perceive. But a physicist’s inspection on how atoms behave on a quantum level tells us that what we see is not exactly what it is. Well, to us nonscientists, quantum mechanics is either a food for the imagination or a trigger to a headache.

2

In the university’s dormitory bed, weary from the day’s ridge and tunnel hike, I pondered about reality and quantum mechanics and came to realize the different timelines happening in the world within my skull. Then I entered the first layers of my dream.

3

The dream: I was asked to write a piece inspired by the hike: be it a short story, a poem, an essay, or a haiku. I could remember the first stanza of the poem I wrote titled “The Test of Time is the Jest of God,” “Time is God’s measure / Of how much a rock / Can take / Before it breaks.” The poem ended with the next stanza (the first line of which eluded my memory), “[…] / So the cracks remain silent/ And, without despair, accept / God’s eyes into their darkness.” Admittedly, I imagined during the hike that if I peeked into the cracks, my eyes would, by chance, meet God’s or someone else’s.

4

And during the hike, I walked behind a girl and took fancy of her impossibly supple and shapely waist, which, in each her twists, turns, and bends, made my blood boil and undeniably inspired this haiku: “Let my fingers trace / That spine of yours that tempts me / Like a devil’s snake.” Reading the lines, one does not need to look far for an interpretation.

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Illustration by Geraldine Sy

5

In the short story titled “Limbo” (apparently envisioned as we reached the ridge’s peak), the narrator, sensing the story’s coming end, refused to continue lest he might disappear afterward. So he went back narrating in reverse, risking the story to fall into a frightening absurdity: “The summit awaits all of us. But I fear we have nothing to see there afterward. Shall we continue? Shall we continue? But I fear we have nothing to see there afterward. The summit awaits all of us.” The story went on and back.

6

Oddly enough, I conceived of an essay, titled “At the End of the Tunnel,” stating that “the end is imminent, so even if one is alive here and now, one should consider himself dead and gone already, for the future is inevitable and as irrevocable as the past…. In the journey of life, the light at the end of the tunnel is the light of the end—that is, death—and the darkness inside the tunnel was that of life.” Unlike the narrator in “Limbo,” we have been nearing the end of our stories one line at a time, and “in the end, we are all nothing but words.”

7

So that’s all I’m able to retrieve from the dream. In another timeline’s future, I may have completely written all those pieces better or perfectly. And probably some future is now reading this article, since, to quote Borges, “the future already exists now.”

8

I hope, in some future out there, I have read and written all the books I want before “getting out of the tunnel.”

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend, October 9, 2016)

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A Thousand Beers Ago

If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget;
if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate;
and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.
—Charles Bukowski

A THOUSAND BEERS AGO, I still recall, my best friend took on the question “How can you fall for someone who’s completely over you?” during a drinking session at Fruits and Foods, our favorite bar. When he said “over,” he actually meant “above,” not over as in dead and done. So again, how can you fall for someone who’s completely “above” you? He alone tried answering his inquiry to this paradox. I listened. His thoughts shot deeper into the night until he arrived at an answer: “One just needs to be Superman, so he can fly higher than where she is, and then fall for her.

I laughed at once at this drunkard’s nonsense and almost flipped the table over, but I was stunned upon realizing it must be a vague allusion to Nietzsche’s Übermensch, the Overman.

Believe me, my best friend’s a genius—a rather misguided one at that, especially with a little influence of alcohol. But he’s the unfortunate guy who suddenly falls asleep no matter how savory and sexually accommodating the chicks we are drinking with are. (His tolerance for alcohol back in those days was weaker than a girl’s—unbelievably low.) Well, that means two things: one, more beers for me, and two, I get to take all the ladies.

All are true except for the “ladies” part. Mind you, we don’t drink to get laid (such act goes against my drinking ethics). Heck, we don’t even drink for the taste (we even seek Kulafu if it’s available and the mood calls for it). In all truthfulness, we desperately drink and offer a toast for the enlightenment and salvation of mankind, and seriously so. To quote from the book Alcoholica Esoterica by Ian Lendler, “a bottle of beer contains more poetry and philosophy than any other books in the world.”

(There’s no refuting Lenders statement. Its reverberance, long-stuck and percussive in my ears, soon led me to constitute my own unwritten fundamentals in drinking. One fundamental, carrying the force of a Zen koan, is “To drink is to know, and to know is to not drink.”)

******

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Illustration by Geraldine Sy

My best friend and I drink for wild pleasure and celebration, of course, setting aside our intellectual ambitions for our hedonistic pursuits (this we try to keep in moderation). Inevitably, we drink for our dramas as well. Fact is, during life’s most tumultuous and trying times, you just want to sleep dead drunk for the night and wake up, regretfully, the next day with an even deadlier hangover.

There are times when I need a strong drink so I can write without inhibitions, but alcohol worsens my already god-awful penmanship. Reading the draft when I get sober, I can only make out, barely and with effort, the first paragraph. The rest of it resembles a drug addict’s scrawl on the walls.

Here I present to you a line I scrawled during one of my flights of intoxication: “Alcohol makes emotions inflammable, and it takes only a single question to lick both into flames.”

What lucidity only a drunk mind is capable of attaining! In vino nobis veritas, as they say (“In wine, there is truth”). A drunk mind is as mysterious as it is dangerous.

I am a bit proud of my ability to remember my drunken moments, however cringe-worthy, grotesque, and shameful my acts may be, as not everyone recalls his flights during intoxication; and even when they do, they wish to forget all of it. But not me.

******

My best friend and I have been drinking at my place for some nights now, catching up, for we haven’t seen each other for months. It has dawned on me that we are still asking the same questions regarding life. (To interject a line, “As time flies, what remains the same? The question remains the same.”) Are we still as naive as when we were in college?

If so, a thousand more beers then.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend Cebu: July 31, 2016)

Chicken Abortion

Naa kay eighteen diha, ki?
—Anonymous

I WALKED ALONG the polluted sidewalk downtown where there lay a stretch of street food stalls that habitually begins to grow crowded at the first stroke of twilight. People who just got off from school and work found themselves feasting on the delicacies to relieve their hunger and nerves, sometimes while enjoying a conversation with an acquaintance or a friend, mostly exchanging summaries or anecdotes on how their day went.

Passing by, I could hear peals of laughter, as incessant as the sizzling of food in the scalding oil, and even belches of people whose stomachs were gratified right after the gulp of their beverage, often followed by lighting a cigarette.

I looked with astonishment at the burning of the cigarettes, for their tips stood out perfectly, like crimson stars, between the moonlight and the glares coming from the headlights congested in the road.

The greasy savor in the air suddenly rendered me famished, but somehow absolved me from the whole day of earthly labors.

*****

I was well into my fourth piece of penoy when a group of foreigners lined by the stall I was in. The crowd threw glances at them.

The five foreigners, three men and two women, whom I thought were Americans, looked exhausted, out of breath, undoubtedly from carrying huge backpacks, bags, tents, and rolled sleeping mats. Nevertheless, I saw excitement gleaming from their faces; their eyes were of those beholding the arrival of a long-awaited meal.

At once, I reckoned that the foreign group must have heard myths about Balut and that now they were going to unfold its mystery; one of them confirmed it by saying he found “the Balut.”

The men declared to draw first blood while the women backed them up with cheers.

I listened to the vendor stuttering his way in giving instructions. He guided them through gestures—like pointing at a certain part of the shell—and managed to convey the instructions with precision.

I was surprised at how the men devoured the embryo in an instant, perhaps without even tasting, and certainly without spitting the bits of bones and hairs out; regardless, they expressed delight at its tastiness.

The women’s applause caught the attention of the busy crowd. It was their turn next. But no sooner had they peeled the shells than they backed down at the sight of the embryo.

As though spectators in a show, passersby circled around the stall and cheered for the women.

“Chicken abortion!” I broke in. People, including the foreigners, turned and laughed at my remark; a student even repeated, “Di ta mokaon ani uy, kay chicken abortion.”

One of the women stopped laughing and asked me, “What happens if no one eats them?”

“They’re thrown away,” I said rather coldly. “The reason they’re ‘aborted’ is because the farms here can’t afford to raise them. So even if they were to live, they’d eventually die of starvation. Besides, no one can shelter all of them, and they’d be a nuisance if they’re too many.”

The crowd, I realized, was silent and listening to me the whole time, perhaps never expecting such an insight on the matter.

“Balut,” I continued, “is actually a solution to poultry overpopulation.”

*****
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Illustration by Geraldine Sy

I lit my fourth cigarette while walking into the heart of the downtown, which I fancied to be pumping the traffic of strangers and vehicles into the streets.

The evening declined, and I looked at the moon glowing brighter beyond the rise of the buildings, the sight of it misted by the smoke coming out of my mouth.

I stood on the street corner, listening to the cacophony of wheels, horns, footsteps, and gossips, when a strange memory involving balut sprang into mind:

Once, a sallow balut vendor, who was my “suki” since he was just across the street near my home, confided to me about hearing death rattles of full-grown embryos from inside their shells as he boiled them in his large pot.

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend: March 27, 2016 and on Zerothreetwo, a local online magazine)