Dusts [4]

pursuits4

As soon as the double door was shut, a warm, yellowish light that felt like the warm sun on an early morning flooded the room. It was a room of several leisure rooms confined within a room. On one corner was a wide screen, a corner for gamers. Adjacent to it was a desk and wall of shelves for builders and crafters. Next to that was for writers, illustrators, and planners, with a wide desk with smaller compartments. The last corner was for readers, with shelves of books. In the middle was a small, square table. In front of them, between the corners with the desks were large, capiz windows that were sealed shut.

All corners had glass screens of the same size, with small levers, handles, and copper buttons, all labelled with materials that matched their assigned corner and gears and handles. Gaming consoles and devices for the gamer’s corner; building and crafting tools for the next corner; paper, pens, inks, coloring materials for the third corner; and, title and author command for the mini library. Each also had comfortable looking chairs that matched its corner and desk, both in aesthetics and in function.

“Kindly choose your leisure pursuit, sir,” she said as they both looked around.

“Builder,” he answered almost immediately, slightly tilting his head toward the right-hand corner in front of him.

Almost as soon as he said this, there was a soft beep, and the top of the small table in front of them created a small opening and out came a small chest box. She went forward and opened the chest, gestured for the man to pick up what was inside it. There were two circular objects that were only a tad bigger than a thumb and were made out of something that looked and felt like parchment. The man went forward and took them from the box.

“Please attach these disks to your temples. You may stay and spend your time doing your leisure pursuit on the builder’s corner while waiting for the trading to cease, which will be over in twenty minutes,” she motioned her hand on the builder’s corner glass screen, where a small image of an hourglass not yet upright was shown. “As soon as it is done, kindly replace the disks in the chest box and exit on that door,” she gestured at the door on the left side of the room, between the corners for readers and writers or illustrators. “You may take with you your project or leave it on the table, whatever pleases you. I will meet you outside to show you the Sands. Do you have questions, sir?”

“No, thank you,” was all he said, as he attached the small, thin disks on each side of his temples.

“Very well, I’ll see you later, sir,” she replied and left the room through the exit door.

 

***

As soon as she exited the room, the lighting changed. Every corner of the room went dark except for the builder’s corner that remained well illuminated. It was as if the room was made up only of that corner.

He went forward and sat in front of the desk. He tapped on a part of the glass screen with the label wood, and as soon as he did, the hourglass turned upright and its sands started to fall.

A small compartment in front of the desk opened and a couple chunks of wood was pushed out of it. He tapped a few more labels, and again, several compartments opened and pushed out the items that corresponded with the labels he tapped: a small chisel, a ball hammer, a sheet of sandpaper, and other small carving tools.

He started carving.

 

***

The bottle opener keychain was well-kept in its original box tucked neatly inside a small cupboard, used only when needed, which was very seldom. It was from the man’s distant cousin who came from abroad and collected antiquities and other random trinkets that did not usually trade for much. The cousin got this from a suitcase that was abandoned near his home. The cousin said that inside the bottle opener keychain’s box was a short love note that didn’t reach its supposed recipient for two possible reasons: either it was rejected or it never left its source. Almost everyone he gave the bottle opener keychain to refused it for its lack of use, except for the man. He gladly accepted it, fascinated with its design and assumed history and origin. And as years went by, its novelty faded away.

She made the payneta, the man’s wife, an end product of one of her experiments as she tried her husband’s hobbies when they were still on the early years of their marriage. It was one of her better-looking payneta; her best ones were used by her daughters. This one showed her first attempt to carve intricate patterns on the top of the payneta. Despite the year, the wood still bore the droplets of blood the wife shed from the tiny cut wounds she sustained from her carving attempts.

The pocket watch was handed to the youngest daughter by the man himself. She seemed to be fascinated by small gears and the way they work. It came from the same distant cousin who could not remember where it came from. It didn’t work despite being replaced with a new battery, but the young girl didn’t care. She kept it and gently turned its knob from time to time, pretending that it worked. She also used it when she played with her sister and friends, sometimes wearing it on her waist like a real pocket watch, and sometimes pretending it’s a compass when they’re exploring.

 

Sometimes, she had this leisure to see what memories could be extracted from the items being traded for.

Alongside the extraction screen was a monitor that showed the man’s vital signs. Everything was normal.

There was a short buzz. She pulled a lever beside her monitor, and below it, a billowing smoke escaped from the small compartment, and a small jar emerged as the smoke evaporated. It was two-thirds full of sands that glimmered like gold and silver and at the same time looked dull like wood. She picked it up and placed it on a glass case that was suspended in mid-air inside the wall behind the counter.

A soft beep, and the door opened. Out came the man who was putting a small item in his pocket.

“Hello, sir,” she said as a greeting. He nodded in return as he approached the counter where she was standing. “Here is the Sands in the jar, sir,” she added and gestured at the glass box.

He looked at it and smiled. She could see the dancing sands reflected in his eyes. Then, he nodded.

She then pulled two metal fences on each side of the wall and closed it at the center, then pushed a button beside it. The glass box with the jar, along with the metal fence went up the hole in the ceiling and disappeared from site. Then the hole was immediately sealed.

“And here, sir, is the receipt,” she said and handed him a copperplate inscribed with symbols and numbers, at the back was a barcode. It had a thin chain. “Please keep it until the item traded for is delivered to you. You need to hand this receipt to the delivery staff. The item will be delivered to your house on Friday, at eleven in the evening, is that correct, sir?” she asked as he stood in front of her, between them was a counter.

“Yes, that is correct,” he answered and wore the copperplate like a necklace and hid it under his shirt.

“Very well, thank you for your transaction,” she said and handed him his bag.

“Thank you very much, too,” he replied as he went out of the room, followed by her. To their right was the stairs down to the silong and the tarangkahan. To their left was the short hallway that led to the common room. He went down the stairs and headed for the tarangkahan, which was pulled open by her. A final wave of thanks and bye, she gently closed the heavy door behind him.

Dusts [3]

3

As soon as the clock struck eight, she heard the bell on the door clang.

“This early?” she whispered to herself with a surprised edge to her voice.

She glimpsed forlornly at the battered, engraved door, as if to reluctantly receive an unwanted yet necessary blessing to start her day. The bell clanged again, and she hurried to the common room and gave it a sweeping look to make sure everything was in place before climbing down the elaborately designed flooring of the silong and headed straight for the big wooden tarangkahan.

She looked up at the ceiling and stared at the mirror installed there, meant to spy on whoever was on the other side of the door. It mirrored an upside down reflection of a man.

The mirror then emitted a tiny green dot on its right-hand corner. It meant that the man was no threat to the Bahay.

She lifted the wide wooden beam that served as the tarangkahan’s lock, pulled open the heavy door, and welcomed her first customer with a smile. He wore a grey buttoned shirt under his coat that had seen better days.

oab2.jpg

He smiled timidly back and muttered a “Thanks” with his husky yet gentle voice as he stepped in. She led him to the common room and asked him to sit down on one of the antique chairs. He handed her a small bag before he sat down.

“Salamat po. Please fill this up as you wait,” she said as she handed him a glass screen that she got from the pocket of her apron and headed toward the other room at the right wing of the common room. The double door on this wing was widely opened and from the common room, one could see the long workers’ table that had several drawers. It looked weathered yet polished, a striking example of contrasts, much like the Bahay and the purpose it housed.

She stood on the other side of the table—which also had drawers on that side. Facing the common room, she pulled open the right-hand drawer and a pair of worn leather gloves. Beside the gloves was a pair of long thin tweezers, which she picked up as well. She closed the drawer and opened the one under it. She took out an old, rust-free plate that had dents then closed the drawer.

She wore the gloves and opened the small bag. Using the tweezers, she emptied the bag of its contents, carefully placing each item on the plate. When she was quite certain her tweezers could no longer reach for anything other than the bag’s bottom part, she turned it inside out and gently shook the dust that rested there, before putting it back on the table. She eyed the things that she took out from it—a dead, ancient, battered yet precious-looking pocket watch, an intricately designed bottle opener keychain, and a simple yet elegant payneta that looked as old as the workers’ table.

She carefully looked at her male customer, who was still busy fiddling with the glass screen she handed him. She knew him, not personally, but based on the past few transactions she had had with him. Few, yes, but that didn’t mean she could easily forget a face.

He rarely visited this shop, so that meant he either enjoyed the simple life he had or had nothing much to trade anyway, or perhaps both. And when he did visit, he always brought things that would probably not matter much to bigger merchants but still amount to something. And he would only visit if he wished to trade for a gift, either for a child or an adult—both female, perhaps his wife and daughter, she couldn’t say because she never saw a ring. And yet, people these days used varied things to symbolize their being married or engaged to someone.

She returned her gaze to the items on the plate and placed them on a brass scale on the table. She took note of the weight. She then grabbed the plate and turned to the wall which was adorned with old portrait of much older people, and pushed an invisible button to reveal a small opening. She placed the plate inside it; the tiny door sealed itself shut once more.

She replaced the gloves and tweezers in the drawer and retreated to the common room.

As if on cue, the man finished fiddling on the glass screen and looked up at her. He reached out and handed her the glass screen with a smile.

She thanked him and skimmed on the screen quickly. On it were the information about the man, such as his name, age, address, his social security number, and his family—she was right, married with two daughters, and lived on the downtown, too—she assumed she was correct in his simple way of living.

When she skipped to the item to be traded for, she raised her eyebrows in amusement.

“It’s for my eldest, she’s turning seven next week,” he said rather nervously, as if responding to her amused reaction.

She felt herself go slightly red and warm, a bit ashamed when she realized what she might have looked like to the man for him to have felt the need to explain his transaction. But this didn’t seem to bother him; he was still smiling.

“Of course, sir. I understand,” she said, regaining herself. On the glass screen, a word appeared scribbled below the page—it said Approved. “This will be perfect for her,” she added in jest, making the man smile widely. “Very well, if you are ready, sir,” she said, gesturing for him to follow her back to the adjacent room with the long workers’ table.

They went inside the room but did not linger there. On the left was another double door. She pulled it open, ushered the man inside, and sealed it shut.

Dusts [2]

2

In a world where everything was well provided for, what else could one need? What more could a person ask for that she would be willing to forget a part of her life to get what she wanted?

Forget to Get

These words greeted her every single morning as she passed by the Restricted Room. For years, she tried to remove these engraved words on the antique door but failed. It was as if the wood had embraced these written markings as branding or tattoo, meant to mark it different from the rest of the room.

And yet, no matter how repulsive she found these engravings were, she could not for the love of her ancestors bring herself to replace the door. She had a knack for keeping things as they were—a liability, a bane for the superstitious, especially for a merchant like herself, the very person who would receive memories in exchange of luxuries and pleasure. These memories either stored and plucked and powdered out of trinkets or immortalized on paper that were burned, must be disposed of immediately as part of the binding contract of a purchase.

And that was why they did not see her fit for the job, despite her own markings. Because she could not perform the last condition in every transaction she had dealt with. Thus the roomful of jars that housed disintegrated memories that continued to tell their stories and hum their songs and describe their surroundings.

She had a knack for keeping things—most especially memories that did not belong to her.

And in a world where one had everything they needed, it was wrong to keep things that one did not own, especially memories.

She sighed.

forget2.jpg

Dusts [1]

dusts.jpg

1

glimpses

She only intended to take a quick glance at the jars displayed on the shelves. But once more, she was drawn to the dancing weak light from the small sun roof illuminating the dusty room. She felt a sharp pain in her hand as she realized she was clutching the door handle with all her might. The pain sent her back to her senses. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that she’d only take a glimpse—afraid of whatever rule she was about to break.

The door made a loud creak as she pushed it wider. She instantly looked up at the nearest shelves that housed hundreds of jars. Each jar looked unique. Each differed in shape and size. Yet all of them contained sands and ashes of different colors and quantities. Sands and ashes that danced to the rhythm no one else heard, moving and flowing in their own way, ready to take away anyone who stared and bury them deep in their depthless movement.

She took another deep breath. She noticed that the newer shelves were now almost full of jars. She needed a new set of shelves ordered soon.

She had to force her eyes shut as she closed the dank door, its hinges creaking as if protesting.

***

Her hand ached as she rested her elegant pen on its stand. Her eyes focused on the elaborated details that carved and formed her glass pen. She stretched her fingers to relax her aching hand. These fingers gently creased the folds of the paper that bore her longhand. She picked it up and gave it a thought. With all this technology, she could not understand why hand-written memories costed so much more than the digital ones.

‘They’re just memories, anyway,’ she thought.

And the one she just immortalized through pen and ink was worth—she was certain—more than enough for her to avail another expensive service of physical enhancement.

Feeling sated with how she saw, in her head, her younger-looking self, she threw the paper in her purse and walked out of the room, her expensive heels clicking loudly.

***

He looked at her with his kind eyes which were met by her sweet smile. When he didn’t accept the rusty gold pocket watch she was handing out to him, she shrugged her small shoulders and tossed it carelessly inside his small bag. Then, she rushed outside to her playmates, picking up pieces of fallen leaves and twigs on the ground to use them as pretend ingredients for a sinigang or prito.

He stared after her, now with a kind smile on his face. He felt bad and grateful at the same time. He never thought it was possible to feel two different things altogether, but he was certain that he was experiencing both at that moment. When he saw her laughing merrily with her friends, he tore away his eyes from her and stared at the contents of his small bag. Inside it was the rusted gold pocket watch, an unused bottle opener key chain, and a pretty payneta. These may not seem like they’re worth much, but they’re enough for whatever they’re worth trading for.

He went out of their home, bid the little girl and her playmates farewell, and walked toward the stretch of the road, the trinkets in his bag jingling—muffled yet cheerful.