BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mornings in Malate

Believe it or not, the sun rises in Malate, home of dirty old men and their mistresses, vagabonds and young boys in auburn dyed hair savoring rugby. 
In the morning, bars are empty and karaoke lounges like the Mabini Jewel Cabin are sound asleep and snoring.
Today, while the sun is scorchingly dry, there's a family of street urchins sleeping just outside the Cabin; passersby drop a coin or two before walking toward the rest of their lives, no time to think where a single peso could go for this family.
Gone are the lasses in their miniskirts and high-heeled stilettos who eke out a living picking up foreigners for more than a one-night stand but for a ticket out of their lonely lives.
Hugs and Kisses stare at me, empty and abandoned, at least today, right this hour. I am sitting by a vintage oak barrel outside Malone's Irish Pub which "lets your beer do the talking," sipping a cappuccino while writing this. 
The Malate of the previous night is not the same as this morning. I wonder where they all went while a UP student who hanged herself visited me in my dreams last night, up there in a borrowed room smelling of Brie cheese and nicotine smoke.
The blazing lights and party music are gone, replaced by the honking of jeepneys plying the dirty streets of Mabini. 
I wonder where the pimps went. I wonder where the pedophiles are. I wonder, too about the young forlorn ladies belting out love songs in lonely KTV rooms. 
A bar girl in pig tails, green checkered skirt and knee-high socks jolts me out of my reverie. Ninety pesos for my cold cappuccino, she reminds me. I reach out for the last of my money but she disappears as a bald foreigner catches her attention. 
"Do you miss me?" he asks her. 
"I'll be back. I'll just pick my laundry," he promises her and walks away. She smiles and waits. And waits longer. They all do. 
We all do. Because the sun rises in Malate.

(A version of this article is part of a submission to a fiction Masterclass)