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1234 You would not forget a face like hers. It was something that was conjured by great aestheticians, made special by racking their innermost passions to form her. Her eyes, Malay of decent looked much deeper into you when they stared – or at least, so he thought – and add the small detail of a little mole a little below the right eye. It was as if her beauty was not enough, the crafters thought of putting a stop to their statement by putting the most adequately designed period there. Although she was much, much younger than he was, according to Marie, some three hundred year gap, which in actuality was just six years, she was someone whom you would believe to be much older. And with the fact that he did not care, age became a figure drawn by a stick in the quick air.

The world was dark. Like how the popular creation theory went, it was dark and void of life. But in this world, there was life and it was stirring to the world that was bustling in and out of existence. The life was a ragged middle-aged man. Mornings in this side of the Earth, his world, every waking moment, his world begin dark and unlit. He bound his time in a stone and threw it into a river that ended in the unexplored regions of the galaxy. Walls that divided him from the decomposing world outside were further pushed away by thick cloths that were hung as if to ward any other interference brought about by the busy world. The sole living being that was sleeping inside the room began to stir, and like every morning, it was not an excited and reeling waking. But he was waking nonetheless. As he sat up from his cot, he imagined what day and what time it was. He would know once he has created light. With a cautious movement, he stood up, gently feeling the floor – afraid he might step on something that would make his morning feeling a less lovely like this one. Brushing his feet on the floor and not really lifting his steps an inch above the ground, he made his way to the curtain. He closed his eyes and prepared for his first creation of the day. “Behold: light!” As he pulled the heavy curtain away from the window, a flash of light colored his closed vision with red – the color of dusk. He waited a few moments before opening his eyes. He was half-expecting something to surprise him as he squinted but, like any other day, it was just there. Everything was how he left it last night. The table was still full of unread books. The bed was still unmade with the foul stench of his sadness and the floor was still full of unattended dust accumulated for weeks. As he accustomed himself to the light, he walked towards his bed and sat. He buried his face in his hands and tried to wake himself by breathing in the warm air that seemed to have been brought by the yellow intrusion. His initial thought was to see what time it was. He reached for the wristwatch that was on the bed and made a face when he saw that it was eleven quarter. He was never a late sleeper, so he inquired of the time again. It was then that he noticed that his watch has stopped. He slapped it with a gentle force, as if the movement would spark life into the watch but the stubborn death of his clock

persisted and refused to give him the proper time. Then as if to mock him for his violence, he suddenly remembered that it has stopped yesterday. Batteries failed. With a sigh, he stood up and went to the bathroom to empty his bladder. As he finished, he faced the mirror that stood there and examined his face. It was the same, although not exactly the same, he thought, we change a wee bit every minute. So as he examined his face again, he wondered what changes occurred in his conscious state right now. “But I’m not patient enough to wait for you to transform in front of me, of course,” he said to himself. As he sipped his morning (or afternoon, he didn’t have the slightest idea what time it was) coffee he wondered what to do next. He was laid off by the company for behaving less “operative” for the past month. He put down his coffee mug and observed the tiny movement of the smoke that rose from the escaping heat. What a peculiar motion, he thought. It looked to him that smoke was forming into tiny constellations. He was still forming this thought in his mind when a knock came from his door. He suddenly remembered what he was going to do today. He turned the brass knob and opened it. Behind the door was a petit and thinly build woman. Marie. She initially greeted him with a smile but suddenly turned to a frown as she observed him still in his bed clothes. Knowing his fault, he quickly raised his hand, palm facing her and motioned back to the dining table. “I slept late, so sue me,” he said as soon as he sat down. “I thought you wanted to look for work?” she said. She walked in and put her leather shoulder bag on the floor. “You know, if you didn’t really want to, you could have said so, so that I didn’t have to wake up this early to fetch you.” “What time is it?” “It’s time that you rush and get dressed,” she said with dismay. “No, seriously, what time is it?” he asked again. With an exaggerated sigh, she looked at her watch and looked at her watch. What a luxury, he thought. “So, are you going or am I going without you?” she asked. Her eyes were intent as if asking him which he would choose between life and death. “I’m sorry, what time was it again?” he said and not trying to show that he envied her dutiful watch. “It’s seven-thirty in the morning. Satisfied?” He nodded and trailed his sight back to the coffee mug which lost most of the constellation that was trying to escape it a minute or two ago. Satisfied? As if he got lost in that statement. Satisfied? Yes, of course, he thought, I have never been so satisfied in my life.

“What was that?” Marie asked him. He looked quickly back at the properly dressed lady that did not bother to seat with him and opened his mouth as if to say something but thought different. He stood up and started back to his room. There was an audible sigh that came from the direction of the skinny woman. After taking a few steps, he stopped and looked back. “Would you like a cigarette?” It was still eleven fifteen on his watch but Marie’s said it was ten in the morning. They were now both seated by the dining table, drinking coffee and filling the ash tray with snuffed out cigarette butts. “Now, tell me what’s bothering you,” Marie said. “There is nothing bothering me, actually. But thank you for asking,” he answered. “You, clearly, have something on your mind. You were never an evasive person, especially to me. Now answer before I take it against you that I dressed like this in the morning and ruined my plans for the day.” “What were your plans?” “We planned on sending factories application letters so that we can have money that we can spend on things we like, in your case, more coffee. After that, I planned on visiting my aunt who is in Capas to make her feel like she is still remembered by her very beautiful niece. And then I’ll go to this parlor to have a pedicure and a manicure and some ‘me time’. Maybe watch a movie, while I’m at it.” “But you’re here.” “Am I such a bad friend that I would let you sulk all by yourself and drown yourself with your caffeine and tears?” she remarked. “Nothing bothers me. If you want to go, you can still go,” he said in a low voice. “I’d rather hear what’s on your mind than go and try to enjoy by myself. Come now, love, spit it out,” laughing as she said so. He just lit another cigarette and puffed a stream of white smoke in the air. There it is again, constellations, he thought. “Serena?” That name. At the mention of the name, his world came to a pause. How was it that once, something like her name, stops the normality of things? Was it witchcraft that formed the calculation to make such a name? Was it all concocted to make him feel miserable all over and over again at the mere sound of the letters that make up her name? What complete a distraction it posed to his train of thought? Was it time to consider talking about Serena?

You would not forget a face like hers. It was something that was conjured by great aestheticians, made special by racking their innermost passions to form her. Her eyes, Malay of decent looked much deeper into you when they stared – or at least, so he thought – and add the small detail of a little mole a little below the right eye. It was as if her beauty was not enough, the crafters thought of putting a stop to their statement by putting the most adequately designed period there. Although she was much, much younger than he was, according to Marie, some three hundred year gap, which in actuality was just six years, she was someone whom you would believe to be much older. And with the fact that he did not care, age became a figure drawn by a stick in the quick air. “No. It was not about her,” he said coldly. “If you really want to know, wait for me.” He stood up and went to his room. Marie waited and suddenly regretted saying Serena’s name. But it was all for the good, she thought, he must get over her. He came back with a pen and a small notebook. As he sat, he looked at her with intent seriousness. “What I am about to say is only between you and me. Alright?” “Yes,” she responded. He looked at her for some tense moment and sighed. “You know how the world’s companies, organizations and other agencies are controlled by a much bigger force or entity?” “Like a president or a CEO?” she answered. In her mind, she didn’t really see what this conversation was going to, but better to ride with him until he reaches his destination, she thought. “Yes, something like that.” “Yes. Well, what if, all these forces or entities are governed by a much bigger entity?” “What do you mean?” “What if all these companies and their presidents are just small filaments of bigger entity and are being controlled by a much, much massive entity? Like they are all legs?” She sat back and examined her friend’s face. It was gaunt and intense at the same time. “I’m not sure of what you’re trying to say, but tell me more,” she said. With that, he took hold of the facilities he brought with him and began to draw. He made a circle and attached to it some lines. It was a spider, she thought, although a spider is a spider and not just any circle with seven elbowed lines attached to it. As if he didn’t know that she was peering as he drew his Van Gough, he showed it to her.

“See? The legs are the companies and there a smaller companies, the filaments. And then, there’s this massive thing at the center – this large, immeasurable entity or whatever – which is the common factor for all of these.” “So?” He cocked his head to the right as if wondering why she asked that. “What? Don’t you see?” “Yes, I can see. Should I be impressed or something? If you want me to be impressed with you illustration, it is by no means a Picasso or Van Gough, but if you feel like it’s a masterpiece, then, I’ll support you all the way.” “No. No. No. Look closely. Look closely,” he said. He raised the small notebook again to show her the illustration of the “spider”. “It’s a spider,” she said, trying to humor him. “Marie, be serious. What I am telling you may give us everything that we want,” he said, holding up the notebook a little more higher – just in case she can’t see very well. “Alex, if you really want me to know something, don’t shove that stinky notebook in my face,” she said and warded off his hand. Alexander, she thought, are you on the brink of losing your sanity? “See this?” he said as he pointed to the fat circle. What a fat spider that was. “Yes, as clear as the night sky.” “If we control this,” he said with a little suspended animation to it, “we can control these.” She looked at him and tried to picture what he was trying to say. Was it all a joke? Was he testing her if she was good with analytical problems? What was it? “You mean to say, you want to take over this,” she pointed to the circle, “and take over the big and even the small companies in the world?” He just nodded with raised eyebrows – showing how excited he was at her realization. “You’re stupid. How do you know that?” she asked. “It sounds impossible. But what if everything that was given to us by the society was just a cover up to make us believe that there is no such thing as this,” he pointed once again to the fat body of the spider, “and what we are talking about, right now, is what is really happening behind those massive doors?” She shook her head and looked at her pitiful friend. “Everything is not so skeptical. Or if it is, then it has the slightest chance of being true, right?”

“I guess. But this really sounds absurd.” “I don’t blame you.” “So, this, something, does it have a name? Do you know how to control it? Or does it have a name?” she asked, feeling a little remorse at breaking the reality to him. He widened his smile now. He could have been a lovely boy, she thought. “This is what I was trying to tell you. The society has put up blinds, shutters and all that hindrance in front of us so that we would not see it. But sometimes, there comes a time when loopholes are left in the wide open – which is not much a danger because we have been so accustomed to the ‘normality’ that we do not see the distortion or wrinkle in the world. “This thing here is not an organization, if you thought of some super genius men clotted together like a boys’ club. It is not even a superficial being like a god or some computer mechanic that has programmed us all. Although, there is that possibility too – for the sake of argument on those things. But what I am saying is that this thing here, in the middle is something we face, see and use everyday. “So it does not live?” she asked. “Not necessarily. I don’t know if it lives. Because it can be that it is just is. I don’t want to know that. I think I know enough to say that it is here.” “What is it then?” He laughed at her question. He laughed hard. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help but think that you might think I’m joking if I tell you because it is so obvious that it’s not real anymore,” he said, wiping tears from his fit. “Do you think I’ll think of it like that after all that you said?” “OK. Marie, it’s…” he pointed to the calendar that was hanging on the wall. A rush of question came to her. Was he pointing at the calendar? The flower vase beside it? The wall? The beat up karaoke? “The what? Time? Dates? Months?” “No. Look closer. What do you see?” he said. He always had a way of making people think of the answer – because giving it away is such a waste. “The company that gave it to you?” she laughed at her silliness but immediately stopped for she remembered that it was the company that he was laid off from. “Nice try. But try again. What do you see? What is it composed of?” “I don’t know. Numbers? Letters? Dates?”

“You got it,” he said as if he was a master congratulating his apprentice of besting him. “What? Which one?” she was suddenly excited to know what it was she said. “Go back to where you started.” “Numbers?” “Yes. Numbers. Digits. This,” he said as he pointed to the fat spider. Marie didn’t know if she believed him or not. But he was so fixed with what he was saying that he believed it as if it were the truth. In that moment, she was hanging in between the throes of knowing and not knowing the man she knew for a decade now. Life and the experience that they shared suddenly flashed before her and made her feel sadness. Because the man who once saved her from a deep trench of sadness has succumbed to a ferocious illness: belief. She was thinking this when he started talking. “I know it is very difficult to believe. Even I doubt it. But can we not entertain a few thoughts, so that we can at least be a little, well, entertained?” He smiled after he said this. His smile was one of the saddest and most hopeful smiles that she has seen -- or was the only smile like that to her. He didn’t cry or anything, but there was a tinge of agony in the subtle way he said that last statement. She just nodded to make him continue what he was trying to say. “Oh, by the way, I’m not persuading you into anything. But if I get rich, you would, at least, know that I did not rob a bank or kidnapped some rich fellow,” he chuckled. The coffee that they were having was now stale, she was sure of that, but he drank it nonetheless. At least the addiction is still there, she thought. “Now, where do I start,” he said, not really directing the question to her or to the air. ”Of course, numbers are everywhere, right? We see them more often than we see the color red. On the streets, on sheets of paper, pages of books, in computers, on tattoos, on brands. Everywhere. ”Even letters are based on numbers. The Alphabet was based on numerical values. Alpha,m beta, delta, and so on are numerical values, right? Come to think of it, the way that we add letters to form words and words to form sentences are based on the principle of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers “But what are they, exactly? Yes, they are for counting, but, is that all? Again, that question comes, could it be that they are just made for counting because the society has made them look like just for counting and nothing else? “That is what made think that they could be more than that. Because, if we are to think of it, numbers existed at the same time our ancestors walked the earth. They didn’t have a thorough way of speaking then – stereotypes make them grunt or something, but of course, they may have used a few words or

something – but they all understood one thing. If they were trading a buffalo for, say, seven clubs, then they didn’t exactly have to say that they wanted to trade the buffalo for the clubs, they just had to point and count. “Even nowadays, it’s the same scenario. Some people may say that the stock market is heavily based on the probability of the supply and demand, the amount of stocks, etcetera, etcetera. Yes, that may be so, but, what really governs them?” he asked. This time he directed the question to her. “What? I don’t know,” she didn’t want to agree with him. She knew he wanted her to say that numbers governed the market, but, that did not sound like a good idea. “Numbers, Marie, numbers. “See, if the value, I meant the numerical value and not the value it is in peso or dollar – a thousand becomes ten – then all things will become cheap and if you have such control, you can have all the stocks, the bonds and everything that you want!” In her mind, she really wanted to help him, but he was trapped in his thoughts and did not look like he wanted to go out. Maybe, if I humor him, he might come to realize that his vessel is a fast sinking ship, she thought. She had to make him find his mistake in this chess match. “How do you propose to do that?” she asked him. His grin showed once again. It was like a wolf’s grin as a prey neared. “That’s simple. You just find an equation,” he said with an air of finality. “So you’re going to be a scientist now?” she said. In her mind, she thought of one word: checkmate. “Nope,” he said gleefully, although his voice now wavered, “those guys were looking at the wrong side of the telescope. They were even looking at a telescope, that’s what they were wrong. Although, only a few knew, and they knew too well. Take for example: Albert Einstein. He didn’t use any device, he had only a paper and a pen; that is why he came really close to knowing the theory of everything. Time just got to him. Maybe, since time also is a number, numbers got to him.” He laughed once again, but this time, his laugh did not have any real life in them. It was just an extraction of noises from his inside. After this fit, he continued, and she let him. “Like what I told you. Sometimes, loopholes expose themselves that in that very obvious exposure, they do not look like anything extraordinary. Add the fact, no pun intended, that we have been so accustomed to what is around, that we’ve become oblivious. “Take a good look around. Numbers, everywhere you look, they are there. It is just a matter of seeing the right ones, again, no pun intended, again,” his eyes blazing with sureness, he smiled at this. “But how do you know the right one? Isn’t infinity a factor here? Isn’t infinity endless?” she asked, begging him, inside her thoughts, to stop himself.

“’How big is infinity?’ and ‘how can you prove that the infinite is infinite?’ I heard that somewhere. I think it’s also from Einstein. If we cannot prove that there is such thing as infinity, then, could it also be possible the infinite does not exist? Is it not, also, possible that infinity is just a pose and not a number; a cryptic barrier that numbers put up so that we cannot really trace where numbers group together to laugh at us? “Marie, if we could just see through all this curtain, we may be able to know the secret of the world and we may be able to at least turn that to our advantage,” he said in a low and soft voice – one that she did not think he’s manage at this stage of his thoughts, “As selfish as that sounds, maybe a little reward for all the coming hard work doesn’t sound all too bad.” “Alex, don’t you think, you have just thought of this too much?” she said. “I don’t know. I’m not really sure of things nowadays. It may be something that I need to do. Or so I think. I’m not sure. What I know is that I need to do this. It something I need to try. It’s not for the riches, although if I get that, it would be a bonus. But knowing the secret of the world, Marie, isn’t that such a great deal for a little excitement? She just looked at him and tried to find out what he was really trying to say. She fixed her gaze on his eyes and watched the blinks and counted them. One. Two. Three. Four. It was then that she noticed that he had brown hazel eyes. All these years that they’d been friends, she never thought of looking at him that way. The opportunity to do that did not seem to present itself to them before. She wanted to believe him and all this talk was doing just that. At the speed of the decay of a corpse, she was steady being pulled into his ship. Wouldn’t that be a thrill, she thought. “I need to make a phone call,” she said, and stood up. He was once again lost in his thoughts – which only swan in the ocean that Serena has built around his consciousness. He was wondering what she was doing now. Although things did not really kick off between him and her, his short fuse for loving took hold of his stern and diverted all direction to her and to her being. In the short span of Marie’s walk to the phone, he thought that what Serena has done to him could never be undone without ripping away something that he attached. It would be like severing a crucial part of his being. Often, especially on nights that moved like giant shadows that brought the coldness of different countries to where he was, he regrets even thinking the possibility of knowing her name and asking her if she was real. But how many do really know what would result from a simple hello? It was impossible, simply because we are human beings – but that is what makes it great, it was impossible. As she was waiting for the salon to pick up the phone, she looked at him. He was stirring a brand new cup of coffee for him and for her. The smoke that rose from the thermos seemed to have captured his attention. After cancelling and rescheduling her appointment, she sauntered back to the dining table and all the secrets that it held on to today.

As she was closing in, he asked for the time. She did a quick glance and said: “just a little over eleven o’clock.” “What is the exact time, s’il vous plait?” he said in an accent that wasn’t even remotely French. “Oh, where did you learn that?” she said with a smile, he’s still there, she thought, “Eleven fifteen, sir.” “My watch stopped a few days ago, or yesterday. I can’t keep track of time nowadays. And guess what time it stopped.” “Eleven fifteen?” “Yes, eleven quarter.” There was silence after that. It was like a moment of silence for that bizarre coincidence. It was only broken by the sound of the coffee mug’s base touching down on the wooden table. “What are your plans today?” it was Marie who asked this time. “What plans?” he asked. “I see,” she said, “So you don’t have plans?” “Seems so,” he said. He was just looking at the mug now half filled with the black liquid he so adored. “So much for mister ‘find the meaning of the world’ huh? Well, since you consumed almost half of my day, get into some decent attire. You should come with me and watch a movie,” she said. At this he scoffed and stood up. “I’ll get my keys.”

While they were walking, he was still deep in his thoughts. She looked at him, he was half feet taller than she was. He was wearing a white shirt and faded jeans and wore his favorite Chuck Taylor shoes. His hair was tousled in a way that it looked like it was made that way. His eyes were deeper and his lips were a little parted just to show a dark opening to his mouth – just the way it was since they’ve met. His steps dragged on the pavement which made a whish-washing sound and her shoes made a clopclopping sound which sounded like a beat of an old rap song. That was all that was communication that they had a few moments in their walk to the mall. “Wow. You’re quiet,” she said, trying to not sound awkward. “Yeah, I don’t know what I should say. I haven’t seen you in, quite, a while,” he said, not necessarily in a shy way, “Where have you been, if I may ask.” “We just didn’t see each other, that’s all,” she said, which was a lie. She didn’t want to see him, actually, for no apparent reason.

They were silent again.

When they reached the movie house, she wanted to see the detective movie. You don’t see a lot of detective movies nowadays, she reasoned. He agreed and they went in line to get tickets. Seeing the people lined up to watch, the looked at each other and agreed not to watch anymore. “I’ll buy you lunch,” he offered. “Sure.”

That night, as he was preparing himself for some rest from all his thoughts, especially one of that of Serena – a rest from the arrest that she had on me, he thought – he gave himself a favorable account in the bathroom. He took a warm shower and basked in the mediocre experience that it offered. The tiny rainfall that was created sent blunt needles of water onto his nape and exhausted a sigh of some relief to him. Although his mind kept on insisting the thing that has been revealed to him, some form of shield was made from these fearful anxieties by the water. He stood there motionless and made himself dead to all the facts that surrounded everything. There was only the sound of the racing water and their momentary destruction as they fell on to the tiled floor. Few moments later, he decided that maybe, his baptism was enough and turned off the shower. As the water ceased to embrace him, a surreal coldness came upon him as quickly. Although he was sure that the shower room had been warm from the expulsion of heat from him, it began to grow cold once again, from his feet, rising. He immediately took a towel and dried himself, thinking that a draft may have made its way through. Not thinking that it was anything that he should concern himself, he continued to go about and resume patting himself dry. As his thoughts began to vehemently enter again, he heard a loud thud. This made him jump, despite of himself, and wondered what it was. He stopped all motion and tried to listen if it would happen again. Some patches of his skin were still wet with drops of water, but he seemed to not mind them for there was a presence behind the walls of his room. He wanted to go out, to investigate, but he thought of waiting for a little more while before doing that. Seemingly to have dissipated, the man inside the bathroom thought of shrugging off the


A short story about numbers.

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