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Poor Boy’s Pain Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo You are poor. You’ve spent your whole life eating left-overs from people who can eat more than what they can chew. You were born poor. Your father was poor. Your grandfather was poor. You live in a wet and dark small space in the tunnel with rats and cockroaches alike. You wear nothing but a dirty one-piece canvass cloth you found when you were searching for food. Don’t fret about it too much. People above the tunnel – people who can eat more than you, well, they wear something worth more than everything you have. You have eleven younger brothers and sisters who will share the same fate as you – hungry and poor. Your youngest brother starts crying while your mom’s trying to calm him down. As usual, the little infant is hungry. The last thing that passed by his stomach is a translucent milk and water mixture with an almost non-existent sweetness. And that was yesterday afternoon. It’s 1:00PM and you haven’t eaten anything. People above the tunnel by this time are currently working. Sitting on their comfortable couch – more comfortable than where you sleep every night, and doing nothing but arranging pieces of paper, these people earn more than your father who almost die every day, collecting garbage under direct heat and unbearable working conditions. There’s a commotion nearby. You quickly approach the situation. You see two of your sisters fighting over a doll – and it’s not even whole! You try to separate them from each other.


Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

]

You grab one sister with your right arm – she’s holding the doll, or just simply the head of what had remained. And your other sister just cried nonstop there. This is quite confusing. You don’t want to take sides. Good thing though, your sister who got the doll decides to share it with your other sister. After what had happened, your mother starts calling for you and the rest of your family for your lunch – if you can call it that way. It’s 2:00PM and this is going to be your first meal for the day. Noticing that your father hasn’t come home yet, you ask your mother about him. She tells you she doesn’t know. He’s probably working harder today and he might get more decent food tonight for everyone. She starts serving everyone small portions of what she had prepared. Thirteen equally divided portions of some mushy brown, not appetizing, food mixture. It’s not even enough. It tastes like food, nonetheless, but you can’t help but imagine what’s inside this mush. It smells and tastes like food but you just know it isn’t enough. One brother starts shouting he is still hungry. Another starts crying. The baby in your mother’s arms starts crying, too. Your mother tries to reassure to everyone that tonight, you’ll be eating more when your father comes back. Your vision becomes blurry. All the cries and screams are now messing up on your brain. You can’t separate the reality from your own hallucinations (probably from hunger) anymore. You try fighting off the temper by just giving your portion to your brother who is still hungry. He stops whining but you still have ten more siblings to look out for. “Enough!” You shout at them. Instead of empathy, they just stare at you blankly. Even your mother doesn’t know what to say or do. You almost hit the ceiling when you stand up. You go out to try reflecting on what has been happening to you and your family. There’s a huge rat, the size of a young cat, in front of you but you don’t mind. Not even the foul stench. You see the opening of the tunnel and you reach out for the street, the busy

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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street where all other people, the other kind of people who are not like you, to breathe air in. The sky is peaceful and the sun is in perfect balance with the calming breeze. People by this time are probably having snacks – their third meal, per se. And look at you! You fit to nothing but the tunnel. Begging has never been your thing. If there’s one thing you are rich about, that’s your dignity. You know girls in your age are now selling their bodies at night for food. You know boys in your age stealing bags from innocent rich people just to have something to munch on later. You never did that and you will never ever do that. Not at least at the subconscious level of your mind. There’s a kid on the next block with his parents eating an ice cream and a hamburger. He’s munching so fast that he’s dropping some portions on the ground. This fat kid, you want to shoot him dead now for wasting such enormous amounts of food which you could have just eaten. You are terribly hungry right now and that kid throws off the excess bun, because there’s simply no more meat. Imagine how delicious that burger is – was. And think how that fat kid just wasted some parts of it. That’s way beyond your patience. And you see his mom wiping off some ketchup from his face and the ice cream, well, some of it melted. The kid doesn’t like melted ice cream so he throws it on the nearest garbage bin. And guess what, his father is getting him a new one. The intensity of your anger right now is as high as the heat of the sun right now. It’s nearing sunset but, God, the heat is still unbearable. Your vision’s turning to blue and black and you see one big chunk of blurry picture. You are sweating cold and you are losing it. You start walking fast towards the fat kid and his parents. You don’t know what you are going to do with them but one thing is for sure. You are mad, annoyed and most importantly, you are hungry. As you walk, some white van behind you stops and men wearing really nice suits go out of it and then one tall guy with

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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this black pair of shades puts something in your mouth. You don’t know what happens next. *** You slowly open your eyes and you see bright lights. Trying to picture everything, you slowly put yourself up and you notice that you woke up from a really nice and warm bed. The fine texture of the sheets feels really great and the softness, just perfect. Aside from the white sheets and the complimentary gold-plated bed frame, the chandelier above you is hypnotizing with its huge crystals and other beautiful stones attached to a gold framework. There are three of these chandeliers. The room is so big, yet, you see no windows. When you step on the floor, it is covered with soft and fluffy carpet patterned like a Zebra. There’s a huge mirror on the opposite side – the mirror itself is bigger than where you stay in the tunnel. You see a boy, in his late teens, wearing an expensive, you assume, pair of pyjamas. And he looks rich. You touch your skin and it feels really smooth. Your hair is soft and if you could just smell it, it would have smelled really good, you believe. You see a door. Slowly, you approach it. The smell of the room is really calming. You grab the door knob which is explicitly decorated with gold patterns. You open it and you see a huge bathroom inside. Everything is ivory and gold. You try every details of the bathroom. You never had a decent bathroom before. Everything is surreal. You try waking up yourself if you’re dreaming but you know everything is just real. You continue exploring the room. There’s a really huge bookshelf with tons of books. You open one, though you can’t read, and sniff the smell of paper – rusty and burnt with its unique crispiness. You also try the really huge couch in the middle. You didn’t notice before this really huge television in front of the couch area. It’s bigger than what you have imagined about televisions. The remote is just beside you and you try pressing the red button to see what will happen next. The

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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television opened. There’s an electro-static sensation. So this is how opening a TV feels like, you tell yourself. It takes a few seconds for the TV to load. The grey-whiteblack swirls slowly turns into a picture. You see a guy, probably in his late twenties, in the middle. He’s wearing a pair of black shades and a really nice suit – which reminds you of what had happened before this reality. This guy took you and brought you here. Where am I, you ask him. He doesn’t answer and stares at you for a few more seconds. Slowly, he opens his mouth and talks. He welcomes you to this new abode and he gives you the permission to do anything. When he says goodbye, the two big picture frames beside the television open up and become a table. You are amazed. Foods of all sorts start appearing before you on the two tables. You see chicken, pork, beef and fish dishes. You see huge cheese slices and really mouth-watering desserts. There’s a huge pot, too, of nice and warm pumpkin soup. Aside from these, there are also some other stuff that you have never seen before – or even imagined! You start munching on everything – literally everything. It makes you ask yourself what day is it now or what time. But will that matter? You are hungry and you have so much food in front of you. It doesn’t matter if aside from your mouth, there’s also food in your face, neck and just your whole body. You like the feeling so much – food surrounding you. You have never felt this way before. The orange juice was also fantastic. It perfectly complements all the food you munched on. And you have never felt this full before. Will it matter if your family has been eating this much, too, or the opposite? You don’t know. For now, you want to forget about it all. You are in cloud nine and you want to eat more. While eating, you hear a soft rumbling near you. The television is on again. And the guy, the same decent-looking guy with the pair of black shades, is smiling.

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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How’s the food? I hope you like everything. We’ve prepared bubbles in the bath tub if you like to clean yourself after. The button near your bed is the control for the airconditioning unit. You can set your own temperature if you want. That’s what he tells you. You smile, assuming he also sees you right now. Thank you is the only thing you are able to say in reply. However, he starts saying, this whole experience will have to end soon, tonight, as a matter of fact. You give out a blank face. But don’t worry, he says. Now you know that he can see you through that television. You start wondering if it’s really a TV or just a window. You have to leave in two hours and go back to the tunnel, he tells you. We are glad that you had fun, it’s obvious, he adds. But he knows you don’t want to go back so he gives a cryptic smile. There is, however, one thing that you could do to stay for another day, he tells you. You hear some disturbing crackling noise from behind the couch. You see a table, more likely a table, rising. It’s still complementary to the whole room – Ivory and Gold. On top of the table, there’s a small tray with a pliers on it. There’s also a knife, a pair of scissors and a small golden goblet. You have two hours, that’s until 10:00PM, to use these tools, he tells you. You give him a stare. You don’t know exactly what to do with these tools but you are now starting to get scared. I want you to give me ten, no less, no more, fingernails and put them on the goblet. You will be given a choice not to do it, he tells you. However, we would have no choice but to return you, unharmed, to the tunnel before midnight. Good luck, he tells you before leaving the screen. You have two hours, you remind yourself. Carefully looking at your fingernails - you have never given enough care for them, not until now – you try testing whether it would be painful or not to pluck them out by pinching slowly the tips of your fingers.

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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There are three tools you could choose from. Which one of these would be the best, you ask yourself, and taking note about how fast would it take it to remove your nail or the least painful is a concern too. Should I do this? Is it worth it? These you ask yourself. And you remember all the food, all the luxury inside this room and you tell yourself you are never going out again. You are never going back to the tunnel ever again. Slowly, you hold the knife in place and try slicing off a piece of a fingernail from your left pinky. There was no pain because you just sliced off a little piece. It feels just like a regular fingernail cut. The scissors would be a great idea also. You decide to try it next, still on the left pinky. You slowly insert one blade to the outside parts and try to remove the nail like removing bottle caps from soft drink bottles. It was fast and excruciating. The fingernail is still there, barely hanging and minimal blood is slowly clogging up the cuticles. You grab the pliers and hastily pulled off the fingernail with it. A sudden release of tension hits you and slowly, the pain goes back again on that left pinky. Cold sweat is starting to form in your forehead and neck. It’s not blending well with the cold breeze from the air-con. The white carpet is now filled with red stains. You can’t imagine how that little nail would cause too much blood. You slowly put the fingernail to the goblet which is filled with some foul-smelling clear liquid you never noticed earlier. You start asking yourself again if this is worth it. The next thing you know, you had your left ring fingernail removed already. And now you have two fingernails on the goblet. Eight more. How fantastic is that? There are much worse sufferings there in the tunnel. You just have to remove eight more and you’re done. You are now working with the fingernail on your thumb. You want to do this quickly so you insert the scissor blade with greater intensity this time. This causes the blade to go further, slicing off more than half an inch of your skin. And this time,

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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only half the fingernail is removed. The remaining half is still clinging on the cuticle. You are shaking terribly now. You do it again, more carefully this time. After that successful push, you have succeeded in removing all of the fingernails on your left hand. Now, it’s time for the right hand. And you don’t know how to do this. For one, you are not left-handed. And number two, your left fingers are already swelling and bleeding badly. You try holding the pair of scissors with your left hand. It’s numb right now and you barely feel the texture of the scissors. Pushing one fingernail from your right hand is now more painful because of the added pain from the left hand. You’ll get over this, you tell yourself. After endless pains and suffering, no exaggerations, you have finally done it! There are now ten fingernails on the goblet. Your hands are numb and shaking. Blood has dried out but there are still parts where blood, fresh blood which smells like rust, is still flowing. You stare blankly at the pool of blood and you begin to question yourself whether this is right or not. And slowly, you pass out on the ground. *** There are no more blood stains on the white carpet. Someone, or something, you’re not sure, change your bloodstained pyjamas. And your fingers are covered with well-done bandages. And there’s a decent breakfast prepared for you: eggs, two of them, plus bacon and toasted bread. Confused, or rather, confounded, you try picturing out what happened last night, or was it just last night? You don’t know how long you’ve been sleeping. After eating, you open the television to watch some amazing shows you have never seen before. You are laughing so hard, albeit the casual throbbing of your fingers. But you don’t care. You’re in an awesome room and you have everything under control. Moreover, the nice guy will constantly appear on the television and will ask you what you want to do or what you

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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need. He gives you gaming consoles to play with, a keyboard to try learning with, and more food to munch on. He is like Santa Claus. Three days, you assume, of only happiness and satisfaction. You ask him something and he gives you that in no time. Once, you asked him to give you some painting tools because you want to try drawing. You also asked him to bring you toys you have never played with when you were still a kid. Things like that. On the fifth night after the fingernail incident, the TV cryptically reopens by itself, the same aura of your first night, that creepy evening. Hello, he tells you. You know already what he wants now. You must do again something. To stay. After what had happened before, you still want to stay. And you have all the guts and courage right now to accept what he is up to. I guess you know why I’m here, he tells you. I need something again from you. Hair. You hear this and you smile. What could happen with your hair? Nothing extravagant and extreme, you calm yourself. He tells you, I need all of your hair. However, we won’t give you any tools. Use your hand, if you’d fancy it but it’s up to you. No tools, just remember that. And then he disappears. The magic table, the one that gave you your tools last time, appears again. This time, with just an empty box. It’s where you will put your hair. You waste no time and start plucking up your hair two to five strands at a time. Quite painful but not as horrible as the nail removal. From time to time, the number of strands you are pulling is increasing by three’s, five’s and more. You are getting tired and your scalp is pretty numb now. Small blots of blood are now appearing on your scalp; you quite pulled them hard. You see pitch black strands of your hair on the box, a huge volume, you tell yourself. But looking at the mirror, you still have more than three quarters of your hair remaining. What time is it? The guy didn’t mention how much time will be needed for this challenge.

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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It’s getting pretty painful now. Patches, not blots anymore, of blood are forming. You breathe in, getting ready to pull this really thick bundle of hair – you want it done quickly. You pull it and nothing pulls off. But it was painful, that’s one thing. You bite the collar of your shirt in preparation for this big pull. Pull. You pull it successfully. All of it, that thick bundle of hair strands. And you see a bit of skin, attached to it. You pulled so hard. That was quite a pain. A small streak of blood starts flowing on your right ear. Thick and rusty blood. You get nauseated. It feels really unwell. After hours, or minutes – you are not sure, you pull the last remaining few strands and put them carefully on the box, now full with your hair. Your scalp is completely numb and dried blood surrounds your head. The guy suddenly reappears on the TV. Congratulation is his first word. The table where the box of hair is located slowly goes down, back to probably where this guy on the television is. You want to sleep now. You’ve had enough. But you are stilling to do something just to stay longer on this magnificent room. You go to the bathroom to wash off the little blood formations on your scalp. The pain is tolerable, but painful nevertheless. You go to sleep immediately after that. Your head throbs more painfully now, after waking up. It’s not bleeding anymore but it gives enough pain that you don’t want to move from the bed. There is an amazing breakfast ready, though and you are quite ready to eat. Waste no opportunity, you tell yourself. You just roam around the room; playing with random stuff that guy in black gave you. And you have to be honest, this is getting less interesting – these things inside the room and the whole concept of extravagance and luxury. But you still don’t want to go back to the tunnel. You don’t even miss your family. Probably your annoying little sister

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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who had the broken doll. But no, you tell yourself, you are not going back there. You can die here and you’ll do anything to stay. The guy suddenly reappears on the screen. You know it’s still before sunset and you ask him why he’s here. Is there something you could do for him? Yes. You start shaking. You know what it is. He starts speaking, I’m very proud of you, for doing my challenges successfully. That was an impressive act. I have to tell you, though, time is running out. What do you mean, you ask him. We have to send you back. No. I can do anything. Promise! Just let me stay, you tell him. You are now shaking and terrified, not because of the idea of what might be the next challenge but because you don’t want to go back to the tunnel. Okay, that was easy, he tells you. I need your skin. At this moment, the table starts reappearing again on the back of the couch. There’s a weighing scale and a big bowl on top of it. And a big knife with a blade as long as your arm. Give me one kilogram of skin, your skin, and I’ll let you stay, he tells you. What do you need these things for? You ask him, on a more aggressive tone. Just a special project of mine, he tells you and he disappears. This time, a timer appears on the television. 60 minutes. When you removed your nails, you got two hours. Why only one for this one? You just don’t know what to do now. But you still don’t want to go back to the tunnel. It’ll grow back, you tell yourself. But you know that it might not. Maybe if I peel off only my legs’ skin, it won’t hurt that much, tells a voice at the back of your head. 58 minutes. Slowly, you grab the big knife. And the next thing you know, you chopped off a palm-sized portion of your left calf.

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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You weren’t expecting the inclusion of your muscle or, let’s say, meat, when you peeled off that skin. The pain, it’s unbearable, but the fact that you can never have proportion calves, well, that’s more dreadful. The chopped off calf makes peeling the skin off less painful. The pain is immediately diverted back to the damaged muscle. Slowly, you skin off your whole left leg with the knife. Blood is starting to form puddles around and the pain just exacerbates. Slowly, you slice off a small cut on one area and then hold the end of it and start pulling while slicing off the skin from the muscle. Blood doesn’t immediately flows from the open flesh. But when it does, nothing can stop it. The red meat, your own flesh, looks nothing but a raw steak. Yes, food. Come to think of it, you’re doing this anyway for food. The palm-sized skin you first chopped off weighs only about 120 grams. And the skin you’re making out of your legs is just until 400 grams. You still need 600 grams of God-damned skin. You think peeling off skin from your legs is as painful as peeling skin off your arms. It isn’t. The surreal pain on your arm when you started peeling off bits of skin is just unbelievable. It feels something’s burning you and then the open flesh is being poured with alcohol. And the smell, just plainly awful. And you know in yourself you can’t do this anymore. You pass out and when your bare legs and arms touch the furry carpet, you don’t feel anything anymore. You wake up with bandages all over your arms and legs. And the blood-stained carpet has been changed. There is food again prepared for you but you can’t get up. There’s something throbbing on your left leg, where you chopped off that calf. Reminds you, what happened to the remaining 600 grams? Why are you still here? Or are you just dreaming? Clearly, you know that you gave him skin. But you know, too, that it wasn’t enough. He asked for a kilo and you gave him less than half of it.

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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There’s a slight feedback on the television. He appears on the same white background with his black suit and shades. You made 400 grams and I thought it’s enough already. That is why I let you stay. That what he tells you. And he disappears on the television. The throbbing grows as you move on your bed. And you fall asleep again. Having a dream isn't an option now. Your sleep is dreamless but it is not peaceful. When you wake up, the black-suited guy is sitting on the couch. He is munching on something, a sandwich, you assume. He offers some but you reject it immediately. With him is a doll, an ugly looking rag doll. You’re not even sure if it’s rag or what. It’s too brown and, just plainly ugly. Your sisters only have one doll. I noticed that, when we took you. So I made another one. For them. And to tell you, I’ve spent enough time on this perfect and realistic doll. However, there’s still a missing part. She still doesn’t have a pair of eyes. This he tells you slowly in a cryptic manner. Do you want this doll to have no eyes? This is not a doll, you tell yourself. You see those nails, those are yours. Then you see the black hair, the same black hair that was once in your head. And the brown skin, that is definitely yours. The doll is you. I want you to finish this doll. You have an hour. Once you’re done, we’ll send it right away to your sisters. This is what he tells you. He didn't even tell you what would happen after this. He slowly turns his back to sit on that elegant couch that you’re not even sure if you’re still going to be able to sit on after this. Everything flashes back the moment he tells you this: your family starving, your sisters fighting, your little brothers crying, and cockroaches and rats crawling on every parts of your home, if you can still call it that way. What about your existence? Is this really your purpose in life? To experience such luxury in a short time and end up being a toy for your sisters? A toy at the very sense of it? You know better.

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Carlos Emmanuel A. Quiapo

[POOR BOY’S PAIN

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Bargaining won’t make any difference. Right at this moment, you want to go back to your family. These things, the food, the bed, everything, they won’t matter soon. It’s a fun experience but is it really worth it, you ask yourself. Slowly, you grab this small knife, shiny and silver blade. There’s a glass cup with a liquid inside, transparent but not water, waiting on beside the knife. Every detail of your breath is remarkably making sense now. Go on, you tell yourself. After all, there’s no way out. There’s no way out of this whole mess. Your whole life is a mess. The thing with desperation is that you don’t expect anything normal to happen. Miracles, they exist, if one may ask but more to that, our basic instinct to survive grows stronger. And you, that poor boy who have gone through all of this, well, let’s just say, you’re in a deep desperation. And this desperation resulted in having two eyes, bulgy looking white balls with red and purple veins wrapping them, floating in that glass cup. You look at it with fascination and disturbance. Your hands are drenched in blood, rusty and thick hot blood, and you can still see. There’s a way out of this, that’s one thing for sure. You slowly pull the key out of this room from the neck of a cold dead body of a man wearing a suit. This man, you feel no remorse for him. You have a doll with eyes and you have a key out of this mess. Smile is inevitable and you’ll have more rooms for that later. After all, there’s more to hunger and pain.

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Poor Boy's Pain