No Escape

by David Jayson Oquendo (Fiction)

The wind embraced his body. Its invisible tendrils of acceptance wove through and over his skin. He felt that for the first time in his life, he was free.

The fan got stuck and was ticking rhythmically which woke him up from the daze.

“Hey!” A woman yelled from the door. She was peeking over it with half of her body inside the room. She was trying to cover up her large belly but was failing miserably. He could almost laugh.

“What?” he said in annoyance, almost growling.

“The boss wants you in his office,” she rolled her eyes while closing the door with a force greater than what was necessary.

He breathed in, then he inhaled some more. He closed his eyes tightly until it was painful.

Seconds passed but to him it felt like minutes. He looked at his wrist, forgetting he lost his watch a few weeks ago during his commute home. Time was no longer something he understood.

He thought of the slice of bread he put in the toaster this morning. Did I eat it? No, my toaster was broken. He lifted his arms to stretch. He reached for his phone to check the time. 5 missed calls. Mom called again. She wanted me to live with her. As if I’d say yes. He exhaled loudly.

He had never looked so tired in his life. He clasped his calloused hands to his wrinkled face as if he was about to pray in desperation. He was counting the seconds of his stay here. He had been counting for weeks that he had to start over more times than he could count. He knew he was going to get fired.

Even with his eyes closed he could see his office: a medium-sized cubicle that had small square windows on the side. The curtains which were never replaced since five years ago when he first came in here still hung in its crooked manner. The coffee mug he got from his manita last Christmas. She was cute, I think. What was her name? Mary? Martha? Nah, couldn’t remember. When he first came in here, it was huge, like the place was never for him to occupy. Now it felt cramped, dirty, and sad. One thing never changed, though: he still doesn’t feel like the room was his.

When he opened his eyes some things that weren’t there before have appeared: The coffee stain on his necktie, the unclosed tab of online porn in his PC, the huge stack of folders he has not finished working on, and finally, on the surface of the old Cathode Ray Tube monitor he was given to work with, he saw himself—or at least a version of him could not recognize anymore but hated all the same.

Out of this inexplicable anger he slammed on the monitor wanting his reflection to go away. He must have thought it was a crazy thing to do, but it didn’t stop him. In his last strike of exhausted force, the image on the monitor changed.

The monitor, not just a reflection now but real computer image, showed a child sitting in a library. The child was too small for the chair he sat on, or the books. However, the child didn’t care and he read on. Whatever it was that he read, it was the only thing that mattered in his world. He wondered who the child was. Is this me? He felt himself gravitate towards the screen. His fingers lifted themselves towards it and just as the tips of his fingers touched the screen, the image changed.

Now it showed another child, probably aged 10 or 11. The child was playing with some rocks, leaves, and a beaker. He poured in some liquids from different vials and sparks flew. The child was coughing from the smoke as he gathered the stuff in panic. From time to time was looking behind him as if someone was out to get him and then he ran as fast as he could. He remembered this. His fingers slid down the screen as he tried to remember what he was doing.

It then shifted to another image. This time it seemed to be going fast forward. The first time he played hooky, his first track gold medal, his first stick of cigarette, his first sex—it was all going too fast. It bothered him that he could not catch up.

Finally, the image shifted again. It was him, older this time. He was slightly cleaner, a little slimmer, and fresh. He was clutching a brown envelope and he was on queue on the University Cashier line. He looked at the papers he brought, his hands shaking, and sighed.

Tears fell down the desktop. The huffing and sobbing filled the small cube that was his office. He didn’t need to finish watching the image, he knew what was going to happen next. He was a failure. The office he is standing on now is for the assistant of an assistant. Who the fuck needs an assistant to an assistant? He was a pathetic piece of shit. He realized, at this age, nothing is left for him here. He could her mother again: Dito ka na lang sa probinsiya magtrabaho. Live here with me.

“I told you the boss called for you!” The woman was back again. Her large belly was about to break the door she was using to cover it. God, is she fat.

“Shut the fuck up,” he spoke under his breath. That was the first time today.

“What did you say!?” The woman shrieked as her belly swung the door wide open.

He stood up quickly. The coffee spilled over the keyboard but he did not care. He opened the door and went out the hallway. The end of the hall was a floor-to-ceiling window. He crouched as if he was about to run on track. The floor tiles transfigured into brown clay, white lines striped towards the window. He could hear the woman from inside the room shouting. When she came out and slammed the door it was his signal to start.

He ran as fast as he could. He thought about that time he was messing with his science kit. He thought about the first time he ran track. Heart, pounding. Finally he jumped, breaking the glass window. The screams from inside the building sounded like cheering to him.

The wind embraced his body. Its invisible tendrils of acceptance wove through and over his skin. He felt that for the first time in his life, he was free.

It’s just like how they said, he thought. It all happens too fast and too slowly at the same time. When he hit the asphalt he could not help but laugh. The blood started trickling down and not long enough he was in a puddle of his own blood. Damn it. He could not even do it successfully if he wanted to.

“Hey! Sabiko, the boss wants you in his office!” she yelled again. It was all in his mind. How convenient would it be if all of that were true, he thought.

“Putangina, nagbibingi-bingihan,” she whispers a little too loudly as if on purpose.

“Yes, boss. Papunta na.” he says. He wipes his eyes with his cuff and stands up. The stack of paper collapses. He looks at them, takes a deep breath, and exhales in a sigh.