The Park

 

Alex Roces

 

Ramil was going to kill his father. He climbed over the fence with its No Trespassing sign and walked through the huge dark trees of the park. Passing through the deserted park was a short cut to his father's house. Though the park had been closed to the public for several months now, because of the murders.

Ramil passed by a huge acacia tree and he stopped for a moment to examine it. His fingers traced the rough uneven letters of his name on the tree, engraved with a jackknife when he was fourteen years old. That was the last time he ever felt happy. His father had thrown him and his mother out of the house. For his father had fallen madly in love with his mistress and wanted to have a family with her. Neither tears nor humble supplications softened his father's heart. Ramil and his mother, Eugenia, had to find a new life of their own.

Reduced to poverty and ill health, Eugenia lived for three more years before the cancer finally killed her. Ramil buried her several days ago and swore upon her grave that he would avenge her.

Ramil walked over the undergrowth of tangled roots and crushed ferns and dead leaves. It was dusk and the twilight shadows haunted him like ghosts from the past. He remembered the days when he used to come over to the park on his bicycle to play with his friends. The park was so beautiful then: bright red gumamelas grew everywhere, the acacia trees were beautiful and stately, and the sparrows chirped with a merry sound. But now the sparrows were silent, and the gumamelas have all withered, and the acacia trees were full of dread.

During the past several months, eight people have died in the park after dark. Most were couples, lovers, who sought refuge among the shadows of the trees and the dark hidden corners where they could make love. The murders were committed by a killer who used a long jagged knife, the newspapers said. Photos of mutilated bodies and decapitated heads appeared on the front pages. The killer was never caught and the park had to be closed to the public.

If the killer was still around Ramil did not care. He would fight if he had to. And if he lost his life--it was worthless anyway. He carried a switchblade with him and a heart full of hate. Hate for the man who took everything good away from him. Hate for a father who sacrificed his wife and son for selfishness and lust.

From a luxurious home in a plush subdivision Ramil and his mother were forced to live in a shanty located in a squatter area filled with boisterous, quarrelsome people they had to learn to get along with. Flies swarmed everywhere, the stench of garbage was nauseating, water was scarce. Ramil would spend hours remembering his soft bed, the clean scent of his room, all the food he could eat at anytime of the day.

Once he had dreamt of becoming a lawyer like his father. But now he could no longer afford to study. Food and survival were more important. Unused to any form of menial labor, he was forced to earn his wages as a construction worker, till he was beaten up by the foreman who accused him of being hardheaded and rebellious.

After that experience he took a series of short-lived jobs: shoe shine boy, cigarette vendor, janitor. But either he came in late for work or not at all; or was often scolded for being dreamy and distracted; or was a trouble maker who fought with his superiors.

When the pain of survival and the burden of his misfortunes became unbearable, he would collapse in a cataclysm of tears inside their shanty. Then his mother would come and try to comfort him.

"I am a simple, uneducated woman," she would tell him. "But I know of three things which make life worth living: faith in God, hope for a better life, and love for those around you."

His mother was not pretty, did not have any money, nor was she accomplished. But he knew what had made his father fall in love with her a long time ago. It was the purity of her heart. She was an orphan who grew up in a convent in the province. She came to Manila to seek her fortune and find some work. His father, a wealthy and charming man, met her several weeks after she had her first job as a waitress in a restaurant. They both fell in love, and got married, and a year later he was born.

His mother had spoken to him about faith, and hope, and love. And he asked her not to talk to him about such nonsense again. He accused her of being weak because she did not want to fight back. He wanted to fight back for their rights. He wanted vengeance.

Vengeance was the prayer he uttered when he buried his mother in a desolate cemetery. He wept as he stood beneath a willow tree that moaned with the blowing wind. Once he had a good and happy life. But now he was a crushed seed left to die in the darkness.

He thought of his father. He could feel the anger within him like a bleeding unhealable wound; and taste the hatred like some venom that nourished as it destroyed him. Vengeance without blood was not vengeance. That was his prayer.

Several days after his mother's burial, he prepared himself for his ultimate encounter with his father. He went to mass, listened to the priest sermon about forgiveness, but it all sounded so hollow and so useless to him. Then he went and bought a switchblade.

He took a bus to go over to the park. As the bus sped through the highway, an old man sat beside him. He wondered why the old man, with puffy eye bags and melancholy eyes, kept staring at him.

"Is there something wrong?" Ramil asked sullenly.

"Excuse me," the old man said. "You look like my son with your light brown skin and handsome features."

"That's what they all say," Ramil snapped. "But I'm not yet ready to sell myself."

The old man smiled patiently. "You misunderstood me. My son just died recently. He joined a gang and was killed by the police. And I feel very guilty because I abandoned him and his mother for another woman. Maybe he would still be alive right now if I was a better father. His name was Ramil."

The old man gave him a look and a sad parting smile. "I am sorry for disturbing you," the old man said. He was about to get up from his seat when he saw the startled look in Ramil's face and tears in his eyes.

"My name is also Ramil."

"What a coincidence," the old man said and remained seated. Then he smiled. "I'm Mr. Francis Gonzales."

Ramil felt a sudden need to talk to someone. He tried to tell the old man about his disturbed state of mind--but he stammered and could not go on. He slumped forward and cried.

Mr. Gonzales put his arm around Ramil in a fatherly manner. People in the bus were watching them. Ramil sobbed with his head bowed down and his hands covering his face.

"Do you have a job?" Mr. Gonzales asked.

Ramil shook his head.

"Where are you going?"

Ramil did not answer.

"I have to get down at the next corner," Mr. Gonzales said. He placed a calling card in Ramil's hand and a hundred-peso bill. "I work as a manager at the Post Office. There is a job opening right now for a messenger. You can see me tomorrow if you want the job."

The kindly old man patted the troubled young man on his back before he got out of his seat and went down from the bus.

Ramil placed the hundred-peso bill and the calling card in his pocket. He made himself stop crying. He straightened up and did not care how some people were snickering at him because of his red teary eyes, his disheveled hair, the dirty white t-shirt he wore, and the tattered maong pants that had not been washed for a week now.

What did the old man see in him? Ramil wondered. Maybe there were still some good people in this world after all. But what was the good of this job or this one hundred-peso bill? It was useless. After he killed his father, Ramil planned to kill himself.

"My life is worthless," he mumbled to himself.

He went down from the bus at the next corner where the park was located.

Ramil plowed through the thick and tangled foliage. It was now early evening. As the soft breeze came, and the leaves rustled and trembled around him, he smelled a strange odor. It was a mixture of tobacco and something sweet, like candy. He remembered certain occasions when his friends and him would smell this peculiar odor. They would follow the scent and end up where he was standing.

He turned around and there it was, a famous landmark in the park. It was a large grass-covered mound, perhaps four feet high and two feet in circumference. It was always a mystery how the odor of sweet tobacco came from this mound. Ramil stared at it. There was always an aura of protection surrounding the mound that seemed to prevent anyone from destroying it. Something lived there, Ramil's mother told him once. His mother was fond of stories about the supernatural. In her soft voice she told him that in her province in the south, when she was a young child, she saw and played with enchanted beings like dwarves, fairies and elves. But he did not believe her stories. He considered it to be nothing but his mother's youthful daydreams and fantasies.

He walked away from the mound. He knew he was almost at the other end of the park when he saw another landmark: an enormous and hideous balete tree. He stopped and surveyed the balete tree. It looked much older now, more decayed, and even more terrifying with its massive, sinewy branches that resembled monstrous serpents. He was about to move on when a sound came from behind the balete tree. He saw a tall shadow block his path. But it was not just a shadow. It was a man.

"Hello there," said the stranger in a husky baritone.

Ramil gaped at the tall and slim stranger dressed in a dark gray shirt and black pants. He had long unkempt hair and yellowish eyes.

"The park is off limits," the stranger said with a smile, his teeth gleaming like bones. "Who are you?"

Ramil was trying to determine if this man was a security guard hired to prevent anyone from entering the park. But he did not look like a security guard. There was something malevolent about him.

"You shouldn't have trespassed," the stranger growled.

Ramil wanted to reach for the switchblade in his back pocket but his hand felt frozen. "I don't want any trouble," he tried to keep his voice calm. "I have friends waiting for me--they know I'm in the park. They're--they're just close by."

The stranger took a bold step forward. Ramil took a frightened step backward. The stranger brought something out which gleamed in the dark. A long jagged knife.

Ramil spun around and ran back into the foliage and trees. He heard laughter following behind him. He crashed through the trees and bushes, and ran over the slippery undergrowth of ferns and roots. While the sound of malevolent laughter grew closer.

A low branch he did not see struck him. He fell with a cry. He tasted dirt and blood on his lips. He stood up. Something hit him on the head with a powerful blow. He fell down on the ground again. The leering stranger held the point of the gleaming knife above his throat.

"I like blood," the stranger said. "Blood is beautiful, so red, so rich. Bleed for me. Please, bleed for me." The stranger laughed with fiendish abandon.

In horrified panic Ramil struck out blindly. His fists swung with wild blows that hit the stranger who tumbled over to one side cursing. Ramil got up and ran. Behind him he heard running feet, breaking twigs, and ice-cold laughter. He was in tears. He was gasping for breath. He could not run anymore. He collapsed on the ground. Despite his fear and pain he once again smelled that peculiar odor of sweet, candy-like tobacco.

"Get up and clean yourself," came a light-hearted but authoritative voice from somewhere above him.

Ramil slowly raised his head. He was surprised. Sitting on top of the green mound, with black leather shoes dangling, was a little man dressed in a green dapper coat and tie. An irritated expression was on his chubby and bearded face. He took the brown pipe out of his mouth and kept it inside his coat pocket.

"Don't lie there the whole night. You have dirt on your face. Wipe yourself."

The little man took out a handkerchief from his breast pocket and gave it to Ramil. Ramil took the handkerchief but kept staring dumbly at the little man. He had such a long fleshy nose.

"Stop staring like I'm a ghost or something. Wipe your face, you silly boy."

"Who are you?" Ramil asked.

"I should ask you the same thing." The little man's eyes twinkled.

Ramil watched him slide down from the mound and land on his feet. He stood about four and a half feet tall.

"Call me Isidro," the little man said.

Ramil stared as Isidro brushed off some dust from his sleeves, arranged his tie, and glanced down at his shinny black leather shoes. Then he looked up and gave Ramil an impish smile.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Isidro asked. "Let's go."

"Where?" Ramil was surprised.

"Where were you running off to?"

Ramil remembered the stranger. At once he was filled with dread and panic. He grabbed Isidro by the lapels of his green coat and shook him.

"There's a murderer running loose in this park! We better hide!"

Isidro hissed and snorted. He slapped Ramil's hands. "You're crumpling my suit!"

"You don't understand! We're not safe here! He's a killer!"

"Hush!" Isidro said with commanding authority. Ramil shut up and became still. "Follow me," Isidro ordered.

Ramil cautiously followed behind Isidro as they walked through the trees and bushes. He kept throwing glances everywhere for signs of the stranger. He tried catching up with Isidro who walked very fast over the undergrowth with such perfect balance. Then he wondered who this strange little man really was.

Isidro stopped and turned to face him. "Something on your mind?"

He gave Isidro a strange look. "Who or what are you?"

"I already gave you my name," Isidro said. "And that's all you need to know about me. I've been seeing you since you were a little boy playing in this park. Then you stopped coming. But now you're back and you're running for your life." Isidro laughed.

Ramil scowled. "I could have been killed."

"Yes, I know."

"And you find that funny?"

"In itself no. But only because it is most appropriate."

"What do you mean?"

Isidro gave him a penetrating stare. "Things do not happen by coincidence. Murder was in your mind and heart--and so a killer came to you. Your thoughts and feelings created the situation."

Isidro beckoned him to follow and they walked through the darkness. Isidro continued talking. "I will help you leave this park. This bad human being won't be able to harm you anymore--unless you allow him to."

Then Isidro sighed painfully. "O, what a pity and how sad. You are not aware of the power you possess!"

"What do you mean by that?" Ramil asked.

Isidro abruptly stopped walking, faced Ramil, and became very serious. "Do you know what you have that other creatures upon this earth do not have? You have a soul. A soul that can make you live forever. A soul that gives you the power that your mind possesses. The power to create things with your thoughts. Can you imagine such power?"

Ramil stared uncomprehendingly.

Isidro sighed once more. "O, what a pity and how sad. You human beings defile everything because of your ignorance about your own souls. Look at this park. Once it was beautiful. But now it's been corrupted and destroyed by man's evil thoughts and deeds. I will not be staying here much longer."

Ramil understood nothing of what Isidro had told him, though he felt fearful and guilty, for somehow he had been exposed. And then he wondered to himself if Isidro was even more dangerous than the mad man running around with a knife?

"Whatever you are," Ramil exploded, "I don't want to have anything to do with you!"

Ramil backed away from Isidro who stood watching him with sad glowing eyes. Then he ran into the foliage. He kept on running until he saw, behind the mango tree, the park's exit. He jumped over the fence and landed on the sidewalk.

He glanced uneasily around him, but there was no one around. He scanned what lay across the street from the park: rows of big opulent houses with their large green lawns, imposing walls, and clean surroundings. This was the plush subdivision where he used to live. But now he felt like an intruder.

Ramil crossed the street. He eluded the passing cars with their blinding beams of light and their blaring horns. Upon reaching the other side, he walked down the sidewalk. He passed by the houses where his friends lived. He gave a glance behind him and saw the shadowy trees of the park.

He walked around the block until he reached the familiar dark blue gate of his father's house. He climbed over the ivy-covered wall like he used to do when he was fourteen. He crossed the front lawn until he reached the dinning room window. It was bright inside and dark outside, and Ramil could see them clearly. His father, Melchor, and his mistress, Leonora.

His father and Leonora were chatting while they sat around the dining room table and ate their dinner. Several maids stood nearby to serve them. His father looked leaner than before, and his hairline had receded considerably, but it only brought out his handsome, well-balanced features even more. Leonora was a seductive and gorgeous woman, though she seemed more on the plump side. He watched her get up from the dining table with a little difficulty. She slowly walked past the window towards the kitchen. Not even the loose pink duster she wore could hide the condition she was in; Leonora was perhaps seven months pregnant. He turned away.

He decided to pass through the back porch of the house. He could easily open the screen door even if it was locked. All it took was a hairpin, which he had with him. It was a trick he used whenever he was locked out of the house.

He heard his father laugh out loud; Leonora was telling him a funny anecdote. His father loved jokes and funny stories, and had such an infectious laughter. His father's laughter grew louder. He felt a smile forming on his lips. One time he went to a carnival with father and mother. His father and him rode the ferries wheel alone because his mother was too frightened. All through out the ride his father kept laughing in his inimitable and infectious manner. Ramil laughed with him as they embraced each other. Sometimes he could still feel the warmth of that embrace.

He listened as his father's laughter died down. His own smile was gone. Nothing could change his plans. Vengeance was the only weapon left for the hopeless and the damned.

Hidden by the darkness, he crossed the garden. He slid open the screen door and stepped inside. As he walked past the living room he heard voices coming from the dining room. His father informed Leonora that he was going to the bedroom.

Ramil hid himself in a strategic location. It was a dark corner at the turn of the corridor leading to his father's bedroom. He reached into his back pocket and brought out the switchblade. He glanced at the door of his father's bedroom. He knew his father would never notice him. This was the place he always hid as a child when he was in a mischievous mood until the moment when he would suddenly jump out and surprise his father and mother as they walked by. He laughed at their startled expressions even though he was scolded for it afterwards. It was a trick that never failed.

He heard his father whistling. He pressed his back against the wall and held his breath. He raised the blade. His father's tall and lean figure appeared and walked past him. With his father's back turned to him, a mere two feet away, he gritted his teeth--and lunged.

"Ramil!"

* * *

The screen door burst open. A weeping, wretched figure rushed out into the garden and scrambled over the wall.

"What happened?!" Leonora asked as she hurried over followed by several maids.

Melchor stood outside in the porch. There were bruises on his face. His troubled eyes searched the garden.

"Ramil was here," Melchor said.

"What? Oh my God! You're bleeding!" Leonora said.

"Don't worry," Melchor said, "I'm all right."

"Where are you going?" Leonora asked.

She watched as Melchor ran out of the house. She tried to follow him but stopped when she saw something. She asked a maid to pick it up from the floor. It was a bloodstained switchblade.

Melchor looked for Ramil out in the dark street and then around the block. A dog barked somewhere. A bald man in a blue jogging suit ran by. A young man and woman, holding hands, crossed the street and entered the gate of a house. Melchor could not find his son.

Melchor stood on the curb beside a bright yellow lamppost. His eyes were drawn to the shadowy trees of the park. He felt a turbulent sense of guilt, loss, and bitter longing. He realized it was useless to go on looking for his son. Ramil was gone. Melchor slowly walked back to his house.

Ramil watched his father standing on the curb. He was in the park hidden behind the mango tree and knew his father could not see him. When his father was gone, he disappeared into the dark foliage.

He wept as he walked through the darkness. If he still had his blade, he would have used it to kill himself. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground. He buried his face in the dirt. He cried until he could feel his eyes tearing out from their sockets. After he exhausted himself crying he felt a dreamy silence come over him. He did not know how long he stayed that way, but when he sat up he saw the mound before him.

It was getting cold and he lay down beside the mound because there was certain warmth emanating from it. He wanted to put his tired troubled mind to rest, to sleep forever, and to forget.

But he will never forget.

His fists hitting his father's face again and again. His father lying bruised on the floor. The point of the switchblade pressed against his father's throat.

"Kill me," his father said. "Kill me if it will pay for everything I've done to you."

And he realized he could not kill his father.

A soft breeze wafted through the air and Ramil could smell that sweet tobacco smell again.

"Isidro?. . ."

He wondered if the little man was around somewhere. But no. He was all alone. He felt drowsy and closed his eyes. Soon sleep came over him.

* * *

Ramil felt the heat of the sun on his face. He heard sparrows chirping as he opened his eyes to a bright morning. A yellow butterfly circled around his head and then flew away. He sat up and yawned and wiped his eyes. Then he looked around him in the early morning haze.

The park looked different.

The forbidding trees were gone, though the very same trees stood there. But their dark shadowy forms were now transformed by the morning light into benign guardians of the park.

But something else had changed. At first he wondered what it was as he stared blankly before him. Something was missing.

The mound was gone.

But something else was there, growing from where the mound used to be.

It was a beautiful green rose.

He went over and examined the rose. A green rose! He had never seen a green rose in his life. But it was there, this rose, and it grew from a long stem about a foot high. What a magical sight it was. And he knew what it meant.

"Goodbye, Isidro," he softly said.

Then he thought of his father; and the events of yesterday felt like a dream, like it might not have happened at all. But no. He knew it all happened. And yet he felt different somehow. Something was missing. Something that had been inside of him like a venomous wound.

Could it be possible?

The hate and anger he had nurtured these past three years had burned itself out and now only ashes remained. Ashes he could throw away with the wind or bury deep under the earth.

Then he realized: he never really hated his father. Hidden behind the hate was a love yearning to be fulfilled. A love that only wanted to be loved in return.

Ramil stood up from the ground. He looked at the sun. So beautiful it was. And so true. So true. Once he was a seed left to die in the darkness. Until the gravity of hope pulled him towards the light. The past could no longer follow him like a shadow. It was left behind like ashes in the wind.

Ramil smiled. It was a new day. What was he going to do? Go to Mr. Gonzales, that's what. Then he laughed. And for the first time, in a long time, he felt happy.

He looked at the calling card and the hundred-peso bill that was given to him. Then he placed them back inside his pocket.

He must hurry. Mr. Gonzales must not be kept waiting.

Ramil walked a straight path that cut through the trees and the bushes and the long thick grass. He reached the No Trespassing sign. He climbed over the fence and jumped down on the sidewalk.

He gave the park one last glance and walked away.

And there, near the corner, was a bus waiting for him.

 

 

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Author Bio

Like the Egyptians, Alex Roces believes writing is a Sacred Art. Through years of writing and researching, he has been seeking to know the mysteries of the Universe and the human soul. Alex is an explorer of the inner realms of spirit and a seeker of Truth. All that he learns and experiences Alex transforms into metaphysical and mythic stories.

Aside from writing, and reading voraciously, his other interests include bodybuilding, mountain climbing, art, music and traveling. He is also deeply involved in the study and practice of prosperity techniques for good fortune, wealth and success. Alex's novel, The Moon Child is currently available from Twilight Times Books. Presently he is working on several new novels.

Visit Alex's web site.

 


 

 

"The Park" Copyright © 2002 Alex Roces. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 10-25-02.

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