…Ang Kwento ng mga Tao sa Bayang Walang Hope (2)

Interview with the Vampire…o ang Q&A kay Mayora.

Madilim sa loob ng palasyo, malamig. Hindi mo aakalaing sa labas ay tanghaling tapat, at tirik ang araw. Makapal kasi ang kulay pulang drapes, sarado lahat ng bintana, antigong kahoy ang furniture. Maitim na marmol ang sahig, daig pa ang mausoleum.
“Kulang na lang dito, nitso,” naisip ni Julia habang naglalakad sila sa mga pasilyong parang tunnel na pababa ng pababa. Pakiramdam nga ni Julia, nasa ilalim na sila ng Ilog Pasig. Ni hindi na niya maamoy ang baho nito.
“Totoo kayang takot ang mga bampira sa krus?” isip ni Julia habang hawak-hawak ang krusipihong nakakwintas sa kanya, nakatago sa loob ng blusa niya. May rosaryo din siya sa bulsa, may agua bendita sa bag. Kung pwede nga lang magpatatak ng krus sa noo, kaso tapos na ang Ash Wednesday.
“Kung hindi lang exclusive ito, kung hindi lang kailangan ito,” bulong ni Julia. May interview sila kay Mayora, ang unang interview na ibinigay nito mula nang lumabas ang tape na nanghihingi siya ng isang milyong litro ng dugo mula sa town officials.
Sabagay, CNN naman kasi ang dala niya. May kasama pa siyang reporter na puti, galing pa sa Hong Kong, ang regional base ng CNN. Nang magpropose siya ng feature story tungkol sa Sta. Filomena, hindi niya akalaing papasa.
Malaki ang Sta. Filomena, at maraming natural resources: gas, ginto, tao. Isa ito sa mga urban centers ng bansa.
Biro nga nila, maraming swerte, malas lang sa klase ng gobyerno. Para bang nagpustahan ang Diyos at ang Dyablo kung alin ang mas kailangan ng tao: isang mayamang lugar, o isang matinong gobyerno. Mukhang ongoing pa ang pustahan.
There are two sides to Sta. Filomena, email ni Julia sa mga boss niya sa CNN. It is a booming economy, fueled by a population that never sleeps. The shopping malls, the call centers, and even the government offices are open 24/7, and those that work the night shift are even more active than those that report during the day. The rich drive around at night, on their flashy cars, dressed in the latest fashion in the US and Europe.
Yet Sta. Filomena also has some of the poorest citizens of the country. During the day, it is a dusty, dirty old town, where people ride in jeeps or tricycles, or simply walk. During the day, the cars that go around town are old, and the people look grim and tired.
There are talks of vampires running the town, but they have not been proven.
Whatever the truth is, in Sta. Filomena, the lines are clearly drawn between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, as clearly as day and night.
Pumayag ang Hong Kong, at, miracle of miracles, nagpa-interview si Mayora! Basta raw walang political questions, because she’s too busy running the town to bother with political crap like credibility and popularity surveys (na parehong bagsak na bagsak siya).
Kaya’t heto ngayon si Julia, hoping against hope na hindi totoo ang tsismis (hindi bampira ang mayor niya, in other words). At, kung sakaling totoo nga, sana totoo rin ang ibang paniniwala – gaya ng, sana nagwo-work nga ang krusipiho at dasal laban sa mga bampira.
“We’re almost there,” sabi ni Mr. Press Officer sa dulo ng mahabang corridor. Nanginginig na sa ginaw si Julia, o baka sa takot. Madilim na madilim ang pasilyo, at bakit torch na ang mga ilaw?
Wala na ba kami sa coverage ng Meralco? Naisip ni Julia, pero hindi na siya nagtanong. Baka mapangiti si Mr. Press Officer; ayaw ni Juliang makita ang mga ngipin nito.
Mata na lang ang pinansin niya: “What red eyes you have, sir. Mukhang napuyat kayo kagabi.”
“Come into the parlor,” said Mr. Press Officer to Julia. Saka biglang dagdag, bilang sagot sa tanong niya: “Medyo. Maraming pinapa-rush si M’am. Alam mo naman si Mayora, masyadong workaholic. Kahit gabi, nagtatawag.”
Saka ito ngumiti.
Ang itim pala ng eyebags niya, naisip ni Julia na pilit nagko-contrate sa eyebags ng kausap. Ayaw niyang tumingin sa ngiti nitong pwede na sanang pang-Colgate commercial, dahil maputi at kumikislap ang mga ngipin. Kaya lang, medyo masyadong matulis ang canines.
“Darating na si M’am in a few minutes. Maupo muna kayo.”
“Wow! These must be heirloom pieces,” sabi ng kasama niyang puti, na hinahaplos-haplos pa ang mga antique na silya, na satin ang cushions at gawa pa sa narra.
Naupo sina Julia: amoy bulaklak ang silya. Parang…kalacuchi? Lilies? Fabric softener!!! Sigaw ni Julia sa isip niya.
“The mayor comes from an old political family,” paliwanag ni Mr. Press Officer. “One of the first mayors of the town was an ancestor; her great-great grandfather, and grandfather were also town officials. These are heirloom pieces she took from the family collection.
“This town is more 400 years old, you know. It was one of the first towns established by the Spaniards after they discovered the country.”
Magtatanong pa sana si Michael, ang kasama ni Julia, nang biglang pumasok ang malamig na hangin, at lumitaw sa harap nila si Mayora.
Maliit, maganda, maikli ang buhok, pula ang mga mata. Walang wrinkles kahit mahigit 60 na siya, at may dalawa nang apo.
“How are you? It’s so nice of you to come here just for this interview,” sabi nito kay Michael ng nakangiti. Nakahinga ng maluwag si Julia: maganda, kumikinang, puting-puti, at PANTAY-PANTAY ang mga ngipin ni Mayora. Walang sobra sa tulis kahit isa.
Napabuntunghininga si Julia. Salamat sa Diyos, naisip niya, drug addict lang ang mayora ko.

Q&A with Mayora: (as transcribed by Julia)

How would you describe Sta. Filomena’s economy?
Well, it’s a booming economy: we grew 5% in the last quarter and we’re set to do that again this quarter. We have doubled our investments and we are now entering into trade deals and partnerships with other cities around the world. Three years from now, when I leave office, we should be one of the more industrialized cities in the world.
Yet at the same time there’s a big gap between the rich and the poor. The latest surveys show more than half of your constituents have gone hungry at least once in the past few weeks.
Oh, that’s nothing. I’ve gone hungry myself; this is Sta. Filomena. Everyone has gone hungry here. You know a refrigerator can be like a closet: you open it and when you look inside, there’s nothing at all to eat! I myself am on a liquid diet; I don’t eat so much solids nowadays.
My advice to them is to spend their money on food instead of non-essential items like cell phones, and to buy nutritious meals instead of noodles.
Our data shows that one reason Sta. Filomena’s economy is booming is its ability to stay open 24/7. Your malls are open 24 hours a day, your restaurants, even government offices. Doesn’t the town ever sleep?
Other towns, other governments have electricity saving schemes, like the daylight saving scheme. This is our way of maximizing our resources and our time. Because the population is divided into two shifts, traffic is less, for one.
But how do you cater to your constituents 24/7? Don’t you ever sleep?
Oh, I do. But I prefer to sleep during daytime. As you get older, you get more conscious about wrinkles and sunburn, you know. It’s easier to work at night, when it’s colder.
Our data shows that many of the latest investments here are for blood banks and cold storage facilities. Any reason for the increased demand in blood?
I don’t really know (laughs). Blood banks don’t just store blood, you know. They also store genes and tissue samples and fetuses. Or maybe people here are more conscientious about saving up blood for a possible accident or operation. Or for dengue. You know, we have a lot of blood-suckers here. (laughs). Mosquitoes, of course. (Mr. Press Officer laughs with Mayora).
Well, Mrs. Mayor, now is your chance to lay to rest that issue about you being caught on tape asking for blood.
That’s not an economic question, ha!? (Smiles…canines just a little bit longer than usual?) But, yes, it’s time to address the people on that issue.
This is my message for them: I AM SORRY…While I do not admit that is my voice, I do admit to the impropriety of talking to a health official for some of my personal needs. There was a time when I was considering an operation and needed to make a backup plan. But that time is past, and there were no actions taken on the requests I made. I admit it was improper of me to talk to a subordinate about a personal request, and for that I am sorry. But I did nothing that was outside the bounds of the law. If my opponents continue to doubt my statement, let them file charges and I will face them in the proper venue.
END OF STORY. END OF INTERVIEW.
May istorya na si Julia! Sa sobrang excited nilang makalabas at mag-file, nakalimutang na niyang silipin ang ngipin ni M’am. Ke bampira o hindi ang mayor niya, ang mahalaga, may exclusive siya sa araw na ito!

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