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Writer’s block

Vernon Velasco



MOST times, before I finally decide to sit at the computer, random thoughts start to get into my head. ARTWORK COURTESY OF DAVID JOHN CUBANGBANG FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE

As days marched into weeks and weeks into months, I planned to write about the quarantine, the operative word: “planned.” It’s not simple. Most times, before I finally decide to sit at the computer, let alone hold a thought in my head, I would roll around the house singing at a moving electric fan, talk to myself over the phone, play with the hair curler. I would go to the john and flush the toilet over and over. I don’t know about you, but the thing about toilet bowls is that they burp.

That’s how it was for a while there. Once, sitting at my desk, meaning to really nail it this time around, I noticed a dead lizard glued dry to the window. When I was a kid, lizards were a plaything.

And ants and bugs and caterpillars, too. Some of them I would hit with slippers, while some I would kidnap to prove some evil thought experiment.

We were taught that, with teamwork, ants can overcome whatever challenge is coming their way. With this in mind, I would, as a matter of habit, kidnap a member from a random colony, and pretend it were a star of a reality show, a cross between Survivor and Big Brother, with me playing, well, the titular big brother. The challenge is to survive isolated from the colony, in a harsh living condition I would orchestrate in X number of days.

Of all the ants I’ve tried, my favorite was Sam, whom I isolated from a group that tried to steal my hotdog sandwich. As a first challenge (and also quite sort of a punishment), I put Sam on a fragile small paper boat and marooned him on the tub. I let him there for hours on end, ruining his life by disturbing the water by removing the clog to create a whirlpool.

Scared, Sam briskly darted from end to end. One moment he was feasting upon a hotdog sandwich with his friends, the next thing he knew is that he didn’t know how he ended up trapped on a paper boat floating in the tub to begin with. The boat capsized, and, before the tub was drained of water and Sam disappeared into the abyss, I stuck a stick into the water to which he could climb to reach a safe place.

“Come on, lad! You can do it!” I’d egg him on. I couldn’t help. That was manipulation. If he ought to teach a kid a lesson about valor, he should earn it.

After surviving the whirlpool challenge and other such trials with equal intensity (running while dodging a falling jackstone, putting him atop a rotating disc on an open CD player, pitting him against a centipede, setting a light a plastic bottle and raining him hard with burning napalm), I let Sam go. I don’t know whether his adventures are something you could put in a book or adapted into a motion picture, but one can learn a lesson from Sam, the moral of the story being “Do not steal a hotdog sandwich.”

I started following lizards when I discovered tiny eggs tucked safely within the clothes in my drawer. These I would collect and hurl against the wall in the living room. The eggs would blot, and, as if they could smell it, later you’d see what my brothers and I surmised to be their mama lizard seemingly wailing over her dead children. There we would stand amazed, because no matter we had seen so many dead lizards in our childhood, we had never seen one who’s capable of being sad.

If you’re someone whose habit is to clean the house, you are inclined to chance upon these things rotting in every nook and cranny, and remain there. When people die, say in a wholesale murder, everybody would be accounted for, their names seared, if not on the tombstone, but in the memories of people who bereave that they’re gone. With lizards, or non-human living things for that matter, it’s different, and I learned that you can only make them a part of you, and the greatest merit you could give them is to give them a name.

I considered these things as I looked at the dead lizard in my window, wondering “Does her mama know?” As I am wont to do with discovering lizard deaths through the years, I waited for minutes, maybe even hours, for something to happen.

Did it have anything to do with quarantine? Nothing. Get me out of here.