He leans his back on the wall, his hands gripping his gun tight. He wishes he could shoot the moon and tear the dark sky into pieces. He wants the night to end, that in the morning, he will forget everything about this, and all the nights before. He is tempted to light a cigarette, hoping it would take away the agitation he feels. Flashes of thoughts and images of people he knows, and even seemingly strangers keep pounding on his head, causing the lines on his forehead to be more visible. He throws curses into the air, almost whispers but in a profound tone.
The rules are clear. No cigarettes on the field. Don’t leave any trace behind. Finish the task as quickly and silently as you could. Focus on the target. No resignations. No spitting of information. No getting out.
He closes his eyes for a few seconds and regains composure. He knows he shouldn’t permit his thoughts to affect his assignment. He has been trained to think and feel less so he can focus and act faster to get things done. He has been waiting for Kulot to pass by the street, the same Kulot whom he never knew, but whose picture he has been glaring at every night for about a month now. He knows that Kulot has multiple records at Agdao Police Station for theft, illegal carrying of fire arms, and dealing of illegal drugs. Kulot is five-feet tall, has round eyes, dark complexion, five piercings on his left ear, and a tattoo of a skull, smiling on the back of his neck. That’s all he needed to know, as if two sentences can summarize thirty years of a person’s existence. Kulot could be a father, or a drunkard, or a rapper, or a pedicab driver, but no matter what, Kulot will be his eighteenth kill.
He is standing behind a lamp post, in an area downtown where only the intersections have lights. Some people call the place Sampaguita; the officials refer to it as 42-A, but the people who live there call it RGA, after the name of the big factory of cartons towering in the entry point. The establishment stands in front of the slums, its residents mostly factory workers and vendors in carts. He parks his plateless motorcycle only a few meters away.
This kind of place is not new to him. He grew up wandering the same narrow streets. When he was eight years old, his mother left him with his father, and after a year his father died. His mother’s sister, a frustrated nun, adopted and treated him like her true son. She took him into her house where he woke up every morning smelling the scent of wet excrement from the drainage next to his aunt’s house. Their neighbors used to just squat near the water and release what they had eaten. His real name is Joselito Pinagtacloban Jr. It was here where he became Lito, instead of Jun-jun, because he was nobody’s junior anymore.
His aunt tried to support his schooling. But just a year after he finished his elementary, his aunt died of aneurysm. There were too many deaths, and so much pain that Lito suffered post-traumatic disorder. He was put in a fostering system, where he felt discarded.
Three hours, and Kulot still has not come. Lito wants to curse Job, his informant, for telling him the wrong place, the wrong time, wrong everything. He glances at his motorcycle when a man, wearing black sleeveless top, wide-cut pants, red Spartan slippers, and a necklace with a cross passes by. As he moves closer to the lamp post, his earrings shine and the wind is slowly getting colder. Lito is just waiting for the man to pass through him until he sees the skull on the back of his neck smiling at him. He emerges from the dark, lifting his gun. He pulls the trigger, smashing the face of the smiling skull. Kulot falls on the ground, lifeless.
Before anybody could react, Lito rushes to his motorcycle, driving straight to the planned escape route. He had already done this before, seventeen kills to be exact, but the road tonight is different. It seems so straight, so plain, and endless. The first time he had to do this, he lost control on a hump. He panicked and ran away, barefoot, in tears, never looking back. But before long, he mastered his craft.
A sudden coldness filled his body. He recognizes the same feeling earlier that day, when his son hugged him goodbye as he said that he would be out for two days in a business trip. He would do everything to keep him safe. They know about him, that’s why he needs to kill.
Having so many thoughts at the moment will put him to danger. So he just drives as fast as he could. He stops in front of five identical duplex apartments. He’s now in a much quieter place in the city, just a corner turn from a famous mall, a less suspicious location. He parks his motorcycle beside a tree, then gets a plate from the compartment in the passenger’s seat. He screws it carefully and receives a text message: A4.
He began to receive these text messages when a man named Job, approached him in the city hall seven years ago, when he was just trying to get a job. When he was eighteen, he got out from the fostering care system. Just a few weeks after, he met Amor, the mother of his son. They loved each other, but Amor was ambitious. When she got the opportunity to go abroad, she didn’t hesitate. The last thing Lito heard about her was that she has another family in Japan. Lito was left with a son to feed, so he was desperate to get a job.
He remembers the long conversation he had with Job before finally getting in. He would never forget the words that made him say yes, “The city needs men like you”. Job brought him to an old motel, where six men were already waiting. They all had broad shoulders and tall physique. They didn’t exchange names, the only person Lito knew was Job. The meeting lasted for three hours and there was nothing but training schedules and places. He didn’t really know what job was it going to look like, but a thought was clearly punched in their minds. Job repeatedly referred to M as the main boss. One of them asked about his full name, but Job said that was really it. He said that M is a powerful man, and whoever accepts the job, would be in the job forever. M owns the city, and since that day, he owns them as well. It scared him at first, but when Job started to discuss the payment rate, it convinced him.
He has been hearing gunshots inside his head since his first kill. He remembers Job taking him out from the firing range in their training area, and said, “You’re ready. You have been given your first target.” Job hands him over a sheet of paper and there were maps and a man’s description. A week after he briefed them in a motel room, Job brought them to an abandoned military barracks in a remote barangay, south of the city. Lito stayed there for three days, firing guns, and doing trainings. The old men who trained them were skilled gunmen, almost like the military. But rumors spread they were rebel returnees, promised to be given jobs, and ended up in the system. His target was Choi. Job said he just walked out from prison for pushing of illegal drugs. Choi was a thin man, has a piercing on his nose, almost five-feet tall, and was missing his thumb. He was said to be involved in a gang brawl inside the cell, that was where he lost it. The first assignment was quite easy because he had a support group. Someone just gave him a tip and he drove his motorcycle towards a store. He paused and saw a man, sitting with a soft drink. He looked at the man’s left hand, and fired a bullet. The first kill was executed, next the second, then the rest. He could still remember all the kills he made, each face and detail.
He puts the memory aside and rings the doorbell of the house labeled, A4. He receives a text message again, instructing him to get inside. Job is there, holding a cigarette in one hand, a cup of coffee on the other. Judging from the two empty packs of cigarettes on the table, he is as anxious as Lito.
“Kulot is dead.” Lito breaks the silence and puts his gun on the table. He stares at Job’s eyes.
“M would be happy. Cool down for a while, are you sure nobody saw you?” Job checks his gun and hands him an envelope. Lito takes the envelope and walks toward the door.
“Stay close, I heard the next one is big,” Job gives an advice. “Don’t forget your gun.”
Lito turns back and says, “I don’t want that gun anymore.”
“You want a new one? M can provide that.” Job answers, picking another stick of cigarette.
“You know what I mean.”
“And you know that there’s no getting out.” Job reacts a bit louder. “You know the rules, and your son. If you do this, he will be the first to be taken out. You don’t want that.”
“I know you can’t do that Job,” Lito says sternly. “You treat him like your own.”
“I can’t, but the group will. We’re not the only ones in the system.”
“We can get out, if we really want to.” Lito taps Job’s shoulder, trying to convince him.
“You’re insane!” Job swabs away Lito’s hands. “M will get to us. He always does. I told you many times already, there is no other end.”
Job picks up his things and drops they key on the table. Before opening the door, he turns back and says, “No argument had happen this night. Wait for my next instructions. Lay low.”
Lito picks up the gun and leaves. He walks in the street, covering his head with the hood of his jacket. He can’t really decide where to go. His thick lips are turning pale. The wind is getting stronger, he knows it will rain. He can’t get off Job’s words from his mind. He is used to Job giving him orders, bossing around, and telling him why things go wrong. He would try to do better after Job gives him an evaluation. But tonight, he doesn’t want to believe him.
He closes his fist as his mind beats him with pictures of the men he killed; Kulot, Barak, Dragon, Sante, Lando and everyone else. He hears Job’s voice saying, “Your city needs you” and loud gunshots in his head.
He passes by a group of middle-aged men, drinking and yelling at each other. He hears one of them boast about his daughter graduating, and the other stands up and gives him applause. The others talk about cockfighting, and women. Their voices seem to echo inside his head and he utters, “Assholes.” He climbs up an overpass and glances around. There are little children sleeping on the floor, using large magazines of women on their bikinis as their blanket. Their thin and weary faces can be seen through the radiance of the giant billboards covering the streets. A loud siren from an ambulance steals his attention towards an almost empty road below him. He stares at the vehicle until it disappears on a curve. There are couples passing by the street, and employees on night shifts waiting for transportation. He wishes to be one of them again, to be able to see more than just faces and hear sweeter melodies other than gunshots.
He walks down from the overpass, and rides a multicab going north to Sasa. He’s the biggest man inside, and he can feel the silent glances of the people around him. His head almost touching the roof and his knees collide with those of the other passengers. He looks at their faces, all seem strange. An old man beside him suddenly nudges his shoulder, and he squeezes, reaching his gun. After seeing that the other passengers are looking at him with puzzling expressions, he relaxes his hand. The old man gives his coins and smiles at him. He takes the fare with his sweaty palms and extends his arm, without saying a word. He taps the metal handle with his coin and hurriedly gets off the vehicle. People watch him as he walks away.
He’s still downtown. He feels like someone has been following him. His heart is beating fast, the same feeling he has, every time he needs to pull the trigger. He passes a narrow alley, but seeing that it’s a dead end, he turns around and points his gun to no one, just empty air. He remains in this stance until his phone rings. A sudden noise fills the air. He does not answer.
He looks at his gun and finds that this city has long been a dead end, and for Job, all the others. The night is almost over, but he heard one last thing—a gunshot.
Czarina Nicole is a sophomore taking up BA English (Creative Writing) at UP Mindanao.