November 7, 2001
The car stereo was blasting and Santos was cursing at the top of his
lungs. As his anger mounted, his speed did too, dangerously. The wheels
of his pick-up truck screeched louder and louder at every corner. Filthy
vulgarities poured out of his mouth, their venom rendered even more acidic
after being filtered through his beer-stinking breath. The maniacal rant
was all directed at his boss, who had just fired him for showing up at work
late and drunk one too many times.
"Damn foreigner," Santos spat out repeatedly, his fists banging
down on the steering wheel, "Come over to MY country and give ME orders...
I'll show you what I'm made of one of dem days. You just wait... I'll make
you squeal like the pig that you are..."
The pick-up truck was veering violently between lanes, causing the other
drivers to swerve suddenly out of the way. The honks and jeers did not slow
Santos down though, they just egged him on.
Finally, the Oak Lounge was in sight and he pulled up in front of its
door. Only a few cars were parked in the lot at this early morning hour.
Santos recognized each of them. They were all his little drinking buddies,
though he had never exchanged but a handful of words with them since he
had started hanging around there: Doggie, The Old Man, Seraline the Slut,
and Maggot. Oak Lounge's most loyal customers. They had all probably been
coming here longer than Santos had been alive. Except for Seraline, who
was closer in age to Santos. But all the boozing had taken the freshness
from her skin, and the life from her eyes and she was starting to resemble
the other walking dead in there. Santos was on his way there too and he
knew it. But he didn't care. Especially not today.
The angry young man pushed the door open and was greeted with groans
of disapproval at the sliver of sunshine he had allowed to momentarily pierce
the darkness inside. He hopped on his usual stool, right in front of the
small TV placed on the top shelf of the wall, behind the bar. Paulo was
chewing a cigar nervously and watching the game up on the screen.
-- "Gimme a beer," Santos grumbled.
-- "What the heck are YOU doing here at this time? I got enough
trouble when you be comin' in the evenin'... Ain't you gotta job?"
-- "Just gimme a beer will ya? You a cop or a bartender?"
-- "Watch it boy... Ain't that long ago you was tryin' to sneak
in here with a fake i.d. You watch your balls can back up what your mouth
With that, Paulo slid a beer towards the young man. The other patrons
around the bar snickered, including Seraline. That slut. Today she was hanging
on to Doggie. Must've been his pay day. They already had a few empty glasses
in front of them, and the ashtray was full of cigarette butts.
Santos drank his beer in silence all the while mulling over in his head
the scene with his boss that morning. "Stinking foreign pig, ordering
me around in that stupid goddamn accent of his," Santos raged.
* * * * *
-- "Elias, wake up honey, your breakfast is getting cold! Eliaaaaaasssss...
Inside a blue and white bedroom, illuminated by happy rays of sunlight,
a twelve-year old boy with scruffy hair and bright freckles lifted his blanket
over his head.
-- "Just one more minute of sleep," he muttered dreamily to
his mom, who continued calling him with her girlish, soprano voice.
-- "Eliaaaassss... Don't make me use the secret weapon... Honeeeeyyyy.
All right, you asked for it!"
With that, a pretty young woman dressed in a mauve T-Shirt and capri
jeans opened the door to the blue and white bedroom. From behind her, a
German Shepherd pup ran wildly inside and jumped up on the bed. He proceeded
to pull away the cover Elias desperately tried to hold onto. The young woman
burst into laughter, which sounded like a thousand chrystals swayed by a
-- "Good boy puppy! Now kiss! The pancakes are getting cold! Kiss,
The dog, who had been waiting for the signal, started showering his little
master with thousands of sloppy licks of his tongue. Elias tried to resist
but was soon overcome with a fit of giggles. He grabbed the pup from behind
the ears with one hand, and rubbed his sleepy eyes with the other hand.
-- "All right, all right, you got me, you got me!"
Now fully awake, the little boy caught scent of the delicious blueberry
pancakes which had made their way upstairs to his room from the kitchen
-- "Mmmmm... blueberry, my favorite!"
The trio made their way downstairs where the young woman served her son
breakfast, and in turn, the little boy surreptitiously fed his dog bits
and scraps under the table.
Afterwards, another circus show before Elias got cleaned up, dressed,
and gathered his books. He almost missed the school bus, which was pulling
away as he made it to the bus door. His mom and the pup, who had been running
behind him, said good-bye to him, each in their own way, the dog with much
barking and jumping, and the young woman with a lot of hand-waving.
-- "Don't forget Elias, after school, you are to go help your father
at the store. And don't forget to bring tomato sauce before you come home.
I'm making spaghetti tonight!"
Elias waved back from the back window of the bus and gave the thumb up
* * * * *
It was noon but inside the Oak Lounge, it was only time to drink one
more beer. The Old Man came over to sit by Santos's side.
-- "Hey, what's da matta with ya kid? You awful quiet today."
-- "Leave me alone Old Man. I ain't got any money to buy you booze.
I got fired today."
-- "Ah so that's it, is it? The old turd gave you the boot did he?"
Santos couldn't help snorting.
-- "Turd is right They all look like turds don't they?"
-- "Hehe... Smell like dem too..."
The Old Man chuckled at his own joke.
Paulo frowned and told them to shut up. He was deep in the game and their
snickers distracted him. He had some real dough at stake and his team wasn't
looking good. It put him in a foul mood. And if these clowns were gonna
insist on pushing his buttons, he'd have them out on their behinds so fast.
"All right, all right , Paulo," said the Old Man. "I'm going
back to my seat.
Santos looked at the emaciated figure of his companion getting off the
stool and walking to the other end of the bar. He looked like a brittle
little skeleton with clothes on. How old was he? Sixty? Eighty? A hundred?
No one here knew his name though he had been coming here longer than all
of them. They just called him the Old Man. As Santos continued to follow
him with his eyes, his gaze came across Seraline once again.
She was sitting alone now. Doggie must have gone to the john. Or out
to get some more smokes. So lost was Santos in his rage that he hadn't even
noticed him leave. The young woman was smoking absent-mindedly, one elbow
resting on the counter, in a little puddle of scotch she must have spilled
from her glass. It was her drink of choice.
Santos felt a mixture of disgust and lust when he looked at her. Her
hair was a fake yellow. It stuck at her temples and hung limply down to
her shoulder plates. Her face had a bloated look and greenish hue, like
a pickle in a jar, and wrinkles had formed too soon around her lips, making
her blood-red lipstick run like that of an old lady's. But she still had
an amazing thirty -year-old's body, her sweater pulled tightly over a pair
of perfect, supple breasts. No bra. And her naked legs, crossed under her
plaid skirt, were moving to and fro, to an imaginary rhythm. Santos fantasized
about putting his hand on their creamy smooth surface, working his way up
from the ankle to the rounded knee, and even further north, to reveal what
he secretly abhorred and desired.
By now he was a foolhardy drunk. So he stumbled off his stool and staggered
over to the object of his desire, who didn't even bother to acknowledge
his presence. Just kept on sucking on her cancer-stick and staring blankly
at the T.V. screen up above. "Hey... Sera... Seraline," Santos
started hesitantly. He paused. What could get her attention? "You need
She turned her head, finally interested. "You got dough, squirt?"
"I ain't a squirt And I can prove it to ya Baby," he mumbled,
as he put one trembling hand on top of her knee.
At first Seraline looked stunned. Santos wondered whether she was goning
to slap him. In fact, he wished she would do so and put an end to this torture.
He was unsure of what to do next and was beginning to have second thoughts.
And then, something came, which was a thousand times worse than a slap
across the face. She began laughing at him. She was cackling really, like
the old witch that she was. The other folks started snickering at the scene,
especially as Doggie showed up, back from the john. "You trying to
move in on my girl, squirt?" the burly construction worker exclaimed
Santos was seeing red. Nobody would take him seriously. Well, he would
prove to them he was more than a boy! He took his hand off Seraline's knee
and raised two fists towards her companion. "You wanna take this outside,
It was now Doggie's turn to laugh. He was twice the height and weight
of the scrawny kid before him. "Hey squirt, why don't you let me sit
here and drink in peace. Come back when you grow a set, all right?"
Even Paulo was laughing now, momentarily distracted from his game. There
was no choice now for Santos but to lower his fists and get back sheepishly
to the other side of the bar, back on his own stool. He felt all the sting
of the ridicule he had heaped upon himself. He knew he should have left
this place and never come back. But where did he have to go? The prospect
of his messy stinking trailer on the outskirts of the town was just too
depressing to bear, even in the midst of his drunkenness. What he really
wanted was one more beer.
* * * * *
The whistle went off and the coach screamed "Game Over!" A
pack of little twelve-year-old boys in turquoise and gold uniforms cheered
and started dispensing high-fives. Elias, cheeks were flush with all the
excitement of winning, but added to it was the secret pleasure of knowing
she was there in the stands, watching him run, jump, and score. She was
the girl with the violet eyes and the dark braids, who sat to his right
in homeroom. She was already quite the young lady, always prim and proper,
with a deep, serious stare that contrasted with the fiery gleam Elias perceived
in her eyes. He was too young to know what he was experiencing: his first
crush. All he knew was that her hair smelled of lavender, and he never ever
in his wildest dreams could imagine speaking to her.
In the locker room, the boys were showering and changing. There was much
patting on the back and cries of victory still being bandied about. Elias
had had a good day and he wasn't really looking forward to spending the
rest of it at work, helping his dad out. Even though he loved his father,
he wished just for once, he could join in some of the after-school fun that
his other classmates were engaging in, like going to the mall, or the arcade.
But he dutifully finished putting on his clothes, and with his schoolbag
in tow, he started the long walk to the store.
His father was behind the counter, reading the newspaper, a frown on
his face. But his face brightened at the sound of Elias, greeting. He came
around the store counter and gave a hug to his only son, the apple of his
-- "Dad, today we had a pop quiz and it was on history so all the
kids were like ooohhh noooo and..."
Elias continued with the same frantic pace to describe all the events
of his school day, up to the winning game. But he never mentioned the girl
once. His father smiled. He had recently intercepted certain glances from
his son on the rare occasions when he could get away and come pick Elias
up at school, and he had a pretty good idea that the little, serious looking
girl with eyes like two bright stars held a special meaning in his son's
life. But in his wisdom, he would just remain quiet until it was the right
time. His son would come to him on his own, and when he did, he would be
ready to teach him the best lessons he could to smooth over the rough bumps
that life had in store for him.
-- "Dad, can I stand behind the counter today?"
His father was hesitant at first. But there were lots of heavy boxes
to unpack in the back and he had no help today. Perhaps this would be a
good idea. And he would be just a few paces away.
-- "All right son, but mind you keep your focus on the customers,
and not on your comic books."
Elias happily hopped over the counter and started swiping it vigorously,
as if to demonstrate his good will. His father smiled at this image then
disappeared into the back room. As soon as he did so, Elias slowed down
the intensity of his swiping then stopped altogether. After a few moments
of silence, when he was sure the coast was clear, he slowly opened his schoolbag
from which he retrieved, handling them like they were Fabergé eggs,
a pair of crisp new X-Men comic books, freshly exchanged at school against
his mother's very popular Nutella sandwich.
* * * * *
Normally Paulo would have stopped serving him much earlier but he was
too caught up in the now disastrous score of the game and the accompanying
dark thoughts about his bookie, to keep track of the monstrous amount of
alcohol Santos had imbibed so far. The angry young man felt he was on some
strange planet now. The walls were spinning around him. When he glanced
at his drinking buddies around him, their bodies kept contorting like snakes,
changing shades. He was not sure he could distinguish the Old Man from Doggie,
or Seraline from the Maggot anymore. From the TV screen, he heard words,
but he had trouble putting them together in a string to make sense of them.
By the time he had reached the end of one sentence, he had forgotten what
the beginning was.
Suddenly, Paulo cursed, louder and angrier than before. Had the game
finally ended? No... That wasn't it... Something was going on... Some weird
musical notes, a melody of impeding doom or urgency. It was the news broadcast.
"Now what the kinda emergency news flash do they wanna interrupt my
game for? Bastards!" growled Paulo.
But with the first words of the news anchorman, he quieted down. In fact,
the other patrons also turned their attention to the screen. Santos tried
to decipher the words as best as he could in his state. At first he thought
he was too drunk to understand. The anchor man was describing something
that was simply impossible. It could not be true, could it? But glancing
at the people around him, including Seraline who had started to sob uncontrollably,
her mascara running in dark rivers under her eyes, he knew that the horror
he was hearing was the truth.
The Prime Minister had been assassinated while on an official visit overseas.
Someone had walked right up to him from the crowd, to his convertible car,
and shot him in the face. The murderer had screamed out "Death to Oppression"
as he shot the charismatic young Prime Minister to smithereens. The blood
and brains had splattered all over his children, aged nine and six, sitting
terrified beside him in the diplomatic car.
This was unbelievable, a nightmare. The young, bright, handsome Prime
Minister! He represented the best of Santos, country. He gave him pride
and self-respect, the feeling that his homeland was the best in the world.
And now assassinated? Butchered? By a foreign pig! Like the foreign pig
that had fired him this morning! For the first time, Santos felt a kinship
with the Prime Minister. They both had suffered at the hands of those bastards!
And amazingly, the alcohol-induced torpor that had invaded his brain seemed
finally to lift. His thoughts came into sharp focus. Raging focus.
Santos knew what had to be done. The pig who had fired him was going
to pay for what his countryman did, all the way across the ocean. Instead
of feeling brood and despair, like the rest of the bar patrons around him,
Santos felt elation. He now had a purpose in his life and once he accomplished
that purpose, he would finally prove to them all, to Doggie, to Paulo, to
Seraline, to all of his countrymen, that he was not a little boy, a squirt.
He was a hero.
He pushed the doors of the Oak Lounge open and hopped into his pick up
* * * * *
Elias, deeply engrossed in his X-men comic book, had turned the knob
of the store radio down to almost imperceptible volume. He did not pay attention
to the frantic broadcast emanating feebly from the speakers. In the back
room, his father was humming a strange sounding song, probably from the
The sound of the door being slammed open finally tore Elias from the
world of his superheroes but it wasn't until the customer came near the
counter that the little boy noticed the shotgun in his hand.
"GOD BLESS..." Santos screamed the name of his country before
blasting away the "enemy".
* * * * *
The trial was swift. A nationalist political party which had ran unsuccessfully
in the previous election on a platform of xenophobia and family values hired
the whitest-teethed lawyer they could find to defend Santos. The verdict
was unanimous: Not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, due to the understandable
traumatic shock of the Prime Minister's assassination.
Elias's father, sitting in the front row of the courtroom, wept audibly
as he looked at the jury of his peers handing down the verdict. But the
mother sat stone-faced. Her face was like a tightly pulled mask, white as
chalk, from which no movement could be detected. Her eyes were dead, her
lips tightly shut. It was only at the end of the trial that she gave her
first visible sign of life. As the murderer of her son walked by her, free
of all chains, she looked up and smiled at him.
* * * * *
One year later, as Santos was walking out of his trailer, more bloated
and smelly than ever, he noticed a familiar looking woman accompanied by
a magnificent purebred German Shepherd. They had emerged suddenly from the
shadows, like ghosts. The visitors approached him confidently and Santos
was in the process of bending down to pet the dog when its owner suddenly
"Kill, puppy, kill! That's right... Good dog!"