The Affectionate Shepherd

Originally written on April 30, 2011

I couldn’t help myself from taking occasional glimpse of the teenage guy seated beside me as we sped our way to Pampanga – his hair waxed and kempt; his face unblemished; his right ear pierced; his eyes fixed on the Salinger book he was reading. We were so close but he seemed light-years away.

Photo taken here.

It was only six in the evening but it was already dark, colorful lights shrouded every post of the vehicle-jammed toll-gate we were approaching. Everyone was on a rush to spend Noche Buena with their families. It was that time of the year when all everyone cared about was going home and resting after a full year of work and study. To the many living in the metropolis, it was a sweet escape from the harrowing loneliness of the bleak city that its unfeeling inhabitants bring. I reckoned many city people are callous of their surroundings because they’re too preoccupied with things that concern only themselves, forgetting that it is impossible for man to survive on his own. Maybe it was the price we paid for modernization and technological advancement, going along like we were icebergs drifting away from each other at a fast pace. This was an era where “physically” meeting someone no longer mattered: Cellphones had molded a worthwhile conversation into something that no longer required close contact; you could have “sex” with whomever online. This was an era where sentences like “I miss you” and “I love you” didn’t mean much anymore.

Thirty minutes into the road and the car was still awkwardly silent. He was still reading, and I was still scurrying for something we could talk about. I had never been good at killing dead air. I was now 34 but still utterly unsure how I survived a world hostile to the shy. I thrived without learning how to start a conversation. All my life, I had been the timid one, a man of few words. My father used to preach that only assertive people could succeed in this world. Maybe he was right – I had become nothing but a plain, suburban husband after all. Maybe I had let go of all the chances to prove him he was wrong. Maybe he was right, after all, because I ended up being the living testament of his preachings. It had been wonderful being the husband of a truly beautiful woman and the father of an adorable little boy, but that life was far-fetched from the life I envisioned living while I was in college. I had had dreams that were as high as the mountains, dreams that nothing could break, dreams I had been so sure I could make mine. My God. I had always hated reminiscing. It entailed disappointment for what had been and could no longer be.

The teen put down the book he was reading on his lap, affixed his gaze to the road ahead. Unable to stifle myself anymore from thinking something was keeping him too far-off, I said, “What’s wrong?”

He replied without looking at me, “I’m imagining how my angel looks like.”

I suppressed a chuckle. I didn’t believe in angels. It was then that Manuel looked at me for the first time since we got on the car, his face blank, and said, “You don’t believe in angels, do you?”

I grinned. It was all I could do, not knowing what to say. The nonchalant young man turned his head back to the window and opened it, letting air in inside the car. He raked his hair with his fingers while the breeze brushed it passionately. Watching him, I felt envious of the wind freely caressing his face. He felt it. Wanted it. Needed it. It was a splendid moment, one that made you wish for time to stand still so you could live in that very moment. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

And then all of a sudden, the lovely moment came to an ugly halt. It happened in a blink of an eye. What started out so beautifully had ended in a blinding light and a deafening crash. The car rolled countless times to the side of the road and landed upside down. There was silence. And finally, darkness.

I opened my eyes and found myself lying inside the upturned car. I tried to move my legs but I couldn’t feel them. The only thing I could feel was blood seeping through a wound on my forehead. I couldn’t move my head either. I stared outside the broken window and watched headlights zoom past us. Whatever happened to being a good Samaritan. I painfully opened my mouth and called out to Manuel. No response. Not even a noise or a sign that he heard me, that he was alright. Maybe he was unconscious. Maybe he was dead, and I was the one who killed him. I feared the worst. If that happens, how will I explain to my wife that I killed her younger brother? That I was so astounded by his beauty we went astray and collided with a rampaging truck? I pleaded: “Manuel, please don’t be dead.”

And then out of nowhere, Manuel’s trembling voice broke the deafening silence. “I’m… not… dead.” He was gasping heavily. “I’m not… dead.”

I didn’t know what to say. It was my fault. I wanted to say sorry but what change could it bring? Nothing. What I needed to do now was move and bring Manuel to the hospital. But every part of my body was sore. I couldn’t move my pinky, much less feel my extremities. So what I did, I breathed deeply and shouted for help. It was the best I could do. I shouted till my voice faltered, along with my hopes of getting Manuel to the hospital in time. Finally the shouting and pleading for help was replaced by crying, which seemed the only escape from the bitter truthfulness of it all, that I was losing the only man I was capable of loving. What happened to this world? There we were, lying on the side of the highway, dying, in dire need of rescue but no one seemed to care. Not a single soul. The world had become this really tragic place where loneliness and pain were the only absolute.

“Hush now,” Manuel whispered. His voice was weak and gloomy. “No one… hears us… anymore. We… have reduced ourselves to… insentient entities that we have to… collide furiously to one another just to know we are not… alone,” he breathed heavily, his voice trembling and weakening by the second. “Pain… has become our only mean to relate, because aside from the fact that… we are all hermits, our only common denominator is… the feeling of pain. It is a steadfast feeling. Once you have it, you can never get rid of it unless you die and disappear in this world. But… for as long as you… live, you will feel pain. I… am in so much pain.” He talked like a soothsayer speaking of dark prophecy that could end the world. Damn, his tone really scared me.

“I- I didn’t know you were in pain, Manuel. You’re such a quiet yet insightful young man who doesn’t really talk so much about his feelings. I – ”

“Because… you never bothered to ask,” he interrupted. “No one… ever… cared to ask how I am. Not even my sister whose only way of… showing me support is sending me to a university, paying my expenses and giving me allowances. ” He paused. “And… you… You have always treated me… like a child. Like… I’m your son. You never saw me… as a man… a man who… who… has always been in love… with you.”

My heart suddenly rose back to life. I felt blood started rushing through my veins again after what he said. Warm tears cascaded from my eyes and nothing could have stopped them. Oh, Manuel. I have loved you so long.

“I have loved you so long, Manuel. But we have our own tragedies in life we have to live with. I’m married to your sister and we have a son. And I love them both. I can never hurt them. I have to always protect them from getting hurt.”

“At my expense,” he once again intervened. “But I’m glad. I’m… glad that I was able to say this to you… tonight… because… at least… I’d die knowing I was able to set my feelings free… and that you, the only person I love, won’t live the rest of your life… with the burden… of choosing between me… and your family anymore. I am going to die… tonight… but I’m going to die relieved… from all the pain… this world has brought me. I will die peacefully… tonight.”

“NO!” I screamed with my remaining energy. “You won’t die tonight! You’re so young, Manuel. There are still so many wonderful things life has in store for you. We’ll fight this together.”

“How can we fight this? We can’t even look at each other,” Manuel let out a soft chuckle. “And… I have accepted my fate. But… there’s one thing… you can still do for me. Something that… will make me happy.”

Silence lingered for a while. Rain started pouring outside the upturned car. Thirty minutes had passed and there was still no sign of rescue. Just like Manuel, I had also succumbed to despair and told myself that if Manuel died, I was going to join him.

“Hey,” Manuel called. “Are you… still listening to me?”

“Yes, Manuel. What do you want me to do?”

“I… I want you to make love to me.”

A brief pause lingered after his words. I asked to myself: did he just ask me to have sex with him? What a weird dying wish. How was he even able to think about sex given our current situation? Has he gone mad or something? Or was he just trying to lighten up the mood and thought what he just said was funny? He sure has his unique ways to shock me.

“What?”

“Ugh,” he sighed. “You heard me. I… want you to have sex with… me.”

“No. I heard what you just said. But I don’t understand it. How can we do ‘that’ if we can’t even – ”

“Close your eyes,” his voice sounded like he was going to do something to me if I didn’t do what he ordered me to. And I liked it, actually. I found it… hot and… sexy. “We don’t have enough… time. I am going to die soon.”

Okay. So less than an hour ago, I was driving with my brother-in-law to Pampanga and then we met an accident and ended up lying on the highway, both of us unable to move, and now he wants me to talk dirty to him? What’s even funnier is I can’t even remember the last time my wife and I had sex.

“Are your eyes closed yet?”

“I can feel that the rescuers are about to arrive and we’re both going to be – ”

“Please close your eyes. I beg of you. Let you have me… for the first and the last time. Let’s share this moment together. You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this to come, to be alone with you beneath a dark, starry sky. Just the two of us. For once, can you treat me like a stranger you can meet anywhere, have sex and fall in love with? What’s keeping you? Your son isn’t here. Ate isn’t here. So what the hell is stopping you!?”

What is stopping me? Ten years ago I asked myself the same question. I was then working at a successful architecture firm in Manila when I was offered a lucrative job in Switzerland. It was an opportunity no person in his right mind would turn down. But I did. Why? I thought maybe someone out there deserves it more than an ordinary person like me with average talents and all. Or maybe because I’m afraid of changes and adjustments. I lived most of my life carefully planning it and so when something happens outside my blueprint, I get really panicky and, most of the time, make the worst decisions. Sometimes, we remain ordinary because we choose to be. And happiness is a decision you make.

So I closed my eyes.

Noonday Heat (1911) By Henry Scott Tuke

“Undress me,” I told Manuel in a seductive tone. “Take off my shirt and my pants and tell me you love me.”

“I’m on top of you now, undressing you,” he replied, “while kissing your neck and loving every bit of your sweet sweat. I love you so much. Caress me. Can you feel those tiny scars on my back? Don’t mind them. My uncle molested me when I was a child. He used my back as an ashtray while he stole my innocence every night. Do you know how scared I was? No one could hear my heart scream of the anger I’ve felt every time he touched me,” Manuel paused. “Now kiss me and suck my tongue. Yes, I have a tongue piercing. It’s a gift my first boyfriend gave me when I was fifteen. Or maybe it’s his gift to himself so every time I’d suck his cock he’d feel it and it would reascertain him how he could easily dominate me and make me do all his wishes.”
“Embrace me and rest on top of me, Manuel. Forget about the past and just… stay here with me as we make the most of this moment. Now, let me lay you carefully on the ground while I kiss you on the forehead to your lips as I pull your underwear down. I love you, Manuel. Let my tongue lick your wounds and make you feel good again. Let me be your slave tonight for all your life you’ve been a slave to different people whose only intention is to hurt you while they try to feel better about themselves. They failed to see the rare beauty inside you I discovered the first time I saw you and talked to you. So I’m not letting you go. If it be sin to love a lovely lad, oh there sin I.”He paused. And then it was my turn.

A sudden hush. No response from Manuel. My heart began to pound fast.

“Manuel?” I called. “Manuel, please don’t die on me.” I could feel my tears filling up my closed eyes as I call his name. Manuel? Manuel? Please don’t leave me now that I have finally discovered life’s my life’s renewed beauty. Now that I finally chose to be happy. When we get through this, let’s run together and forget about the world. Please, Manuel. Fight. Live for me. Live for the times we still have to spend together. Please, Manuel. Please.

A soft, warm gush of wind caressed my face. Carefully, I opened my eyes and released all the tears and sadness that kept in me for a very long time. As lights from rescue cars brightened the area, in front of me was my beautiful angel, welcoming me back to the world with a smile on his lips and tears falling down his sparkling eyes.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

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