Welcome Home

A Short Story

Photo by Alvin Decena Photographyhttps://www.pexels.com/@alvin-decena-gcash-09561687117-224424
Around 3 am, a small crowd a half-a-block away from home piqued my curiosity. The air was dank and humid, thick with smoke and the flies buzzed all over the place. Solemn faces bent over something on the ground. I looked too and saw the familiar face of my 18 year-old neighbor, Edgar, lying on the ground in fetal position on his left; Blood trickled from his swollen eyes to his ears, glistening in the lights from above. His mouth was wrapped with duct tape, and both his hands were bound in the back with thick, black rope. His black short-sleeved dress was torn from the waist down while his legs were riddled with burnt marks. A voice in the crowd said a pedicab had dropped the body not too long ago. The intermittent sobs of a thin, old woman crouched near the body with both palms pressed on her face filled the air. I closed my eyes, exhaled and muttered “Rest in peace Edgar,” before I turned away and walked home head down. The dead boy I passed, once full of life and potential, babysat for the kids and Tita while I looked for work. “These drug people are going after the gays now!” I thought. 

I am Nardo. I take care of three boys and an 86 year-old cantankerous spinster of a cousin with diabetes and heart failure that no other relative wanted to be with. We live in a six by eight foot room in Tondo, Manila. The walls and roof are a patchwork of recycled wood and rusted metal sidings scavenged from abandoned buildings. The ground we live on is reclaimed land. When it is the rainy season, our area gets flooded at times that we would all sleep on top of a large makeshift table made from stacks of plywood. The front door opens to a long, narrow alley that snakes through ten houses before it reaches the street. Power is sporadic. Candles and canned food makes it bearable. A single latrine is shared by all the families living on this alley and we wash ourselves in the open at the only faucet a few meters away from it. Above the door is a small rectangular wood plaque with ‘Home Sweet Home” written in cursive on it. This is my story.

My interactions with gay men have never been great but I was taught to be respectful to everyone. There are times, though, when it is just too much. You see, in grade school, the short-tempered and foul-mouthed vice principal ordered me to undress in his office. I asked why, though I guessed it was because I was always late. Suddenly, he cupped my crotch. I stepped back, clenched my left fist and swung at his face. I was suspended for one week after that incident. Then one muggy, rainy night, I didn’t have enough money to get home so I raised my thumb up on the corner of a busy street. This wrinkled, bald man in a white lab coat offered me a ride. He asked if he could suck my dick for a thousand bucks. I hesitated a bit but I said okay. He parked in an alley then hastily unzipped my pants but I couldn’t get it up no matter how much he tried. He said I needed a shower, told me I will never amount to anything and dropped me off a mile away from my home. There I was, already wet from the pouring rain and having thrown pieces of money at my face. I threw a rock at his windshield. I also assaulted a tall, thin boy close to home because he wore makeup and kept making eyes at me. I followed him to his house, called him out, and punched him in the ribs so hard that a broken bone tore into his lung. I went to jail. The next morning, in a cell at the back of the jail, I got a cold gun stuck into my left buttock, while the officer who knelt in front of me swallowed all that I had. Afterward, I closed my eyes, and hid my clenched fists behind my back though I’d rather have kicked his face flat with my foot and pummel him with all my might. I looked up to the small window wishing I was somewhere else. He gave me his number just in case I needed work or something, then slapped my butt. They like me. It’s not mutual.

The manager of the Rose Tattoo Spa texted to ask if I was interested in working as a masseur today. I replied that I only work with women. Mama Noli texted back, “Really?” Then she asked if I could dance Friday and Saturday nights, which were the busiest. I could make lots of money in only two days of work. I agreed, as long as I didn’t have to deal with men stuffing money in my underwear. Noli shot back, “Really?” I asked if I could be a bouncer instead, a waiter or facilities boy. But Noli replied, “It’s a shame to waste a face and body for just that. Never mind!” I thought I’d wait things out and see if there were any jobs available that didn’t require taking my clothes off. 

My other name, under the smoky haze, stench of beer, and blinking lights, was “Leo.” I had a job working as a stripper at a bar close to the tourist district in Manila. My youngest son got sick with pneumonia and we had no money to pay for his hospital bill. A former girlfriend I ran into told me about a bouncer position open at the bar where she was waiting tables. When I showed up at work on my first night, the fully made-up owner who always wears a red kimono and goes by the name of Pong told me to wait tables in a g-string instead. 
“Hell fucking no!” I replied. 

Pong assured me there was no harm done by going around in a controlled environment scantily clad, as long as the customers were respectful. The thoughts of seeing my youngest, with tears running down his cheeks and hearing his labored breathing as he gasped my name changed my mind. Pong added that if any clients took liberties without my consent, I should report them, and they’d be shown the door. He also gave me an advance to pay my kid’s hospital bills. Weeks later, Pong suggested I dance onstage to make more money. He christened me “Leo the UPS man” on a lark. I got to strip and show off the fruits of the 4-day-a-week gym regimen I’d been on for a few months but the customers wanted me to take them out because they were “lonely.” I decided to bail, much to Pong’s disappointment. During the government riots and curfews, though I wasn’t working for him, he brought me food and candles just to get by. I’d visit him every now and then, have drinks or coffee, but not to strip. 

The phone thrummed a text from the dispatcher of the transportation company that Thursday afternoon about a driving gig the coming weekend. I’d been working odd, temporary and part-time jobs to widen my sphere of opportunities to make money so I jumped at the offer, otherwise someone else would get the work. Jobs had been scarce lately, so the dispatcher and I had an arrangement for her to send me bookings first as a limo-for-hire driver but we have to be discreet about it. Her boyfriend was a cop. I didn’t realize who he was until I saw him come to the shop to pick her up. It was the same cop who maltreated me in jail when I was younger. He is now the chief of the town precinct. I didn’t have the nerve to tell the dispatcher what happened between her boyfriend and me. He’s gotten slow, fat and bald yet he acts like he owns the land he surveys. Now that I’ve grown taller and older, I wanted to pick up a tire iron and pummel him with it but I have three children who rely on me. There was a time when our eyes met when I came to the office to drop a key off after a driving gig. He gazed at me a moment longer before turning his attention to his girlfriend. I just had to make sure to stay away from the front office when he’s around.
I was supposed to pick up somebody named “Renee” at the international airport Saturday morning. She was coming in from San Francisco, USA. I ironed my black pants and white shirt and fluffed my cap. The kids took turns shining my shoes. There’s nothing much they could do at the moment. We didn’t have enough money to send them to school. We live by a box full of crackers, bottled water and at times, cooked vegetables and meat given by charitable neighbors. This weekend’s job assignment was a chance to earn some money so I could feed my family and save some for the future. I had my twelve year-old write “DOMINGO” in black ink on a large white cardboard sign, so when Renee stepped out of the terminal, it would be easier for her to locate me. 

A short, obese person in white linen, long-sleeved shirt with ruffled neckline over tight, low-waisted blue jeans walked towards me. She wore sunglasses with gold frames and dark brown tinted lenses and her hair in a ponytail. A gray-haired man in a light blue porter’s uniform pulled an airport stroller stacked with two large, tightly-taped brown boxes and a brown-checked suitcase emblazoned with the initials LV behind her. She looked at me from head to toe, took a phone out of her pocket, dialed it then snapped at me with her thick fingers.

“He’s here! I can’t believe you people!” She screamed in a thin falsetto voice giving me my first clue that my fare wasn’t really a woman. It is hard to discern anything from people’s appearance nowadays. I had once mistakenly taken this long-haired girl with an hourglass figure and smooth skin to a hotel only to find out she had something extra sticking out of her groin. I walked out rather than get arrested for assault. So I showed the person in front of me the white cardboard. I smiled and asked, “Rene Domingo? Sir?”

He rolled his eyes and hissed, “Who else would be snapping his fingers at someone who’s an hour late? I should’ve taken a cab. You people are so incompetent! No wonder this country will never prosper!” His spit careened onto my shirt. I opened the trunk and helped the porter load the boxes and suitcase inside.

“Ahemmmmm.” He glared at me, with his right hand on his waist as he tapped his right foot. His shoes were black velvet with an interesting silver cross logo below the throat line. 

“Ah, I am sorry sir!” I hurried to open the passenger door and bowed my head. I didn’t really want to see him stare at me again. He plopped his body inside the sedan, still whining on the phone. He reeked of a somewhat lavender and lemony smell that stung the insides of my nose. The porter stood there next to the passenger door and leaned to look through the window. Rene clicked a button and raised the glass. The porter stared at me. I opened my wallet and handed him a ten peso bill.

I remember the days when my parents would send me money— before school and Christmas. They moved to Canada while I stayed behind to finish college. 

“So when do we get to see your mum’s money?” asked Isa.
“We can go to the bank today and see if it’s there,” I replied. I had my arms around her in a pay-per-hour motel in Ermita.
“Can I borrow money to pay for my kids’ school?” She fluttered her eyelashes, and hastily took off the bedsheet to reveal her bosom. 
I looked down at her, scanning the brown flesh, then released my hold on her.
“I’ve given you enough. Besides, you are becoming needier every day. I don’t want the hassle.” 
Isa recoiled, sat up and covered her chest. She looked down, the swath of her black hair covering her face and yelled, “I am bearing your child, asshole!”
I stood, pulled my underpants up and turned around to face her, “You sure it’s mine?” I scoffed. 
“I can do whatever I want with this money, and you will not have any more of it!” I added.
Isa sprang naked from bed and pointed her fingers at me, “I will tell your parents that you spent their hard earned money through booze, girls but no school, you worthless man!”
“Worthless? Me? You know nothing of my parents. All I am is your bank account.” I countered.
“ I was nice to you, helped you get out of poverty, paid for you to learn a trade and now you tell me I am worthless?” I glared at her then I stepped closer and slapped her. “Pak!”
She fell back, grazed the side of the bed, and sprawled on the floor with both her legs splayed apart. I stared at her for a moment while the impact of my left palm connecting with her face reverberated up my arm. Then as a single tear fell from the side of her left eye, I buttoned my shirt, opened the door, and ran.

While on the road to his hometown, Rene rapped at the privacy divider and asked me to lower it down. He talked about his life in the US, he preached to me about catering to the client, and offered to buy me breakfast at McDonald's. I declined. He ordered me to buy at the drive-through and he loudly snarfed two meals on the way. While at a rest stop, he complained that the floor on his side of the car was dirty. It was strewn with half-eaten fries and empty packets of salt and pepper he threw on the floor even when there was a garbage can an arm’s length away so I had to clean it out, which meant bending down, and showing off the band of my black underwear. I didn’t wear a belt, and the whole time I was bent over cleaning, he was standing outside of the car behind me. He had a sheepish grin after I finished the job and I was pretty sure I had heard his phone click twice. Whatever he was doing while my butt was sticking out didn’t bother me. Then we were on our way again but running low on gas. I asked for money, and he told me to stop at the nearest gas station. When he wouldn’t hand me the cash through the divider, I had to get out of the car and asked for the gas money through his passenger window. Rather than giving it to me though, he opened the door, reached out and tried to stuff the money down my pants. I backed up a step and took the money off his hands. He batted his eyelashes at me, grinned and said, “Oh, I am so sorry about that. It won’t happen again.” I bit my tongue for fear of saying something really bad and went on with my business. I kept thinking about the food I was hoping to buy after this ordeal was done.

After driving down a paved, winding road with tall palm trees on either side, we stopped at a green metallic gate with a guardhouse in front. I noticed an endless four foot -tall concrete wall that stretched out from both sides of the gate. Rene pushed his window down and screamed at the guard to let him in. The guard nodded and the gate opened. As we approached the house, a gaggle of people holding multi-colored balloons and a white tarpaulin sign that read, “Welcome Home,” in blue letters greeted us in front of a wooden gate. This was eight a.m. They screamed when Rene got out of the car as if he were a rock star. A majority of them wore makeup but were still built and talked like men. Rene snapped at me, pointed at the trunk then at the house. He alighted in front of his friends. Shouts of “Welcome back, gurl, You look good, Wow look at that outfit!” or even “Did you get your nose done?” ringed around him. The star hugged almost everyone, gave out air kisses, and waved at his friends.

He held court on the patio overlooking the river. Once the gifts were distributed, people left, except for three who stayed and kept him company. I found out later that they had been his best friends since high school. Every now and then, I could feel their eyes turned in my direction, especially those of the thin-faced fully made-up guy with page boy hair. He wore orange short shorts and a neon pink spandex tube top. I felt his scrawny hand brush my right shoulder while he sauntered his way to the bathroom. He turned around, pursed his lips at me, then closed the door, but left it slightly ajar. I just shook my head and played games on my cell phone. His name was Trixie.

Lunch was saltine crackers and soda at the small café overlooking the bridge, about twenty paces from the house. The dispatcher texted and asked where I was because Rene was looking for me. I walked back and there he was, waiting for me at the front of the door, his hands on his hips. 
“Hi, Sir! Did you need anything?” I asked.
“You know, I am this close to having you fired.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything wrong.” I replied. 
“You good-for-nothing laborer!” He glowered, raking me with his gaze from top to bottom. 
“You are at my beck and call. You will stay here in my place from eight a.m. till six p.m., or until I am done with you. I paid a lot of money upfront to make sure that you will always be around when I need you. That’s the agreement I had with your boss. Is that understood, hm?” 
“I am sorry. . . sir!”
“You can eat here if you want. I will fix you some food but you have to be here always until I don’t need you anymore, is that perfectly clear?”
I opened the door for him and replied back, “Yes sir!”
“It’s ma’am, okay? Rene replied, raising his left eyebrow. The others snickered. 
“Oh, Rene darling, he’s so handsome, ala Richard Gomez. Can I have some time with him? Trixie asked as he walked closer to Rene and me. He fluttered his lashes, opened his mouth and slowly licked his lips.
Rene glared at her,“ He’s not for sale!”
A taller and thicker version of Rene, dressed in tight black leotard over blue cotton gauze shirt
stood up from the couch and asked. “You mean he’s yours, sharing is caring.” His name was Zsa Zsa. 
The other one just sat down on the couch in rapt attention to the screen in front of him. I saw white men, all naked in the bathtub stroking each others’ cocks. He was passable as a woman; lithe, shiny black shoulder length hair, ample chest and simply clad in a white tunic over black shorts but missing two front teeth. His name was Sophie.

“Girls, let me make it perfectly clear, I do not serve the help, they serve me!” They cackled out loud. I let out a wry smile and pretended it didn’t affect me. Rene shooed me to the door with his mouth. I was relieved to stay away from the living room and sat outside on the patio. I dozed off a bit only to be awoken by a hand kneading my left thigh. I brushed it off gently and blinked to see who owned it. It belonged to Trixie, the tube-topped one, who was now squatting close to my waist. I must have slumped on my chair while passing the time. His bass voice quipped, “watch your posture!” I nodded politely, acknowledging the lecture. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought he’s about to unzip my pants while I slept. He stood and walked back inside the house. 

This job was getting too unbearable. I knew I would lose my temper and knock someone down. I inhaled deeply, walked inside and got some water from the fridge and yes, another naked white male movie was showing in the living room. This time around, it was Sophie who sashayed to my direction and softly asked me if I would join them on the couch to watch the movie. I declined,  saying that I was just a driver and that it was against company rules to ‘play’ with clients. She reached into her chest, took some bill out of her bra and said, “I could make it worth your while.” I looked down, shook my head and replied with a firm but gentle, “No ma’am! Sorry po!” then turned around and stepped outside with my drink.

“Ay, Suplado!” Sophie uttered in shocked disbelief.

Evening came, I carted Rene and his guests to this seaside resort/bar called “Lola Libido Café.” They tried to get me to drink and sit at their table while they took turns stuffing cash into the g-strings of nubile go-go boys. I played along and had a few beers. This time around, with about six bottles down, Rene made sure I was seated next to him. He took my left hand and placed it on his right shoulder as he leaned his portly body on me. He ran his other hand up and down my back. I got nervous and pried his roaming hand off me. I excused myself, saying that I needed to go to the bathroom. He snapped at Trixie to accompany me. I politely said, “But it’s a man’s bathroom, po.” 

Trixie replied, “I am still a man, okay?” I went ahead of Trixie and took the first open stall and locked it, pretending I was about to retch. Trixie tried to open the door and asked, “Are you going to be there for a while?” I pretended to vomit then sat on the toilet and kept flushing. I also reached out to my dispatcher to see if she could text Rene with the pretense that my family was looking for me because there’d been an emergency with my kids. Trixie was still outside my door, pacing.

A few minutes later, I heard another voice in the room. It was Rene’s. 
“Hey, your kid is not doing well. You should go home to him but take us home first!”

I looked up and muttered, “Thank you, Jesus!” 

On the way back, Rene and his friends had company: some teenage go-go boys they hired for the night. I left the sedan at his house and arrived home an hour and half later in a bus. I stopped by the
store to buy crackers and soda for the kids. After I handed them their food, I was too exhausted to even bother changing my clothes and dozed off the minute my body met the floor. 

That night, I went into a deep sleep. My dreams did not make any sense except for a vivid one with my children.
“Papa, my friends tell me that you take your clothes off at work,” my eldest asked me after I arrived home from the bar one early morning. 
“What exactly do you do?” he added. 
I didn’t know how to answer him but I said, “If they tell you that’s what I do for a living, they are not your friends.”

The middle one butted in,“ We were told that you strip to your underwear and get money for it, is that true?” 
I had to sit down. My cousin and the boys asked questions I honestly couldn’t be able to reply back at.
“What difference does it make what kind of job I have. I work hard to keep all your mouths fed, buy the clothes on your backs and sometimes pay your tuition.” Those words were hard to swallow.

“As long as I am feeding everyone here, don’t ask me anything else about my job, okay?” My voice stern. The boys nodded. My cousin rolled her eyes at me and slowly shook her head. I looked down just to evade their faces. Those questions. Those words. It hastened my decision not to work in the bars anymore. 

I woke up with my hands on my head and winced. All the dizzying lights, the loud throbbing noise, and the beer, among the other stresses from last night, manifested itself into a splitting headache. After sipping hot water and a squeezed lemon wedge while sitting on the only chair in the house, I got a text from the dispatcher. The client had a change of plans. Rene wanted me to extend the job for two more days. We would be going to his friend’s resort two hours up north. The pay would be doubled and the room paid, of course. I fretted over not going back at all and decided I could either say- I had a job already after tonight or I was sick. I figured there’d be a day job elsewhere. I felt a tap on my right shoulder. It was my eldest, his hair sprouting in various directions. His skin was wan. I turned around and acknowledged him with a wry smile. 

“Papa,” his eyes gazed into mine, “When can my brothers and I go back to school?”

I paused for a moment then looked at the other one. I thought of the text on the phone and the money left on my wallet then looked back at my eldest and replied, “As soon I get a permanent job, son.” He looked down then nodded twice and went back to bed. I exhaled deeply, replied back to the dispatcher and changed my clothes. 

Going to the resort proved to be a challenge. The only way to go there was through a small town that had only one paved street that ran from the highway to the market. It was a sleepy town I had not heard of before, although the province it resides in was famous for its white, sandy beaches and pristine waters. Being Sunday, there was some kind of religious procession going on in the middle part of town and traffic was at a stand still. We inched our way to the only traffic light at the intersection and we idled there seemingly forever. It unnerved Rene.

“Jesus Christ!” What’s with this religious crap all over the place? It’s fucking Sunday! Go to church, kneel, pray, then go home and sin again, people!” He continued fuming inside the car while the others preened amongst themselves.
There were some children on the side of the road, who emerged from under a makeshift shed made out of dried palm leaves and bamboo, then went from car to car with their palms up. They were no bigger than my kids. I was curious if they even had parents that looked out for them. The sun was already up. It was humid. The passenger windows were fogged from the cold air inside mixed with the humidity and hot air outside. Rene pounded at the privacy divider and screamed for me to lower the windows so they could all breathe.

Rene and Trixie were seated behind me while Zsa Zsa and Sophie sat across from them in the main cabin. They each wore white cotton shirts with “J’Adore” across the chest in black lettering and short denim shorts. As soon as I opened the windows, the kids rushed to the car and shoved their palms inside. Rene quickly shooed them off. There was no police presence at the intersection and we were at least a half a mile away from the beach. Rene rapped at the divider, demanding that I raise the window again. This time, there were so many more kids pressing their faces into the car’s windows that everyone inside screamed in horror.

Rene turned his face around and bellowed behind me, “Hey driver! Can’t you do something about this?

I took a deep breath, shifted the car into brake, swung my door open to startle the kids and chased after them. They outran me. As soon as I got back behind the wheel again, they returned, faces pressed at the windows once more. I got back out of the car. One particular kid, a boy, a little taller than the rest, clad in a torn, muddied, white tank top, his face smeared with dust and hair caked with sweat, no shoes whatsoever, sneered at me. I glared and shook my head at him, then went inside. He didn’t flinch and stayed not far from Rene’s and my side of the passenger door.

Rene cursed and shooed them off. The others in the car just looked at the kids, and gave Rene a puzzled look. As if he were making a big scene out of nothing. Trixie said, “Let’s just give them some change so they can stop.” Rene was not having any of it. He finally opened his window midway and shouted, “Off with you ugly, worthless mongrels. Go back to the filthy cave you belong to.”

The boy laughed. The others laughed with him as they pointed at Rene and chorused in singsong, “BAKLA! BAKLA! BAKLA!” 

I went out again and talked to the one closest to the car, telling him I’d give his friends money if they stop taunting my passengers. I also told him I am not bakla. Then I got inside the car.

The boy ignored me. He glared at Rene and stuck his left hand out and opened his palm for money.

All I could hear at that moment on the street corner were the voices of the kids ringing in my ear, kids’ voices ringing in my head, “BAKLA!” and “There’s an ugly, fat Bakla in the car, ha ha ha ha,” and “Bading go home. ET go home.”  

Inside the car, Rene was furiously fanning himself and still shouting expletives at the boy who now moved closer.

Suddenly, the boy’s hands went to his crotch. A stream of yellow fluid arced from the boy’s pants and splattered onto Rene’s and Sophies faces and clothes.

“Aaaayyyyyy! It’s piss! It’s Piss!” 
“Oh my gosh, What the fucking hell?”
“Eewwww, it stinks like piss here. Close the window, close the window, Goddamn it!”
“Close the window. Oh my god, it is piss. Close the goddamn window! Ayyyyy!”

At that moment, I saw their shocked and pained faces in the rearview mirror, their hands flailing all over as the sedan shook in various directions.
 “Oh Shit!”

I got out and ran after the boy but he ran as fast as he could. As if he expected me to go after him. He looked behind and stuck his tongue out at me as I tried to catch him but he was too fast. The rest of the children laughed and screamed louder.

“Ha ha ha ha, Bakla got some pee pee!” 

The people around us burst out laughing.

When I got back to the car, the windows were down again and Rene and his friends were busy wiping themselves off. Rene was still cursing up a storm. The stench of urine wafted out of the car. When he saw me, Rene yelled  that I should bring their bags from the trunk so they could change into new clothes. I opened the trunk and took out a few wash cloths and bags and offered them to the car’s soaked occupants. Rene closed his window. I turned around to wait and thought, “How am I going to explain this to the dispatcher and owner?” 

A few minutes later, now clad in a black off-the-shoulder top with loose sleeves, black shorts and silver thongs, Rene got out of the car, slammed the passenger door, stamped his right foot, nostrils flared, and pointed at me, “YOU ARE FIRED!”

My jaw dropped and  realized that I am going to lose this job, “I am sorry, Sir. It’s not my fault.”
“I am so sorry, sir. It’s not my fault!” The old, short and gray haired college Dean apologized after he fondled my crotch when I came to see him about changing the failing grade in my accounting class to a pass. I needed it to finish my sophomore year. He was teasing, you see. I knew where this meeting was going with the drapes down and the windows shut on a Saturday afternoon. The roar of the old air conditioner in his office was unbearable. He was unbearable. If I gave in to his advances, I’d be selling my soul to the devil. My classmates knew and warned me about him. I clenched my fists and swung at his face with all my might and left. 
There went the accounting degree. 
It was the end of college. 

“It is totally your fault, you good-for-nothing peon!” Rene jabbed his finger at my chest. He glared at me and turned back to his friends, “Let’s go girls, I will never pay this guy’s agency for his stupidity.” 

The others quietly got out of the sedan then walked over to the corner about nine meters away and waited at the side of the road until they flagged a jeep to go to the resort via a different direction. I took the rest of their things out of the trunk and brought it all to where they stood. The thought of four sets of hungry eyes staring at me flashed into my mind while on the way to the corner.

As I handed Rene his bags, I looked him straight in the eye.
“Please sir, I’ll do anything for you. Let me make it up. It will be worth your while.” I stuck my tongue out to my right lip and gave him my comely smile. I winked at him.

He yanked his bags out of my hand and narrowed his eyes at me.

“You think you are all that?” He motioned his left hand at me from top to bottom. “Why did you think I chose you among all the rest of the drivers available for this gig?” His voice trembled. “My cousin said you were hard up so we wanted to give you a chance to make money!” 

I can’t lose this gig. I have no money. I don’t care about me but my kids. I had to do something quick or I would lose any respect my children had on me. I pictured someone I had fucked recently, and get hard to show Rene what I could offer him. I willed my cock soon enough that it got hard that I had to adjust my crotch in front of him. I saw Zsa Zsa whisper something to other girls before they stared at my crotch. I walked over to the others and handed them their belongings then pressed my left hand on my crotch to show them the outline of my hard on. I thought, “I don’t care anymore. If I had to fuck all of them, I will, just so I can feed my children.” 

Rene followed behind then quickly stood in front of me. He rolled his eyes and raised his voice, “So what if we were all going to suck you dry or make a meal out of you? 
You should have been more accommodating! 
We have the power here. You don’t!”
Rene inhaled deeply. He motioned his lips at everyone to go to the waiting jeep.

But before they all boarded, Trixie and Zsa Zsa whispered to Rene. I overheard, “I pity him. Let’s give him some gas money.” I turned around and walked to the car and was about to get inside, Trixie and Sophie rushed from behind me.

“Sir, wait a second. We have something for you,” Trixie looked up at me.

Zsa Zsa walked behind her and added, “We know it’s not your fault! Things happen. Here’s something to get you home.” 

They both looked at me empathically and handed me wads of crumpled paper, turned around and ran back into the jeep. I watched the jeep pass me as I shoved the paper into my pants pocket and waved at them. I looked around. The kids were now gone yet people were still staring at me. Traffic cleared up this time. I turned around and drove back home.

I kept thinking about how to tell my kids and cousin that there would be no food on the table tonight. I remembered when those nights became frequent. “Papa, my stomach hurts. Please let’s buy some crackers,” my youngest whined when I came home one early morning from a night with friends at the local bar. Before that, I’d lost some of my earnings from the construction site where I’d spent the afternoon with a fresh-out-of-the-provinces dancer with the widest booty and pluckiest thimble-like nipples. There’d been some blood smeared on the corner of the table after I’d roughed it in her. She’d sobbed uncontrollably and told me she needed some money to pay the recruiter or she’d be thrown out on the streets. I gave her money and left. Then I took my friends out to the bars for some fun. I thought I had enough money to buy food for the kids but ended up with nothing but bus fare. They were left in my care when each of their mothers didn’t want anything to do with them and abandoned them at my doorstep. I couldn’t get in touch with any of the women after that. I had no choice but to take care of the boys. They were my flesh and blood.   

On my way to bring the car back to the agency, I called and told them what had happened. The owner told me to drop the car off at another shop. He also added to never show my face at the office.

Walking home later that evening, I asked myself, “How could this mess possibly be my fault? Don’t shoot the messenger. How would I know that the boy would piss at those miserable faggots? How dare Rene insinuate he had power over me? Who the fuck did he think he was? Just because you had money, you could do whatever you wanted? 

“Why, lord?” I asked, looking up at the sky. Why did my life revolve around these people? Why couldn’t I just meet other, more normal people to deal or work with?

I was depressed about how I was going to feed my children. I should’ve just gone along with Rene and his friends. What did I have to lose? A little manjuice here and there? Back in college, when we, the ‘Dako’ boys, ran out of funds, we would ask if any of the old gays and lonely matrons needed some company and got paid for it. Obviously, it would cost them more if we dropped our pants. This situation was no different but I thought I’d outgrown this part of my life. Why does it keep haunting me? Maybe I should go back to the mamasan at the massage parlor, kept my mouth 
shut, and haul in all the bills pushed at my crotch by those touchy-feely, leering gays and 
matrons. Or go back to the construction site tomorrow and see if they have any jobs for me. I could also stop by the pier right now and see if they needed someone to help drop the early catch at the market. 

Before I knew it, I was right in front of our door. I looked up and noticed that the “Home Sweet Home” sign was gone. The door was slightly ajar. My 89 year-old cousin greeted me with a glare, looked at my hands, and declared, “Do you have any money so we can eat?” My children were still up. The little one was clutching his stomach.

Sighing, I took my wallet out only to see it only had two pesos, not enough to buy anything. I felt my left thigh and realized I had put some wads of paper into my pocket earlier- paper I’d gotten from Rene’s friends. My hands shook as I straightened all the pieces. I realized the paper was real money. A hundred dollars, not peso, total. It was four times the amount I was going to be paid.  

I looked up at the ceiling and closed my eyes for a moment. Things flashed by so vividly: I remembered the kid’s voices at that corner. “BAKLA, BAKLA!” Then images of Rene’s angry face pointing at me screaming, “YOU ARE FIRED!” And the pained faces of my parents when I confessed to squandering the money they sent me with no college diploma to show for it. I also remembered mama clutching her heart, her eyes wide, and how loudly she wailed when she found out I had sired three boys from three different women.

My knees trembled when I lowered myself on the plastic chair close to the door. My throat was dry.
 After all the trouble I went through, tears fell down from my eyes. I swiftly covered my face with my hands and inhaled deeply. I didn’t want anybody to see me cry. 
Then below me, my youngest, stretched up, with a frown on his face and said, “Papa, why sad?” 
I reached down and gently hauled him into my lap, gave him a tight hug and exclaimed, “Let’s eat!"

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