Pietros Val Patricio

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Empire of Memories

"Every end is always a new beginning."

I remember once when I was travelling with my family in the Philippine countryside when I was in the secondary grade, I happened to gaze at the coconut trees and bamboo huts sprawling in the vast rice fields along the road. It was all new to me then because I've just arrived from Germany for the first time. The scenery was different from what I have been used to in the Autobahn. I can still remember the first time I came to see the sight of the Taal Lake when we had our family reunion in Tagaytay. We took a bus liner heading along the South Luzon Expressway. The town itself wasn't actually that big but rather small and laid back. The vast grassland, the warmth of the windy breeze, the natural landscape reminded me of a beautiful dream I haven't had in a long time. Our relatives must have spent a fortune on that occasion because they weren't that rich. Even we couldn't afford that much. We met our relatives in a park overlooking the lake and those were one of the most beautiful moments of my life. They all seemed excited to get to know me. Afterwards, we headed to a spring resort in Laguna. During those moments, I felt something I've never had in my life before, a feeling of belonging somewhere. I've lived my whole life knowing no other family except for my parents and my sister. When I came to the Philippines, that sense of isolation had simply vanished in thin air. And the beautiful landscape of the lake made me proud. The view of the sunset and the setting of the volcanic island in the calm waters of the lake were in my eyes and I was drawn into the state of being absent-minded. The view was captivating. It was nothing I've ever seen in my entire life before. This experience made me feel good about myself. I felt more fortunate than my friends I have left behind since they didn't get to see this. I promised myself that someday before I die, I would like to settle down in this kind of place, something I could be proud of. Too bad, I've missed it my entire life. Instead of experiencing such beauty, I spent my last days living the harsh life of a trauma.

I think nobody knows what Peter looks like. Everyone must have an own perception of him. Just like all souls, we all have a first encounter with him. He is the man who guards the entrance to heaven. It was pretty confusing for me at the beginning because I actually had no idea who he was. I was in an unconditional shape to face him at the time because I've just found out that I died. I could only recall being in a hospital, impatient of leaving right away without even noticing that I was floating in thin air in a slow gesture and everyone did not seem to take notice of me. Without noticing the stillness of my surroundings, I was happy to leave the hospital after being encaged in a room for a long time. I was relieved because I thought I have recovered. The only thing I had in mind was just to get out. At some point, I managed to leave the place ending up roaming around the streets of the city park. I noticed it was at early dusk when I sensed that I was being followed. I stumbled upon a foreign tourist passing right through his face realizing that something was odd. The man was surprised as if a gust of air has come upon him. I was wandering along Manila bay heading towards the sea. Faster and faster, I felt cold inside. Then it became obvious that a dark figure was following me. I knew I was not alone.

"Hey, kid" a fading voice suddenly spoke to me "Where are you going?" It was at that moment when I realized I was actually heading nowhere.

I tried to look around myself but I saw nothing, as in absolutely nothing but I wasn't scared.

"Don't you know," the voice continued "you've just passed away." I did not understand anything at first but at the next moment, just in a single blink, I suddenly found myself somewhere else. All of a sudden, I was in a lightened room. It was illuminated by fluorescent light and I saw an open window right behind me where one could hear the hustle of the streets. I slowly recognized the pile of corpses surrounding me. But the room itself was cold and it smelled like medicine. I soon figured out that I was in a morgue. Then I saw a body at the other corner of the room lying on a stretched piece of rusted metal. Its white blanket cover was probably slipped aside by the wind. I noticed the pale face of a teenager, which eyes were still widely set open. There were flies surrounding its opened mouth and worms were already engaging on its decaying teeth. I saw its fouling, malnourished body, which ribs were already visible. Both arms showed the lasting black marks of dextrose needles. There were bluish spots all over the dead body and its hands and legs were very thin and its nails were already rotting away. The last pieces of remaining black hair were about to fall off from the skinned skull. What bothered me the most was that the head was facing the totally wrong direction, almost diagonally backwards. The rotting body must have been lying there for weeks already for the skin already had a greenish tone. I slowly broke in tears because I realized that the corpse was actually my own.

I knew that I wasn't alone at that moment but I didn't take any notice of it. There was a tall, dark figure standing at the back of the room. It has been watching me the whole time. My body was later piled up among other corpses. I decided to abandon the morgue at once but the shock was too big for me to be able to do anything. The dark figure suddenly reached out to me and I gave a hand. The blurry stature seemed to be that of a man's. It was foolish of me to think of the devil because I was actually wrong. The appearance was actually that of a tall, black man dressed in black, which made him hard to recognize. I only noticed it at the flash of a moment when I gave him a hand. Everything happened too fast. The next moment, I was already in a different place again.

The place seemed very familiar to me. It smelled like stone, dust and cement accompanied by the freezing temperature. It was indeed a meaningful place where I have spent most of my life for it was an underground station of the Berliner U-Bahn. I only couldn't figure out which one since they all looked alike, especially in dreams. The lights were on but no one seemed to be around. There wasn't any elevator or staircase going out nor was there a Kiosk as all stations usually had. I looked up at the electronic table and both time pointers pointed at twelve o'clock. Right next to it were lighted letters that read: U6 Alt-Tegel in 30 Min. Underneath followed Bitte beachten Sie das Rauchverbot. Usually, these reminders didn't bother me much and I always smoked whenever I had cigarettes. I looked at a big map of Berlin like I haven't done in a long time already and recalled the places where I used to hang out. Over the railway, there was a billboard with a cigarette advertisement. I saw the warning beneath noting that smoking is dangerous to the health.

'Scrap it,' I thought, 'almost every second person smokes to death anyway.' The next train would be arriving in about thirty minutes. So I waited on the platform for a long time wondering what would happen next. Then I thought about the man I encountered. In my confusion I started walking around for nothing. The time didn't seem to move at all. I began staring at the bricked ceiling and the railway. Nothing happened. After long moments of waiting, I sat on one of the benches. I covered my face with my hands until I fell asleep.

Moments later, I was woken up by the hassle of the train. The wind has blown in my face like a sudden burst of ice.

Zug nach Alt-Tegel. Einsteigen bitte. Zurück bleiben bitte.

The woman's voice was followed by the constant beeping of a red light until the automated doors were closed shut. I stood inside the train for quite a while. The seats and windows were vandalized, others were badly damaged. I sat down and looked outside. The sight began to fade away as the train went carried on. The train stopped almost every minute or two in stations that I have kept very well in memory: Westphalweg, Paradestrasse, Tempelhof, Mehringdamm. There I was, sitting down heading nowhere. It was like a single peek in memory, going through slices of the past. I didn't feel anything at all. Only memories and pictures, it was like recovering some files of my life. It probably took sometime from Mohrenstrasse on the way to Stadtmitte when the train lights suddenly went out. It remained dark for a moment. Where was I actually heading? And what am I doing here anyway? In any case, there was this serenity inside me and I felt comfortable where I was. I can recall that these trains have always given me peace and calmness despite the presence of other commuters. But this time, I was all alone.

As the lights began to function again, I walked towards the back of the wagon but there was already someone there. It was a common sight I saw at all public stations of the BVG at night. The homeless roam here quite often. Some even die during the peek winter season. The old man looked like a typical pauper one would encounter in the streets. He was sleeping on the seat leaning on the window with his saliva pouring down his long beard through his mouth. Abruptly, urine was streaming down his pants to the floor.

His bald head was shining. His clothes were dirty, torn out and they smelled like alcohol and smoke. I woke him up.

"Was willst du? What do you want?" I seemed to have disturbed him. For a while, he looked at me seemingly irked by my presence. He wiped his saliva. "You must be a ridiculous brat to give me this presence."

What the hell was this dirty, old man talking about? I dropped offin the next station but in my surprise, he even followed me.

To be continued…