W.K. Turns 40
Rose Francess S. Raymundo
He was looking at the elephants. Thinking of what could possibly make an elephant look so sad. It was the saddest elephant that he’d ever seen.
It was one in the afternoon. The man was standing near the gate of the Manila Zoo. The air was warm, and light from the sun had the color of gold wine. He watched the elephant take a large heap of dry grass from a pile at the side of the habitat with its trunk. It was going to eat.
Slowly, its trunk moved towards a small mouth that was open. Like a hook on a lorry cable. He was now watching the elephant with much amazement. He was thinking , ‘Its mouth is too small to be real.’ The man turned and looked around him. The zoo wasn’t empty, it wasn’t full, but he saw that he was the only visitor who was watching this elephant.
He wasn’t a tall man, but he had very good posture. He had an imposing figure that reminds one of an artist, perhaps a poet. Dark. Evasive. Mysterious. Always brooding.
He was wearing a starched business shirt. It was light pink. He’d rolled up its sleeves. Black tailored pants and shiny black shoes. He was a handsome Asian, with a really nice haircut. He had a good barber. Only a good barber could make a romance out of the massive curls that you’ve been born with, and make you look like a movie star. Looking at the curls in his hair, he must have a good barber. You could say that.
The man looked at his watch. It was a platinum watch. It was a smart watch with a touch screen. Tracing a circle once around its face would take you to see the time in all places of the world. Two circles would bring you a selection of satellite cameras to view. Three circles would show him exactly what his target was doing, at any given time.
The man didn’t want to know who it was going to be, this time. He wasn’t in the mood to find out. He was an intelligence agent who wanted to see if he still had time for a peacock or two. It was his first time in Manila and it was also his first time to see an elephant. He’d never seen one before today.
He might have been able to have his picture taken with what seemed to be the saddest elephant in the world, if she hadn’t bumped into him and lifted that watch of his, from his right wrist. Ran like a cheetah out of the zoo after. But the man didn’t chase after the thief.
He had some ice cream from a vendor near the gate. The ice cream tasted like candied yams and melted quickly. To him, it was the most delicious purple ice cream that he’d ever tasted. The man decided to rent one of the small boats. He decided to row leisurely on the lake of this zoo, until sunset.
He’d been an agent for twenty years. He was only able to spend five minutes in that American zoo, over ten years ago. Just long enough to seize a traitor. He’d exploded with such a tantrum after he had managed to convince the rogue that it would be best for the running exiled to return to parliament.
‘Yes, I’m a child for wanting to see the animals in that zoo. You’ve never allowed me to have any sort of fun. I’m starting to hate this work that I do for you. If my parents ever find out what’s happened to their son, they’d probably shave their hair, go bald. Do you hear me? They’d both turn into Buddhist monks, I’m telling you. Sometimes, I’d like to be one. Maybe I could be one. If you’d let go of me. I need a vacation. Give me a paid leave or I’ll start working for the communists.”
The man never got the paid leave that he’d asked his superiors for. When he had lost his temper like that, he’d been shipped out of the country. He spent 5 years protecting a Siberian bear. For 5 years he had prevented its capture. Now, a female agent is guarding the bear. Its nails grow diamonds, a well-kept government secret.
His country hides its best scientists inside its oldest polytechnic campus. One of his cousins will be leaving school, soon. Both of them are from the same project.
He is also a well kept government secret. He’d been taken earlier than the rest. He was one of the born imbeciles who became intelligence agents. The others that the agency had taken were now scattered all over of the world. Some are lawyers; some are chefs. Mostly, they work for various political parties. His younger brother became a concert performer.
He had last seen his brother at the university football field. The younger boy was rather effeminate. The man saw that his brother had fallen while trying to score a goal. He watched from the window of the school library as his brother wept, bawling at the center of the field like a girl. He knew then that the younger boy was not going to be an agent.
The man played the violin. He was good at it. He was 21 and his brother was 13. He gave the violin to the younger boy, and because his brother loved him, Chen (his younger brother) learned to play it like a devil.
* * * * *
It was sun set now, in Manila. It was a nice boat ride that he’d had on the lake. The zoo was full of young Filipinos wearing all the colors of the rainbow. The man noticed that Filipinos loved to wear blue denim jeans. Even the young women who were in dresses had denim jeans under their frocks. He found this to be strange, and yet delightful. He’d never been to a country where almost everyone wore blue jeans.
He had not forgotten about the watch that had been lifted, but the heel of his right shoe knew where the thief was, anyway. His left shoe would print out a strip of paper with directions for him to follow. Wherever the thief will happen to be; she’d be sprawled unconscious. The watch she’d stolen wasn’t just a smart machine, it was also a weapon. It could only recognize and answer to the man’s skin. Since her skin wasn’t his, ten minutes from when she’d taken it from him, the watch had rendered her temporarily immobile.
He was part of the Su clan. When his mother was pregnant with him, she’d been sprayed with lethal gas during one of the racial riots that his country just loved to have. The lethal gas wasn’t the reason for why he’d been born an imbecile. His father was a drunkard, a very bad one, too. The chronic alcoholism was what caused the abnormality in him and in his younger brother.
When the projects had taken his sons from him, in order to cure them, the father had taken this as a sign of the existence of a higher god in heaven. The father then became the most pious Buddhist that the Su clan has ever known.
The man has but the vaguest recollections about his mother. He remembers that she smelled like sandalwood and that she wore silk. She had very pale skin and soft hands. He remembers her soft hands. His mother would take his hands in hers. She’d try to teach him how to count in Mandarin. He could hear her but he couldn’t speak.
As a boy, many things would excite him but he couldn’t express himself. He was 8 when he was taken from their home, with Chen.
The man didn’t like remembering his childhood of being dumb. It was just depressing, and he’d just turned forty. He was depressed enough. He didn’t need the additional sadness.
It was sun set now, and Manila was lovely. After he’d had some more of the delicious purple colored ice cream, he went looking for his watch.
* * * * *
Directions from his left shoe has taken the man to an abandoned parking lot, in front of a chain of Manila motels. He’s not particularly interested in his watch, isn’t too keen about retrieving it. He’s aware that he’s beyond schedule, but he doesn’t care.
The man looks around him, notices that there are very few cars on the road, across from where he’s standing. Now, he wants his watch back. He’d like to know the time. Something from across the road stalls him.
There’s a sight that he’d like to see. What stalls him is a large tarpaulin sign. It’s hanging from a window of one of the motels. Because of it, he thinks to himself, ‘Manila is such fun. Wonder why I wasn’t assigned here, long before now,’?
On the tarpaulin sign is a bright picture of a Langkawi themed room. He chuckles. He’s thinking of his home, thinking of the guy who scaled the Petronas with his bare hands. He’d been initially assigned to get that guy, but he’d given the job to a bunch of novices. He’s reminded of his home because he’s the only Malaysian agent who hasn’t been to Langkawi. The man would like to be the only agent who’s ever been inside a Manila motel room that’s made to look like Langkawi.
The sign manages to dazzle the rather simple mind of this Malaysian intelligence worker, and it takes him a long time to remember the watch.
When he finally remembers that he’s out there because he has something to fetch, he finds that he’s dizzy and needs a bit of candy. He ignores what he’s feeling and goes to where the girl is.
She’s sprawled near the farthest corner of the lot. He doesn’t think of reasons to explain why she’s still there. It’s also like this in his country. People tend to mind their own business.
The man sees his watch entangled in the girl’s hair. He sighs. The man gently extricates his watch using an intelligence agent’s special slight of hand. A thought suddenly bothers him, ‘Why did they train us for almost everything? We hardly ever use all of what we’ve learned.’
After he takes it from her hair, he turns his back on her.
‘It’s probably time to know who I’ve been sent here for.’, he says aloud.
He traces three circles on the face of his watch. Nothing. He can’t see anything on the screen. He commands the watch to reset. It reboots and again, he does the three circle bit.
Still nothing. He’s getting annoyed.
He decides to talk to one of the buttons on his shirt
‘Image of whoever, please. On the wall over there, in front of me. Adjust gamma levels on your own. You’ve done this before. I’m tired.’
The button on his shirt works with the tip of his right shoe. It’s this tip that projects the image that he’s asked for, on the parking lot’s wall.
It takes him a few minutes to recognize the woman in the picture.
‘Stop playing with me.’, he tells his shirt button. ‘She stole my watch. This doesn’t make her a target. Come on. Give me the real image, please. You know that I’m never assigned to catch women. I’m starting to get angry. Show me the right picture.’
His right shoe takes the picture from the wall, and his watch beeps a familiar warning tune, for him.
‘You can’t be serious. Really?’, he asks his button and his shoe. ‘Who is she? What has she done?’
* * * * *
The man’s given name is Charles. His mother chose the name, but he’s used to being referred to as WK. 32 years of being WK. 12 years of W.K., the student; 20 years of W.K., the agent.
WK did know a good barber, back home. His barber’s name is Nangyat. It was Nangyat’s job to make him irresistibly handsome, because WK is a vain man, who has a very bad temper. He had to be that sort of handsome so his superiors would always find it almost impossible to ever feel resentment for him, or to ever feel the need to rid them of his tantrums, by any undesirable way. WK wore his curls like a crown.
Ringlets of kiss-me curls are covering his right eyes. WK is squatting beside the unconscious girl and he’s reading a new print out from ‘Left Shoe’. He’s shaking his head as he reads through what’s on the print out. He’s feeling greatly annoyed.
‘What rubbish is this? What’s all this rubbish?’, he asks.
WK… We trust that you’ve arrived safely.
Now, don’t lose your temper, just yet.
Your infamous temper got you assigned to the Philippines.
We’re sorry that you’ve been quite unhappy with us,
for the 32 years that we’ve known you.
The girl, the Filipina is your assignment.
That temper of yours has to go.
WK, you have 10 days to fall in love.
Belated happy birthday, our dearest boy.
The print out was signed, ‘SS. FS&FE’. Sister Superior. Father Superior. Father’s Emissary.
If you were to ask him, they all had these stupid names. Even WK, stood for something stupid.
For the first time in his entire life as an intelligence agent, WK didn’t know what to do. He’s never seen a real peacock, and he’s never been in love. He’d always believed that as part of the projects, he’d been spared from all kinds of worldly rubbish.
‘Our dearest boy…10 days to fall in love…’ , WK loudly repeats some parts of their message. Now, he’s very angry.
‘You know where you can stuff all that. I’m taking this girl to the police. Then I’m going home.’
(to be continued…)