10-21-14-5-31-43: A Short Story

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Saturday, April 12, 2008 with 2 comments

It was the late afternoon of August 23, 2002. Ruben Manahan stepped out of the city library and was walking his way to where he lived at just the end of the road. He was holding a bundle of tabloids that he needed to work with at home, cutting clippings from it for the library's newspaper section. At the topmost was the day's daily. He glanced at it and took notice of the six winning numbers of last night's draw: 5-10-14-21-31-43. Directly below it was the eight-digit pot money: Thirty-three million pesos. He read further down: One lucky winner. "Now that's a lot of money," he said to no one in particular. Right there and then something started bothering him that he found himself figuring out what it could be, but all he got was his stomach growling in return. "So it's just you," he smiled, patting his belly. "Gonna be satiating you up when I reach home."

The neighborhood was noisy when Ruben reached the end of the street. As the sun was starting to simmer down along with its hues in the distant east, it was the beginning of life for most in the squatter's area where he found home and solace. The night's workers, the magdalenas and their mamasans, were marching like majorettes with overdone makeup. There were some tambays having a drinking spree over Aling Mameng's carenderia, the store where he usually went to when he was broke. They were clustered on a corner, talking about politics, women, and their other women. "Uy Ruben, balato naman ng pantoma," someone cried out from behind. He acted as if he never heard him. He simply never wanted to waste away his hard-earned money for just a shot of alcohol and his precious time singing videoke all throughout the night. He went his way down the eskenita. It was littered with children--most clothed in hand-me-downs, others bare-naked--all the while playing with candy wrappers and dealing them like real money. The older of them were sniffing solvents to ease away the calling of their hungry tummies, numbing their senses to the pathos of their environment. Ruben faced the same scene every day and every night that he forced himself to be acclimatized to survive the kind of place that he had.

He reached his home and fumbled for the keys in his pocket while his other arm supported the bundle of papers. At the door was written his self-made greeter, Home Swe t Home. He noticed that a letter was pulled off from one of the words. "Naku, ang mga tao nga naman talaga," he blurted out. "I'll need to put an E there or else my neighbors will say how barok I am in English. Home Swet Home." He laughed at his own remark. When the door was opened, he switched on the light. He gazed at the whole room that he had lived in since he came to the Big City three years ago, leaving behind him a simple barrio life down South. There was a 14-inch black-and-white TV near the dining table, a GSM, galing sa magnanakaw, that he bought at a quarter of the price. Adjacent to it was his bed and to the right was the kitchen; there were no walls separating all these. "Who'll care?" he remembered saying when he first moved in.

He placed the bundle of papers on his bed and went to the table as he was ready for dinner. After removing the plastic that covered his meal for the night which consisted of tuyo, bahaw, some tomatoes, and a pint of suka, he turned on the TV and routinely tuned it to the six-o'clock news. It detailed the stories of the day: the terrorism in Mindanao, a massacre nearby, dirty politics, corrupt officials. "What's new?" To him it was as if the same thing was happening all over again.

While he was taking his time munching on a dried galunggong, the winning numbers of the lottery were being flashed on the TV screen, this time in the correct order in which the digits were drawn: 10-21-14-5-31-43. He read back the numbers in his head. The thought that bugged him earlier became clearer to him now. "10-21-14? oh my God!" He could not believe it. "Oh my God!"

He felt every hairstrand rising, his heart pounding so hard that he had difficulty breathing for a time. He stood up, not minding the specks of rice on his lips and his fingers. He rushed brusquely to the bed, tumbling back the chair he was sitting on. "I waged on those numbers three days ago." He remembered he kept the lottery ticket that he betted his 10 pesos in under the bed together with some of the clippings he had cropped for the library. He knelt down and grabbed the papers stashed there; he was throwing everything asunder. "I'm a millionaire! A millionaire!" He became ecstatic, almost crazy-like. Then all of a sudden a loud laugh filled the room. "Hahahaha!" he exclaimed upon finding the ticket beside the chair that fell down. "At last!" Hastily he read the numbers: "4-10-12-21" his face turned morose. "This cannot be?" he said. He caught another set of numbers in the periphery of his vision, 8-23, but he ignored it together with everything that was printed on that piece of paper. In his anger he tore it into pieces and threw it away. "This simply cannot be!" He stayed on the floor, touching his forehead with both of his hands. He slid them back, pulling his hair.

"I betted on those numbers. It's my mother's birth date for crying out loud!" he shouted. "June 31, '43. See? Just turn these letters into numbers and you'll have 10, 21, 14, and 5. Join 31 and '43 and there you have it." He was like a teacher explaining to a gradeschooler how he claimed to have gotten the right combination for the thirty-three million prize money. "Where can it possibly be?" he was now sobbing like a child.

He lost all hope of ever finding his only way to richness and realized how he made a fool of himself. He stood up, composed himself and thought of cleaning the mess he had made. He started off toward the bed when he stepped on a piece of white paper. The numbers 5-10-14 glared at him. His heart began to beat a little bit faster again; his face lighting up. He jerkily moved his left foot that covered the remaining numbers, and there it was: 21-31-43. "Hahaha! Yahoo! I found it!"

He dashed to the TV in the hope that the numbers were being flashed still, but it showed a Tagalized Mexican soap instead. "Good Lord!" he said hysterically. The daily that he brought with him home came to mind from out of the blue. He rushed to the bed and tore it from the rest of the ream. He studied it carefully, glancing from the tabloid first then to the ticket next, one number at a time. He let out a gasp. He was indeed the lottery winner. "One lucky winner," he read the paper again. "Thirty-three million pesos all mine! Haha!"

To be continued...