Signal Number ∞

Larisse Mondok

No one had cared about me until I reached Metro Manila. Until I creeped into cement homes, seeped into reinforced walls, and pampered pets barked at my muddy water. I stained all furniture in my path. Marble and wood flooring all turned into the same gray-brown.

They didn’t notice me at first, at how I spread, how I avoided the downward dirt slopes where they needed to watch their step, where almost always, a make-shift basketball hoop greeted them by a metal-wrung entrance, the funds of which were grafted by a public official whose family passed down the position to relatives like it was property from a will to allocate. I never even reached the first sari-sari store on the corner, where the Ate charged them a peso more if they looked well-off, but a peso fewer if they were a kid from the nearby public school. I avoided even high areas, on hills and mountains, where they forgot about people who first cultivated land and food, left to fend on their own, only remembered when a corporation wanted to develop the virgin soil into high-rise condos or a factory farm, meant to give them an infinite number of options. They thought I was like the others, that I followed where the Earth falls and rises. They didn’t heed the signs, how I am special, how I am vengeance, how I would, against all odds, come for you.

So when your katulong tells you—her network vast, congregating in the morning market she walks to so your food is fresh every day—there is a flood, and it will come for you. She tells you peculiar snippets now and then—don’t walk in the house without tsinelas or your feet will be overgrown with veins, sleep with wet hair and you will go blind, shower after three and Hesus will send you to hell—but as you scan the news outlets for a typhoon report, the news stays silent, focuses on news abroad, on the latest corruption scandal, on pickpockets targeting foreigners, so you figure she must be wrong, mistaken, uneducated. There is no flood, and why would it only come for you?

But at the latest birthday party for a friend whose family owns a company with a name you can’t remember—the party where people bring the trendiest treats, the newest pseudo-pudding from Japan so delicious another friend talks about shelling money to franchise it, the milky custard so smooth it’s somehow crunchy and melting in your mouth at the same time, and you are cursing yourself for merely bringing something local, which you thought would be enough, but it is never enough, someone will always be better than you, and you are always concerned with this, with this circle, and how you can prove yourself, and you overhear someone say that their driver warned them of a flood, that it will come for us, and everyone began sharing memories of where they were when floods did come, as they often do in this archipelago by a treacherous sea—one said they witnessed a typhoon in their penthouse, watching the flood engulf Binondo below, as strange objects floated in the mud water. Another said their house got severely damaged, so they had to have it redone, oh, the stress of water damage, everything had to be redone, so they just went ahead and renovated their whole house, the design outdated anyway. And you? Where were you? Didn’t the storm’s breeze make you feel sleepy? The sound of rain lulling you to sleep. When you woke up, the world seemed changed, the streets oddly quiet and subdued. You had a craving for champorado and asked the maid to prepare some. You noticed she was like the streets—reticent, silent, and later on you learn she was crying before you knocked on her door, her brother swallowed by the storm, missing, spat out somewhere unknown, or maybe he was forever taken, seized by the flood, digested entirely.

So every time it rains you are now on edge, waiting for a flood to form—only partwater, the rest litter: plastic sachets, gum wrappers, and tetra pack containers—more like a rainbow of angry plastic. But what are you to do? Are you to handle the resettling of Metro Manila? The city too crowded, the urban planning too poorly thought-out, and floods are so common, that you should always expect a body of water pooling in the streets—a river on concrete, powered by pollution and corrupted irrigation. You are safe where you are anyway, and the troubles of the vulnerable and the sick in their lowlands are beneath you. If you leave them alone, throw your litter into trash cans, and recycle what’s clean, you’re entitled to live your life—attend school and parties, but the streets your driver passes are flooding because it is beginning—

I am watching you, promising I will come for you with my body more than half-made of plastic, my muddy waters armored with bright colors to entice purchase and waste. This time, I will slowly and surely come for the safe and sleepy in your cement home and reinforced walls, your pet freshly groomed, the cost of the service more than your maid’s monthly salary—I will bark without waking you, as the water and plastic fill your room, drenching clothes, treasured letters, forgotten keepsakes until I reach you, until I can suffocate you, render your lungs useless, plug up airways, while you’ve been sleeping your life away, as the world ends around you, people’s throats raw from crying for help, you think you hear your maid’s brother for an instant, but you have always been sleeping, you have always been sleeping, and I will come for you, because you have always been sleeping, so please, I ask of you, sleep your life away, as your beloved city asphyxiates, trying to flush itself of poison, because you were certainly never needed and now, you will never wake up.

Larisse Mondok headshot

Larisse Mondok has an MFA in Creative Writing from Cleveland State University and is a VONA Voices alumna. She moved to Cleveland in 2014 from the Philippines, and people ask her, “Why Ohio?” all the time. Her short stories are published and forthcoming in Cagibi, About Place, Marias at Sampaguitas, Jenny and in the anthology, May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sagbin sa Silong from Ateneo de Manila University Press, winner of the Philippines’ 2018 Best Anthology. Follow her on twitter @ubechislarisse.