Calle Trece

“Bounce” my homeboy who run odd errands for me tips his baseball cap more often and licks his lips while surveying his hood. It has been a while since we met and catch up on a few things. He seemed more anxious and agitated than before.

Most of the time he is cheerful, greeting me with the usual “wutz poppin!” and I answer back in a similar manner. The time is ten in the evening.

2011’s August is almost over. We are seated in my car which I pulled over so we can talk. I was confused at his unusual behavior considering we are in his turf. After handing over a handful of personal items i asked him to fetch for me.

He inquired if I can do him a favor. I have never declined to any of his requests before and so I nodded in agreement.

“You see homs, we got something going down on the twenty second…” he said.

The idea of a “hit” occured to me. Once in a while, although not more often nowadays, everybody who know the Manila underground knew who “hit” who and for what reason. I thought I was out of the loop considering the amount of work I am putting into my design and press job lately and s o I snapped at him “What?!”

Grinning nervously, he replied, “Chill esse, we got the gang’s anniversary noted down and I need your help.”

Oh. When and what for? I inquired.

“I told you homs, it’s on the twenty-second, I need your help on taking photos and stuff, I don’t got nobody else to trust.” he replied.

I was quick to answer, “Sure, no problem. I’m down with your hermanos.”

He was quick to interrupt ~ “pero homs, this is different, I mean, you know…”

I see the distressed look of his face as he holds back the information. I had to calm him down, “Bueno, if you need my help you got my trust as well. Como esta ba?”

“Simon (yes). Salamat, yo soy bien. Pero our hermanos are coming over, you know… some are on the list” his disposition has turned worse.

I realized the gravity of the situation. I checked my watch and we’ve consumed at least half an hour during the conversation which gave me the impression that he was hesitant to tell me about this “anniversary”. The long pauses and his constant glancing outside the car annoyed me somehow.

Being in the “list” means I will be dealing and meeting face to face with convicts, thugs, gang members who are being hunted down for theft, assault or even worse, murder.

Now it is my turn to feel distressed. I gulped and muttered “I see, bueno, let’s see what we can do.”

“Pero homs, let’s keep this between us or else…” I see his kitten eyes begging for sympathy. The eyes are hopeful yet skeptical…

We shook hands, three different grasps to seal the talk. I reassured him and wished him well. “TST (Temple Street Trece) para vida, no problem homs.”

“Gracias homs, TST para vida.” as he got off and got lost in the dark alley behind me.

On the night of October twenty-two I raced to the 5th floor of the building where the anniversary is supposed to be. I was on the phone with “Bounce” giving me directions prior to my arrival at the venue which was kept hush-hush. Loud speakers were dishing out Cypress Hill, Notorious B.I.G. and occassional Wu Tang tracks. Although I knew who I am supposed to be dealing with I brought a digital slr that night rather than my discreet digital rangefinder. I did not hesitate. I was sure Bounce got the approval of his bosses about this photo opportunity and they all knew it was for the history books. It is their eighty-eighth anniversary after all.

I was introduced to most of the “VIPs”. Formalities were exchanged as well as the usual handshakes. It was all about the handshake. A tell-tale sign of a legit homie. I knew their history enough to be dreaded by such trivial matters and I did not fail to come up with the right hand gestures. Besides, I myself onced belong to a similar group, STS way back when it was still on the highlighted list on each dispatch’s board.

I waited for at least an hour for the gang to settle down and feel comfortable with my presence. A big camera distracts and agitates anyone. I worked my way around, acting as if I’m a casual party photographer innocent of their beings. The gang had a mixed disposition. Some gave me challenging stares, as if questioning the objective of the photograph, some were not worried and even posed. A few would even ask me to join them in the photo. Bounce would often accompany me, a sign to the rest of the gang that everybody’s security is without suspect. This being the circumstance, everybody felt confident about my presence and did not mind showing off their illegally acquired guns, knives and whatever lethal weapon they can manage to hide beneath their clothing. Some brought controlled substance and the party was drowning in alcohol.

I had a few words with some of the older members. Some skipped school just so they can feel the security and attention deprived of them by their parents. Who can blame them? These kids belong to the lower class of society and this short span of camaraderie means a lot to them not knowing they don’t really stand a chance to live on their own after a few years when they’ve outgrown the yearning. Some of the boys will surely end up joining a bigger syndicate involved in illegal goods smuggling, street crimes and burglary. The young girls do not stand a chance either. It’s most likely teenage pregnancy which would eventually lead to walking the streets just to feed their babies or worse, end up dead as a junkhead.

All of this I witnessed and foreseen in just one night as this culture’s phase has gone from one worse level to the next. The inevitable truth of lives lost in battles they do not even understand. With parents ignorant of the facts of life and and not care for the well being for their children of seven or a dozen. These teens found temporary shelter from their socially contemptible families. This gang is their refuge. If at least for a short time they’d feel happy about being carefree then tomorrow does not matter at all. This social acceptance, this temporary relief is the cause of the never ending debate on family values and birth control. Had parents knew of population control, they would be much wiser and would nurture their children better.

With a heavy heart and after about three hours, I exchanged “respetos” to the O.Gs. I quickly got out of the building unharmed. On my way home, thoughts of uncertainty and risks filled my mind as I carry with me digital files of “listed, lost, wasted and hopeless” faces. The next day I thought, it does not matter now, It’s all about their feelings after all…

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