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Fiction

Rectokado

Hermoso wakes up wishing he had a different life.

He flirts with getting hair replacement therapy as he combs over his bald spot in the mirror. He is 45, has two teenage daughters who won?t listen to anything he says and a wife who refuses to have sex with him anymore. 

?By the time our next child enters puberty, I?d be too old and wouldn?t care for all the teenage angst in the world,? she said last night when Hermoso popped the question to her in bed. She turned away from him and promptly started snoring.

Hermoso daydreams away his day at the office while in front of a computer making figures balance with each other. His eyes are still glazed over when the company vice president, the president?s son fresh from graduating college, enters Hermoso?s room and asks him to take over a report, a report he is supposed to give his father in a few days.

?Sir, respectfully, I haven?t made a report like this before,? Hermoso softly tells the president?s son.

?Well, you better figure something out or else you?ll be out of a job,? the company vice president says before walking out the door. Outside the room, he slips his hand around his secretary?s waist and grabs her ass. 

Staring at the documents stacked on his desk, Hermoso decides to call it a day and start working on the report the following morning.

Instead of going home after work, Hermoso drives to Claro M. Recto Avenue.

Claro M. Recto Avenue, Recto for short, was dubbed Recto University for having several schools located along its length. It also earned the moniker for being the place where you could obtain fake diplomas, passports, receipts, and other important documents.

After descending from the train station, Hermoso looks around for the telltale signs advertising Recto?s services. He approaches a stall emblazoned on its side with posters trumpeting ?We Make: Diplomas, Passports, Baptismal, Any Kind of ID?s, Signature? and ?We Buy and Sell Anything.?

Hermoso peers around the side panel of the stall and finds nobody there. As he looks around, a hooded man approaches him.

?Sir, you?re looking for official documents?? The hooded man asks Hermoso.

?What I want is quite different from a document. What I want is…?

Hermoso pauses and looks around to see if people are nearby. After finding none, he moves closer to the hooded man and whispers into his ear.

The man nods and brings out an old cellphone unit without a touchscreen. He messages someone and waits for a reply.

?Come with me.? The man motions for Hermoso to follow.

Hermoso realizes that this man is a runner who brings customers to where the real forgery is done.

After following him through a maze of side streets and alleys, Hermoso stops before a nondescript door. The hooded man makes a series of knocks on the door like a message in Morse code. The door opens. The hooded man steps aside and tells Hermoso to enter.   

Inside the room, a shopkeeper behind a counter shows Hermoso a catalogue of identities he can choose from.    

Hermoso chooses one with the following details: 20s, good looking, hot wife, no kids, high-paying job, and lives in a mansion.

?Do I keep my name?? Hermoso asks the shopkeeper. ?My father wanted to name me Hermes after the Greek god but changed it to Hermoso to make it sound Filipino.?

?Of course, sir, you get a new name with your new identity but the name is attached to the identity. The name cannot be changed,? the shopkeeper says.

He points to the name under the catalogue number of the identity Hermoso has chosen. ?Are you satisfied with this one, sir, or do you want to choose another identity??

Hermoso glances at the name. ?Paul is fine. It sounds generic but at least it?s not old-sounding like Hermoso.?

Hermoso wakes up the next morning as Paul.

He turns to his side and sees a bombshell wife named Vicky, her luscious breasts heaving under the blankets. In the bathroom with a walk-in closet, he admires his reflection in the mirror: a male model?s body, a face from a magazine cover, and a head full of brown hair.

This is the life, Paul thinks as he splashes water on his face. Drying his face with a towel, he looks forward to his work day as one of the top executives in the Philippine office of a Fortune 500 company.

The next week, Paul returns to Recto.

The shopkeeper behind the counter is surprised to see him return.

?I want my life back,? says Paul.

?Why is that, sir? Aren?t you satisfied with the one you?re living right now??

?It was great for the first few days. Had sex with my wife every night. Went out after work with friends at high-end clubs. Went home to a mansion too large for two people to live in. After a while, I got tired. Tired of my wife who nagged me about getting plastic surgery she doesn?t need. Tired of my friends who talked about stuff I didn?t care about, like how many strokes under par you got at which golf course. Tired of my house whose only voice I heard other than my own or my annoying wife?s was the unnatural voice from the Intercom whenever I wanted food brought to the dining room.?

?Okay, sir. You can choose from the identities listed in the catalogue. We have new selections since you last came here,? says the shopkeeper.

?I don?t want any of those. I want my old life back. I want to be Hermoso again.?

?Sorry, sir, that?s not possible. Somebody bought it a few days ago.?

Paul slams his hands on the counter. ?How did that happen? I thought you counterfeited lives, making up new identities??

The shopkeeper raises an eyebrow. ?Sir, I never said that. We buy and resell.?

By Cesar Miguel Esca?o

Cesar Miguel G. Esca?o lives in Tacloban City, Leyte. Before moving to Tacloban, he was a newspaper reporter for BusinessWorld and a college English teacher at the Ateneo de Manila. He contributes feature articles to newspapers such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Manila Bulletin and magazines such as Going Places and Mabuhay Magazine. He was a fellow for fiction at the 56 th Silliman University National Writers Workshop in 2017. His story, ?Little Star,? was named Honorable Mention at the 2018 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards by Philippines Graphic Magazine. His story, ?An-An,? will be published in the Best of Lamiraw (2004-2016), an anthology of the Lamiraw Creative Writing Workshop of Eastern Visayas, by Katig Publications.

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