Five Hearts Chapter 1, Security
Chapter One: Security
A million disparate thoughts raced through Jabez Waldo’s head. He felt his body tense up as he stepped off the jeepney (Philippine public transportation reminiscent of WW2 US army vehicles) and walked toward No. 8, Bamba Pera street.
His heart pounded loudly and rapidly. To calm down, he repeatedly said the name of Jesus in his head. Not that he believed in Jesus, in fact, he hated church. But the mantra usually worked. Who knows, he figured, it might even keep him from hell. Everything around him overwhelmingly reeked of hell.
Jabez had his suitcase in one hand and wore his backpack, the strap of which he held with his other hand. He tired easily. He blamed it on his stressful job at a call center, where he took the midnight shift. But the sudden pangs of fear at the prospect of any new situation left him overtaken. A million disparate thoughts filled his brain. He paused from his walk, sat under a tree and took 10 minutes more to repeat his mantra. Jesus, Jesus.
When he calmed down, Jabez stood up and grabbed his things. The cacophony in his mind silenced, and he could manage a confident demeanor. Jabez was good looking – fair skinned with a well framed body. He never exercised and actually was not physically strong, but he had this gift for eating anything and everything without gaining weight. He knew that looking good helped him appear to fit in with a world where even the slightest, innocuous thing could leave him feeling face-punched.
Note: You may want to begin with the prologue before reading Chapter one. If so, go to the link below. Then, you can come back here and finish Chapter one.
Finally, Jabez reached house No. 8 on Bamba Pera street. The house was surrounded by a 10 ft. tall, concrete wall, and topped with another four ft. of barbed wire. He noticed a CCTV camera at the black metal gate, which was actually a garage door with a smaller door for pedestrians to enter through. The gate and the door were robotically welded. There was no opening he could peer into to see what lay within.
He learned of the place through Vilma, an officemate at TimeCore, the call center where they worked. Vilma said there was a lot of gossip about the landlord’s ways, and tenants never stayed long, so lodging was a sure thing.
Some people said the landlord was crazy and blamed it on his eyes, which resembled those of a tarsier (Philippine primate). They said he was teased and bullied as a child and ended up living a strange, solitary life.
Others noted his extraordinarily elongated fingers, which, according to a former maid (who was now working for a new boss two houses down the road) insisted became webbed at night. The same maid said he played an invisible piano and real music emerged from it. The new boss of the maid, however, had doubts about the maid’s state of mind.
Still others said that they were very sure that the landlord kept live insects in jars like pets. They claimed that he had accumulated 85 jars so far. But they didn’t know what he fed the insects.
Jabez didn’t care about rumors. All he knew was that the place had a private, air-conditioned room with a bathroom, and that it was dirt cheap. Most important of all, it was available.
Jabez stood in front of the gate of the dwelling and rang the bell several times. No one came to the gate. Then, he noticed a slot opening on the door, revealing a solitary eye peering at him. “I’m Jabez Waldo. I called earlier,” he said to the eye. The eye behind the peephole stared at Jabez for an uncomfortably long time.
“I’m here about the room,” Jabez said. The peephole slot shut and there was only silence, and a distinct feeling of the passage of time. It was hot. Jabez looked around.
Curious neighbors behind him pretended to be busy, but they seemed to be stealing peeks at him. An old woman with a unibrow was running a sari-sari store. Her store — a common, ramshackle Filipino “street corner” store in the Philippines — sold basic needs -- shampoo, detergent, soap, and toothpaste in small affordable packets; canned food, cookies, candies, cigarettes sold by the stick, beer, soda poured into a plastic bag with a straw, load for mobile phones and anything else that the people in the area need or wanted. The unibrow lady did a very good impression of feigned disinterest but was watching him from the corner of her eye.
Jabez heard a loud sound of metal upon metal. Finally, the small door on the gate opened, and the man told Jabez to come in. “I’m Kit Kultihim,” the man said, shaking Jabez’s hand.
Tarsier, Philippine primate
Sari Sari store
Kit wore round glasses, a loose white T-shirt and shorts. “Come with me.” The neighborhood was not great, but Kit had a fine piece of land. The grass was green and the yard was large, with a solitary acacia tree near the side of the garden.
Jabez walked towards the house. It was built like an old Spanish dwelling and seemed to have seen better days. As he approached the house Kit said, “Not there. Never there.” Jabez noted a curious stench, similar to a blend of raw sewage and rotting cantaloupe, that seemed to emanate from the dwelling. Kit waved his hand, as if to say, “follow me.”
Jabez was led to a smaller place at the farthest corner of the garden, east of the Acacia tree. “Your place is here,” Kit said. It looked newer than the big house and, when opened, it appeared unused. It was exactly as Vilma had described — a bed, an air conditioner and a bathroom.
“I don’t let people into the big house,” Kit said. “If you have questions or if you need me, you have my cell phone number. If you need to heat up any food, I suggest you buy a microwave, or you can build a ground oven. If the Maori in New Zealand do it, so can you. There are lots of teaching videos on YouTube.”
“Yeah,” Jabez said, “No worries.”
“Do you have a smartphone?” Kit asked. Jabez replied, “Yeah.” “Okay,” Kit said, “because my house is electronically coded and it can only work with a smartphone.” Kit pulled out his phone and sent a text message to Jabez.
“This is the code for the gate. It locks and unlocks electronically. You have to memorize it immediately and then delete the message. I change the code every week, but I’ll let you know the new code when it’s changed.”
Jabez put his bags on the bed, pulled out his phone, and got the coded message. Kit looked at him, waiting. Jabez looked up at Kit, then he looked down at the coded message. “I got it,” Jabez said.
Kit stared at him. Jabez read the code to him out loud. “JQ1134LMX242Y”.
Kit nodded, saying nothing, still staring at Jabez. Jabez uneasily looked at the code several times, trying to memorize it. “JQH” Jabez began. “Wrong!” Kit said in an unmistakably authoritative voice. “Again.”
Jabez looked at Kit and saw the intensity of his eyes, like two flashlights, behind the round lenses. He looked down at the code. “Oh right, it’s 11. So it’s JQ...”
“You’re looking,” Kit said. “No cheating.”
Jabez looked Kit up and down. The man was thin, dark - skinned, with semi-bulging eyeballs beneath the round eyeglasses. Jabez wondered whether Kit really needed those eyeglasses or if he was just sensitive about his eyes.
Kit said, “Well?”
“Oh yeah,” Jabez said. He looked at the code. He tried dividing the code in groups and making sentences with the first letters, then connecting the number groups to familiar things –dates, ages, anything. Then he started whispering it to himself over and over again, trying to get it right before reciting it to Kit.
“When memorizing, just a friendly tip,” Kit said. “Don’t move your lips. You’ll never know if there are lip readers around you.”
Jabez looked up, surprised, and saw that the man was serious. “OK,” he said. He memorized the code, careful not to move his lips. Then he looked at Kit and said, “JQ1134LMX242Y.”
There was a look of semi-approval in Kit’s eyes, but he was still waiting. “Did I forget anything?” Jabez asked. Kit looked at Jabez’ phone, his face hanging in exasperation.
“Oh, sorry,” Jabez said as he pretended to delete the message. Kit grabbed the phone from Jabez and checked it. Kit was leaning on the doorjamb of the room. He tapped the phone on his head, thinking deeply. Then, unconsciously, he began tapping the phone on the doorjamb. Tap, tap, tap. Like Morse code. The tapping grew louder and louder.
Old Filipino Spanish house
Jabez grabbed the phone. “Uh, this is expensive,” he said, trying to hide his irritation. He looked at Kit and smiled. He knew from experience that people softened easily when he smiled. That and his good looks were imminent to survival in a strange and alienating world.
Kit stared blankly back at Jabez. Jabez recited the code three more times without looking, then he deleted the code. Kit looked at the phone, pressed a few tabs to make sure it wasn’t hidden anywhere, then gave Jabez back his phone.
“Look,” Jabez said, “I like my privacy. You don’t have to check all my other messages on the phone.” Kit said, “My safety is in your hands and yours is in mine. If we stick to the rules of the code, we’ll get along just fine.”
There was something about what Kit said, the way he said it, the rhythm behind the phrase, that rang a bell with Jabez. The feeling left him uncomfortable and fear ran through his heart. But Jabez repeated his mental mantra, Jesus, Jesus, to stop his thoughts from running deep.
Jabez looked at Kit’s hands and noticed that, true to the rumor, the fingers were extraordinarily long. He imagined them webbed and thought they would make great fly swatters. Jabez felt like a fly.
The two men stood looking at one another. Kit was feeling perfectly comfortable in his zone, and Jabez was wondering what he should do next. He pulled out his wallet and paid Kit the two months’ advance security deposit.
“Thanks,” Kit said, putting the money in his pocket. “Well, feel at home,” Kit said, still leaning on the doorjamb.
“Well, I guess I’ll unpack,” Jabez said, hoping Kit would get the message and leave.
“I have to watch you unpack. I have to make sure that you don’t bring any harmful chemicals or illegal drugs into the property,” Kit said.
Jabez said, “I smoke and I drink. That okay with you?”
“Yeah,” Kit said. “So do I.” He did not budge from the doorjamb.
Jabez unpacked. He knew he was at this man’s mercy. Jabez put his pants and shirts in the cabinet. Kit checked the pockets of some of Jabez’s clothes as he pulled them out to be sure they were empty.
Jabez said, “Maybe I should have brought a police clearance with me.”
Kit said, “Nah. In the Philippines, documents can easily be forged. But what can you do? Even in this world of electronics, no matter how much you hate them, you can’t live without documents. So I minimize my dependence on them.”
Jabez set his towels in the bathroom. He pulled out his bedsheets and pillows, socks, shoes, briefs. Everything was in place, and the bags were empty.
When Kit was certain that he checked everything he walked away, saying, “I don’t need to check your wallet. I believe that people deserve their private space.”
Jabez closed the door and locked it. He had to sleep because he was going to cover the graveyard shift at TimeCore. He grabbed an Ambien from his wallet and crashed on the bed.
Thank you for having read this far. This is a work in progress, and I would be deeply grateful for your comments, particularly criticisms and pointers for improvement. Namaste.