“Hoy Buloy, nasaan ka man,
Siguradong hindi ka namin
Tomas Mercado Jr. alias Junior contemplated his options.
His younger brother Honesto had been buried a month ago. Oni was only fourteen when he was found dead in a grassy area of the Valenzuela public market. The child had been bound by duct tape, with a cardboard sign that said: PUSHER AKO HUWAG TULARAN.
Junior knew full well that Oni was innocent. The boy was a hard worker – a good kid. He wondered why his parents, often opinionated about their neighbors’ lives, was silent about how Oni died. They grieved, yes, but Junior also felt that they have washed themselves of all responsibility.
Leaving everything, all the guilt and pain… to him.
Besa and Tomas Sr. never quite lifted a finger when Junior began selling drugs. Their silence suited Junior well: he could do what he wanted. He could ‘rent’ out their shack as many times as needed, daily. Only Oni was clear-headed enough to complain about the stinking bodies that invaded the sanctity of their home every single night.
Junior made sure that he gave each parent at least 500 pesos every few days. He peppered everyone with small gifts whenever he could afford it. His father, Tomas Sr., always had enough cigarettes and rum on him. Besa is a veteran gambler who loved nothing more than to spend a few hours with her ‘amigas’ playing tong-its after a long day at the public market. While Besa made sure that she never touched her small capital for the market next day, she pocketed much of what Junior gave her, leaving Oni, their youngest, with almost nothing.
Junior often wondered why his parents never bothered to enroll Oni again in the local public school. Oni stopped going at fourth grade and began helping Besa and Tomas Sr. at the public market.
Besa always mumbled about “school expenses.” Tomas Sr. laughed off the idea, saying that he finished only first grade and didn’t need ABCs to get a wife and make kids. Junior himself stopped schooling at sixth grade – pulled out by his parents, too.
Every night, the four walls of the Mercado “mansion” became a haven of methamphetamine users, each with a story to tell. Junior got to know a few of them.
Jun-boy graduated to methamphetamines after being hooked on rugby for years, beginning age six. He worked for a small grocery during the day, nicking a handful of items every few days to help with the upkeep of his habit. Dennis was the fifth child of an ex-captain who hated school with a passion. Rona, age 19, was heartbroken and was using methamphetamines to “dull the pain.”
The air inside the house contrasted heavily with the air outside. Outside, you can smell the garbage and sewer but you can also occasionally catch a fresh, soothing breeze, especially at night. If the night is clear and there weren’t too many people sauntering about, you can also stretch on a long bench (if your house had one) and take advantage of the night’s feeble temperature drop.
Inside the Mercado shack, the air is always heavy with the fishy smell of mingling bodies, sweat, itching scalps and unwashed mouths breathing too quickly – or too slowly.
A pestilence of human noises also prevented good sleep. Guttural moaning and high-pitched chatter disturbed Oni’s sleep. He often said that if one of kuya Junior’s customers didn’t accidentally stab him while on a bad trip, he would die from having too little sleep because of the incessant sounds.
A pockmarked forty year old man with orange highlights made strange circles in front of him and smiled at a blank-faced woman across the room. The blank-faced woman suddenly became animated, with her face twisted in both anger and laughter. As soon as the bad trip started, the woman became subdued once more. She became woozy, dipping her head on her bent knees. Everyone was on the floor, near a piece of wall. One man spat on the floor every few minutes. Within a night, Karyo could create an impressive pool of spit. He’s one of Junior’s longtime patrons.
The walls of the house is the constant hero, standing between the dignity of sitting down and the lasting embarrassment of being face planted on the floor.
Junior watched as life ebbed from his customers, inch by inch, as the acrid stink of melting methamphetamines permeated the air starting at 6 PM every night. He remembered once, when Oni accidentally sat on a needle. He used a steel pipe generously on the customer who left the needle on Oni’s bed. Junior screamed about blood, disease and how dare he leave a used needle on his little brother’s bed. The customer was beaten to an inch of his life and warned never to return.
A little after 3 AM, Junior begins to collect money from fellow addicts. Some are easier to handle than others. Loyal customers or those who’ve been with him for years are allowed to sleep it out in the shack if they wanted to. Newcomers are thrown out after paying. Those who can’t pay are given warnings.
Junior exacts a certain price for each customer, depending on what they can offer. Men and women offer different things. Junior especially liked women customers who liked to pay ‘in kind.’
Junior often gave Oni small amounts so he wouldn’t have to work as hard. But Oni was insistent in working hard, seven days a week. He wanted his mama to have enough cash for tong-its and his papa to always have his rum and cigarettes. Nothing that Junior said could change his youngest sibling’s mind.
Now, things have changed.
Having lost his brother, Junior’s view of his trade changed drastically. He must decide. After a fortnight, he began the painful and often uncertain task of cutting links with the methamphetamine distributors. He no longer cared if they trusted him to keep quiet or not. What mattered is he needed to stop. He didn’t know how long he can keep it up, being a user himself. But he made a promise to himself that their house will no longer be a den – it has been a den long enough.
Suspected drug pusher falls in Valenzuela
Suspected drug pusher, 26 year old Tomas Mercado, Jr., fell to operatives of a local narcotics detection group a week after he surrendered to authorities, according to sources. A representative from the narcotics detection group stated that Mercado had been armed with a caliber 38 pistol and had fired at operatives when they entered Mercado’s Valenzuela home at four in the morning. A separate account from witnesses stated that Tomas Mercado, Jr. alias Junior had been sleeping when the authorities arrived. Shots were immediately fired, waking up neighbors nearby. Mercado’s parents insisted that Mercado had been unarmed for he did not have money to buy his own pistol.
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