17 June 2008

I. Can't. Talk.

As soon as the elevator door closed, I coughed out a big one. Judging from the way it sounded and felt as it shot up through my respiratory tract and settled on my tongue, I could tell that it was at least two tablespoons of pure, viscous, toad-green phlegm, the kind that sticks on the sink and requires a spatula to scrape off.

Unfortunately, there was no waste can, no potted plant inside the elevator unto which I could expectorate. So I decided to just keep it all in until I reach my destination, the seventeenth floor.

The mucous was rolling along my palate when the elevator stopped at the third floor. The door opened and in walked an elegant, mid-fifties woman, someone I could envision cutting ceremonial ribbons at an important event. She pressed a button, settled in one corner, and after checking her bouffant on the mirror, turned to me.

“My goodness, it’s so hot outside, no?”

My speech encumbered by the contents of my mouth, I simply nodded in agreement, hoping that that would be the last of our conversation. But the woman kept yakking.

“This heat is so terrible. Yesterday, I kept the aircon on the whole day --- the whole day! Imagine that. So terrible. I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

I gave her a tight-lipped smile that said, “yeah, I know,” and turned my gaze to the numbers on the panel. Sixth. Seventh. Eighth. Still long ways to go before seventeenth. Already, I could feel the phlegm hardening into some fetus-shaped object inside my mouth. C’mon, elevator. Move faster.

“Do you also live here, iho?” she asked. I gave her another nod then looked at the numbers again. Ninth. Tenth. Twelfth.

“I don’t believe we’ve met before. I’m Cecilia. And you are?”

I turned to her and briefly considered swallowing the blob to answer her pesky questions. I also considered spitting out
everything on the floor and saying, “none of your business, muthafucka.”

For obvious reasons, I did neither. Instead, I pointed at my chest to say “I”, waved my hand to say “Can’t”, closed-opened, closed-opened my hand to say “Talk.” Then I blew my cheeks like a blowfish and pointed at my lips in an effort to convey, “Because I have something in my mouth.”

Her expression quickly turned into embarrassment and pity. “Oh, I’m sorry iho,” she said. “I didn’t know that you’re mute.” Then, speaking at a much slower pace and louder volume, she said, “HOW. LONG. HAVE. YOU. BEEN. LIKE. THAT. IHO?”

Mute? Mute? Ha! I wanted to tell her. But I found myself holding my left hand up, fingers separated, to say “Five years.”


With my pointer finger, I traced an imaginary tear rolling down my cheek, to say, “Very sad. I’m very, very sad. I cry myself to sleep each night.” Then I rapidly moved my hands all over the place, like a diva trying to reach a glory note, to convey some complicated message of tragedy, perseverance, hope, and ultimately, triumph.

Oh how I wished the close-circuit camera captured my Oscar-worthy performance! Marlee Matlin, move over, bitch.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy our little chit-chat, the elevator stopped and the door opened. Seventeenth floor. Bye Cecilia, I gestured before stepping out and hurrying to the nearest trash can or potted plant.

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