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It starts with the five-thirty alarm – an incessant, persistent ringing which lingers in the ears, ricochets across the bedroom, and reverberates in the skull, long after my wobbly feet have made their way to the bathroom; long after I’ve shaken off the gritty dreams of another night. I look into a moist mirror, water dripping as the vapour from October’s evening lends a cool that permeates the concrete walls of this tropical city.

Another day. I’m alive.

I take my coffee, and simply pick on breakfast – pastries, cold cuts, leftovers, biscuits, eggs. Anything that could fill the body for the commute.

I hurry to take a shower, the early morning cigarette crushed so eloquently yet so easily thrown down the toilet, as I let the shock of five am pipe water appeal to the rest of my body unperturbed by the caffeine and nicotine.

My wet feet scurry across the hallway, as my glistening arms and hands pat my hair dry. The sound of a ticking clock flushes my ears red. Ten minutes or else I will be late. I take a shirt just ironed the night before, and inspect its condition – crisp, smooth, no creases. Perfect. I pull from the cabinet my favourite trousers, as layers upon layers of undergarments cover me, hiding away the parts of the body set aside to the eyes of private loves. Everything fits the way I want it to. Clothes loose enough to endure the weather in this city. Clothes fit enough to demand respect.

I look again in the mirror, as I apply polish to my hair, streaming my fingers through the damp, pasted strands, calmly combing the partition I have been accustomed to and known for. I press my hands at the back of my head, a subtle pressure to the skull to keep the fly away in check. A curl adorns the left side, a smooth, gelled and brushed take on the other. Formal, I say to myself. Handsome, I hope they would notice.

As the sleeves of my shirt wrap my arms comfortably, and the kinks of my trousers smooth with every skin, crevice, and muscle of my lower body filling it, I know that I look the part, and I’m ready to play my role. With my leather sling bag, and the sound of my leather shoes’ heels tapping the uneven surface of Manila roads, I begin to blend in with the crowds of fellow commuters, to get lost in the jumble of shaky men and women who have just woken from their slumber and have been swiftly thrust into the urban chaos.

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Between the odd minutes of waiting for a jeepney, or getting unintentionally harassed as I board the bus or the train, the perfection of my image receives its dents. The once crisp shirt is wrinkled, the ironed slacks deformed in the crowded agony of travel. Not even years of commuting can prepare you for the morning rush hour, not even the most complex of manoeuvring can afford you space, much less privacy, as you’re shuttled to your destination.

Once I alight from my train, or slowly get down from my bus; as I walk into the multitude of concrete and steel crops, the gleaming behemoths of so-called economic progress and opportunity, the part I play is muddled by the view. A part of me has been altered once more. Trapped in confined spaces against hundreds of others, the stories, theories, and philosophies in my head, grind against the strangers’. Imagine a person carrying with him or her an entire lifetime of story, crammed against the invisible layers of real-life narrative and imagine conquests you desperately keep in private. They hit one another. They push and shove. And sometimes in honor of tragedy, they cross roads and shatters the peace.

Who I am after the commute, during the working hours, and on my way home, has been stolen. The hair polish aptly displaced by sweat. The scent of a morning shower swallowed by the smell of humanity. The mirror shows not weariness, not confusion, not the brutally piercing truth of my own ambiguity. The mirror reflects, instead, the faces and places of my daily routine, pasted on my skin, or seeping into the now dusty and dirtied skin.

Once I get home, I take a shower, I dry myself, smile as I brush my teeth, and fondle the parts I’ve hidden to check if they still do what they’re supposed to. I linger in the night time affairs, switching between exhaustion and energy, noise and silence, hope and pessimism. My battered clothes crumpled and lifeless in a bin. My eyes heavy, my heart full of sin. My leather bag dead, and another layer of shoes’ heels thinned.

All that is left to do is set the alarm again.

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