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PERSONAL ESSAY

Sidd Perez

Pyramid

My screen tried to keep up with the stage lighting flashing across the applause—the pixels chopping across the images of ABS-CBN primetime hosts. Shimmers blitzed from their gowns, and I spied eyelashes on fleek as the frames jolted like a stop animation video. This live demonstration was streaming from the Philippines, and the wobbly wireless connection blotted the spectacle into one steamy mirage. 


From behind the screen, I squeezed into a space left over by the cursory piles of documents. I would not like to risk inattention to this online event I promised to watch. What else keeps one’s focus on things they rather not do except finding something equally mundane to accomplish? Cecilia, a fellow Filipino, was trying to earn extra income. I thought that my full attendance could count as recruitment from her. 


Ten minutes of showtime bonanza—krumping stilettos, arms flailing at the screen, and more arms around celebrity endorsers—before the household science experiments finally began. “Do not try this at home,” the young woman in braces cautioned one tone too exuberantly. The bottle full of grease was a metaphor for all the toxins we subject our bodies daily. I heard that lechon, sisig, and traveling to work in an “ordinary bus” caused the blackness of our insides and outsides. Another bottle that symbolized the contents of the product tipped over the first bottle. “O ayan! Bongga!” (“There you go, how amazing!”) The grease fizzled into a milky white substance. I spied a whiff of smoke escaping the lip. 


There were islands of documents—loose or stapled, stretching from accordion folds, brochures on grade A art paper, and little scrolls moistened and rubbed by heat having borne typefaces that faded away like the numerals on my bank statement every day after payroll. I looked at the dates on the repeat copies of three-month-long bank statements to assign them to the rightful dossier: Schengen Visa application 2016, Japan Visa Application 2018, US Visa Application 2019. These were incriminating records, but the bank statements were just too thick (accounting for PayWave transactions on a $1.60 curry puff, and a credit card transaction from Good Vibrations in San Francisco—I mean, I really only bought a pin). Should I set these on deliberate fire? If I rubbed them enough, will their texts fade like the receipts I could no longer claim from work because what is the cost of a frame if it does not afford an extra two-inch margin around a photograph? 


The bottle the host carried disappeared into her virtual background. She listed cures to some common ailments like diabetes and gout—the supplements temper all these simultaneous to the whitening effect on your skin. I was almost convinced that this product addresses everyday plagues: poverty and colonialism.


I moved on to a collection of paraphernalia from different exhibitions and museums. Do I file them according to the spectrum of the locality of display: white supremacist denial of historic looting, global polis and their acceptance of the mestizaje, or local lore with the civic attempt at tourism? Blemish-free was the key to both piles of museological gestures, as well as the running slogan of the glutathione-based restoratives marketed on the screen. But there was mold crawling on the spines of my books. How do I prevent paper aging on books I never finish in many air-conditioned buses, in between catching my breath on humidity that imparted spores in people’s and books’ insides, attempted to open them under the blast of a vent but instead I immerse into trying the new filters on Facebook messenger to send to my seven thousand one hundred and seven chat groups?


Cecilia's mentor insisted that the live demo ran only an hour, but it was now past the mark. On cue, the video started showcasing testimonials from their previous recruits. Success was the ultimate plot twist. But first, their backgrounds as “sole breadwinner of the family at 17 years old,” “working student,” “single mom” to eventually progress to the natural peak of their efforts. A before-and-after rotation flashed for every testimonial. Usually, the photos of the new recruit showed them with headbands and acne. Hustling with this product shows them fair-skinned and posing with a house and lot, or acquiring not one car but three.


A Facebook memory pinged in my notifications—my young siblings, and I managed to haul our household to a gated subdivision 7 years ago. One of my siblings ended up as a single mom. Another sibling and I shared the breadwinning and working student titles. We were renting the only house in that village that never found a car sitting in its garage.


If a recruit is not interested in all the resale and private franchising, a counter-offer involves placing them as endorsers of the brand. The testimonials moved on to the photo slideshow of these recruits in coats and scarves traveling to Europe, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong to campaign for the brand.


Six years ago, I arrived home from traveling to 8 cities in 2 months. I received the wisdom of previous Philippine passport-holders on which consulates were a lot more lenient in approving visas. I also managed to get a better smelling amount on my bank certificate. I think my previous employer was kind enough to park it on my account until I wrapped up my visa interview. 


By this time, I got tired of the otherwise singular spectacle of the live demo. I was also tired of Cecilia’s mentor, who kept quizzing me on which part I was at every ten minutes. That were 12 Facebook pings all together. I preferred to work between spaces, rather than between windows. I exited the members-only group and found that the piles on the floor have multiplied. What were initially hills were now levelled into miniature landscapes. I managed to carve temporary passages that snaked around the stacks I dubbed “work in progress.” I was hesitant to join this exclusive circle of endorsers as much as finalising the choice of death of these papers. 


I was not sure why I held on to these documents, sundry notes, and souvenir brochures. They were free, and I liked using the office photocopier. As if by their repetition, these papers could crystallise one’s dreams of Self-Actualisation. Did I think I could feed my siblings with paper when I lost the only stable job we had among us? In the future, I will be told that these documents no longer stand as supplements to my re-application of my work pass. I will be told they were lacking; their data no longer legitimate in measuring one’s years of experience. I will be left with copies of form and copies of pages in those forms with the fine print “this page is left intentionally blank.” 


I stapled stacks of 10 pages each and broke the office’s paper shredding machine.

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