Manila Noir

Manila Noir

by Jessica Hagedorn (Editor)


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Winner of the National Book Award for Best Anthology from the Manila Critics Circle!

"While certain cities in past Akashic volumes might appear to lack an obvious noir element, Manila (like Mexico City, which shares many of the same problems) practically defines it, as shown by the 14 selections in this excellent anthology. As Hagedorn points out in her insightful introduction, Manila is a city burdened with a violent and painful past, with a long heritage of foreign occupation. The specters of WWII (during which the city suffered from U.S. saturation bombing), and the oppressive 20-year reign of dictator Ferdinand Marcos live on in recent memory. The Filipino take on noir includes a liberal dose of the gothic and supernatural, with disappearance and loss being constants."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"For those who love travel, history, and a little bit of lore, this anthology transports you to the Philippines and is filled with riveting and sometimes dark stories of the capital city."
Glamour (Summer Reading pick)

"Suffice it to say that what the Noir series in general, and Manila Noir in particular, does so well is to create a 360-degree mosaic of a place...By including so many perspectives, from so many walks of life, Manila Noir makes Manila seem as vibrant, and dangerous, and exciting, and confounding as it really felt to live there."
Lit Wrap

"A collection of stories like Akashic's forthcoming Manila Noir is enough to set a crime-fiction addict's mouth watering."
New York Observer

Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.

Brand-new stories by: Lourd De Veyra, Gina Apostol, Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, F.H. Batacan, Jose Dalisay Jr., Eric Gamalinda, Jessica Hagedorn, Angelo Lacuesta, R. Zamora Linmark, Rosario Cruz-Lucero, Sabina Murray, Jonas Vitman, Marianne Villanueva, and Lysley Tenorio.

From the introduction by Jessica Hagedorn:

"Manila's a city of survivors, schemers, and dreamers...A city of extremes. Where the rich live in posh enclaves, guarded by men with guns. Where the poor improvise homes out of wood, tin, and cardboard and live by their wits. Where five-star hotels and luxury malls selling Prada and Louis Vuitton coexist with toxic garbage dumps and sprawling 'informal settlements' (a.k.a. squatter settlements), where religious zeal coexists with superstition, where 'hospitality' might be another word for prostitution, where sports and show business can be the first step to politics, where politics can be synonymous with nepotism, cronyism, and corruption, where violence is nothing out of the ordinary, and pretty much anything can be had for a price—if you have the money and/or the connections, that is...

As you will see from this steamy collection of stories, all these delicious contradictions serve to enrich and expand our concept of noir. What you will also find are the noir essentials: alienated and desperate characters, terse dialogue, sudden violence, betrayals left and right...All the fabulous and fearless writers gathered here have a deep connection and abiding love for this crazy-making, intoxicating city. There's nothing like it in the world, and they know it."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617751608
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Series: Akashic Noir Series
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Jessica Hagedorn was born in Manila and now lives in New York. A novelist, poet, and playwright, her published works include Toxicology , The Gangster of Love , and Dogeaters , which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She also edited both volumes of the groundbreaking anthology Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction.

Read an Excerpt



When we learn about the sign, we must see it for ourselves. So from our shanties we cross the railway tracks and charge toward the home of Alejandro, the only kid we know with a computer, the only kid we know with electricity, so that he can show us a picture of the sign on the Internet. He lives with his mother in the Financial District now, in a big-shot, high-rise condominium which, he has said, overlooks the world. But it's not so high that we can't reach it: Alejandro calls the front desk to give us clearance, despite the security guard's suspicions, so we file into the elevator, rising and rising to the uppermost floors. When we reach his door, it's already open, and he stands there waiting. "I'll show you on my computer," he says, "but don't touch the keyboard. Don't touch anything." He inspects our hands to make sure they're clean, then herds us into his bedroom. He flips open his laptop, types and clicks and types and clicks, until an image downloads, a picture of a sign posted on a shopping mall door. It says:


"So the story is true," says Alejandro, closing his laptop, "they really don't want you there." He half-smiles at us and shrugs, a funny story to him but an injustice to us, so we curse its name and unleash all the profanity we know: Fuck you Greenbelt Mall, you asshole Greenbelt Mall, shit bitch motherfucker go to hell Greenbelt Mall.

Greenbelt Mall is mere kilometers from our part of Makati City. From certain vantage points and heights, we have witnessed its nighttime glow of green and red during past Christmas seasons, and we have heard the blare of marching bands that celebrate every grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony. But have we been inside? No way! We have no use for Tokyoinspired fur and leather winter coats. We don't want imported and indigestible cheeses. Our lives are made no better by facial cleansers made from organic jackfruit and nuts. And say we did go there one day, say we purchased even the smallest trinket like a souvenir Greenbelt key chain or a stylish Greenbelt visor. We would be called arrogant big-shots who think we're hot shit. People trying to be other people.

But we will not be prohibited from entering. We will not allow ourselves to be banned. We decide then and there to act, to right this terrible wrong.

"And do what? Get revenge?" Alejandro laughs, but we don't.

The front door rattles open. "My mom's home," Alejandro says. "Leave." He scoots us from his room, and on our way out we see his mother staring out a wall of windows at a view of skyscrapers, palm trees, a grid of streets that from here look orderly and clean. She is wearing a dress as black and tight as a silhouette, holds a long brown cigarette in one hand and an ambercolored drink with clinking ice in the other. She is the blondest Filipina we have ever seen, and her face is half-gone behind dark glasses, huge and round like two black moons.

With a long red fingernail, she lowers her sunglasses, looks us up and down with recognition and suspicion, as though we remind her of what she comes from.

We look around her, at this roomful of things we will never have — a white leather sofa and a rug of white fur, a dining table with elephant tusk legs, a strong ceiling free of cracks and leaks, and an equally sturdy floor. But our envy is tempered by our pity. We know the things she does to live this life. We have seen her strolling down the street on the arms of businessmen — Japanese, Indian, Saudi Arabian, American — and we know there are nights when Alejandro must find somewhere else to sleep, and on those nights he comes to us.

"Get out," she says.

We exit, enter the elevator, feel our descent.

It's dusk by the time we're home, and Auntie Fritzie is already scolding us as we come into view. In her yellow poncho and pink rubber boots, she has been scavenging through the dumps and trash heaps, and has lined up her findings in messy piles along the railway track. She tells us to hurry our lazy asses and get to work, says that if our mothers and fathers were alive, they would smack our faces for our laziness. So we sort through tattered shoes, sticky soda bottles, chipped plates, flicking away the things that cling to them. Toiling through muck and stench, we keep on cursing Greenbelt Mall, daydreaming of the revenge Alejandro spoke of, and the many ways to get it.

* * *

This morning, we don black. Polo shirts and corduroys, our only good clothes, the outfits we wear to baptisms and funerals. We grab backpacks and slip on dark glasses, intact pairs collected from the years of Auntie Fritzie's scavenging, and as we make our way to the center of Makati City, they turn the gray day grayer.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Greenbelt Mall is made of five interconnected buildings, 4 and 5 the most elite, the ones that aim to keep us out. We walk toward the main entrance of Greenbelt 4, a fortress of a structure surrounded by colossal palm trees and twisty moatlike fountains, with glass awnings jutting toward the sky.

We arrive at a set of double glass doors. Inside, on a marble pillar, hangs the sign we saw the day before. We step forward. The doors whoosh open. We're in.

* * *

Greenbelt air is cold, the coldest air ever, and why are the shoppers' faces so narrow and pointy and white? Back and forth across the shiny rows of shiny stores, up and down the escalators, these are the whitest Filipinos we have ever seen. No one regards us when we pass, as if we are the ghostly ones, not them.

We don't know where to go, not at first, so we follow a group of teenaged girls not much older than us. We whistle at them, make catcalls, and though they keep their distance we stay close, and finally they lead us to a store whose name we have seen before but never said aloud — Louis Vuitton. The girls walk through the doors, but we stop just short of them, surveying the scene inside: skinny men with slicked-back hair stand behind long display cases full of leather bags and wallets, some so special they require their own glass encasement; women coo over them, like nurses in a room full of newborn babies. Light comes from every corner, giving the entire store a butter-colored glow, and when we finally step inside, we seem to light up too.

One of the skinny men, safe behind a row of leather briefcases, welcomes us with a meaningless nod. A woman who could be his twin sister approaches, heels clacking against the floor like a ticking clock. "Can I help you?" she asks.

We shake our heads no.

"Is there nothing I can help you find?" she asks. It may be a trick question; her eyes shift toward the security guard standing by the door.

We tell her we're looking for a present, something special for our aunt, and before she can offer phony customer service we disperse, spread ourselves throughout the store, upstairs to the Men's Universe, downstairs to the Women's Universe, and we even infiltrate a room called the Private Salon, where two of the skinny men show a set of leather wallets to an old woman sitting in the middle of a three-person sofa, a teacup in her hand. The skinny men look up, their faces full of dismay. "Can I help you?" they ask together, but it's the old woman who tells us to leave. In another reality, Auntie Fritzie would be this woman on the sofa. Though she scolds, belittles, and hits us constantly, it would be nice to see her sitting in something pillowy and warm. Such a moment might soften her; perhaps she would be easier for us to please.

"I said leave," the woman repeats.

We do not move, not for several moments. Not until we're ready.

Finally, we go.

We exit the Private Salon, return to the main floor. We gather at a corner display of what a sign calls "weekend bags." They are leather bags with long leather straps, with buttons, buckles, and rivets, all gold, everywhere. The price of even the smallest ones startles us. We have no idea what that kind of money could buy, how much of it, but the possibilities seem endless.

A few of us walk to the front of the store, pretend to accidentally knock over a rack of coin purses. Diversion created, the rest of us unzip our satchels and pull out plastic bags containing the bodies of small dead birds. We had heard that an aviary once stood on the land Greenbelt occupies now; imagine all those homeless birds, how they aimlessly flew, how swiftly they perished. Where we live, dead birds are everywhere: on the ground and in mounds of trash; they even make their way, somehow, into Auntie Fritzie's daily collections. The bodies are ashen, gray with death, dirt, dried-up blood, and exposed organs. Some crawl with fleas and lice. Carefully, without touching them, we drop a bird into the smallest compartment of each travel bag, one by one by one. When we finish, we slip out of the store, as easily as we entered.

We walk away twenty paces, then turn back toward Louis Vuitton. We imagine the people who will find these birds, how they will first mistake them for balls of thread or yarn, wads of unexpected dust. But when they look closer, they will blink several times, shudder, then scream at the thing they hold in their hands.

* * *

We leave Louis Vuitton behind, continue through Greenbelt 4, passing stores with nonsensical names — BVLGARI, BOTTEGA VENETTA — and others that sound like a sneeze — GUCCI, Jimmy Choo. Whole families drift in and out of them — what small boy needs Norwegian perfume? What stink could he possibly possess to require so expensive a scent? We might be angered if we weren't so baffled, so for a time we simply ride the escalators and observe the wastefulness all around us. We ride up, we ride down, over and over, and sometimes glimpse ourselves in the mall's many mirrored surfaces. In certain moments, one wall reflects another, multiplying us as we ascend and descend, ascend and descend, as if there are hundreds of us, maybe thousands, seemingly everywhere, going nowhere.

* * *

From Greenbelt 4 we go to 5. On an empty bench we find a promotional pamphlet, with a customer testimonial that says, Greenbelt 5 — it's like you're not in the Philippines! We crumple it up, toss it in the trash, then peer through a storefront window and watch a white-faced Filipino couple purchase jewel-tipped shoes and a gold-framed oil painting in the same transaction, while their small daughters play games and send text messages on their hi-tech phones. We leave this scene and walk down a row of stores, then stop at one we recognize, Kenneth Cole, because Auntie Fritzie once found a barely scuffed coin purse bearing a tag with the same name, a prized possession even now. But their window displays perturb us: each features a group of silver mannequins dressed in black and gray evening wear, some lounging about in twisty wire chairs, other posed to look as if they are in midconversation. But they're all headless, and we don't understand this. So we step inside the near-empty store, and find a tiny-bodied salesgirl folding black satin shirts into perfect rectangles. She looks up, startled. "Can I help you?" she asks, a question we are already so tired of, but this time we say yes, and we ask: Where are the heads? What did she or her manager or Kenneth Cole himself do with them, and why are they not connected to their bodies? She blinks, shakes her head, says, "Excuse me?" We repeat our questions and she answers, "You need to leave." We do not. Instead, we come closer, catching sight of ourselves in the concave security mirror in the upper corner of the ceiling: a circle of black figures surrounding one small girl, closing in, no chance of escape. Does she know how often we feel this way, between our cardboard walls, beneath our low corrugated roofs? Does she understand?

"Please go," she says.

We are done here, so one by one we uncircle the girl, exit Kenneth Cole single file, and en route to the door we clear our throats and spit out loogies on a row of leather gloves displayed palms up.

We charge through the rest of Greenbelt 5, entering and exiting any store we choose. Our presence baffles every salesman and woman; we never make our intentions clear. In Banana Republic, we stand in a line, trying on the same safari jacket one at a time, then leave it rumpled on the floor. In Prizmic & Brill, we take turns sitting on every chair for sale, but quickly, so as not to become too comfortable. We insert ourselves among the crowd of pregnant women inside Havin' a Baby, then gather around an empty white cradle, which we rock back and forth as we remember dead babies we have known. At Spex, we ignore the glasses on display and simply look at ourselves in the lit-up mirrors, the mysteriousness of our dark glasses, our facelessness beneath. Then, when we pass Rolex, we pay our respects: not long before, a group of armed men robbed the store, smashing and smashing with the ends of their guns every glass case of watches. Most escaped, but one was shot dead by Greenbelt security. The news reports said he was someone like us, a man who tried to change his life. We imagine him splayed on the store's doorstep, his blood congealing on the ground beneath his dying body.

In front of Rolex, we gather in a circle. We have a moment of silence, then one of us takes out a razor blade, gives a quick slash to his palm, lets blood drip onto the mall's marble floor.

* * *

A samurai raises his sword over two lovers slurping thick, wormy noodles from a steaming white bowl. We half wish it was real, that the samurai could come to life and lop off the heads of these diners. But the samurai is just a character in a movie projected on the wall of a restaurant called johnandyoko, a name as strange as the food they serve — slivers of raw fish that look like tongues, piled high on top of each other, and surrounded with leaves and dots of orange and magenta sauce, on dinner plates so large they're mostly empty. We cannot fathom becoming full off such small food, but as we stand here, lined up along the window and staring in, the diners seem to delight in the tininess of their meals.

We lick our fingers and draw X's on the window glass, over the diners' faces. We do the same at other elegant restaurants in Greenbelt 5 — The Terrace, Chateau 1771, Chili's — watching up close the people inside, crossing them out. Strange as their food is, we can't deny the fact that we had no breakfast, but we fend off hunger by telling ourselves that we aren't wanted here, and even if they offered us a sample, just a small quick taste, we would never eat it.

* * *

We've breathed enough of the Greenbelt air. We exit through one of the many entrances, find ourselves in a cool and breezy courtyard, where parents lounge on blankets laid out on the grass, as their giggling children run circles around them. We stop to stare at some of them, and move on.

Then we see it, there in the distance: a domelike structure resembling the top half of a UFO. We move toward it slowly, cautiously, as if it might take flight at any moment. And then we discover that the building is the Greenbelt Chapel. A place for worship between shopping; we are not impressed. Still, there are no signs prohibiting our entry.

We enter with no intentions. Then we are amazed.

We have never seen anything so wondrous, such unearthly beauty. Every wall and panel curves around, swoops up from the ground and meets at the top, where a stained-glass Jesus Christ surrounded by golden light gazes down upon us. At the other end of the chapel, choir members gather, practicing the first notes of some holy song. So humbled are we by this magnificence that we remove our dark glasses, file into a pew, and drop to our knees. Terrible storms leveled off our church long ago; for years we have worshipped alongside the empty railway tracks, in the heat and in the cold, which, we realize now, has made it difficult to pray. But in this mostly empty church, we fall easily into prayer. Our heads bowed, we are so silent we can hear the sound of our own breathing, somehow in rhythm with the choir's song.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

We raise our heads, and then we see it, a shock of blond hair at the end of the pew of the very first row. Alejandro's mother. She crosses herself then stands up, still in her black dress and dark glasses. She picks up a pair of shopping bags by her feet, walks slowly up the aisle. We bow our heads again, hoping to remain unseen.

She stops at the end of our row, lowers her sunglasses, revealing a bruised black eye. She looks us over, one face at a time. "You don't belong here," she whispers, in a tone that sounds like wisdom. Then she looks away at something behind us. We turn and see what she sees: family after family arriving for Mass, whole generations, all in flawless clothing, perfectly shined shoes. Alejandro's mother moves on, and then we notice a man in a navy-blue suit with gold buttons, the father of what looks to be a prominent family, staring at us from across the aisle, whispering to a woman who may be his wife, and our good clothes now look meager, the holes and frays of our shirts more noticeable than before.


Excerpted from "Manila Noir"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Part I: Us against Them
 “Aviary” by Lysley Tenorio (Greenbelt Mall, Makati)
 “A Human Right” by Rosario Cruz-Lucero (Intramuros)
 “Satan Has Already Bought U” by Lourd de Veyra (Project 2, Quezon City)
 “Broken Glass” by Sabina Murray (New Manila)
 “After Midnight” by Angelo R. Lacuesta (J.P. Rizal)

Part II: Black Pearl of the Orient
 “Trese: Thirteen Stations” by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo (EDSA,Metro Manila)
 “Comforter of the Afflicted” by F.H. Batacan (Lagro)
 “The Professor’s Wife” by Jose Dalisay (Diliman)
 “Cariño Brutal” by R. Zamora Linmark (Tondo)
 “The Unintended” by Gina Apostol (Ali Mall, Cubao)

Part III: They Live by Night
 “Old Money” by Jessica Hagedorn (Forbes Park)
 “Desire” by Marianne Villanueva (Ermita)
 “Darling, You Can Count on Me” by Eric Gamalinda (Santa Cruz)
 “Norma from Norman” by Jonas Vitman (Chinatown)

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