Here in this country, weekends and holidays are automatically branded as karaoke nights. It is one of the hazards of living in the Philippines. People fight because of karaoke. People even die because of karaoke. If you're ever here, don't even think of singing "My Way", unless you've a death wish. Trust me. Just don't.
Half the time, these evenings are filled with loud, bass-driven pop songs of the 90s and 80s (and 70s, my goodness), and, depending on where you are, can be some of the most impressive things in life, or the boombox from the gates of hell. Most of the time, it's the latter, since the impressive crooners are either in some of the older piano bars of Malate / Ermita, or in the comfort of their own homes, with their magic mics.
The destitute, the drunk, and a good majority of the general population, however, gather into these dingy dive bars called beerhouses where the walls are thin, the bass is loud, and the neighbors are resigned to their fate. Or, in the rare occasion that there's a street party happening somewhere, they rent one of those videoke machines, set it up in the middle of a minor road in the residential area, and blast their sorrows into the night sky.
This is, understandably, a terrible thing to endure if you're a person with nothing more than a wish to spend a quiet evening at home, with a glass of something stiff, and a heavy date with the television.
But just this evening, I encountered something strange from the otherwise cacophonic sounds of the karaoke-filled night.
See, it's nine in the evening. It's a payday Friday, which means everybody's out in the malls, wasting all of their money. So there are fewer karaokes out in the open tonight.
But here, in Pandaca, there's a sonic shrill in the air, and, from a distance, you can hear the muffled tones of a mic being plugged in. This, the lone karaoke machine in the middle of a quiet evening. But I don't hear the awful squawking of pop star wannabes this time around.
Instead, I hear a kid. I hear him singing something unintelligible, but you can tell that he's making that rookie mistake of holding the mic too close to his mouth. The sound of his voice is muffled. There is no music. The sound of the child's voice carries over the air all by its lonesome, like sonar whale calls in the depths of the quiet ocean. It's eerie and disconcerting, but only because it seems like an alien sound in the night sky.
In my mind, I wonder if I was mistaken. This wasn't a child singing too close to the mic, with the music turned down in volume. This was, instead, a lone karaoke machine, sending its calls out into the evening, looking for its mates. It is a weekend, it senses, and there should be a gaggle of us out in the open. It is calling out, sending its messages via sonar, the only way it knows how. Hey guys, I'm here. I'm ready to start tonight's happenings. Guys, you there? Guys? Guys?
The lonesome karaoke's wails continue deep into the night.