Pete Mordecai Sober walks into a bar in Manila called The Hobbit House. Once inside, an epiphany of why the bar is called The Hobbit House hits him. It's run and served by little people.
In his sparkling white sneakers, baggy sweatpants and a loose Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, Pete staggers towards an empty bar with the swag of the dude.
He waits for the bartender while rapping his inked fingers on the counter to the rhythm of a blues song being performed live on stage.
A little man pops from behind the bar, making sure he's stable on a custom-made stool. He's stocky at three feet tall and a well oiled hair as he scratches his sunken cheeks.
"Good evening, sir," the little person greets him with eyes peering at Pete deep as if judging him.
"What's up," Pete asks, discomfited.
"Trying to figure out what kind of drink you need," the little man says.
"Oh, interesting." Pete flicks his curly golden hair all over his face, blinks his beady eyes and flashes a smile up to his ears his white crooked teeth make him look like a cartoon character.
"Here you go," Pete says, "what kind of drink do you think I need?"
The little man serves Pete a glass of water.
"What the fuck, man?"
"You look dehydrated," says the little man.
"Awww," Pete's giddy. "That's sweet of you. What's your name?" Pete asks as he drinks the water from his glass.
Pete almost chokes as he gags from the water in his throat. He sees the little man Goliath look at him with the seriousness of a caged Doberman.
Pete clears his throat. "That's your real name?"
"It's a name I call myself."
"Oh," Pete mutters. He sees the little man preparing a shot of whiskey then grabs a local bottle of clear liquor. "Goliath makes you feel tall?"
"You do know Goliath got defeated by a little boy."
"Yeah," the little man replies. "Reminds me no matter what I do, I am going to drop dead one day."
"Of course. Death, the great escape," Pete mutters to himself. "You think you'll be taller in your afterlife?"
"I don't know."
"You never thought of it?"
"Why should I?"
"Just curious. Do you want to be taller in the afterlife?"
"I don't want to be taller now."
"I don't wanna lose my job."
Pete chuckles. He doesn't know if it's an admirable or pitiful sentiment.
"You could have a better job than this."
"I enjoy my job right now."
"Gives you meaning?"
"Gives me money from good tippers," he winks at Pete. "Meanings are for dictionaries."
Pete smiles. Earlier today, he's feeling bummed by the lack of color about the people he's been with. They've all been nice and hospitable but the kind that is a bit touristy.
Here, he finds someone that tickles his bones. "You're a funny man, Goliath."
Goliath serves Pete his drink.
"I saw you pour whiskey. What's that other bottle?"
"Lambanog. It's local. Made from the palm tree."
"Why d'ya think this cocktail here's the drink I need," Pete asks.
"You will drink anything with alcohol," Goliath answers with confidence.
Pete nods, tips an invisible hat. This bartender knows his people. Pete raises his glass. "Cheers!".
The combined spirit of the whiskey and lambanog kicks in after a second glass just as a tall, skinny man sits two stools away from Pete. He could be in his 60's, maybe older, Pete observes, sporting a leather jacket and a cowboy hat matching a pair of shiny boots.
If he's a piece of laundry, ironing him will be quite daunting with all the wrinkles he has all over.
"Goliath," the man calls out in a deep raspy voice. "My beer!"
Goliath excuses himself to prepare the man's drink. Pete watches the tall, skinny guy and feels extremely amused by his whole ensemble.
Pete stifles a giggle but he can't contain himself he eventually bursts out laughing.
"What the fuck is your problem," the man confronts Pete.
Pete is Pete, never the one to back out from an honest answer even when it means trouble for him. "You look like a zombie in a cowboy outfit!"
"Midgets are all around you and I'm the one you find funny."
Pete loses the earlier amusement he had, immediately feels uneasy. "You sure you can call them that?"
"What, midgets are funny."
"I mean- midgets."
"Yeah, midgets. They're funny."
"They're not funny. They're an unfortunate victim of a genetic anomaly."
"Yeah. And they look funny. What's your point?"
"I mean calling them midgets! It's supposedly politically incorrect!"
"We've been calling them midgets for decades, didn't hear anyone complaining. Except the American boy here with the golden hair and funny face.
Hey, Goliath! You offended when people call you a midget?"
Goliath serves the man his bottle of beer. "He called you a zombie. You should be offended."
The man thinks about it for a moment. "Nah. Can't get my dick hard anymore cause I got prostate cancer. Most days I don't know where I am, not to mention I'm in pain all the time.
It's not just my other foot in the grave, half of my fuckin' body is in the grave." He pauses. "This might be the clearest description of what I am-- the walking dead.
I think I'm gonna write a song about it."
The tall, skinny man grabs Pete by the shoulders, thanks him profusely and kisses him on the forehead. Then with his beer, he walks away from the bar.
Goliath tells Pete the wannabe-cowboy's name is Hepe, who ends up belting his set of rock songs on stage.
"He used to be a big rock star," Goliath informs Pete.
"Surely still has the attitude," Pete comments.
"Soon he'll be dead."
For a while, Pete watches the rocker perform as if it's going to save the world, with Goliath's words echoing in his head. Soon he'll be dead.
Goliath asks if Pete got cigarettes. He's going on a break.
"I got weed."
Goliath beams. "Even better!"
The two end up puffing on a short stick of weed outside the bar, right beside a sleepy old woman selling candies, cigarettes and balut- a common street food in Manila made by boiling partially hatched duck eggs.
"You travel a lot, mister Americano," Goliath asks Pete.
"Been travelin' all my life. I was in fact born in an African desert."
Pete sees Goliath wrinkle his forehead and curl his thick eyebrows.
"My mom, she was a doctor. One time she traveled in a military aircraft when she was pregnant with me. The plane had to make an emergency landing on a desert. It's where I was born."
"You must be a survivor like me," Goliath says. "I was born under a bridge during a storm. My mother told me I was taken away by the strong current. My father had to swim after me."
Pete puffs a smoke. "To Goliath, the little man born under the bridge."
"To you, sir, son of the desert."
"My name's Pete."
"Real name's Larry Bird," he shakes his head and smirks. "Larry Bird Pamintuan."
Pete's confused for a while, making sure he heard Goliath right.
"As in the basketball player?"
"My father watched a lot of NBA."
"Obviously," Pete laughs out loud. Not sure if it's the name or the weed. But how happy he is that he found this place. "I like Goliath better," Pete claims as he quiets down.
Goliath says he'll treat him to a boiled duck egg, orders two from the vendor. People have been swaying Pete into having a taste of it since he flew into Manila a few days ago.
He's been preparing for one but there was never a right moment to it. Not until now. Pete wouldn't have it any other way with any other person. It's going to be epic, he feels.
Goliath hands Pete his balut and gives him the 1,2,3 on how to consume it.
First, crack the pointed end, then sprinkle it with salt, sip on the broth, and last, shove what's left into the mouth and chew mindlessly.
The broth is nice, Pete finds it warm and meaty.
But he makes the mistake of checking out what's left inside the shell and finds the partially hatched form of a duckling with its wings and legs and eyes and what looks like a beak.
Pete's suddenly consumed by a mortified feeling.
"What's wrong," Goliath asks. "You want to puke?"
No, Pete doesn't find it gross at all. "I survived a plane crash and the desert," he says. "You survived a storm and the raging waters. This duckling never had a chance."
Again, Goliath conjures wrinkles on his forehead and curls in his thick brows.
Pete yells it out for him, "To live its life and grow up and be a duck!"
"Oh, fuck you," Goliath dismisses Pete's outburst. "We see egg here, we see food. You rich tourists, you're the only people who sees an egg and finds something else."
Pete is stunned. He's unsure about what to do next. He wants to cry. He wants to laugh.
"Maybe it's the duckling's destiny," Goliath continues. "Not to be hatched so he can nourish someone. Like you."
Pete suddenly breaks into a sob, soon he's laughing too.
The alcohol he's been drinking all day, the musings of this little person, the bliss of the cannabinoids, the music of a dead man walking blaring from inside, it's all overwhelming , like small needles pricking him from the inside.
Yes, Goliath is right. He was concerned about the duckling not having a chance at life but he sure doesn't want to waste its purpose either by throwing what's left of the egg away.
So while still in tears and laughing, he shoves everything into his mouth and chews juicily and for a moment he retches as his tongue feels the texture of the little wings and Pete knows he is going to puke,
about to spit all the stuff out of his mouth but then he remembers Goliath's claim about the egg's purpose so he shoves everything back again and chews quickly, mindlessly until he swallows everything-- legs, wings, eyes, beak and all.
"Good job," Goliath tells Pete. They high five and Pete wipes off the tears on his face.
Months later, Pete Mordecai Sober will remember Larry Bird "Goliath" Pamintuan. The little man will die as patient #11 from a virus that will sweep and cripple the city for months.
Inside a bar in Prague, Pete will drink whiskey mixed with vodka, puff a smoke and offer a toast to the memory of the bartender, who served him his drink and made him realize that while eggs are eggs, even partially hatched ducklings have a purpose.
Pete, he will also wonder if the little man stands taller in the afterlife.