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The Old Blue Notebook

Victor Fernando R. Ocampo is a Singapore-based Filipino writer. His writing has appeared in many publications including Apex Magazine, Bahamut Journal, Likhaan, The Philippines Free Press, Strange Horizons, and The Quarterly Literature Review of Singapore, as well as anthologies like The Best New Singapore Short Stories, Fish Eats Lion: New Singaporean Speculative Fiction, Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction series.

His story "Here Be Dragons" won first prize at the 2012 Romeo Forbes Children's Literature competition and an illustrated version was published in 2015. Another work, "Blessed are the Hungry" was translated into Chinese and appeared in the March 2015 issue of Science Fiction World.
She unlocks the door of your father's flat and motions you to come inside.
The landlady is mostly pleasant--sweet, yet subtle and reserved, like a stereotypical English grandmother. You realize you cannot tell where her shawl ends and where her cat begins. She leans towards you and assaults you with the smell of rosewater and cat feces. You raise a fist to your mouth to suppress a gag reflex. You really, really want to throw up, but you can't.
Instead you smile and say, "Thank you."
You have been to your father's quarters only once before, on the week his broken body was identified. Only back then, you didn't know he was your father--just some distant Filipino relation who lived quietly in Hull and died a violent death.
You spent two hours and fifty-seven minutes on UK rail because your great-aunt from Sheffield insisted you go. You remember wondering why the bloody hell you should care. Who was this man who lived so utterly alone? Why did he leave Manila only to die so far away from everyone and everything he knew?
You'd been sent to inspect his things and to find something of value--savings, investments, perhaps a deed to an exotic island property, anything that could be sold to defray the costs of his simple funeral.
You remember finding nothing of that sort. The flat was common and boring. No pictures, no bits 'n bobs of sentiment or worth. Nothing but endless sheets filled with star charts and linguistic analyses. The remains of a sad old man with a strange scientific obsession.
Today you want to look at his room with new eyes. He was, after all, your father. Every scrap is now a possible treasure, every leftover pregnant with possibility. Perhaps there is a picture of you hidden in a book or maybe a few letters that had never been sent. You want to look through all the papers and charts you didn't bother to check the first time around. None of it had meant anything to you just two months ago. Now they were all you could think of.
To your dismay, the room is totally empty. You suddenly remember that the landlady had said as much over the phone. The men in the dark suits had taken everything during the inquest--every item that hadn't been nailed down. Somehow what she said had not really registered. Not until now, at least.
In any case, you still had to come. You still had to see it for yourself.
You close your eyes and look inwards. The people around you just couldn't understand how stumbling onto your roots made you feel so lonely. Your girlfriend doesn't have a clue and your superficial mates at work couldn't care less.
You long to tell the old woman how the inquest has shaken you to the core. You want to share with her how the coroner required you to provide a DNA sample -- something that told you more about yourself in a few days than your own family ever did during the last twenty-five years. You want to tell her that you now no longer speak to your great-aunt in Sheffield, nor to any of your mother's relatives.
Of course what you'd really like to do was to pick a bone with your mother. You have a million different questions firing off in your head but there's only one that really needs answering. Too bad your sainted mother has been dead for a very long time.
However your father's landlady is alive and right here. Surely she must know something about him? After all, she was the one who told you about his old blue notebook.
"So you are really his son," the landlady says, stroking her bombinating cat. "I never pictured him with anyone, especially not with a proper English woman. No offense, of course. You look so normal."
"And so white," you want to add. Instead you say something polite and reassuring. You want her to keep talking because you need information about the father you never knew.
Over time, you've become quite inured to casual racism, especially the passive-aggressive kind. Strangely, you've always suspected it's because of that part of you that's indelibly Filipino.
Filipinos always could hide in plain sight.
"A son needs to have something of his father. Especially since you are also a linguist," she whispers over tea (as if worried that the men in dark suits where listening from the Aspidistras). "He left this with me for safekeeping."
You take the lab notebook into your hands and you wonder why she didn't turn it over to the inquest. A Latin motto was stenciled on the cover "Bene legere saecla vincere." Everything scrawled inside seems as cryptic as the aphorism--mathematical equations, word counts, linguistic statistics, star charts and copious margin notes in Tagalog, a language you had always wanted to learn but never bothered.
On the train you flip through the book searching each page for your name. Nothing. Not one note mentions you. You don't find your mother's name either. You feel hurt and angry but somehow, you are not surprised.
When you get home you feed some of the Tagalog notes into a machine translator. Your father mentions a message coming from a black hole inside a place called the TWwTN Nebula. He talks about how each word in that message took eight million light years to transmit. You google "TWwTN nebula" and you find out that it doesn't exist. Gibberish.
Later, you notice that he repeatedly mentions a woman with two navels and think its code for some kind of wormhole. After half a bottle of cheap Asian whisky, you conclude it refers to the cow who replaced your mother in his heart.
A month passes before you find out that most information about your father has been scrubbed from the Net. You panic. You spend almost all your non-working hours trying to decipher the notebook before someone takes it away from you. Five months later, your long-suffering girlfriend finally wises up and dumps you. She leaves for Singapore not knowing that she is pregnant with a child who you will never ever meet.
You also never discover who the men in the dark suits were. But then again, it no longer matters. They never come for your precious notebook. Yes, it is all yours now.
Twenty-five years later you decide to move near the Jodrell Bank Observatory. You sell all your belongings and let a small cottage in Lower Withington.
On the day that you finally decipher the secret message (the one that took eight million years per word to speak), you decide to go to the pub. You broke the unbreakable code. A small part of you wonders how far your father got. An even smaller part wonders if he would have been proud. In any case, you more than deserve to celebrate with a few pints.
You leave the old blue notebook with your landlady and tell her in jest that she isn't to give it to anyone but to you or your kid. The old woman laughs like a horse (probably thinking that you could never have a child because you are such a barmy recluse).
At the Black Swan there are no other customers except for you and a large group of men playing boules. All of them are wearing dark suits. When you enter, all their eyes suddenly fix on you.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 26th, 2016

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