(Originally appeared in Philippine Panorama Magazine, the Official Sunday Magazine of The Manila Bulletin)

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Except for some loose change, he has lost everything at the baccarat table. He should not have gone to the casino tonight. He has been having a series of bad luck these past few days. By all means he must recover his losses. In the first place, he has no right spending the enormous sum that belongs to his firm. If by tomorrow afternoon he is not able to replenish the entire amount, for sure the anomaly will be discovered and his future will go down the drain. His only chance left is to pawn his gold ring, an heirloom that he has inherited from his deceased grandfather.

Glancing at his cheap digital watch, Sammy shakes his head in resignation. It’s past ten. By this time all the pawnshops in town are closed. He is really in a quandary now. Where will he get the money so he can play again and win back his losses? Rob a bank? He doesn’t even have the stomach to kill a fly. Boy is he starving. He hasn’t even had his dinner yet and he can feel his large intestine gnawing at his small intestine. In his absentmindedness he has forgotten to wear his light jacket. The chilly December air penetrates his flesh and bones, causing him to shiver like one suffering from a mild attack of malaria or epilepsy. He quickens his pace to generate more heat and keep his body warm. Without thinking, he ambles to a familiar street and glimpses at something that excites him. His heart beats faster and a ray of hope radiates throughout his being. In big, bold letters the color of blood, the shop sign reads:

Del Fierro Pawnshop

We’re open 24 hours

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      Funny, but he hasn’t seen this shop before. He always passes this way at least three times a week. It must be a new establishment, he says to himself. Anyway, the pawnshop is heaven-sent. Before entering, he scans the street and notices that there are just two or three people milling about. The glass door automatically slides open as if it were electronically operated like the main door of a fancy five-star hotel. Sammy steps inside and takes a mental note of the interiors. The place looks strange. There is no security guard around now that criminality is on the upswing in the big city. He glances at the ceiling for some hidden cameras but cannot find a single one.

The tall man behind the glass-paneled counter looks handsome in a peculiar, exotic way. He is dark-complexioned, with pencil-thin eyebrows, gleaming Mongolian eyes, a finely chiseled aquiline nose and a pair of pale, bluish lips. Aside from sporting a goatee, he has neatly combed and heavily pomaded jet-black hair that is parted in the middle with two pointed locks that curl upward just above his temples.

“Good evening, sir,” the man greets him in a weird accent. “Is there anything that you wish to pawn?” The man smiles at him enigmatically, which is a cross between a smile and a grin.

“Yes, my ring,” Sammy says with anticipation. “It’s pure gold. I wonder how much I can get for it?”

“Can I please examine it so I can assess its value,” the pawnbroker says.

“Of course,” Sammy replies, handing the ring over to the man.

The pawnbroker holds the ring in his left palm and encloses it with his fingers whose long, curved nails are like a woman’s. He shuts his eyes in deep concentration for a few seconds, as if psychometrizing the object. Opening his eyes, he looks at Sammy.

“You are right. It is 24-carat gold,” the pawnbroker confirms and breaks into another inscrutable smile.

“Will I get a substantial sum for it?” Sammy asks expectantly.

“Sir, substantial is a relative term. What amount is substantial to you?”

” I am willing to part with it for ten thousand pesos.”

“As a matter of fact since it weighs exactly 25.5 grams, I can give you eighteen thousand for it,” the pawnbroker declares with authority.

“So much the better!” Sammy exclaims.

“Before I forget, there is a complication, sir.”

“This ring is an heirloom from your grandfather who died three years and five days ago. Right?”

Sammy makes a careful mental calculation and his eyes widen.

“How did you know?” he asks with amazement.

“I have an advanced computer that has access to everything. As I have said a while ago, there’s a complication. It’s against our business policy to accept objects from the past, no matter how valuable they are. In our books, the past is something that has fully depreciated and therefore has zero value which, in our line of business, is completely worthless. Neither do we tag a value to the present, an event in time that partially depreciates while it is happening, and fully depreciates as soon as it has happened and becomes part of the past.”

“Sorry, but I don’t follow what you are saying,” Sammy admits, scratching his head in bewilderment.

“I believe that I have explained myself to you quite clearly,” the pawnbroker retorts in a totally detached tone of voice.

“What will I do?” Sammy cries in frustration.

“Don’t lose hope, sir. I am not yet through in explaining our business policy.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I am saying is that there is something you possess that you can pawn with us. The most precious thing in the world!”

The pawnbroker gives Sammy back his ring.

“But this ring is the only precious thing that I own,” Sammy laments.

“You don’t seem to get my point, sir. I am not referring to physical objects at all. There is something more valuable than mere objects.”

“Could you please take the trouble of enlightening me. I am getting more confused,” Sammy says in exasperation.

“There is something that we prize above all in this shop.”

“What?”

“Your future!”

“My future?” Sammy blurts incredulously.

“Exactly.”

“If you won’t lend me the money I need, I won’t have a future at all,” Sammy pleads.

“Aha, now we’re getting closer to the point. You’re saying that if you won’t be able to recover your losses at the casino, or to be more precise, the money you owe your company, you’ll have no future to speak of.”

“Who fed you all these details about my life? Is this shop a front for a spy network? How long have you been snooping on me?” Sammy grills the pawnbroker like a grand inquisitor.

“I assure you ours is a legitimate operation. Anyhow, when you mentioned earlier that you won’t have a future, you were actually referring to a possibility that is depending upon the past and the present. But you are aware that the past, the present and the future have nothing to do with one another and exist independently in time? The past is just a garbage pile of memories. The present is a bundle of sensations. But the future, ah, the future is something different. The future transcends the past and the present. The future is imponderable: eternity itself. That is the reason why our shop puts a premium on the future and regards it as something priceless.”

“Mind-boggling!” Sammy ejaculates.

“Through the centuries, man has invented conflicting fictions about time. To add to the confusion, man has fathered different types of time: biological time, diurnal time, sidereal   time, gravitational time, electric time, nuclear time and the like. He has also split time into eons, eras, epochs, millennia, centuries, decades, years, months, weeks, days, hours minutes, seconds, milliseconds, microseconds or even a picosecond which is equivalent to one trillionth of a second.”

“In my many years of experience in the pawnshop business, I have observed that different people put different values on time. Some people value their past most, some others value their present most, but who among you value the future as it really is, and not as you imagine it to be? There are even professional idlers who do not put a value on time at all.”

Sammy nods his head in agreement.

“I think I am beginning to appreciate your point.”

“Good! Then we can transact business. Let us apply the concept of time to your own personal life. Even if you get the money to play again in the casino tonight, you are not sure that you’ll be able to recover the amount you need. On the other hand, even if you decide not to play tonight, something totally unexpected might just happen tomorrow which will make winning superfluous and unnecessary.”

“Like what, for example?” Sammy asks in fascination.

“Say a force majeure—a civil war, an earthquake of cataclysmic proportions, or something as simple as you might be dead by tomorrow due to a natural or accidental cause. An infinite number of possibilities and permutations can happen to you in the future. That is why your future is priceless to us. We will use your future to buy time so we can shape the destiny of the world according to our grand design. Now going back to my original offer, are you willing to pawn your future or not, sir?”

“What if I refuse? What will happen to me?”

“Then whatever the future has in store for you will occur. It can be glorious, disastrous, lackluster or a mixed bag. In effect you will also be taking a big risk if you don’t pawn your future.”

“Now tell me, what will be the consequence if I decide to pawn my future?”

“If you fail in redeeming your future, it will be forfeited.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your future will be expunged from the scroll of infinity. Your future will cease to be a possible reality or a real possibility.”

“I see,” Sammy contemplates. “Does it mean that I will not only cease to exist in some future time, but that the very records of my existence in the past as well as in the present will also be erased?”

“Correct.”

“What a terrible fate! But before I forget, you also said that I am allowed to buy back my future after having pawned it. How is it done?

“You are not allowed to redeem your future with your present because it won’t compensate for the assessed value of your future, plus interest and broker’s fee. You are also not allowed to redeem your future with your past, even at a higher interest rate, since the past is no longer a possibility but a part of history, which has a very low assessment value compared with the future or the present because the past is twice removed from the future and has therefore fully depreciated and has no book value at all as I’ve explained earlier. It is actually the mystery, the speculation, the expectation, which makes the future priceless relative to the past and the present. You cannot even redeem the future by paying for it with the combined assessment value of your past and present, plus their compounded interest and broker’s fee.”

“If I cannot redeem my future with my past and present, then how on earth can I redeem it? What mode of payment or currency will you accept so that I’ll have the option of redeeming my future and prevent its forfeiture?”

“Your soul!” the pawnbroker says shrewdly, revealing his true color. “Well. Sir, do we have a deal or not?”

“Yes!” Sammy replies with finality.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. You know why? It’s simple. The future? Eternity? These things do not matter much to me. I won’t miss what I don’t know. I’d rather hinge my faith on the past and the present,” Sammy proclaims with a smile in anticipation of a good bargain.

The pawnbroker realizes that while most people value their future like gold, as far as Sammy is concerned, the future is unquantifiable and therefore has no real or tangible value. He scratches his head in bewilderment and concedes that a lowly gambler, a loser at that, has just outwitted him. He laughs heartily at his own devilish blunder.

“Here’s the fifty thousand pesos you need to pay back every single centavo you owe your company. It’s all yours without any strings attached. Compliment of the shop,” the pawnbroker says, giving Sammy a black satchel full of money.

The ground quakes. There is a blinding flash of crimson light, followed by deafening peals of thunder. The whole shop, including the pawnbroker, vanishes in a cloud of smoke with a sulphurous, mephitic odor. Sammy finds himself standing alone in a vacant lot in the middle of the night. Clutching his precious bag tightly, he muses: It pays to take risks. The future is mine.

Suddenly a shooting star blazes across the ebony sky, leaving a shower of innumerable fireflies in its wake.

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