Tuesday, August 24, 2010


He was born at a time when there was no more war left to fight. It was as if his mother premeditated his coming because when Alan came out, it was already 1987 and the Marcos regime seemed like a bad soap opera. Cory Aquino was already declared president. And despite several coup attempts, it was a time of rejuvenation for everyone. The telephone became in again. Television blared from all parts of the village. And private parties were rampant in the houses. He would sit under his father’s chair while Dad and his friends discuss the stores they had to close, the families they had to evacuate and the books they had to hide during the time of the revolution. Alan would steal away another bottle of Coke while drops of Dad’s Fundador dripped on his shoes, providing a kind of rhythm to their stories which became funnier throughout the night. ‘Remember the time we had to duck into a motel just to escape the curfew police?’ Dad asks with a teasing smile to Mom. Apparently, their friends found it hilarious too although Alan couldn’t understand why. The Coke was giving him a sugar rush.

In 3rd grade, Alan would draw doodles or play PANTS at the back of the theater room whenever teachers would let them watch this funny display of guns and rosaries he was told over and over again was a significant part of history. To Alan, they just looked like a strange action movie he’d seen so many times on HBO. The nuns who always chaperoned during these film showings would sing along to Magkaisa, letting all of them join in. Alan would sit there raising an eyebrow at the drama. In 6th grade, his teacher would for some reason quote his answers on the school bulletin board about how to show Filipino pride in these modern times. He would stare at his answer during recess and wonder how he could write so eloquently about something he did not care about other than it earned him an extra 20 points in Social Studies. By the time he got into high school, he had already won four interschool oratorical competitions, the most important of which was during the 15th anniversary of EDSA. The subject was ‘The Impacts of the Bloodless Revolution to Today’s Juan’. After the contest, Alan could barely remember what he said. He remembers just throwing around a lot of big concepts like unity, selflessness, sacrifice, courage and heroic culture in full volume without pause. What a joke. He wonders how he got away with it.

He could probably do it again. This is what Alan thinks as he walks to his first class in Mass Communications at a small school in Manila. He’d thought about going to bigger universities like UP. FEU wouldn’t have been bad too, but it would be hard to get attention in a pool of big fishes. Alan figured he’d have better opportunities of being noticed when the pond was smaller. He was told Broadcasting was a game of face. If you weren’t seen or heard right away, you might as well go directly to being a personal assistant for one of those noontime shows. Besides, he knew UP was an activist’s nesting ground, more so with his coarse. He really didn’t want to get himself involved personally. Leftists somehow scared him. Too many issues. Too much talk. He wipes his palms dry on his jeans before going in. The place was cramped and there was an overly giddy atmosphere in Room 264-B. Although this was the first day, people already clustered. The urbanites hung out in the back smoking without even bringing a pen or notebook. Another group of made-up girls stayed at the left side. The probinsyanos were so obvious to pick out. They sat individually or in twos, barely speaking a word for fear their accents would come out. They also carried the most things. Jansport Backpacks or huge body bags. They prepared for this day with well-coordinated outfits. He looks at his own pressed jeans and collared shirt and slouched just a little bit so people won’t think him too attentive. He was from Cavite but he didn’t really count as provincial, he thought. On his seat, someone had drawn outline figures of two penis news anchors. Beside it was one of those inspirational quotes he had eaten up during high school written in graffiti text. He let his hand move towards each word. “It is no use saying we are doing our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”It was signed Winston Churchill and Dodoy Batungbacal. He half-listened to his teacher giving them an outline on what they’d be taking up for Introduction to Human Communication. Thin and middle-aged, he was trying to shock everyone by placing expletives all over the place, dropping Fuck and Shit as if he had a word requirement to consider. He introduced himself as Mr. Osorio. It didn’t seem to fit this reed thin man but maybe that was actually the point he was trying to make, scaring all the young blood who was giving him wry smiles, telling them not to underestimate his control. He forced everyone to introduce themselves and add a small factoid he might find interesting. He said he didn’t give a shit what their Major was, addressed mostly to Journalism and PR students who think one can hide in writing all the way up to 4th year. Sir Osorio rolls his eyes to those students who think they can get away with cutesy answers like what one classmate attempted. ‘Hi. I’m Jay Gutierrez and I can let my tongue touch the tip of my nose’. To Alan, he was sort of reminded of the nuns back in Cavite, the ones who always carried rulers and threw erasers at his classmates. Terror teachers who for some reason, never picked on him. He can ace this, he knew. Surely, he’ll have to up his public relation skills but broadcasting and journalism-related subjects were his area. It was just a matter of staying invisible from the right people.

The colegiala was being a bitch. No sooner had they grouped together for a Speech assignment that she immediately went to work writing their names down in her frilly notebook, getting all their numbers and organizing their schedules so they can practice for their presentation. It was a minor subject, Alan pointed out, but the colegiala just gave him a sweet, somewhat annoyed smile and continued on bargaining for ideas for the radio show they were supposed to put up. The probinsyano who seemed to always have a grin on his face started talking like Mike Enriquez, reading their names and numbers to himself. The group just ignored him and let the colegiala boss them around. You’re in charge of the radio drama, she says. You, pointing to the shy girl with freckles, real freckles, on her face, can be in charge of the intermission numbers. You, to the guy with black cuffs and overgrown hair, can do the interview segment. And you, he points to Alan, can do the fake advertisements. She can do the news segments. Fine. Never mind that she was handing him a role that equaled to nothing. He reminded himself what he told her just a while ago. This was just a minor subject. The majors were what counted. Soon after, everybody started fidgeting as Colegiala started forcing them to give out ideas. Come on, she said, this isn’t going to work if she was the only one contributing.

The guy with the black cuffs suggested maybe they could do a rock show like one of those niche stations in the States. For some reason, Black cuffs was keenly interested at what Colegiala was saying and even bumped her bare knees twice as if by accident. Alan didn’t understand how he could be fixated with such a stuck-up. Even if she could scream like a banshee in bed and he doubted that she would considering how she must only be turned on by dominating weaker men, he would never touch her. Black Cuffs’ suggestion brought a frown to Colegiala’s face and then she went on to sermon about how the concept had to be more universal, more at tune to the times, not just to the interests of the individual. She says this while softening her voice and widening her eyes subtly as if she were reciting a psalm from the bible rather than telling Black Cuffs his idea just sucked. Then she goes on to give him the same sweet smile she used on Alan just to show there are no hard feelings. What a diplomatic fake. She looked at Alan and fidgeted slightly to signal it was his turn. How about if they took inspiration from the regional networks, Alan slowly shares, letting the idea build along. Maybe they could do a cultural mix of how radio shows work in different areas from Luzon to Mindanao. That way they could justify that relevance would be about Regionality rather than Universality which was too much to hope for anyway. Besides, they were bound to get a few laughs from the probinsyanos who missed listening to their own dialect. She bogged that down too. First off, she said, probinsyanos didn’t count much since they were minorities in the setting. Second, Alan seemed to miss the point that it was still Speech class and the teacher would be grading them for their diction too aside from concept. Then, Shy Girl who looked like she was meant more for the College of Education with her jeans, loose shirt, wireless glasses and cardigan, surprised him and everyone else huddled in the circle. Maybe it wasn’t necessary for their show to be up-to-date, she started. Everyone would be doing the same thing anyway, putting in the latest songs and researching on the freshest headlines. Maybe it was better to tackle in on the past. They could do a Noir-inspired radio show with 30s music, exaggerated accents and a sort of comedic skit about criminal investigations. Besides, when it came to relevance and acceptability, what could be more relevant than the past? She says these in severe hushed monotone as if bored with the concept herself except her voice didn’t falter. Her last words trailed down to a croak like her oxygen supply had just given away. Alan got the feeling she must’ve been preparing it in her head before she spoke. He was impressed though. She went back to lowering her eyes again. That’d be a great idea, Colegiala said, except that their audience didn’t seem sophisticated enough to understand Noir. In the end as she must’ve planned all along, they went with her idea. Nobody listened to it anymore. By the end, she was back to jotting down on her notebook the things they had to execute. She’d organize it herself just to be sure.

Soon after the first day, Sir Osorio stopped being so flamboyant in his classes. There was even a clipped tone about him. He required everyone to do some heavy reading on books he highly recommended, and learn the rest by themselves. He keeps on mocking them, Jump and Fly, Peacocks. Jump and Fly. According to him, sometimes you just have to cut through the bull of semantics (he assumes they know about this by now) and just deliver. It seems Sir Osorio was infamous in many ways. Alan learns little by little of his colored past from higher year students who warn him about his unpredictability. Blame it on undiagnosed ADHD, they say. They also say he was too smart for his own sake and this caused him to go a little crazy. He hears stories of his younger years of how he roughed it on the mountains of Benguet to document the diaspora of the indigents and how he never came out of it the same way since or how he wiled away his early employment years working at a prestigious advertising agency here in Manila. Then when he was promoted to head of Accounts after sacrificing a few years being overworked, he just all of a sudden quit placing boredom as his reason in his resignation letter. Most of his fellow Faculty members didn’t like him and merely tolerated all his drama because he was known to be the most learned. More than anything, they were intimidated because they knew where theoretics were concerned, he could beat them with his eyes closed. On T-TH, Alan left his boardinghouse ten minutes earlier to make sure he’d never be late for Sir Osorio’s class. Sometimes, he’d prepare in his head the way he was sure the intellectuals did in his class on what to ask Sir Osorio about issues on communication. A good question would make him raise an eyebrow. But an intelligent one would make him utter out an expletive that to Alan, was more golden than open praise. ‘Pucha, Henario! You’re finally thinking, ah.’ Sir Osorio would say, and would proceed to open a tirade of references, Powerpoint presentations and corporate experiences to prove or disprove his own answer. Sometimes Sir Osorio would lock eyes with Alan and then proceed to question other students as if through Alan’s looks alone, he knew the answer would be reserved and uninteresting. Alan wanted so bad to impress him but none of the acts he used before were working. He was more diligent than others but this didn’t seem to move the teacher. Once, during an ongoing debate when Sir Osorio asked the class about the degree of ethics on delaying news, Alan raised his hand because finally he had a strong answer to relay. But what came out was a shrill speech almost as if he were hyperventilating when making it. He was reminded of his old high school when after an oratorical contest, half of the lower year girls, mostly those who didn’t think he was gay because he had a way with words, would surround him and would shout in unison when he shook one of their hands. He reminded himself he could still conjure up that boy now. By some uncharacteristic politeness as if he too were embarrassed for his student, Sir Osorio had just nodded and continued on to the next opinion. That was one of the last times Alan had ever answered in his class.

He was always late for Speech Class on Saturdays. He would make it a point to move out of his bed only when the sun was already apparent through his windows. After the whole debacle about the radio show where Colegiala just got all his parts without permission because according to her, he just didn’t seem all that prepared during practice sessions, he just didn’t feel like attending anymore. Alan wonders how many chances he had left before his teacher drops him. The good thing about being late though was that he had the chance to talk to Shy Girl more often. She was usually late too with the class being at 7:30 in the morning, way too early for a weekend. They would usually sit at the back where beyond the dark glass of the speech booths, the teacher could not notice them too much. He learned that her name was Vanna and that she was a Journalism student. Upclose, she was more mestiza-featured than he first thought. Her freckles gave away some hint of ‘foreigness’ to be sure but she also had eyes with a really light shade of brown hidden behind the glasses she always wore. He liked how she seemed to listen to him even though he knew she didn’t want to get into trouble with the teacher. She was always polite, telling him to ‘Hold on a sec, please’ while she took down notes or ‘Oh really? That’s nice.’ even when she looked like she was thinking of something else. Alan told her she was so lucky. She didn’t have to be actually seen in her profession. She didn’t have to own her statements if she didn’t want to. She could have the gift of anonymity. But she tells him the point of writing wasn’t to be anonymous. It was to be seen, just in a different way. When they couldn’t talk because there was a test going on, they would just pass messages between their booths. She always wrote long messages and he saw how a stickler she was for punctuations even when they were just writing casually. He would sometimes place in double messages or small hearts in his replies just to see how she’d react. He wondered if he was one of those girls who kept a guy hanging, although she could probably just be too nice to consider this game of theirs tantamount to flirting.

After Speech was over, they would see each other in corridors and shared a few other minor classes like PE. She looked really good with the required uniform on, short shorts and a casual shirt with the school logo on the front. Pre, she would call out like a guy when they accidentally saw each other at some place or other, which he found cute especially with her mousy voice. Pre, he’d answer back, tousling her shoulder-length hair just to get an effect of closeness. Alan wonders when he’ll ever get a chance to make his move.

By the second semester, a guy had started to come and fetch her after PE class, a bum who always looked like he’d just gotten out of bed with messed-up hair and mountaineering sandals in tow. He later found out he was a Fine Arts student from UP, one of those radicals who girls went for because they seemed insouciant to the norms even if they were just keeping up a front as well. He would see them walking hand in hand, him carrying her bag even if he looked quite gay with it. And her, listening to his philosophies about art, politics and the tempura down the kanto. Alan would check them out at the side while he unlaced his tennis shoes and feel a gnawing anger that would start at the bottom of his stomach then move to his chest. And stay there.

Considering how much they were putting up to keep him, including hate mail from parents and lawsuits from berated former students, Sir Osorio took a good chunk of subjects, so that by the time 3rd year came, he was handling two of Alan’s Major classes. He still can’t seem to please him. Most of his grades during Sir Osorio’s classes were just enough to pass. They talked about the different styles of today’s current reporters. When Colegiala proclaimed she’d always had this fanatic obsession with Christiane Amanpour, Sir Osorio snapped at her for following the dictums of foreign rubbish, and went on to snidely comment, ‘I’m sure you loved Barbie as a child too, didn’t you, Tan?’. The next few days, Sir Osorio became tenser than usual, the brunt of his anger he usually passed on to his classes, slashing off one assignment to the next. He made a habit of letting them read excerpts from their writing and editing assignments, and then cutting them off midsentence for being too safe, bad, or just plain rubbish. ‘Fucking Lambs, all of you! These are all too cautious!’ he would shout to no one in particular. These days, it was getting harder and harder to speak out than Alan first expected. For some reason, someone always beat him to his point. Someone would always be more eloquent to share the same opinion as his. Alan had just sunk into one of those holes when speaking out was just too tasking. We often just watched his classmates compete with each other, looking for a different angle, finding a loophole on a current affair, which would then garner some form of approval from Sir Osorio. He had never openly praised them. Most of the time, they were just satisfied with a small grunt from him. That was better than the times when he would actually react violently. He was set off by the most unusual things. When one of his classmates actually had the guts to tell him, ‘Well, Sir, it’s factual. Isn’t that what this class is all about?’, justifying a documentary piece he did about the Parañaque slum areas. Sir Osorio simply took him by his collar and led him out the door without explanation. To those remaining in the class, he said, ‘Factual doesn’t make it right, you fucks. You’re supposed to find the truth. That’s what matters.’ Then he walked out and was absent for a week. When he came back, he was not his usual self. He was actually more somber than anyone had seen him. Students have been listening to the news all week that even the passives who only watched for assignments’ sake started tuning in. Alan couldn’t watch because he had no TV inside his rented room but he heard from his classmates and even from Vanna. They were calling it another EDSA, the third or the 4th (he’d lost count) sparked by several groups when Gloria Arroyo declared a State of National Emergency after a supposedly botched coup d’ etat by militants. The morning of the 23rd, a bomb made from lacquer thinner had apparently went off in front of the Malacañang causing Gloria to declare a suspension to all protests. Already, people had started getting flashbacks of the previous dictator’s familiar attempts of taking away the write of habeas corpus, and large demonstrations on EDSA were once again active led by different schools like UP and De La Salle. ‘Pre, punta ka’, Vanna says, touching his shoulder, and sharing that she’d be going with her boyfriend. See, the boyfriend had opened her eyes to the corruption happening all around her, about how the current administration was slashing off human rights as if it was just an accessory, about how the tatsulok was becoming more apparent by the day. She recited this as if hypnotized by some magnetic force in front of her. He wonders what a privileged, pampered, child like Vanna would know about poverty and hunger firsthand. Did she really love him so much that she even imbibed all his principles for her own? She probably did. And he answered numbly that maybe he will be there, weather-weather lang. He watches her leave and he notices she’d started dressing differently. High heels and cardigans were replaced with flats, wrist bands and ripped jeans. He can no longer recognize her from the back like he used to. In class, there was also a tense atmosphere mostly due to Sir Osorio not speaking. He just kept staring at the class and them at him until ten minutes before the bell rings, he lets out a loud dramatic sigh.

‘Look, I can’t tell you what to do. God knows these people I’m embarrassed to call my peers have been training you long enough to be simple transients of the news rather than to be a part of it. All I know is there comes a time when you just have to jump in than just watch from the sidelines. History is often lived for those people bold enough to participate in it. Jump and fly, peacocks. Isn’t that what I always tell you? ’

He makes this speech in a tired, dispassionate way as if he’d just been through a lot the past couple of days. Nobody had seen him in the building much. People always wondered what his activities really were outside of class although he was sometimes seen drinking with other activist professors in one of those kantos popular only to their kind. Sir Osorio takes a look at all of them one last time and dismisses the class. Alan swears he might’ve looked at him a little bit longer than the others and he hears the teacher’s order to another student once, reverberating over and over again in his mind, ‘Make a fucking move, Dominguez! Make a fucking move!’. Maybe he will just to prove Osorio wrong.

Alan had never been to a rally and he had never imagined himself in one before this moment. But here he was, in the cramped streets of EDSA, sitting with a bottled water on the sidewalk. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Everyone around him seemed to be moving in one direction or other. He thought of texting Vanna just to show her he was actually here but the place was just too cramped. He just didn’t want to do anything else other than be there. They say a few minutes earlier Randy David from UP and a certain Atty. Argee Guevarra was arrested in this spot. But he was just a little too dizzy to grasp the gravity of the situation. He had always pictured rallies like how they portrayed it on television or from pictures he saw in the newspapers, loud and unifying. Somehow, in the news, people knew what to do, where to go and what to do with their arms unlike Alan’s whose arms were lying limply to his side joining in a chant he barely understood. The reality was rallies were a little bit divided. There were bystanders from the slum areas eating bread and breakdancing on the side. There was a small group of students playing their guitars and singing on the top of their lungs. There were those covering themselves with a towelette and the rest listened to speeches coming from different people on different sides of EDSA. Alan mostly just followed what his friends did and when it served him convenient, he volunteered to be errandboy, getting flaglets and tarps to sway, carrying bottled water and packed lunches for his classmates. He mostly just chewed candy bars or bought oranges from opportunistic vendors who littered the streets. Between moving from EDSA to Makati to attend the 20th Anniversary of People Power 1, Alan thought he saw Sir Osorio moving with the crowd in the front row, beside the rallyist who was holding the megaphone. That was the last time he saw of him. When the rally dispersed at 8 in the evening, Alan was just bone tired and altogether confused about everything what just happened.

Sir Osorio was never seen in school again. Rumors had it that someone must have tattled about him inviting students to join his militia for the rally. His classes were taken over by a woman who was God-fearing, repeating over and over again how all parts of the media process boiled down to ethics and responsibility towards the viewers. Alan wondered if she’d actually ever worked for a real company before. She seemed one of those teachers who just got everything from books and who became Faculty members even before they even had the experience to back it up. The good thing was his grade seemed to improve and the teacher seemed to have found a liking to him. After the formal sessions, he would summon her chosen ones, him included, and let them borrow from her stash of self-motivation books. She personally hands Alan a copy of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Alan hope she wasn’t expecting to discuss these as he never really planned to read them.

He had one more year to go. Soon after graduating, maybe he could find a local job in Cavite, one that would be near all his former friends, those who remembered him from high school and who still idolized him for his public speaking skills. Alan walks through the gardens behind the Mass Comm. Building. Some of the younger students were shooting something near the gumamelas probably for their Video Editing class. He walks past the smokers’ tambayan where cigarette burns and full ashtrays were still stashed behind big plastic trash cans in case someone from the Admin came by. Past the overgrown shrubberies were where lovers often found their way for some midday groping and lying around in the grass. Once, about a year ago, Alan thinks he saw Colegiala with her boyfriend there. She was being pushed down on the grass for what would probably be her last form of resistance before his hand moved up on her ribs. He wonders now how they could keep it so quiet especially with the night air carrying all kinds of sounds along. But then it was easy to keep quiet in this place. You just had to hear everyone speaking and forget that you have a voice. When his smoke finally gave out, Alan went back to the third floor to continue his script. He sees Vanna on the steps sitting with UP guy, their knees playing back and forth against each other, in the middle of some lively conversation of some sort. Vanna sees him, waves and sends a soundless Hi in his direction. Once in a while he would linger enough to imagine what it’d be like if he was the one beside her. They would probably barter messages like they used to. He remembered how thrilled she was that a guy felt a connection with her through writing when all else couldn’t even understand. They would laugh at their teacher’s pronunciation of easy words like ‘dif’ for deaf and ‘igs’ for eggs. Maybe they’ll just hold hands the way he wanted to do so many times before in that Speech laboratory with the booths dividing them. He’d be happy with just that.

Maybe that’s how it felt when you had something worth fighting for.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This will be short. Almost all happiness is. See, this is what you have to understand, you were meant for this night. From the moment you were spotted drinking with already drunk Bohemians and leftists crooning about what it takes to get into the Palancas or saving the fishes of Tubbataha, you were solely chosen for this. Your face is stoic, partly because you’re trying hard not to show your tipsiness and partly because you’ve already lost track of the conversation after somebody starts a discussion on the lost beauty of iambic pentameters or how adaptation plays a role in balanced reciprocity. Here’s a secret. They don’t understand it either. And this faux conversation is really just a series of parallel talks hidden under the influence of alcohol. After all those amber bottles start to line up and smoke rings rise like consciousness in the air, there is only this moment.

All the rest will be memory. All the rest shall be accused to experience about how once, you were a spoiled little girl playing with the big boys on picket lines, a fresh graduate about to be thrashed out of life’s comfort zones. But please, reserve that for later. Just to reiterate, this will be short. It’s 4 am on your clock and the sun is about to come up.

Please don’t think you’re not a groupie because you are. Please don’t think you’re anything special because you’re not. As is, you were chosen only because of two reasons. One is that you do not seem to be a fun girl. Fun girls will always kiss and tell. You will probably drench yourself in cold showers and cower about your weakness as a woman and the moralities you exchanged for belongingness. The other reason being that you are young. Not that that’s not an asset for some but for you, sitting here on this bed with only freshly-ironed clothes, orange peelings and a stranger for companions, that will be your fall. The young is filled with bottled-up dreams, anger for idealism and an insatiable need for iconography.

Exactly what’s needed in this case. You see, almost everyone has the imposter syndrome, and the fear that someday somebody’s going to catch on the act .So really, what you’re doing is helping the role to be continuously played. You will cooperate as student with the prodigy mentality. You will be taught about practicality, shortcuts, where the best ukay-ukay finds are and how to hug the back with your legs.

There, that’s it. You’re learning well. There, those hands. There, that tongue. Did you know how good a prodigy you were? But hurry. The sun is up and so are details that make you real—whimsical candles on the stand, vintage powder containers on the boudoir, notebooks with doodles and sketches seen so many times from those who attempted to dream and died before you. They’ve all been used and gone. But you’re here. And you are not supposed to be real. The jalousies in your room bring out explosions of color which give you pain and life. You were more beautiful when caught in darkness and shadow. And that’s where you’ll stay.

But first another lesson. There will be nothing beyond this. You were chosen and that makes you special. The world will never understand what special means and will set out to destroy all that is. All moments, the best of them, should be kept in secret. Which is why, nobody should ever know. Always remember that across stares in opposite sides of the room, accidental touches of knuckles and cryptic messages online. Let’s make this short. That way, you will stay frozen as the greatest joy I've ever had. You all are.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Only Love Story I can Write

‘Why can’t women conceive by themselves?’, I asked Jen this once, in between the Panini I was trying not to finish, and Jen stuffing her face with roast medallions and enough rice to feed Africa. The pig. I wonder where she keeps all that? This was supposed to be a quick lunch out but who cares if we were late. We deserved a leisurely meal once in a while. The office was making us hormonal.

But really, why can’t women conceive by themselves? Anyway, nobody had fathers in this age anymore. A family of two is quite normal. I would even be bold as to say it’s a new wave of lifestyle, coveted by those who are burdened by a husband on top of having to raise kids. I could hear my officemate’s resigned voice when she told me ‘You’re lucky’ that I didn’t have the same complications she had. It was as if the women of the world thought of the worse scenario even before conceiving children. And when they were met with cooperation and a command of responsibility, they grew suspicious rather than elated. Something somewhere was bound to go wrong.

I should know. I was a single mother raised by a single mother, who before that was raised by a widow whose husband died when she was five (so technically, a single mother too). Three generations of alpha females, who found life to be, well, easier when they were in full command.

When Jen found out I was pregnant, she didn’t even give the complimentary cry of surprise. She just smoked a ring directly on my face and shrugged. ‘Well, what were you expecting, dear?’ she said to me. ‘It was bound to happen. The child, I mean. Not the man. It’s a difficult cycle to escape.’ So, it came like second nature for me too, that aspect of not having a father for my kid. It’s easier to imagine a lifetime worth of shopping looking for clothes or going to the salon for a makeover. There will be lots of late night talks about boys and eating ice cream over heartbreaks. But there will never be sports games, never riding on somebody’s shoulders going home. There’s never going to be that protective figure before she goes on dates or somebody to teach her how to fix a car. But, oh well. Just one of life’s slight inconveniences, I guess.

‘What, you mean like create rather than procreate, like a worm?’ Jen replied in between bites. I rolled my eyes and gave her a catty look before she diverted this into some issue about herself again.

‘You shit. Be serious.’

‘I am serious! Your mother should be chastising you for thinking of such a thing. Ask the bible. God just doesn’t want us to be independent. Remember that rib story? How he fashioned women out of man, because he was too tired to create something original? We weren’t planned, dear. The man just wanted a plaything. He provided it. It’s there somewhere, Genesis Chapter 3, section who gives a damn.’ This tirade of sorts was typical of Jen who was the biggest atheist this side of Cebu. You’d think this city so proud of its religiosity would drive away people like her. But she loved it here, this Manileña. And she especially loved seeing me cringe since she knew about my family’s devoted Catholic background. But she turned somber all of a sudden.

‘Seriously, if you didn’t want the complication, you should’ve just had a one night stand. You should’ve just stood at Junquera and waited for a foreigner to pick you up.’

I let out a mocking gasp. ‘And miss out on love, and the hot nights that go with it?’ I asked her. This time it was she who rolled her eyes. But she was wrong though. There was no complication to speak of. The father didn’t even know.

I usually ignored the inkling to think about things. I move it out of the way because I didn’t to be one of those people who psychoanalyzed themselves for entertainment. Goodness knows there’s too much of that in the workplace already, with agents telling you this is just a temporary step to their dream, to fill a hole in the resume. Then, it turns out they end up staying in the company for two to three years. Broken dreams walking like drones. It took me a moment to realize though that was exactly what I was doing the whole afternoon while rattling on to call center candidates about the difference of pronunciation and enunciation. Personally, I didn’t really care, but this is what they were paying me for. It was there, that niggling feel to wonder why I never told him. People found it so easy to assume I was just left behind, that I had no choice in the matter. It’s easier that way, so I let them continue with the assumptions. Maybe it was fear of commitment, I thought, in between teaching agents how to say Arkansas the right way. For the nth time it’s Ar-kan-saw. Ar-kan-saw. Ar-kan-saw! I say to those agents who stubbornly place their emphasis on the wrong syllables. I did only have all women roIe models in my life. There was never a union to speak off. Only strong individuals to follow. I hear the class rattle down the different states like Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa before they lost me in Oregon where my talent for multitasking kicked in. I was lost in my thoughts. Maybe it was fear for the loss of control. Dependence was something foreign to me. It wasn’t something I had the luxury of having. Even if I did, I don’t think I’d want it very much now. It would probably be hard to rely on someone that much, painful even. Maybe it was the child and how I didn’t want her to grow up with an incomplete father. Or maybe it was him. Then again, maybe it was me.

The house was passed on from one woman to the next. This is my mother’s house now. It could accommodate ten but there were only the three of us and the help. As is, there was so much space to be filled. No wonder we went shopping every Sunday. Andy was still at her playschool. She’ll be home anytime now with the Nana who adores her. They probably sneaked down to the mall for ice cream because she asked. I always had the luxury of being the first at home. The office was nearer anyway. That’s when I get a fill of me time like read a book or attempt to meditate because it seemed cool. This was routine. This is what we did everyday, and although the daughter seemed to have found comfort in the predictability of it all, it made me cringe for bigger things, a little chaos maybe, something controllable. Maybe I’ll get a credit card just for the heck of it or maybe I’ll finally have the time to go to the gym. Lose the remaining pounds from when Andy was born. It seemed such a long time ago that I went out and had a decent all-nighter. I’d been juggling so many things all my life, there’s this constant itch to find a new ball to juggle. The domesticity was stifling. The beef steak the help was cooking was pungent to my nose. Sometimes I have to remind myself everyday what I gave up those career-driven, party-all-nights for.

That’s why, you ungrateful slob. That beautiful child who just walked in with uneven bangs and chubby legs. I do not know how to describe her, this child. She looks nothing like me. She is nothing like me. She is softer, a bit more somber than what a child should be. Sometimes I catch her looking outside windows, staring at space and I know then, she grew up a little bit too fast. She’s three now. And she speaks with a perfect American accent one can only get from watching too much Spongebob reruns. She enters the door, looks at me accusingly from my lazy position in the sofa and then stomps off in front of the TV to flip channels. She finally settles on Nickelodeon as she always does and then sits there in silence. I wasn’t even sure if she was really watching, just staring. I look at Mom who just came in and flick my eyes on the daughter. She gestures for me to go outside with her, and we stand there in the garage, hushing our voices so the daughter won’t hear.

‘She’s not a very good liar like you were.’ Mom started.

‘Thanks for the compliment. What happened?’

‘One of the kids was asking why I always picked her up instead of Mom or Dad.’

‘And?’ I raised an eyebrow more for that nosey child than for my mother.

‘She told the kid you were teaching people how to speak right. Then the friend asked where the dad was.’ Mom was cleaning her cuticles nervously now.

‘What did she say?’

‘Nothing. Murmured something only she could hear, and then hid behind me. You used to tell them he was an astronaut stuck in space on a mission. That or he was dead.’

‘I really should teach her how to lie better.’

‘That’s the right way to handle it. I knew I taught you well.’

‘I’ll talk to her.’, I said to my mom somberly. ‘Do that.’

All single mothers prepare for this moment. It’s always there, hanging on the back of our minds like a dress that’s reserved in the closet for a special occasion. Even before they ask, we think of settings, of how to explain it that a child will at least partially comprehend, of how soon it would be before they asked. I look at my mother and I saw in her eyes the worry of how I would handle it. I knew she was silently reminding me that I was not this child. I’d like to think of myself stronger, that I never asked questions same as the way Andy was asking now. I’d like to think I came out of this world knowing some things weren’t just meant to be. I’d like to think my childhood was always happy and that whatever I lacked in not having a father, my mother more than made up for in time, attention and all the toys I could ever want. But childhood memories tended to be unreliable. They usually just hid the pain of what was. And so, I promised myself that I would be as honest to that child anxiously peeking at the doorway as I could. I led Andy into the room that we shared and placed her on my lap. She looks at me eagerly, biting the bottom of her lip. I take the pointer finger on her right hand ‘So, this one is mommy.’ and the other pointer on her left hand ‘And this one is daddy.’ The same scene happened twenty years ago with my mother sitting me on her lap and explaining just as I was trying with Andy now. ‘Once, they loved each other very much…’ I prayed that she would understand this. Maybe I’ll buy her a new doll tomorrow.

Who knows how memories work? Sometimes it comes in jolts, other times in painful pieces, and other times like a blurry haze. Sometimes the littlest things trigger them like the other day when friends and I were dining at a vintage restaurant and an antique camera was used as décor. I sat there thinking, he used to love photography or when a man would pass by wearing a baseball hat, and again I would think how he had a taste for those things too. Sometimes there were mannerisms or facial expressions the daughter unconsciously did that would give away fragments of him.

The funny thing about memories though, was that most of the time they only retain a careful distortion of the person. A myopic profile. Like something you read out of the newspaper about actors or politicians. Sometimes I forget what it was that caused our falling part. Other times, I’d second guess myself if it was the right decision not to tell him. He wasn’t a bad guy after all. He was in many ways the best friend I ever had even. Then, I would try really hard to remember the details of what we were, how in the end, we were so disastrous for each other. I would try to conjure all those situations when we fought over his dream over me. How he had so many plans but never enough executions when it came to our relationship. How he only seemed to find the time to see me when his office didn’t call for him. And even if he said I didn’t understand him, the truth was I actually did very well. He and I weren’t so different after all. I knew how it felt like to be caught in a competitive atmosphere. I knew how it felt like to have an ambition gnaw at you so bad, it becomes addictive. I knew how it was to push harder and harder and stop only until somebody gives you a pat on the back, a nod of the head. At the last part, there were only fights, cold wars, attempts to break-up and finally, the end. But what if we tried harder? God, I’m second guessing myself again.

Times like these I would Google him just to remind myself that I made the right decision. Everyone was on the Internet nowadays. It was so easy to gain access to lives. That’s why I never go online. People who demanded I send pictures of Andy, I just personally email. The internet was a small place. Who knew who might potentially tell? Singapore wasn’t such a far place and there were plenty of Pinoys there who can still get a hold of him and drop some hints. I can just picture out a few busybodies who think it moral to let him know, ‘Isn’t this your ex? Kid sure looks a bit like you.’ I dread that moment. That’s why I never e-mailed him back although he’s tried several times over the years to contact me. He’s a little skinnier now, his face a little thinner. All that his page contained was an extension of his corporate life. ‘Congratulations, Accounts, for a successful leadership seminar!’ or something like ‘Noodles at 2 in the morning. I love the office when it’s quiet.’ Yes, I made the right decision.

The daughter was thriving. Mom suggested we lengthen her play hours so she can have access to more kids, build more social skills. It seems to be working because she was less likely to linger on doors now. A few more weeks and she’ll be enrolled to a formal school. On weekends, friends and I would try to take her somewhere new. To Busay one time to let her pick her own flowers, then to Mactan the next where she built sand castles in the beach the whole afternoon while we drank beer in the shade. This weekend, we brought her to one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Danao where there was fresh seafood and ice cream with nangka. And in between the joking and the ribbing and passing Andy around, a phone rings. It was mine. A foreign number. Jen sees the apprehension on my face and knew what I was thinking. I decline the call. A couple more rings and everyone in the group started to get agitated too as if they could feel the tension I was feeling. ‘Mom, who’s that?’ Andy asked. ‘Nobody, Ands. Just work.’ I tell her and turn the phone to silent mode. But the phone was still blinking and Andy kept looking at it, then back at me. ‘Andy dear, let’s go see the fishes.’ Jen suggests and leads Andy out while all the rest enter into petty conversations for my sake. ’Hello?’ a voice with too much white noise in the background says. A ghost has been reincarnated. Our lives were about to change.

I started to dread going home for fear he’d drop by anytime. I remembered he had a tendency of doing that a while back even if he did tell me when exactly he’d be in Cebu on account of some business he had to attend to. We need to talk, he said. And suddenly, all these questions came swarming back like a festering wound. Who had told him? Was he planning to stay? Was he going to fight for Andy? Was he going to brainwash my girl and blame me because she didn’t have a dad? Of course he was. I saw Andy only in the late evenings when she was too sleepy to badger me about anything. She was at that stage when she was asking too many questions, and I was just too drained to answer all of them. I knew I was being unfair to her but I just wanted to be alone.

The day he was supposed to come, I allowed Andy to be absent from school. I told her she’d be meeting someone today. I let her wear her new dress, placed barrettes on her hair, splashed her with a bit of cologne and tied her shoes just right even if she kept on squirming, as anxious as I was about the visitor. I wonder if he’d still recognize me. I looked at the mirror and remembered I was quite different from my three-years-ago self. I had a motherhood aura to me now. The house shorts I wore to hide my over preparedness for his coming hugged a little too much of my butt and belly. The shirt was branded but it looked cheap on me. I wondered if I should just wear something smarter and risk him seeing my eagerness. I told Andy to watch TV while I prepare for snacks and contemplated on changing again. But there was no time. Because there he was, opening the door to our gate like he once did so many times before, not even asking permission. Just entering. He was skinnier with makings of a goatee. And he no longer wore one of those casual sports shirts like he did back then. For some reason, I had the urge to laugh and joke about how spiffy he was looking almost as if he was wearing a costume. But his demeanor matched the polo shirt. He caught me with a spatula in one hand as I signaled for him to enter through the other door. I fussed over my hair for the last time and opened the screen door widely. There was a quake in my voice when I greeted him and his own was a little bit too loud, filling in the empty house. We made small talk about how the house hasn’t changed, how he still remembered the Victorian painting on the wall. His eyes trained on a Chinese ceramic vase we both once gave to my mother for her birthday. It seemed like we were in a movie and were trading dialogues, playing parts for each other. How is Singapore, I asked. Fine. How’s the crowd at the call center? Constipated. How long will you be staying? A few weeks for vacation. Where’s Tita? Raiding the stores for cookbooks, on my order.

Then, just as unprepared as I was for his coming, we were just unprepared for Andy to walk in. She was stuck there in the middle of the living room, suspended in time. My breath caught in my throat. I don’t know how he felt at that moment, sitting beside me. I couldn’t even look at him. It seemed all of us were too nervous to move, our hearts too loud in our ears until Andy came closer and promptly put herself on my lap. She was hesitant about who the stranger was. It was the first time she saw a man at home except for my friends whom she all called Titos. Frankly, they didn’t count for men at all. I noticed how she was scuffing her shoe back and forth the rug. But this was her home. That was probably the only thing stopping her from going back to the TV room. And she didn’t look. Even when her elbow was almost touching his arm. I forced some lightness out of my voice and prompted her to look at him. ‘Ands, say hello to…Tito’, I cajoled her. ‘Hello Tito.’, she promptly calls out without looking at him. ‘You want to prepare Tito a snack? Why don’t you bring him some of those cookies from the fridge?’. I was not prepared for their meeting. Suddenly, Andy had seemed too small for her age. And I find myself counting how many years it had been, how many birthdays missed, how many giggles lost, how many wounds unbandaged all because he didn’t know. Had he wanted to know? Andy scuffles to the kitchen, leaving us behind. His hands were in his chin, in his lips. They were quivering slightly, his breath heavy.

‘Ours?’, he asked softly. I nodded.

‘When?’. He put his head on his hands like it was hurting him.

‘Then.’ I knew I was his headache. I was bracing for the question that would come next. I didn’t prepare for it because I knew I’d come out with psychological generic answers.

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I had no answer, not a suitable one anyway.

‘I mean, was I really that bad? Did I hurt you that much? Would it have been so awful?’. Yes. Yes. Yes. I thought. I mean. Yes. No. Yes. On some days, No. No. Yes. I needed time to think about this. Was he really expecting an answer from me this soon? I could not think, could not speak even in monosyllabic tones that were once so popular with the two of us when we were trapped in each other’s misery. There would be no answers now. Only questions. But what difficult questions they were. Not even enough for the few weeks of vacation he was planning to have. Still, it was a start.

Andy walks in, carrying the plate of Oreos I’d told her to fetch. She places it on the table, the contact of glass on glass the only sound in the room. She sits on my lap, this time a little more confident to look at him. I think I heard her say Hi although I can’t really be sure now. I was losing track of where I was, Andy’s hands on my own, a child’s curiosity, the scuffle of his shoe on marble, a look, her untarnished question which expected only honest answers that adults sometimes cannot give, a lift of the head, a gaze----

‘Are you my daddy?’ she asks from out of nowhere.

He does not even look at me to confirm. ‘Yes. I am. Hi.’

‘I knew it was you. What took you so long?’, she asks flippantly, unfazed by his answer. A knowing gaze so very much like his own. He seems surprised by this little girl, so confident all of a sudden in what she can get away with.

This is when he looks at me, anger in his eyes. Anger for me. ‘I lived very far away. It took me so long to come home. I had to take a plane and a car and walk all the way here. It’s that far.’ He opens his arms wide to emphasize the distance. And I can hear a slight O coming out from the little girl’s lips.

‘Mom, can I show him my room?’ she asks me. He’s already seen it, Ands, I wanted to tell her. But she was already taking the first steps to the stairs. The whole afternoon they sat side by side, trading stories back and forth. Are you going to school? What’s your job? Do you know how to draw Dora? What did you do on your last birthday? Do you like dogs? Why did you leave me? I like fried chicken. You too? I have another grandmother? Are you going to live with us now? Mom doesn’t like it when you bring your shoes inside. Yes, he knew.

I’d come in once in a while between checking on dinner and talking to Mom who just came home gunning me with all kinds of questions. But most of the time, I just look at them from afar. How they unknowingly look like each other when they bow their heads. How they tentatively try to touch and pepper it with excuses. You have some crumbs on your chin, he says. Can I touch your ears, she asks. How they seem to trust each other right away. Surprising for a child as cautious as my daughter. Our daughter. The daughter that came from both of us at one time.

I look at them staring at each other across the dinner table with my mother acting as mediator and smile knowingly at the answer that just came to me why women weren’t supposed to conceive alone after all. Because sometimes, with the lucky ones, they experience first hand how it is when a man loves them without condition. For a man to love them just because. Even if it is the only point in time they get to experience that feeling. Maybe it’s the only point that counts.

They smile. They laugh. He makes a cautious goodbye with a promise to come back the day after. She accepts it with equal caution but with no fuss. Whereas I, had he been my father, would’ve badgered him with a bullet of questions, a room of accusations, an insatiable need to posses. She takes it with consolation. And I knew just then, she grew up a little bit too fast. She’s so different from me, this daughter. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing about her.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

That Macario

Many still think of him as the kindest killer they ever met. Of course, they had not known a lot of killers before him. Macario was the first and therefore, the most remembered. After his death, plenty of mediocres would follow but none had the heart Macario had.

Ser, mobalor lang ko’g uska libo. I wouldn’t ask if we had other people to borrow from. We’ve already tried everyone else. I’ll pay you on my next salary. It’s just the two kids are in the hospital. The salary you gave me just isn’t enough. Ser, maluoy ka! Ser! I’ve worked on your house for a year. I’ve never cheated, never shortchanged! Palihug! Ayaw wad-a akong respeto nimo!

It wasn’t only his skills though that earned him his reputation in this place people only refer to as tapos sa rayl. He was a man of principle, that Macario, people would always reminisce. His composure was always calm. His victims always shot cleanly, almost humanely, with the least struggle. He almost always targeted the head, sometimes the heart. When he couldn’t get a clear shot, he would always make sure to follow immediately with a second bullet to stop the pain. And that was why people loved him. Yes, he was a man of principle, that Macario.

Hide the hammer. Stash the other things. Clean your hands. Clean the blood on the floor, on yourself, on the furniture. Place a handkerchief on his mouth. Tie his hands with rope. Open the water tank. Smooth him in gently. Be quiet. Find the money.

The houses tapos sa rayl were known to be residences of the misfits. The railroad tracks did more than just divide the land. They also divided the people, segregating them to the before and afters of society. Those before the rail were a mixture of old Spanish colonial mansions with well-kept gardens and large verandas peppered with smaller 70s style homes with adobe walls and geometric shapes.

Those after the rails were made out of dilapidated boards slanting to the side. The luckier ones had nipa walls, bamboo kitchens and small patches of green in the front. That was before Macario came. He gave his neighbors jobs, letting them take care of his chickens and repairing his house. He sent some of the kids to school and gave them small treats when they passed by. He organized basketball leagues and doled out large prizes, so kids can stay away from bisyos. He even donated large amounts to the church, renovating the priest’s dormitory and providing all the carosas for Holy Week. Even the barangay council started soliciting from him for large projects. Nobody knew where the money was coming from. When they found out, he became Jesus, weeding out the hypocrites to serve the poor. He soon was only referred to as Tatay to everyone. Macario’s coming became the golden age of the houses tapos sa rayl.

Dong, where’s your Mama? Still at the hospital? Give this bag to her when she gets back. And here’s a hundred. Don’t spend it on toys. Now, listen, Papa has to go away awhile, okay? He’ll come back for you when he’s ready. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. And when somebody asks, don’t tell them I’ve been here.

For all his popularity, nobody really knew anything about the man seated in his rocking chair. Even those he especially chose to take under his wing, teenage boys he taught carpentry to who became his drinking buddies every weekend, hadn’t had the guts to ask. Once, they had tried to get him drunk in order to extract some information. His face had suddenly turned hard and he whispered audibly, ‘Bata pa ang gabii, mga pisu. Klaro pa ang panan-aw.’. The truth was it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to answer. It’s that he could no longer remember vividly at all. They’d never tried to ask him again. Still, it did not stop the questions from neighbors. Where he came from before he got here. How he started. How he got to do what he did. Who his first ‘job’ was. Who his connections from the mountains were who, in turn, had connections to the syndicates. They wanted to know. Their houses needed repairing too.

Gie, are you there? Di kayo ko kasturya. So, listen. Don’t butt in. I dropped off some money for you. It’s with a vegetable vendor named Edna in the market. Don’t ask her where I am. She won’t know. Spend the money wisely. It’ll be a while before I can send again. People might get suspicious. I love you. Tell the kids Papa misses them. Tell Dodong not to spend it on toys.

The day Macario died, he was delivering flowers to be used for Sunday mass. One of his students was rattling on his ear, pesking him for money. Please, tay, just to help his child get out of the hospital. If they couldn’t pay, the child couldn’t get out. There was treatment to think about and the wife was pregnant too. And no one would lend him the money. Macario fished in his pockets, opened his wallet and found a few hundreds plus coins. He gave everything he had. Drop by the house, Macario told him so he can give more. Soon after exiting the church, he was stabbed at the back. The cut was clean, immediately stopping the connection from spine to brain, almost like Macario would’ve taught him. Because it wasn’t enough,Tay. Not even close.

His funeral became the most lavish his neighbors had ever attended. And in the corner, two children and a widow looked down at the father and husband they haven’t seen for eight years. He was a man of principle, that Macario, they were told. Who knew if they believed this. Dodong, now 19, left a hundred pesos for abuloy. Don’t spend it on toys, he muttered under his breath.

And that was the end of the kindest killer they ever met, and the end of the golden age for the people tapos sa rayl.

Jesus had died. All the rest were just murderers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Melons and Pears

These breasts. Ah, if only they could speak with liberty like the vagina. If only it had two lips, a wide opening, a deep canal. The things it would say. The stories they would tell. For breasts are both spectator and spectacle. Their sole purpose to see and feel, the eyes of sensuality, the giver, the receiver. All taken with a stride that is more taboo than the inverted triangle will ever be.

As is, the breasts will never lie to you. They will never give you a fake orgasm. They will never give what they don’t have in their capacity to give.

They will always show you if it hurts. They will always look you in the eye. They will rise with excitement. Engorge with love. Pock red with pain. Bruise with suffocation. And go depleted when it refuses to nourish itself.

On some days, the breasts are more woman than the woman itself.

Green Signals

I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself
- Genesis 3:10

To him, she was a trespassing sign. Her face was closed. Eyes dilated, constantly searching. Lips pursed. Hair the color of dried grass and barbed wire. Arms crossed even when walking. And when he came astride beside her, she wasn’t there at all. Like the shoulder he draped with his arm was the only anchor for her not to float away. It seemed the world and its stories were never allowed to enter again.

There lies the mystery. Because as she seems closed to those around her, her body seemed to be screaming just the opposite. Her breasts were like two green signals. It caused people to blunder, lose sight of the road, jam in intersection. She had warned him they tended to have that effect. But nothing quite prepared him until he actually got to take a look. They arrived a few steps before her every time. Adam had tried to look everywhere else but there since they met. But he couldn’t. It would always start and end there. Only the conscious effort of looking at her face would divert from this. Sometimes, he’d admonish himself because when he sneaked glances, his mouth would go dry rather than water.

There were only bulky sweaters, tent dresses, dark blouses. Ones that never gave more attention to what they already garnered by themselves. She did not want attention. She wanted to disappear. There were never any Friday Nights with girlfriends or casual dates. She had always gone home. Even now when she was already 27 and there was no family to go home to.

In a way, he was grateful for that. He never would’ve met her had she been any of those things. Everyday, she would lock herself in the confines of her room with iced tea and laptop in hand, and meet him there, in cyberspace. She updated often, talked a lot. Her blogs intrigued him. Like she was living the happiest life surrounded by the simplest things. She talked about the things around her home. The dog she inherited from her younger sister. The kitchenware she never gets to use because she was always dropping by somewhere new before going home. The rock music she plays full-volume just so she’d feel she wasn’t home alone. Her life lists. Places she was going to someday. Big purchases she was saving up for. Sometimes he feels like she was just there, living in cyberspace. Trusting a stranger whose voice she’s never heard, but who listened 500 miles away.

Soon came regular chats at night. Hurrying home to get online. Plans to drop by each other’s areas. Exaltation in sharing childhood traumas, deep secrets. Personal info. Contact numbers. Love, maybe. Maybe but not really.

Then just as soon as if they were just talking about it, he was there. In her doorstep. For three weeks, he watched her cover herself up whenever they were beside each other. Noticed her move her elbow slightly so his own can never accidentally bump into her side. Watched her lock herself up every night in the same room he used to just imagine, and then wake up very early so they can never bump into each other on the way to the bathroom.

Why has real life suddenly become more surreal than their relationship in cyberspace?

Adam knew why, of course. It was those green signals. They had suddenly turned red for him. And he had become a stranger again.

A Recipe for Stuffed Breasts

1. Place the two pieces between your hands and a flat area; pound with a meat mallet or with own fists until they flatten evenly. Be careful not to tear through the meat.

2. Sprinkle breasts with salt to taste; fill with even portions of anger and sadistic guilt.

3. Roll up and pin with any sharp object. Arrange breasts in an orderly fashion. Spoon extra praise and attentiveness around the breast rolls. Mix soup with ½ cup tears and garnish. Pour over breast fillets.

4. Then, bake at 350°, basting occasionally with assurance it’s never going to happen again. Heat inside the baking dish, for 1 hour or so.

5. Remove your hands for until the next time. Add lavish gifts and new promises. Display to guests in a nice serving dish.

He thought they were the perfect target. This was what he found out soon after the rest of her body had been experimented with. The face and arms were too obvious. They garnered too many questions in the work place. The stomach was too sensitive. She couldn’t get up to make breakfast for him in the morning. That would be a waste to the highest degree because she was such a good cook. The back seemed too fragile. Last time he hit her there, she had to go to the hospital and made him foot the bill for what she told the doctor was a simple slip in the bathroom.

But the breasts, those round orbs he loved to bite until she screamed, were perfect. It excited him to suck them on and on like in a trance. He didn’t notice they bled too much afterwards. He could do anything with it and no one would ever see. They would be in bed and he would always stop there, slowly at first, like a child nipping candy. Then small nibbles. Then fast suckles. She knew this was the start. But she was too afraid to let him stop, so she would slowly divert him by kissing the crook on his neck and whispering ruggedly, ‘Hon, let’s go.’ .

Sometimes, it would work and he would continue down there where she no longer felt anything. But on some days, it triggered that Supernova. There’d be quiet before the big bang, but she knew it was coming. She had seen it in his eyes that glittered a little too much. The problem was she never knew which days were which.

He never meant it, of course. That was important to state out. She had to know that. It was just these fitting rages she always caused. It made him lose too much control. He would stand over her sometimes, like in an out-of-body experience, and cry from the inside. Who was this fuck slapping his wife?

Soon after, he would take the cigarette burns from the mounds and place toothpaste on them to make sure they wouldn’t swell. The last ones turned into a heart-shaped scar which made him smile. See, even her body thought it really wasn’t that bad.

In the morning, when she was ready with those made-from-scratch brioche he would tell her to make so they can kiss and make up, he would give her a smack squarely on her slightly swollen mouth. Hon, you really know how to spoil me. She would then clear the table and wait for him to leave before she would. As parting call, he would nonchantly add, Oh, maybe next time, a little easy on the milk? It’s too creamy.’ This would make his day because he knew he’d just exercised a little extra patience with her, a step to his absolution.

The breasts were slowing her down in the workplace. They were swollen and itchy and reminded her of nights past. Even when she was cooking, the thing she used to love the most, there was only the longing to take them off, discard them like the apron she hangs on the rack every night.

When was it that she started living like this? Did she know? Did he know? Was it that time when she forgot to bring out his slippers and the first hit came? Was it the time when he asked her to choose between him and her friends, and the TV broke? Was it that time when she was staring at the clouds outside his kitchen, and he fucked her from behind because he thought she was looking at their neighbor’s teenage son? She forgets what life was before this. How freedom was not always a lie. Before all the recipes for a man she now only saw as a horse coach. Once, cooking had been the dream, just like the man. Then a passion. Then obligation. Then lifeline.

She would go home now. Her body knew. There was a tingle she felt at the core the same way a sundial knew how to tell time. There was no longer dread. Only calm acceptance. Perhaps it would always be like this. These were the marks of her days, how she would chunk out one dish after the other until all her cards would run out. Perhaps then he would no longer need her. And she would go. She would mince, blanche, boil, fry, grill and roast herself until then. Most of all, she’d wait, for that time when she’ll finally be able to use that recipe for tronquito she always wanted to try.

Tronquito- bull penis soup
Brioche- flaky French bread

Mama Knows Breast

Damn advertisements. Were they going to run this thing the whole day? Commercials just didn’t have the same professional integrity they used to. Seriously, who in their right minds who’ve actually given birth and breastfed their kids would think those boobs they’ve been flashing have been through rigorous wear and tear. Was there such a thing as a boob double? If there was, they’d probably used it here. Those smooth, creamy mounds of skin have not been milked through. She would know. It’s only been a month and already her breasts were these uneven stress balls that engorged on one side and tilted down on the other.

And don’t even let her get started on the nipples. How had they gotten so dark? Once, they were these cute little buttons that looked more like the color of pink pearl. Then coral. Then brown. Now those areolas looked like an antique coin with a nub. They were never indiscreet. They were like flashcards that screamed ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ and they did. It didn’t matter where she was. In a dark corner or in a busy mall. Somebody was always bound to look. She or the husband would look at some guy who seemed to be magnetized by the power of the nub and they would cough discretely to veer his attention away. Come on, maniac! Haven’t you had enough boobs from watching your daily porn fixture?

Seriously, wasn’t it enough she go through the painful process without having some weird standby watch her attempts at trying to let the little girl latch? But a hungry screaming baby knows what it wants. They’re torpedoes zeroing in on the targets. It hadn’t seemed such a long time ago when she would still daintily cover her assets with her hand when she bent down or looked for clothes that didn’t reveal too much. Now, one flip of the bra, and plop! It was there like a 24-hour open pantry. Constantly available. The first time they went out for her check-up and a small run-to to the mall, it was all there too. All over her clean, pressed white shirt. An outpour of liquid no one would ever doubt from where it was coming from. The husband must be livid. Even she’s never seen so much of her own breasts before.

God. The baby’s crying again. See, here’s the thing. Doctors constantly explain the benefits of breastfeeding. But what they never seem to cough out is how painful it is during the first week. It is. There’s no point sugarcoating. It’s like a bad toothache or a festering wound. It hurts like you wouldn’t believe especially if the baby’s a succubus. The first few days, she’d suck and suck and the breasts would still be empty. Seriously. Where’s the milk supposed to be coming from?
Then by some miracle, it’d be there. Flowing like a waterfall. The pain would be gone too.

What’s left would be this child who people say unbelievably came out from you. It was then, those moments when she’s feeding off from some deep part, some stronger extension, some life form made out of rougher stuff, when it’s going to hit. It’s all been worth it all along.

After that, a coin could be bounced off those little clumps of scabs once called breasts, and they’d feel nothing.

Someday, this little girl will look at her the way she once did her own mom, as if she were some creature from another planet with sandbags sticking out of her chest. She would point at those two shriveled raisins pointing to the floor. And with a small voice would probably ask, ‘Mom, what’s that?’

She knew what her answer would be.

‘Well, sweetie, that’s you. That’s all you. Right there.’

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Lemon Juice Page

No New Entry Today.

The struggler is busy with writing a series of pocketies (for pocket stories. Yes, I'm inventing terms now.), much shorter than the normal short story but quite longer than a short pocket story as well.

Her obvious lack for apt descriptives leaves little wonder why she needs to produce more work for practice.

The culprit to this confusion will be published tomorrow.

In the meantime, please veer your attention to the Lemon Juice Page, which features other people's short stories in reaction to my own. Or if you just want to write one of your own and want it placed on the said page.

Because a story creates another story. This is how the world works.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


My mother was trying to kill me. She really was. Why else was she intent on letting me take vitamins and preparing breakfast for me everyday, forcing me to eat, when all I want, all I really want is to catch a disease? Nothing serious though. Maybe dengue or pneumonia. Something that makes you lose weight really fast.

In between the scrambled eggs and the bacon, I thought for the hundredth time how much easier it would be if I were poor. They were so much more blessed. After all, nothing to eat, nothing to gain.

It was the Christmas Holidays and she and I were shopping for new clothes to wear for Simbang Gabi and the family reunion. I climb into the car with her. You know about that disorder called anorexia? Well, my mother, she has the opposite. She looks at me and sees this beautiful child with shapely legs and makings of big breasts. But I was not a beautiful child. I was fat. I knew that just as surely as I knew I was smart or crafty or responsible. But really, when you’re in 2nd year high school, who actually cares about those things? The guys in our school sure don’t. I’d just as surely wish I were dumb but a lot skinnier, skill-less but with more coordination, boring but able to fit into dresses other than my mother’s.

And there it was, the Ladies Section. Tense salesladies going to and fro the backroom. A long line going to the dressing room. And so many clothes in disarray, I didn’t know where to start. In my mind, I was thinking of a checklist I saw in a magazine once. The topic was about ‘Take off 10 pounds by Dressing Right’. I let my palm graze through the hangers and racks. Choose Black. Look for a V-neck neckline. Maybe an empire cut. No sleeveless. Flowy material. Perhaps small prints all over.

But there it was. All the things I had not been looking for. A red dress. In stretch cotton. Sleeveless. With the simplest cut. The trouble was, the simplest things aren’t always the easiest to get. I knew this because I‘d been trying to lost weight since I was 12 and look at me. Just staring at the dress, I knew it was going to be tight. But I snatched it up anyway, not even looking at the tag and hurriedly took my turn on the dressing room before my mother comes back and insists she come along to watch.

I looked at myself in the mirror and pinched the parts that stuck out the most. The chicken wing arms. The inner thighs. The calves. The butt. But most of all, the belly. That part where from ribs to waist, all was laid flat, until I reached an obvious curve like a hump in the road. I tried all the others on and saved the red dress for last. It was difficult dressing my age. What, with all the tight shirts, tight jeans and skimpy everythings going around. The black mini was a bad idea. The see-through cream top too. The floral prints made me look old. And the jeans couldn’t even reach my crotch.

Then, the red dress. It had barely reached my breasts when the material wouldn’t go down anymore, my arms still flapping up and down like that of a headless chicken. I pulled it up, pushed it down but it wouldn’t budge. I was stuck in that red dress, grunting and flapping my way through the dressing room for what would seem a minute, five minutes, ten. Who knows. I sat there on the vinyl floor thinking somebody was going to walk in here soon and find me in this thing and laugh their heads off. Maybe they were doing that now from their security cameras.

By some intervention though, my hands seemed to find a zipper on the side of the dress. I slowly pulled it down and the material went down with it like magic. It had seemed too good to be true and maybe it was, because there in the mirror was a vivid reflection, an equal image of subtle and striking at the same time. I pulled my hair up to see the full effect and I knew it was a sight to keep. For a moment, I actually passed for someone beautiful.

The salesladies smelled of sweat and no one seemed to entertain. But finally, I had managed to find one and asked if there was one in medium. ‘Large, maybe?’, she asks me quietly and hurriedly went off to wherever they seemed to disappear. She came out smiling and my breath signaled a sigh of relief because for a minute there I—-

‘Sorry, miss. Only available size left.’, she says and hurries off to entertain another customer, leaving me to clutch the red material in confusion.

I had tried to talk my mother into buying it, assuring her I would fit into it by next month. I would diet, skip the holiday pig-out, join the volleyball team, walk from school, drink less soda, find more stress. I promised her it’d be worth it. But then she looks at me as she always does and lunges on to a 20-minute sermon about how ‘You are beautiful the way you are. You’re beautiful on the inside where it counts. Just wait. They’ll see. And---

Yeah. I cut her off. Whatever. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.

In the end, she chose all the outfits for me. My attention just wasn’t in it, knowing that again this year, I would manage to look like my mother again. We left the Ladies Section an hour after, looking for something to eat somewhere else in the mall.

She went ahead and I looked behind. Because there, in that bed of mess with salesladies going to and fro, stressed buyers waiting to use the dressing room and hundreds of pretty dresses somebody else would get to wear, I knew I just had my first heartbreak.

I am fourteen and I am no one.


The day the remains of Padre Pio passed through the little town of Majilud was the day Nang Idang transformed into a manananggal. No one thought they would see it happen since the last report of one was 30 years ago when superstition was still strong and a civilized system weak. Now, manananggals mostly kept to themselves save for a limited few who still roamed at night, sucking on chickens and getting stuck on TV antennas.

They said a lot of things about Nang Idang that day. But prior to that, she kept mostly to herself, managing her own fishery and then selling it on the market.

Nang Eukring says, ‘Bantug ra himsog kaayo na iyang mga isda. Iya kaha nang gipakaon ug atay ug tina-i’.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. On that day, Nang Idang was in a hurry to get to town, hearing of the news that Padre Pio’s blessed remains would be in the church for public viewing the whole morning. It was a busy day. She had woken up at dawn to collect some fishes from the pond and was doubly hurrying to sell it to the market so she can line up to kiss and pray over the Saint’s remains.

She skipped breakfast and went on to sell all her fishes. By the time she was finished, it was already 10:30. The closing time was 12:00. After which, the remains would be transferred to the next town 3 hours away. This was her only chance. When she saw the line which reached the outside of the church, Nang Idang did not make the sign of the cross and directly took her place at the back of the line. Slowly, the queue ebbed and it was finally her turn. When she prayed over the metal box, her skin was already a little pale and her eyes seeing slightly blurry outlines. Many of her once-friends note she seemed a little withdrawn from the prayers.

After which, she went directly home via a tricycle which was so fully packed, it was difficult to breath. Witnesses then continue the story on her account. She had barely reached her house when the rest of the passengers caught her jumping out, the vehicle still moving. Her eyes were flickering from side to side involuntarily. Her head moving in full rotation as if in a trance. Her hair was scattered all over and from her throat, a loud gibberish language they had never heard of.

The witnesses were dumbfounded. The morning after, Nang Idang was not in her usual stall at the marketplace. By that time, everyone had already heard of the news.

‘I tell you, she had the ghastliest eyes. I saw it turn red and look at us straight as if she was the devil himself….and…’ said Norma to Nang Jinky.

‘…And she was saying some kind of ritual. It’s probably the prayer they use to help disguise themselves. But of course by that time, it was too late. We had already seen...’, adds Nang Jinky to Esther

‘…seen her start to run and hide under her house. But Nang Jinky saw a stump in her back. It was the start of wings growing. There were black spikes on her blouse…’ Esther said to Noy Tope

‘…blouse started to break open. And they saw her half run, half fly...feet barely touching the ground because she was in such a hurry. Esther saw her black wings flap themselves. And get this, they also saw her going through her things and drinking some kind of potion…’ Noy Tope said to the carrot vendor.

‘…drinking some kind of potion, no doubt to heal herself because by then, she must’ve been burned by the sunlight. And they saw her writhing on her floor like a snake...’, the carrot vendor said to the tricycle drivers.

‘…transformed herself into a snake because as you know, mananggals are excellent shape shifters. Then she went into her room and was never seen again that day…better be careful when she’s around.’ , the tricycle drivers said to every passenger they drove.

And that’s how Nang Idang transformed into a mananggal.

Kids were no longer allowed to look in her eyes for fear they might be transferred with the ‘curse’. The Sisters of Mary no longer sat beside her in church and lowered their veils when she was around. Tricycle drivers said they were going in the opposite direction every time she’d take a ride. And buyers, aside from the out-of-towners, made sure never to buy from her again. Thank Padre Pio for revealing her evil ways.

Of course, some people say Nang Idang was just diabetic and had only suffered a hypoglycemic attack that day. But you didn’t hear it here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Entries of the Small Spaces

Dear Monday,
You are not the start nor are you the end. I don’t know why I insist on writing you like a novel when that is not what you are. What you are is some bullshit form of therapy Hao insists on having, to make me change my mind. But you and I both know I will not. I’m knocked up, not continuously stupid. Sure, I have my moments of haphazardness, not surprising why I got into this kind of trouble in the first place. But what I want is the dream, the chance to make it before 31, the age when Sylvia Plath killed herself. I want the nervous breakdown. I want the depression. I want the burning. Not this.

They were two strugglers sharing beer on the sidewalk, looking at the debris people left behind. His tattoos were beautiful and he picked from the pile of trash at his side, making spontaneous verse for each one. A Coke can. A torn shoe. Election paraphernalia. She smiled because she knew all these were supposed to impress her. It worked.

Dear Tuesday,
Today, after consuming half a fried chicken and then some, I laid down on the same bed where you are in now and stared endlessly at the fluorescent bulb that keeps on flickering like a woman’s thoughts. Soon after, I went around the room, killing mosquitoes with a copy of Marquez’s Melancholy Whores, quite apt, and loving the sound of their bodies being squashed and smudged all over my white walls. Empowering. How easy it was.

She talked about her love for Kidlat Tahimik and how she cried every time there were Il Postino reruns on the Hallmark Channel. He talked about his contempt for existentialism, absolutism, egotism and all the other isms she thought could never be attached to a word. He confessed other’s porn were his erotica. She found this romantic. When they made love, they made sure to do it in small spaces, small rooms to make sure all other thoughts were left behind the door. Finished, she’d think about how she would write about this later. He thought about how waking up with her seemed to make him forget about the Arroyo administration. He wrote on her palm, Fuck me, then marry me. She only answered the first one.

Dear Wednesday
Sigrid asked while we were sipping our coffees outside the office, How would you know how it would feel if you haven’t really done or even thought of doing it? What she meant was raising this thing. Well, Sigrid, you don’t have to be hit by a bus to know how it feels.

The day she stopped by twice for fast food, he bought her a home pregnancy kit. There it was. Two lines staring up at them while they huddled on the floor. They laughed about how the pharmacist asked Hao if there was any particular brand he preferred. Then she locked herself in the bathroom.

Dear Thursday,
I tried to write something I’d remember from this experience. This is, after all, supposedly a turning point in my life although I still have no idea where it is I’m supposed to turn. So far, all I have are these three lines: Tongues act. Unending Seizures. Tasting Vulgarity. Hao insists that if I could just hear the heartbeat, I’d immediately change my mind. I probably would, and maybe that’s why it’s important for me not to hear. Why is pro-choice so hard to understand? Why can’t tomorrow come sooner?

Friends insist they could do a Juno. She looks the part, they pointed out. They talked about the theories of art versus domesticity. Greatness versus subtleness. All sorts of dead philosophers coming to life at the mouths of drunk companions while she sips her iced tea and Hao keeps watch. She wonders if through the night, they could resurrect all of them, Greek, Roman, forgotten TV episodes, to conjure the fate of the living.

Dear Friday,
Hao will be here soon, and after this, you and these stupid thoughts will be forgotten only to be taken out of the junk trunk when it serves me convenient. The boss gave me the whole week off to take care of matters. I told him someone in my immediate family just died. Who knows how this will affect me. Maybe I’ll regret it one of these days, and I will cry myself to a stupor. Maybe I’ll want this someday, and it’ll be too late. Maybe. But I just can’t give up my life now.

Once again, it was a small space. It struck her funny how she always seemed to end up in small spaces. She didn’t know where she was. Only that a kind old lady was stroking her hand, leading her to a makeshift bed. This was her operating room. The setting of her before and after. Smoking outside, he was thinking about what he can no longer experience: mounting hospital bills, a photograph of his arm tattoos carrying a small body, waking up next to her. She was thinking about how she would write about this later.

A Tear

Once, there was a little girl named Sadness. It was probably the depressants her father took before holding her mother’s hand in the birthing room. It could also probably be the backward sense of humor only hippies of that age could understand. Whatever the case, Sadness came to be. Everything about her seemed small. The hospital staff saw her as an omen.

But Sadness was really anything but for she refused to repeat herself. When she scraped her knees at school, she would let out a loud ‘Whoops!’ flinging her whole body into the air as if wishing the accident that beseeched her scrawny legs be carried away by the winds.

Despite what other people thought, there was really nothing strange about her except for those who cared too look really closely. It had seemed, even at an early age, she wanted to be the antithesis of her name. She knew, by being who she was, people would withdraw from her as some of her classmates whose mothers were uncomfortable such a name did.

But most of those she knew, apart from the ones who judged too easily, seemed to be drawn to Sadness. Of course, adults only knowing half of what a child knew, they easily mistook cheerfulness for happiness. They’d just as easily think a brightly-colored toy could replace the sight of dancing fireflies in the school yard. How convenient. Nevertheless, people just thought of Sadness as the pleasant girl with a weird name.

‘I’m sad.’, one of her classmates would say.

‘No, you’re not, stupid. You’re Ted for Teddy.’ know-it-all Jenny Alcaraz would say. ‘She’s Sad.’

They would start to squabble in high-pitched voices that drowned the laughter in the playground. Sadness would then come in between them then because she did so hate anyone fighting. People were never allowed to be gloomy when she was around.

Soon, the whole class was infected with Sadness’ aversion and everyone always wore a smile on their face, a spring in their step, a soft lilt in their voice as if they were expecting gold stars to be stamped on their hands or spanked with rulers if they didn’t.

‘That’s life.’ Teddy would say like a grown-up, when his parents separated, and he left to choose where to live.

‘We’ll be so much more comfortable now.’, said Dresa when her father left for the States to work for three years, excitedly narrating what kind of dolls her father might get from there.

‘There’s a reason that he died. God wants him in heaven.’, said Jenny without even shedding a tear when her dog, Peanut, died.

‘I needed a new look anyway.’ reasoned Kate when the barber cut too much of her hair and her once long locks were now like a husk pasted on somebody’s head.

Sadness smiled because she knew, for some reason, it was her that brought such peace and sedateness to their days. Tomorrow she would keep guard again.

And so it followed that there was no grief. No remorse. No regret. And no acceptance in Section Faith of Miss Alvarez’s Class.

It was then that the whole room came to a standstill for days, then months on end. They neither squabbled or cried or had tantrums anymore. But neither was there authentic amazement when the cocoon Miss Alvarez placed in an aquarium finally broke free and the butterfly went around the room, flitting on each one’s shoulders like it did flowers. Nor was there a round of relief and pats on backs when Dresa finally returned after she broke her arm and was out for a week.

There was no excited banter in the air when the principal gave away free ice cream to the whole school nor was there a secret burning in their hearts when at long last, they seemed to have found something that they liked. Teddy managed a polite Thanks when people complimented him on his dragon drawing. Kate just acknowledged her singing voice as if she knew she could carry a tune all along. And Sadness, well, Sadness was quite confused. Was this what she had really wanted all along? Still, she kept the act like the rest of them.

Then one day, the dam broke. It started out as a rainy day and what would’ve been a trip to their garden to tend to the cherry tomatoes ended with doing their Maths for the whole afternoon instead. The outpour outside continued and suddenly, there came a sobbing from the back of the room. Dresa was staring at a tree, balling quite loudly. In its branches were a group of baby birds, its nest dangerously tipping to the right. They couldn’t hear. It was just too far. But all of them knew the birds were chirping, their mouths pointing upward like arrows. Everyone started joining in. Looking at the branch and rubbing their eyes back and forth. Their chins reached the window’s ledge as they began following the nest’s movement until it eventually toppled down and was swept away by the current.

‘It’s okay to cry, you know’, Miss Alvarez said coming out from behind Sadness who was stuck in her seat, looking at everyone. ‘The great thing about tears is it’s like the rain. Each drop can be a different thing to different people. You may cry because you’re sad now. But you may also cry because you’re too happy tomorrow.’

When the bell came, everyone tried to look for the nest. They scattered all around the playground, the garden, the front yard. Sadness sat down on a tree stump, staring at the nest which was already partly destroyed. And there in that little stump where furrow met soil, she hugged her knees, keeping vigil over the empty basket of grass. Sadness tried to shed a tear. She really did. But nothing came out for somehow, she had already forgotten how to be herself. She was sure, the way a child often was about these things that would’ve been key to her happy ending.