Short Story : Transform

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 Many of her once-friends note she seemed a little withdrawn from the prayers.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.

Short Story : Entries from 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.

Short Story : Ga

When Toning met Karina, he was 55 and about to retire. Long had he become oblivious to friends’ banters, ‘Magduda man sad ta nimo, Toning’ or ‘Napan-us na jud ka,Toning’. This, added with his sisters’ quiet sighs. ‘Nangapo nalang tawon mi, manong. Wala gyapon ka, sa imong kapilian’. Now, they just met him with quiet acceptance and concentrated on training him to become doting lolo to their apos instead.

That soon changed when he met Karina. She made budbud for the Borromeo family Toning also happened to be the odd-jobs man for. He didn’t know what it was about her that attracted. Perhaps it was her doughy arms that gracefully rose like waves when she rolled the rice into the banana leaves. Perhaps it was how the mole in her forehead frowned as well when she was concentrating on tying and bunching them up. Or perhaps it was the quiet way she said his name with a Spanish accent when they met each other in doorways.Toñing. Toñing. She would soon call out when they first made love.

Nevertheless, he soon found himself sharing his home to two grown-up stepchildren and Karina. The modest house was scrimped but that was the price to pay for family and for not growing old alone, he guessed. He soon got used to calling his two sons and Karina‘Ga’ for Pangga, a term of endearment that was handier than anything else.

Soon enough too, he found out he would not retire after all. He had hoped to park his bike finally and join his friend, Oscar, when he retired at the end of the year as they planned. But that was before he got married. He could not now. His two stepchildren barely contributed even when they ate voraciously, consumed electricity on videoke and spent the most in the bulangans. Somehow he had the feeling he was always being mocked at his back by the two of them.

And Karina, who seemed to achieve what she set out to do in the first place, to marry for convenience, had made it a point to merge with the scenery again, caring for her now ailing mother. Sometimes, her unobtrusiveness surprised him, so much that he didn’t even look up when she was around anymore. All he saw these days was her mole that grew bigger with time.

‘Naunsa naman ka, Toning, oi’, friends ask. His hands quivered. His face wrinkled. His body like a single bamboo shoot on his rickety bike. He was getting old. But never mind. It was the price to pay for family and for not growing old alone. He will be 60 soon.

On that particular day, he had felt a little more nauseous than usual. High blood perhaps or anemia. His stepson was there, sitting on their wooden stairs. ‘Ga?’, he says softly. He did not know what happened before or in between then. All he knew was what he could feel. A turned shoulder. A slapped face. A hand holding both his cheeks. A sucked–in stomach from a blow. And a voice, drunk and lyrical.

‘Ga? Ga? Ga!? Ga?! Ayaw ko tawga ana ha! Unsa pa lang huna-huna’s tawo natong duha!’

Karina stood there in the window. Her mole outgrew her face. She did not say anything. Toning takes his bike, as bent as he was, and flees.

In the morning, he would collect his things, those that remained in a house that was no longer his, sifting through the pile that accumulated when the family started. He looks for a semblance of his old life. His grandchildrens’ outgrown toys. Old clothes left behind by Amang and Papa. His own. His collection of work hats. Photo albums from his childhood days and those with his bosses and fellow workers.

He finds one of the two of them, Oscar and him in their early 20s, building a fence, laughing in the sun. His finger runs through Oscar’s younger face when he was still wifeless and carefree, and perhaps partly his. His thumb makes an imprint on Oscar’s goatee, blurred by moisture, and discards it in the box.

Somehow, through everything, he forgets what exactly it was he had been looking for. This ultimately, was the price of family and for not growing old alone.

Short Story : Premonition

What drew her most about riding in a public bus with its molded seats and the remaining stench of chicharon in the air was the semblance of someone else, no one in particular really, but someone having taken the same seat as the one she is seated in now. In her mind, they formed a string of people that fell on the same path as she did. Minutes before. Days before. Months before. And how, long after they were gone, they left pieces of themselves for her to find.

She would take the colored candy wrappers shoved in the crevices of the seat’s spine and roll it around until she reached her destination, hoping this would somehow give her premonition to who they were, where they are now.

At times, she would try to guess whose life it was she was holding. A ripped off cardboard with scribbled prices probably belonged to a meat vendor hurrying off to haggle for livestock. An extinguished cigarette butt to a bored college student who takes the bus to and from his town to the big city. Frayed Ben 10 stickers on the metal wall to an irate child squirming in his mother’s lap. She would scrutinize them and hold conversations in her head all the while making sure her bag was placed in the seat beside her, consuming space she did not want others to have.

When the bus was full and she’d be forced to move, she would stay near the window to avoid conversation, look at the sea and think about the old man whose handkerchief had been left on the clasp. Today was one of those days. When she should have taken a more comfortable V-Hire or a faster EasyRide but again chose not to. Somehow she knew somebody was gesturing for her to move her bag even before she looked up. She didn’t look up. It was in her experience that talkers usually have an open grin on their face at the very start and she’d long feared to look back lest they mistake it for rapport.

But he was not a talker. He looked past the aisles, past the window even, and stared at something he could only see. His key chains, the one that hung from his bag, lay partly on her thigh and smiled back at her. There was very little space to work with but he moved away nonetheless. She knew then he was afraid to touch skin just as much as she was.

Afraid. The little girl had been too. Years ago, in that beat-up green Dodge truck, she would sit between the mother who was driving, arms gripping wheels, and the father, elbow propped in the sill looking at the corrugated houses far off. There was no conversation. Only grunts. And passing the message back and forth. At least, they could not accuse her of playing favorites, she thought. To pass the time, she would fold her shoulders the smallest she could make them, imagining herself to be a collapsible table. Or move the glass beads of her bracelet back and forth until they reached home.

At the side of her eyes, the man had not moved. His elbows were propped on the seat. His hand moved back and forth to his ring finger, searching for something he could no longer touch. His head moved sideways, and for an instant, she thought he’d look at her but probably not. In the other side of the aisle, two lovers slept, bumping heads. In the front end, a teenager holding a box with a rooster inside drummed with his knuckles. The conductor counted tickets. Ongoing chatter by officemates on the back. And her, careening to the left. Him, pushing farthest right.

She was almost home. The glass beads played in her hands, its frayed nylon stretching as she took it off. For once, she would leave a piece for someone else to find.