The Vampire of Ogrencisi
In a convent on the mountains of the Pyrenees, Elena gave birth to the daughter of Ivan, the Immortal One. He is a vampire, along with his closest ally, the Vampire of Ogrencisi. Unknown to her, her lover had already died in battle. The nuns would not tell her in fear of the precariousness of her pregnancy. She was already due when, walking among the blue flowers in the garden, she felt the first pangs of pain.
Ogrencisi could feel each and every doubling pain Elena felt, as he sat on the desert sands, wearied from battle and drew a circle on the sands with the infinity sign directed to the mountains of the Pyrenees. Unlike Ivan he had never had never had a woman in his whole immortal life. But tonight as the moon pierced through the sky to shine on his figures on the sand he came to realize the daughter of his friend shall be his wife on her twenty first birthday.
He saddled his horse and set course for the mountains.
Upon arriving at the door of the convent, Elena, who had already given birth knew and kissed the forehead of her daughter goodbye and died.
When I was a child, a wolf visited me in the garden behind our house. I was not aware of the dangers a wolf could be for a child of my age. I thought he was a large, husky dog. He was handsome and beautiful animal with gray, thick fur. I rode behind his back and we leapt towards the forest. On the hard ground, I leaned against his back as he lay licking his paws in complete satisfaction over our companionship. I spoke to him of stories read to me at bedtime and he fell asleep.
Slowly, he soon turned into a fine young boy. I wondered about this, realizing I have never seen a dog turn into human before. I watched him sleep, slipped my red ribbon from hair and tied it around his neck so that I would recognize him, whenever he came my way again.
As he woke up, He gradually turned into a wolf again. I rode his back once more and he brought me back to our garden behind our house.
When I turned eighteen, my parents honored me with a private party in the garden behind our house. There was a giant tent where guests converged to toast my debut. A young man danced with me and everyone were distracted by the passing of champagne, the slicing of the giant, pink cake and their chitter chatter of events in our large family. Wind blew. The candle from the cake tossed to the curtain of the tent. Flame quickly spread throughout the tent and the guests quickly ran towards the house as maintenance of the party tried in vain to shower down the fire with hoses. I was left at the corner. I tried to reach the table and hide beneath it when a wolf with a red ribbon on his neck, emerged from the trees and knelt before me nudging me to climb his back once again. I did and again he leapt into the forest with me on his back. Within the forest I saw him shake off the ashes of fire and he came to be a young man now. He was handsome with soft eyes that pierced through my own.
“Who are you?”
“You will soon know.” He replied and led me back to our house as a man wearing nothing and thus, could only take me as far as the deciduous trees of our backyard garden. The tent was gone in cinders and smoke seethed everywhere. Only I stood in the middle of the wet bedlam with a silly smile on my face. I had fallen in love.
My parents found me standing still, gazing lovingly at the woods behind our house. They had panicked upon my disappearance and thought I had caught fire and I thought I almost did if it weren’t for the wolf who saved me.
Years later, as I became a researcher of mythology particularly the demystification of shape-shifters with the secret belief that they did exist and that I used my degree as a mask for what everyone could only study as a myth, a symbol for semiotics to study, a matchmaker was summoned by my parents who worried, I studied too much and would never marry.
And so, to appease my parents I reluctantly agreed to an arranged marriage.
The matchmaker flipped through her album of potential husbands, taking note of my zodiac sign and the numerology of my name. I was about to stand up and get a glass of water when a face caught my eye. There he was, the face of my friend, the shape-shifting wolf. He was the son of a rich businessman whom my father knew for our country is a small town and everyone knew everyone.
Our meeting was arranged at the garden of a clubhouse where I saw him from afar playing golf. He seemed slack and bored. When he saw me, he did not flinch in recognition. He simply smiled courteously and shook my hand which hurt my feelings for I had thought he would be more intimate. After all, I knew his secret. As soon as we gathered by the table overlooking the golf course and our parents walked the verandah of the club, he gestured towards me by crossing his forefinger across his lips. I gasped and almost laughed. It was all almost a game for this man. He talked of working in his father’s company and that he was more reclusive than celebrated as a billionaire. His name was Raj.
I looked at him unable to speak. I could only listen.
“And what do you do?”
“I do research. On fairy tales.” I felt I sounded so faint and incomparable to his accomplishments. But that is what I did, chased fairy tales, thanks to him.
“I guess we are to be married.” He said then put a fast one on me. “Are you sure you want to marry me?”
I couldn’t tell whether he was kidding me because only the both of us knew who he was and what he was capable of being, a shapeshifter.
And then he laughed, a deep, ironic laugh.
We married on a calm, breezy day which caused the tapers to blow off. When he lifted my veil I demurred and kissed him finely on his lips.
We had a child within a month of our honeymoon in their mountain residence within a forest. We named our son Jason and he sought to see if he had any signs of turning. Fortunately, our son was normal.
There were days when my husband, Raj, would disappear at night, shapeshifting into a
wolf foraging in the depths of the forest. Those were nights I worried about him. I would not know where he was and what fate awaited him there.
One day, wildfire spread across the forests, flickered by humans who wanted clearing for their cattle. I was urged by the Bureau of Forestry to abandon our house and take shelter in the open clearing. I told them my husband was somewhere in the forests. But I had to take Jason somewhere safe. I thought: I don’t quite seem to find you. My heart was beating fast therefore I knew he was still alive.
After the fires, I had almost given up hope of finding Raj. I would sit by the window sill of my parents’ home watching for any sign of him.
The wind rustled, the bushes moved and I found him a limping wolf towards our house. I rushed towards him and he slowly turned. I brought him naked towards our house and nursed his wounds first before leaving him to rest. He awoke, days later and smiled. It was the brightest smile I have ever seen. It was a proud smile. He gone through the wildfires to get back to his family because we were deep in his heart and he navigated beneath falling embers of trees to come back to us.
Aman arrived from somewhere on the planet. He arrived at my door with his bag and clothes soaked with rain. The clouds behind him was dark and torrential, it seemed to usher him in to our house.
My husband approached from behind me. He is Indian and is a most welcoming man but when he found the sores in this man’s neck and arms, he stopped in his tracks eyeing the man, nudging me not to let the stranger in. I had to explain he is a friend from a previous relationship.
The clouds thundered and clipped lightning. My husband naked from waist up wearing nothing but a dhoti felt his mortality challenged by this odd man whose spectacles was wet with the clouds remaining within the rim of his glasses.
I gently pulled and embraced Aman. He is an Arab bisexual who had been a musical genius since he was a child and was in fact considered a national prodigy by his country in the field of musical composition. We had separated when I realized he was not going to change. I found love again in Arun who knew this man from stories I told him about my past. Aman entered our door and along with it the hiss and howl of the clouds. He was filled with clouds of rain pelting our corrugated iron rooftop.
Aman was shivering and I found a blanket to wrap him up before fixing him a bath in the second-floor bathroom where Arun confronted me about Aman
“Nilda, you cannot let this man in the house, the children will be back from their grandmother in a few minutes now. He might frighten them, he might ---”
“What, contaminate them?” He could see the clouds in my eyes now. The clouds followed us ominously through the small window of the bathroom.
The clouds hissed and boiled like a mad ceiling of the skies dredging its inner worries to the valley which soaked it all up with the innocence that only land and sky could understand in perfect synchronicity like the yin and yang of nature.
I went back to Aman who sat shivering in the sofa of our living room. I led him slowly to his warm bath where I gently uncloaked him of the blanket and turned my back for him to remove his clothes. Unexpectedly, I caught a glimpse of his skeletal body riddled with sores on his back, along with the shimmer of clouds with its almost silver patina reflecting both man and clouds on the window pane.
There was rumor of a storm in the electric air.
I left him for awhile and prepared food for him in the kitchen.
Arun helped cut the carrots for a warm stew.
I watched the clouds crowding through the kitchen window and found Aman walking naked beneath them. He screamed and stretched his arms against the blades of rain from the clouds. Arun rushed with a blanket to bring him in, again.
I remember Aman, my Jordanian lover.
I was working as production assistant and he walked towards me and stroked my fine, olive Filipina skin. This was during the hours of practice of his ensemble for a movie production. He walked over the wires and said he found me beautiful.
I had never felt so flattered in my entire life. In my country, I was ordinary and yet this man, this virtuoso was complimenting me in front of everyone and making everything halt. Also, he asked me out on a date.
Nilda, he whispered intimately into my ear as the restaurant already darkened and closed.
We watched musical renditions of acrobatic acts of twisting human torsos about each other in a manner not unlike those making love in the air.
We watched sunsets over craggy rocks and found the City of Jordan breathtaking. But he also disclosed that he was a bisexual and I thought I could change him, that he was so smitten by my beauty and that alone I could complete his desire.
He was a very skilled lover, teasing every rivulet of sweat of my body and smelling every nook and cranny of it. He was mad, I thought, because he relished my deepest pleasures which lay dormant beneath my consciousness.
There were days when he would crave for a male lover and he would play a sad tune on his violin while at the edge of the bed. Ofcourse, it wasn’t allowed in Jordan so he would travel to Thailand and find ladyboys. But he would always come back to me, in the apartment I kept over a hill in Jordan. There were times I felt so frustrated when he would weep in moments of desire for a man. I would embrace his back and weep with him too.
They say, he could handle a violin at the age of five and rendered classical music which the government was not indifferent to. Thus, he was wrenched away from his family and developed to be the musical genius he was today. But he lived in perpetual animosity after each gut-wrenching performance he made and the long hours he gave to making music.
Finally, he travelled to the West and found lovers and made love to them indiscriminately. I had to run away from his madness or I was to go mad myself.
His chemical treatments made him vomit and I had to hold his forehead back as he let out every food he ate in the toilet bowl. Finally, he was reduced to an emaciated man going about our house wheeling a tall hooked ivy pinned to his arm. And then he just stayed in our guest room, looking over the valley my husband and I cultivated.
He watched the roiling clouds fuse with the tints of the colors of the sun and the stars. I could only watch him degenerate like clouds dissipating to reveal the inner skin of the night and stars. I was his prodigy and I still loved him. He was my ascetic genius no matter what he had done. He had given in to his music his whole life, I knew that much.
The musician and the music, are one, til death do they part.
The Nomadic Flowers of My Green Dress
And because I had saved enough money, I had the surgeries done from where the first successful surgeries happened years ago, at the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. .
It was a time of flowers because it was spring.
The skin of my penis was grafted to use for my vagina. It was a safe procedure and they were already used to doing these surgeries.
I could feel myself turn into a woman. The removal of my penis and the surfacing of a clitoris was the first success of my life. There were a lot of grafting done but I lived through it.
Breast augmentation was the pinnacle. I could feel myself whole and beautiful beyond belief. The point was to be beautiful. I felt like a Georgia O’ Keefe painting of flowers, all of them petals, flaming inside me. Before each surgery, I would find a particular flower to nestle in and I would curl within the inner pod wondering, wondering how to turn into a flower. How I would feel, where I would turn and spin and eddy upon the stream of life.
It was a process I witnessed as time unfolded like a scientific experiment as a gift to myself. Each process was almost a process of grief and pain and an unfurling of joy that was so gradual and slow, I could almost hold the guilt in between my palms to show everyone. I want this. I am sorry. But why apologize. During the initial stages I would eat by myself in the hospital cafeteria with my hair still short with a diaper between my legs.
My name is Salome. I am a Filipina and since birth I have been thought as beautiful and almost wondrous but like a wrong turn God has forsaken into the family. I loved to dress up in frilly clothes from the markets by the sea now sealed with concrete to create malls, condominiums and office buildings. Baclaran drove me in a shopping frenzy. I bought cheap, shiny maroon shoes I dipped my feet into with tiny heels that cracked after some time. I would weep because they were so beautiful and could never be replaced by time Or that green, dress no one understood from the college where I studied Communications. It had gold tipped collars and a splash of nomadic flowers because they seemed to migrate and travel as I wore them.
Green is my favorite color: the bright acid temperament of grass, the fields in my grandmother’s rice farm, so soft and beautiful to touch. Also, I loved the word beautiful because I was, still am, to be and is a beautiful woman.
I wanted to be a gift. I wanted to be a gift for the love of my life. I haven’t met him yet but I see them watching me, wondering, wondering how I could be so beautiful and untouchable because how could it be with a man? And so, I waited, saved enough to have it done.
There is so much I want to say, but I will call myself a work of art as I slowly unravel like a government which has had its time and a new one comes forth so that during the day the government did topple down I was on the streets with every person a version of her true self. The government had to stop this crazy travesty that did not fit with democracy and why should it, when it did not give us what we needed, the freedom to say what we choose, the freedom to be who we want to be, and to call on the people of the world to watch us: look we are differing, we are changing, we are evolving, we are in the throes of awakening.
And I woke up after my first breast augmentation surgery. Time stood still. The pain was a killer. But I woke up. And my breast felt like mammoth hormonal cocktail of weight. I felt deliciously voluptuous and alive.
To be a woman takes pride and I have crossed to become one of them, although I wasn’t quite sure yet. Is this me? Is this really me? I am walking down the street shouting: Ibagsak ang Rehimeng Duterte, with my breasts shaking in rhapsody.
II. The Woman of Olongapo
And there was a woman, dressed as a woman because she was still a man who went out on a date with an American Joe.
They danced, which was common enough, to dance with a beautiful Filipina who captivated him. It was always that way for him, for the GI, to dance, shimmy his way up her skirt and find that pearl of the orient that captivated him, always.
Instead, he felt something, bulging and big and not unlike his own. It was a huge temerity of ridiculousness that he couldn’t have known. How could he have not known? What was wrong, with him? He was the one who felt wrong and not wronged. He felt her up again and he could see her laughing and laughing as they swayed to the swirl of the music. The music was what began to be insulting. How could he have been wrong? That was when he felt insulted by her laughter. It was as though, she, were laughing at him. She smiled like a grinning skull, an animal he caught in the woods and roasted wherein the teeth remained, grinning at him. He wanted to roast her then, as animals were sought and caught and grilled for meal.
He dragged her to the toilet which was at the back of the curtain where the band was playing. She must have thought, no she thinks he is going fuck her. She had a boyfriend in Norway, why would she have to do this. She just wanted to dance tonight. She didn’t mean to be unfaithful.
She grinned at him as they drew away from the crowd and went to the back room toilet.
Inside a cubicle that stank of urine and feces, he stripped her top and found silicone cups that covered her chest. She removed them and looked at him earnestly. That was when she realized he was angry.
She knew what it felt to be with a man who was angry. She grew up with them, at her school, in the streets where she lived. She grew up being second star to women whom she dressed up even though she wanted to be the star someday. Her own star. Someday.
Time came when the internet gave her access to men who wanted her. Men who visited her here in the Philippines, dated her and made love to her. She was given love, jewels, interesting gadgets, stuffed toys and flowers because she was the star of their lives.
Finally, time had caught up with her and they were making love because she was loved. She was invited by the Norwegian guy to marry in a ceremony of sorts and waited for her papers to pass. He was coming for her all in a matter of time. Because he found her beautiful. She was finally beautiful with long black tresses on chestnut shoulders. She lived in Olongapo to escape her family and live with a group of friends who were equally beautiful in their own particular way.
They dated soldiers and some of them truly wanted her. There was no travesty. They were liked for who they were. Their golden asses, their fine penises and oh, how beautiful they were in long gowns at night, glittering like stars. They were even more beautiful than women. They were fascinating.
But this one didn’t seem to know one thing about her and the realization froze her like an animal caught in a net that held her trapped.
Let go of me! She cried because he was angry. She didn’t want an angry man. She wanted a loving man. Someone who wanted her for who she was.
He kissed her, she slapped him and he mocked her. He kissed her again and she could taste the alcohol in his mouth. She tasted beer. She slapped him again. He grabbed her hair and tried to shove her head against the throbbing penis within his pants.
You bitch! He laughed and then he cried.
Hey, are you alright? She asked and raised herself. She instinctively ruffled her hair and tried to negotiate some kind of peace with him. This night could still be fixed. It doesn’t have to end like this. She stroked his hair and he started laughing again. He sneered and grabbed her hair again. This time he took no time in sparing her what he was about to do. He shoved her head inside the toilet bowl and held her head in the water long enough for her to stop struggling.
She stopped struggling because she had no time to think, to pretend she was dead. She never felt more dead than she was as she struggled against the water in the bowl. She was dying. She felt the water clog her nostrils and her throat. She was not going to go through with her marriage to Tom, her Norwegian boyfriend and felt ashamed. Yes, she still had time to feel ashamed because there was time, a long time before she felt her hair ebb behind her back, her head turn into a mask and it was only her face in the water. Her face and the water combined like two spirits that were forced to go against each other. She remembered fondly the soft brine of the sea where she swam as a child in a girl’s swimsuit. This water was dirt but it was still water and she was held towards it against her will. She became angry and struggled, but his grip was loaded, trained to kill.
There was nowhere to go but die and so she led herself to stop breathing for as long as she could. The enemy was not water, the mother’s sac that nestled her inside her mother’s womb, the depths of the sea, the drain and life of wine, kindred spirit to whom she shall return.
He held her there until he felt safe. He knew he was a gonner when he felt her stop against his grip. He knew that she knew, he was the enemy, not the fecal, urinated water. He was the odd one who loved and betrayed her, as though he were not the one who betrayed himself in the first place. It’s alright, he told himself, the bros, the upper command would not let him down. He could pass this and they would all even make a joke about it. He was delirious and left the john to bum a cigarette until he heard the screams from the back of the curtain, where she was.
III. Beauty Queens and Princesses
I wasn’t thrown on being a beauty queen at some pageant. No matter how I felt I wanted to prove, I was beautiful. I was thrown into books. It happened during high school when my classmate made a picture book by filling a notebook with illustrations and words that conjured a young girl who was being bullied and found herself a male friend from a parallel universe. It was actually a wall she crossed over. She found a house with a burning hearth and a man reading a book by the fire logs beside a lazing dog.
It was profoundly and poignantly beautiful for me that I had to make one of my own. And so I started drawing and writing a story.
A fairy princess meets a pauper whom she shuns away for his dinginess. But through some desperate sorts, she becomes enmeshed in love problems, falling in love with fake princes who just wanted her money and nothing about her true self which was a fairy princess with powers to love wholeheartedly. She spent her money on these series of princes who wanted her money. Eventually, she was left penniless and sold all of her wealth including her kingdom.
And so, she was left with nothing but a library of books which nobody wanted to buy. Inside the library, which she had never known to exist in her castle, she met the librarian and recalled him as the pauper whom she shunned at some point of her life. Ignoring this fact, she was too proud to acknowledge him but went on to read the books he suggested she read. He gave her books on economics, bartering, negotiations, finance, psychology, magic potions, and love.
And the more she read. Eventually, she grew intelligent enough to make a plan on how to get her kingdom back from neighboring kings. They were kind enough to negotiate giving back what she owned for a reasonable price. They were amused at the transformation of the beautiful fairy princess whose only powers back then was to fall in love. Now she knew more and could hold a kingdom on her own.
Little by little she grew to own her power and she became the wisest ruler of all. However, she still retained that one glorious power she had which was to fall in love no matter what. And so she looked back and found him who gave her powers back in ways she never realized was possible. The pauper was quietly returning books to the shelves when she visited him and asked him if he had any books on love because she felt, she had the wrong notions about it after all. The pauper went down the ladder of the library and approached her.
He held her hands and kissed her on her fine, red lips and to her amazement she found that before him was a prince in his finery though still humble.
I, too, am a prince who had once fallen in love badly. But I learned about the fairy princess whom I thought would have the powers to see through my clothes. I did not know you were still innocent then. Now, I know you well. I have educated you and I have fallen in love with the real you. The one I created by educating you.
From drawing flowers and princesses, I drew this book in a lined notebook with ordinary pencil, crayons. It was my first novel and I loved writing from then on.
My first job after my Communications course was to inevitably become a writer, a journalist for the online newspaper Knucklers. I stayed because I knew this was where I would inevitably derive what I would write as a novelist which was an ambition and a dream I knew deep inside my gut was what I wanted as much as to be beautiful.
And so I encountered the story of the woman transvestite whose head was shoved down the toilet. I was given the assignment and off I went to Olongapo to cover the story.
I saw the toilet where the poor lady’s head was shoved into. I touched the water and felt what she had gone through. The water was soft and clear now. I waded my fingers through the water and wondered over days I had been to an island and felt the smooth, briny sea. I knew this was how she felt. We were always close to the sea. The sea was always home to us Filipinas and to a transvestite, it was closest to feel in being a sirena calling for the friendships of sailors. Beckoning was always our talent. The lady beckoned him and he was mesmerized. He must have been so angry, it must have frightened her.
I wrote the piece, describing the history of Americans who derided our land for more than they have claimed to have colonized us, claiming they have given us our independence when all along they have claimed this base in Olongapo much to the chagrin of Filipinos who wanted it back.
The soldier who drowned her in urine and feces was found guilty but was given a very unfair good treatment having a bunk of his own in the base before he was bound to be shipped back to American soil.
The lady’s Norwegian boyfriend rallied with her family to have him shut in a prison along with everyone else in Filipino soil. But he was given special treatment. No matter, we all had to shoddily agree with the lawyer who fought for the woman’s rights. He was found guilty and in America he was not to be given any special treatment there.
IV. Online Dating Sites
I met you online on one of the dating sites.
You explained you were a bisexual and still loved women, although you could not resist knowing me. You said you’d arrange for us to meet and that you would take me to a hotel and make love to me for days, maybe weeks, months, years. LOL
You are an Arab who never used emoticons and I thought who never uses emoticons these days? You are a chemical engineer and asked me to make him name every chemical on the chemistry table. You were cute on Skype as you kept pushing your black framed eyeglasses back to your prominent nose. I noticed that there was sand in the rim of your eyeglasses and that the glasses were dusty. I wanted to wipe the sand off your glasses. You kept giving me fly away kisses that reached me down to where I now have feelings from nerve endings that were delicate. I have never met anyone do this to me. But I kept my distance because I might lose you. Even then, I felt less alone in the world. I wanted to marry you, because that is how women felt, after all.
You opened a door for me of delicious feelings I have never known. First I tasted a tingling because you were so pure and forward to know me. I could feel the heat coming through the screen of my laptop as we talked of how you felt. You needed someone who understood you because it was a secret you had problems holding under.
Have you had a relationship with a transgender before? I asked.
No. You are beautiful and I would like to know you more.
I wondered if you meant a fling. That you never meant to have a relationship anyway. I was saddened by this, in a way.
You had a flair for speaking your feelings beginning with an I. I want you. I want to see you in Manila because I miss you already. I want to make love to you.
I thought, his Is were very masculine and, dominant and yet also vulnerable. I wondered if it were an Arab thing. I didn’t know any Arabs who were gay, let alone know any Arabs at all. I squeezed my legs together as though to hold in every I you speak about because they held a promise for me.
You said you had a friend, a girl who was just desperate to have you and that you couldn’t anymore because you had me.
And you said you gave her my photograph and she just stymied this progress of affection you had for me and began a litany of curses against you. You laughed and I felt sympathetic to the woman. At last, I was the one who engaged you over a real woman and I felt sympathetic. That was a first. I told him you have to tell her the truth, that you have to end your friendship with her because your concept of love was for someone else and of a different orientation.
I guess, you said. But you laughed and I became angry at you. telling you that if you ridiculed the woman I would have to end this.
You capitulated and said he wouldn’t stop being her friend because she needed you. Obviously, you said, she was very sad about everything and disappointed.
The woman became a point of our conversations. I would ask about her from time to time. She was Indonesian.
I felt that I should not pursue a relationship with you, because you seemed callous and even unfeeling. Tell her that you love her too, but in a different way. As a friend, I instructed you not wanting the woman to fall into pieces because of me.
Oh God, I want you now. You replied. And the tingling feeling came back.
I remembered dressing up my female friends on prom night. How jealous I was because there was a boy at the end of the gala. I wanted to scream the night away, as I sat at the table of my friends and was cajoled by the boys to dance in which I had to smile slyly at them and scream go do something productive with your lives because you’d have hell to pay for when you get them impregnated tonight!
I remember that night so well, I could scream again.
But this poor woman was deeply in love with you, Amad. I thought it would be unfair and terrible if something were to happen to her.
You are my queen. You replied. Alright, for you I will take care of the girl. I will make sure she is fed and clothed and not suffer from thirst like a plant in the desert. I promise to love her as much as I love you.
I was satisfied by this. I didn’t know if it was the right answer but the deal sounded well enough.
Is she beautiful? I asked, founding the old edges of jealousy coming to the fore, although it was faint now. If I were to love this man, I would love the woman as well until she finds herself someone to love as well.
Every day we spoke on Skype and I could feel that each time I spent with you, time was taken away from the woman and that she knew and that her anger was growing into a tempestuous storm gathering like clouds darkening in the sky. I felt uncomfortable about this, as though we were in a room and she were listening to every spoken word passed between us. When he was with her, she would know about me and she would hate me. Hatred from a sister was something I did not anticipate. I was not a sister. I was loved because I had traversed my season of belonging. I transfigured because I wanted to be made love to. I was physically someone else because I needed to be touched the way a woman is touched. And yet, I was not a woman. I was loved for becoming past a man to become a woman.
The Indonesian woman must feel that in the first instance, an inferior woman has climbed over on top of her right to be the only woman of her kind and that someone who had surgeries done is a fake. Even if she were someone who felt she must feel a certain intelligent kinship to the transformations of her day, she would also feel an ancient right to be considered the one whose throne had been taken from her.
I understood all that and more. And yet I stood my ground. He is mine and that is the fact. I will claim him, because I am a woman now, I am human too and I am falling in love with a man who knows how it is to drown in the desert without water.
And so you came. For real.
I met you at the airport with a garland of sampaguitas that smelled and looked like small Jasmine flowers.
You were much taller than I imagined so that you had to bow your head for me to slip the garland over your head to your broad shoulders. You were dark as though the sun penetrated your skin each day you worked in Amman, Jordan. Your features were soft and bracingly handsome with limpid wide eyes behind your glasses and a high nose over a strong mouth that still maintained that you were masculine. You immediately kissed me on my lips which surrendered the words: hot blooded Arab.
We stayed at a boutique hotel in the heart of Makati. You brought a black backpack and a black travelling bag that resonated with the color of your hair.
Immediately upon arriving at the hotel, you found my mouth and kissed me hard and passionately. It was deep and sensual, I had not yet gotten over it when you led me to bed, peeled my dress, undressed yourself from your sports shirt where I found your skin. I kissed the skin on your chest and was swept by the engulfing entrance of your manhood in between my legs. My eyes opened wide and saw the ceiling painted with cherubs and clouds on a moonlit night. You were heavy inside me and I met you with equal fervor as I slid my tongue on your shoulders that tasted of salt and a certain acidity of sweat. I could smell your cologne heavy with a mingling of spice. I tasted your culture in a complete instance. You stayed inside me for a long while and came. I came and wondered at the completion of desire in one single moment. I knew I was in love and that I would desire you for all my life.
You turned from my shoulder to kiss the tips of my breasts and kissed my mouth completely. You went down and kissed me, smelled me where I was alone. I wrapped my legs about you and desire overcame me as I arched my back and felt you getting stronger again.
I have never made love before. There was pain, yes and yet the pleasure overcame the pain with a strange twist of sweetness in valleys and crevices of my body. You never spoke a word, instead you moaned, a hollow deep guttural cry from the pit of your body. Your voice came from somewhere deep inside you and not from your throat as I imagined it would be. You made love to me without trying to impress me, but then, what do I know.
We pressed our bodies each time and each time I would feel you so close to me as though words had never been invented and that they could mean so many things if uttered. I learned to scream when you penetrated me deeper each time and you watched my face each time you saw me climb that peak I never thought possible.
Away from your glasses I gazed at your eyes, that were so warm and liquid, I felt as though I were swimming in the ocean tide because you never veered away but looked at me with such control, only water could have that quality because it never could, you see, and that was the point. Never to feel control and yet pulled together like being in the middle of a boiling water that sucked me inside a vortex.
I couldn’t utter it, but you did, because you felt it too. I love you.
I love you, I replied in hushed tones that echoed up to the ceiling of cherubs and ambulatory clouds. I love you. Mahal kita.
The sampaguitas emanated a scent among other scents we emanated from our skin, our breath, our genitals. We smelled a mixture of our bodies that enmeshed and congealed between us. We embraced and you found me again and again and again.
You made love to me as though you had been in the desert for so long and was thirsty for love. You might as well be drowning. I almost cried because I loved you so much.
I doubted I could love this much again. I could write novels now, I thought, somehow feeling completed. I was vital and particular in this world filled with love and uncertainties that I felt lucky to have found a certainty in my life. To be certain, was a cure for feelings that the world was a whole block of meaningless things lumped together with no particularity. I felt like a specie of my own and I have found that one particular specie that complimented mine.
When you woke up I was wiping your spectacles with my dress.
We dressed up for dinner and we ate at the hotel restaurant in silence. You would look at me when I was sipping my soup or drinking my wine. You would look at me when you thought I couldn’t see you, which wasn’t true because I saw you everywhere. I could see your mien from the mirror beside us, through the glass I was drinking, from the glare of the silverware as I dipped it to my soup. I could see you with my eyes closed.
We went to the mountains of Baguio and stayed at a remote hotel. It rained all the time and we could hear it pelting upon the glass of the window. Sand washed away from your spectacles. Wine hydrating your thirst.
And then time caught up on us and we had to leave.
VI. Perdition and Insecurities
The Duterte government is wild with perdition and insecurities. No one knows what to do. We have a president who spirals out of control, even his daughter cannot control him. He kisses women on a dais for the world to see. He says things, things like raping dead women, gunning down the genitals of women rebels and the like. He curses as though it would rain putas in our land someday. Worst of all he worships no God. A man without a God is a dangerous figure. He does not have the faith to lead a country and will give up soon because of the mess he’s made and not just trampling on a puddle of his own making, he has created a hole for himself that he cannot get out of.
The sordidness of our government has reached heights that those who do not complement it are thrown into jail for all to see. He has released the demons of our land to spread a maelstrom of deceit and lies where there was once peace and a certain kind of knowing, that the worst is over.
Through my balcony, I could hear the laughter and chortle of a woman when he was elected president as though this new one would make things more interesting in this mad world we live in. As though amusement was on the way, brace yourself, this one is the wild card that would wash away the problems of our land: drugs, addicts, runners with what: Baygon. A retinue of policemen who would shoot on sight anyone suspected of drug running, including children.
A child, no older than a boy was turned over to a dark, dank corner and shot with such speed and stupidity, the whole world watched aghast. He was called to run during his funeral. Run back to God before the Caloocan police catches you again. They told the dead.
I am telling you this, my Arab lover, because we do not know what to do.
At first there was amusement. Slowly, there was an unraveling. Stories came up.
A strip of mall in Makati was taken over by the government from a prominent family who had held the mall for years. For nothing. A University was transferred to the hands of the former dictator’s son. For nothing. The Marcoses was now in power again. Former dictatorship was null and forgiven, or forgotten. Activist professors were exterminated from the university strip in Recto, without reparation.
The former dictator was allowed to be buried in the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, all done in a matter of a day, so quick it was meant to outwit the people who toppled them in the first place. It was a new generation now who lined the streets to blockade the burial of a thief, despot killer. Marcos was buried like a thief in the night. This was declared by the Vice President Leni Robredo who was gradually being stripped of her powers. We had corrupt presidents before, why could we not take away this one? Why is all our work against the current government so feeble, like throwing pebbles against a great slab of rock. Were we not decisive enough? Was the Vice President too weak to handle the President? She was our strongest hope and people were behind her but the President stood strong in unwinding every accusation hurled at him as he built a fortification of people of people who protected him and themselves. They profited and feared his wrath. The Supreme Court was infiltrated and no one could be the wiser. The ICC could not infiltrate the system because the president haughtily pulled out reasoning : do you want us to turn into another Cuba?
Journalists were harassed and arrested for exacerbated reasons that were culled from excuses ranging from not paying taxes, to being dictated to write by Western sources. The president had a stance against the West and ingratiated China to the point of slavery raking in Chinese workers over and above Filipino workers in our own country.
Now, the elections for senatorial candidates lined up in a parody of characters so ludicrous they could have been playing clowns in a carnival. The daughter of the former dictator proclaimed herself a Princeton graduate in a fake passport to ingratiate the intelligentia’s hearts and minds but was found out and brought out in the open. However, she knocked the wind out of everyone by ignoring the facts and pursued her work doing her assignment in economic reforms as governor of her region.
I was certain the election was rigged with celebrities leaching the government flashing their shiny asses to the masses. The president was voted without rigging the votes. But who have known the torrent he would unleash.
I was given a column to write for the Knucklers. Each day, I got reports of anomalies and brashly reported them in my column. I was not alone. But when you get to some point, the government notices and then, you might as well be alone or you’d need money to get your ass out of jail through expensive bails. Luckily, my paper kept pulling me out until I realized, the government meant business and I was at my final straw.
VII. Jail Bound
How are you?
About to go to jail again.
For something you wrote? Why do you keep doing these things? Come over here.
My friend told me to hide this time around. Exile. Exile was not on my list. I wanted to keep writing. I thought, they could keep me out of it for some more time. There was much to do, I didn’t want to go anywhere.
How are you? I asked.
You spoke in plain English when I’d had thought you’d have a lingering Aussie accent for having been raised there. I had no idea why you ended up there but your English is a quaint lonely mishmash of accents from places where you’d lived. Like a man who watches movies alone a lot. It was deep and sonorous.
You are in New Zealand now for a scholarship on bio mass. I had no understanding of chemistry or what you keep finding. My subjects just fell on my lap. This horrible storm threatening our land. You have your oil, and mines to study in deep reverie. I could only surmise that bio mass was another advocacy you held deep within your heart.
I researched on bio mass and found out about fossil fuels and the need to find alternatives before we mined too much of them and it would be too late. You are a scholar as I am just learning about things from books, the internet, podcasts, cable TV, news. My background on communications made me a deliberate person to broadcast what I know and found wrong. Perhaps one day we could talk about what you do and I could write about it in our paper and have people in our country be aware of such things and not be distracted by nonsense politics.
I can almost see you among the forests of New Zealand, meander the tapestries of color and light shining on leaves of trees and shrubs. The glistening patina of rain on leaves. The gushing waterfalls meant to be something. Energy. Dams to satiate a thirst that your country could not provide. You came to study, the waterfalls, the rivers, the streams, the very eddy of life. Water.
You were never interested in politics, you said and yet each step we eddy is known to be sourced in some partiality for one’s compulsion for a better life.
You were bunked in someone’s home and didn’t delve much on what you did.
I didn’t ask who you were seeing this time, nor about the girl from Indonesia. I knew how fickle men can be for you seemed out of it and never mentioned the time we spent. I never mentioned it either. You simply said it was beautiful there and that there was a pretty Filipina trans in your class you’d like to get to know more. I felt pangs of jealousy and yet you invited me to your place to escape the tedious wrath I was encumbered with here in the Philippines.
Why don’t you ask her out?
It isn’t allowed, you sighed.
The administration. Hey, I have to go now, lots of work to do.
Yeah, me too. I have to get back to the paper.
We did not speak again for a long time. I just imagined you going about your laboratory results and recording them on top of some mossy rock. You could be dreaming of the Filipina right now and planning to date her.
New Zealand seemed so far away but I didn’t know it was near your home in Australia. I thought you lied about where you lived and if I went there I would have missed you after all. After all the lies and deceits I have on my plate writing each day, I felt most alone if you would lie to me. But I researched on a world map and realized you could commute to Australia that fast. I wondered if you had a family there in Australia. I wondered about you a lot. I thought I shouldn’t keep you tethered to me. I mean, we had our fun, who am I to you but someone you found fascinating for awhile. This did not comfort me and I felt like the Indonesian girl you talked about. This may have been how you began with her and finally shifted to being who you truly were. You were gay inside and wanted to come out and be free. I knew in Europe you could do things much freer than your country in Jordan and I couldn’t blame you for trying things out. Maybe I inspired you to like Filipina divas, which wasn’t so bad. At least I had influenced you to have a liking for my kind.
Bio mass, hmmmm, I typed on my laptop- residuals from forest resources such as wood and garbage turned to fuel. So you were interested in fuel.
I wanted to understand why you were interested in fuel. Perhaps it was an oil-Arab thing, a need to find some other source because your resource may be unhealthy for the environment or it was going under. The oil price hiked due to a very unfortunate event concerning the death of an Arab journalist who was allegedly ordered to be killed by the Saudi Prince. Jamal Khashoggi. Word was that Khashoggi was Taliban and CIA when he went into exile in the United States leaving his family behind. Yikes. I didn’t want that happening in my watch and to die that way. It was as though the Prince wanted it obvious that he had him killed in the worst way, with a chainsaw.
I became a fan of Jamal Khashoggi as soon as news broke out about his death. I wanted to know more about him and how he tried to convince the prince of reforms even as he was settled in another country. Perhaps it was possible. Perhaps it was the only answer. But what I didn’t want to do was to disturb you. You were obviously enjoying yourself out there and I could just turn out to be a nuisance.
But I missed you so much. My body ached to feel your skin upon mine. You had grown pale, seeing you on Skype and you’d gotten into the habit of wearing checkered shirts which made you look like a professor. No matter, your eyes were still the same behind your new blue glasses. You still looked the same.
I was driven to hide. I took to the mountains of Benguet where a group of rebels took me in. Nothing much to do but from there I could write as much as I wanted to and was still published by Knucklers.
I washed the rebels’ dishes and spoons at noon and at night after they came home from their fight. It was not as though I had no choice. I wanted to know them too. I wore a malong at night and as I bathed. They had connections to Palestinian forces and I wanted to know more about that too. I only knew about the Israelis side, the Arab in me only knew you. They knew the whole demographic order with Joma Sison, their leader in Netherlands directing their every move. There is a lot of negotiations and the president dismissed all talks with the rebels and no one was the wiser. His talk about shooting rebel women soldiers in their genitals was not taken very well.
The rebels were kind to me. They respected me and that was important to remember.
The forest was lit by firelight which could easily put out when government soldiers came in at the middle of the night. We sang soft songs at night and gongs were played as well as flutes which simmered like smoke coming from the small blaze. These people were hungry and the rations were small so I ate as little as I could.
Eventually I received word that you were in the city. I had to see you. Wearing a hijab I came down from the mountains and met you at a restaurant in the old quarters of Manila. My friend from Knucklers, my connection, ordered a small meal of adobo and sinigang with slivers of pork and chicken.
What are you doing here? I asked holding your hand. My female friend from Knucklers left us for awhile as we conversed. You held my hand and looked deep in my eyes. It was moist with faint tears and I could only surmise you wanted to cry.
Are you deeply in trouble? I mean, what is this? You are in hiding already?
He caressed my inner palm with his finger. Oh, I remember. My heart beat fast and faster still. You wore a checkered blue shirt and seemed to have lost weight.
He was now a friend more than a lover.
I want to take you out of here. Come with me.
I can’t. I replied. I won’t get past security in the airport. Everyone is looking for me.
Who is looking for you?
The police. I am to be arrested for writing against the government. I simply replied. I released hold of your hand. I didn’t want you involved. You would be in trouble not only in our country but also with your own. You could be taken into custody, here and there in your country. You might even be uncovered as a homosexual and be beaten in your country. I could not risk that. You are here yes, but you are there far away. I told myself as I released my hand from yours.
I have fake papers made. You can come with me.
What about your new Filipina friend? I laughed and you laughed as well. You are too kind. I didn’t know you would go to such lengths to find me and do things to take me away from here.
You looked around and pulled an envelope from his duffel bag. There was a sheaf of papers inside. You placed it on my hands. I read it. There was a fake passport and documents with the name Olivia Casteldon.
Okay, I won’t exactly be sitting beside you on the plane but these papers can bring you to me where I shall be waiting for you at the end of your journey.
I will be there, you continued. Trust me. You reached out for my left hand again and pressed it with fervor. You will die here. Are you getting death threats? They will kill you before you can end up in jail.
That was true. I had gone to such lengths already.
I can’t take this, you will be put at risk as well Amad. I stood up and left the papers on the table.
No, I am not leaving until you come to me.
I sat down again and looked at him with alacrity.
Alright. I will take these. But you must promise to leave now and go back to New Zealand. I will meet you there.
Good girl. You said.
I put the papers back inside the brown envelope and surreptitiously slipped it into my own bag. We stood up and I embraced you beside our table.
Inshallah. I said.
I realized you had put on a lot of money to get these papers done and I wanted to scream. I stayed in the city for awhile and was hidden in the attic of my friends’ house in Tagaytay mountain. I looked at the papers and cried painful tears. I could risk everyone. Already, Knucklers was under pressure to close down. It was owned by an American foreigner and that could hold things for awhile. Our editor in chief was holding her own fort by trying to explain every step of the way that her paper was clean even if with a foreign investor.
Alright, I decided. It was time to bail out. I had to run.
I was always running. I ran away from my family because they didn’t want me, who I had become, after college. My operation was another way of running away. I escaped being a man. I wondered if I would always run away. Would I run away from you too?
I took the papers, the plane ticket and ran. I switched the plane ticket to fly to New York. I didn’t want you involved in whatever I was in. You didn’t deserve my problems. I rode the plane with the memory of my first kiss with you.
My mind eddied on the time I had you in my arms.
I waited for take-off. Then the plane flew from the tarmac and I could have sworn my heart leapt anticipating someone from security or the police to climb up the plane and pull me away.
Suddenly, I felt safe. I wracked my heart from the guilt of not going to you. I would be alone in New York. I had friends there but I would be too hot to take refuge with anyone of them. My friend from Knucklers brought me to the airport and we embraced. She would be the last person who would know me as Salome. Now I was Olivia. A man who turned to be a woman now another identity as another woman.
God knew, I didn’t have the money to get away and you made sure I could. I took your help but I felt there was a line somewhere to free you from my past.
I would love you, forever and yet I couldn’t have you.
I could not afford to have you or anybody for that matter. I had plans on having a new identity in New York. Perhaps fall in love again. I was and will always be looking for love. That was the core of who I was.
I remembered my first tale of the princess who kept falling in love. That was who I am. I would always love. I just wish the tale would cycle and find you at the end of my journey as you promised you would be. But it was not to be. I was running away from you as well. Because I did not trust myself enough to keep you safe. Perhaps somewhere inside me, I felt I didn’t deserve to be loved as well.
IX. A Strange Twist
I arrived at JFK airport and you were there.
No! I cried inside myself. I can’t love you this way. You must be delusional to think this was some reparation for having left me in Manila. The past is over.
You slowly came to me and embraced me. I held back for as long as I could. I pounded your chest. This cannot go on. I loved you too much to hold you back.
Alright, I’ll let you go if you want me to. But when I turn my back you would never see me again. You explained.
Yes! Go away! I cried.
Okay. You heaved. You turned to walk away.
I looked at his back and saw a man who loved me enough to come back, not just come back but to find me on the face of the earth. My friend must have told him.
I dropped my bags and ran to you. I jumped to cling to you with all of my reconstructed body. I was truly a woman and I loved you. To be loved so much, how could I turn my back on you.
I was blooming flowers inside me. All of me, Georgia O’ Keefe flowers flaming inwards, outwards, you must have felt the heat wicking from my skin. I was flushed with joy I could not contain anymore.
You kissed me passionately on my lips. I kissed back, remembering all of you.
Everywhere there were flowers from people waiting for their loved ones and I could smell them. I was emanating pheromones.
There is an old cliché where time stands still.
New York was the old and the new. I had been here before and what I noticed were the lights at night. The city that never sleeps. But I slept, like a baby after months in hiding in the mountains. You kept me warm with your skin beneath the sheet. I would kiss your arm and you would turn to kiss my lips. I would beg you to take me again and again and you would give me what I wanted. You were still angry that I would have turned you away at the airport. I wanted to satiate your anger. You were always angry, I discerned. You, I realized, was a cynic after all and that what you gave me was your anger. You insisted every corner of the world was crazy with corruption and lack of awareness of how to make things work towards something right.
I was your receptacle for the anger you felt for everything. And you loved me underneath this sheathe of anger, you were a man for me and we made love as though I were truly a woman. You did not make love to me the way you would to a man. You are strong as you knew I was strong. My muscularity had softened and yet I felt there was a man in me that reciprocated your need for a man. I wasn’t confused. I was a man who turned into a woman and that was how we made love.
I took a job at a small newspaper writing lifestyle pages. You took a job as a teacher at a local school from where we lived, a small apartment which we painted with flowers. After work, I’d buy bread and flowers from the roadside. When tired, we’d sleep and make love in the middle of the night.
I bought things I liked at thrift stores. A couple of chipped mugs that were centuries old. I wanted the imperfect but lasts through time, now mine. We bought paintings from street corners and hung them on our walls. Mostly they depicted flowers and children. I’ve never felt so happy in my life.
Finally news broke out that the Democratic, Liberal Party won a majority in the senate. Soon, the people were in the streets of Edsa to conflagrate the Duterte government.
We bought a small TV and had it connected to the Filipino channel. I could not repress my excitement. I felt I had to go back and join the movement against Rodrigo Duterte. News was that the Duterte family had amassed wealth all of a sudden and couldn’t explain this new wealth. The people were now becoming suspicious that the president they voted was not immune to the shimmer of money.
News came out from Knucklers with his own compatriot spilling the truth for everyone to know. The Editor in Chief of Knucklers was arrested and all the more the people stood up against her arrest. The Duterete government was ridden with nepotism which became too glaring to ignore.
They released the editor in chief of Knucklers to satiate the hunger of the people to pull the government.
I flew back to Manila promising you I’d be back as soon as things stabilized in my country.
I was given my old job as columnist in Knucklers and I was just happy to write again. I went back to my old apartment and drew aside the curtains.
The light came in a sharp relief into my dusty old apartment. Shafts of light with motes of dust eddied into my room. There was much to do, I thought while dusting the place.
I peered though my window and found children playing in the streets. I could smell the isaw barbecuing below and heard the sounds of jeepneys blaring along their paths.
It was a new day.
When my husband died, the storm did not come during the funeral. The ceremony of taking in guests, talking to them, reuniting with people who have long been gone from our lives as though they themselves were ghosts summoned by the death of Gregory. My children came home, stayed in our ancestral house where we discussed my having to transfer to a smaller space which I agreed to, as though I were mimicking myself, acting out a self which pre-existed. Behind all these was my true self, withering like autumn leaves parlayed in streams, eddying towards the river.
I could see my Gregory not as he was before his illness, but as he was ill. The unfurling of his condition written all over his physical mien. How he was fast turning into a shadow, always asleep on the hospital bed, the trauma of his asphyxiation, the process of intubation, realizing that those were his last words, never to speak to him again, all became part of my own self, drawing back to the hospital gardens, slowly weeping among the ferns and large cornucopia of plants, a maze designed by a master horticulturist more as a gift than comfort for the companions of the sick and ofcourse, the dying.
And when he died, his brother rushed to meet me in the garden, where instead of kissing each other’s cheek, he kissed me passionately in the mouth, swallowing my grief as though he were hungry to take me in and all of my thin body shaking like the leaves tinkered by fine rain. We went to a hotel across the hospital and he made love to me, even though I knew he was married and that he had small children. Stella. Stephen and Greta were his children.
Ofcourse, after the funeral, the storm gathered and I was pulled in its vortex rather than its path. It did not move past me, us. He left his wife and moved in with me. Stella stupefied, arrogantly ignored our affair and relented, affording the comfort of knowing she had the satisfaction of not loving Michael anymore. Not because of this, but because of years upon years layered with detachment accumulated in a marriage that had no more passion left. She felt it further insulted by the fact that if she risked begging her husband back or raging for what he was doing, she would rather not, cold as fish as she always was. The children were just as cold, like moonstones losing their former gleam the way Gregory ebbed into the shadows of death’s cold grip.
Only Michael and I radiated into a full color spectrum, I raging like a mad woman who grappled unto him to sap the lifeforce in him after Gregory’s leavetakings.
We were all shadows but Michael gave me his everything, cleaning the fish, our bathroom, planting new bulbs of flowers in my new garden in the new apartment I was given by my children who all disappeared after transferring me to this new home and monetizing the ancestral house. He did not look at all like Gregory but he proved himself to be mine. His grief was different, it was transposed to filling my needs first as though I were what’s left of his brother who took care of him through high school when he was bullied the hell out his mind by classmates in the all exclusive boys’ school back when he was young.
I accepted this new fate with a new found delight. I was springing like a new bud that risked everything or nothing at all, because nothing was asked of me but to naturally curl towards the embrace of his flesh.
There was nothing wrong now. Except that he was enough and I felt a certain guilt. Yes, guilt for having something so immediately after the death of Gregory. Do not widows take three years before finding another man. Because this gives enough breathing space between lovers, a certain musing, contemplation, a re-emergence.
He did not give me time to know my silent self and he could sense this. He fell apart. He was shattered like a renegated lover. One day, he said he was to go fishing and did not come back. I looked at the back door where he left, slipped into a chair by the breakfast table and watched the swinging door being slightly shaken by the wind.
My silent self.
Years later, I found him reading a book, seated a on a park bench. I sat beside him and together we watched the sunrise over the large lake pond. He said he worked at a bank now. And yes, he looked every bit a banker with his suit and coat. I told him, I lived on what my children gave me, proceeds from an investment where there was the ancestral house.
Things. We remembered the cracked teapot we tried to mend on a weekend. The kayaking we tried to do. Laughter. Everything we tried to do. To forget, yes forget, which was wrong. To forget Gregory. He would haunt us, forever. The eyes floating above the cup of mask he wore in the hospital. How helpless he looked, how I suffered.
We returned home together and had breakfast. I had not yet fixed the back door and he told me he should fix it. And he did. And remained for the remainder of my days.
Eba was born to a beautiful mother whom a priest could not leave alone. She consented to his advances because she needed his support in education and a roof over her head in the monastery. But when she became pregnant she was told by the priest to hide in the monastery for nuns on the mountains of Benguet.
Eba’s mother thought her daughter would come out with horns on head instead of a garland of flowers, like the statuettes in the church of the priest because she was a woman of sin. But she came out smelling of Ylang Ylang and was marked with a beautiful flower on the back of her shoulder. Her mother, however bled to death having spilt her first instance of breast milk on the lips of her child.
The child grew up in the mountains where Ylang Ylang abounded to soothe unwed mothers whom they took in. They were usually love children of priests and their servant women. Her mother must have inhaled enough of this rare flower as she waited for her due to give birth.
Eba was always marked by dirt of the soil for she always played outside instead of the hand me down dolls for children of her kind. She ate cakes of mud because they tasted raw and true. She was hungry for honesty. When she asked the nuns about her mother, they simply told her that her mother was the wife of a farmer who loved the heady loam of the soil where he planted rice in the terraces carved on the side of mountains.
Eba would crush the Ylang Ylang and painted flowers from the juices on parchment papers which she stole from the desk of the prioress who always secretly knew and allowed this to go on, marveling at the flowers the child could paint from mere effusion of their flowers.
Soon, the child was a young woman who painted frescoes on the walls of their monastery. She was apprenticed by no less than a master painter of the country who climbed the mountains of Benguet to witness the wonder of the young woman who could paint swirl flowers with such detail and whimsical quality it delighted everyone at the nunnery. Eba was considered a child prodigy who studied how to paint by herself by studying old books on the shelves of the old library. She would paint while the cold wind whipped her hair about for she kept it free from being tied down.
Eba painted flowers as huge as humans on their walls and since she painted using the emulsions of flowers, they always smelt strongly of their scent that filled the halls of the nunnery. Children marveled at the huge flowers and soon she was teaching them herself on how to extract juice from the flowers to paint whatever their hearts desired.
Eba could tell the children painted from their dreams and they were always pleasant dreams because they could smell the flowers everywhere including the flowers they hid inside their pillows at night.
The frescoes she painted were of female saints and she dreamt of being one herself. But, she was pulled from the nunnery by a doctor who wanted her for his wife. He would come to the mountains to alleviate the sick and the dying nuns. There he witnessed the beautiful flower paintings and asked to meet the beautiful painter of such flowers. He was immediately entranced by her beauty and asked the nuns for her hand in marriage.
A carriage was sent to the mountain nunnery and soon was asked to pack her few belongings to bring with her to her future husband. The nuns insisted it was all meant for her own good and that she could paint much more varieties of flowers with the good doctor given he had a garden of flowers which she surely would find a delight.
Indeed the garden was a sight to behold, surrounding his large house which he maintained alone. He helped her down from the carriage and led her to her room which was filled with various fruits and flowers in a kaleidoscope of colors which filled her spirit with gratitude for being delivered to this place which made her spirit soar because she was overwhelmed with gratitude and love.
They were married in a little church outside town and she wore a lace gown passed down from generations of wives of doctors in the family. The church was filled with Ylang Ylang flowers because she requested it from her future husband.
But at night, after his duties to his wife, he would leave the house and would mysteriously take the carriage and disappear for the rest of the night, slipping back into their marital bed before the crack of dawn.
One night as they both sat down for dinner, she pulled an Ylang Ylang from the bouquet in the middle of the table among the fruits and sweet meats. She then proceeded to eat it one by one, to which the doctor ran from his end of the table aghast and pumped her stomach for her to vomit the flowers what she took in.
That night, the doctor bathed her in an emulsion of flowers and sponged her back with the mark of a flower. He kissed the flower on her back and wrapped her in a thick towel.
Ever since then, he never left their marital bed at night and the pain of that night dissipated with the arrival of a baby boy which enjoined them together enough to later read their son’s novel as a testament to his parent’s love for each other.
The Indian’s Bride
It took too much from me, reading the mind of another but I knew, without a doubt I could do it, only I would not do it because telepathy had its consequences. It opens a door wherein I am able to read not just the target’s thoughts but all others’ as well and that would be hell broken loose.
My boyfriend saved me from an obsession. He told me my ex-husband simply got bored with me and so, left. He gave me his shoulder to cry on and I wept and wept. He was Indian and talked to me of the strangest things. That Christ’s missing years were spent in India where the Lord learned the most magical of things such as learning how to create miracles from the shamans of the deep forests in ancient times. He also told me that he had paid for his wife’s tuition fees as a doctor and left him with a young daughter to which he was nothing but bitter although he would not say so, I could surmise from a peripheral telepathic power. He sold insurance and was manager of his firm.
I held on to him with all my might. I am a Filipina with two children abandoned but not without money. I had a series of nannies for them and among them was the sweetest thing who was a former scholar in their high school and meant to study college in Manila after her stint with us. She said goodbye to us after awhile with my youngest son and strangely, she seemed to want my son to cry that she was to leave by saying:
“Ay, do not cry.” And so, my poor son, only four, did cry not understanding what was happening. She wanted my son to miss her which was ridiculous and unnecessary, I thought.
We became friends on social media. And through the years we learnt she graduated from college, took on a top supervisory post at a department store and married. She went to Qatar and came back with lots of money and established some business in their province in the south. Obviously she was more aggressive than her husband who was left to care for their children. She had bloomed and became beautiful learning how to seduce clients for her business with remarkable photos of herself in social media.
My boyfriend had just won a prestigious prize in their insurance firm and it was all over social media as well.
Then, I noticed this woman liking his photos. I also noticed that, lately, my boyfriend had taken to working out and was extraneously fit and buff from his former bloated self from alcohol and food.
I confronted the woman and she said she never liked his photos on social media after which her name disappeared from the likes list. I confronted my boyfriend and he said she was just one of those who requested for his friendship on social media.
I cared for my boyfriend more than my husband, thus, all these were fast turning into pain in my chest where my heart pounded. My head ached as much as my heart. My temples throbbed with searing pain and I felt my thoughts would burst and that I couldn’t contain them.
I decided to give myself twenty four hours to read what was happening. Only twenty four hours because, as I mentioned, my mind control would turn to putty. I would end up reading everyone’s thoughts and my mind would be crowded therefore I would never be able to hear my own thoughts again when I had to be sane for the sake of my children.
And so, I walked to the park and sat alone on a wooden bench where someone had carved their heartfelt love for each other. I cried, a bit. And when the pain sluiced away through the runnel of tears down my cheeks I breathed deep and sought all the powers of my mind. It must have been the branches of trees above me that lulled me into a deep reverie. I saw her, my son’s nanny, a woman now. I saw her photo crowned with flowers as she posted on social media and it was easy from there to realize why my boyfriend would like her.
She had lured him to buy from her business products and to introduce her to his friends to buy some more. He liked her easily enough and bought her medical products. Then she was there as I saw her luring my son to cry for her leaving. She was very determined that she win against me, I who had no idea why she would do such. And then I saw her as a child, sitting on a corner of their nipa hut. She was nipping the striations of the floor and she was struck with a broom by her mother. She had long hair and was only twelve.
“You will marry the Indian or I will leave you to live with your father.”
“Noooo!” She screamed and the broom was struck on her leg. Later, her mother packed a bag for herself and left the hut where she was left to the mercy of her drunken father who beat her again and again each time she would not be able to provide him with beer after he came home from work. Luck was not on her side, for no one would take her away from her situation. Later, her father died of a heart attack and she was taken to an orphanage where she finished high school and graduated enough to find work with us in Manila.
Ever since then she became obsessed to have what was mine. She wanted my life. She wanted my son’s attention, my boyfriend, his friends, my jealousy. This telepathic message ran like a spool of film that reeled in my mind and any more of these images would have left me in a seizure attack. I do not know where this power came from. I had a scientific rationale for it rather than a religious one but I knew it could not be used for something other than love and I loved my boyfriend enough for me to use it at this moment in time.
I could not forgive my boyfriend after that. His reasons for being weak was his own. But I could hear her whimpering as the broom hit my son’s nanny’s leg as a child forced to be a bride. She had grown up to be a monster because society had not been kind to her and so I forgave her.
I brushed away the dried leaves that fell on my lap as I dredged images of this woman. I stood up and breathed deeply upon returning home. I told my boyfriend our situation would not work out and that I had fallen in love with someone else. I asked him to leave.
He knew that I knew because I caught their connection on social media. I told him, go to her and see if she would take you in despite being married. I would not play second to the woman just because she was married and I was not. I gave myself that much.
He left, telling me if I worked out on my body things would not have turned this way. Body shaming was something I would not tolerate and it surprised me he had it in himself.
Last, I heard, they did fulfill each other’s desire and had moved in together but his wife from India had taken his daughter from him and he was slammed with a case of adultery.
This gave me an ironic musing which left me with much reprieve that sent me laughing all about the whole situation needing no telepathic effort to puzzle over.