I Bruise Easily

I Bruise Easily

I bruise easily
Like a melting pot.
Handle me gently
To ease my heart.

I can feel the pain,
And it hurts in vain
As my heart is melting
With great amain.

There is not a cure
To make my heart pure.
I feel so weak
And I feel like a freak.

My body is strong,
But my heart feels wrong.
Help me with care
Before it starts to flare.

It stings like a bee
And a pain I wouldn’t admire
And I can’t feel the camaraderie
Because it burns like fire.

Handle me gently
Like a porcelain doll
But please don’t let me fall
Because I bruise easily.

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Journal Entry #23

This is a short fiction story about a dream writer who is struggling with her writing and her past. I am experimenting with fictional dream in this story. You can also check it out on my Wattpad and vote for the story to your liking! https://www.wattpad.com/318522410-journal-entry-23-what-was-your-childhood-like

         What was your childhood like?

          That was the question written on the chalkboard. I tapped the thin lead of my mechanical pencil. My eyebrows furrowed and my bottom lip tucked between my teeth. I watched a classmate eagerly filling the blank spaces of her journal with blue ink. It had only been one minute and she had already reached the middle of the page. Her eyes twinkled as her left hand danced across the paper from left to right. Then, I stared down at my own journal. It screamed at me blank, taunting me worthless.

          I could write, I was obsessed with the color pink that I wanted to change my name to “Pink.” My mom would pick me up from ballerina practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She would also drop me off every Saturday for piano classes and grab ice cream after. My dad would read to me my favorite book The Rainbow Fish and tuck me into my own bed in my own pink room. I had tea parties with my own Made in China tea set with Teddy, Barbie, and Mr. Bubbles. I went to sleepovers at Abigail’s two-story house and eat her mother’s chocolate chip cookies and we drooled over the handsome Leonard diCarprio while watching Titanic and we painted our nails with bright, neon colors but not me. Because, I liked pink.

          With a pencil in my hand and an empty sheet in front of me, I had the power to write anything. To be free from limitations and rules.

I could lie.

          My Creative Writing teacher didn’t need to know. My classmates didn’t need to know either. After all, our journal entries were for ours to keep. It was to help us avoid writer’s block and jot ideas for our upcoming short fiction story. No one has to know what’s in our journals. Everyone around me is a stranger. They come and they go.

          I began to start my first sentence writing I, but then, I must have forced the tip of the lead a bit hard and it shattered into bits. I annoyingly click the the butt of my mechanical pencil and continued where I left off.

          I was lonely. I could lie. My mom and dad were always working so they hired a babysitter to look after me. My babysitter was old, strict, and religiously Catholic. She liked things her way. She was obsessed with good rules. She liked children who were quiet, who were obedient, who were clean, who gets straight A’s, who was talented, and if you weren’t good–

I paused and erased.

…talented. I was always studying and studying. At school, at home, at the library. I was never good at anything but study. Everyone praised me that I was a smart, hard-working student. They expected me to do great things–go to an American college, study Nursing or Accounting, work in a high income job, marry a blonde. I was always smiling and nodding my head yes

          I heard the teacher gasped excitedly at a classmate whose childhood was spending the summers at her grandparent’s ranch and riding horses. She loved horses and wanted to become an equestrian veterinarian.

Truth was…I wasn’t all good with Math. Not all Asians were good at Math. I hated Math. I once cheated on a Math test. I felt so guilty earning an A-, which supposedly I should have a C-. Because if I failed, everyone would have started judging me, comparing me to so and so’s child who’s smarter than me. I wanted to join an art club, take piano lessons, play soccer, have a pet Golden Retriever and name him Luffy. I did none of that. I was under house arrest. It was suffocating. I hated it. I hated myself for not doing anything for myself. I felt lonely.

I noticed my teacher stood next to me with a cheerful smile on her face.

“What was your childhood like?”

The corners of my mouth lifted out of impulse. I beamed at her.

“It was good. I went to the library every weekend. I was just an average, quiet child who studied and read fantasy novels.”

Miss Indigo

I tried publishing this story to random publishing companies, but I never got any responses from them. So, now that I have waited for six months, I have decided to post it here and later, in the future, on my Wattpad page.

The poem, Miss Indigo, was created by my older, sister which inspired me this story.

The cold rain poured sweet curses to welcome her return. The arrival area was crowded and noisy. People of different backgrounds dragged along with them heavy, dark-colored luggage while children carried their favorite cartoon character backpacks. Most passengers were awkwardly standing in a corner, talking onto their iPhones, or sitting and staring on airport benches while a high-pitched female’s voice welcomed visitors through the speaker phones that sounded the whole area even reaching the parking lot at the other side.

In front of her stood a huge crowd of people screaming I love yoos and bright flashing lights. Curious, she slowly walked toward the crowd. A tall, handsome guy with a mole at his left side smiled and waved to the hard-dying fans as he held hands with a pretty, petite girl with shades on. A group of reporters and cameramen surrounded them and hovered them with questions. They probably just finished filming their new movie abroad, but the reporters were more interested in their relationship and asked if they were serious with each other. With the fans neverending screamings pounding her eardrums, Lira distanced herself to the opposite direction. She was not interested with the popular celebrities here unless they’re American singers like Taylor Swift and Maroon 5. As she looked around, she spotted two girls embracing each other. One of them, not much older than her, called the other “Ate”—a respectful term to an older sister, and the other, whom was called “ate,” smiled and gave her another warm hug. Lira wondered if she could at least say that to her own.

If wings could only fly—

She started to mutter the first few lines of her favorite poem Miss Indigo. It was a poem written by her older sister. Lira loved the poem so much that she remembered it by heart:

If wings could only fly,

I let it on your way.

Like a budding rose in sigh

They all keep it for a day—”

People held up signs with a, “Welcome Back, ________! greeting” or signs with just the person’s last name. Suddenly from her right, Lira jumped from someone shouting, “Jusko! There he is! He’s so big now!” The family rushed to raise up a poster-sized picture of a baby boy sucking on a pacifier and the other side, an adult man smiling straight at her full of joy and success wearing a green cap and gown. The, mother, Lira assumed may be around her fifties, raised the poster high above her head even tip-toeing as if she could even get it higher for her son to see. She turned around and saw the poster board boy flushing red like a ripe tomato and ran toward them with tears in his eyes. They made one big, family group hug as tears streamed down their overjoy faces. It got the attention of people around them and everyone clapped for them saying things like “Aww, that was soo cute.” How so overly dramatic, Lira thought. But whatever. Everyone has at least a drama scene in their life.

Straightening up her Beavers baseball cap over her cropped hair and brushing off grey lint from her silk top and capris, would anyone recognize her? Would they dare show off a baby picture of her in a diaper and greet her with warm hugs and wet faces? And because of Lira’s short features, would they eventually sweep her off her feet and kiss her on the cheeks as if she’s still ten years old? But she’s not short short. Just average. She fixed her posture. She’s not ten anymore. Of course, they wouldn’t recognize her. Maybe little bits of her. It’s been what? Eleven years?

Eleven long years,” Lira whispered under her breath.

Eleven years she hasn’t set foot on the soil she was born on until now. She hasn’t seen any of her relatives and doesn’t remember much about them. Ma mentioned that they used to be close, playing hopscotch in the mornings and hide-and-seek in the afternoons. She suddenly felt like a white foreigner. What would they think of me? Lira thought. What about her older sister, Arny? They haven’t contacted each other the last time she visited the States. That was four years ago. Arny couldn’t handle the pressure of living in a different country. But Lira, that time, didn’t understand the adult conversation between her parents and sister. And why her sister left.

As she continued moving forward, she found one sign that read her name, “Lira Cortez.” It wasn’t as exciting as the other signs with bright-colored posters or with large, embarrassing potraits. It was written in pencil on a three-holed lined paper, which was clearly last minute. The person holding the sign looked like an older version of Lira except with longer hair, glasses, and pale skin. She was wearing a casual t-shirt and pants. She came alone.

She looked at Lira. “Whoa, you’ve grown,” she said. “A lot. It’s like I’m looking at the 20 year old something version of myself.” She laughed. “Wait, are you wearing make-up already?”

Arny Cortez. Lira’s older sister. Thirty-two years olds. Unmarried. Bossy. Still hasn’t change a bit.

Lira frowned. “Not really.”

“Have you been eating well?” her older sister asked. She held Lira’s arms and examined them. Goosebumps started to appear on Lira’s skin to the touch of her sister’s picky fingers. “Don’t tell me your anorexic. Is that what you’ve been doing in the mainland?”

People around them were staring at them. Arny Cortez. AKA the “big mouth.”

Lira groaned and turned away. “Do you have to be so loud?”

“I’m not loud.”

“You’re. Loud.”

“Eh, whatever.” Arny rolled her eyes.

They hugged quickly; Lira felt a chill run down her spine. It was still raining when Arny called for a taxicab. They sat together in the back seat while the radio announced weather updates. Lira understood most of the words that the newscaster said. The cab driver glanced at her from the rear-view mirror and smiled with those tired eyes. He spoke quickly so that Lira didn’t understand. She had to move forward at the edge of her seat.

Sabi ko, may bagyo. Ang malas mo, iha.” The old driver said this, followed with three “tsks.”

Bagyo: Typhoon. Malas: Bad luck. Lira thought. She was about to reply back but her sister butted in. She told the driver that she (Lira) came from America and wouldn’t understand any Tagalog.

“Ah,” the driver said, nodding. “You, American.” He grinned widely showing his yellow, crooked teeth. Lira tried not to flinch.

“No. Hindi,” Lira said. “Ma-Roo-Noong. A-Ko.” I understand. It sounded better in her head, but it actually sounded too…robotic.

Arny giggled.

Lira shrugged. She took off her cap and brushed through the strands of her hair. Messing it up. That’s the style nowadays. Or was it irritation? What’s the word? Nakaka-iniss? Did she just added an extra consonant? She replayed what the driver said to her in her head, “You, American.” Is she?

The driver continued to smile and nod. He gave a thumbs up. Good, good, he said. Her sister laughed. She turned to look at Lira.

You still need a lot of work, baby sis.”

“I’m trying.”

“Oh, really?” She sounded like she couldn’t believe her sister wanted to speak Filipino. “Well, that’s all good.

Lira stared out the window with her arms crossed over her chest. “Hmph.”

The radio took over the awkward silence. No one taught her how to speak in Filipino. If it were anyone’s fault, it would be her parents.

“So…” her sister said. “How’s life?”

“Good, I guess.”

“Just good?”

“Good.”

Loneliness share my meal

But, there are no spoons.

Ballad music came out from the radio. They are a favorite to Filipinos due to the slow and romantic rhythm of the song, easing one’s mind and soul. It was unfamiliar, but Lira hummed along with the lyrics.

“Secrets unrevealed,/ and now, I’m in stoned—”

“Did you say something?” Arny asked.

“Nope.”

Lira watched a rain drop gliding its way down the window. They passed by tall buildings. The Philippines has become more modern. What does she want to know? It’s not like Arny would care. Arny, who was an accountant in one of the Western Union branches in Manila, advised Lira about trying to find a job. Lira graduated from an American college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts as a Communications major, but she had no idea what to do after that.

“What are you gonna do with a Communications degree?” Arny said. “Teacher? Public relations? Journalist?” She said this with doubt between her tongue. Lira half-listened. Another rain drop rolled down the window.

“I think Journalism fits you. Didn’t you used to work in some newspaper company?”

How did she know? It was probably Ma again. Lira’s fingers danced on her lap as if she was playing a piano. She always wanted to become a pianist when she was five years old. She got lazy during lessons. She was untalented anyway with her stiff and bony fingers.

“Hey, are you even listening to me?” There was frustration in Arny’s voice.

“I am.” Lira rested her head back.

Arny looked at her little sister for a while. “Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that—”

Lira yawned. Tears were forming in her eyes. Oh, she’s still talking, she thought.

“Do you know what to do? Have you found a job yet? Or anything?”

So. Many. Questions. “Um…I applied for some.” Lira applied to an ESL teaching program in Korea, but she hadn’t heard back from them. She didn’t want to become a teacher, but from a co-worker, she heard that teaching in Korea pays well. Lira also applied for an Arts Administrator position in the Miracle Theater Group in Portland and an internship position in the Asian-Pacific American Network of Oregon. The last place she applied to was a staff worker in a cafe. It wasn’t that bad. It was a cute cafe that attracted a lot of tourists…and a lot of guys. All in all, it didn’t really matter. She was desperate for any job that she could get. But applying as journalist wouldn’t be that bad. She had experience as an intern in a newspaper company after all.

“Where?” her older sister asked.

“Just around.”

“Then what?”

“Mmm…I don’t…know…I’ll just go with the flow.”

Her sister smirked. “Life doesn’t go with the flow.”

She said something about being happy but if not, Lira should just go for the money and work hard. Like her. Sure, Lira thought. Work in some crappy company you hate and get shitty attitude from your co-workers and supervisors. Arny started to talk about how life was hard and how their parents sacrificed their lives for their youngest daughter. Lira was the lucky child. She got to grow up in America and live freely. Arny didn’t. Every other week, Arny had to call her parents abroad for money she needed for college. Her aunts kept most of the money. She used to study Architecture and Poetry, but because of financial issues and competition in the Filipino society, she was forced to study Accounting. Their mother suggested that she could find a job and earn money quicker since she was the oldest. Arny had to help raise their family.

“—But anyways, you don’t have any problems. You’re a problem-free child.”

Lighting came through the dark clouds.

“Everybody has problems,” Lira said. Everyone has at least a drama scene in their life, she remembered.

“But not you.”

Yes, I do, you overly exaggerated wit–

“I do.”

“Oh? Like what?”

Lira sighed. “Like how I’m always…I…” She thought for a while. She doesn’t know how to put it. Not in a logical way. She shook her head. “Eh, I don’t know. Whatever’s fine.”

“Fine? What’s fine?”

“Whatever’s fine with me.”

“I don’t understand you. Can’t you be more specific?” Specific. Her sister liked specific. It annoyed Lira.

“It’s nothing. Really.”

“I wanna know this nothing.”

Lira didn’t answer.

“Lira!”

Lira jumped from the sound of her sister’s voice. Even the driver jumped too.

Ugh.

“I don’t know. I’m fine with whatever life offers me. Okay?” Honestly, everything with life annoys Lira. Like everyone is following each other’s footsteps or metal gears shifting where it’s supposed to work. Like robots. Or…

Whatever. So just drop it.”

Her sister groaned and muttered something. She turned away.

Unsure what was going on, the driver glanced at the rear-view mirror. He tried to make conversations with Arny, asking her where they were from or where she was working at. Lira stayed silent. Her eyes still gazed outside the window. The rain poured even harder like tiny crystals falling from the sky. She saw children playing out in the rain, laughing and pushing each other down a muddy puddle Lira thought about how she used to play in the rain. There were times she wished she would stay a child forever.

Please! Heal my soul…

I’m lonely and all alone.

Please! Drop some hope…

I’m in relief, and stood alone.

The driver slowed down. They entered a narrow street between houses aligned together in rows. Their rooftops banged beats of heavy rain drops. Static noise came from the radio that the driver had to turned down the volume. The radio signal suddenly shut off as they went through a bumpy road.

“Remember Miss Indigo?,” Lira finally said. She glanced at the corner of her eye. Arny, who was still facing the window, lifted her arm against the window sill.

Of course,” she answered. “I wrote it…for us.”

Miss Indigo…I’m like her.”

Arny didn’t turn, but in a low voice loud enough for Lira to hear she said, “I am too.”

The driver stopped. “We’re here.”

When You Hear Echoes from the East

Whispering shades of orange, yellow, and red, dawn creeps up onto the emerald mountains just slowly reaching for the clouds and the sky blue, bringing a silent chill to the native birds perching onto the sleeping caraboos and to the now-awaken villagers strolling through columns of the lush grassy fields ready to start another day that would soon not last. And the first layer of the sun rays touched the rice paddies. Usually, strolling along the grassy fields was peaceful, but since the Japanese invasion, the villagers were on a lookout. Most mornings, people would be running around spreading news about the Japanese invasion in Bataan. Working families in the fields showed up to hear the latest gossip: more than 70,000 Filipino and American troops died in the Bataan Death March on their way to prison camps. The look on their faces—their silent cry, their unrest, baggy eyes, their shaking fingers; the villagers were terrified. Secret group meetings were always held in the rice fields and in the provincial captain’s house discussing strategies. It was before the sunrise touched the rice paddies that they would hold their meetings.

“When are they going to be here?”, a woman asked. She held on to her crying baby close to her chest.

“We should leave this place!” Most teen boys shouted. Their eyes filled with determination.

“We can’t just leave! Where would we go?” The old, wise men protested. They could never believe that one day they would have to leave their beloved hometown.

Mag laban tayo! LABAN!” Hundreds of fists rose up, and shouts of anger bellowed through the air.
FIGHT!

PARA SA MGA KAPAMILYA! PARA SA KAPWA! PARA SA PILIPINAS!”

Cries and roars filled the meeting place that even the children followed along with the adults. Some of the villagers didn’t join in. They didn’t want to fight that would cause more deaths in their country. They wanted to flee. What would happen to them if they fight against the Japanese?

FIGHT! FIGHT! LABAN!

They might lose everything they lived and earned for.

FIGHT! FIGHT! LABAN!

Arguments never ended properly…

I looked up at the blue sky and squinted before the bright, torturous sun. Turning twelve a few days after the news of the Bataan Death March wasn’t so much surprising. After all, I didn’t like birthday parties. Everyone was too busy about the invasion, but a few farmers returned to their work in the fields. My body was well-built like a boy so my job every morning was to take the kalabaw out and help papa plow the rice fields. But mostly, I liked riding on top of Babe, our kalabaw, while papa plows behind. I didn’t hesitate to get mud over my raggy-hemmed dress that Tita Fina handed down to me. She scolded me for always ruining my nice dresses when working in the mud or playing with my friends.

Across the rice fields, I spotted American military uniforms marching up ahead with their jeeps zooming by. A group of children ran beside the them, shouting for chocolate. Their hands waved wildly in the air trying to catch their attention. I wanted to join them and eat chocolate, but I had to refrain myself from getting scolded again.

Behind me, papa’s breathing became heavier.  It was hard work, but papa doesn’t show any signs of exhaustion. Papa can be intimidating and quick-tempered, but mama was always patient and self-reserved. Ever since mama died of typhoid fever, he had been working a lot more and had become more stricter with me and my sisters. We don’t talk to papa a lot because he scares us.

“Loretta.” His sturdy voice echoed through my ears.

Po?” I quickly tied Babe’s tether to a pole as he crouched down and nibbled on grass.

“Go home.”

I didn’t want to go home. That meant I’ll only have to hear the bickering of my step mom and my sisters and do house chores as if I was under house arrest.

“But, I can–”

He touched my face and stared at me. He looked angry, but his eyes showed pity and gentleness.

“Your face is already dark. Alis, alis. Go!” He shooed me away.

When I arrived into our bamboo house, Tita Fina already started to scold me once her eyes landed on my muddy dress and sun-burnt skin.

“Loretta!” My name echoed through the air. I heard our next door neighbors laughing.

Tingnan sa sarilyo mo! Ang panguet mo! Hindi ka babae! Bastus!

I gave a grumpy face as she swears at me for being ugly. She tried to keep our family status in good shape, but I always ended up lowering our standards.

She pinched my muddy dress in disgrace and forcefully pushed me to our shower outside the house. The buckets were already filled with cold water pumped from the village well. She made me kneel down as she tried to pour water over my head and scrubbed me clean from top to bottom. I was pretty sure blood was oozing out from my skin.

Tita Fina dressed me quickly in my room. She couldn’t trust me dressing up myself. I winced every time she tried to untangle my long, black hair with mama’s jewel comb. My three sisters in the living room teased me. I stuck out my tongue at them, but I only received a slap on my mouth. My older sisters were twins. They like to do things together without me. We get along, but because I always arrive home with mud and grass in my hair, they get annoyed and complain about my “nature.” My eight year old sister was very talkative and can never keep a secret that there came a point when I growled at her and bit her finger. Of course, since she’s Tita Fina’s favorite, I got punished by kneeling on raw rice for nearly an hour. Although she was irritating, I was probably closer to her possibly because we share a room together. I was the middle child. The black sheep. The troublemaker. Among us sisters, I am the darkest whereas my sisters’ skin were pure white as a Castillan just like mama. When Tita Fina came to be our new mother, she looked at me with distaste. I didn’t get along with her very well as my sisters. Everything I do, she was against it.

In the neigborhood:

“Loretta! Stop playing with the boys!”

In a friend’s house:

“Loretta, sit up straight and smile,” she said through her gritted teeth as she pinched my behind.

Always Loretta this, Loretta that.

Susmaryosep! You’re a girl!”

Mama wasn’t like Tita Fina. She didn’t care about appearance and social status. Most of the time, I felt I was the only one who was lonely.

When the sun disappeared along the mountains, bright torches were lit and a line of farmers and wives marched past our house and through the fields. Papa went to join them. I couldn’t join because Tita Fina wanted to teach me manners. An hour passed, and papa hadn’t returned yet. It was just seven. I set the table while my sisters prepared the food until papa came. He seemed worried but didn’t care to share the news over the dinner table. I hardly saw him like that. His brows furrowed – eyes darting about in concern. When we all gathered in the living room, I sat on the ground between the twins.

“We have to leave,” papa began. His voice sounded hoarse.

Tita Fina and  my sisters gasped. “Why? What’s happening?”

At the meeting, papa explained, news was sent over that the Japanese troops were stationing in the  province. They needed a base for rest and resources. The village meeting was in a uproar because most villagers were against it and were planning an attack on the Japanese arrival.
“We leave tomorrow morning,” papa said.

“What? Where would we go?” Tita Fina asked. The only home she had was here. She had no other family relatives but us. “Moving all of our belongings is difficult.” She surveyed around the house.

“We pack only what we need.”

My younger sister was shaken up about the whole idea of leaving. She knelt beside papa and rested her head on his lap as he stroke her hair just like what mama used to do.

“Papa?”

Papa turned to look at me.

“Why don’t we leave now?”

I saw him twitch his lips.  “Let’s leave now so–”

Ano sabi mo, Loretta?” Tita Fina gave me a fierce look. “Do you know where we should go?”

“Yes! To Mama’s province!” I glanced at papa. He didn’t say anything. He stared at mama’s portrait on the wall.

Pero malayo sa Timong Visayas! How do you expect us to travel that far?”

“We pack only what we need.” I repeated papa’s words. “You can stay here if you like.”

Tita Fina’s face blushed. Her face seemed like it was about to explode.

“Loretta, enough.” Papa stood up. I thought he was going to slap me for being rude to Tita Fina. Instead, he walked past me.

“We leave before sunrise. To Visayas.”

Tita Fina followed Papa. My sisters gave out light sighs and retreated to our rooms. After packing some clothes and mama’s jeweled comb, I drifted off to sleep. I didn’t know what was happening, but the screaming of my little sister woke me up.

Ate, ate! Nandito na sila!

I looked up at her face, and tears were in her eyes. Her hair was a mess and felt her cold hands on my skin. From the look on her face, I knew.

They are here.

I looked outside our bedroom window, and I saw light. It looked like it was morning, but it was bright fire lighting up around our house. When I finally came to, a man—tall, lean, and furry eyebrows—barged into our room and started shouting at us. I didn’t understand him. He was Japanese, and our house was invaded. In the living room, Tita Fina and papa were leaning on each other, while my sisters huddled closely on the ground, and I rushed over to them. We couldn’t do anything. My eyes were drooping, and I was still tired. Everything just happened so fast. I thought they were going to kill us, but instead, they dragged us outside to the center of the village along with the rest of the families. They rounded us in a circle with our hands to our heads as we kneeled down. Some of the villagers had bruises on their faces, and the women’s hair were disheveled. The Japanese soldiers wore a tan military uniform with a yellow star centered on a red, rectangular bar on the collars. Each of them had a rifle in their hand. They were not smiling. They stared down at us.

Whispers circulated in the circle.

“They’re dead,” I heard.

“Who’s dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“I heard gunshots earlier.”

“It was sudden.”

“They must have been caught.”

“Or they probably ran away.”

“Oh Diyos, please help us!”

Another gunshot through the air.

We tried to close our ears with our shaking hands, and the whisperings suddenly stopped.

A man stood out outside the circle. He wasn’t wearing a tan military uniform or holding a rifle.

He didn’t look Japanese.

“So he’s a traitor,” I heard.

Traidor!” someone yelled from the crowd.

A Japanese soldier, who looked like he was the leader, spoke to the traitor. His face was nervous, nodding each time he understood what the Japanese leader said.

“We won’t kill anyone if you cooperate with us.”

Sinugaling!” Liar.

Another gunshot through the air.

The Japanese leader next to him shouted angrily.

“Listen,” the traitor said. “Listen, if we don’t cooperate, they’ll torture us. They’re here for shelter and

reinforcements. They won’t harm us unless we threaten them.”

That was assuring, but the villagers weren’t convinced. Looking frustrated, the Japanese leader grabbed a man from the circle to the center with him and pointed a pistol to his head.

Wag!” probably relatives of his screamed.  NO!

The Japanese leader angrily shouted. The traitor repeated his words again. When no one said anything but paid their attention to the chosen victim, the Japanese leader raised his pistol over the victims head and struck him. The victim fell to the ground hard. His face landed first on the dirt. I heard a bone crack, and I winced at the sight of his face. Thick, red blood oozed from his forehead like a waterfall. I thought he was dead, but I relaxed when he coughed.

As he slowly tried to pick himself up, the Japanese leader suddenly started to kick him on his ribs. Again and again.  On his right and on his left. He stepped on the legs of the poor guy and smirked at the sound of his agony. His eyes filled with entertainment. It was going over hand that the other Japanese soldiers had to break up the scene.
“Stop, stop! Please stop!” Cries of pain echoed from the crowd.

The victim was curled up in a ball on the dirt. He was still breathing, but it was faint. Satisfied that we understood the consequences, the Japanese leader brushed himself away from his subordinates. After the night we were invaded, we were able to go back to our homes. No one was allowed to leave the village. The rules were simple. We had to provide supplies for the Japanese, stay home before our curfew at 9pm, and cooperate with them. If we don’t, we might end up like that beaten villager.That night, I couldn’t sleep. Neither did the whole village.

After a few days, the Japanese soldiers made themselves at home as if owning everything on our property, especially the women. Papa didn’t like it so he cut all of our hairs into a bowl-cut shape to prevent us from being attractive. I cried so much when my beautiful long hair was gone even Tita Fina cried. My hair was my only beauty, and I can never use mama’s precious jewel comb run down my long hair. Tita Fina got depressed every day. She hated the cutting of our hairs. She hated the Japanese soldiers controlling the village. She hated how they show up and try to talk to her. She refused to go outside for fear they would do something bad to her. When I took a close look at her, she didn’t seem to be an ugly witch anymore. She seemed to be kinder to me since the raid.  She also had not been lecturing me about my appearance and my boyish attitude. Surpisingly, I missed that. She was always wandering around the house lost in thought. I thought maybe she was too scared.

One day, when I caught her sleeping on the rocking chair, I silently tiptoed to take a good look at her face out of curiosity. Her face was pale but calm. I have always seen her giving me dark looks, but I rarely saw her sleeping up close. Her bangs covered her closed eyes so I reached down and swept them to the sides. Her head was resting on her shoulders so I carefully, carefully moved her head up and put a pillow between her head and shoulder. Maybe I should be nicer to her more often, I thought.

The days slowly turned into weeks and later it became almost two months since the Japanese arrival in the province. No one got into trouble yet, but the village was still whispering  rumors that it will all be over soon.

When will it be over?

It was a still night and the village was quiet. It was curfew hours and the Japanese soldiers were taking turns guarding the streets. Suddenly, there were gunshots out in the field. Ratatat! Ratatat!We shut the doors and windows and gathered in papa and Tita Fina’s room together. The gunshots were distant, but they were slowly coming nearer to our house. We heard pounding and banging on our front door.

“Manong Greg! Fina! Alis na kayo!” someone shouted.

The rebellion group, who escaped when the Japanese first arrived in the village, were able to seek help from other neighboring villages and came back with more people to fight against the invaders. Papa immediately carried my little sister as Tita Fina kept me and my sisters closer to her. It was hectic outside. Everyone was running around and bending down trying to avoid bullets shot in the air. It was so dark that it was difficult to see where we were going. I held on to Tita Fina’s dress tightly as we hurriedly ran to safety.

“We’re going up the mountains,” Papa said. “It should be safer than down here.”

People were shouting at one another and to the Japanese soldiers simultaneously.

“Hurry! To the mountains!” the farmers shouted.

I wasn’t paying attention when I suddenly bumped into a lady crying for her lost child, then an old guy, then a boy struggling to his feet. During the chaos, I couldn’t grip on to Tita Fina’s dress, and I was surrounded by frantic people running and screaming at each other.

“Tita Fina!” I shouted. I never expected to call for her, but I did.

I spotted my little sister’s bobbing head and tried to follow the trail leading to her.

“Loretta!” My name echoed through the air.

Follow their voice, I thought.

But before I could meet them at the base of the mountain, someone grabbed me from

behind.

More gunshots. Ratatat! Ratatat!

I struggled with my enemy. His heavy arms wouldn’t let me go. I turned and bit him, but he didn’t budge. I saw papa rushing over to me. He had a look of terror on his face. He tried to pull me away from the Japanese soldier who grabbed me by the waist, but he wasn’t alone. They must have heard that the villagers were heading up to the mountains and tried to capture them. One soldier who kept holding on to me fell to the ground when papa punched him to the side of his rib. Another soldier sprang up behind papa.

“Loretta!”

I spun around. I saw black smoke rising from the houses and people laying lifeless on the ground. Are they dead or are they pretending to be dead?

“Loretta!”

Through the smoke, I thought I heard mama calling out to me. But it wasn’t. Tita Fina pushed me away and slammed her thin body to papa and the Japanese soldier. All three of them dropped to the ground. The sound of bullet shots deafened my ears as I struggled to get up. Another soldier grabbed Tita Fina’s hair and started beating her.

“Run away! Find your sisters!” She shouted at me. I shook my head.

I am not going to lose another family member. I won’t.

Before I knew it, I slammed  my body to the Japanese soldier and violently kicked his ribs just like how the Japanese leader tortured a man in the village roundup.

I am not going to lose another family member. I won’t. I kept telling myself.

People were being dragged away by the angry Japanese soldiers. Even with a surprise attack, we were still outnumbered. Tita Fina had tears in her eyes and hugged me. I hugged back. After this–I decided–After all this chaos, I’ll call her mama. Mama should be glad. Papa pulled Tita Fina and me closer, and we huddled together toward the mountains.

Hurry!

It was crowded and felt like the village was in a small box. Our feet were tired of running, but we still kept going. What I heard next was a large explosion. Vroomp!It came from a Japanese tank exploding at our homes shooting up pillars of fire and smoke. The village screamed. Everyone was now running away from the tanks and pushing us forward. I couldn’t grab on to papa’s hand, and I was already separated from Tita Fina. I was lost. Vroomp! The tanks kept exploding our village.  My ears went deaf, and I felt dizzy.

“Loretta!”

My name echoed through the air for the last time.

I Promise You

A long time ago, a strong bamboo wall separated two powerful neighborhood families who always fought for land. Little did they know that their children fell in love. Beautiful Rosita had many suitors but the only man who captured her heart was Delfin, the son of her family’s enemy. It was forbidden love, but every night, Rosita and Delfin secretly met at the end of the wall. One day, their two families declared war. Rosita missed the chance to meet with Delfin before he left for war. In the battlefield, Delfin was fatally wounded. He requested to be buried in the secret place that he and Rosita meet every night. When Rosita heard about the death of her lover, she fell ill. Everyday, she grieved for Delfin and became weak. She was buried next to Delfin’s grave in their secret meeting place. As years passed, residents in the neighborhood could hear sweet whispers in the wind saying, “Sumpa Kita!” (I promise you) near the two lovers’ graves where white flowers with a beautiful fragrance grew.

 

Since Lira’s arrival in Manila a week ago, it has been raining. It was a good thing that there was not going to be another typhoon. People did not have to worry about covering their windows, food shortages, or worse, climbing to the roofs of their houses when the flood gets too high that could reach up to their chins. Her vacation with her parents’ relatives would have been a disaster. But she was glad to be here despite the awkward relationship with her older sister, Arny. Even though Lira visited her sister four years ago before going back to the United States for college, things between them still haven’t changed. Living apart made their relationship distant.

It was a Sunday afternoon. The rain stopped, but the ground was still wet. Tired of their lifeless interaction, their grandmother made the two sisters (or rather forced them, shouted at them, and pushed them out the door to do something. Anything! “Walk to the market!” she said.) to buy pandesal—bread rolls or whatever. From the corner of her eye, Lira glanced at her older sister who was wearing a casual t-shirt and pants compared to Lira’s branded outfit. Walking side by side, they didn’t look like they have anything in common. If it wasn’t for Lira’s cropped hair, tanned skin, and a taste in fashion trends, she and Arny would have looked like twins despite the age difference.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Arny said. She caught Lira staring at her. They were walking through the narrow streets between aligned houses facing each other. She stared at Lira’s outfit. “You know we’re not going to some party. We’re just going to buy bread.” It was true. There was no point for Lira to dress nicely if it was just a ten minute walk to the market just to buy bread rolls.

“I don’t know. I’m just used to it.”

“Must be nice to dress like that.”

They walked in silence except the squishing sounds of their steps on the wet earth. Lira found it hard to have a normal conversation with her sister. It was intimidating. With her Western friends, she can almost talk about anything: clothes, movies, school, work, or life problems. With Arny, she can only respond with one or two sentences (How are you? Good…What are you doing? Nothing…Do you know what to do with your life? I don’t know…). It was always the same boring talk. Whenever Arny asked about something, she wanted to know more. Whenever they talked about deep stuff about life like Lira’s future, she would say, “Could you be more specific?”. Specifics. Arny wanted specifics. That annoyed Lira.

Although their walk was awkward, the neighborhood was lively. The women gossiped in their own little groups and scolded their drunk husbands for drinking too early in the afternoon. Groups of teen boys and girls breakdanced in the middle of the street with loud music permeating the area. People clapped and shouted “Whoa!” and “Woohoo!” And some screamed to keep the noise down. The men played chess, some were fixing their cars, and some were drinking. One of the drunk men, complimented Lira how she was so young and preetty. He joked around that he should marry her, and his friends laughed. But Arny came to the rescue and talked to them as if they were already good friends. They offered her a small cup of liquor. Arny hesitated but chugged it one go. Then they continued walking on, hearing drunk laughter behind them. The children, dressed in ragged clothes, were playing with a muddy soccer ball. When they saw Lira, they came up to her and begged for some money or candy. They were touching her nice clothes. Lira tried to step back because their hands were dirty. She didn’t mind being touched, but she didn’t want to get dirty.

“Hey, um…”Lira looked at Arny for help. “Can you, um, tell them to stop?”

“They’re not doing anything bad to you.”

“But, they’re kinda…dirty.” She managed to pull away a child’s hand from her hand but nicely.

“They’re just children.”

“But–”

“Sheesh, stop being a baby.” Arny said, rolling her eyes. “It’s your fault for wearing nice clothes.”

Once they reached the main road at the end of their neighborhood, the children stopped pestering Lira and called her, “Malupit” (cruel, meanie, selfish). Lira sighed. She liked children, but sometimes children are evil. Honking cars and tricycles zoomed passed them. The drivers yelled at pedestrians crossing the road without paying attention. Lira heard police sirens. Probably chasing a car who made an illegal turn. On the sidewalk, people crowded around small fruit and vegetable stands. Not far from the stands, more children were playing hopscotch while some of them were staring in space and lying down on cardboard boxes.

It was Lira’s first time in the market. The market was in a big, open building. People entered and exited out, carrying bags of goods. Each booth sold different varieties of products: cooked food, raw food, cheap clothes, cheap shoes, cheap jewelries, fabrics, and even pirated cds and dvds. Lira spotted a booth selling raw squids. The squids’ tentacles were still moving and a tingling sensation went up Lira’s spine cord. From the outside, it looked very spacious, but the place was crowded with diverse people, especially tourists. People kept bumping into each other, exchanged annoying looks, and walked on. Customers and vendors shouted at each other and argued about how the price was too high and such. They shouted many swearing words that nearby customers had to take their children away from them. Deep inside the market, lamps and light bulbs hanged from the ceiling and reflected on the colorful fabrics making the place look bright and cheerful. It felt like Christmas in the summer of May. Lira wanted to stop and look at the things each booth was selling, but she felt it might irritate Arny if she asked her.

“Sooo…where are we going?” Lira said. She suddenly smelled something good. It smelled like chicken but not chicken. Something burnt, like barbeque. She looked around the market. People were blocking her view. Yeah, it was definitely something being barbequed. She licked her lips at the thought of it. Arny kept walking but it looked like she didn’t know where they were going.

“Tsk,” She said annoyingly. “I don’t know. What are we here for again?” She turned around to face Lira. Her expression changed. Lira thought she might have also smelled that barbeque smell too.

“Pun-di-sul.”

“Oh, yes, pandesal.”

Lira followed her sister. Eventually, they founded a booth that sold fresh pastries. Arny did most of the talking, asking about this and that. The lady vendor smiled at Lira and asked her something about her clothes in Tagalog.

“Oh, um…” Lira started to say. Her blood was rushing through her veins. She had never talked in Tagalog to a native speaker directly. C’mon, Lira, say the right words, she thought. She felt excited and frightened at the same time. Before she could speak, Arny interrupted her.

“Oh, my little sister doesn’t speak much,” She said in Tagalog. She handed the money to the lady vendor and grabbed the bread rolls from her.

The lady vendor looked confused. “Why not?”

“She’s not from here. She’s from America.” The vendor’s eyes widened with surprise. This was the face Lira didn’t like.

“Pero (But)…i-pi-nang-a-nak uh-ko di-to (I was born here),” She blurted in her worse Taglish accent. Her face turned red. She wanted to slap her sister for embarrassing her and herself for having a stupid accent. Lira was born in the Philippines, but she and her parents moved to America when she was five years old. Arny stayed behind because she was already starting college. Since she was the oldest, she had to take care of her needy relatives and her grandmother.

After leaving the pastry booth, Lira confronted her sister. “Why did you say that for?”

“You looked like you were going to explode.”

“I wasn’t!”

“It looked like you were.” She stopped to look at the display of raw fishes in another booth. “So I figured that I should help.” Lira’s nose cringed to the stench of raw fish.

“I didn’t need it. I was trying.” Lira bit her lower lip.

“Clearly, you need to try harder.”

They were already outside the market. Lira tried to brush off the flies bzzzzz around her. Arny busied herself looking at a box of watermelons. The old man vendor asked if she was going to buy, she shook her head no. Lira turned away and put her hands to her face, rubbing the sides of her head. The two sisters just couldn’t understand each other. This is such a pain, she thought. A young boy, not even five years old, walked toward Lira. His eyes looked tired and had a frown on his face. He had a bruise under his left eye. He held out leis sewn with white flowers into bead-like strings. The smell was very beautiful and sweet. It made Lira feel calm.

“Ate (sister), do you want sampaguita?” He said in a tired but hopeful voice.

“Hin-di (No),” she said. She pitied the kid, but she didn’t know what to do with the leis.

“There really fresh and they smell good—“

“No.”

“There very cheap and I can give you a discount and—“

“No.” Lira’s voice was louder.

“I’ll buy all of them,” her sister said from behind. Her face looked serious. The boy’s frown turned into a smile. Lira thought he was actually cute. Her sister made him happy. Lira didn’t remember if she made anyone happy. Or herself. Arny told the boy to keep the change and took the sampaguita leis. She divided the leis and gave half to Lira.

“I don’t know what to do with these.”

“We’re going to church.”

“For what?”

“To pray, duh. And to offer the sampaguita leis to the statue of the Virgin Mary.” She held out the rest of the leis. “What else do you go to church for? Don’t tell me you’ve never been to church in America.”

Lira didn’t remember the last time she went to church. “I don’t know what to pray.” Lira put the leis over her head and on her neck. It made her feel at ease.

“Maybe you’ll know when we get there,”Arny said.

The church was five minutes away from the market. It didn’t take them long enough. There were some people sitting down on the pews and a couple of people crawling on the aisle toward the altar. After doing the sign of the cross with holy water, they sat at the back pews. Lira sat and watched Arny kneeling down beside her. They were like that for a while. Lira’s fingers fidgeted on her laps. She stared at the old women crawling toward the altar and suddenly jumped at the sound of her sister’s voice.

“You know, these flowers have some meaning to them.” Lira looked down at her leis and touched them. They were soft to touch.

“There’s a legend about them. It’s about–”

“I know the story.”

Arny looked surprised.

“The story’s similar to Romeo and Juliet.” Lira pulled up a lei over her head and laid it on her lap. “Even though it’s sad, I’m glad they’re still together after their death.”

“How do you know the story?”

“I’m from here. Every Filipino should at least know how we got our national flower.”

Arny smiled. “And every Filipino should know that these flowers hold promises.”

“Promises of love.” “Yes, but not just romantic love.” Arny sat up beside her younger sister. “Look. I know you think that I’m a insensitive, selfless, know-it-all—”

“You are.”

“Tsk. Can you not interrupt me?”

Lira rolled her eyes.

“As I was saying,” Arny continued, “Things between us may be different and we may not understand each other most of the time, but I’m glad…I’m glad that I have another half.”

“…” A light breeze came from the windows behind them. Lira shivered a little. It wasn’t chilly, but what Lira felt, was a refreshing, cool breeze as if most of her doubts were carried away.

“…” Arny tapped her hands on her laps. She began to hum. Lira thought that her sister felt the same way.

An old man was crying at a nearby bench. Lira slowly stood up from her seat. Her hand clutched onto the sampaguita lei. She signaled her sister to follow her to the statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue was about her height. It was the same miniature version of the Virgin Mary she had right above her head at home. Lira gently laid the sampaguita lei on the Virgin Mary’s hand.

“Then I promise to try harder,” Lira finally said. Her sister nodded.

This time Arny didn’t ask for specifics. When they walked back home, they met the same children who begged Lira for money and candy. The children didn’t come up to them. They were still probably mad about Lira being selfish. Arny took out the bread rolls from the bag she was carrying and divided them to each of the children. The children let our happy sighs. Their mouths watered as they took a bite from the bread rolls. Arny then splitted the last bread roll between her and Lira. Together with the children, they ate their shares while exchanging sweet smiles and laughter through the wind.

Kid Warrior

The smell of salt lingered in the air as the waves rolled greedily against the rocks. It was a sign that the tide was rising. And a sign when little children were taken away. Tavita did not believe in such village stories. At twelve, boys his age had to be bold. The cold air brushed against the boy’s naked skin as he looked blankly at the waves, taunting him for a challenge. Tavita crunched the sand underneath him between his sun-burnt toes and held tightly onto his newly carved spear protruding a sharp stone at the end. He was confident that his spear was strong enough to catch prey. From land and sea. The scars on his skin were beginning to heal. The number of times he put his body in danger and triumph. He took the sharp end of his spear and gashed a straight line on his wrist, revealing his prideful origin. He did not dare wince from the sight of his blood. He was not afraid. He climbed onto the rocks where the waves were pounding against. It did not take him long to spot a dark wood swimming on the surface. Its head bobbed up and down together rhythmically with the waves. Tavita crouched down at the edge of a rock. Watchful as he gazed out into the sea. The waves sprayed into his eyes, but it did not bother him. His eyes stalked the creature’s movement until he could see a grey fin pop up beside the suntanned creature. He dived straight into the misty waves both hands on the spear, tight and determined–to victory. Splash! He disappeared into the deep. Only a pool of ruby riches surfaced.

Farewell

Is this what people call a destiny?
Your royal hue made many felt inspir’d
But I, at the other hand, felt no glee
As I sensed my trembling body perspir’d.

But you gave me the warmth of your presence,
The delight shimmering bright to my eyes,
The adventure I took in your essence
And the memories you gave were no lies.

Thank you for the knowledge and the beliefs
The time to change, the time to seek and hold,
The time to discover beyond the reefs,
And the time for new stories to unfold.

To depart means that it is not the end.
Until someday, the old and new we mend.