The Girl

by Rossel M. Audencial (Fiction)

I envy them, those kids playing outside. I wish I could play with them, but mother said I musn’t. They won’t like me. So, I don’t. I just sit in front of our house far from them so that they won’t see me.

I’m lonely. Our house is cold. That’s why I love to watch the other kids play. The girls chase each other in a circle drawn on the ground. They shriek and laugh loudly as they run to escape the flailing hands of another girl. Boys play with something that they hit with their feet. They run to hit it as it flies high above their heads before it falls to the ground. They look so happy!

Even when I want to sleep, their merry voices echo inside our house. I get up instead and watch them. Watching them makes me happy, too.

A girl is coming this way. She sees me. She asks me why I’m here alone and if I wanted to join playing with her friends. I say, yes!

It’s very hot. The sun’s heat seems to burn my skin. But I’m excited to play. I take slow steps toward the girls chasing around the circle. A boy almost bumps me as he hits that flying thing. I step to the side to avoid him. I’m nervous. Will the girls let me play with them? I should try.

I have to gather all my courage to speak to them. This is my chance to be happy, too.

“Can I play with you?”

They stop running when they hear me. All eyes turn to me.

“Hey, Shan, what’s wrong with your voice?” a girl in front, asks me. She is smiling.

“This is my voice,” I answer. “Can I join you?”

I’m getting more nervous. I really hope that they’ll let me join in. “I really want to play and be happy like you.”

Silence. They stare at me. The girl who talked to me takes a step backwards. The other girls huddle closer to her. I hear murmurs at the back. Someone mentions teacher.

“Le-let’s go back to our classroom for now. We’re already tired,” the girl says, sounding nervous. I feel disappointed. I really want to play. I won’t go home yet.

“Okay, I’ll come with you.”

I follow them. They walk ahead of me. They walk fast. I walk fast, too, so that I won’t be left behind. As they walk, they turn to look at me from time to time.

The sun’s heat becomes hotter. We pass several rooms. They enter a door. I follow them inside. There is a woman sitting behind a table. The girl who talked to me walks to her. She says something while pointing her hand at my direction.

The woman stands up and walks towards me. The girls group behind at her back.

“Hello. I’m teacher Anna. What is your name?” the woman asks. She looks friendly.

“I have no name.”

“Why are you here?”

“I want to play with them,” I reply, pointing at the girls. “I want to be happy, too.”

“How about your mother? She’ll surely worry if you’re missing.”

My mother. I remember. Maybe, she’s searching for me now. I’m far from our house.

“Yes, my mother will be worried. I have to go home.”

The woman turns and speaks to the girls. She says they should go back the same way where they saw me. Then, she turns back to me, saying, “Time for you to go home.” She smiles at me. I smile back.

I follow the girls again. They exit the door, walking fast. I keep up. Other kids from the rooms are looking at us as we pass by. The girls return to the circle and stop for a while, talking to themselves. They continue walking towards the direction of our house. I follow them closely this time.

The boys are gone. I walk faster. I hope mother has not noticed my absence. The girls stop a little distance at the side of our house. They give way to me.

I step in front of the door and pass through it. Mother?

*

Although it’s hot, we agreed to play bulan-bulan outside the classroom. Our teacher for the last period this morning did not come.

Some boys are playing takyan in front of our room. We find a clear place farther away, fronting another room. Thankfully it’s vacant. I draw a large circle on the ground, enough to contain five of us. To test the distance, I step on the line and stretch my hand to reach them. They all move at the opposite curve-line away from me. I couldn’t reach them.

“We should have one more member to be the It,” I said. They agree.

By then, I see Shan walking alone. She comes from the direction of the canteen.

I call her to join us. She smiles and runs towards our circle.

She agrees to be It and starts running through the line I drew on the ground. She extends her hands to reach our heads. We shriek as we duck away from her flailing hands. She makes a quick dash towards us, scattering us to her right and left. She runs to the right curve and leaps at me. We shriek louder and laugh when I escape her hand. She encircles us again like a predator stalking us around. In a flash, she dashes again and catches Lucy’s back. Our shouts ring through the rooms.

All out of breath, we stop for a while, panting and sweaty all over. But we love the thrill. We praise Shan for her speed. She responds by saying we’re just slow. We all laugh.

I check my wristwatch. It’s almost eleven thirty.

“Is our teacher coming?” Lucy says. “She’s been absent for two days now, right?”

“They say she’s on a seminar in Davao for a week,” I tell her.

“What?!” the four of them say in surprise, all together.

“You didn’t know?” I ask. They nod in reply.

“Let’s go home,” Myra says, urging us with a mischievous grin on her face.

“Hey, our first period is at one o’clock,” I tell her. “Besides, it’s too hot to go home.” I notice Shan walking away from us. She stops in front of a sampalok tree beside one of the rooms to the left. It is the only tree standing between two classrooms in our part of the school. I haven’t seen it with fruits even though it’s fully grown. The two rooms beside it are empty.

Shan mutters something like she’s talking to someone there, but she’s alone. Then, she walks back towards us.

“It’s Lucy’s turn!” Myra shouts, making us all jump. We run at the edge of the circle as Lucy, stepping on the line, rounds us up. We shriek as she chases us and we duck to avoid her hands.

“Can I play with you?”

We stop in our tracks and look at Shan standing in front of us.

“Hey, Shan, what’s with your voice?” I ask, smiling at her. I think she’s playing a prank on us.

“This is my voice.” She looks straight at me. I feel the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck standing.

“Can I join you?” she asks again, sounding nervous in a different voice. She sounds like a little girl. “I really want to play and be happy like you.”

We look at Shan. I slowly take a step backwards. The other girls huddled closer to me. Lucy murmurs that it’s not Shan. Myra says we should bring her to a teacher.

“Le-let’s go back to our classroom for now. We’re already tired,” I said to Shan or the girl. We have to do something. I can’t help but stammer.

“Okay, I’ll come with you.”

We turn and walk ahead of her. Still huddled together, the five of us walk fast. We have to find a teacher in the area. I peek at the windows as we pass several rooms. We almost run, but Shan is following us.

The door of the guidance office is open. I spot Ma’am Anna at her table, writing something. We enter the door as I stammer a greeting. We run to her table and I explain to her our situation, pointing at Shan. After listening to me, she stands and walks in a slow but deliberate pace towards Shan at the door like she’s welcoming a guest that has come unexpectedly for a visit.

“Hello. I’m teacher Anna. What is your name?”

“I have no name.”

“Why are you here?”

“I want to play with them. “ Shan points at us. “I want to be happy, too.”

“How about your mother? She’ll surely worry if you’re missing.”

Shan becomes silent as if thinking what Ma’am Anna said.

“Yes, my mother will be worried. I have to go home.”

Ma’am Anna turns to us. “You should go back the same way where you saw her. Take the same path you took in coming her up to where you saw her last.”

She looks at me in the eye. “Yes Ma’am.” I understand what she wants us to do. Then, she turns back to Shan, saying “Time for you to go home.”

I tug my friends’ hands and we exit from the door. Shan follows behind. We walk fast, retracing the same path we took earlier. We march passing along the rooms. Other students stare at us, curious. We return to the circle, but I urge them that we go to the sampalok tree. We continue walking towards it.

We stop at a little distance from the tree. Shan passes us and stops directly in front of its big trunk. Then, she turns her back, facing us.

“Oh, why are we here? Lucy’s the next It, right?”

*

I’m inside the Guidance Office preparing reports for tomorrow’s deadline. I have to meet the peer counsellors, too. They have to elect new set of officers for this school year.

The seventh grade students are playing noisily outside even though it’s hot. Perhaps, they have no teacher again. Some are shouting and chasing each other. I write down more names before I check my watch. Eleven thirty. I can hear my stomach growling. I’ll finish this report in front of me, and then I’ll head to the canteen to eat.

“Go-good morning, Ma’am,” a female student greets me at the door which makes me look up. Without waiting for my reply, she, with four more female students, rushes to my table. They are all sweaty, but their faces register a look of something else.

“Ma’am, our classmate,” the one who greeted me speaks in an agitated voice. “Something is wrong with her.”

“What is it?” I ask, letting her continue.

“We were playing outside when I saw her go to the sampalok tree and talk to someone there, but she’s alone. Then, when she came back, she asked us if she can join us playing. Her voice changed,” she gestures towards another student who just came in.

I have heard several stories in this school about female students who were possessed by spirits. Most of them would act strange and sound different. I even saw one student who screamed in a male voice when a pastor came to drive the spirit out from her body. That time, three to four classmates were pinning her down but she was so strong. Some said that an engkanto liked her and wanted her to come with him. These spirits are said to reside in trees or in the classrooms. That sampalok tree between the Grade 7 rooms has been there even before I came to this school, but this is the first time that the tree was an element to a possession. I have to make sure of it.

I stand from my chair and walk towards the student. She remains standing at the door.

“Hello. I’m teacher Anna. What is your name?” I ask her when I’m near enough, smiling at her.

“I have no name,” she responds, her mouth moving a little too awkward. Her voice is that of a little girl, about six or seven years old. Suddenly, I feel cold all over.

“Why are you here?”

“I want to play with them. “ She points at the girls. She sounds like she’s going to cry. “I want to be happy, too.”

“How about your mother? She’ll surely worry if you’re missing.”

She looks at me without saying a word. The question seems to make her think. “Yes, my mother will be worried. I have to go home.”

I feel relieved inside. I turn to the girls, especially to the student who talked to me, and give her instructions. Then, I face the little girl again. “Time for you to go home.”

She smiles back. Or is it a smile?

They leave through the door. The five students walk briskly as the little girl follows behind. She is lonely, but she can’t play with them.

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