The Days and Nights of Claire

By Zaira Mae Calub
Fiction

I opened my eyes and, once again, found myself alone in my room. The shutters were partly drawn, and some of the morning sunshine slipped through it to become thin strips of light on the floor.

I sat up, feeling the stickiness on my naked body. The stickiness that came from the bodily fluids we had shared the previous night. I could also feel the pain in my breasts, which he had squeezed and pinched so hard, and the raw pain in between my legs from his playing with me all night.

I didn’t want any of it, but there was nothing I could do. He dominated me.

I got up and saw how messed up the bed was. Along with the tangled sheets were the things he had needed to heighten his pleasure. The “toys” were there. I didn’t even know how many times they had been used on my body. Along with these toys were photographs and a handkerchief. They were hers. The girl he was obsessed with.

Pictures of her he had taken from her social media accounts and a handkerchief of hers he had somehow gotten hold of. He would look at the photographs while using my body for his lustful needs. The handkerchief he would put over his nose from time to time.

He was crazy, I knew, but so was I for letting him stay in my life.

I got into the bathroom to take a shower, the memories flashing in my mind as the cold water consumed my body.

I could still remember when I was a helpless little girl. My parents died, and I had to live with my aunt, who abused me. Nobody knew about it. At first I was clueless about what she was doing repeatedly to me. I got older and learned that it was hideous. However, there was no one I could talk to about it, and I didn’t see what the point was, so I just let her do it whenever she wanted.

I never liked it. I hated it. I hated her.

I was twelve when he showed up. I always thought of him as a strong boy, ready to protect me.

When my aunt and I were waiting for the traffic light to turn red so that we could cross the road, he just showed up from nowhere and pushed her in front of a speeding truck. She died immediately. There were no other witnesses.

That was the day I was freed from her, thanks to him.

However, since the day my aunt died, he never left me. That psychopath. He’d be there from time to time, dominating my body while I couldn’t do anything but let him. He had killed my aunt and taken over.

I got dressed and went out for a walk.

I brought some of his money. He always had money, and I didn’t know where it came from.

I had no money of my own. I didn’t work. I wanted to be a nurse when I was little, but since I was molested, my self-esteem was shattered. I didn’t have the courage to apply for a job. I didn’t even like talking to people. Money was another reason why I was dependent on him.

I walked down the suburban road out of that house he called home, or at least based on the Home Sweet Home doormat that must have never been washed since it was laid down on the front doorstep.

I could feel my legs ache a bit in every step, but I managed to hide it.

I didn’t really know where they would lead me, until I passed by the university where she was studying. I guessed that because of the uniform she was wearing in some of the pictures.

It was peaceful, or perhaps it was the morning. I still found schools and universities quite inviting. It had been a long time since the last time I sat in a room filled with people my age. Lately I had been only doing it in my imagination—joking with others, building friendship, learning with them, growing older with them. In reality, the only person I had grown older with was he.

I slipped out of my daydream and entered a coffee shop. Here I would have my pancake, coffee, and anything I could pick up from the magazine rack. The rest of the morning I would spend here until it was time for lunch, and by then I must move to a fast-food restaurant.

But fate had other plans.

As I was finishing my pancake, the door of the coffee shop burst open, the chimes tinkling.

It was a woman my age, wearing a white shirt tucked in her tight jeans. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her face was frantic. Her eyes were scanning the room, and they stopped at me. “You!” she said.

I was scared. She rushed to me.

“Ma’am, please do not disturb our customers,” a waitress told her.

But the ponytail girl was already face to face with me, her eyes wide and pleading. She held my hands. “Can I have some of your time, please?” she said. “Do you have free time, an hour or so, Miss? Please please pleeease . . .”

I was so anxious that instead of saying what I should, I said the truth. I had time. “Y-yes.”

“Yes? Yes! You’re perfect!” She pulled me out of my seat, and before the waitress could complain again, she was already dragging me out of the coffee shop.

I didn’t have time to think clearly. I was suddenly taken away by the ponytail girl, the girl whose beautiful hair fell nicely to her shoulders on the pictures.

* * *

“You can open your eyes now.”

When I looked, I was in awe. Half of my face looked like a night sky spiraling with stars. I was like a galaxy.

“What do you call this?” someone asked, an old man with huge glasses.

“Day and Night,” she answered, smiling widely.

The old man nodded and proceeded on studying my painted face.

After the judges returned to their respective seats and the scores were tallied, the host of the program spoke again. “And the winner is . . .”

She had a genuine smile all throughout even if she didn’t win. She winded up second, but for me she was the best.

“I really want to thank you,” she said as we walked away from the crowd. We were heading to the restroom so I could remove the paint on my face. It would be a waste though. I wished I hadn’t have to erase it.

“No, I thank you,” I said, not stuttering at all. She didn’t know how alive I felt with her. I even forgot about him, who could just show up anytime. “It was fun, I didn’t . . . I didn’t know I could be this happy in my life.” I was all smiles.

“We don’t even know each other’s name, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed, and we laughed. She stopped to face me. I stopped too.

“My name’s Bella,” she announced, offering her hand, jokingly standing stiff, trying to look like an army general or something. On her other hand she was still holding the paintbrush and the palette, the paint stuck on the wooden frame even if it was held upside down.

“My name is Claire,” I said, grinning—naturally, I believe. “Nice to meet you, Bella.” I shook her hand.

“Nice to meet you too—”

A rumbling sound cut her off. It was my stomach. Her eyes widened. “Oh no, you haven’t had your lunch! It’s already one-thirty PM. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s OK.”

“It’s not OK! C’mon, I have an idea. We’ll eat at my apartment unit. I’ll cook.”

“No, really . . . There’s no need to.”

But she was already pulling my hand. “Come on. You don’t have anything to do tonight, don’t you?”

“Uhm, yes. But . . .”

“Someone’s waiting for you?”

“No. No one. I’m just . . . shy.”

She chuckled again. “Cute girl. You’re coming with me.”

“Now they’ll look at me. OK, let’s go.” It was my turn to laugh.

She took my hand, and we ran and laughed like crazy kids on an afternoon.

When we were outside her apartment, I wanted to stop myself. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this. But as her warm hand pulled me, her smile so inviting, I could not help but just put my anxieties away. I wanted to stay happy even just for a day. Please, I don’t want this to be ruined, I told myself. I’ve been alone for too long.

Inside her unit, after washing our faces, she let me pick from some of her clothes so I could change in her room. I chose a gray sweater and some shorts.

After I had changed, she let me sit in her couch to watch television. A few moments later, she got out of her room wearing something like a black shirt that had sleeves that she had cut off. It was quite large for her, and her shorts were much shorter than what I was wearing. Her outfit revealed more of her smooth almond-colored skin.

She said, “You see, people get attracted with the good things we do, with our good half, and if someone loves our other half—the messed up and fucked up half—then that someone is what makes us perfect.” She smiled at me and winked. “Please don’t underestimate my dish. Like what I am telling you, there is more to this than what you see.”

While eating, I couldn’t help but stare at her and wonder, Where did those thoughts come from? Has she fallen in love? Did she lose him?

I looked at the only painting hanging on the wall: two hands holding each other. The one which looked like a man’s hand was done in charcoal, while the woman’s hand was painted with colors. The combination of two mediums made it unique.

“He was also an artist,” she suddenly said. “He uses charcoal in his art. He’s the best, if you ask me.”

“What . . . happened to him?”

“He died.” The words seemed so hollow and empty.

I didn’t want to push it any further. “I-I’m sorry . . .” I stood up and was about to go.

“No, Claire. It’s okay.” She held my hand.

I took it back. “No, you don’t understand. I should not be here. I’m sorry. ”

“OK. Just wait a minute.” She rushed to her room.

Moments later, I could hear the tack-tack-tacking of a typewriter. I peered through the open door of her room. She was typing on a small typewriter. After that, she got the paper out of it and used a cutter to remove most of the paper. What was left was a small piece of the paper. She rolled it on her palms. It was half the size of a cigarette stick.

She gave it to me. “Take care, Claire.” Her smile was as warm as ever.

I opened the rolled strip of paper when I got back home, in my own room.

Hi, Claire! Just call me if you need a friend, it said in typewritten letters. Under it was her phone number, and under the number was her name.

“Bella Mendez,” I whispered. I have to burn this. If he sees this . . .

I hurriedly made my way to the door, afraid that he might get here anytime. That was when I tripped from the top of the stairs. The last thing I could remember was the world spinning around me, beating me up in every turn, and then everything went black.

* * *

The breeze was cool that afternoon. The sun was high, but the warmth was comforting to the skin.

The paper bag I was carrying was already making my arm ache. When I was in front of the door, I reached for the keys deep inside my left pocket and slipped it into the doorknob.

With a click, the wooden door creaked open to the dark living room. I put the bag on top of the kitchen counter, and though it was dark, I knew every step going up to my room.

The door of the room was slightly ajar. I could see some light that could only be coming from the lampshade on the bedside table.

When I opened the door completely, time stopped. My heart skipped a beat. My breath was taken away, and my eyes widened. “Bella . . .”

My mind didn’t know how to respond. Bella was lying naked in the bed, her hands bound together and tied to the headboard, her legs wide open, her ankles tied to the opposite corners at the foot of the bed. Her mouth was gagged with a piece of cloth. Her eyes were filled with horror and sorrow as they stared at me. I saw her tears when they reflected the light.

The toys he had used so many times on me were scattered there in the bed with her.

I felt my own tears well up as I stared at the helpless image of her. My knees lost their strength.

How long have I been . . . This can’t be . . . He . . . he raped her. And it’s all my fault. I was crying on the floor. This is all my fault. He used me . . . to get her.

On the floor, I could see the rolled piece of paper I had failed to get rid of. Why? Why should I bring her this kind of misery?

I could feel her helpless stare from the bed. They cut like knives inside me. I wanted to help her, to reach for her. I wanted to explain, but it was already too late. The harm had been done.

I ruined everything.

I stood up and wiped away my tears. This must end today. I must kill him, end him, now. I fished out my phone from my pocket and called the police. I described the situation. They said they would come immediately.

I pulled open the bottom drawer. Inside was the gun that he had been keeping for years. I gripped the handle. It was cold. I cocked the gun, ready to pull the trigger.

I turned to her. I was crying again, harder this time, and with every sob, I could see her eyes fill with tears. Those eyes could be speaking so many things right now, but all I wanted to hear from her was forgiveness.

“I’m very sorry, Bella. It wasn’t me. Believe me, it wasn’t me.” More tears fell from my eyes. I pointed the gun at my left temple.

And pulled the trigger.

* * *

Images flashed in my mind as I felt the cold steel bore through my skull.

I was back in her couch, eating the omelet she had prepared for me, and then I was up the stage, her face so close to me, I could feel her breath. The vision was erratic, like a television constantly changing its channels.

I could see the days and nights I had spent being myself. Random things I had done in my share of time within this body while he lurked at the back of my mind. Simple things that made me feel free, even for a while.

And for another time, the images twisted around me, and I found myself being that child again, lying in bed with my aunt naked over me. I knew every scene. She liked to be addressed as “Master.” She liked being referred to as a man, and I was the helpless little girl she liked to rape. I blamed her for torturing me. She was the root of all this. She gave life to my split personality. She gave life to him.

For one last time, the world spun around me, and I found myself lying on a patch of green grass. The scene seemed so familiar. A big hand touched my shoulder, and when I looked up, I saw a familiar face, smiling down at me. “Dad?” I spoke with a child’s voice. “Daddy?” Tears fell down my cheeks.

“Hey!” He chuckled. “Don’t cry now, my princess.”

His strong arms lifted me, and I saw my mother approach us. Her smile was always caring.

She put her palm on my head and kissed me on the cheek.

“Hush now, baby. You’re safe now.”

The last thing I heard was the distant sound of sirens approaching.

No. Bella was safe now.

White Sikad

By Renaizza Sheen D. Fuentebella
Fiction

Sweat was trickling down my face when I reached Centro, the settlement right outside the immense campus of Mindanao State University. The walk was tiring, but I had chosen not to ride a habal-habal because I had to save money. I still had to ride a sikad, a lighter type of tricycle, to get home from Centro.

While I was seated inside a sikad, waiting for another passenger to fill it, someone caught my attention. It was an old woman, standing beside the electric post on the side of the computer shop where many sikads were parked.

The woman’s gray hair, which was tied into a bun, complimented her off-white dress and brown slippers. She was carrying a green knitted bag on her right hand and a black umbrella on the other. It looked as though she was waiting for a sikad to stop by and give her a ride, but none did, even the driver of the sikad that I was riding.

The sight wrenched my heart, so I decided to ask the driver to give the old woman a ride, but just as I was about to do it, a white sikad stopped in front of her.

The driver, a man in his fifties, peeped above the roof of his sikad and smiled at her. “Pauli na ka?” he asked.

Her face lit up. “Oo,” she answered. She put her things inside the sidecar and then climbed in.

Since then, I would notice the sight every time I rode a sikad in that area. The old woman would be waiting, and the white sikad would show up and take her home. I wondered if it was just a coincidence.

When I asked the other drivers about the woman and the sikad, they told me they didn’t know her either. All they knew was that whenever they offered the woman a ride, she would decline and wait for the white sikad.

For a couple of weeks, I was not able to go to that area because school often ended late due to one activity or another, and my father had to fetch me from school instead with his motorcycle. One evening, when my father couldn’t fetch me, I decided to walk from school to Centro. The rain was pouring hard, and I was soaking wet, but I had no choice but to continue walking.

I finally reached Centro. I went to the spot where I used to ride toward home, but no sikad was in sight. There was only the old woman standing in her usual spot.

She was under her black umbrella, but it was not enough to shelter her from the cold wind. She was shivering. I felt pity for her, so I approached her and asked her to sit beside me on a wooden bench under the roof of the computer shop.

Ngano wala pa man ka nakauli, Nay?” I asked her when we were seated.

With a worried look, she replied, “Ginahulat nako siya moagi.”

Katong drayber sa puti nga sikad?

She didn’t respond. She stared at the water dripping from the roof. “Asa na kaha to siya? Ganiha ra ko nahuman og pangompra para sa panihapon. Gigutom na jud to si Jun-jun didtoa.” She sighed.

It dawned on me that the driver of the white sikad must be her husband.

Several minutes passed, and I was starting to get worried not only because it was getting late but also because of the old woman’s situation. She remained sitting beside me, staring at nowhere. The white sikad finally arrived.

The driver got off his motorcycle and came to us. He was wet, and I could see from his eyes that he was exhausted and worried. He bent down to look at the old woman. “Pasensya kaayo kung nadugayan kog anhi,” he told her. “Lapok man gud ang dalan.

She stared back at him. Her eyebrows furrowed. “Kinsa ka?

The driver froze. I stood there speechless, not knowing what to do.

Tears formed in the corner of the man’s eyes, but he wiped them off and then went back to the sikad. His head had been bent down for a while before he peeped above the roof of the sikad, like he always did. He smiled at the old woman and asked, “Pauli na ka?

Her face lit up. She walked to him and said, “Dali na kay gutom na jud to karon atong anak nga si Jun-jun.”

The old woman got inside the sikad. The driver offered me a ride home in appreciation of my staying with the woman. I hopped in.

The driver opened the U-box of his motorcycle, took out a jacket, and draped it on the old woman’s shoulders.

She suddenly grabbed the driver’s hand and looked at him. Her eyes glowing, she smiled. “Sukad siya nawala, ikaw na ang gasundo sa akoa,” she said. “Salamat, Jun.

Tears welled up in my eyes.

Barefoot Bulayan

By Mary Ann Ordinario
Fiction

The following piece is the text of the picture book Barefoot Bulayan: A True-to-Life Story of a Bagobo Boy who Does Not Like to Wear Shoes, published by ABC Educational Development Center in 2018 with illustrations by Bernadette Solina-Wolf.

 When Bulayan leaves his village and goes to school, he carries his shoes instead of wearing them.

All the teachers, parents, and students give a sharp stare at Bulayan’s feet when he stands during flag ceremonies.

He walks barefooted inside the classroom. His classmates chant, “Bulayan has no shoes! Bulayan has no shoes!” They think Bulayan looks funny without his shoes.

“Bulayan! Please wear your shoes! You are inside the room!” his teacher asks him. But Bulayan just shakes his head and grins.

Only when the teacher becomes really angry at him does Bulayan wear his shoes.

Everybody thinks Bulayan is different. Maybe he does not like his shoes. Or maybe the shoes do not fit him.

Then as soon as nobody sees him, Bulayan slowly and carefully removes his shoes again.

So his teacher gives him a pair of colorful shoes. But later, the teacher sees Bulayan jumping and dancing on the green grass of the playground. Barefooted.

A parent gives Bulayan shoes that light up at each step. He taps the shoes on the table and enjoys watching the different lights. But during the school program, Bulayan dances. Barefooted.

A classmate gives him black school shoes. But Bulayan gently keeps the shoes inside his bag.

Finally, the school principal gives him a pair of sandal slippers. But Bulayan simply leaves the sandals inside the room and goes home.

This became a problem in school. Not a single person can ask Bulayan to wear shoes.

Then one day, a student shouts, “Look! Look at the plastic bin! There are so many shoes inside the bin. Bulayan has kept all his shoes there!”

This time, Bulayan’s teacher sternly tells him, “If you don’t wear your shoes, you will not be allowed to go to school again. Ever!”

The principal and Bulayan’s teacher agree to visit Bulayan and talk to his parents.

As they walk to Bulayan’s village, they see a young girl pass by. Barefooted. And an old woman and a boy. Both barefooted.

As the principal and teacher look around, they see the different villagers. Barefooted! There are no shoes at all! And Bulayan is there playing with other barefooted children.

When the principal and the teacher knock at the door of Bulayan’s house and his father opens the door, to their surprise, both Bulayan’s mother and father are also barefooted!

Then the principal and teacher understand why Bulayan hates wearing shoes.

From that day on, Bulayan goes to class, and plays on the grass of the playground. Barefooted. Without being scolded. Or laughed at.

At the school festival, Bulayan plays the kuglang. And together with his classmates and teachers, they all enjoy dancing barefooted.

The World Keeps Spinning

By John Gied Calpotura
Fiction

Raindrops aren’t the only thing that’s falling this moment. Tears too. Vivien’s black dress is soaked from the rain as the priest says his final prayers before they lower down Beth and go home.

The funeral is not crowded, and it is really uneventful. Only fifteen people or so came. Three of them didn’t even bother wearing black. Some of them only came for the food after the funeral. But that’s not why Vivien is mad. She’s not mad that her uncle is dozing off while Beth is being buried down to be decomposed. She’s not even bothered that her cousins are actually glad for Beth to be gone. No. She’s mad because the world has kept spinning. She’s mad because the world has not even spared them a sun to shine, giving them gray clouds and wet grass to mourn with. She’s mad at the cars passing by, carrying on with their own businesses, while Vivien has just lost her only model, her only friend, while her mother and father scream at the top of their lungs, breaking everything that can be broken, including the innocence of their children.

But aside from being angry, deep down, Vivien pities the world. They have not gotten the chance to see Beth’s smile that beat the beauty of the moon or hear her diamond voice—sweet and soft but loud and clear at the same time. Beth never sang in front of anyone. She would only sing when she was in the shower, and Vivien would stick her ears to the door and close her eyes, letting her sister’s voice carry her to timeless lands. It’s sad that no one got to know her outgoing personality, how she would push Vivien when she was feeling unproductive, saying, “Tardiness only leads you to Strip Class!” with her best impression of Mrs. Herrera, their English teacher, but cried herself alone at night when she thought no one was watching. Because that was how she was; she didn’t want others to focus on her dramas, letting them focus on their achievements instead.

“Your dreams are more important than my tears,” she once said to Vivien. Beth was seventeen then, while Vivien was thirteen, it was the first time she caught her crying.

“Do you have dreams?” Vivien asked.

“Once,” Beth said, her eyes shining with wonder and loss. It was so strong that Vivien can actually feel the nostalgia. “But it’s useless. A dreamer does not live in a nightmare.”

Vivien didn’t understand what Beth said back then, but everything has been clear since Beth pulled the trigger.

Twenty-three. Beth was only twenty-three years old.

She still had so much to do, so many songs to sing, so many smiles to show.

But then, only Vivien knew these things. Only she paid attention. That’s why the world has kept spinning, the time kept ticking. People never knew her story.

For Beth is not worth remembering.

And the truth shatters Vivien more than anything.

Thorn

By Irish L. Petipit
Fiction

On a cold evening of December inside the high well-furnished place, they formed a circle, each one of them holding a rose. The five of them were standing in their assigned positions when six girls wearing bright beautiful dresses entered. As the men started to dance, the girls watched them with glee, focusing on their hands.

It is time for them to choose a girl. Each one of them would give a rose to their chosen one. Dante, the most handsome of all, wanted to give the rose to a short fat girl, but the other men in the room picked tall thin girls. Afraid to be laughed at, he chose a thin blonde. When the girl received the rose, she immediately let go of it. Her palm was bleeding.

Dante looked down at the rose. Suddenly a big hand picked it up from the ground, a hand covered with green lace gloves. It was the fat girl. He hugged her. It was a cold evening indeed.

Just Me, You, and the Moon

By Edzelyn Oñate
Fiction

A thin layer of snow covered the ground on a cold December night. The neighborhood in which a boy named Louis lived in was fast asleep. Judging by the clock that said 11:02, it made sense why they were all out like a light. Everyone except Louis, that is.

The boy couldn’t fall asleep for some reason. No matter how much he tried to get some shut-eye, he just couldn’t.

He stared out his window, having a good view of the moon that displayed itself among the millions of stars twinkling in the sky. Little snowflakes began falling ever so elegantly, dancing in the air until they landed on the surface of either the ground or on the roofs of houses.

Louis’ gaze suddenly landed on a figure sitting on the roof of the house next to his, and he wondered why someone would be up there on a cold, winter night.

Out of curiosity, the boy climbed out his window and onto the tree that was conveniently planted next to his house. It gave him more access to reach the strange figure on his neighbor’s roof. Call him a creep if you want, his curiosity got the best of him.

As he carefully placed his foot on the roof’s edge, he swiftly shifted all of his weight from the tree and landed with a small thud on the roof, causing the figure to snap its head to the sound and lock eyes with the curious boy.

“W-who are you?” The figure, turning out to be a boy who looked younger than Louis, asked warily.

“I’m Louis. Who are you?” the boy asked back, slowly making his way to sit a few feet away from the boy with noticeably curly hair.

“H-Harry. What are you doing here?” The boy arched his brow. It’s not every day that a stranger comes to your roof in the middle of the night while it’s snowing lightly.

“Was just curious, you know. I couldn’t sleep, and then I saw you out here while I was staring out my window and, yeah, here I am. What’s up?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh at how casual Louis was toward him, resulting for the other lad to laugh along and scoot closer so they could have a more decent conversation.

“I’m actually out here because I couldn’t sleep either.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

The two conversed for God knows how long, laughing at each other’s jokes and slowly getting to know each other.

Without thinking, Harry leaned his head on Louis’ shoulder, feeling sleep begin to take its toll on him. “You don’t mind if I—”

“Not at all. No one is out here to tell you otherwise. It’s just me, you, and the moon.”

That’s how the two boys fell asleep—cuddled up to each other on the roof with the moon shining its light upon them.

War Makes Me Sad

By Mary Ann Ordinario
Fiction

The following is the text of the storybook War Makes Me Sad: The Thoughts  of a Child about the War in Mindanao published in 2000 by ABC Educational Development Center. It was declared Best Short Story for Children at the 2003 Catholic Mass Media Awards.

When we hear strong explosions, I see the worried face of my mother with tears in her eyes. Father hurriedly prepares to bring the chicken and goats from our backyard.

We run and I don’t know where we are going. We ride in a cart pulled by a carabao. Sometimes in a tricycle, jeep, or Ford Fiera. Or just hop in any vehicle that passes by so we can be far away from the explosions.

I hear people say, “There is war.”

What is this war? Whatever it is, it makes me sad.

I know it will take a long time before I can play again. We will leave our small hut, my kite, ball, and books. I wonder will I still see my doll when I come back.

I just watch and stare blankly. There are soldiers and rebels. Like a movie or just like in the television. They have guns and move in tanks. For sure after a while there will be bombings and we have to run again.

Sometimes I cry. I remember my friend Kahlil, who lost his arms. They say, “The war took it.” Will he still go to school? How can he use his pencil and crayons again?

Because of war we hide for a long time and try to go to the next town. My body aches. We try to find a place or a building for us to stay. And usually these are schools. There are so many people. We sleep together inside the classrooms. We stay together even if we don’t know one another. There are many mosquitoes. We don’t have a blanket, a mosquito net, or even a mat. I lie down in concrete floors very cold against my back. Father and Toto sleep outside, with coconuts leaves spread out as their mat.

Oftentimes when asleep, I wake up frightened because of the strong explosions. Sometimes, Mother shakes me and I hear her say, “Wake up my child, you are having a nightmare.” I tell her I dreamed of a huge gun. It was chasing me. I had to run fast so I can hide.

We can’t change our clothes and we don’t have any belongings. We can’t even take a bath because there is no water. Maybe that is why so many of us get sick. I even saw a mother gave birth but her baby did not move. They said that there was no doctor to take care of her.

Because of war my stomach aches. But we don’t have food. Not even a piece of bread. Sometimes I don’t eat breakfast or lunch. Though there are people who drop by and bring some food like noodles, dried fish, sardines, or rice. I hear them call these donations. They are not even enough for everyone.

I see people get wounded or killed. People panic and scream! Some stumble, some cry, and some don’t move at all. Mother holds my hand and pulls me. I get bumped and stepped on by anybody. I have to run and take a step, even if I am barefooted.

What scares me even more is the thought that Father, Mother, Toto, or Nene might be gone one day. What if they get sick? That is why I hold tightly onto my mother’s skirt.

Will there be no silence? When will the bombings stop? When will the war end? I have too many questions but Father could not give me the answers.

I want to go home. I want to rest, play, eat well, go back to school, laugh, and be happy again. So I pray that God, the most powerful, who loves children like me will take pity on us.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

By Erwin Cabucos
Fiction

This short story first appeared in Bayanihan News and was included in the author’s out-of-print book The Beach Spirit and Other Stories.

“Renato,” Rebecca whispered, tapping me on my shoulder.

“Yeah.” Half asleep, I opened my eyes slowly, squinting. “What?”

“Look.” She was pointing out the window of our taxi.

“Look what?” My brows knitted together. I shook my head a little, trying to figure out where we were. We were on our way to the hotel we had booked for a night before travelling on to my parents’ place in the province. I looked around at the queues of cabs, buses, and jeepneys waiting for the traffic to move. The clock in the taxi said six o’clock.

“There’s a child outside, singing. He’s been there for a while. He seems to be waiting for something. He’s following us. I thought you heard him.”

“No, I was half asleep.”

“What are those things clipped to the tip of his thumbs and fingers? Castanets, that’s it! He’s hitting them as he sings.” Rebecca turned to the boy. “Look at him. I don’t think he’s going to stop.”

“He wants some money for his Christmas carols.”

She dug into her jeans’ pocket. “I have a peso here. This’ll do, won’t it?”

“One peso?” I snorted. “You have to give him more than that. Don’t you feel sorry for him?”

“How much, then?”

“Give him a hundred-peso note.”

“What!” Her eyes popped. “That’s too much!”

“Why is it too much? It’s what you’d pay for a junior burger in McDonalds in Sydney.”

“But compared to the cost of living here, it’s a lot, isn’t it? You told me a meal here might only cost fifteen pesos.”

“It’s all right.” I bent my head towards her and smiled.

She took out the hundred-peso bill from her wallet, wound the window down, and handed the note over to the boy. The child ran to the woman selling cigarettes and candies further along the street and passed the note to her. She waved at us, smiled, and caressed the little boy’s head.

The taxi slowly crawled along with the other vehicles. The traffic cleared gradually and we crept towards the open wide road. We heard the car accelerate and saw the child leaning on the lady, who was sitting on a stool beside the road. As we drove further, their image blurred and was slowly replaced by the blinking lights of billboard ads. The car stereo was on, tuned in to Cebu Mellow Station playing Jose Marie Chan’s “Christmas in our Hearts.”

I broke the silence. “I used to do that when I was young.”

“Really.” She faced me. “Did you get lots of money?”

*

We had agreed to meet at the front of Mrs. Villegas’ general store. We thought it was the perfect rendezvous because the light there was bright thanks to the fluorescent tube that hung on the top of the post. The light was a public display of Mr. Villegas’ ingenuity. He had climbed the post the previous week, spliced the live electrical wire that ran through our whole street, attached the thin wire of the fluorescent tube, and his store’s front yard became what looked like the center of our little community. He was a hero to us for bringing us light after the town’s only power company rejected our request.

The fluorescent light attracted a lot of mosquitoes, and several kinds of moths were hovering around it. The light lifted the energy of young men in our street in the afternoon, as they played basketball into the iron ring attached to the trunk of the dying santol tree. The crowd, composed of younger women, mothers with their toddlers, and grandparents minding their young grandchildren, settled around the playing teams, cheering.

Mrs. Villegas was inside her little shop, picking off tiny horseradish leaves for her fish soup dinner while keeping abreast with the competing scores of both teams. Her eyes moved between the leaves on the plate, the sweaty basketball players a few meters away, and me, her customer, muttering that I would like a pack of Marie biscuits. It cost me twenty-five centavos. I liked the nutty taste of the Marie biscuits. They would tide me over at night if we did not have anything for dinner, or if we only had rice, water, and salt.

I was waiting for Gideon, Ricky, and Darwin to arrive. They knew they had to come early so that we could cover a lot of houses that night.

The santol tree trunk was just about to collapse but no one seemed to worry about it. As long as it could still support the thuds of the ball, why worry? Poor tree. I used to climb it when it was still full of fruit. It was a nice variety of santol—a Bangkok one, they said. The fruit had had thicker flesh, thinner seeds, and was more flavorsome. Although we were told not to swallow the seeds, I did anyhow. It was the last school vacation, after we finished third grade. We climbed the trees in the school orchard. The seeds had slipped smoothly down my throat.

“What, you swallowed the seeds of Bangkok santol?” Gideon’s eyes had nearly popped.

“Yes. Why?”

“Renato, you can’t do that. They could grow inside you and you would die, you know,” he said warily.

“That sounds like Jack and the Beanstalk.” I simply lifted my eyebrows. “I’m still alive, though.”

“I’m serious,” he said.

The guys were still not here. They might still be having their dinner. I went back to Mrs. Villegas and spent another twenty-five centavos on some cold water. I tore the plastic with my front teeth and sucked the icy cold water from it. I could be luckier tonight if we came home with lots of coins. Then I could buy boiled eggs from the sidewalk vendors and munch them with rice on my way home. I wished my father earned lots of money again and was able to buy us nice food every night. I wished I had some toys like those of the kids in the movies. I wished that the santol tree would bear fruit again. I wished we also had a glittering and singing Christmas tree. I wished the airport would change its decision to remove all the porters from inside the building.

My four brothers, three sisters, and I used to know that my father had had a good day if he came home with boiled eggs or barbecued chicken. Usually, it was because lots of Filipino overseas contract workers had arrived in the airport that day. In ten years of lifting suitcases for these highly paid domestic helpers, seamen, and bar entertainers from abroad, my father, to attract tips, had mastered eye to eye contact, suitable gestures, and well-chosen words.

He had been doing it for so many years that it was a big shock when, one afternoon, he was told that he was no longer allowed to work inside the airport building. Only selected porters, the ones who knew someone in management, were allowed to work inside. My father did not know anyone in the office so he was stationed outside the gate, asking passengers if they needed cabs to go around Manila. He was disappointed, because the money was not as good. Everyone thought he was a con man. I did not know how to help my father. I wished I could. I now wore some of his porter work shirts, as he did not need them anymore. My two younger brothers wore them to school, too.

“Where is everyone?” Gideon asked as he came out of his mom’s shop, holding his ukulele in his right hand and a flashlight in his left.

“I’m the only one here,” I said.

He handed the flashlight over to me as he tried a few strums. I envied his ability to play an expensive instrument like that. I placed the flashlight under my arm and shook a piece of wood with flattened Coca Cola caps nailed in it as I tried to do a little jam with him. We saw Ricky coming with two spoons. Darwin was coming in the opposite direction with a triangle and a money tin.

We did not waste a moment. Our first house was the Santos’, who we knew had lots of money because they ran the only newspaper shop in town. We positioned ourselves on the leaning trunk of a jackfruit tree from where we could see Mr. and Mrs. Santos’ silhouettes behind their windowpanes, as he read and she knitted. The jackfruit tree was actually bearing fruit underground. We could see one fruit breaking the ground and smelling like heaven.

Before we started, we looked around to make sure that their dogs were not off the leash. It looked like everything was safe.

“Gregorio,” said the wife, “I think there are people outside. Can you check who it is?”

“It could just be kids from our block, caroling.”

“Just give them some money now so they can leave early. After all, that’s the only thing they want.”

“No, let them sing.”

“As if you really want to listen to them.”

“Let them sing, anyway.”

“But they’re just going to make a noise.”

“OK, give me the coin and I’ll give it to them later.”

We were happy when we heard the word “coin,” a guarantee that we would be getting something in the end. Gideon strummed the ukulele, Ricky banged the back of the spoons together, I shook the Coca Cola caps, we looked at each other, and together we sang, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King.” We looked at Darwin and his triangle and wondered why he was not hitting the instrument. He smiled, because he had forgotten the rod which he used to hit the triangle. We continued singing while he bent down, looking for a stone to use instead. Towards the middle of the song, we heard his triangle and we sang louder.

Suddenly, we were surprised to see two Dobermans racing towards us. The dogs must have broken loose from their leashes. The other three ran as quick as a flash. I was behind them, catching up. I had only one slipper on. For a moment, I thought I might leave it behind so that I could run as fast as possible, but I remembered it was the only one I would have until my mother could buy me another pair in a few days’ time. I was limping, when I saw the two vicious dogs right behind me. I still tried my best to push myself forward and I could feel my heart pounding hard. The dogs howled behind me. I closed my eyes and ran as fast as I could.

We reached the bright front yard of Villegas’ store, puffing. Gideon, Ricky, and Darwin were laughing at my pants nearly dropping, the elastic busted. My Coca Cola caps were no longer in my hands and my slipper had also disappeared from my foot. Oh well, at least I was safe.

We rested for a while until we were ready to go on to the next house.

We got to the Tolentinos’ front yard; it was covered with young guava trees. They were the new variety of guavas called guapple, a blend of the guava’s citric taste and the apple’s succulence. We knew the Tolentinos had lots of money, because he was a high school teacher and she was a midwife. We always saw their daughters at school eating delicious sandwiches at recess. Most of the time I had nothing. To pretend I wasn’t hungry, I used to play marbles and holes while my friends were munching banana cue and cheese snacks. When I got home, I used to get angry at my mother. Why did she not give me any money to buy food?

The Tolentinos’ living room was brightly lit. It had a nice maroon couch which blended with their exquisite hardwood furniture. In the corner stood a tall, fully decorated Christmas tree with statues of Jesus in the stable and Mary and Joseph and the Kings and the shepherds. The Tolentinos were having dinner. The strong aroma of chicken, soy sauce, and coconut vinegar made me hungrier.

Gideon started to play his ukulele. We all went, “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” Because I no longer had my Coca Cola caps, I picked up two small rocks from the ground and hit them together in time with the melody. We finished the song energetically and then we started another one. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child.” We sang and sang until we were tired but no one came out to give us anything.

Suddenly, Mrs. Tolentino’s head poked out of their screen door: “Hoy, here’s a peso. Now go home and stop disturbing us. You were here last night, weren’t you?”

“No, that was a different group,” Darwin answered, stepping closer to her.

“Anyway, here’s your money,” she said quickly.

“It’s not enough, Mrs. Tolentino,” Darwin protested.

“You should be grateful that I’ve given you something.”

“OK, then,” Darwin conceded, scraping the two fifty-centavo coins off her palm.

She quickly turned her back and slammed the door.

We then sang the Merry Christmas tune with revised lyrics: “Thank you, thank you, tight-ass people are you, are you? Thank you, thank you, thrifty clan in hell will land.”

Darwin dropped the coins into our money tin; I heard them hitting the bottom. It would have been nicer to hear some jingling of pennies inside. We left that hideous family and continued walking towards the next house. We heard dogs barking—the Santos’ two Dobermans were still wandering free in our street. We screamed and ran back to the lit electrical post again, yelling, “Mr. Santos, your vicious dogs are out in our street. Mr. Santos!”

*

I stared at the decorated pine trees in the middle of the road and my mind returned to the face of that little boy, how his lips stretched and his cheeks lifted when he felt the paper money in his palm. I wished I had experienced the same feeling twenty years ago. I wished I could gather Gideon and the guys again to go caroling. We would sing enthusiastically once more but, this time, I would not be asking for people’s money.

“So, did you get lots of money?” She leaned her head over my shoulder.

“Sometimes.”

“How cute.”  She spoke softly. “We don’t have that in Sydney.”

“No, we don’t,” I sighed.

Black and White

By Mariz Leona
Fiction

“Cheers to our success!” I said as I raised my wine glass. Indeed, it was a fantastic night for all of us. The exhibit I spearheaded was surprisingly a big hit for beginners like us.

“Your paintings were really a work of art, Francis, literally and figuratively speaking,” Dina, one of my dearest friends, said. The tinkling of glasses made her voice sound romantic, or maybe it was just my personal judgment.

“What do you mean by ‘literally and figuratively,’ Dina?” I asked back, of course. I couldn’t just leave her hanging. I couldn’t just leave myself hanging.

Bebot laughed at my sing-song voice, mocking me perhaps.

“Literally because it was literally arts,” Dina said. “Oh come on, Francis! Do I really need to elaborate it to you?” She laughed.

Oh, good lord! I thought. Blessed I am for hearing such a wondrous sound—sweet and appealing.

“Cut it out, Francis!” Bebot’s teasing voice roared in the room. “Seriously, you’re like puking rainbows and hearts!”

Oh, for whoever’s sake! Do I really look like some asshat lovesick puppy?

“No! But you look like a chapped drooling old maggot,” Bebot whispered, but I heard it clearly because the idiot whispered it right in my face. Did I just say it aloud?

“And that too,” he chirped while filling his empty glass.

I gave the dumbass my fiercest killer look. It just faded when I heard again Dina’s melodic laughter. I turned my gaze to her, mesmerized by her angelic face. We locked gazes. I suddenly found myself holding her waist while dancing in a song I could barely understand but to the melody of which I swayed. My room, which had been messy earlier, had turned into a grand hall with glitter balls above us. I wondered where Bebot was.

Sweet atmosphere covered the room. I tasted cotton candies and chocolates, but Dina was the sweetest. We danced closely until our feet hurt. With a heavy heart, I let her sit and gave her a bottle of water. It was a mystery, though, where I had gotten it. It was magical. My feelings too.

I woke up in my bed without a memory of how our night had ended. Did it really happen, or was it because I drank too much? And one more thing: how did I end up here in my bed? Where are my friends and Dina? I was flooded with my own questions. Tired of them, I got up my bed and took a shower.

I entered the kitchen and smelled adobo. Oh, my favorite dish.

“Good morning, Pa!” a little kid chirped while spreading her arms as if asking for a hug.

I hugged and kissed her good-morning as I felt I was expected to do it.

“Look! Mama cooked my favorite adobo because I got stars yesterday!” The little girl sounded really happy.

“Honey, you told her yesterday you would take her to the mall as a reward.” A woman with a sweet voice entered the kitchen. She had a sweet face too with a bright smile. Maybe I looked flustered because her face contorted. “Have you forgotten?”

I stumbled to find words. “Of course I haven’t! Let’s eat now and prepare to go to the mall.” I gulped the coffee in front of me. Words just came out of my mouth as if it was meant to be said.

I held the hand of the little kid as we strutted inside the mall. “Papa, I said yesterday that I wanted you to buy me a paintbrush,” she said and led me to a bookstore. She let go of my hand and found her way to her paintbrush. I stood still, confused about everything, until someone tapped my shoulder. “Hey, Francis! I am asking you if you want this.”

My eyes went frigidly wide because Dina was in front of me holding a paintbrush. “What?” She sounded irritated.

“Of course I want it. Thank you!” I smiled at her, but my hands were shaking. My body, my soul, was shaking. “Have you seen a child?” I asked.

“What child?” she asked back, confused.

“The child I was holding a while ago. She said I am her papa.”

Dina stared at me with mocking eyes. “Don’t start with me, Francis! Please leave your story madness at your house, you geeky artist!” She laughed as she linked her arms around me, and then she pulled me to the queue of customers.

I found myself lying in my bed while a kid was jumping beside me. She noticed that I was finally awake. “Good morning, Papa! It’s Sunday today!” She kissed me and led me to the bathroom. Does she want me to take a shower? “Faster, Papa! We will be late,” she shouted outside the door. I did what I should do.

I was formally dressed, the kid too and the lady who was smiling at me. I smiled back, and she held my hand tightly. They were listening to a homily that I couldn’t understand. Someone grabbed my hands and kissed me on the cheeks. I was flustered. It was Dina. Dina again. What is really happening? Have I gone crazy?

“Thank you, honey! I really like your painting,” she said. Happiness was evident on her face. “I also have a gift for you.”

I returned her smile. I was confused, but her smiles told me that it was okay, that everything was normal. “Where is it?” I asked.

“It’s not where, it’s what,” she answered.

“What?” I asked.

“I am pregnant!” Her face was blushing, and she was smiling widely.

“Wh-whaaat? Who’s the father?” I asked, disappointed. I couldn’t smile back. I just couldn’t.

“Of course it’s you, my husband. You silly!” She laughed so hard as she hugged me tightly.

It doesn’t make sense! Everything doesn’t make sense! But contrary to what I was thinking, my body responded happily. I hugged her back. I felt my eyes swelling and then my tears flowing. I was happy—no, beyond happy.

*

She watched him stomping on his brushes and paintings. She didn’t notice that she was already tearing up with just a view of him. He was now miserable. Her loving artist was now miserable. Was her love for him not enough? Was their love for him not enough? She closed the door silently and went to the kitchen.

She saw her angel eating her favorite adobo happily. Her bright and innocent baby. “Mama! Eat! Eat! Eat!” she chanted while raising her spoon.

She went to her and caressed her hair as she continued eating heartily. She watched her eating. A smile crept out of her lips as she realized that it had been ten years since she came out of her womb. She carried her for nine months with Francis by her side. He cheered her always, provided for their needs, and filled their house with his love, not to mention pampering her whenever she had tantrums. How cruel life was for destroying their happiness—his happiness.

She heard a loud bang coming from his room. She ran immediately with a thudding heart. She opened the door and saw that he had stumbled, his face on the floor. “Francis!” she yelped and helped him to the bed.

“Have you seen Dina? I need to give her my painting,” he mumbled.

She looked at him right through his eyes, without blinking. She kissed him on the lips. “I love you,” she whispered. He closed his eyes, and a smile formed on his lips. She tucked him into bed and got out of the room.

“Did he do it again?”

She looked at Bebot who was standing outside the room, holding a bouquet of her favorite flowers—red roses and lilies. She just nodded and tiredly smiled.

“Leave him,” he said seriously, which made her disgusted and furious. “He lost his life!” she shouted at him.

“He just lost his arms,” he said. “He is overreacting.”

“He is a painter,” she said. “A famous one, Bebot.”

“I love you.”

“You’re unbelievable. You’re his best friend!” She is mad, so mad at him. She looked him straight in the eyes. “I love him,” she said with conviction and left him there.

“But he is now a good-for-nothing crazy asshat. A psycho. He can’t even remember you, Dina!” Bebot’s frustrated and angry voice filled the house.

She heard it clearly, and she knew it. She knew it all. “I love him still,” she murmured to herself as tears fell down her face.

Something Sad

By Boon Kristoffer Lauw
Fiction

They had her surrounded.

Men clad in drenched black clothes and driven by their outrageous humanly desires.

She was panting. It had been a while before they finally had her cornered, and it was raining hard that day. All efforts were doubled as she and the men treaded through the wet and sticky ground. It was a long chase, but it had come to an end.

One sure step after another, they took their time crossing the soft ground while making sure she had no way out. They were grinning.

A cry for help, a final call, a desperate pleading—whatever it was or it had been—it was defeated by the sound of heavy rain crashing down on mud and earth.

He watched.

He watched as she was forced down onto the wet mud by vicious men. They had her limbs pinned down—both arms and feet, sometimes even her neck. She struggled. The wet mud never made it easier for the men ganging up on her, and their grip kept sliding from their hold as they came across soft wet earth instead of her rosy skin.

His love was surrounded by malicious beasts, and yet there was nothing he could do but watch behind steel gates he could not budge.

She squealed.

He screamed.

But all that was heard was the song of heavy rain beating down onto the yielding earth, the usual ballad of love’s hopeless defeat in the face of an overwhelming, opposing force.

The men tied her up. Ruthless in their manner, they bound her with rough ropes that bit into her skin. It was evident through the red line that had already begun to cut its way around her limbs.

But despite her cuffs, she never ceased to fight back. The men had to carry her all together to put her on the back of their truck. Although without meaning to, she was placed in a way that she was able to see her lover eye to eye one last time. She saw him staring from in between bars, screaming, but she could not hear.

He beat himself up on the hard steel that separated him from her.

It was a strange love they shared. If it wasn’t true love, then what is?

Their parents never supported the love between them. Not even anyone from their family would have imagined of such love be possible. Perhaps this was the way their gods had decided to punish them for the insolence of their forbidden love. It was the heaviest punishment all right; it broke her heart seeing him break underneath the rain, from in between bars.

Her voice came to a soft croak as tears subbed her callous throat. It was then that he finally heard her. The glisten from her tears had been able to pierce the thick curtain of rain. It was the light of lost hope: gradually dimming, leaving no trace of ever being there.

Seeing the light in her eyes dying down, he threw all of his weight, all of his strength, all of his love, and all of his anger towards beating down the heavy steel that kept him from reaching her. It broke his shoulder and a few more in his body, but it was worth it. The gates finally gave way, and let him through.

He ran.

On limping limbs he ran. The revving up of the truck’s engine rumbled across the ground. Then he knew it was only a matter of time before there was really no hope left. He forced his beat-up body into a canter, then into a glorious run.

He was only a few meters away and the truck started to turn. It was heading for the highway. If it reached the highway then he might never see her again.

Pushing his body to the limits, he finally reached the truck just in time before the men rammed the gasoline hard. He leapt and slammed his body hard on the back of the truck. It gave the car a thunderous tremor—the result of his anger bearing fruit.

He quickly gnawed his way into the ropes that held his love captive. He could not do it with his hands; they were both beaten up, nothing but decorations weighing him down. But the ropes were too tight and too frigid for his teeth. Racking his brains up, he decided to push them both down from the moving truck. And he did.

They both fell down hard, on muddy earth underneath the piercing shower. He saw her eye to eye now. There were no words enough that could be shared between each other. The smiles on their faces said it all.

Underneath the rain, on the muddy dirt, they found comfort in each other.

But it was all for naught. Their joy was short-lived as the truck came to a screeching halt.

They took her back.

This time she did not cry nor fight back, while he was no longer able to move.

She was already happy beyond her wildest dreams.

It was not that she had given up. It was more of a feeling of contentment.

He had come for her.

Amidst the heavy rain, the sticky mud, and the solid bars that kept them from each other, he came.

Lying on the ground, he howled like a wolf as he watched the men put her back up the truck, even if he knew he was no wolf.

The day grew long as the sound of rain drained his cries of grief and resentment. Love was never an easy thing, he realized. It was as if the world strove to break apart everything that is drawn to each other by the force called love.

A bit more rain and his consciousness finally wandered into the unforgiving silence.

The next day came even as he continued waiting for her to come back. Wishful thinking as it was, he didn’t know anything else he could do. He was useless, and she was gone.

Sometime during midday, his wish came true. But it was not as he had expected.

She finally returned to him—on a silver plate.

It was the saddest reunion ever written.

He had guarded the house and the family in it for years, and this was what they gave him in return. It was by far the cruelest and most twisted joke. He could not believe that he had been spending his days watching over the people that had offered him this plate. His heart broke into a million pieces, each one shedding a tear for his lost beloved.

He dragged the plate into a hole in the soft ground he had dug earlier and put her there in peace.

The gate was open now. He walked through it without restraint and never came back.

For he was a dog and she was his pig.