Two Poems

By Innah Johanee Alaman

 

Daybreak

Still with the haze of dawn,
the light and darkness play
tugs of war in the high-
vaulted sky. The east light wins
this time, staining the sky with hues
from today’s morning palette:
blue, rosy pink, and gold.
The sun’s first rays reach me
at ease—its light strikes
through my window, peeping
through the sudden, awaken me. Slowly,
my room’s filled with
the sun’s fault-finding
heat, revealing last night’s mess
I have, arranged without him.
Mornings are such
nosy perverts.

 

Web

A body, at fifteen, unwrapped, raw
between split robe, quivers
before the intimate eyes of her lover.

A body, at fifteen, moans mute
in photos. Her soft limbs, small mouth,
stroke scenes in the minds of the uninvited.

Every inch of her skin exposed, posed
is viewed over and over again,
like an animal in a museum, most
beautiful when preserved—
only dead.

Her photos tell a tale of a nymph taken out of the water
caught in a web, sprawled like a carcass,
suspended in the air on an invisible thread.
The predators are out, feeding
on the fragile innocence on the web—
the rotten smell of their lustful gaze
penetrate her. But the web knows not
of the nymph, the bruises and scars
hidden beneath the paleness of her skin.

They look at her lips
when they use her lips, share her lips,
only to speak of the taste of her dirt.

And the web knows not of the predators
who feast on the nymph pleading
don’t come don’t come
yet they come.

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Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings

By Innah Johanee Alaman
Fiction

It was searing hot outside when Babygirl had to go rush to the city hall unkempt, with no eyebrows on, wearing only her fitting red duster that squeezed her forty-year-old curves. Harried and desperate, she had been hailing vehicles for almost half an hour already, and her flailing arms were starting to hurt. Her lower back ached as the heels of her wedges pushed her butt up and outward. The old woman sighed as the tricycles sped past her, past the waiting shed where she stood, and past the concrete road before her that writhed under the lash of the noonday heat.

That sweltering summer noon in May, Babygirl had been massaging a bald man’s head in Boomtown club downtown of General Santos City when her entire place shook as the city’s demolition team dragged their crane and wrecking ball outside her property. A cloud of hot dust wafted through their broken door. Inside, the family’s picture frames, posters, curtains, wall clock, plates, mugs, and figurines trembled and jumped out of their places as the feeble walls quaked along with the floor. Everyone inside Babygirl’s run-down club stood wide-eyed in muted panic. She was about to storm out and bonk the crane driver’s head with a broken china, but an eviction notice held up against her face stopped her.

Department of the City Engineering Office

Dear Ms. Begonia:

In line with the city’s renovation of Pioneer Avenue, you are hereby ordered to terminate your residency at the property owned by the government of General Santos City. Willingly comply on or before the demolition time: 12 noon of May 1.

The reason for this eviction notice is: your failure to pay property tax due in ten years, interest included. A demand for payment was made every six months, in May and December, which you have refused forwarding the necessary amount accumulating to eight hundred thousand pesos (PhP 800,000) with the tax interest worth one hundred and fifty thousand pesos (PhP 150,000).

Signed by the City Mayor

And the Ling Xi Holdings Corporation      

It really had to be her, Babygirl thought. She had to be the one who’d leave their house atop the nightclub lounge at the mercy of heavy machinery downtown on Pioneer Avenue. The lives that depended on Boomtown: from the lives of the stray dogs and cats she took in to the girls she supported, their shelter, sustenance, and safety—all these depended on her. No, not Lolita, Recolita, or the younger girls like Chisska, Klowie, or Chilsea, but it really had to be her. Babygirl, the saucy and bold Boomtown club manager, had just turned forty this year. For years, she enjoyed her certain fame as the single mother who took in troubled women in Gensan.

When situation in their homes became dire or violent, girls fled and sought shelter in Boomtown, as it was never closed for a sister. Like how Virgie, raped by her own father in Barangay Calumpang at sixteen, left her home after her mother sided with her rapist father. Chisska came to Boomtown after being severely beaten by her husband. Recolita, the thirty-year-old woman left by her husband for being barren, also found her way to the club. Klowie, almost choked to death after refusing to kneel and go down on her boss, left her housemaid work in Koronadal. Kemberly stopped going to school when her boyfriend left her pregnant, and Babygirl, the now old matron, helped her raise her son. Their gay sister Milkita left Purok Malakas when the brothers she raised and sent to school stole all her money and ran off to gamble. All these and more were stories Babygirl knew by heart. Twenty years—Boomtown put up and stood against the rages of time, and still the stories were the same.

As a seasoned private entertainer, several men offered to buy Babygirl’s hand in marriage. Even the fairly young city mayor used to call her up at midnight during stressful nights at the office and at home. But for the past five years, Babygirl refused. She had more important things to do than fulfill Mayor Biboy’s desire for a mature woman’s paid service to his manhood. During midnight, Babygirl had to act as her own club’s bouncer to scare off the unruly drunkards. Only this time, Babygirl had to seek the city mayor’s attention again lest her family of girls end up sleeping on the streets by dusk. Worse, without the alluring lights on, no one might even pick her or the girls up.

Out here on the sidewalk, Babygirl raised her head high, sighed, and raked through her greasy hair. She wished her “Sirboy,” her once little boy, still cared for her.

“It doesn’t matter,” muttered Babygirl to herself, “all I need is to talk to Mayor Biboy and it will all be well.”

And it was true; one meeting with the mayor was all Babygirl Begonia needed to keep Boomtown to herself, as it was since the ’90s. The city mayor, yes! Old ties for the old realty blues, she guessed. She was his “’Te Babygirl” after all—the nurse who raised the mayor since he was a boy, the older sisterlike maid who served him well during his teenage years. She looked over her shoulder and stared at Boomtown. At the heart of the city center’s pioneer area, between a bank and a Chinese mall, Boomtown stood on top of a two-million-peso lot.

One meeting with Sirboy, and she could flick the demolition team away—flick their forehead with a wooden sandal or something. Most of these construction workers, along with the cops, were Babygirl’s paying patrons of “Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings” promo, customers of shave, massage, and pedicure. Even that obese crane driver availed himself of her foot spa and nail art services just a week ago. The old woman hissed in contempt. She could not believe them. Someone turned these men against her.

It was the Intsik in suits again, thought Babygirl, and their demolition threat. Their threat came in a graver form this time—with a wrecking ball.

Sure, she abhorred them, but Babygirl could not help but feel fascinated with how these men seized her lifelong property using only ink, paper, and money. Babygirl could not imagine acquiring so much wealth in a foreign country such as China only to kick out a poor family to put up a bodega. Babygirl spat on the concrete road. Out of the many unoccupied lots in the city, the Chinese investors chose her home—chose to develop Boomtown by destroying it. Sleek, shiny, and smooth, these men from the Ling Xi Corporation looked like plastic figures inside a dainty dollhouse, too flawless they almost looked fake. Of what originally used to be a dump site, Babygirl received this property in the ’80s as a gift from the mayor then, the father of current mayor Biboy. When his wife left him for an Afro-American foreigner, Babygirl remained to serve the household in unique ways: as a stay-in housemaid, unofficial wife and mother, and an on-call sex worker to both men. Up to this date, Babygirl never felt ashamed owning up to the arrangement as it earned her a two-hundred-square-meter lot in ten years. Born out of a political dynasty, the mayor’s late father had no problems giving away a parcel of land they controlled for decades.

That Biboy could not kick me out of my house. I campaigned for him at the club, at the market, at the church, at every curb, at every barbershop, and office downtown! So he could win! Even if no one wanted his gambling ass in the office! Babygirl’s nose flared.

People could talk, but Babygirl Begonia knew in her heart Boomtown was the ex-mayor’s payment in gratitude for her unpaid services. And truthfully, if it weren’t for the girls in her parlor who became their wives, the truck drivers and merchants in the ’80s would not have settled down in this sunbaked and barren coastal city. Only the thorny dadiangas tree thrived here, thus the old name of the city. But that was then, and this is General Santos City now. Boomtown became a part of the city’s old memory that the young Mayor Biboy wished to bury. To make way for the high-rise buildings, people, houses, and trees were uprooted like grass roots on a fine summer day. And the folks, not in their duster dress or ukay-ukay shorts, but those in their white-collar tux, those Ling Xi investors rich enough to sit on anyone’s land, owned their houses and properties. With only one hundred pesos in her pocket, Babygirl feared her chances were slim against the Chinese investors. Yet she could not let Boomtown slip away.

Now, Babygirl, standing by the roadside still waiting for a jeepney, worried no one even remembered, much less knew, about her home’s humble beginnings. No one knew how she built it from scratch, how she fought for it for years. Boomtown, the old unpretentious cathouse in the city, was her family of girls’ home since the ’90s.

“Do you even know where your clit is?” Babygirl Begonia used to ask the new applicant in the nightclub. The other listening girls would jeer laughing, hugging their still-shy new sister who would blush, unable to locate her lady parts. “Oh, learn your body first! Your vagina! Learn it! Own it!” She found out that most girls never knew what to find within their womanly flesh. “Locate your clit!” ordered the bodacious matron. “Don’t come here and expect that you can make a man or anyone happy if you don’t even know how to make yourself happy!”

In the morning, while the girls offered manicure and pedicure services, waited tables, tailored clothes, and continued their works as a saleslady, cashier, street food vendor, cook, and laundrywoman, Babygirl knocked on every establishment downtown to sell home-cooked meal during lunch. She also offered back and head massage to office clerks and drivers on their break.

Now if the nightclub was to be demolished, where would they go home at dusk? Where would the girls sleep? Where would they hold their karaoke nights? They couldn’t go back to their old homes. It would be far too dangerous.

“It doesn’t matter,” Babygirl huffed. “I will to talk to Mayor Biboy. He can’t resist me.”

Babygirl pulled up her low-hanging duster. She figured she might have to make a deal with the devil. Babygirl imagined herself casually flirting like in the old times, saying, Yes, still happily single, Sirboy, still taking care of the girls, sending their children to school. Right, she still loved shopping at thrift stores. But it wasn’t like she lost half a million gambling and buying guns for her collection display, like he always did. There was just a lot of stuff the girls needed to buy. Yes, reason why she was a little behind the lease, ten years.

The old woman held her breath and practiced faltering her voice into a sob. But the Chinese mall owner, Sir Biboy? He never stopped threatening the girls into giving up Boomtown. He made up lies about the gas leak, termites, and even child trafficking in the club. He wanted the lot so badly that now mad, the Intsik brought a wrecking ball with him. The old woman could fake a sob, but she could not deny that losing her home crushed her inside.

Who would help her now—Mayor Biboy? Her Sirboy? The old woman worried. Would he still care for his ’Te Babygirl, his old sister and nanny?

Bedraggled, sweating, and distraught, Babygirl got on the first jeepney that stopped in front of her. The driver did warn her, however, that his last stop was still blocks away from the city hall. Babygirl just nodded, without even understanding what the driver hollered at the front seat. She just felt grateful that a jeepney finally picked her up. Clearing the highways, tricycle drivers joined the protest-mass at the oval plaza. The demonstration was for the victims of the ongoing war against drugs, they said, of the lawless killings in town by vigilantes and policemen in civilian clothing. How long had it been since Babygirl stood there by the sidewalk—ten minutes? Her veined legs twitched no. It felt like an hour. She wasn’t sure. Babygirl would have joined the protest rally, but they weren’t just the innocent victims. Boomtown was about to be put down too. And her daughters needed her.

Sitting on the rear end of the jeepney, the aging woman looked past the sidewalk where Boomtown club stood. Construction workers and engineers in hard hats walked about Pioneer Avenue, ready to take down any grubby building. The old woman clutched the jeepney railings tighter. From afar, the downtown area was a blur of urban stalls. It took years of being in the city before Babygirl Begonia learned it—the paved Pioneer Avenue made way for the uniformed crooks to mix and compete with the lowly street crooks. Above, the lamp posts on the side of the roads looked like tall lean guards staring down at the people, watching in silence—the bleak city under their constant surveillance.

Ate Babygirl,” Kemberly, one of the girls, once asked her, “Will the Intsik take our home?” Babygirl used to always assure the girls saying, “Over my dead, sexy, and juicy body.” She’d laugh along with the girls, certain of her own words.

Babygirl wished she could still keep her promise this time.

Comforted by the shade inside the jeepney, Babygirl stretched out and leaned back, letting her eyes wander inside the rusty, sputtering jeep. Colorful tassels, pictures of Jesus and Virgin Mary, words like katas ng dubai, free ride for girls who can ride, beware of pickpockets, and in god we trust graced the interior of the jeepney. She fanned herself, yawned, and squinted at the diabolical sun outside. It relieved her to see that the sun was still at its peak. Babygirl only had until the afternoon to cover the lease, or make the mayor postpone the date of demolition at least.

Then it crossed her mind again. She pressed her temples, furious in remembering Chisska’s maddening recklessness that put the family into ruins. Chisska was this new girl in Boomtown—a wife of nineteen battered out of jealousy by her thirty-year-old husband.

“It’s not my fault I still have suitors even with a baby bump,” Chisska complained. “I never even cheat like he does.” When Chisska first came to Boomtown, Babygirl had to stay awake all night, guarding her and placing an ice bag against her bruised rib cage. Poor girl. But if it wasn’t for Chisska’s stupid decision not to open the eviction letter (thinking it was one of her suitors’ or husband’s letters again), the matriarch would have attended the tax evasion trial against them. Babygirl would have hired an attorney to explain why they were years late in paying the property tax.

Babygirl was sure the judge would have pitied them and understood the girls’ needs especially if that famous Judge Jamora were to work on her case. That woman fully understood how much nine women spent monthly on sanitary napkins alone—the mammogram tests too, Kemberly’s caesarian section, contraceptives, and the vaccines that kept the girls safe—everything. But no, Chisska, the brightest of them all, just had to throw the letters away before Babygirl had the chance to open them.

“What did I tell you, Inday Chisska!” cried Babygirl as she shook the young lady when they faced the final demolition notice.

“That tax collectors are pigs, that they take people’s properties, their hands only dirty at work when they wipe their ass and mouth full of shit,” said Chisska in all seriousness that struck everyone in horror. The men in polo shirts who handed the demolition notice sucked their cheek in contempt. The old woman Babygirl apologetically flushed in disgrace.

“No! Not that, amaw!” Babygirl bonked the beauty’s head with a backscratcher.

“I meant the part where you have to watch out for the tax collectors’ letters, you idiot!”

A bump on the road shook the old woman awake, taking her out from her reverie. She was about to ask the jeepney driver to drop her at the nearest police station by the city hall when she noticed that everyone in the jeep was staring at her. The passengers inside were old women in black, their gold rosaries gleaming as the sunlight hit them at the right angle. The jeepney was already off the road.

“Where are we heading?” whispered Babygirl to the old woman sitting next to her.

“To Uhaw public cemetery. Didn’t you know?” squeaked the woman in front of her. “Are you the mistress of Leopoldo?” she added. “The tokhang victim we will be burying?”

Babygirl shook her head no, heavily tapped the metal jeepney outside, and screamed, “Lugar lang,” to which the vehicle stopped and lurched forward like it was taking its last dying heave. She peered outside and it was confirmed. A funeral car was up ahead. Inside the decrepit jeepney were old mourning ladies paid to pray the rosary for the untimely death of Leopoldo. Babygirl Begonia’s red tight-fitting duster looked sacrilegious next to their black veiled dresses. Babygirl bit her lip as she realized she was now even farther from the city hall. She left, ran in her wooden wedged slippers, and hailed an empty tricycle.

“City hall, fifty pesos, please take me there,” she said, still catching her breath.

“Make it one hundred, since you’re alone,” the driver replied.

“Rip-off!” barked Babygirl, her mouth almost frothing. “I’m from Gensan too! Don’t fool me! I’m just as poor as you are. Why are you taking advantage of me? We both know it only costs ten pesos if I take a multicab!”

“Do you see any multicabs?” said the gaunt driver. “They’re out on a strike. You’re even lucky you have me. And fine, fifty. But we’ll take more passengers on the way.”

The summer sun already simmered down when Babygirl reached the stair steps of the city hall. A long line of people greeted her. She stood on her toes and realized that the line reached the parking lot. These were the people trying to talk to the mayor and to the public lawyers for free legal advice. Babygirl was given the priority number 86, to which she protested.

“But I’m old and sickly.” Babygirl faked coughs, cowered, and convulsed with half-closed eyes, looking as if she was in pain. The young assistant who received her hissed, shook her head, and led her to the senior citizen priority lane. There she thirstily gulped down three glasses—free samplings of the powdered guyabano juice advertised at the city hall. Babygirl burped and wiped off her mouth with the back of her hand after the promo boy refused to refill her cup.

She looked at the people beside her. Everyone was murmuring, looking miserable and sick—cheeks hollow and the corner of their dry mouths caked with faint traces of guyabano juice. Most of them seemed to have come from the poorer neighborhoods of the town. Faded hats, crummy slippers, tattered shirt, ripped shorts. Babygirl felt that, just like her, they were aching to be heard. She craned her neck and saw the wall clock strike three. She furiously fanned herself, vexed by the unmoving line.

“Where are the government officials, their workers when we need them! I need to talk to the mayor! My house—”

“They’re on a lunch break,” an old lady in rain boots said to Babygirl as she tugged her dress to make her sit down. “Mareng, here, have some of my biscuit.”

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry.” Babygirl fumed in exasperation. “And what lunch! It’s way past their lunch break! Three PM! I need to talk to the mayor. I know him!”

“Ma’am, stay in your place.” The guard’s deep voice startled her. He blocked her way with his humungous body.

“No, I just need to see Mayor Biboy, and he will make time just to talk to me. I’m important to him, I promise.” A slight push from the guard’s hand made her falter and feel dizzy. Babygirl backed off. She had not eaten yet. A young female assistant led her back to her chair as she tried to regain her balance.

“It would be unfair if you would just barge in while these people before you waited,” she finally spoke. Babygirl shut her eyes tight, necessitating the immediate need of guardian angels to stop the desperate tears from brimming in her eyes. What she missed to see was how the younger women got past the glass door, into the mayor’s office, unhindered.

“I just wanted to see the mayor,” she whined. “He would love to see me and help me. He would love to do anything for me.” No one listened to her. Babygirl poked the leg of her seatmate sleepily waiting for her turn.

“You know, the mayor and his father loved me before,” Babygirl whispered to her, loud enough that the man in front of them turned his head to gossip. “Yes, both of them, they loved me, their housemaid,” continued Babygirl. “Ever heard of a woman ligated for her employer’s convenience?” She threw her head back, wiped the tears at the corner of her eyes, and laughed. “Silly, I couldn’t take it. I left him and his father.”

The people within earshot around Babygirl eyed her from head to toe. In response, she curled her feet to hide her dead toenail. They were trying not to look and listen to her, but Babygirl helped them by talking a little louder this time. “You know Mayor Biboy’s father loved me still even after. He bribed the barangay captain to side with me against the Intsik’s complaint about my business.” Babygirl’s seatmate leaned back and looked at her incredulously. Babygirl nodded and continued pouring out her troubles. “That Intsik got mad I sold women. I didn’t even get mad he sold expired food in his mall. Did I use the diarrhea I suffered from his noodles against him? No! I never badmouthed him, yet he used my girls and customers against me. And we only sold beer and karaoke songs!”

“Yeah, but it’s a nightclub,” replied the woman with a straight face. “And I’ve seen kids playing there outside in the morning.”

Babygirl’s face sank. “It’s only a nightclub at night,” she whispered to herself. “It’s a house in the morning.” After a beat, her voice sounded serious and faint. “God knows I never let the men touch, let alone see, the children. Never.”

The old and tired Babygirl raised her eyes and stared blankly at the mayor’s frosted glass door. Babygirl was afraid it was only she who knew the truth behind Boomtown. It was a place of refuge for men and women after a long day of labor. “Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings” she called that promo.

“Silly Intsik. I will never give up my girls’ home for him.”

The thought of her girls alone kept Babygirl going. She talked to the other people in line and learned that they camped out to meet the mayor, that seemingly higher being behind the giant frosted door. Babygirl learned that most of the people outside had lost their homes in the Build Build Project of the mayor. And suspiciously, fire broke out in many slum areas all at once. The burnt houses had to be ripped out from the ground, cleared immediately. It was not just Boomtown after all. The old woman felt her chest tighten, as if someone was wringing her heart from the inside.

“It does not matter,” Babygirl assured herself. “I just have to talk to him.”

Yet Babygirl could not deny the pounding in her chest as the line grew shorter and shorter, with every second of the clock ticking by.

Babygirl reached the end of the line in front of the frosted door by 6 PM. At the same moment, the mayor in his polo shirt and black slacks walked out of his office, as if in a hurry.

“Sirboy, it’s me! Ate Babygirl!” the old woman jumped out of her chair and grinned upon seeing her now grown charge. She wanted to kiss and hug him just like the old times, but he turned away and walked back to his office upon seeing Babygirl. She followed him. Inside, she saw two young women on the couch sleeping. They looked comfortable disheveled and covered in sheets. With the cold temperature of the room, Babygirl would have mistaken the room for a motel too.

“And your problem, ’Te Babygirl?” the mayor asked with his arms crossed.

Babygirl was about to say something rude, but she held back her tongue. She stiffened her wobbly knees and softened her voice instead. “Sirboy, the Intsik is back at it again. He will destroy my house this time. Please help me, Mayor, please. My girls are in danger.”

The thirty-year-old mayor, with his fly down, simply stared at her.

“You know it’s mine, Sirboy. It’s your father’s payment to me. You just never signed the legal paperwork that says I already paid the land title, like your father would have wanted you to.”

The mayor was not listening—his eyes were fixated on the sweaty shoulders of her ex-housemaid. At forty, Babygirl’s voluptuous curves spilled over her tight duster. Growing up with her, the mayor could still clearly remember the contours of her body.

Hoy, Sirboy! Mayor Biboy!” the old woman called out to him. “What are you doing to Boomtown? Do I have to beg to keep my own house? My own house?”

“On your knees?” snapped Mayor Biboy with a sidelong grin.

It took every ounce of control for Babygirl not to hurl the couch toward the mayor. He was not taking her seriously. “On my knees!” Babygirl seethed. “As every woman who needed your help here must—beg on her knees.”

The mayor rushed to the door and double-checked the lock.

“And what would the people say, Mayor Biboy? That every woman here that is not your mother must beg on your knees?” exclaimed Babygirl.

“’Te Begurl, calm down! The Ling Xi Corporation has already paid me plenty to have a place in my city. Go somewhere. You’ll find a new home, trust me.”

Trust you. Babygirl clenched her fist, wanting to swing it across his face. “You can’t do this. That was your father’s payment to me. Your payment to me.”

Babygirl’s wild auburn hair made her look like a lioness about to pounce on the mayor. Mayor Biboy felt this, carefully flinching away from the furious Babygirl. He hurriedly fished out the paper bills from his pocket and asked, “How much do you need?”

“Nothing! I want my home! Boomtown!”

“Really, ’Te Babygirl. How much do you need? So you won’t have to sell your body anymore.”

The old woman looked stupefied. It took a beat before she responded. “I did not raise you that way, Biboy. Now call that Intsik and tell them to pull away the crane.”

“Will twenty thousand pesos be OK?”

“Biboy, what has gotten into you?” Babygirl clasped her chest in disbelief.

The young mayor was testing her patience. Around this time, the girls on the couch woke up. They recognized the renowned matron in town. They scampered toward the bathroom door behind them.

“Come on, ’Te Babygirl,” the mayor said. “Name your price.” He was flicking through the wads of paper bills in his wallet. “Don’t tell me you’re too expensive to buy.”

And that was it. Babygirl grabbed his collar and spat. “Talk like that to your Ate Babygirl again and I will make an earring out of your balls, Mayor Biboy.”

The mayor blinked fast in fearful surprise. He cleared his throat and fixed his polo. “I was just joking, ’Te Babygirl. How much do you need?”

“Just Boomtown, Biboy. My house!”

The mayor swallowed hard. “Boomtown has been already been taken down, ’Te Babygirl. I’m sorry, but it was not your land.”

“And neither was it yours! Or the Intsik’s!” Babygirl breathed through her noise in sheer fury. She felt like tearing the room apart.

Silence. Much to her shame, her stomach growled in full volume.

The mayor stared and shook his head. He fished for his wallet, handed Babygirl half of the thick wad of the paper bills. “I’m sorry, ’Te Babygirl. I lost a bet to the Ling Xi man. This time he wanted Boomtown.”

A tear trickled down Babygirl’s cheek. She wiped it dry, wasted no time, and grabbed the money. The mayor stopped her. He pulled her arm to see her face one more time. After his father’s death, living alone in his house, Mayor Biboy always sought her Ate Babygirl’s company at night. Yet she always refused.

Babygirl knew he still wanted her. She reached out to him and clung to him. A sigh escaped from the mayor’s lips. She hugged him, and then drew back. With no signs of protest, she slowly felt him all over. Mayor Biboy simply stood in gratitude. She rubbed her left palm against his crotch, eyes locked with his. It was easy. The mayor immediately grew in size under her caresses. He could not take his eyes off her low-hanging duster. It squeezed her ample breasts. Sensing he was in a daze, Babygirl took the chance. She fished out the rest of the bundle of money behind the Mayor’s back. The bathroom door then swung open. The two girls now fully dressed scampered toward the door. Babygirl followed them, leaving Sir Biboy alone. She did not look back.

Her lips trembled.

Boomtown has been already been taken down, ’Te Babygirl.

The old woman wept on her way home. Back in the city’s downtown area, what once stood as Boomtown club had become a pile of debris. The young group of boys in the demolition team pulled scrap metals and wood, their brown bodies bent and flexed in unison under the faint orange glow of the lamp posts. One of them said sorry to Babygirl for her loss, saying the demolition workers had no choice. They were just doing their job. But they were sorry.

From the sidewalk, Babygirl saw Chisska brandishing aggressively an umbrella and a backscratcher. She ran after the construction workers, swatting them like flies. “I’m going to demolish your houses too! I will follow you home, all of you!!”

Kemberly, too, threw sandals and slippers at a plump policeman outside. “I will tell your wife you spent so much money on Happy Endings last night, you traitor! I will tell your wife you overtime here in Boomtown, tambukikoy!”

Will they leave her? Will her girls leave her? The old woman picked up the Christmas balls that rolled off from the heap of their properties.

They lost Boomtown. But it wasn’t the wreck that anguished her. What wounded Babygirl was seeing her daughters outside pick fights with every guy who looked like a construction worker. Under the pale lamps posts, the furious girls looked like street fighters. Each one of them had backpacks on, filled with their personal things, as though they were about to go. Babygirl wiped her face and cleared her throat, the paper bills still clenched tight inside her bra.

“Auntie Begurl, sorry.” Chisska dropped her bag and first ran to her weeping. “It’s all my fault, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Babygirl with a straight face. Chisska shamefully laughed and hugged the old woman. Babygirl squinted and then smiled, which sent the family sighing and laughing at their misery.

Carefully laid on top of a fading tarpaulin were the family’s belongings—their decors, kitchenware, chamber pots, beddings, figurines, and furniture. All the clothes the girls owned piled up into one giant heap, as tall as the low roof of their first floor.

Nightfall. The Boomtowm became nothing but a dark mess between a Chinese mall and a bank. Curious passers-by and drivers surrounded them. Onlookers also eyed their belongings and asked how much the furniture were and the beer cans altogether. What were they going to do with their clothes? The karaoke set? Were their ladders, tables, and chairs sturdy? Was their sewing machine still working? With this, they decided to keep a few appliance and personal things to start afresh. The old woman rummaged through the rubble, and grabbed a bucket, dipper, pillow, DVD, mugs, clothing, decors, and started selling their things.

At the top of her lungs, she cried out, “Tag-dyes, tag-dyes na lang”—ten pesos, the selling price of their belongings. As if something was breaking inside of her, the old woman’s voice first faltered when she screamed. “Tag-dyes, tag-dyes na lang,” she cried out further. Her cries cut through the bustling city noise at dusk. Almost wailing, she screamed, “Tag-dyes, tag-singko na lang.” Tears welled up around Babygirl Begonia’s eyes. More people came when she slipped and said “tag-singko.”

“Just for one night, we will sleep at the barangay hall,” said Babygirl to the girls. “We will sell, eat, and sleep tonight. But tomorrow we will fight. Okay?” The girls nodded and huddled closer. They still had a chance with Judge Jamora tomorrow. That attorney never turned down a case that concerned women.

The warm Sarangani Bay breeze gushed from the east of Boomtown, hushing the old woman’s howl. The girls busily picked up items and sold them. With the girls beside her, Babygirl did not falter standing this time. She stood on her ground, bracing herself as the warm summer wind blew her varnish-colored hair. Right then, she knew. This was what mothers were made of—peace in the middle of a desert storm. Babygirl knew that for her daughters, nothing could ever be strong enough to break her.