19 Enero 2012

Half Asleep


Cecilia's mother didn't believe the news either but she ran away all the same.

This morning, Cecilia woke up as 'Nay cooked breakfast at half-past four in the early morning. In the predawn light, Cecilia climbed down the stairs half-awake and stumbled, cursing, to the kitchen floor. Rubbing her scraped knees with a pair of stinging palms, she picked herself up and shot a nasty curse at her mother's large handbag sitting on the bottom step.

"Ang aga-aga, Elia, at 'yan agad narinig ko sa'yo!"

Cecilia gathered thin wallets, envelopes, a handful of unused tissues, and a collection of assorted papers and letters either stapled or pinned together. She stuffed them back into her mother's bag. That's when she noticed the single blue bus ticket to Batangas and she knew her mother meant to leave -- for a day, or a week, or a month. Or until the end of the world. Cecilia grimaced. Last night, her mother forgot to pray.

Hindi ako takot. Ano ako, bata? She thought. Hindi ako takot.

The words were like the prayer her mother  repeated every night for a month since the tall, fat news anchor stopped mid-sentence through a report on a kidnapping in Taguig. Mga kaibigan, he intoned. His voice had gone oddly flat. The woman beside him stared into the camera, eyes wide as saucers. She wore a red dress tight about her hips. Breaking news 'po. Neither she nor her mother had expected the world to end the same way it began. Although, now that Cecilia thought about it, she appreciated the simple artistry of its design. Apparently, God didn't want to take them unawares. The text messages, emails, Facebook notifications bombarded social media.

Breaking news: Seven months until the Apocalypse. To confess, SMS your sins to 2366 for Globe, Touch Mobile, Smart, Talk N Text, & Addict Mobile Subscribers. Php2.00 per message.  

For every believer, two or three spurned the warning as a prank. Why would God text us about the inevitable end of days seven months prior, or send a weekly email as a reminder. The digital frontier recognized no religion but democracy, championing the right to worship anything and everything. Social media sites were overwhelmed by the clarion call heralding the end. Who knew we would write "there were no trumpets blazing and the sky did not rain fire" ? Instead, God's shrill shriek for redemption blazed from every laptop screen and mobile phone, one-hundred and forty characters at a time. Cecilia's prayers began and, now, her mother swayed where she stood half a kitchen away.

Salt-seasoned rice browned in a large, hot wok but 'Nay never made breakfast before eight in the morning, when Cecilia woke her up with her hungry howling for fried egg, longganisa, coffee, or "Nay, gawan niyo po ako ng pancakes! Sige na po, Nay! NAY!"

"Bat ang aga mo?" Her mother asked. Cecilia took a seat on their dusty couch. They had no table to dine on so mother and daughter often shared a  meal in front of their TV, sitting side by side, plates of rice and meat on their laps.

"Narinig ko kayo nangluluto." Cecilia held up the ticket. "Bat kayo luluwas ng Batangas?"

"Hahanapin ko ang daddy mo." Her mother's eyes were hard and cool. Forty-seven and still beautiful, she mother crossed her arms. "At wala akong planong bumalik." Her mother laughed and hugged her daughter, smothering the hardness that crept across Cecilia's face.

"Anong walang planong bumalik?"

"Guguho na ang mundo, diba?" Her mother dragged fingers through her hair. "Malapit na."

Her mother left that afternoon. On the bus to school, Cecilia looked through the bars welded across its large windows. Her mother wore the bright purple house dress. Large lilies splayed about her breasts, petals agape; tattered sleeves failed to hide burn marks, the souvenirs of a breakfast cooked half-asleep.



May kuwento ako. Lunch.

Cecilia's message was the first she received this morning that didn't contain warnings or goodbyes. Relieved and grateful, Lyle messaged back: k. The rest of her unread messages echoed the same damning words. She read them aloud. They sounded the same. 24 oras bago guguho ang mundo. Disturbing messages or no, Pa maintained his silence during the car ride to school. Her mother was no different.

"Tortang talong." She reminded him about dinner. Her father leaned in to kiss her goodbye. "Bumili ka ng bigas pag-uwi." The wrong words. Pa halted long enough to nod.  He had turned away to leave when she slid her arms around his waist, her soft face disappeared behind him but her hands held him firm. When her father closed his eyes, Lyle looked away.  

From where she sat, Lyle tried not to watch. The table in their cramped kitchen was pushed beside the broad, grilled window but the view outside offered no distraction: large rocks or bricks weighing down tin roofs, laundry dripping water, tangled electrical wires. Instead, she saw Pa reflected on the window. Her mother was a small thing bobbing beneath him, her arms around his neck, straining on tip toes, hanging on, face buried in the crook of his neck.

Lyle had waited outside. A sign outside ate Myrna's sari-sari store read Guguho na ang mundo, Magbayad na kayo! beneath,  ate attached a short list of names. Her father's had been stricken off only yesterday. She heard him calling from the other side of their street, beside their white taxi.



They shared four plates of pancit. Cecilia spent her weekly allowance of one-hundred pesos but she eyed a pair of tuna sandwiches as she went back to the counter. Manang Miring, a fifty-five year old canteen lady, slapped her hand away.  "Sige na, 'Nang, mag-e-end of the world na! Ayokong mamatay na gutom." She teased. Although manang shooed her away with a little frown, she gave Cecilia the sandwiches anyway. When she took her seat, Lyle frowned. "Sa'kin nanaman ang pamasahe mamaya."

Outside, the sun hung high in the sky as a light rain fell and thunder exploded somewhere far off. Only its low, grumbling echo reached them. Beyond the stained yellow walls of the high school, the usual honking horns: even now, buses, jeepneys, and motorbikes hurried from one city to the other, jammed cheek to jowl in the narrow street. Her mother was out there, on a crowded bus to Batangas, gone home to the lover who left them three years ago. Left her, his daughter, and his responsibility towards her. 'Nay didn't blame him -- he was only twenty four and he had little to offer his fledgling family. So he ran away, the scared little boy.

Thunder threatened yet more rain as clouds threw down shadows. Cecilia leaned back, sullen. She disliked rain or the cold. She wished the world would end before it rained, when the sun was bright. She wanted to watch the high school building topple over, walls crumbling. Would they have to die? God could ask them to line up. There could be music: Sa pula, impyerno! Sa puti, langit!  She could hold Lyle's hand but the girl would never ask if it meant anything more than an admission of fear. Lyle's warm hand will cup her own and grasp her's tightly, even allow her to lace their fingers together and allow everything else to go unsaid.

"Tapos ka na ba? Halika na." Lyle pulled her up and they moved towards the chapel. When she told her about her mother, Lyle only asked if she had the keys to their house.

"May uuwian ka ba?"



The high school chapel was a long, low room at the end of the hallway that connected Biology, Physics, and Chemical laboratories. On its east wall, windows opened out to a grassy walkway towards Gate 3 and its rusted green gate. Underneath the sills, a row of dying evergreens. The heavy wooden pews were large enough to hide Lyle who knelt between Cecilia's thighs. Their rough skirts were dark blue but she pushed it out of her way. Where the garter of her panties clung tight upon her hips: bruised, pink flesh. And beneath even the wiry black hair, wet lips. And between them, Lyle slid two fingers.

Tall, lean Cecilia, her hair cropped short like a boy's. Lyle loved her long, white neck more than the large, round tits bouncing within her white blouse. Beneath, she knew Cecilia's narrow hips and the fleshy thighs. There, the girl was pale and soft.

Lyle thought of her mother alone at home, the television in their living room kept her company but Lyle doubted her mother watched. Lately, news programs reported endlessly on the apocalypse. People insisted on a prank. Many more believed. Indefatigable, Lyle sat through tedious interviews and read news articles. She texted her sins to 2366 and paid sixty pesos. When she told Cecilia, she laughed.

"Paano mo tinext? Finifinger ko ang kaklase ko sa school chapel?"

Lyle grinned, then. "Hindi naman yun kasalanan."



They were late for class but the teacher had left only a reading assignment. As Cecilia flipped through the pages of her book, it happened. The phone in her bag rang: guguho na ang mundo, the message informed her. But all around her, half the class read on. Above them, clouds strolled across the sky, casting lazy shadows, the wind wailing.

On the other side of the room, Lyle met her eyes. In the instant before the world ended, they smiled at each other.

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