She was also seven years old, tall for her age, with ears too small for her head, and large, wide-set eyes that gave her a look of perpetual astonishment. She liked to laugh. She laughed at small dogs who tugged at their leashes. She laughed when her Mother served her burnt rice for breakfast everyday, because her mother doesn't know how to cook rice. She laughed when she combed out her pancit canton hair which grew at least five inches everyday. She even laughed when the flies buzzed around her.
But Paniz didn't laugh during her first day of school, when her new classmates saw her, gaped, and pointed.
"Bat ganyan ang buhok mo?" They asked. Again, and again, and again.
And Paniz could only clutch the springy golden curls that hung down her shoulders, the aroma of cooked noodles, toyomansi, and the slightly charred smell of deep fried pork filled the cramped classroom. Her first-grade classmates stared and stared, even when their teacher whacked the board with a plastic ruler.
"Hindi ko rin alam? Ganito na talaga, eh!" She said. Again, and again, and again.
The teasing began during their half-hour recess, when her classmates pulled her aside. A few stone tables and benches made up the canteen. Three Manangs served behind a lopsided shack but her classmates ignored the bowls of gum, candy, and chicherya. They clustered around her. One boy tugged a large chunk of hair free. Until she yelped in pain, he didn't realize that it hurt. At first, the boy sniffed it curiously. It was slick with oil, the noodles fine. Her fine locks were al dente and the boy commented, just a little spicy. He licked his lips and looked at her head of hair, fingers upon the shiny fabric of his shorts.
"Puwede ko ba bilhin yan para sa meryenda? Walang hain sa bahay pag-uwi." The boy said. He shoved a shiny ten-peso coin at her.
Paniz thought she should laugh but her classmates weren't smiling. So she held in the giggle and tugged. Off came a savory handful, greasy but delicious. When he tried to pay her, she refused. A small knot of hot shame fell into her stomach. The boy walked off, looking for a plastic bag.
"Hindi ba napapanis yan?" A girl joked in a shrill voice from the loose huddle her classmates formed. "Kaya ba Paniz ang pangalan mo? Panis! Panis! PANIS!"
By the time the bell rang, she had a dozen nicknames. Among them: Pancitera, Bangaw for the flies that buzzed around her, and Hetti Isptapegi and she finally heard her classmates laugh.