04 Marso 2012


It was Trina's first time to visit the bank and she stared and stared at the bloodless walls. Inaantok na ako. She looked for faces on the black tiled floor, the marble veined by gray lines, while waiting for her turn. From the corner, Sinto smiled up at her but Trina was looking for Joan's narrow face, the dimples in her cheeks. Gold Islands regional branches were small, cramped, but well lit. Opposite the double doors, a row of counters along the back wall hosted three tellers and two accounts officers. Trina sat on the waiting benches, tired of staring at the tiny clock. It showed B264. Trina was B267. She thought she'd finished by now. The last forty-five minutes inched by, remorseless. 

Earlier this morning, she woke her husband before she left. He was groggy from sleep and his eyes were half-closed but he nodded when she reminded him to wake their daughter for school. 

"Huwag na lang pumasok." He mumbled, clearly irritated, before snoring. "Matulog na lang."

Joan was a sixth grader, almost ready for high school, if they found the money for her miscellaneous expenses, new school books, shoes, bags, notebooks, and all the rest of it. Trina was tempted to obey her husband: matulog na lang. She didn't finish high school, why should her daughter? Yet when she left the house in her best white blouse -- with a fragile lace collar around her neck -- she found herself hopeful yet afraid. 

Beside  her, a child swung back and forth, gripping his mother's hand. From his size, Trina guessed he must be twelve, at most. His bright face was clean but he was missing both his front teeth. His mother was staring up at the little screen. When it flashed B265, she hurried to one of the uniformed tellers, half-dragging, half-carrying her son behind her. The woman was tall and stout with long, curly hair, and a mouth too big for the bank; her complaints boomed across the waiting space, bouncing off the walls, almost shattering windows. 

"Bat hindi ko puwede ibenta? Ano ba gagawin niya sa happiness-happiness na yan e ang bata-bata pa. Turukan niyo na!"

Unfazed, the teller simply shook her head and returned a handful of forms, registration papers, a set of identification cards. The tiny clock flashed Trina's number. 

"Punyeta kayo ah!" The woman flung the last expletive, striding towards the door.

The teller didn't smile when Trina handed over her completed forms, the signed contract, and her driver's license. 

"Hindi ko akalaing may nagbebenta ng kasiyahan ng anak nila." Trina watched as her forms were quickly encoded, stamped, signed, and filed. 

"Labag naman 'ho sa policies namin na bilhin ng emosyon ng minors. Hindi naman po kasiyahan ng magulang ang ibebenta. Private property iyon ng anak niya. Gold Islands supports children's right to their emotions." The teller gave her a small card. "At mas madaling mabulok ang happiness ng minorde edad." She pointed Trina towards a door discreetly labelled "Laboratory". 

It was a large closet. Trina bumped into the man perched on a high stool polishing metal tubes with rubber stoppers. There was no extra chair. 

"Mabilis lang 'to, ma'm." The man was thin and bald but not old. He sat slumped over, his elbows tucked close to his body. The room seemed to dwarf him. From a black satchel by his feet, he took another metal tube. He cleaned it with an alcohol-soaked wad of cotton. 

"Salamat sa pag-boluntaryong pagbenta ang inyong kasiyahan. Sa bawat isang-daang taong nagbibigay ng kanilang oras at emosyon, nagdo-donate kami ng sampung kaha para sa mga bata ng Aprikang may pangangailangan.

The man pushed the metal tube into her chest, over her heart, until he found the soft, tender flesh where happiness grew like a tumor. There was a soft pop, she exhaled, and he removed the metal tube, pulling it free from her flesh in one swift motion. 

"Kailan ako puwedeng magbenta uli?" 

"Three to six months po, ma'm." 

He wrote her a receipt, the pad upon his thigh because no table would fit in the closet. Outside, the cashier doled out ten thousand pesos. The bills were old and worn, something she didn't expect from a bank, but the disappointment was fleeting. The same teller read the receipt and counted out ten thousand pesos, each thin bill unconvincing. When she finished, the teller simply looked past her and Trina floated away. Ten thousand pesos should be enough. Ten thousand pesos. Ten  thousand. When Sinto came home that evening, she gave him the money in a white envelope. He hugged her, kissed both her cheeks, muttering salamat, salamat, salamat. 

Trina tried to smile but she no longer felt it necessary. 

01 Marso 2012

Martin Angel

Tika was having breakfast when her guardian angel called from their shared bedroom. Although she hadn't finished with her scrambled eggs and the school bus was due to arrive any minute, she scrambled to put on her black school shoes, rushing up stairs. Sprawled on the bottom bunk, her angel turned over when she sat on the edge of his blanket.

"Tika, I had a nightmare." He sniffed.

"Martin, I have to go to school." He sniffed, again, burrowing deeper into the pile of pillows that propped him up. Tugging the blanket up to his chin, he frowned. Martin had droopy eyes. Tika liked that most about him. She used to like his wings, too, until he broke them. Martin coughed into the blanket. It was half-past seven. Tika's bus was late.

"Your bus isn't here yet, girly. Stay while I tell you about the nightmare." He smiled, hoping to charm her into acquiescence. Although his sunken cheeks, peculiar cheekbones, oddly mismatched eyes, and widow's peak were all evidence of the recent high fever and incurable insomnia, when he cupped her cheeks and she felt the strength in his hands, she fell silent and stayed.

"You fell and died."

His wings were under the bed, wrapped in plastic and cloth and strewn with mothballs. The first time she saw them, she casually plucked a feather -- to use as a bookmark, as a keepsake -- and he slapped her hands away.

"I think it's a warning."

"You broke the wings, not me." She was quick to accuse and recall the Sunday she woke him at dawn. He promised she'd fly but the wings -- four feet long, gray feathers flecked with black eyes -- slid off her shoulders. He took off for a test flight, flinging himself out of the balcony. The wings shook, paralyzed, flapped feebly and finally tangled with each other.

"It came too late."

Cushioned by her mother's sprouting herbs and the sticky, wet earth of the garden, Martin lay flat on his back, the wings crushed beneath him. Tika stood over him, afraid her touch might hurt him. They stayed this way until he opened his eyes. Are you really an angel?

The bus arrived.