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Literary

Non Effugio

The floor was cold – and so was she.

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The floor was cold – and so was she.

Her eyes opened to indiscernible darkness; a pitch-black void that seemed to expand into every corner. She tried to blink – repeatedly closing and opening her eyes, but her eyelids made no difference.

There was only silence.

Yet, the ringing in her ears thundered like a dozen church bells that tolled all at once. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark expanse but her vision remained a mess of blurs. She tried to stand on her bare feet even if the soreness of her legs stung her repeatedly. Not a single cry nor whimper escaped her lips. There was only silence brought by her deep, tired breaths, and the rapid pounding of her beating heart.

Then, there was light.

And in an instant, the darkness was consumed in a dim, flickering yellow – revealing to her eyes the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. Splatters of crimson desecrated the untainted purity of the white, marble tiles and a familiar, metallic taste lingered in her tongue. She turned around to see her own image in the mirror – and she was nothing but a dishevelment of dark bruises and bleeding wounds; marks of the fists that met her cheeks which once caressed them gently. But her body felt no pain – only a deathly numbness remained; and it haunted her.

This pain was no longer new to her. This pain was no longer new to her skin.

She had already forgotten its taste eight years ago.

***

Her hands clasped a small wooden, knob – turning it ever so slowly, cautious not to let the door creak. She was blinded by the light outside the bathroom and her ears were deafened by the humming sound of oscillating fans and muffled voices. Yet, not a single thing was new to her – even the smallest details; the faint smell of crack, cheap gin and nicotine, the same television program that drowned in a noisy static – it was just the same night, she thought. Nothing new, nothing more.

Every night, she would rest herself beside the kitchen sink and smoke the same box of cigarettes he bought for her. She would stare blankly at the empty walls and get her fifth beating of the night.  But tonight, she simply held the unlit cigarette stick in the palm of her hands and marveled at the fleeting power she had; to break her habits, to run away and never look back.

But that’s foolish, she thought to herself.

Even a cigarette is worthless without consuming itself in someone’s flames. She sighed, as her thumb flicked the lighter in her right hand – the flames kissing the tip of the unlit cigarette, consuming it in embers. She placed it between her pale lips as she swallowed the white nicotine smoke and exhaled from her nostrils. The smoke lingered in the dingy kitchen, circling around the small image of the Blessed Virgin that hung from the empty walls – smoke transfigured into corrupted incense before disappearing into oblivion. She cringed at the afterthought of sacrilege before inhaling another dose of smoke and blowing it off again – she thought to herself, after all, she had long given her faith and innocence to him –

A man that rested himself just a few inches away from her on the other side of the room.

***

He took an anxious peek at the curtains before going back to blowing smoke – it was the same cigar he bought her, and its familiar smell enveloped the room. He seemed not to notice her – his hands clasped together beneath his chin, his eyes lost in rumination.

There were other men around him and to her, they almost looked the same – tainted in tattoos, bodies pierced with rings and pins, faces bruised that she wondered if she was no different than them. They also seemed to ignore her as their voices drowned in drunken slurs and dim-witted curses in drinking bottle after bottle of cheap gin.

Crash.

His fists slammed on the wooden table and empty gin bottles came tumbling down the carpet. He groaned as his hands reached beneath his leather jacket and threw in front of them a small paper bag.

“The dealer needs his money tonight.”

The men did not respond.

“We will all go to jail if you do not pay!”

He sent another fist crashing on the table that it seemed like a miracle that it did not break. But it was enough to rattle his drunken comrades; even she dropped her half-finished cigarette. The men moved and limped as they cussed in hushed whispers, emptying their pockets with bills and coins on the wooden table. He gathered the money in his hands as he bound them together with a small elastic cord. He stood up and he spoke.

“Rita.”

Her eyes stared blankly at the empty kitchen walls – lost in her lack of thought and lifeless smoking. She wondered who Rita was – the name sounded foreign to her ears. Was it his voice? Was the name not hers? She knew she had heard this name before, long ago, somewhere – buried beneath the memories that no longer served her. Rita. A name long forgotten.

Slap.

And then she remembered. She was Rita. But she was no longer Rita – he called her Anna. But to her, it did not matter anymore as his hands landed on her face once more – landing on the same side his fists did earlier and her cheeks began to bleed again.

But she felt no pain. She felt nothing.

“Take this to the room and hide it in the cabinet.”

For a moment, his cold and lifeless voice – she heard warmth and softness: it was the voice of the man she once loved. But it immediately retreated back beneath the covers of his deathly command. So did her pain – it stung her, letting his voice penetrate her, but the pain was fleeting – drowning in a sea of numbness and lifelessness. The pain was gone. She felt nothing. She only managed to nod her head as she took the small paper bag and the bundle of money he held earlier, walking away slowly.

She turned around. But he was no longer there – he had already stationed himself in the curtains once more as if waiting for an enemy to strike. And she – she tiptoed her way to her bedroom as she closed the door behind her.

***

She took every step with caution as if the floorboards are bound to break anytime. But she was careful, too, not to wake her daughter that lay in peaceful slumber on the bed across the room. Her hands fumbled with the handles of the cabinet trying not to make a sound as she opened it. She reached for the lowest compartment, opening it and placing the money and the paper bag inside the small opening along with dozen others. And for a while, she sat on the bedside, admiring and envying her daughter that lay tranquil in sleep – eyes still gleaming with innocence and dreams that echoed of happiness. It seemed so long ago that she was once the same child – but now, she is just a lifeless shell, a remnant of her old self that she lost eight years past when she was taken away. Yet, she indulged in this silence and peace – even just for a moment.

Sirens.

She woke up to the sound of police sirens breaking the silence. Her feet jolted fast as she scurried to the window blinds. Cars and trucks – a dozen, perhaps – were parked just outside their front yard as men with guns and masks poured from the vehicles, running towards them. The silence died as sirens blared through the air, with lights of red and blue flooding the walls of the bedroom. Yet, her daughter laid still and silently asleep.

Crash.

The crashing of their front door resounded through the walls of their house with the pounding of boots. She heard him scream and it almost shook her – but she laid still before quickly opening the cabinet and taking all the money and paper bags he gave her before. A faint gunshot from the other room did not matter to her anymore. She gave one last glimpse down the hallway before running into the backyard as the police barged into another room.

The midnight breeze was almost intoxicating for her smoke-filled lungs – and for a moment, she stood there, staring blankly at the sky as she held a lighter, a canister of gas, and the paper bags she took from the cabinet. She marveled at the silence and peace of the night before being jolted awake by the sound of crashing furniture and three gunshots from the house. Her feet scurried to their garden shed where she found a small garbage bin and disposed each and every paper bag.

She poured every drop of gas from the canister.

She flicked her lighter once more and pondered on her fleeting power – but her mind answered the same. The fire of the lighter kissed the garbage bin as it was engulfed in flames.

It was 12:45 a.m., and the dancing fire seemed like the blazing sun to her eyes. As it continued to burn, she wondered where the police might have taken him. But somehow, it didn’t matter to her. They would find nothing and he would return soon like he always does.

She still loved him, after all.

“Mama?”

She turned around and saw her daughter standing in the doorway, clutching in her arms a pink, stuffed bear – the one she bought for her seventh birthday. Her little fingers wiped her innocent eyes as she ran to her crying mother. She did not know she was crying – and she let her daughter wipe the tears from her eyes.

“Mama, why are you crying?”

She merely shook her head.

“Where is Papa?”

Her throat was parched and her tongue was twisted – but she managed to mutter a bare whisper.

“He’ll come back. He’ll be home soon.”

She took her daughter in her embrace as they stared into the midnight sky.

The night was cold – and so was she.

Photo by Johmar Damiles

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Literary

Ang pulso ng binibigkas

Ang wika ay susi upang makakalap ng kapangyarihan.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

Ang wika ay susi upang makakalap ng kapangyarihan. Instrumento ito sa pagkilala ng daloy, sa panliligaw ng panig, at sa paglalakbay ng isip. Ganunpaman, magkaiba ang mundo ng mga salita at ng mga sinasabi— hindi lamang tainga ang dapat na nakikinig at hindi lamang bibig ang dapat na nagsasalita.

Sa bawat pagmulat ng mata sa kasalukuyang lipunan, marami ang oportunidad para mahasa ang sariling lengguwahe. Lumitaw man ang pagkakaiba ay hindi dapat patabain ang pangamba; kapatid ng takot ang paninikil at pagkubli. Ang hatol sa pag-aagwat ng wika ay hindi kasalanan, bagkus ay ang kalayaang magmay-ari ng boses at ang patuloy na pagkatuto.

Mahapdi nang iniiwanan ng oras ang kaniyang mga ginagapangan at hindi ito tumitigil. Ang paglalakbay ng isip ukol sa patutunguhan ng Pilipinas ay matagal nang gutom sa tugon. Ilang bukang-liwayway na lamang at may wikang maglalahad ng mga salaysay ng daloy at distribusyon ng panig. SONA ang magtatanghal kung naitahi bang mainam ang mga kwento ng Pilipino sa kwento ng Pilipinas. Nakababad kaya ang wika ng may kapangyarihan sa wikang makapangyarihan? 

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Literary

Confession

It creeps up on me when I eat, when I am sitting in the living room, when I am about to sleep.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

To rest is a sin.

In the quiet moments of this new sheltered life, I have come to accept that there is a small dark corner of my mind where all the dates of the calendar are marked. From the first week of April, to the last week of May—it’s all there. It is a small dark corner. It creeps up on me when I eat, when I am sitting in the living room, when I am about to sleep.

This small dark corner reminds me everyday of what’s about to come. I explain that I’m not ready, that I need more time, that this is new territory and I haven’t taken a step further since I came here—it doesn’t listen to me. It tells me to get to work. It tells me that this is my priority, this is what matters the most in this worldwide pandemic. It forces me to listen, to do as it says, to be its puppet to be controlled with the numbers controlling my arms and legs.

But this is just a small dark corner of my mind. There are other corners. Much bigger corners.

To rest is a sin. 

I have yet to be forgiven. 

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Literary

Little Bit of Paradise

You try to breathe in the catastrophe as your thumb keeps scrolling and scrolling and scrolling until the end is reached, leaving a deep void that makes you unable to speak or act.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

You wake up to the sight of your room’s white ceiling. The summer heat makes your skin sweat immediately. Piled up papers stare at you from the corner of the room along with unpacked belongings from the dorm––ah, yes. You are home––earlier than expected but still, you succumb to this little bit of paradise.

You breathe in the familiarity of your bed sheet’s smell, let every caress of the fabric give comfort up until you check your phone.

Three hundred thirty-nine new cases. The death toll is now at 704. Recoveries at 1,842. The total is now at 10,610.

This little bit of paradise began to crumble from the inside. Like a volcano nearing to erupt. The summer heat began to burn not only the skin but also made its way into bones and flesh. Piled up papers began to yell, screaming for a continuation. Gentle caresses became tight grips with nails digging deeper into full palms.

You try to breathe in the catastrophe as your thumb keeps scrolling and scrolling and scrolling until the end is reached, leaving a deep void that makes you unable to speak or act.

You see posts from people staying up in their ivory towers while waving their flags of toxic positivity for all to see. You grit your teeth in disgust. The screen refreshes, showing heroes and people trying to survive from exhaustion and hunger.

This little bit of paradise of yours completely crumbles, leaving traces of guilt, fear,  and anger, all in one.

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