Paper Town

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
― John Banville 

If someone would ask me who my first love was, I will say it’s Rolando (out of no one better to consider) though I’m not really sure if I ever been in love. (My mother said I’m not capable of)

I met him one afternoon I was waiting for my (rebel) elder sister to finish their class officers meeting (though I doubt if there really was a meeting. With her, nobody knows) which was held (suspiciously) at one of her classmate’s house. It was beginning to get dark so I decided to come in and sit in the kitchen, and there he was; looking tall and immovable like a __ statue (a fitting nickname his peers used to tease him with) he looked at me intently (a habit he had towards anything or anyone) I ignored him. He was grown up (in my eyes) already and I was just in the 5th grade. He was in the same class with my sister. Besides, I find him creepy.

I was surprised to get a letter from him the next day. His sister (who was in the same grade as me but lower section) Joy delivered it while I was waiting in line for the flag ceremony. I put the paper in my pocket and forgot about it. Till my mother washed my uniform, found the damn thing and gave it to my father.

“You don’t believe what’s in here, do you?” He asked me. I shook my head thinking: I don’t even know what’s in there.

He shoved the letter back to me and commanded me to get rid of it. I scrolled over the words before I used it to light the fire to cook rice. It read: white even teeth… nice legs… cute smiles…and kissable lips. Everything was written in English. I wonder who really wrote the letter. I find it too sophisticated for a freshman sitting in a lower section of a barrio public high school. No chance.

I got letters from him almost every day for two years. Most of the time, I put them somewhere and forget all about it, or tore them up without reading the contents. One time, I even tore one of his letters in front of everyone while he watched. If look could kill…

But I did have lunch in their house. Joy asked me once to eat with them, her parents wanted to see me. I wonder why? I went with her for several reasons: one because I eat lunch in school anyway and mostly alone since my sister was always nowhere to be found. Two because their place was way over the big railroad bridge and I always wanted to go there but not alone, and last because of curiosity. I secretly wondered about this not bad looking, quiet, moody teen who chose to go after me instead of the more popular choices around.

Their house was dark and tall and the kitchen was upstairs. They used cutlery instead of eating with their hands and looked at me quite scandalized when I did so. I didn’t eat much because I lived in a fishpond and used to eat lots of seafood plus meat all in one meal instead of just rice, vegetables and noodles floating in tons of water.

All and all, I think I didn’t give much of a positive impression. So what? I ate my lunch on my way back sitting under some bamboo trees. Joy was patiently waiting a few feet away looking even more scandalized than her family. The only positive outcome of the whole meeting was: at least I have met the real authors of I love you, honestly love you letters: his two sisters who were in college. (Damn! I hate to be right)

If his parents didn’t like me, I didn’t notice it with his attitude. He hung around our building more than ever and everyone knew about us already. It was embarrassing. He even snatched my self-made (fashioned from cigarettes carton) baseball cap (he let one of his mates snatched it right off my head. I tried to run after him but he jumped into the muddy rice fields and I was wearing complete uniforms. My mother would kill me if…)

And return it the next day full of graffiti.  The nerve!

Emmanuel came into my life at the same time, and what a way to do it. He had beaten up one of my classmates (Gabriel) to a pulp. I found him sitting next to home economics building bleeding. The side of his nose was torn and so were his lips. When I asked our school secretary who did it she told me it was her uncle, Emmanuel.

I found the uncle sitting just outside school’s gate on a railroad wearing a red bandana. He was a complete stranger to me. Nevertheless, I marched up to him and laid my case. (Before coming out to confront the guy, I already heard the reason why he punched Gabriel. It was because he told this outsider not to destroy school’s properties; in this case, plants.)

All the time I yada-yada-ya to him, he just looked at me amusedly eyeing me up and down as if I had no single clothes on. I felt so humiliated.

The next time I saw him was in our house. Surprise, surprise, he was the leader of the gang my sister was a member of, and it properly named KATUGA (kain-tulog-gala – meaning: eat, sleep and roam around) I disliked him even more. His brother Arthur always called me Gladys Knight. I wonder why?

Emmanuel reminded me of Robin Padilla (or the other way around) he was sort of maginoong – bastos (gentlemanly vulgar) and he set his eyes on pestering me. One time, he locked me between his legs to braid my hair! And he was constantly making snide remarks. I wanted him to disappear.

Rolando, on the other hand, was getting bolder. He started to demands things from me. When I asked him for a reason, he showed me a letter (which clearly written by my sister) that I am agreeing to have a relationship with him. I was shocked and decided to avoid him. What followed was a cat and mouse chase. The once quiet and love-struck teen turned into a bonafide psycho.

I remember one time I was looking for my sister and found her in the middle of a gang war at the big railroad bridge. Students everywhere! On top of the bridge, in the water, everywhere! Everyone was fighting! I was so busy looking at the spectacle I didn’t notice the train was coming. Rolando as if by magic appeared from nowhere and pulled me to him on the side of the bridge. The footholds were merely 2by2 and hanging in the air. I had to cling to him. He tried to kiss me and when I told him I would jump he said: “Then jump.” And I did. When I came out of the water, he was there waiting for me. He successfully fended off a slap from me and held my wrist tightly.

Couple of co-gang members of my sister came to the rescue. Rolando retreated simply because they were outnumbered. I didn’t know that he belonged to my sister’s rival gang, Indian Hiders (what a name!)

That was not the end of my episode with Rolando. He began harassing me in public. The worst thing he did was ripping my uniform open just outside the school’s gate on the front of all our fellow students. I was standing there half naked in front of everybody. Very traumatic.

He only earned two weeks suspension for it after we ended up battling our case in the faculty office, where he branded me a tease and I accused him of being a psycho. It didn’t stop him though. He kicked my umbrella off my hand and broke it to pieces, and stole my school bag as well. He followed me everywhere and I was really beginning to get paranoid. I started seeing him everywhere (even when I transferred to another school in town)

To top the situation with Rolando, Emmanuel decided to abduct me. He did it while I was walking on the railroad carrying our final exam papers. They grabbed me and put me on this thing that can ride on rails; the thing has a fitting name__ skates. Not surprisingly, my sister was with them.

They put me in some barn, a kind of storage for giants’ native fans which were normally for export. He was sitting on top of the unmade palm leaves waiting for me. My sister said. “He will not harm you. He promised me.” Duh???

But he really didn’t. He just talked to me about things I didn’t understand then while kneeling in front of me and holding my hands. I must have annoyed him somehow for he dragged me afterwards to the bridge (again) together with his members (including my sister) when we reached the place, there were other people on the other side of it (The suspended structure connects two big adjoining barangays, which respectively the residence(s) of both psychos) I recognized Rolando, standing at the far end of the bridge.

Emman put me in the middle of it and pushed me gently saying:” Move! Go to him.” When I refused to walk, he told me: “Move Cherrilyn, trust me.” So I did.

Behind me, I heard him shouting: “You want her. Get her. If you can, she’s yours.” I thought what am I? Someone’s property?  But I kept walking. Trust him he said.

I saw the face of Rolando getting nearer and nearer. He was looking intently at me without blinking, eyebrows knotted together, am I scared?

Before I reached him I heard movements behind me. I looked behind and saw Emmanuel without glasses for the first time. He put me behind him and what happened next was a blur. I remember punches being thrown, bloody face of Rolando, him falling off the bridge, Emman catching an arrow on his leg, my sister exercising karate on her Indian Hiders boyfriend, I don’t even remember how we get home. I kept hearing the voice of my sister telling me not to tell things to my father. I didn’t.

All and all, things turned out alright. I lost a trustworthy medal for losing one exam paper which coincidentally belonged to my academic rival Alma. Everybody believes I did it on purpose. Lucky her, she graduated top one.

When I moved to another school in town proper, I found out that Emmanuel was attending the same establishment, he was a senior-lower section, and I was a freshman – pilot class. He acted as if he didn’t know me. I did the same. What happened between us was million years away.

The last time I saw him was in a café. I was already married to my ex. I went to the toilet and saw him standing there next to a jukebox. He had a few and started to talk to me. I tried to ignore him but he followed me to our table. I introduced him to my ex and he instantly sobered up.

I saw Rolando once much earlier. It was fiesta and I was watching an old-fashioned barrio dance and he was there. He followed me all the way home. I and my youngest sister managed to elude him and locked the door. He knocked for quite sometimes before finally giving up. I never see him again.

Then, my eldest sister came to get me to live with her. I set foot in Manila for the first time. Not exactly in the capital, somewhere nearby.

A beginning of a new episode, a different life…

Beautiful People

“I don’t think good-looking people realize how lucky they are. It’s all very well telling people to love themselves, but that’s not easy when society has skewed people’s perceptions to be so narrow and limited. If you don’t conform to society’s view of beauty, you’re invisible. It hurts, when that’s you.”