*Larita Kutsarita - n. see THE AUTHOR
*Spoonfuls - n. articles/dispatches/scribbles by Larita Kutsarita
(Background photo by Aiess Alonso)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When Angels Spoke to Margaret (revised) (fiction)


The following is the "workshopped ," final (hopefully) draft of a story that I wrote before. Although I wasn't able to beat UP Writers' Club's online Sept. 29, 11:59 pm-deadline, I'm still quite pleased with the outcome. Comments on the first draft ranged from positively nice, like, "I wasn't able to sleep afterwards!" to downright harsh, such as "What more can these 16 pages of narration offer?" Haha, both examples are from a single person/UPWC co-applicant whose opinion I obviously respect. ^^ I appreciate all the points that were raised in this story's critique. I wanted to make it shorter but for some reason, I just could not do anything about the 16 pages (they're still at sweet 16)! Anyways, I do hope that there has been an improvement. Note: This is, first and foremost, a story about friendship, and the evolution of genuine feelings that are as genuine as the growing friendship itself. It may also be about patriarchy, how it overwhelms and renders women passive. Then again, one can say that this piece also says something about religion and how it cripples people, how it becomes "the opium of the society." "When Angels" can mean a lot of things and I wish to not rid it of its "ambiguity." Meanwhile, the author shuts up and comforts her grumbling stomach, lest she lets out some spoilers. Enjoy! ^^


When Angels Spoke to Margaret


Forgive me, O Lord, for I have sinned.
Lord of Heaven and Earth, I confess to Thee.
I beseech Thee, righteous and compassionate Judge,
grant me forgiveness and grace to sin no more.

“Hannah, wake up,” a voice said.
It was Margie’s. To this, I bolted and sat on my bed. My head was still swimming as I took control of my thoughts and my senses. The first thing that I noticed was a piano playing Fϋr Elise in the background. The room was dark and my eyes were still straining to see where Margie was. She didn’t seem to be sitting on my bed, although her voice sounded as if she whispered to my ear.
“Hey, good morning,” she said. And finally, I saw her standing by her closet. It was a little dark but I could see a bit of her through the moonlight that streamed into the room. She was smiling at me, just like how she did when we first talked behind the bushes in fifth grade—a smile that looked like she just spoke to angels. I could not explain the joy that swelled within me when I saw that smile.

+++
Margie—only I called her that—was my roommate of two years and bestfriend of ten, and yet, a stranger in more ways than one, particularly during those days in college. “St. Margaret,” everybody else nicknamed her. Maybe except me. I’m not saying that she was a horrible person to me. Margaret was almost perfect—everything I wasn’t. And I loved her and I still do. Our friendship was and always will be one of the most beautiful things that ever happened to me. And I guess—no, I hope—she felt the same way. There’s really no telling how anyone could possibly understand what went on in Margaret’s mind. But I’d like to believe that I knew her. Or I wish I did. I love her. And I’d like to believe that she loved me, too.

I remember the date clearly: August 11th. A Friday. One of the busiest Fridays of that schoolyear, in fact. It’d already been half an hour after my midterms but the exam was still fresh, rattling my brain until I could almost see double. Margie and I shared room 302 in St. Rosalia Ladies’ Dormitory. I remember, I was up in that room, going over my baggage for the last time, all the while crossing out the already packed necessities in my head. Papay was coming home after four straight years in the UAE, and I was ecstatic.
The previous night, I made sure that everything had already been taken care of, that the only thing I needed to do after my 2-4:30 pm exam that Friday, that fateful August day, was to haul my bags and take the double-trip to Turbina and catch the 7 pm-bus to Naga City. By Saturday, Papay himself would already be home, too. Everything was going really well—except for me and Margie.
I caught glance of our personalized alarm clock on the bedside study table: 5:10. Behind the hands and numbers was a picture of Margie and me during our high school graduation. Both of us were grinning in our immaculate togas. I was almost unrecognizable with my makeup on, but Margie’s natural paleness, dark eyes, and dark hair shone with a radiance that she brought wherever she went. These past few weeks, though, her aura was anything but radiant.
A baby’s excited laughter resonated in the silent, little room. I almost jumped. It was my phone’s message alert tone.
Margie? Where are you? I asked inwardly, gritting my teeth, after realizing how silent the room actually was.
Hannah, take care on your way home. Favor, pakilock naman po ng cabinet ko, i think i forgot, the lock’s on my bed. Thanks. i’m sorry, i didn’t mean to hurt you. I’LL MISS YOU. May God look after you. Let His will be done, read the message, followed by a kissing smiley.
It was from Margie. She’d always texted like that, always the complete words, no shortcuts whatsoever. And she never failed to mention God. She could’ve probably been attending the 5pm Mass that very minute.
Can’t believe she forgot, I thought, smiling a little. I half-expected that it’d be longer before Margie finally got around. It’d been a week then since she spoke to me that kindly. This would have been her first attempt at a “normal” sort of communication since she knew about what was going on between Andrew and me. Her strange behavior had recently turned for the worse and even I had started to get scared of my oldest friend. After I read her message, though, I felt that I could breathe more easily. Maybe it was just a phase. My eyes searched for the cabinet’s lock, and I found it on her pillow.

I went over to Margie’s bed, hurriedly took the padlock, and pressed on the number combination: 2-5-6-8. It clicked open. I didn’t even have to ask her about it. I simply knew.
Margie and I lived in the same neighborhood since we were little girls in Naga, she in her mary janes and I in my high-cut shoes. We both went to Universidad de Santa Isabel in elementary and high school. It was an all-girls school run by nuns from the order of the Daughters of Charity. And we both passed UPCAT and ended up being college roommates in Los Baños. We were soulmates. Heck, our menstrual periods were even in synchrony. Or at least they used to be.

I hooked the padlock onto the cabinet door fastening, pushed the lever inside, and raised the pressed numbers. And then I checked its hold by pulling it twice. It held. There, that should secure Margie’s closet properly until she got back. I threw my own closet a glance even if I already knew that mine was also well locked. I took my phone and selected “Reply.”
“K, mixon accomplishd.Ü don’t sweat it, i understnd. Wish u kud go hom w/ me. Miss u mor! My sincerest condolences 2 ur family. U rili shud b dr, though—”
—but, thinking that Margie didn’t need the extra nudge, I changed my mind and cleared the unfinished sentence, replacing it with
“—Maybe I’l drop by ur place 2 pay respects 2 tita on ur behalf. God bless. C u pgbalik qng elbi. *hugs*”
I pressed “Send.”
Leaving for the weekend to spend a brief vacation at home while it was Tita Sonia’s (that was Margie’s mother, or what she had closest to a mother) wake three houses away felt like cheating. Just the thought of leaving Margie in Elbi almost killed me, but she didn’t want to go home. And perhaps it was better that she didn’t. Her stepdad, Doug, was the only family she had left and this was probably the worst thing about Tita Sonia’s death.
“People die, Hannah. It’s the only way they can actually start living with the Father.” That was what she told me before resorting to preaching about death and how chastity could have saved me from burning in hell—or something like that.
I checked the time again: 5:16. A slight drizzle began to pour and in a few moments, it grew into heavy rain.
“Oh, perfect!” I went to the windows beside my bed and hurriedly closed them. Traffic would be heavier with this kind of rain, I thought. But I was good to go. I took each and every one of my bags, determined to brave the rain. The room was still in its quiet reverie except for the rain outside, spattering on the windows, plummeting against the pavement, chanting angrily along with the wind, drowning out every sound in the little dormitory. I closed and locked the door behind me. And I wish I didn’t, even to this day.
+++

Being the only girl among my siblings, I had always been the one pupil in class who chewed gum a lot and pulled at my classmates’ hair. My two brothers always did those things and I thought that all the other kids did them most of the time, too. But I’d always get a scolding from the nuns and at 11, I already sort of earned the reputation of being a bully in the all-girls school. It didn’t help that I was two inches taller than all my other classmates, either. They called me Goliath. I hated those girls. They were always giggling and they’d shriek when they’d see a bee hovering around the room. It was annoying.

Margaret Abadilla, however, was the sister I never had. She was the frail-looking, petite girl who didn’t have any friends, and whose presence could only be felt because she always came first in the class roll call because of her surname. She was a mouse, never talked much. We were neighbors but aside from our classes, I only got to see her when she’d get out of the car and went into their white front gate, or when she went out the gate and got into the car.
In school, she always sat in the corner at the back even if she was too small, well, until she was made to leave that sad, little space of hers. We were in fifth grade then. Sister Asuncion, our Mother Superior and Basic Spanish teacher who, at 70 or so, only looked to be about 50, came in for class and pointed her trembling thin, white finger at Margie—the trembling, the bulging green veins, and wrinkles in her pale hands were the only signs that gave away her age. We actually made up stories about her being an aswang that ate little children just to keep her face youthful.
“Tu! Ven aqui!” her high-pitched voice resounded in the classroom. “Can you even see from there? Susmaryosep, come and sit in front of me, hija!” All heads turned to the little girl at the back and everyone could see Margie shrink from dread and blush in embarrassment.
She hesitantly stood and slowly made her way across the aisle to Sister Asuncion who boomed, “Date prisa!” and this made her walk briskly to the front, her head down, eyes fixed on the floor. The other girls were whispering things like “So weird,” and “Just like her crazy dad,” and “Talks to herself most of the time.”
“And you, Ms. Martinez! Get rid of that gum or I’ll personally take it from your mouth and tie it around your hair just to keep those unkempt strands in place.” Sister Asuncion was already speaking to me.
The girls let out hushed giggles as I walked to the trash bin, rolling my eyes. I guess Margie got so scared at that time that she never returned to sitting at the back anymore. She remained in front through out all our other classes. And I kept my gum when the veiled aswang wasn’t around.
The other girls made fun of Margie a lot. Like I said, she wasn’t much of a talker—well, except when she was all by herself, or when she thought she was all by herself. There were also rumors circulating about her biological father, that he’d gone mad after World War II (he was already 83 when Margie was born and he died of old age). I don’t know what her father was like since she wasn’t able to meet him herself when she was old enough to remember. But if it was true that he really was insane, I still would’ve preferred him to Doug just the same. Even then, Margie was already terrified by her stepfather.
I remember it was a hot afternoon and classes were already over. Most of the girls were picked up by their mommies, or daddies, or nannies, while the rest were left playing games on the volleyball court. I was busily winning and hitting at some girls myself. We were playing dodge ball.
“No fair! You’re a lot bigger!” one sore loser quipped. I’d already gotten her off the court four or five times and I could tell she was on the verge of tears.
“Hey, that means you should get to hit me more often!” I laughed and threw the ball at her. I missed. The girl jerkily swayed her hips to the right some milliseconds before the ball reached her.
“Ha!” she screamed and faced me, grinning from ear to ear. It was an irritating sort of transition from her sour face just seconds ago. The ball was rolling its way outside the court and the girl was already getting high fives from her teammates.
“Nice going, Goliath!” one of my teammates, a sixth-grader, shouted.
“Oh I’ll get it!” I snapped and ran across the court to fetch the ball. I think I was cursing in between chewing my gum at that time. I never missed. In the midst of my expletives—which I was careful enough not to say out loud, lest one of the nuns were passing by, especially if it was Sister Asuncion—I realized that the ball was already lost. I tried looking for it by the nearby bushes where a bench or two were hidden. That was when I heard that little voice animatedly speaking and I knew I had never heard it from anyone else.
“Look here, we can now play ball! You do know how to play ball, don’t you?” it said cheerfully. I peered through the bushes to see who it was. It was Margie and she was talking to somebody who seemed to be sitting on the stone bench, except that…there was no one there.
“Nah, I don’t think I know basketball. I may be too small, see,” she said. I narrowed my eyes and searched for another person. I was sure I heard no other voice, but she seemed to have answered a question or something. Margie tapped the ball and sent it to the ground. She tried to dribble it, but her hand wasn’t fast enough to even catch the third bounce. I chuckled. She gasped.
“Who’s there?!” she asked, more frightened than questioning.
“It’s me, Hannah!” I said, walking away from the bushes and showing myself to her. She only blinked at me.
“Margie, right?” I invented that nickname for her. I always thought she was such a funny, little thing and she was different from all those obnoxious girls who called me Goliath, and I knew I liked her even then. I beamed, spat the gum out, and walked towards her. I think she even took a step back. She always looked scared whenever people talked to her.
“It’s okay. I just came to get my ball, that’s all,” I tried to sound nice. “And don’t worry, I sometimes have imaginary friends, too—I mean, when I was eight, er, seven—no biggie!”
“They’re not imaginary.”
“Well, if you say so,” I smiled and went to pick up the ball that rolled its way beside the bushes. I glanced at the stone bench. I was certain nobody was sitting there the whole time, but I blurted out "Hey there, ‘Margie's friend!’" if only to humor her. I turned to her and noticed that her expression was now curious, not as scared as before. And then she smiled. It was a lovely kind of smile. Perhaps she was wondering why I was talking to her in the first place. Nobody in school seemed to mind odd, little Margaret.
“Hey, you wanna play?” I said, shifting the ball from one hand to the other.
“No, thanks. Uh…Dd-dada’s…going to be here…soon.” Her face looked scared again by the mention of that word, “Dada.”
“Dada? Oh, I see,” I said. “Dog”—I preferred calling him that—was one of the tallest, most formidable men I ever knew, I never wanted to look him in the eye. His beard was thick and black, and reminded me of the Bombay who rode his motorcycle around the city, past our house, every day. He owned the local meat shop and I always heard him shouting cuss words at his workers whenever Mamay brought me along to the market. He had a slight limp when he walked but he still had that dreadful aura about him. I’d totally understand if Margie was dead scared of her “Dada.”
“Hmmm…d’you even know that we live in the same subdivision?” I asked her. “Tell you what, it’s only two blocks away from here, and I usually walk home. You can join me—if you want. I’ll drop you off at your place.”
Her eyes widened, and I hurriedly said, “I mean, if your dad’s not gonna be mad or—”
“—Oh, will you?!” she exclaimed. “Please, oh—you really mean that?”
“Er, if you don’t mind, or your dad for that matter.”

That afternoon, I left those annoying girls without a ball to play dodge ball, and Margie and I walked home together—I, carrying my ball and backpack and jug, and she, trying to keep up with my pace, her bag slung over her shoulder and her lunchbox rattling in her hand. We talked about the girls we didn’t like in school. Technically, though, I did much of the talking while she did much of the nodding. Goliath and the mouse. I always thought it funny and strange, but we’ve been inseparable since then.
+++

“It’s huge!” I exclaimed, obviously elated.
“And it’s too much,” added Margie.
We just arrived in St. Rosalia and we were surveying the closet space in our new room up on the third floor. It was the very first time for both of us to have gone any farther than Bicol. Margie was cautious while I was psyched the whole time.
“That’s because you hardly brought any stuff.” I glanced at her things: one travelling bag that wasn’t even fully packed and the long, green umbrella that she always had with her since high school, and which served as her cane as much as it shielded her from the weather’s many idiosyncrasies. “You’re not taking the vow of poverty now, are you?” I teased.
“Oh, but it’s true! Isn’t it too big, Sister Pat? A person can fit in it!” Margie crossed her arms in contemplation and looked at the dorm’s nun and supervisor standing by the bed. I never liked Sister Pat much. She talked about the dorm fees a little too frequently and she always had that odd grin on her face as if she knew everything—and that everything was funny. Plus, she smelled strongly of moth balls.
“Ha! That person won’t get to breathe in there. The cabinets may have their locks but they’re already sealed, see? That’s to prevent roaches from getting in. Naphthalene balls can still come in handy, though. Don’t you just love how they smell?” she said, her lips eaten by the baring of all her teeth.
“Uh, no,” I answered.
Margie gave me a quick “Hannah!” kind of stare before saying, “That’s alright, Sister. We’ll take it from here. We’ll just go downstairs and settle our dues shortly.”
“Alright, you girls have fun then. You just give me half of the month as down, and you’ll be all set!” The old, plump nun ambled her way out of the room and stopped just outside the doorway. “Welcome home!” she said. I felt my hair stand on end.
“Well, that was rude of you,” Margie chided me after making sure that Sister Pat was already gone.
“Well, that was creepy!” I said, and we laughed.

That was a year ago. We were freshmen. I already got over my gum and she wasn’t the scared, little child that she was anymore. Or so it seemed. We were eager to take on college. Especially Margie. Being far away from Naga seemed to do her a lot of good and she knew it, too. Doug went hysterical when he knew that Margie was going to UP Los Baños but Tita Sonia was keen on sending her away. I assume that she’d always known what that Dog had been doing to her daughter, only that she never said a word. Never mind that Margie always had bruises on her neck and arms when we were in high school. Never mind that there would be whole weeks when Margie buried herself in studies and said nothing. Even I couldn’t get anything out from her. I just guessed—from the bruises and the unexplained fear that came along with Doug’s name—that something was wrong. I spent an afternoon at their place when Dog was there once. Margie was playing the piano and he was standing next to her. I didn’t like the glint in his eyes as he watched Margie play and as his burly hands caressed her neck and shoulders. We lived in a quiet neighborhood where the slightest rumor could ruin a family. And I guess, Tita Sonia—an active member of the local parish’s Christ’s Ladies of Benevolence—cared more about reputation than her daughter’s wellbeing. For her, it might have been Divine Intervention when she could finally send her daughter to UP with only a bottle of antidepressants, a Bible, and all the money she needed to keep her company.

Fortunately, St. Rosalia was everything Margie could have ever wanted. It was no different from a convent. The Chapel was only about fifty steps away, right outside the dorm. We ate in a “refectory.” We had a prayer room with a fully decked altar and four pews slightly smaller than those found in church. And the whole place was so quiet, you think you could almost hear Sister Pat grin—that little sound of flesh getting sucked behind all those yellow teeth. If only the dorm had been as quiet as usual, then maybe it wouldn’t have happened. If only it didn’t rain so hard that weekend.

“Rosalians are known to be consistent honor students, you know. That’s because of the peace that you find in this dormitory, it makes the place conducive in learning.” I’d often hear Sister Pat throw this “pitch” to the parents who checked the dorm out for their girls.
“Conducive to, Patty, it’s ‘to,’” I thought while I gave the parents a warm, “I’ll-be-kind-to-your-daughter” kind of smile. I liked everything about being a Rosalian, except for having to deal with Sister who just seemed like a hypocrite to me. She looked at us as if we were puking little cash machines. I guess she had some reason to believe that. I mean, Rosalians were usually pampered and well-off. My family was only able to afford it because Papay worked abroad.
But I did like the girls in St. Rosalia. It was like a nightly slumber party, and because the dorm was little enough, we got to bond intimately with one another. I was close with most of the girls, we knew one another’s secrets: crushes, boyfriends, the few bratty dormmates we didn’t like but pretended to like, tips on shaving our legs and whatever else there was to shave, and what have you. Margie was adored by many, but they felt like she was out of reach, like she was on a pedestal or something. Meg—that’s what they called her—never got angry, largely because she vented everything out on me, which I didn’t mind, because that meant that she trusted me more than anyone else. God was my only rival when it came to her confidence.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I knew how to pray, I was sent to nun’s places all my life and so was Margie. But Margie’s faith was like no other. She could stay in the prayer room for hours on end, she attended Mass every day at 5pm, she said the Rosary before she went to bed. It wasn’t long before everyone called her “St. Margaret.”
“And I’m like one of your followers,” I jokingly said, to which she smiled humbly.
Margie was mostly admired because of her skills on the piano. Next to the prayer room and her study table, the seat by the baby piano in the receiving area was her favorite place. The girls’ visitors listened to her play. The inquiring parents were especially captivated, probably wondering if their daughters could ever be taught to play like that. I was a fan myself. Ever since we were kids, I knew that music was Margie’s gift. I never could play an instrument to save my soul. But Margie—she changed every time she closed her eyes while her fingers danced on the black, the white, the ivory. It was like she was in a trance or something. She had mastered Fϋr Elise and it was the arrangement that I liked to hear her play the most, perhaps because it was the most familiar piece to me. I even recorded it once so she could make it her phone’s alarm tone since she always woke up at 6 am, right before sunrise.
Apparently, Margie also got herself another fan: Fr. Kevin. He regularly visited the dorm when she played or when he just felt like talking to her. Once, he even sent her a bouquet with a card that said “My dear Margaret, These pale in comparison to you. Signed, K.”
Margie told me that Fr. Kevin was only 30, but that even at such a young age, he already made it to becoming the Chapel’s parish priest. She’d always been uneasy with the opposite sex, but Fr. Kevin scared her less. Perhaps it was the robe. Margie was never really attracted to him the way that he was to her. She thought it was a pure kind of friendship and she chose to believe that the bouquet wasn’t from him, either.
“There are lots of K’s as there are lots of Margaret’s,” she claimed.
“And you’re the only Margaret here who hangs out with a Kevin,” I pointed out.
He was cute, in fact. Some Rosalians attended Sunday Mass just to see him preside over it. They sighed and giggled to his jokes when he delivered his sermons. They even said they envied St. Margaret, that it was “a match made in heaven.” Margie frowned upon this and even tried to avoid him.

One evening, I just got back from school and I found Margie in one of the bathroom cubicles, furiously scrubbing herself. She was crying quietly but her skin was red and almost bruised.
“Margie!” I shouted, running towards her.
“Don’t touch me! I’m filthy,” she sobbed. “I’ve to clean myself, Hannah.”
I then found out that that afternoon, Fr. Kevin insisted on seeing her. Margie plucked up the courage to tell him that their closeness already had people talking and that she wasn’t okay with it anymore. This was when he confessed to her that he was, in fact, in love with her. Margie would not hear any of this, so she told him that it was best if they didn’t see each other again. Margie told me how Fr. Kevin begged her to stay and when she declined his request, he grabbed her by the waist and kissed her.

“Doug was all that I saw, Hannah. It all came back to me. I…can’t forgive myself now,” she whispered. I tried to hug her, but even my touch frightened her. “I am filthy, I must do penance,” she said.

I felt sorry for Margie. I hated Fr. Kevin. I hated Dog. I hated Tita Sonia for being a mute witness to it all. And I hated myself, because I didn’t do anything to protect her, either.

The following months were the saddest, most disturbing time between Margie and me. She started spending an hour and a half when she took a bath. The other girls complained about this because they had to wait for their turn. She didn’t talk to me much except when I tried to start a conversation but she only ended up reassuring herself that she’d be “as immaculate as before” in no time. And I told her, “It doesn’t matter. You’re still the Margie I know. I’m right here, everything will be alright.” And I wish that I really was there for her and that everything would’ve been fine.
Around this time, I met a guy named Andrew. He was a classmate and I fell for him—his little quirks, the dimples on both cheeks, his good memory of names and quotes, the conversations that we’d have when we walked after our English 2 until we parted at the waiting shed as we made our respective ways to our next classes. Before I knew it, he’d already wait at the dorm’s gate before English 2 and he’d drop me off at the same place in the evening, giving me my first goodnight kisses. Things went smoothly, albeit fast, and we were already making love in such a way that was made even more special by the secrecy of the deed, the kind of secrecy that the young and restless kept until they weren’t so restless anymore. He was my first boyfriend and I guess, after having been from an all-girls school and a ladies’ dorm all my life, I was excited by the prospect of finally falling, being in, making love.
I admit, I sort of busied my life around Andrew. Somehow, I forgot about Margie and the things that she was going through. There were times when I slept over at Andrew’s place instead of the dorm. It was pretty easy. You only had to ask for overnight permits from Sister Pat and you were good to go. The nun didn’t care much about your safety outside St. Rosalia, as long as you paid on time, that was it.
Margie confronted me about this, and I told her that I knew what I was doing, that I was already an adult and could take care of myself.
“We used to have our periods together,” she said, her stare resting on the calendar I had pinned on the wall.
“You’ve been checking on my schedule?” I asked, taken aback. Margie made me nervous. Since Andrew and I began sleeping together, I’d developed the habit of monitoring my period by crossing out series of days with a red marker. I became irregular and whenever a month had passed without any sign of a period, I panicked.
“You don’t even have it now.” She took out a small piece of crumpled paper out of her pocket and showed it to me. It was the instruction sheet of the pregnancy test that I took when I panicked two days before.
“Wha—how could you go over my garbage, Margie?!” I hastily took the paper from her hand. “It’s negative, just so you know!”
“You weren’t like this before! ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians Chapter 6, Verse 13, Hannah!” Her eyes widened at me, she was trembling. She was already starting to creep me out. Silence.
“Margie, just because you were raped doesn’t mean that everyone else was, too!” That hit her. Real hard. Tears welled up in her eyes. And then, it occurred to me that despite the fact that we knew all that happened even as young women, we never really said the word. We went to a nuns’ school and we lived in a quiet neighborhood where the slightest rumor could ruin you. We knew what was going on, but we only spoke in a hidden sort of language, something that only Margie and I understood. And the moment I blurted out like that, the moment I refused to use the language that we knew, I realized, that was when I lost my Margie. Completely.
“I never said I was raped,” she replied, showing no emotion this time. I don’t know how she was able to stifle her tears but she looked at me, her face expressionless. “You’re just a whore, that’s what you are.”
+++
Margie’s behavior changed rapidly. At first, it was just strange. It all started when she stopped taking her pills and she’d fall into depression. I caught her putting stones and pebbles inside her shoes in which she walked all day and this badly bruised her feet. And then there were days when I’d find myself stopping at the door of our room because she’d sound like she was talking to someone inside. And when I got in, I found no one else apart from her. I wondered if she was just talking to herself just like when I found her behind the bushes in fifth grade.
“Nathaniel came for a visit, you just missed him.” She was smiling.
“Nathaniel?”
“One of the angels who speak to me.” And she’d go back to her textbooks and read while I stood there in amazement. Where’d my bestfriend go? I thought.

Some of our dormmates were already talking in hushed voices about the “peculiarities of St. Margaret.” One of them told me that they saw her weaving a crown of thorns that she picked from Sister Pat’s rose patch.
“Can you believe it? She wore that thing and she was bleeding the whole time while she played the piano all afternoon! The girl’s clearly gone cuckoo!” Aiza remarked as the rest of the girls listened.
“Oh, shut up,” I said. “You can’t even keep your hands off your roommate’s stuff.”
This made Aiza blush heavily and the girls disperse to their own rooms.

Things became even more distressing when I woke up to Margie’s Fϋr Elise (her alarm tone) one morning and found that she was already missing from her bed. I felt that something was up so I went to look for her. After searching the bathrooms and the receiving area downstairs, I finally found her kneeling in the prayer room, her right hand holding a fountain pen which she was furiously digging into her left palm. I froze at the sight of the black ink mixing with the blood that was spilling all over her hands. It actually took me a long time before I figured out what was happening.
“What the hell are you doing?!” I rushed and took the pen from her.
“No, Hannah! Stigmata! Haven’t you heard about it?” Her bloodshot eyes bulged at me, a crazed sort of smile spreading across her face. Margie frightened me.
“You’re…out of your mind…Margie, you—” my voice trailed off, and I only picked her up from the pew and led her to the comfort room. I washed her up and I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Later that morning, Margie told me that she’d received a call that night: Tita Sonia died of a heart attack. And Doug wanted her to go home.
When I asked her if she was alright, she replied, “People die, Hannah. It’s the only way they can actually start living with the Father.”
The smile was still there and it did not betray her statement.
+++
That weekend in August was probably my way of getting away even for a while. Andrew had noticed that something disturbed me but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about Margie—I didn’t want anyone judging her. In the province, everyone was asking me where she was, why she didn’t go home for Tita Sonia’s wake, and I just told them that she was too depressed to meet her mother’s remains. At the wake, I saw Dog sitting in a corner. He still looked frightening even if his black hair and beard were now speckled with white, and I still felt the same hatred for him.
I missed Margie a lot and even if I was able to spend time with Papay and the rest of the family, I still couldn’t wait to go back to Elbi to talk to her. It just wasn’t the same without her. Our friendship had survived through the years, and all those years of bonding and trying to understand each other, and keeping secrets about each other—all these reminded me of just how much we had shared. A part of me said that I didn’t know Margie anymore, but a greater part of me told me that I shouldn’t be scared. I knew that leaving her or forgetting all that we’d gone through would just hurt even more. I just got so used to being with her that I couldn’t even imagine life without her. No matter what went on in her mind. I love her and I’d spent a great half of my life with her, and I’d do everything to bring my Margie back. Goliath and the mouse. It’d since been that way. And it was going to be that way until we got old and I’d listen to her play Fϋr Elise for me.

I took the day trip back to Laguna, looking forward to formally reconciling with my bestfriend. Maybe I wanted to try and convince her to seek a counselor or a therapist or something. I wanted her to be alright. When I arrived in Los Baños, I noticed that much of the place was only recovering from flood.
“It rained the whole weekend,” Sister Pat told me as she handed me my room key. It dangled from a small wooden plate with the digits “302” written on it. “Welcome back,” the nun gave me her usual grin.
“Thanks,” I said half-heartedly as I wrote down the date and time of my arrival on the dorm’s logbook.
“So, when are you—”
“—S’Margie upstairs?” I cut her off. I knew she was about to ask when I was going to give my advanced payment for September.
“Well, now that you mentioned it, I haven’t seen that child around lately. I thought she was with you. Why, aren’t you neighbors? And didn’t her mother just die a week ago? How else is she going to pay? Her father hadn’t been keeping in touch—”
“—Uh, yeah, but…but she wasn’t there at the wake.”
“That’s funny, she wrote in here on the logbook that she went home to Naga last Friday. There, see?” She flipped the book to the August 11 page: “Margaret A.” and across it, under “OUT” was 4pm, and under “Date and Time expected” was “Monday, PM.” I was certain that it was her writing—the cursive letters, the soft strokes.
Perhaps she lied about going somewhere else so Sister Pat wouldn’t be suspicious, I thought. I mean, I did the same thing so I could sleep at Andrew’s. So I said to the nun, “Alright, maybe I didn’t see her at the wake or something. She’ll be back tonight, anyway. Thanks, Sister.” And I began hauling my baggage up the stairs, wondering where on earth Margie went without even telling me.

I stopped at our door and turned the key clockwise in the key hole. When it clicked, I pushed the door aside with my weight because the baggage had both of my hands occupied. What attacked my senses was telling me that the room was anything but inviting. There was a weird kind of smell that was like something was rotting. The air in the room also felt heavy and damp. I figured it was the rain the whole weekend that caused such humidity, plus, our room was also located beside the dorm’s compost pit. Perhaps the fertilizer was still freshly buried and it stunk even more because of the added moisture.
I placed all my things on the floor. Eight-hour bus rides were always tiring, no matter how much you got used to them, especially day trips. It was hard to fall asleep when the sun was high. I knelt on my bed to open the windows and let the air in. It was dusk and the last of the day’s sun freely poured into my face. I felt a bit drowsy from all that travelling. I wondered where Margie went. I wondered how I could possibly start a conversation with her. I wondered how she was. I lay myself on the bed, took my phone from my pocket, and checked my inbox. I ignored Andrew who was asking me if I’d gotten back safely. I skipped my parents’ messages as well and reviewed the last text that Margie sent me that Friday, instead.
“Hannah, take care on your way home. Favor, pakilock naman po ng cabinet ko, i think i forgot, the lock’s on my bed. Thanks. i’m sorry, i didn’t mean to hurt you. I’LL MISS YOU. May God look after you. Let His will be done.” A kissing smiley.
By this time, my eyes were already narrowing. I tried to keep awake until Margie’s return but before I knew it, I was already asleep.
+++

“Hannah, wake up,” a voice said. It was Margie’s. Fϋr Elise was playing in the background. And she was smiling, standing by the closet.
“Hey, good morning,” she said. She looked radiant under the moonlight that streamed into the room.
“Margie!” I said, leaping from my bed and running towards her, eager to throw my arms around her. But something was wrong. I couldn’t feel a thing except the cold that enveloped me the moment I touched her. I tried to move nearer—I thought I’d missed—but I couldn’t feel her. Margie seemed to be…part of the air. The stench in the room also began to get worse and the dampness was still there. I took a step back and looked at her, wanting to ask her what was going on.
She was still smiling, but then I suddenly saw that she was wearing the crown of rose thorns that wasn’t there a minute ago. She had blisters that bled on her forehead.
“Margie, you’re bleeding!”
“Hannah,” she said in a monotonous voice, “I bleed for the Lord. You should’ve believed in the angels. They spoke to me. They told me to get in there and welcome Heaven.” She motioned her right hand towards the cabinet door and she raised her left palm to reveal blood streaming from its middle. She blinked at me and blood also flowed down from her eyes across her cheeks.
I screamed. Or at least I thought I did. The Fϋr Elise was playing louder and louder, fighting off my screams. I noticed that I couldn’t move no matter how hard I tried flinging all my limbs. In a few seconds, I felt the bed beneath me. I was sweating profusely and my entire body was writhing wildly. I flung my eyes open and tried to catch my breath. Fϋr Elise was still playing and was as loud as it was in my dream. The stench was still present and it hung harshly in the damp air in the quiet, little room that Margie and I shared. But I was all alone and I realized that I was already crying. Tears kept streaming down my face as I looked at Margie’s closet and knew that the sound of Fϋr Elise was coming from in there.

Our personalized clock with our graduation photo glowed in the dark: 6:01.

I slept until morning. And I suddenly wished I never woke up. I wished I never left for the weekend without having convinced her to come with me to Tita Sonia’s funeral. I wished I never locked her closet when I read her text message asking me to do so. I wished I never tolerated her silence and her insistence on talking to entities that were not there. I wished I did something about that dirty old Dog and kept him away from Margie. And I felt that it was too late to wish for all those things.

I slowly stood from my bed and walked towards the cabinet. The stench was getting harsher and harsher, and the music was getting louder and louder. I noticed that the closet door was a bit disfigured, it looked like someone was trying to push it open—from inside. I squinted, and my head was throbbing like hell as I approached what Margie said was the way into heaven.

I touched the padlock. The steel’s coldness almost stung my fingers. I pressed onto the number combination: 2-5-6-8. Amidst the Fϋr Elise, the lock clicked open and even seemed to reverberate against the cramped walls of room 302.

4 comments:

Rob said...

lara, pwedeng mag-request ng hard copy nito? kahit maliit lang yung font. yehey. hehe. salamats :D

warped4lyf said...

at dahil close tayo, bigyan kita bukas tas pahiram nung "desap" ni lualhati ha! see yah! ^^

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was madly in love (ugh, that phrase really sucks) with somebody who only called me on the phone when he was drunk, texted me when he was sober. Ala lang, hahaha..i remember someone, very impresive!!
GOD BLESS..JV

warped4lyf said...

you know what, jv, i hope that "someone" is not you haha...good luck on love!