“Everyone knows she gets possessed by spirits.”
One of the staff of the trial court of San Francisco, Bondoc Peninsula whispered this to the young lawyer, while she walked towards the chambers of the judge. He asked her to help mediate a particular “delicate” dispute between two women in their late twenties, without necessary lawyering for either side. The story unfolded quickly enough. Woman A allegedly went to Woman B to get healing for an undisclosed illness. Woman B then allegedly went into some sort of a trance and screamed at Woman A, saying she was a woman of loose morals and that her promiscuity will be her downfall. In a voice that allegedly seemed to have come from the belly of the earth, Woman B allegedly ordered Woman A to strip to her underwear and dance as an act of contrition for the sins of her flesh.
Woman A was recounting the story in tears. Woman B was seated quietly, smiling a vacant kind of creepy smile. We wanted to work out a compromise to avoid protracted and costly litigation. Then Woman A leapt to her feet and screamed that the only compromise acceptable to her was if Woman B stripped right there in the judge’s chambers, dance and kneel before her to ask for forgiveness.
Woman B laughed. A long, hollow laugh.
The young female lawyer suddenly realized that she very very badly needed a cigarette.
* * *
It was as vivid a dream as dreams could possibly get. No hazy watercolored pictures here. She dreamt she was pregnant and giving birth. Even the labor contractions felt real. She even remembered the name she wanted to call the baby in the dream. Vincent Pio. Vincent, she only knew of one person with that name. A close gay friend who writes soulful prose. “Pio” continues to be a mystery. When, in her dream, the baby came out, she lifted the umbilical cord to her mouth and cut it off with her teeth. Meanly and savagely, as though impatient to have the baby severed from her body.
In no part of the dream was she crying but when she woke up in the morning, she saw her pillow dark with the ink of her tears.
* * *
This was on the way back to Manila from Quezon. The girl with the ratty law school t-shirt and frayed jeans (the lawyer’s “costume” was now a rumpled ball in her backpack) was seated alone in a bus seat and soon found herself drifting off to sleep. She woke up with a start when she felt someone touch her hand.
She looked at the person beside her, expecting some sweaty old loser with nothing to lose. It was a child of about fourteen years old, plump and pink. The eyes were a giveaway. She had Down’s Syndrome. Her mom was seated two seats away with a smaller sister. Then the child screamed in fright, pointing to the television set the bus had on. They were showing “Pan’s Labyrinth” (yay, Jac Liner!) and there was a scary character with three eyes. The older girl touched the younger girl on the forehead and stroked her hair. She had learned to do this a few years back, at the children’s cancer ward of a hospital she used to volunteer for. Then she took a bag of lanzones from her backpack and shared it with the younger girl, who also took an orange from her small paper bag and shared it as well.
They ate in companionable silence, watching a fairy tale about an orphan child who was really a princess, a cruel Captain, and beasts both mythical and real.
* * *
She was in Sarah’s, waiting alone for someone. He texted that he was walking to Sarah’s from his apartment in Hardin ng mga Rosas. She had half-hoped he would take longer. The intellectual conversations and spirited debates were always lively and wonderful, but she was enjoying the alone-time she didn’t get very often. Then a guy walked over. Familiar face, but she could not place it.
“Condoms and hearts and other things that break.”
“Pardon me?” she said. Normally she would have been surprised and wary. But that was Sarah’s, where magic realism meets krus na ligas. Moreover, there was something in that line that triggered a distant memory.
“That line. It’s yours. From a poem you wrote for workshop. Poetry class under Wendell Capili. We were classmates. I remember that line.”
She smiled. “After eight years, it now sounds cheesy.”
“It wasn’t your best, but it was the line I remembered the most. I remembered it after eight years. And that means it’s worth at least a beer.”
And he went to the counter, got a a cold bottle of San Mig Light for me, and put it on my table.
“Still write?” he asked.
“No. I went to law school.”
And then he disappeared into the night, into a haze of nicotine smoke, alcohol burps, forgotten poetries and unspoken regrets.