From behind bars!


By Jing Villamil


SWIMMING back and diving deep ìnto her neurons she found – the exact moment she became a prisoner to a crime that is no crime.

It was the day when, as a wee three-year old, Nanay asked her while she was running her prodding fingers through her pre-school shoes: “are you still okay with your shoes, anak? Are these your toes curling inside? Do they hurt when I press hard like this?”

It was the day she became too old for her years. She shook her pig-tails slowly at first, then vigorously when she saw Nanay worry her brows then lose focus of her eyes as she mentally snipped-off the least necessary from her list of truly necessary shopping items, to somehow come up with the money for a sturdy pair of made-in-Marikina shoes.

The child in her longed to say: “yes, Nay, my toes have all gone a-curling inside my shoes so long ago I forgot exactly when. In fact, not only do my toes curl; both my feet had bunched-up like our neighbor, the ancient Chinese lady with her so-tight foot wraps. And haven’t you noticed yet, Nay? Not only are these shoes shrinking fast; the waist of my dress are shoved high up to my bust! And can’t you see my undies peeking out from under my skirt? Have you gone blind or something?” After blurting out the words, she also longed, for emphasis, to have rolled up the balls of her eyes.

But, of course, she couldn’t, she didn’t speak the words nor did she roll up the eyes. She was only three. Nanay would have screamed out her tonsils and entire larynx, would have popped right out of her skin, would have scrambled out the house gooey and bloody on all four limbs. To the church, to St. Jude, praying begging for a trade-in: a cute dumb baby in exchange for this horrible terrible child.

She couldn’t, she didn’t speak the words nor did she roll up the eyes. She shook her pigtails slowly then vigorously. She avoided Nanay’s eyes; she looked down. She stopped Nanay”s fingers from further exploring the curled toes, the shrunken shoes. She thumbed-up her plump little fist. “Ham hokey; yo hokey thoo?” she lisped.

Ahhh, she inhaled exhaled. So that was how she started choosing word that pleases assures reassures calms comforts soothes assuages. Instead of the true one that startles shocks alarms!

Roll the years fast forward. She and her husband were both word-warblers, image webbers. They were experts in webbing words together – words to please, assure, reassure, calm, comfort, sooth, assuage. She was, though, the specialist; she was the early learner. She wrote from her heart, an inspired maker of good kings/queens from where the skies were still clear from smokes, crooks and viruses.

The couple saw each other only on weekends or every other. He worked in the city where inevitably he took on the shady colors of his masters.

She had a suspicion her slim, fair-skinned, too handsome husband was helping himself freely to her savings each time he went back to the city. She opened his wallet while he was in the bath. And found its thickness an answer by itself. He never brought home his earnings; he teased her, what for? She was earning more. But what curled the straight from her hair was this: a way past-due pawnshop claim of her thick gold college ring. All the time, she thought she lost it. She never would pawn it. It was a Santi and at the time, was well-worth its gram and gem.

She thumped her forehead with her palm. Then she walked out – from him, from their less-than-a-year marriage – with nary a word. Fellow prisoners of words, would you have done the same?

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