There was a fire that day, refusing to be put out. She did not know about it until, on her bus ride home, she noticed that the highway was unusually empty — even of the humdrum noises of jeepney drivers begging for passengers in that cadenced, repetitive chanting of theirs, however desperate it may seem to an onlooker; void of movement and sound, even of buses announcing propriety of the road through the incessant sounding of horns. The sky was overcast, a shame for what was almost a perfect Saturday, but she could not tell where the gray clouds of smoke and genuine clouds met and separated.
She was seated on the last row, by the window. This has always been her favorite spot, despite warnings from her mother that this allows muggers to literally corner her.
“They won’t get anything”, she would respond, always with a smirk. “Mom, you know I’d fight back.”
Her mother, forty-two, a vision even after six children and two annulments, would just stare at her blankly, probably wondering if this person really came from her uterus. “You say that now. But I’m telling you, when it happens, all your bravado would dissipate.”
“You’d be glued to the ground, unable to do anything — even the most basic act of processing what is happening to you. Before you know it, it has happened already, and you won’t have anything left but yourself.”
Her mother has always had the flair for the dramatics. She thought of this conversation that afternoon even if the bus she caught somewhere in Cubao was virtually empty, except for a group of boisterous nursing students probably headed to the university near her stop. Nothing bad could happen, she thought, as if to console herself. From what, she did not know.
Later that evening, she wordlessly watched the evening news with her mother who stared at the television screen as if it were a green rock from outer space. Grand Central Mall housed countless memories, serving as the second home of every single student who went to the prominent Catholic girls’ school nearby. As they sat there watching a clip of the mall’s last few moments, its surrender to its imminent end despite the heroic efforts of the firefighters and the overwhelming nostalgia of all those who ever set foot in it, her mother started uttering undecipherable phrases, not once showing the intention of constructing a proper sentence. “First date“, her mom was saying now, shaking her head in disbelief.
As for Tori, she was lost in reverie. The monotonous mumbling of the newscaster lulled her into daydreaming. She remembered selling an old phone there, once, but that was it. What was to be said of her apathy? How can something that means so much to one mean so little — or perhaps, absolutely nothing — to another?
She uttered some lousy excuse to her mom and headed upstairs to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her and then flinging herself onto her bed, feeling the softness of her sheets engulf her very being. Outside, the world endured the evening. It was only seven o’clock, but aside from the occasional sound of cars speeding by, there was only the distinct simplicity of complete and utter silence.
On most nights, she liked the peace — she would only think about this sense of being cut off from the world and her feet would take on a life of their own, prodding her to get home at once. Right now, though, she decided the emptiness was too much. Something had to be done. Much more, he had a right to know.
Period’s delayed, she hurriedly typed, so I went to Quiapo today and had the problem fixed. She pressed send before she could even think about what she is doing. Years later, she would only remember this moment in perfect detail. For, even if it lasted only a few seconds, a gripping sense of certainty enveloped her, almost frightening her into submission to its will.
She is suddenly taken aback by the sound of the electric fan blade clashing against its metal guard, giving back to noise its rightful space. She stood up to inspect the contraption, but before she could even get off her bed, her cellular phone lit up and, with the lightning reflex prodding every member of her generation to reach for their mobiles as if on cue when it beeps, she finally realized what she has done, and what looked like a response to it. Or, the lack of.
“Yeah“, in verbatim. Proper punctuation was not even practiced, and to her at least, yeah has always sounded like a sigh (of relief, perhaps?), not an indication of a thought made concrete through a word. Now the deafening silence reverberated in her ears, vibrating and bouncing off the walls.
She is sure she would have spared a tear or two, if only, as if by the generosity of luck or fate, or perhaps the human capacity to sense irregularities in one’s immediate environment, she smelled something burning downstairs.
Grabbing only a hooded jacket, she rushed down to find the kitchen ablaze, the flames slowly but inevitably spreading through the halls. She found her mom frozen solid on the living room couch, just as she had left her, just staring at the tragedy unfolding on the home she had worked endless nights for to build from scratch after Tori’s father left them. The scene wasn’t so different from the clips they were watching earlier. The irony of what is happening works itself into consciousness, and she almost laughed.
She grabbed her mom by the arm, tugging at her sleeves like a child. “Mommy, let’s go.” Her mother just shook her head, but although hesitant, started to take some steps forward, at loss for words for the first time in a long time.
Before you know what is happening, it has happened already. Now it was her turn to shake her head in disbelief. You won’t have anything left but yourself.
Upon passing the gate almost entirely eaten up by rust, her mother looked back incredulously at the row of fire trucks parked in her front yard, as if it was only a stroke of circumstance that led her in the middle of this commotion. She took one last look at her home slowly being destroyed from within, and then collapsed. A team of paramedics carried her body into an ambulance. All Tori could think of was the fact that, at least, her mother would get the rest she needs. Meanwhile, she does not even dare think about tomorrow.
What is it about reality that is both oppressive by virtue of its artlessness and dreamlike at the same unfortunate time? If anything, nothing was as real to her in that moment but her cold indifference. Maybe things would sink in when they are compartmentalized, laid to rest by the blessing of memory.
She walked to a deserted waiting shed a few blocks away from her home, or what’s left of it. She whipped out a stick from the half-empty box of Marlboro Red’s she forgot she had tucked inside her hoodie’s pocket and lit it up, remarking at its transience. Turned into smoke, she watched as it is slowly consumed by the light and warmth of its own flame, the sparks conquering great heights, and then surrendering to the vastness of space, until nothing remains of it. Not even ashes.
somewhat revised. and oh, going to start putting labels on posts.