The Girl in the Mirror

There are eyes on your neck. You feel it. It comes from three pews behind you, and a couple of seats to your left.

You turn your head slightly. It is just enough to catch a glimpse of a balding man with drooping, sleepy eyes a row behind you, his head nodding to the sermon blanketing the church. Behind him, a mother and her dark red lips is crooning to a baby clinging to her shoulder, with her arm clad with gold bangles holding him in place. Finally, behind her, there is a familiar face belonging to a boy your age, in a dark blue polo, staring at you. You turn around and catch his eyes. He smiles, abashed, and looks away.

What does he see, anyway? A friend. A tan girl, with long hair, pretty eyes – you’ve heard him say that to a mutual friend once, after the sermon in the gardens by the ancient fountain. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A floral dress every Sunday. A shy girl with always a smile to spare, but rarely a story to tell. You’ve heard the teasing and the jokes and felt the staring and the attention. From him, there was always a hand offered and oftentimes, a compliment or two.

There is a sharp pinch to your thigh, and you jump. You belatedly realize you’ve been staring off to the side, head still turned in the same direction, eyes transfixed on the floor. You turn your face to the front, but not before catching a whiff of jasmine perfume and a view of cherry red lips turned down in a scowl on a woman’s face bearing likeness to yours.

What does she see?

A younger her, perhaps. That’s what everybody in the family says, even though she herself couldn’t see her face on her mother’s features, with all of her high cheekbones and arched brows. Her face was softer and rounder, but maybe that would be taken away by age.

Soft. Her mother could see her that way. A sensitive, dazed, impractical young girl, who stayed in the corner in any sort of gathering (instead of milling around and shaking everybody’s hands like her mother), and who liked to stay out on the balcony, the mosquitoes feasting on her legs, to stare out at a fogged-up view of the city.

“You better listen,” your mother mutters, her lips barely moving.

You try. You can’t. The priest seems to look at everyone in the pews, but you know it can’t be so. He sweeps his hands and gazes at the audience to his left, right and center.

If his eyes would rest upon you, what would he see? Nothing more than a teenage girl as part of the 11 AM session.

If the woman sitting beside you looked at you, what would she see? A fellow church-goer. Someone younger. Someone in a dress. Someone with a bracelet on her wrist instead of pearls in her ears. Take a look at the woman beside the young girl, and she would see a daughter.

Time passes. An hour later, and you and your mother follow the crowd out. You excuse yourself to the bathroom.

You follow the path, open the door and face the mirror.

What do you see?

A girl. Long hair to her waist. A floral dress. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A daughter.

A girl in the church bathroom. Long hair she’s been itching to cut for months, except it seems such a waste. A floral dress she spilled scalding coffee on in her bedroom a week before, with the silver bracelet hiding the tiniest portion of the mark of the burn. A daughter, an only child, in fact, but not a prized one.

A girl. A shrinking violet with big dreams. Someone who desires too many things. Someone kind – yes, you could see that.

“I see you,” you say to the mirror. “Can you see me?”

The girl in the mirror nods.


Photo credit: Collaboration of Kensuke Koike aka 小池健輔 (Japanese, b. 1980, Nagoya, Japan) & Thomas Sauvin aka Beijing Silvermine aka 北京银矿 (French, b. 1983, Paris, France, based Beijing, China) – No More No Less  Photo Collages


Of sudden disappearances:

Consider change. Consider time. Stare blankly at the fresh green leaves of the neighbor’s tree and hear her bent over scraping at dried wilted leaves on the ground, swept away to lie with crushed cans and torn plastic sachets; disposable items used up to be thrown to waste. 

Look out. See the skyscrapers – you would never have recognized that place in my time, a voice chimes in from your mind – and at the heavy gray clouds surrounding it. Feel the last few remnants of warmth on your skin fade as the sun hides and a wind picks up, making you shiver. 

Consider the last time you were warm from the touch of another. The memory comes, but it is not concretely recalled: the places and faces seems to be a blur, and however slight, the feeling of fingertips sliding down your arm to intertwine with your hand is there. It is there. 

Consider longing. Consider absence. Walk to the door and open it; shout over your shoulder you have an errand to run and know that they will barely look up from the television. But with no warning will come knitted eyebrows and questions of where have you been, and why didn’t you tell us? You feel the first drops of rain on your skin. You wish you could ask the same of the shadows. You wish you could ask the same of the memories. The drops of rain seem to seep into your bones.

Lose yourself into the handful of people with neon umbrellas and rain boots. Stare after the children running after one another and splashing into puddles, laughing even as the rain trickles down their face. Wonder if they will remember these moments as they grow into someone they never would have expected; if they would recall merely the exhilaration or even the heavy breathing, the laughter, the dirt that sticks to their legs and their clothes sticking to their skin. Wonder what they would say if you tell them you were once a child, too; you once played in the rain; as your parents did in this same place, on the same pavements they skinned their knees and rode bicycles on. The pavements are indifferent to what memories they retain; to whose tracks have been blazed onto them; to the stories of those who followed their trails. You aren’t. You chase after memories. You long to trap the moments you’ve lived in the palms of your hands. You could tell them over and over until it is impossible to forget.

Shift your eyes to the crowd again. Feel the warmth of memory on your skin; see a familiar profile that disappears within the sea of people and leaves you blinking away the drops of rain from your eyelashes, and think that you may have just tricked yourself. You feel the warmth fade away.

Consider change. Consider time. With a last look over your shoulder, you turn away, back to the roads that’ll lead you home. You decide to buy merienda just in case they ask what you went out for. Look up, and see the sun slowly crawling back out of its hiding space. 

Where have you been? Why didn’t you tell us? 

You feel warm again.

The Moon 

She is the sole witness to the whispers in the dark,
The fire of guns, the shadows and silhouettes Hidden from sight – growing 
Larger, advancing on a victim –
And the blood that stains the streets
That reeks to the heavens;
She is the sole witness to the cries of children
To the wail of a mother, to 
The panicked scream as a door is struck 
Down; bodies clad in blue sworn to
Secure the safety of the masses after 
Their lives, heroes of a society
Broken, never to be mistaken; to the 
Sick and innocent dead by the hand of 
Their own people, their lives reduced
To a statistic and scorned as the
Disease that rots away civilization, 
Better off dead for progress, the 
Hypocritical progress that is supposed 
To grow but kills and is lost in the
Lines blurred between justice
And ethics and the rights of every 
Human being turned into a punchline instead of a priority and
By God, she watches every night,
She does, she counts the minutes till
Dawn, she wishes the clouds were 
Thicker to hide her,
To stop her from giving them light 
That aids them – but in darkness too in her Absence they are all the more aided,
And the glowing streetlamps of the
Country bathing the pavements in orange
Are brighter than she is – and she 
She desires,
For the sun
To rise.

VICE: Duterte’s Drug War Has Now Killed 54 Children

What went wrong with bloody Mandaluyong shootout?


The house was always dead silent.

No, not in the way one might imagine. There were the steady thuds of footsteps up and down the stairs, the noise of a shoe sliding against the floor, the clicks of doors closing, the sizzling sound of cooking oil touching a hot pan – all of these daily, mundane sounds of the typical household existed. What was lacking were voices: filling the air, high-pitched in laughter, overlapping the other word after word.

The day comes. The night passes. The house is still.

They talk with their eyes: with a bat of an eyelid, a look through eyelashes, and a swift glance. They talk with their lips: a frown, pursed and tight; a slight smile lifting aged cheeks and brightening the eyes. They talk with the briefest of nods and the slightest touch. They talk through the silence; with the silence.

How I wish it was enough. I wish it was enough to fill the empty chair at the head of the kitchen table, the clothes and shoes never to be used again, the missing indent of the body on the bed, and the fading scent of cologne – musk, if you will – that still lingered in the air.

The day comes. The night passes.

The house is still.

In response to the daily prompt: Conversation.


City Lights 

Staring out at the city laid out below him, he wondered why he was so masochistic in spending his nights here. After all, the view just made him remember her.

Which was ironic. She hated the city. She never lost a chance to rant about it, either. She frowned the first thirty minutes she walks into a mall on weekends, and muttered curses under her breath when stuck in traffic. Then later, she’d complain about the crowd and the heat and the noise. Her voice would reach a pitch of such shrill indignation he’d fight back a grimace of pain – knowing she’d start on him if he so much let himself wince – and vowed, over and over, to live in the rural areas when she could. Somewhere isolated, she would specify, scowling at the long line of cars in front of her.
This was a girl who practically lived in cafés and 24-hour fastfood chains when she was bored. He had to hold back a smile.
“I mean, look at this,” she would say, gesturing all around her. “Wouldn’t you rather be in a clean, quiet place? Somewhere you can actually relax. Somewhere you can look up the skies and see stars, and not air pollution.”
Most of the time he’d just shrug in response. She took that as the cue to sigh in exasperation and give up on the subject – but not before romanticizing the possibility of moving right there and then.
Until one time, when he quipped, “The city’s pretty relaxing,” in an off-hand voice. She looked over at him with disbelief written all over her face. He would, too, to be honest. He couldn’t remember the last time he disagreed with her.
“Oh, please -”
“No, I’m serious,” he interrupted, thoroughly enjoying the way she wrinkled her nose at him in annoyance. “It’s not relaxing to be in it, I suppose, but it’s relaxing to see the city. Rushing cars. Lights. Skyscrapers.”
She shook her head and snorted. “Whatever. I’m not even going to bother.”
“Come on,” he said, laughing a little. “I’ll show you tonight. You’ll see.”
She rolled her eyes before fluttering them at him. “See how wrong you are?” she asked in a voice that would’ve been sweet if it wasn’t so out of character. It sounded threatening.
He ignored her question and raised his eyebrows, offering, “We’ve got a rooftop at our apartment.”
She settled back into her seat as the light in front of them turned green. “Why are you so persistent?”
A yes. He shrugged and smiled. “Just trying for a change.”
That night, he led her up series of staircases, dragging his guitar with him. She had looked at it in curiosity when he brought it out, but he didn’t bother to explain. He switched the guitar to his left hand as he reached for the keys to the door of the rooftop with his right one. He had borrowed them from the caretaker, who handed it to him without question. Probably because it was too damn late in the night for him to bother and ask why.
She walked a step behind him, her arms crossed. She had taken off her makeup and was in a tank top and pajamas, her hair still wet from the shower. He approached the little dining table set by the corner of the balcony to put his guitar down before beckoning her over. She was still scowling as she took his hand. He pulled her beside him, his arm going around her shoulders, before whispering, “Look.”
“I already am,” she whispered back, looking annoyed. He smiled and gave her a nudge, ignoring the way his heart seemed to beat faster. The view was eerie, and could almost be considered surreal. The dark outlines; the glow of lights. The quiet rush of the cars on dimly lit roads.
“You always say you’d rather be in a place where you could look at the stars,” he started, breaking the silence. “But if you think about it, cityscapes gets you under the same spell. The contrast of the glowing lights against the dark sky. The depth. There’s the possibility of life in outer space you can wonder about when you look up, but there’s the realization of the thousands of lives going on around you here. A thousand possibilities in each of them on what could be happening.”
She didn’t say anything for a few moments. Then she sighed, leaning against him. “Very profound of you.”
The closest he would ever get to her agreeing. He chuckled. “I try.”
Silence overcame them. He looked down at her, and he wished he was profound and brave enough to say what he really wanted to; what worried him in the years that had passed that he contradicted her in one of her passing moments of frustration.
Years. Of her, of him, of them – coexistent. Every now and then there was the irritation of going through the same argument; the tiredness of the same routine. Even the way he held her now was overly familiar, and as much as he hated it, there was the urge to release her and step back – even if she was practically putting all her weight against him. She was more than if not as easily bored as him, and he knew she felt the same way at times. Her venting was nothing new, he supposed, but goddamn if it wasn’t getting more frequent. And it always ended up in wanting something new; in being somewhere else. He couldn’t comfort her like he used to. When she wasn’t upset about something, they spent more and more time in silence.
He was caught up in paranoia. Maybe he was interpreting her the wrong way, but this was him showing her what he wanted to say: there was still beauty and love in them, in what has always been, and hopefully what will always be. He could still see it. And inside, he was practically begging her for her to reassure him that she could still see it, too.
He released her, and she straightened herself, looking over at him. He smiled at her as he reached for his guitar and leaned against the table.
“Besides,” he said, “what use do I have for stars when I could just look in your eyes?”
She grinned, shaking her head. It was an old line he started back in when they were in high school. He was a sucker for composing poems and songs back then, and he made that line the basis for one of his first compositions. For her.
He started to strum.
The way he did now, sitting on one of the chairs of the same table that he had leaned against two years ago.
He shook his head, strumming to the same notes of the same song. The pain of losing her had turned into a dull ache, but it was there nevertheless.
He stared out into the city laid out before him, the glowing lights blurring together. A thousand lives. A thousand possibilities in each.
A thousand possibilities in him. A thousand possibilities in her. A thousand of possibilities for the two them.
Maybe it wasn’t in the odds. Maybe it was just inevitable.
It was all over


His fingers gripped the edge of the small wooden chair he was sitting on, his forehead breaking out into cold sweat. He let his eyes close, trying to calm himself down. The box that he was in felt like it was closing in around him. He was suffocating, wanting to gasp for air, but the dead weight of his heart was pounding against his chest painfully – every shallow breath hurt like a knife to his chest; every shallow breath a hurtful reminder.

How long had it been? He had lost track of the seconds that ticked by, loud and clear, echoing behind him. He had never dared to look. It seemed like he couldn’t bear to move. He shivered and straightened. His eyes opened slowly as he let out a small breath. Each inhale felt like a stab in his chest.

He nearly shut his eyes again. He forced them open, forced them to glare right back at the accusing stares, at the fearful, bloodied faces, all of their mouths curled into the same mocking sneer, their fingers pointed with their hands down, their mouths closed with their voices screaming, sobbing – how dare you? How could you? The noise flooded his ears, the taunts and the snarls giving way to pleading cries. They were running and they were sitting, and then they were still, their silence thundering; deafening.

He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know what came over him. He didn’t know anything, now, except that he was guilty, and that he deserved to wallow in it, after he watched in idle fascination at how the blood was smeared on his hands and shirt and chest – 

The gavel struck as he struggled to breathe through another stab of pain. When he looked up, he beared down upon himself, bloodied cheeks and frowning lips; the accusation clear in the mingled look of fear and disgust etched into his face. There were bits of gravel stuck on his chin, and he remembered the burning pain in his arms. He remembered the smell of earth, the contrast of her pale skin against the dark soil – the paradoxical contrast, he thought, of life and death. He had smiled to himself, appreciating the delicate grace of her lithe body against the uneven ground, before retching to his side.

How could you? the walls wailed, flickering in bright yellow and dark brown and green, and he wailed along with them, sobbing and laughing, one hand stuck to cold glass and the other over his eyes, avoiding himself, avoiding accusation, avoiding guilt – sinking down to a kneel, hands slipping, intertwining, begging for absolution.

The inevitability of reality might crash down on us, my doubts whisper. We’ll never make it. Not then. Not ever.

But every time your fingers intertwine with mine I know we’ll try. We’ll hold out. We’d stand a chance. Even with the odds against us, we will. And maybe then we’d make it; create our own reality to crash into – one with our own fairy tale in it.