Thursday, February 5, 2009

LILA'S WORST FEAR: a flash fiction


When friends begin to talk of fears, Lila immediately squirms. It’s either “I’m afraid of the dark”, or claustrophobia, or fear of riding ferriswheels or roller-coasters.

When it’s Lila’s turn, her face becomes white. She ponders telling them about that day in the grocery, but decides to tell them her number two fear instead—clowns, but this is altogether another story.

Right now, she drinks cold water with the hope of washing away the jitters.


The first thing she remembers is the grocery cart. Her right foot on the cart, pushing her way forward. It was like a scooter, plus the groceries. She pushed and pedaled, pushed and pedaled, and heard nothing but the soft scrape of wheels, echoing inside rows and rows of foodstuff.

Lila woke up that day and as early as twelve years, she had already developed a ritual. With her pajamas on, she posed in front of a full length mirror, breathed in, tucked her stomach in and her chest out. She touched her breasts softly, imagined them getting bigger by the second. Imagined wearing prettier dresses with her soft curves, just like her Ate Linda, whom she thought the whole world of. She just has to be patient, her Ate Linda said, soon you’re going to be pretty, very pretty, maybe prettier than me. Lila smiled, her dimples showing.

But frowned when her mother barged in her room and nagged her to take a bath and dress up. “Lila, honey, stop fiddling with your chest. We’re going to the grocery.” Lila was irritated that moment and then excited the next. After all, she can wear her favorite red frock, laced with white ruffles. It fit her perfectly, plus the round cut highlighted her breasts. She cheered up, thinking of the possibility of her mom buying Lila her first bra.

She pushed and pedaled, pushed and pedaled. As usual, Lila had her own cart, a small one. Her mom’s was filled with the usual stuff- meat, vegetables, toiletries and whatnot. But Lila’s was the cart with the real goods—junk food, sweets, cereals.

The wheels scraping echoed again and again in her mind. It echoed inside the dingy warehouse grocery. It bounced through the large boxes near the ceiling, then hit the cold, gray floor. Lila remembers now, it was a week day and the grocery was almost empty, except for one old couple, a few retirees and a few moms here and there. She was a strange little, bright light inside the sad warehouse. She was flushed with too much exercise from playing with her cart.

“Lila, dear, I’m almost finished here. We forgot your favorite. Go get yourself your Fruit Loops. Just the small one ha. Since you’re the only one eating that,” Lila’s mother said, while comparing prizes of two detergent bars.

Lila pushed and pedaled and passed rows and rows of groceries. She knew which row the cereal was. But just for fun, she took a joy ride. She sped her way into the canned goods and noodles section, circled to the bread and eggs row, zoomed past the Frozen Delights, and finally took the right turn and stopped in the Cereals and Milk section.

Lila grabbed her usual- Fruit Loops and threw the box in her cart. Lila stared closely at the other brands and flavors. Perhaps, she ought to try something new, she thought. Honey Stars, Chocolate Crispies—her eyes stopped to look at the strawberry puffs. Lila swallowed, suddenly very hungry. LIla looked to her left and right. She thought she saw a flash of red at the fronting row, but shrugged the thought away and began to tear at the cereal’s silver bag. She tasted one puff, then grabbed more and chewed hungrily.

Lila jumped suddenly as a hand came from nowhere and pulled her blouse. Strawberry puffs strewed the floor. A tall, thin man with reddish eyes and a red shirt stared at her angrily—“Bata, anong ginagawa mo? Isusumbong kita! Makukulong ka! Putangina kang bata ka!” Lila immediately began to weep—“huwag po, please, huwag niyo kong sumbong.” Her tears streamed down her cheeks, down to her lips, gleaming with the strawberry puff’s crumbs.

Suddenly, the man grabbed Lila’s breasts and squeezed whatever life or juice he can get from it. Lila froze, the man froze and closed his eyes. Touched his penis with his right hand, getting harder by the second. Lila’s world was suddenly silent. She was unaware of her cries, just heard the soft whirring of the store’s air-conditioning. She stared at the man with the reddish eyes, opening and closing them, biting his lips and looking happy in a way she couldn’t understand. Lila closed her eyes just then, hoping it was just a stupid dream. But it wasn’t darkness she saw, like most nightmares you came from, but a glaring red light, red eyes, red shirt, red dress, red puffs.

When he was finished, he leaned closely and whispered—“Huwag kang magsusumbong, papatayin kita, pati magulang mo.”

Two weeks after, Lila’s mother brought her a plastic bag from a department store. Inside was a white, small baby bra.

“O, honey, why aren’t you happy,” Lila’s mother said, puzzled at her daughter’s glum expression.

That night Lila tucked the bra inside the deepest outskirts of her cabinet.

She breathed in, breathed out and touched the seemingly flat breasts on her shirt. Realizing she couldn’t breathe well, Lila undressed her shirt, undressed a long piece of white cloth on her chest, until she could breathe easy. It’s too tight, she thought. Then rolled the cloth back on her chest again.

That night, she dreamt of grocery carts wheeling around on their own inside a dark, empty warehouse. She hugged her chest tight for comfort.


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