Saturday, June 27, 2009

Somewhat Reddish, Rough on the Edges

Somewhat Reddish, Rough on the Edges
(word polaroids by Maria Alina Co)
(aimless writing collection)

Recently, for some unknown reason, a vision of a red table popped like a bubble inside my head.

It was somewhat like looking at a familiar face beaming at you in the middle of a crowd. You squint and stare, but couldn’t quite place the face. Or if you have one of those memory jars, where all sorts of memory things are cramped inside, swimming, waiting to be fished out.

I didn’t fish the table out. It managed to pop out of the lid and reveal itself in its full form.

Days before my eighth birthday, my eldest brother Kuya Ariel was cooking something up. I didn’t know for sure, but I knew it had something to do with one of his construction workers, a carpenter, who sneaked in and out of the back of our house.

Kuya was just a starting contractor then. He borrowed a lot of money from my Auntie Bebe, and then some from my Mother’s amigas to make his own construction company. I remember a lot of wood and metal scraps, small mounds of cement lying around our garage. I also remember hushed angry voices and painful tears echoing inside the four walls of our bungalow. It was the eighth time my daddy quit his job. And days before my birthday, when he swore he’ll never work a day again.

The day of my birthday, I had a small party. My guests were just three—Dorothy, my bus mate, Ida and Kathrina, my classroom buddies.

After I blew the birthday cake candles, Kuya took my hand and led me to my room (which I shared with mommy and ate). At the leftmost corner, leaning on a wall, was a large wooden study table, and scandalously red—thick red, with a rough texture. It’s the kind we doodled in drawing assignments in grade school. Rectangular, with four squat red legs. A red chair stood empty in front of the table, as if beckoning me to sit. Kuya’s chinky eyes were unusually large and misty. Beaming proudly, he kissed me on my forehead and said, “Ok ba Mylene?”

I sat on my new red chair and traced the edges of the table. Rough on the edges, it had wooden splinters that somehow escaped turning red. I nudged on the red drawer, which made an awful scraping sound.

“Diyan puwede ka maglagay ng books, notebooks, crayons, papel-- kasya lahat diyan,” Kuya explained.

I glanced at my three guests, who looked blankly at Kuya’s surprise. They weren’t impressed. I planted a quick kiss to Kuya’s cheek and uttered my thank you.

Over the next days, the red table stood empty, save for a picture frame my mom put there. I didn’t dare place my things inside the drawer. I was afraid the splinters would come alive and poke its spikes on my things.

Kuya checked on me almost every day. But most of the time, I was lying on our bed while doing my assignments. He’d say, “Kaya ko nga binigay sa’yo yan para diyaan ka mag-aaral.” I’d obey grudgingly.

Until one day, Kuya Ariel slammed our door open, his face red with anger. In his hand was my report card, line of sevens floating in red ink.

“Mylene, ano ‘to??? Paliwanag mo kung bakit ganito grades mo!” I blushed, but said coolly, “Bakit ka nagagalit? Si Mommy at Daddy nga hindi galit. Kuya lang naman kita ha.”

Wordlessly, Kuya grabbed all the books and notebooks on my bed and threw them on the ugliest piece of furniture in the room.

I was dazed and confused. Biting my lip, I began to weep.

When Kuya finally stormed out, I fixed the mess on the red table, muttering under my breath, “I hate you, you ugly thing!” I kicked the table with all the strength I had left, but I ended up hurting my foot instead. Besides being sore, splinters poked out of my toes. So the red table found a way to retaliate after all. I guess it hated me too.

At the end of the school year, the red table vanished. I think it must have been the middle of our fourth quarter periodical exams when one day, I went home to find our room suddenly spacious. The red table was gone.

I told you a while ago about my memory jar (which is large, glassy and transparent, like an old-fashioned mayonnaise container without the label). I put memories I’d rather forget inside this jar. I know now why I chose to forget the red table.

One day, mommy told me the truth. “Mylene, you should know, your dad no longer pays for your tuition, Si Kuya mo na nagbabayad, installments, since your daddy lost his job. So try to understand na lang why he’ s very concerned with your grades. He only wants the best for you.”

That moment, my heart must have stopped, the world must have turned dark. Guilt seeped in, wave after wave after wave. I would have placed myself inside my jar if I could, and wallowed in shame, together with my old forgotten things forever.

But there was only one thing I had to do. Repent. And so I did with all the love and kindness I could give. Every day, I thank God for blessing me such a wonderful, loving brother.

My Kuya paid for my education from grade school all the way to college. More than my school necessities, he provided my family a few luxurious things. He bought us a brand new PC, a car, a huge LCD TV. Yearly, he shopped new clothes for me. In high school, when Birkenstock was the “in” thing, he bought me an imitation in Itti (Birks was way too expensive). He bought me my very own Swatch, Sanrio things, Nike rubber shoes, my ball dress, Guess jeans, Giordano shirts, name it.

But never a rough-edged, red study table again.

I can only imagine now what happened to the red table. Perhaps, the construction worker chopped it in pieces and used it for a construction project.

Or made fire out of the table’s four legs.

Maybe Kuya gave it to a charity organization, where a kid used it to know her ABCs and 123s.

These days, its redness pales in my mind. But I can still feel it today—the rough edges of its rectangular glory. I trace it again and again, my fingers never bleeding, loving its roughness.

Maria Alina Co, 24, graduated magna cum laude and best thesis from the University of the Philippines, Diliman, with a Film and Audio-Visual Communication degree. She is now a TV Network Executive Producer and a part-time magazine writer and voice-over talent. This year, she is taking her Master’s degree in Media Studies in Ateneo.

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