For Sarah Balabagan, OFW, by Marianne Villanueva

FOR SARAH BALABAGAN, OFW 

Note:  OFW stands for “Overseas Filipino Workers.” As of 2010, there were believed to be close to 2 million OFWs working in almost every country in the world, including Albania, Mongolia, Romania, and Swaziland.  

You with the round face, the dark blue headscarf, I saw you first at 3 p.m.

It was a hot afternoon in September.  I’d opened Marie Claire or Glamour, I don’t now remember which, and there you were, grave and unsmiling. (But what cause would you have to smile?  I found out all, later.)

Your father’s name was Karim, and your mother’s, Bai.  You grew up in the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines.  You were fourth in a family of fourteen children.

The man who raped you was dead (I was happy to read).  You stabbed him 34 times.

You knew that most likely you were never going to get a husband. Not after what had happened.

It was the worst thing you ever imagined.  Not just the pain, no — it was worse than that.  The telling to your mother – it nearly finished you.

He gouged the skin of your throat with his long fingernails.  You were afraid, but the fear was nothing compared to your shame.

You asked yourself, “Why?”  Your brothers too said it, but they pointed fingers at your mother (who wept, who refused to leave the house for months, who even attempted suicide) and sometimes, (though not as much) at your father.

Your brothers shouted, “Why did you let her go?  To a place like that?”

The newspapers recorded every accusation.

As if anyone could ever have foreseen such a catastrophe.

The man who sat across the table from you at the police station in Abu Dhabi, the man you knew only as “Pak,” said over and over:  “You said that such and such a thing happened on such and such a day.  Why do you make up such stories?”

You said, “I swear to God – “

“Swearing is a sin.  Whose God are you swearing at?  You will be tortured if you don’t stop these lies.”

They said you would be permitted to return home, but only after you confessed.

You held out for four months.  Then, the man named Pak came again with the form and this time, you signed it.  “Now you have nothing to worry about,” Pak said.

A week later, you were in the courtroom to hear your sentence. While you waited for the translation, you imagined yourself back home.  Your lawyer patted your hand.  The look on his face was sorrowful.

Sentenced to death, he said.  “What?” you said.  He repeated, Sentenced to death.

I read how the murdered man’s sons spoke on your behalf.  Yes, they told the court.  We believe our father capable of rape.

Because of their testimony, the sentence was reduced to 100 lashes.  After another year in prison, you returned home.  You were thin and wan – Oh, you were much changed.

They said you became a singer. Your voice, though untrained, was described as “pure,” which must have pleased your brothers no end.

You became quite well-known, and sang in shows with Heart Evangelista and Dulce Amor. You opened for Dingdong Avanzado, and were invited to record a duet with the popular Ogie Alcasid.

As for your mother, she still says, over and over, It was never my idea.

You had your first child at 18.  The father was a journalist.  He left you after two years.

In your mind, you have never left Abu Dhabi. You are still in that small barred cell, shrinking in horror from the jailers who point at your shaved head and mutter curses. You will always be there, enacting penitence for an event that never ends and a guilt that never leaves.  It is there always, in your blood, as is fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

– End

Stonehenge/Pacifica

In 2014, self went to see Stonehenge.

She signed up for a small-group tour, the only one allowed on the site towards sunset. All the big tour buses had left. The guide, a retired military officer, led the group across a sheep meadow.

This is unquestionably the best approach. It allows the view to unfold gradually. You are reminded that this was how people, in time immemorial, must have approached the monument: in procession. Self could hardly contain her excitement at her first glimpse of the pillars of stone.

The mystery of the site has stayed with her. The fact that no human habitations were ever built around it. What was it used for?

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From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

Well before she saw Stonehenge, she’d written about it in a piece called Stonehenge/Pacifica, published in Wigleaf, 2012.

It was a dream I had, some restless night. One of those weeks or months or years when we were worried about money.

But when were we ever not worried?

First there was the mortgage, and then the two.

And then your mother got sick, and your father died.

And my mother I think developed Alzheimer’s, but we never mentioned it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Crazy Writers Life: Share Your Rejection

When self moved back to her home in Redwood City, a few months ago, she found a treasure trove of files, including one on ‘Nice Rejections.’

Here’s one from The Antioch Review. No idea who ‘RSF’ is, but it is so rare to get back a personal note that self saved it.

The piece was “Devotions.” It was eventually published by Used Furniture Review.

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Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: “Losing a Body” (Genre: Fantasy)

Self has been working on flash. This story’s been growing by accretion, to four pages now:

There had been moments of deep humiliation, as well as moments of anger and sadness. He realized that most of these had something to do with a physical shortcoming.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

First Sentence of the Day: K.C. Mead-Brewer

“I’m alone in my apartment but I have the TV on so it sounds like a bunch of people are in here talking.”

— K. C. Mead-Brewer, The Joke (matchbook, January 2018)

WIGLEAF 2012: “Stonehenge/Pacifica”

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California, Winter 2016: Mendocino Headlands

Many stories behind this story.

Self actually did have the dream mentioned in it.

Stonehenge/Pacifica

It was a dream I had, some restless night. One of those weeks or months or years when we were worried about money.

But when were we ever not worried?

First there was the mortgage, and then the two.

And then your mother got sick, and then your father died.

 

 

#amwritingflash

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Spotlight on: CAFE IRREAL

With nods to Kafka. Kafka. Kafka.

Café Irreal is an online zine, edited by G. S. Evans and Alice Whittenburg, that has been in continuous publication since 1998 (Oh, kudos. Major kudos). Its focus is on writing about The Irreal.

They published self’s Appetites and The Secret Room.

The opening of Appetites:

  • When she was a girl, she ate crab, bitter melon, rice soup. She loved milkfish, which at that time was still abundant. The cook, who was as dear to her as her own mother, served her glutinous rice cakes, salmon cured with tamarind salt, grilled squid stuffed with chorizo, the meat of young coconuts.

Food is life. Yes.

Stay tuned.

 

#amwritingfantasy: Humorous Dystopia

Self worked on this story in Paris. It’s about the end of the world, naturalement.

A pink bathosphere named Pinkie Pi (Joke, joke, joke!), navigated by a pair of squabbling men, is the last to leave the surface of the planet (A new city awaits on the Ocean Floor):

We’re going under.

When?

Today.

Just like that.

Oui. N’est-ce pas. What do you think?

You’re talking about under.

That’s what I’m saying, oui.

That down there, on the ocean floor, we can — je ne sais quoi.

Yes.

In the shift and roll of waves . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Self’s “First Life” (Juked.com)

“First Life” first line:

  • Ever since they moved our colony from Tonle Sap to the Philippines, my mind hasn’t been the same.

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