Sunday, May 31, 2015
3:18 AM |
The Dead Bird
Once upon a time there was an empty house on a hill beside an old dalakit
tree whipped by the winds, its branches gnarled and penitent under the fierce coldness of gray Zamboanguita skies, in the cold southern interiors of Negros nobody spoke about. Once upon a time there were rumors of a girl who lived there, on her own, and nobody knew where she came from, or who she was.
Those who had seen her, and there were plenty who did, swore that she was a mute vagabond, an orphaned child who found mere refuge in the old house—nothing more. Others claimed she was a ghost, a vengeful spirit, perhaps even a caretaker of sigbins
. Most would agree, however, that the girl was young and small and would have been an inconspicuous thing if she were not constantly dressed in an old white shirt more than double her size. Manang Biday, whose own humble hut was closest to the empty old house, swore she had seen the girl countless of times, and that she was always wearing the same old thing, a man’s shirt, torn at the edges, and smudged everywhere with dirt and age.
Here we come to our brief story. If Alba, Manang Biday’s granddaughter, had looked away a moment sooner while she crossed the shallow creek, she would not have seen the girl dashing out, without so much as the feeblest noise, from the shadows of the house’s dilapidated back porch and into the waning light of the late afternoon.
It was growing to be a cold night, harbinger of the monsoon season. Alba had been on her way back to their house from an errand to buy lamp oil for that evening from the sari-sari store at the next bend of the creek. She was fiddling with her sweater, feeling the cold air snake into her and pouncing upon her skin. She wanted very much to banish it. But the sweater was too tight, and she could not adjust it. In her struggle, she felt a sudden whirling from behind her, and a change in the air that indicated someone else’s presence.
When she looked back, she saw the girl.
The girl had a look on her face that drew a frightening blankness. It betrayed nothing, just an ominousness that felt invasive. Even her eyes, half-hidden by stray locks of long black hair, were wells of utter emptiness, the blackness of her irises seeping in and absorbing the coldness of the gray late afternoon skies.
The girl had stopped a few feet away from Alba, the hem of the old shirt hugging her ankles and dragging into the mud and the wet grass. There she stood, a ravaging stillness, blank eyes staring straight into Alba’s own.
Alba, momentarily frozen, finally found her voice.
She leaned forward a little bit, and cleared her throat. “Where did you come from?” she asked. “Who are you?”
The girl would not say anything, but it moved back a few steps, slowly, and then stopped. It regarded Alba’s face with what could pass for cold curiosity.
“What are you doing here?” Alba stammered.
The girl still would not say anything.
When the girl moved again, it was to raise its right hand with a suddenness that startled Alba. It was clasping something, and when the child had her hand in midair, she opened it, palm up, and there it was. It was a small bird, a maya
, and it was dead, its neck broken.
“Get away from me,” Alba said, and backed away.
She hurried down the narrow dirt road towards home, and when she turned around, the girl was still there, looking at her.
Alba stumbled to a run, but now she felt more clearly those blank eyes still staring at her, those blank eyes gazing at the nape of her neck, those eyes caressing it like one would a little feathery pet.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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