If anyone would ask Eliane what talent does she have, she’d surely say running away. From responsibilities. From people. From reality. She thought she was pretty good at it.
Katulad na lamang ng nangyari ngayon. She just got home after bumping into Jaren at the convenience store. Nagkasalubong sila sa loob pero agad siyang tumakbo bago pa matawag ang pangalan niya. Jaren was her childhood friend, but they had a cold war the other day because of her thesis.
Eliane finished writing her manuscript but she was not confident about it so she asked for him to review it, knowing that he would be impartial. However, his impassive face his and monotonous tone while critiquing made her feel like all my efforts were wasted.
“Ang redundant na ng thoughts dito,” sabay turo ni Jaren sa Chapter 3. “Be concise. Hindi naman kailangang pahabain para masabing marami kang ginawa. A single sentence can summarize this whole paragraph.”
Wala siyang nagawa kundi ang tumango. Eliane was silently listening to his review, but it was starting to sound like nitpicking after some time. Some of his words were so hurtful that she was having a hard time holding back her tears.
“Ano ba ‘to?” Jaren intoned. “Graduating ka na pero parang hindi fourth year college ang nagsulat nito. Seryoso ka bang ito ang ipapasa mo sa thesis adviser mo? You could have done better, Eliane. This is a thesis, not a high school paper.”
And that was the last straw. She snatched her laptop from his hands and glared at him, tears welling up her eyes. Scoffing, she yelled thank you in anger and walked out of the café.
Pagdating niya sa apartment ay tahimik siyang umiyak. She could not even open the file because of his words. She felt like all of her effort were wasted. And objectively speaking, even if it really was worthless, she thought it was still valid to feel upset and offended because she worked hard for it.
That night, she cried herself to sleep.
Two days had already passed yet they were still not on speaking terms. Alam niyang pareho silang mataas ang pride kaya hindi iyon matatapos hangga’t walang magpaparaya.
Eliane thought it was her who asked him to review her thesis, but his words were demoralizing. She had already told him a hundred times that being too frank would only get him into trouble, and it already happened on several occasions, yet he was as blunt as ever.
Okay, may mali rin naman ako, she thought, pero hindi ako ang unang magso-sorry.
Sinumukan na lang niyang i-revise ulit ang manuscript niya pero sa tuwing naaalala niya ang mga masasakit na salitang binitiwan ng kaibigan ay nangingilid ang luha sa mga mata niya.
“Oo na, oo na, hindi na ako magaling magsulat,” she muttered as she angrily typed on the keyboard.
On a positive note, her annoyance drove her to write and research better. Ni hindi nga niya napansin na lagpas na siya sa usual bedtime niya dahil masyado itong naka-focus sa pag-e-edit. When she checked the time again, it was already 10 PM. Marahan niyang itinabi ang laptop niya nang makaramdam siya ng antok at agad din itong nakatulog.
Her eyes fluttered open, and the white ceiling came into view. Dazed, Eliane remained lying, trying to remember what she had just dreamed of.
Certainly, there were voices talking about something or someone, but she couldn’t remember the conversation anymore. All she could recall was how their voices were filled with worries.
Makalipas ang ilang sandali ay naghanda na rin siya para sa klase. Fortunately, morning classes lang ang schedule niya tuwing Tuesday. She was worried that she would see Jaren in the campus, but they did not cross paths, much to her relief.
She stayed in the library for the whole afternoon to finish her thesis even though she still hadn’t had the guts to face it after what happened the other day. But Dr. Teodoro, her thesis adviser, set the date of submission of her first draft on March 31, which would be two weeks from now.
With pressure looming, she started editing it, and in the process, she realized that Jaren’s words made sense. Fine, she thought. Her thoughts were indeed redundant, and the composition of the paragraphs could have been better, but she was still upset.
Pagpatak ng alas-singko ay umalis siya sa library at umuwi sa bahay. She ate dinner early and get ready for her part-time job.
Eliane worked at the convenience store in their block every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It was a four-hour shift from 7 PM – 11 PM. Sa katunayan, hindi nga rin nito alam kung bakit niya kinuha iyon samantalang morning person siya at 9 PM ang bedtime niya. But she needed the money to pay rent and for additional expenses. Besides, she also wanted to improve her terrible communication skills, and this was one way to do that.
“O, Eliane, nandito ka na pala,” Carson, the morning shift employee, greeted.
She went on the other side of the counter and Carson placed something on the table.
“Itabi mo ‘to r’yan,” sabay lapag nito ng taser sa gilid ni Eliane. “Maraming loko-loko ngayon.” She smiled in return. “Thanks.”
Eliane thought of Carson as her older brother. Add to the fact that she was the same age as his younger sister, so he felt protective of her, too. Paminsan nga lang ay ang lakas nitong mang-asar kaya napipikon si Eliane sa kanya.
When Carson left, she set her laptop on the smaller table behind the counter so she could still work on her requirements while doing her job. Pero hindi rin naman niya iyon nagalaw dahil dagsa ang customers at nakapagpahinga lamang siya bandang 10 PM.
She had to drink coffee because her senses were starting to get idle. Muli niyang binuksan ang recent file ng draft sa thesis.
As a BA History student, Eliane chose the topic about women in precolonial history, but she immediately regretted it when she was doing the review of related literature. The topic itself was interesting. Her problem was the lack of references and going through the internet and library archives just to find nothing was giving her massive headaches.
Agad naman nitong tinext si Cyrell, her classmate in an elective subject in second year. Dahil naging groupmate niya ito noon sa isang project ay naging close naman sila kahit papaano. Ngayon ay coffee buddies na sila at kapag maraming requirements na kailangang gawin o ipasa ay nagkikita sila at nags-stay sa café na malapit sa university.
Cy, kailan ka free? Kape tayo this week, she texted.
“Ma’am.” Napaangat naman ang tingin niya sa nagsalita. It was Ronald, the night shift na security guard of the store.
“Bakit, Kuya?” tanong niya.
“Iihi lang ako saglit, Ma’am.”
“O, sige po.”
Nagmadali namang umalis ang guard at saktong may dumating na customer kaya ibinulsa niya ang phone niya. After buying instant noodles and coffee, the customer went out of the store, only to be blocked by someone. Akala nga ni Eliane ay nakabalik na si Kuya Roger pero hindi pala siya iyon.
The man who blocked the last customer was wearing a black, frayed jacket, along with his black beanie and black mask that hid most of his face. Biglang napaawang ang bibig ni Eliane ng bumaba ang kanyang tingin sa kamay ng lalaki. He was holding a metal that gleamed under the light.
It was a knife.
Realization hit her pretty hard. The guy was getting mugged.
With her trembling hands, she tried to dial 117 to call for help but she yelped when the man thrust his knife into the customer’s stomach and snatched his wallet.
Her body froze in fear when the man met her gaze. Parang tumigil ang mundo niya nang nabaling sa kanya ang atensyon ng lalaki. A sinister smile grew on his face as he opened the glass door. Eliane’s heart was pounding so loud and fast that she couldn’t breathe properly anymore.
The mugger hastily approached her direction, but something suddenly happened. His demented expression turned glazed, as if his soul just left his body. Nakatayo lamang ito sa gitna at parang tumigil ang oras nito. Eliane wanted to run away while she still had the time, but her body was not cooperating. Her legs would not even move because of fear.
Before she could make a step, the man jerked into consciousness. He looked at her again and the hair on her nape bristled. His new placid demeanor was more frightening. Somehow, he felt . . . different. And then he blinked.
Eliane’s breath got caught in her throat as serpentine eyes greeted her. He was sure the man’s eyes weren’t like that a second ago. The sudden change almost made her question reality but fear once again coursed through her body when the man stood in front of her, an amused expression on his face.
“Isang pitulong walang pangyarihan,” he said with a voice as deep as the abyss. “Tunay ngang naglaho na ang kayarian ng Maylikha at ang mga umalagad ng Muraway.”
Her eyebrows knitted upon hearing the unfamiliar words he had spoken. She wasn’t sure what he was saying but his voice sounded unearthly. Halos manindig ang mga balahibo niya sa katawan nang itinaas nito ang kanang kamay palapit sa kanya pero pareho silang napalingon nang bumukas ang pinto. She was desperately hoping it would be Kuya Ronald, but an unexpected guest came in.
It was a child.
Her first thought was to save her from the current situation, but the man suddenly turned rigid. He stepped back, hissing angrily at the girl who looked no more than twelve years old, but the longer Eliane stared at her, the more ethereal she looked.
Unti-unting lumapit ang batang babae at nagpatuloy sa pag-atras ang lalaki. He was clearly scared of the kid, and she started to wonder why.
“Abyan—!” he hissed.
A wisp of black smoke emerged from the man’s body. She thought she was just seeing things, but the kid’s gaze followed it, too. It billowed restlessly around the store until it disappeared from their sight.
Para namang nagising bigla ang diwa ng lalaki at nagpabalik-balik ang tingin sa dalawa . . . hanggang sa bigla na lamang nag-apoy ang damit niya.
His face was frozen in a scream of terror as his body suddenly went ablaze. Napanganga na lamang si Eliane habang tuluyang natupok ang katawan ng lalaki sa loob lamang ng ilang segundo. An eerie silence followed and the girl continued staring at her.
The remaining strength in her knees had finally left her and she had to hold onto the counter to support her body. Out of breath, she tried to balance herself despite not fully understanding what had just happened. All she knew was the man standing before her a few seconds ago had turned into ashes.
Everything had yet to sink in her mind, but she flinched when the girl started walking toward her direction. Unlike the man who was giving off an ominous presence, the girl radiated a calming aura. A sweet and pleasant smile escaped her lips and it made Eliane’s fear dissipate.
“Huwag kang mag-alala,” sambit nito at pakiramdam ni Eliane ay hinehele siya ng malambing nitong tinig. “Naluluoy pa ang kanyang hilagyo kaya’t maging sa isang diwata’y nahihindik siya.”
Her brows creased as one word caught her attention. “D-Diwata?” The girl’s smile grew wider. “Gayon nga, pintakasi.”
Nagulat na lamang si Eliane nang umangat ang katawan ng babae patungo sa kanya at marahang inilapat ang kamay sa kanyang noo. The girl emanated a white aura and before she could react, she heard the girl’s voice inside her head, chanting something that sounded like a prayer.
‘Magbangon, mga anitu!’ the girl yelled at the end of her chant, and Eliane saw flashes of images—faces and figures who would soon turn her life upside down.