Magdalena and Scenes of Chronic Poverty

Fiction by | September 16, 2007

It’s About Time You Meet Her
You knew her though, or someone you knew of. We were all aware of her existence that, like wallpapers, we never really took notice. Hers was a familiar face in the crowd with that look of desperation crawling right into you. Her face caked with pustules that nobody dared to touch. Her body looked so thin, her skin tightly embracing her bones. She didn’t possess those black-rimmed glasses and buck teeth (though she had one missing on the upper mouth); she didn’t have braces that completed the criteria for everyday geeks. Her mother barely covered the basics; another strain on their budget was certainly out of the question.

Raised by a single-parent mother, Magdalena always wondered how it felt like to have a father. Nevertheless, such issue was not as intense as what others thought it to be. As a little girl, she sat and stared at other children’s toys, longing to have them. She was downtrodden to the reality life presents, made worse by the devil-spawned TV programs that showcased newly manufactured Legos and cartoon-character stuffed figures. Instead of mingling with other children, she was left alone with leaves, pretending to play cook.

Her mother, a hypochondriac tutoring to rich people’s children but unable to help her own child, would come home at around nine in the evening and begin her perpetual litany of complaints of how tired she was and how she could feel her own body deteriorating from within.

Magdalena always worried that her mother might not make it to the promising future she concocted for her upon finishing school. Filipinos were trapped in the delusion that attaining a degree would promise sure success in life. So, she did her best not to add up to her mother’s burden. She grew up thinking that getting old is a never-ending process of exhaustion. With the overpowering desire to let her mother rest while she goes out to find money, Magdalena couldn’t wait to become adult. She would rather prefer to be one with the deteriorating body condition rather than her mother. Let her live forever while Magdalena lies six feet under.

She did not cry hearing the news that her father died. His wife made a decent approach informing that they were welcome to attend the funeral. Magdalena insisted with her mother not to go; it would be a waste of time. She would rather avoid a Mano Po 2scene. She thought to herself if they would go, she’d make sure heads would roll thereafter. She vividly imagined the bloodshed that brought an eccentric feeling of being elated. Successfully dissuading her mother, they shut themselves out from his second family. The decision almost made them look cynical as they found nothing but pretensions from the invites of the wife of his late father.

Rice in the Rest Room
Did you ever have one of those bookmarks that said, “Laugh and the class laughs with you, but you stay after school alone”? Magdalena had one of those and found the statement true. She had always exuded an image of extroversion and everybody loved her for that. They knew that she had something more behind the happy face. Of course, why would they bother with that since they have their own problems to bear?

So, every day Magdalena wore a mask because it was made to be worn. Literally or figuratively, masks are used so that we may pretend to be someone we’re not.

“So, are you coming to lunch with us?” One of her classmates asked her, though they already knew the answer to that. It was more out of respect, somehow a means of repaying Magdalena for making them laugh.

“I’ll eat books for now in the library,” she replied with a huge grin spread on her face. “Thank you, though.” That was it, the routine of showing courtesy; tipping your hat off. And that’s about it.

So everybody went about their business, discussing where to go for lunch as if it could help ease world chaos, blatantly greeting friends on corridors loud enough to conclude they swallowed a speaker box.

Amid the pandemonium of students hungry enough to devour their own boring teachers, Magdalena slid in the women’s room, locked the cubicle, and eased herself on the toilet seat after making sure it was clean and had been flushed down. Rummaging her bag, she took out a Tupperware of rice.

She cried before taking her lunch, munching on her salted rice and feeling so miserable. But as time went by, shedding tears became futile since no fairy godmother popped out to improve her situation favorably anyway.

It was around noon time, and Magdalena ate rice in the rest room, no longer crying but wallowing in self-pity nonetheless.

Holding On to Her Dearest Five Pesos
Night fell and Magdalena had to go home after class ended. Though displeased with the idea of being reminded again how pitiable her life was, she took an empty jeepney towards “home sour home.” Rummaging through her purse and realizing that she had only a five-peso coin left—insufficient even for a seven-peso-ride—her heart began beating rapidly. It was a moment she had always feared.

She heard exchanges of her classmates’ encounters with the same situation, but all of them got away with it. She remembered one time as a child when a jeepney driver beat the hell out of a man whom he claimed did not pay. Sure, blaming current fears or emotional abnormalities on childhood is a must trait, but it left her with no other option. The violent scene haunted her more than watching “Shake, Rattle, & Roll” for the first time.

Magdalena slid herself across the seat towards the backside of the driver as the jeepney continually loaded with passengers. She imagined him finding out about her mischief and swerving into the roadside and dragging her off the vehicle, unabashedly slapping her face until it burned and became almost ripped from her skull. Then he would slam her forward on the hood and penetrate her, tearing her flesh apart as people watched with only one look written across their faces: “She’s reprehensible; imagine looting the poor jeepney driver.”

Bayad ko o, pakiabot po.

Magdalena took the coins and passed them towards the driver. This went on while she contemplated at keeping her five-peso coin. As her destination neared, her nervousness escalated further.

Para po,” she said, mustering all confidence in the tone. The jeepney slowly swerved to the roadside. She stepped down and stood on the street for some time, waiting for the humiliating scene.

Much to her amazement, the vehicle just idled then fled away.

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