Jomari is convinced that a monster is out to get him. He could see it dancing on the walls, edging closer and closer to the foot of his bed. Sometimes, he could feel it tickling the soles of his feet. Other times, it would nip at his ears. It is a small thing, no bigger than his fist. The shadow follows him even under the cover of the blanket, making its way up his legs, squeezing in right beside him. Jomari would turn away from it and shut his eyes. He doesn’t want to see it.
Night after the night, the shadow would creep inside his room to nibble at his toes. Sometimes, it would laugh at him. Its piercing shriek of a laugh would have Jomari hiding his head under the pillows. But somehow, the tinny laugh would find its way through Jomari, its echoes reverberating inside his head.
In the morning, Jomari would get headaches. He has not been sleeping well. There were bags under his eyes. At school, he often falls asleep in class, his head leaning against the wall.
In between breaks, or whenever he was awake, he thinks of ways of getting rid of the monster. The monster always comes from under his doorway, slipping in through the gap between the door and the floor.
Jomari writes notes that he keeps tucked between the pages of a notebook. He has a habit of reminding himself. He is afraid of forgetting even the littlest of things. Maybe, he thinks, the notes could help him.
I think I know where the monster is coming from.
I don’t know how it got there, but it’s there.
There’s nothing I can do to get rid of it.
Or maybe, I haven’t tried everything yet.
On some afternoons, his mother calls him for help. His father is away at work.
“Jomari, anak, come here. Later na yang Math homework mo. I need your help.” She is inside the bedroom, freshly laundered clothes scattered at her feet. He helps her fold the clothes. She would scream at him if he disobeyed. He is afraid of her when she gets angry. Sometimes, he thinks that he sees a shadow darting behind his mother’s head. His mother finishes folding her pile of clothes first. He isn’t surprised when he feels his mother’s hand slowly making its way up his leg. She has done this before, always when his father is out. He shivers at her touch. His mother’s hand slowly finds its way inside his basketball shorts and into his boxers. Jomari looks at his mother and finds a shadow hovering just above her head. It is as big as his head. Jomari feels as if he is about to burst. He feels it stiffen. He wants to get away from his mother. But if he doesn’t let his mother finish, he knows that she will get mad at him. She will come into his room later and beat him with his father’s leather belt. Her shadow would dance on the walls of his room, looking even larger in the semi-darkness. When his mother is finished, she wipes her hand on her pants. She puts away the folded clothes and goes down to the kitchen where she calls Jomari out for merienda. After they eat merienda, his mother takes a nap.
When his mother gets angry or starts to nag him, he sees the shadowy figure emerge from her head. It has tendrils, seven of them. These tendrils would lash out at him whenever she opens her mouth.
“Keep your things inside the drawer, Jomari! You’re old enough to look after yourself.”
“Anak, dinner is at seven. Help me fold the clothes tomorrow.”
He sees the monster trying to reach out to him but he gets out of its way. He feels the need to remove it from his mother’s head. Jomari didn’t want his mother to have that monster inside her. She doesn’t seem aware of it though. Which is why she nags and sometimes screams at Jomari. Which is why Jomari stays inside his room. He doesn’t want to see the monster.
Mama did it again. I couldn’t tell her to stop.
I don’t know if I enjoy it. It’s
when Ma does it.
When he tells his mother about the monsters, she just shrugs it off and blames his overactive imagination. She threatens to remove the computer inside his room. Even his comic books. Says he has been playing too much violent games, that he needs to go out once in a while, like the other kids his age.
“Monsters don’t exist, Jom. Especially not inside your head,” she would say. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know anything. He could see the monster’s tendrils wrapping his mother’s head. “And besides, you know you’re too old for that kind of thing.” He feels her hand run across his chest. He is afraid that she might feel his gooseflesh. He doesn’t want her to think that he is enjoying it. She would never stop.
“Hay, Jomari,” she would whisper in his ear. Her cold hands would find their way inside his boxers. He can feel it pulsating in her fist. He wonders if she can feel it throbbing. Above his mother’s head, he could hear tinny laughter.
He wonders why his father married her in the first place. Didn’t he see the shadow above her head? When he asks, his father would say that it was because of love. Jomari would want to ask him what had happened to that love since then. At night, he could hear them arguing through the walls. Walls are good. They are built to keep something out, are built to protect what is inside the enclosure, or to keep it inside. He pictures the shadows dancing on the walls. They couldn’t get to him. Not yet, anyway. He often wonders how long it would take before the shadows could break through the wall.
What would happen if Papa knew?
Would he beat up Mama, like
what they do in the
movies soap operas? Or will he let it slide
because he loves Mama very much?
even more than me.
Jomari spends most of his time cooped up inside his room. He locks the door behind him. It is better there. He can think. He thinks about a girl at school that he likes and he feels a growing stiffness. He slides his hand under his boxers. He is careful to not fall asleep while jerking himself off. He buries his face in his pillow to stifle his moans. He is afraid that his mother might hear.
The notepads and pen are on the table, by their usual place. His father is in the kitchen, preparing their dinner. Chop suey. He only ever cooks during the weekends.
His mother gets sick. He doesn’t want to buy medicines for his mother. But she is too sick. His father comes home late, tired. The sickness doesn’t do anything to the monster. He knows that it is there.
She nags. Jomari doesn’t like it when she nags. He feels as if the monster could get him anytime. He needs to think of something to get rid of it. To get rid of all the monsters inside everyone’s heads.
He doesn’t forget his mother’s meds. He doesn’t want her to yell at him. She always tries to yell at him when she is on edge. The monster would emerge from behind her head, whipping him with its tentacles. When she regains her composure, she would immediately ask for his forgiveness, like any other mother.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” she would say. Jomari nods. He understands. Tries to. She is his mother after all. He cannot do anything about it.
“It’s okay, Mama. I understand.” She gives him a hug. He feels her warmth. He could hear her beating heart. There are times when Jomari tries to recall the slow, steady beating of his mother’s heart. How full of life it is. And then he feels her warm breath on his neck. It is making him sweat. He feels her breasts against his back, the nipples taut. He cannot begin to imagine that he had suckled on them when he was a baby. Her hand again. She is in front of him, her breasts pressing against Jomari’s chest. Jomari feels her hands make their way from his chest, down to his abdomen. He senses the coldness and the wetness of her fingertips. It makes him shiver. He looks at his mother and finds that a bigger shadow had materialized above her head. It had grown almost as big as his mother, its tentacles lashing about him. Jomari feels her hand move up and down inside his boxers. He knows, he feels it getting hard. He cannot help it. Thoughts are racing through his head. Maybe it’s the monster that’s making Mama do this, he thinks. How else could she go on doing this? He wants to puke, to tell his mother to stop. But he is afraid of her. He is afraid of the monster looming behind her and what it could do to him. Maybe the monster tells her to do whatever it is that she is doing. Jomari thinks that he is on to something. Which is why he needs to get rid of the shadow immediately. But how? He thinks of a plan. There always is a plan.
“Do you like that?”
He knows that he has to nod.
Why are Mama’s hands cold?
Why does she shiver all the time?
should I do do I need to do?
My brain isn’t giving me any ideas.
He hears his father come in. His father pats Jomari’s back.
“Hi, Pa. How was work?”
“Same old, same old.” His father sounds tired. Jomari sees a small, shrunken shadow grip the back of his father’s head. It looks tired, like his father. The shadow looks like gray mist. Its red eyes are looking at Jomari. He goes into his mother’s room. His father is always tired. Is barely there. He leaves early for work, comes home late. Is there something in this house? Or is there something in the people living in it? Jomari doesn’t understand why his father is doing that. They used to go on fishing trips during the weekends. Sometimes, they went on picnics or long walks in his lola’s probinsya somewhere in Sta. Ana. He would help him climb up trees. His father used to push him from behind when he was learning to ride a bicycle. His mother would sit under a tree, waving at the both of them. Sometimes, she would take photos. Jomari doesn’t know what had happened since then. His father is preoccupied with his work. His mother, he suspects, is needy.
“Ma, Papa is back.” She is asleep. Her back is turned against him.
His father sits on the couch, the light from the TV set illuminating his tired face. There are more lines on his face. It has acquired a certain hardness.
“Pa, Mama is already asleep—should I—?”
“It’s alright. Could you get me a glass of water, please?”
“Opo, Pa.” Jomari runs into the kitchen to get a pitcher filled with cold water. He places it on a tray along with a glass of water and some bananas.
“Oh, thank you, anak. Do you want to watch a movie with me?” His father receives the tray and puts it on the center table. “Hellboy’s on HBO.”
“Ay, okay lang, Pa. I have to finish writing something. Do you need anything else?”
“No, it’s okay.” His father flips through the channels.
He could barely see the shadow on his father’s head.
He hears his mother groaning in the next room. He wants her to be quiet. He cannot think.
“Jomari, anak, get me a glass of water, please,” his mother calls out from the next room.
“Taod- taod sa Ma. I’m trying to finish this sentence.” He bends over a pad of sticky notes, writing a reminder. He crosses it out and throws the paper in the bin.
He wakes up one day, finding his mother out of bed, and inside the kitchen. She says that she is feeling better. Plates piled high with bacon and eggs are on the table. Now, this is something new. He thinks that his mother might be sick. This isn’t like her. Sometimes, he doesn’t understand his mother. There are times when she gets pissed off for no particular reason. Sometimes, she becomes all motherly, hugging him, doing stuff like this, this thing with breakfast.
“Eat,” she says. “You look like you need it. You are a growing boy after all.” The garbage can is full of grocery bags from her recent trip to the supermarket. She puts some bacon on his plate. He feels her breath on his cheek. She tries to kiss him but he tilts his head away. She looks surprised but shrugs it off. Jomari sees the monster look at him. It shrugs and extends one tendril towards him. “Jom, how’s school?” She gives him a peck on the neck. He tries to avoid it. The monster shrinks. It goes back inside his mother’s head. It is always like this. When his mother calms down, when she doesn’t get what she wants, it takes cover, returns to it hiding place. Jomari wonders if his mother can see it; maybe she is hiding it from him. Every family has its secrets. Sometimes, parents don’t feel the need to tell their children everything. Sometimes, the parents don’t say anything to each other.
Why do you always do that? Jomari thinks that if she does it one more time, he might lose it. He has been keeping things, his feelings to himself—instead of getting angry at his mother, he checks himself. He doesn’t want to hurt her. After all, she is his mother. Sometimes, he wants her to just die. But he thinks of what will happen to him, to his father if his mother did die. There are days when he wishes that his mother wasn’t his mother, that his mother be someone who doesn’t get her hands inside his pants. Maybe then, the monster wouldn’t be out as often, wouldn’t try to latch on to him more often. He wishes that his father wasn’t his father. Jomari gets annoyed at his father’s tiredness. He wants his father to take them out on picnics again. His father is almost always at work. Or at least help him in his Math homework. He has never been good with numbers. But, Jomari couldn’t help it. He feels overwhelming love for them sometimes. The kind of love that could swallow him whole when he doesn’t control it. Sometimes, he just wants them to disappear, along with the shadows that live inside their head. Other times, he wonders what would happen if his father knew what is happening when he isn’t at home.
I think I know what to do.
I think. I’m not too sure.
Mama needs help. This needs to stop.
“Jom, anak?” She shakes him awake. How did she get here? He sits up. Of course, she has the keys.
“Ma?” She pushes him back and lies on top of him. Her hair falls over his face. It smells like vanilla. Her heady aroma makes him faint. “Mama?”
“Shhh.” She starts kissing his neck. He could feel her hands easing his boxer shorts to his thighs. “My, my, you are a growing boy.” His mother’s breath smells like mint toothpaste. He lies on his bed, trying to find a way to make her stop. She eases herself on top of him moving up and down his abdomen. “Do you like that?” He sees that the shadow is as big as his mother. It hovered beside her. He could feel it watching him, watching them.
Jomari tries to push her off but she holds his shoulders down. He doesn’t like where this is going. He tries to push her off again, squirming on his bed. He flails his legs and manages to kick her. The pain shocks her. He could see the shadow start to shrink and hide behind his mother’s head. Its tentacles grip her head.
“Putang inang bata ka!” She slaps him. She tried to pin him down to the bed again but Jomari runs outside into the bathroom where he locks himself in.
He thinks that if he could get rid of the monster, his mother would stop doing this to him. Jomari doesn’t know where to begin—he doesn’t know anything about the monsters. All he knows is that they are living inside their heads. But, maybe, he could kill the monster. That always does it. But how? He tosses and turns on his bed, unable to sleep, the plan beginning to form inside his mind.
I have a plan. I hope this would work.
Everybody will be happy. I’m sure of it.
Maybe Dad will come home from work early.
Maybe Dad will have more time for us.
And Mama will be all right.
He knocks on their door. He finds it unlocked. His mother is taking a nap. He sees the shadowy figure’s tentacles still gripping his mother’s head. It is asleep.
“Mama,” he whispers in her ear. She stirs but does not wake up.
He grabs a pillow and lightly sits on top of her. She might like this, he thinks. He presses the pillow down her face putting his whole weight on top of it. He feels his mother squirm below him. He could feel her trying to fight him off. But he doesn’t budge. He sees the shadow flail and try to lash out at him.
He imagines that he can feel her taking shallow breaths, more like gasps, senses that he can feel her heartbeat slowing down. He knows that she has not thought of dying this way. Jomari knows that she has always wanted to die in her sleep.
“You know, anak, I would want to die in my sleep. It seems better.”
“Why, Ma?” He looks at her.
“I don’t want to feel the pain. I don’t think I can take it.” She smiles at him.
Jomari knows that she has been a good mother. He can feel it. Which is why he wants to save her. What could she be thinking of right now?
He could feel her body turn colder, lighter. The monster inside her head is shrinking. The dense mass of smoke that projected from her head becomes lighter. Smaller. It coils into a fetal position and slowly seeps back into his mother’s head. His mother stops moving. He removes the pillow. Her eyes are open, staring up at the ceiling. Her mouth hangs open. The monster is nowhere to be found. Finally, I’ve done something right.
Jomari brandishes his hand, taking in the sight of his room. He enjoys the quietness that follows after.
He leaves the body on the bed. He writes on one of his sticky notes. He is afraid of forgetting even this. All he has to do is to wait for his father to come home. He writes down a note and sticks it on his parents’ bed.
look behind you.
Christine Salazar studied Creative Writing in UP Mindanao. She paints in her spare time.