I am staring out the window as our driver is taking us to the regional courthouse. My dad sits in the passenger seat and my mom is next to me.
“How are you feeling?”
I look at my mom and her warm expression. My dad steals a look at me from the rearview mirror.
“I just want to get this over with.” I mutter, looking down. My mom reaches out to pat my knee then sits back.
Three years ago, one innocent night in July, I went to the movies with my best friend. I was twelve then, completely unaware of the girl code that dictated we should never go anywhere without each other. The theater was completely full; it was the weekend of Kris Aquino’s second horror movie, after “Feng Shui.” Although it was rated PG-13, Jen and I were able to get in easily. For a thirteen-year-old, my best friend looked way older, and we used this to our advantage all the time.
“Let’s meet at the CR after, okay?” she whispered as she watched me take a seat near the left set of stairs, next to a man in a plain white T-shirt and jeans.
“I’ll text you,” I whispered back absentmindedly, my eyes already on the screen before me.
Before long, with everyone around me screaming because of ghosts, I realized in that dim theatre that it really was the living that we should be afraid of. The man next to me was now standing in front of me, pants down.
I covered myself with the jacket my mom made me bring. The screaming wouldn’t stop. He must’ve seen this movie several times, I later realized. That’s why he was so confident that everyone would be too busy to notice him.
After what seemed like forever, I run out and phone my Dad, who was completely calm the whole time. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, I find myself safely in the arms of my Mom, sitting in Dad’s office at the police station. There, Tito Ben is already deep in conversation with my dad.
I rarely see Tito Ben because he is always so busy with work, but now I know that it was okay if I did not bother to mano.
“Where’s Jen?” I ask mom, suddenly remembering my best friend.
“Manong Joey already drove her home. I talked to Tita Queeny already, don’t worry.”
“Do they know?” I asked, panicky.
“Of course not,” my mom said, flicking her index finger against the tip of my nose, her surefire way of making me smile. “I told them you were feeling nauseous.”
My smile vanishes. “I am nauseated.”
Mom hugs me tighter. “”Nak, Tito Ben’s a very good lawyer, and Daddy’s got this covered. Everything will be fine. This is just a bad dream, that’s all.”
We arrive at the courthouse. I smooth down my long-sleeved polo when I get outside the car.
We make our way to the courtroom with my mom holding my hand. She has never let go of my hand since day one. My dad walks next to her.
Mom and I take a seat next to Tito Ben whom I have seen talking to Dad at home every month since that night, discussing time-consuming arraignments and rejecting settlements and protecting minors and a psychologist vouching for my low emotional stress tolerance and making sure that this would be the second and last time I’ll ever see the face of this man. Just like the first night, I know it’s okay if don’t bother with mano.
Tito Ben takes out a couple of beige folders from his suitcase and sets them on the large table before us. He is wearing a barong and slacks, not a sign of stress on him.
“Are you ready, Annie?” He calls me by my nickname, trying to get me to relax. I smile feebly and nod. I look quickly at the people around me, just long enough to distinguish which ones are the man’s relatives. I wonder if he would still have anyone standing by him after this. I show no emotion nonetheless.
A sergeant-at-arms escorts him in a yellow shirt and handcuffs. His head is shaved clean, and he looks gaunt compared to the potbellied man from eight years ago. When he looks my way I do my best to stare right through him and try to appear emotionless. He has nothing over me, I remind myself. The only person who lost anything in this is him, and he’s about to lose sixteen years of his life for doing this to my then-eleven-year old self. Justice is like my favorite dish at Italianni’s. It takes forever to arrive, but I always know that it will be served.
“All rise,” the bailiff standing on the left side of the courtroom announces in his deep voice.
The judge begins to talk. Meanwhile, I begin to summarize every one of the seven Harry Potter books in my head.
“Wherefore, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Br. 8, Davao City in Criminal Case No. 43, 810-99 is as follows: Joselito Delbedes Santos is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of acts of lasciviousness, defined and penalized under article 336 of the Revised Penal Code, is hereby sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty imprisonment of fifteen years…” Judge Guerrero reads. I realize just now that I have been holding my breath. I feel my shoulders relax. I turn to my mom who rubs my arm. After the rest of the decision is read, and the convict is taken away, dad walks over to Tito Ben and shakes his hand. “Thanks, man,” is all he says.
“It’s nothing. This case got me a break from all those annulments I’ve been handling,” Tito Ben replies, smiling. He turns to me and mom. After some clever vaguery, he’s off. Dad places his hand on my shoulder, saying “let’s go.” Completely ignoring the nosy journalists standing outside the door, we go down the steep staircase and exit the courthouse. Fixers stand about, alert for officers who might catch them and potential customers alike. We get to the car which is parked at the back of the courthouse. ‘Nong Joey opens the car door for me. Dad’s in the passenger seat, and mom and I are at the back, my head resting against her shoulder.
“Where to, boss?” ‘Nong Joey asks.
“Where do you want to have lunch, ‘nak? I got the afternoon off,” Dad says, looking at me in the mirror. This is his most affectionate self.
“Italianni’s?” Mom asks. I grin at my parents.
I am staring out at the road ahead. My parents and I are visiting our relatives in the city, and my mother squeezes my hand as she hears me gasp.
“Are you okay?” she asks lightly.
I slowly exhale as the faces of Joselito D. Santos smile at me mockingly. Toto Santos for City Councilor, the posters say. My mother looks vaguely at the direction I’m still staring at, and looks back at me. I feel nauseous.
“What is it?”
I shake off my surprise and meet my mother’s eyes. I shrug and smile at her. She doesn’t remember. My father continues to drive our tricycle. For some reason I didn’t understand at the time, our court-appointed lawyer was dead set on getting a settlement out of the case. My mother pats my knee. It’s been five years. Neither of them remembers. But I do.
Vanessa Marie Lim is an AB English student of Ateneo de Davao. She hopes to be a lawyer someday.