The Math teacher roughly grabbed Tommy by the sleeve.
“Who taught you this word?” she demanded.
“She did!” pointing at a playmate. “Dili gani ako!” the playmate countered and adamantly pointed her finger at another playmate. The other playmate quickly said no and pointed his finger at another. The finger pointing went on and on until it erupted into a quarrel amongst them. He did, she did, you did accusations were flying around for they forgot who started the game in the first place. It was the makings of politics. Cage rattler, players, finger pointing, displaced accountability, feigned ignorance, pointless hullabaloo, and lastly corrupted silence.
Selena was silent but she did not forget. She remembered it was Diana who started it but she bit her tongue to protect her friend. She shoved me down her own throat and kept mum while the interrogation was happening. That was the last time I heard her use the word that year. That was the end of ‘devirginized’ for the time being. After a few years, this sordid word will be revived which explained why the feeling of betrayal never went away. At that moment though, I still felt reduced into a thing in the past. A memory, relevant only when there is a need to dig up history and rummage through forgotten boxes. Finished. I have never felt so downgraded in my entire existence as a letter. So, I rebelled many times. Failed. Rebelled again. Failed some more. Rebelled even more. Wars were always waged because she mastered this foreign language.
She mastered it because she was repeatedly told that it was the gateway to success. It was supposedly her key to a lucrative life in the land where the pastures were believed to be greener.
She first started using it at home, and then refined her skills in school. She used it most carefully when it was obligatory like in examinations, shows, and family gatherings; which were actually one and the same if you scrutinize it meticulously. Examinations, shows, and gatherings in her family are all the same banana. She used it more often than I would have wanted as the years passed. In fact, she became more fluent in this foreign language than her own native tongue. And every chance I got, I rebelled with enough indignation by making her speak Bisaya. Sometimes, when she was in the middle of conversing in English, when she was caught unaware, or was animated by something, I coaxed my old friends to band with me and we vaulted out of her mouth. We banded to form words that can only be recognized as Bisaya.
Giatay. Litsugas. Amaw. Yati. Puryagaba. Labad. Unya.
We became ninja letters and there was victory in watching her eyes bulge while she covered her mouth.
“Oh, you’re Bisaya!?” some listeners would comment. And somehow, I felt something stir in her innards. Something almost resembling shame and it rumbles on when her listeners would talk in whispers, eyeing her, feeling more superior. Apparently, for these listeners, if you speak Bisaya then that means you are not from Manila; to state it even more callously, you are not from Luzon. If you spoke Bisaya, you might be from Cebu and Cebu is somehow tolerable, because people from imperial Manila take vacations there and it is filled with beautiful beaches. But, if you speak Bisaya and hailed from Mindanao, that is even worst for these listeners. Automatically, they will think of maids, helpers and nannies.
And this was where the shame in her innards were rooted from, even though the thoughts of these listeners is in the wrong, even though there is also nothing amiss with working as a housemaid or a caregiver to children and old people. Bigotry, introduced by people around her, taught her to be wrongly ashamed.
“Oh your accent is barely there,” they will continue to compliment her, and somehow this made her feel better. So, I make her lapses more regular just to spite her for feeling shameful when there was no need to, for losing that pride.
“Dah! Dah!” I would declare every time.
I only realized later that by laying those traps, I buried her in that grave of shame even deeper than it was first dug for. Not because what I did was wrong, but because the people surrounding her wickedly dictated that she grew up in the wrong side of the country. Not all of them though thought the same way. There were some who disagreed with this mentality. The quiet some. The some who also recognized the burn of that shame because they know it should not be there. The some who never raised their fists in defiance even if injustice was served in platters to those who did not belong in their circles. The silent spectators who kept mum because they do not want their convenient cages rattled. Some. I will rebel against these ‘some’ one day. When she is older, more experienced, angrier. For now, there are only the traps.
Did you ever have the urge to clear your throat or suddenly feel that your normally rested tongue starts fidgeting? That’s our doing. Letters in jubilation, skittling from your oral cavities to your brain, and then back again. She thinks she is in control? Know this, we – the letters – we let her take rein because we allow it. It is as simple as that. But in worst times, when I am set on penalizing her, I instigate a revolt amongst my fellow letters. The revolt then caused so much mayhem that letters either no longer knew what order to follow or they would refuse to get in line. Think of protest rallies. Yes, those people marching in the streets who ended up somewhere – like in front of a government office – with placards, shouting at the top of their lungs about ending some injustice of some sort and then would be dispersed by water cannons by the police. The revolts I instigated results similarly to those dispersals.
As an aftermath, two things would happen – silence or mindless muttering, but people phrased the experience as tongue-tied, incoherence of thoughts, or plain stupidity. If one tries to regain control, saliva spurts from the mouth uncontrollably.
This was when she learned to talk in hushed tones. She learned the importance of not needing to be heard all the time. To keep mum when you are uncertain about something or someone. To choose when to speak, where to speak, and how. To talk in whispers and scheme like gossipmongers. Many times, in the future though when she is older, she will fail. Mostly intentionally, without my doing.
Den Ramonal has a degree in Speech Communication, minor in Theater arts at the University of the Philippines. A proud Dabawena, she has always incorporated her love for the performing arts that advocates the indigenous culture of the Philippines with all her work. Currently, she is a recipient of the Erasmus Mundus +’s Choreomundus – International Master in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage.