The rain was relentless with force almost denting the corrugated rooftops. Mud caked the city veins. It’s a tough monsoon season, he thought. Or whatever a kid’s approximation of what monsoon meant. He just knew that the rain almost never stops these days.
He sat in an alleyway; knees tucked close to his chest for warmth. This path was a shortcut between a mall chain and a well-known road. Usually, he would see countless feet shuffling. Some of them may even take pity and toss him a coin or two. But not today. His spot was a nook next to a wall with a foot worth of roofing overhang above him. His face was dry, or dry as it could be, and his toes were waterlogged.
Around this time of year, strangers would be wearing bright red hats (or none) and go around giving food. He can tell if the season was right when he can hear the bustling mall echo out a song talking about sleighs, snow, and gifts. He doesn’t know snow; he only knows that the sky gives water.
Mall employees decided to brighten this alley with lights. The tiny little bulbs would alternate between red, blue, orange, and green. They look like stars to him. Turbulent grey covered the sky, so he couldn’t see the real thing.
The food-giving people didn’t come. So, he sat there as his stomach whimpered. He thought of it as a companion, the metallic clang of raindrops it’s musical accompaniment. He passed the time admiring the technicolor performance in front of him.
After a while, the white noise he’s been steeping himself in has ended in a decrescendo. He looked to the skies. The rain was still present with the oppressive dark clouds it’s purveyor. It was soundless, the ripples and clangs it made were gone.
His gaze moved to the right where the alley led to the back of the mall. It was the same as normal, albeit devoid of people. And so, he looked left.
His view would be of a path leading to a road and a bright lamp post, which it still did. But a figure stood there. He mistook it as the pole at first, but his vision lied.
“People walk here. So why am I scared?”, he thought. This reassurance would’ve worked. But the figure stopped right ahead him. He looked at their feet. He always does. Folks don’t take kindly to him if he looks them in the eye.
Do not worry child, I mean no harm.
The boy knew that the figure never spoke out loud. Yet his head heard them still. He then heard a small, subdued giggle.
I will not hurt you. I swear on my own name. Look up, small child.
What greeted him was a tall thin frame of a pale feminine figure. She was clad in a black veil and a flowing gown reaching the muddy ground. In her hand was a long, forked branch she used as a staff. A lantern hung on top of it, unlit.
See, I am not a scary person.
Her voice was confusing to him. It’s almost as if all the voices the boy has heard in his life were speaking at the same time. Or was it his own voice he used inside his head? But as unusual as it was, he never felt scared. Why was he not scared?
“Who are you?”, his voice should’ve been drowned by the downpour.
Who do you think I am?
“Are you one of them food people? Those who wear bright red hats?”
She didn’t respond.
“Are you Santa? Probably not because you have no beard…” , he quipped.
“…The Christmas spirit? I can overhear the mall sometimes singing about them. But I never knew what they really looked like.”
The figure produced a stifled chuckle in the same vein as if one would try to seem more professional in the face of a kid’s inquiry. There was a long pause, almost too long, before she spoke again.
Would you like to come with me?
Her ivory hand appeared before the boy. It looked as if it was a porcelain doll’s yet lithe and elongated, skeletal almost. They stayed there. Time marched on like they were its left-behind passengers. But the figure stood still, unbothered.
“Will there be food?”, the boy looked up after much deliberation.
The shade could not contain her laughter now. She covered her mouth, a semblance of courtesy even if there was no face to look at. His head turned at the response; eyes squinted in confusion.
She sat a few feet next to him. Her movement flowed like smoke; a thin frame reflected by the rising water level in the alley. The puddles below left no trace that she even stepped on them.
Most of the people who meet me do not ask me that.
The ankle-high floodwater didn’t interfere with the Christmas lights’ rhythmic illumination. Yet they remained seated despite what would be fluid now soaking the both of them. The boy didn’t feel cold since the shadowy woman appeared.
“Will it be a good place?”, his voice rose, almost in excitement.
As the storm weathered out the path calmed into a flat mirror, reflecting the Christmas lights all around them. Raindrop ripples grew tired and echoed out. It turns out the evening crept in long before the boy noticed.
I do not know. I can only guide you there.
For once in these past few weeks, he was able to see the stars vividly as if the city lights were not there to snuff them out. Were they always this big? This close?
In one swift motion, the woman stood up and offered her hand again. He felt nothing but comfort, almost a yearning, as his tiny palms reached towards it. It was not freezing cold as he assumed from its appearance. All his concerns washed away as he moved closer to the veiled lady; akin to being with a friend he had always known for a long time.
“How do I look?” The rusty lantern sparked to life as they both walked. In the dim light, he tried to clean off his tattered threadbare clothes. The path they followed was almost carpeted by the night sky. Every step he took never left a single footprint.
That will not matter at all, child. You look just fine.
Currently in the trenches of his studies as a University of Mindanao B.A. Communications Student, Panabo-born Benjamin Caspillo III does his best to write whenever he can spare a bit of himself.