OR­ANGE

Sun.Star Davao - - PULLOUT! - BY MARIE CRESTIE JOIE CONTRATA

The pale or­ange color that lit the streets of Verga Sub­di­vi­sion in Bu­nawan switched on right be­fore the sun started to set. The doors and win­dows had to be shut to keep the mosquitoes out. For most kids in the neigh­bor­hood, it was time to go home. For most par­ents, it was time to make din­ner while they lis­tened to lo­cal news on the tele­vi­sion. The houses I passed by had their porches lit, the own­ers turn­ing their lights on for rel­a­tives on their way home. Even the shabby houses of set­tlers in the area were loud and bright.

Our house was not far from the high­way, but I had to walk two blocks the other way around be­fore fi­nally go­ing home. Dur­ing the day, our house didn’t stand out. But at night, it would be lit from inside with can­dles. Our house—which had two storeys, a garage that could park two cars, and a closed mini shop on the front—used to be as loud and bright as other houses in the neigh­bor­hood.

I used my phone, which I’d charged to full ca­pac­ity in class ear­lier that day, to light my way to the front door. Our door­bell was so loud it could draw the neigh­bors’ at­ten­tion. So, I knocked un­til I heard foot­steps that tried to be dis­creet in an empty house so quiet. The cur­tain be­hind the win­dow next to the front door moved a lit­tle, a point­less move since the porch was so dark.

“It’s me, Nay,” I told my mother. The door opened and the smell of lit can­dles wafted to my nose.

“Nganong nagab-ihan na­man sab ka?”

I’d be cruel if I told her why I came home only when it had gone dark. Com­ing home in the af­ter­noon felt like our neigh­bors were stab­bing me with their eyes. The chis­mosas would hud­dle on the streets as they watched their young­sters play to­gether. The bakaleros from the junk shop be­side the en­trance of the sub­di­vi­sion would sit around a ta­ble set up for them by the old tin­dera who knew every­body. All of them had watched me walk home one af­ter­noon. They whis­pered to each other, but I knew what they had to say. And they were right. My fam­ily was a wreck.

“I have vol­ley­ball prac­tice, Nay,” I lied. “We’re play­ing against other high schools in the city next month, so I’ll be com­ing home around six from now on.”

Nanay grum­bled. She sized me up, foot to head, my im­pos­si­bly thin frame. “I should start din­ner,” she said on her way to the kitchen.

I sat on the din­ing ta­ble and watched her grab some ripe saba. That was the third week we had been eat­ing noth­ing but steamed ba­nanas at home. I did not mind be­cause it was all we could af­ford. In school, I would eat rice and a sunny-side-up for lunch, which I bought with the fif­teen pe­sos Nanay would give me ev­ery day. I didn’t have to won­der what she had to eat at home. I had to eat or else my class­mates would start ru­mors. Eat­ing one egg dur­ing lunchtime at a pri­vate school was hu­mil­i­at­ing enough. But eat­ing made me feel guilty.

I heard the door close from the old mini shop. Nanay turned her head. Tatay was home. He worked as a depart­ment chief at the Na­tional Grid Corp. He’d moved into the shop after he found out that Nanay had been us­ing their life sav­ings for an in­vest­ment. Even my aunts and un­cles – prob­a­bly my neigh­bors, too – knew that the in­vest­ment was a scam. Nanay could not see that.

From the cor­ner of my eyes I could see the light inside the shop was on. Then, I heard the sound of the tele­vi­sion. Nanay and I froze. He must have paid for the elec­tric­ity. For a mo­ment I thought about the home eco­nom­ics project I had to do. The teacher had asked us to make a model house and light each room with small light bulbs to test how much we un­der­stood cir­cuitry. But we didn’t have elec­tric­ity at home, and Nanay could not af­ford the ma­te­ri­als for my home­work. I’d looked around and found two bat­ter­ies in the drawer and a bro­ken ex­ten­sion chord. I un­screwed the small light bulb from the ceil­ing. I then taped the two bat­ter­ies and the bulb to both ends of the cop­per wire. It worked, but the tape burned after a few sec­onds so I had to change it just to keep the light on. When I saw the lights from the shop, I thought I could eas­ily do that home­work with­out hav­ing to squint.

I ran to flick the light switches. But none worked. I plugged the elec­tric fan in the sala but it still didn’t work.

“The breaker is in the shop,” Nanay said. “Only he has elec­tric­ity.”

I strug­gled to sup­press my anger boil­ing along with ba­nanas in the pot. I walked to the shop, pounded on the door, and de­manded that he open the door. I kicked it many times. I for­got about the neigh­bors and what they were go­ing to say.

“Door’s open,” he shouted from the inside.

“Re­ally?” I screamed at my fa­ther who was eat­ing take out on the fold­ing bed he bought for him­self. I pushed the take out from his hand. Rice and fried chicken were ev­ery­where. I walked back to the house.

Nanay and I sat qui­etly as we ate our din­ner. I dipped a steamed ba­nana on brown su­gar. Some­times milk or Milo, but Nanay could not af­ford that any­more. She pri­or­i­tized can­dles over condi­ments. Tatay used to pay for ev­ery­thing un­til he moved to the shop. Nanay was too old to get a job any­where. She ap­plied at an or­chid shop in a mall down­town, but they thought she was overqual­i­fied to be ven­dor with her de­gree in botany. I wanted to ask her what other dips went with steamed ba­nana. But I stopped my­self be­cause we could not af­ford it ei­ther way.

While we were eat­ing, the lights above the din­ing ta­ble sud­denly turned on. My eyes ad­justed to the flood of white light. Ev­ery­thing, ev­ery ap­pli­ance, ev­ery piece of fur­ni­ture in the house had its own color again, in­stead of the pale or­ange light danc­ing on them. I heard the buzzing of the re­frig­er­a­tor again, the white noise from be­hind the tele­vi­sion screen, the small gears that made the fan turn its head from side to side. I didn’t no­tice these sounds when elec­tric­ity ran all day in this house.

“He must have come to his senses,” Nanay said as she looked around her well lit home. She grabbed a tis­sue and handed it to me. She told me to wipe my nose. I won­dered why I had to do it. I didn’t have a cold and my al­ler­gies weren’t act­ing up. But I did.

“Look at your tis­sue,” Nanay said. A crooked cir­cle in the shape of my nos­tril with the color of ash and dark smoke was on my tis­sue. Nanay and I laughed. I did my other nos­tril. She did both of hers. We laughed and con­tin­ued to eat our steamed ba­nanas. I washed the dishes when we were done. She watched prime­time shows at the tele­vi­sion. I lis­tened as I did my chore. The house had never been this loud in weeks.

There was a knock on our front door. Nanay knew it was Tatay but she didn’t bother to get up. The door was not locked any­way. He knocked again.

“It’s open!” I shouted from the kitchen. The door opened. I turned to look at him. He was car­ry­ing a mug of beer and it was spilling on the floor of the house my mother bought with her own money.

“Go back to your cave, Long,” Nanay said calmly.

“Let me back in. You need elec­tric­ity. You need me,” Tatay begged Nanay.

“We don’t need you here,” Nanay said. I wanted to dis­agree. I thought while wash­ing the dishes, At least there’s water run­ning on the tap.

“Look at our daugh­ter!” Tatay was getting ag­gres­sive. “What have you been feed­ing her?”

“At least I feed her while you hide in the shop with your take-out,” Nanay stood up and yelled at him. Tatay charged at her.

“Self­ish,” Nanay said as she tried to catch her breath. Tatay hit her with the mug on his hand. Beer was ev­ery­where. I ran to where Nanay was and held her face with my soapy hands. I kicked my fa­ther again and again. He kicked back.

“You maxed out our ac­count, re­mem­ber?” Tatay said. He looked at me and told me to go up­stairs. I started to cry but also couldn’t stop kick­ing him. He sat on the couch with his mug and chugged the last drop. He be­gan to cry.

Nanay stood up and ran up­stairs to what was once their bed­room. I fol­lowed her and left Tatay sob­bing in the sala.

I found Nanay by the win­dow of her room sit­ting and think­ing. The room was lit with the flu­o­res­cent light but Nanay didn’t bother to put out the can­dle. I sat on the bed and watched her. She was not cry­ing any­more. We were both quiet.

The sound of glass break­ing star­tled us. It was Tatay’s beer mug. He banged the door close. A few sec­onds later, the lights shut off. Ev­ery­thing was dark and quiet again. The bed, the walls, and my mother’s face were once again painted with a pale or­ange color.

I walked to the win­dow where Nanay sat. They were all there, our neigh­bors. When they saw me at the win­dow, they turned around and walked back to their homes.

The sound of glass break­ing star­tled us. It was Tatay’s beer mug. He banged the door close.

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