By MHERYLL GIFFEN L. ALFORTE
EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is one of the works in a seven-part series in line with the Dapitan 2020 theme Ina. All works that are part of the series are written by the Flame’s Letters staffers.
FOR as long as I can remember, I have never had a definite inkling of what I look like. Mama had always forbade me to look at myself in the mirror; she said I must never indulge myself with vanity.
It was only through stolen glimpses of my reflection that I had the chance to look at the face I should have memorized like the back of my hand. Here I am, almost desperate for a longer peek even at the risk of getting caught. I stared at my reflection. The television’s screen mirrored my face in a faint manner, but it was enough to discern my features: I had the same big, round brown eyes and narrow face that matched my Mama’s.
Except for the length of our hair, I looked like a near spitting image of her. Mama always cut my hair similar to those of the boys in my class. Depending on her mood or how grave my punishment is, sometimes its length is as short that it rests on my nape, and other times it was shaven to barely a few millimeters in length.
Mama’s hair was unlike mine. Hers were wavy and long; it flowed to her shoulders, framing her elfin features. But to say that I looked like Mama was a grave insult to her because no one can be as beautiful as her, not even me.
She was the epitome of grace and beauty, always clad in beautiful, yet straightlaced clothes that covered every inch of her skin no matter the weather. She always made sure to look her best, even at home, and especially when Papa is around. I was astonished by her frantic efforts but I realized that it must be because of her love for Papa. There was something different in the way he looks at her; a hint of eagerness, mixed with something entirely different at the core of it. It was obvious that Papa appreciated her efforts.
Playtime with Papa is my favorite thing in the world. But recently, I noticed that Mama is always present whenever I play with him. She stares at me intently – scrutinizing my every move. One wrong move, and she always fumbled to grab my arm to drag me to my room.
I began to think that Mama hated me. Why else would she dress me in boyish clothes that makes me feel unhappy? Why else would she refuse to buy me fancy dresses like the girls my age? Why else does she make me feel like a stranger in my own home?
Seasons come and go and soon, the flower that had always been a tight bud was beginning to open. My body began approaching the start of womanhood with its budding breasts and blossoming curves. Eventually, it was only a matter of time before my mind started singing a tune of its own and my heart drummed along to its beat.
It was getting clearer that Mama wanted all the attention to herself. I was beginning to look like her, and she hated the thought of another pretty girl ㅡ no, a prettier girl in the house. She was getting jealous of the amount of attention Papa has been giving me lately.
One time, I sneaked into their room to try on Mama’s clothes. They found me out: Papa grinned at me and said that I looked pretty, but Mama seemed to think otherwise. That night I slept with red, burning hands. The pain clawed at my flesh, spreading through every muscle with intensity. But I did not regret it.
From then on, Mama poured more effort and time into watching me. I began to walk on eggshells around her. As her obsession of me grew, so did the punishments that came along with my stubbornness. They all resulted in the same marks that scarred my body, especially my face.
Then it happened in the blink of an eye. I was observing myself in the mirror when my Mama caught me. She saw red, grabbed my arms and dragged me to the kitchen. Between hysterical breaths, she pulled out a pair of scissors and hovered it in front of me, attempting to cut my face.
But I knew I had enough. Before she could close the gap between us, I snatched the scissors from her hand and forcefully plunged the weapon right into her chest. Shock overwhelmed her face but I did not give her time to react as I thrusted once, twice, thrice, until I lost count. I witnessed how life slowly dwindled from her eyes, but there was something else that I caught. I recognized it and it was fear.
Everything became still.
I stared at the red that clung to her long locks of hair, and imagined how I would look like with the same length. My hair – although not as long as hers – was beginning to grow out. I caressed it.
When Papa came home, he did not utter a single word. Instead, he helped me carry and hide Mama’s body. I always knew I could trust him more than Mama.
Something deep inside of me was lifted off my chest. A weight that had been constricting my lungs for years. Now that Mama’s presence is not here anymore, I no longer feel trapped in my own body. The prison walls had collapsed and crumbled. I can breathe freely now.
Finally, I am free.
That night, Papa quietly came into my room. I felt the shift of the weight on my bed and heard a belt unbuckling behind me. It took me a few seconds before realization of what was unfolding settled in. “Your Mama is not here to protect you anymore.” F