Evanswinda squatted on the washroom floor, scrubbing gently the clothes she had been washing. Left alone in the washroom of the Granada’s residence, she hummed to herself a song she heard in passing. The whirring sound of the washing machine and her soft humming broke the quiet morning in the household. She would have wanted to chuck the clothes she had been scrubbing inside the machine beside her if not for Ma’am Rissa’s instruction to wash them by hand because of the delicate fabric. She couldn’t afford to be scolded again in fear of losing her only job. A metal design on a dress shaped like a heart that she had failed to notice scraped her wrist. She yelped in surprise and quickly rinsed the shallow wound off with the soapy water. She continued washing, paying no attention to the stinging sensation while she scrubbed.
Ma’am Rissa’s daughter Christine, a young woman in her twenties, sauntered to the washroom and told Evanswinda to finish quickly before lunch came. As briefly as she came, she left. Still, she went ahead in washing the clothes slowly. She barely slept that morning after the talk she had with her husband Tiyong last night. She had gone to visit her parents in Maco yesterday. There was a fiesta in Maco that day and she accompanied her mother in the market to carry the vegetables, pancit canton, and a few slices of meat they bought. Obliged to lend a hand in cooking along with washing the dishes, she almost had no time to rest that day. She had been worn-out and couldn’t wait to go home. Her home was in Sto. Niño. This had been her home ever since she married Tiyong. Sto. Niño was not as clean and peaceful as the home she had in Maco, but she had become attached to the place after living there. The houses were disorganized with feeble attempts of fixing the leaking roofs and holed plank walls. The black canal surrounding the purok gave off a putrid smell. It was as if the canal has died and had been left there to rot. Of course it was not the shabby image of the town that she had liked, but the place full of life and sound despite the lives most residents had.
Evanswinda only had a few minutes of rest when she arrived home. Sitting up on the bed, she massaged her sore arms when her husband came. He had gone straight to their room to change and had ignored her unintentionally. His face, darkened by the sun, scrunched up in worry. Tiyong was out of sorts that night, staring unto nothing in particular and seeming to forget the food offered before him. Evanswinda felt offended for she had frantically prepared the table upon his arrival. After preparing for bed, he took his wife’s hand and spoke up what had been bothering him.
“It had been long since we lost the little one,” he started.
“It had only been two years,” said Evanswinda.
“That had been long enough,” he said. “Why don’t we start again?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, snatching her hand away. She could not understand how easy it was for him to say that. Two years was still not enough to heal the pain. No, she would not let him have his ways, then would leave her there to suffer alone again. She knew he had to work, but so did she. She washed tons and tons of clothes to save up enough for her childbirth, but that never happened. The morning sickness had been tough. Why would people call that morning sickness when the nausea would not only happen in the morning, but also at noon and more terribly at night? The black canal didn’t help then, though the trash had not been that severe two years ago. The smell of the black canal often made her sick, as if her sense of smell had become stronger and sensitive.
“I am serious,” said Tiyong beside her.
“A child will not do us any good,” she said, turning her back on him. “We can’t afford to have one with what we have.”
“We can always find a way, Inday,” he said. She pursed her lips and didn’t reply. He was past calling her sweet names and preferred calling her “Inday” at that point. He didn’t call her Eva as what most people called her, but this didn’t bother her. The name Eva had already been reserved for his late wife, Evalyn. His first wife died of breast cancer. Evanswinda knew their three years of marriage involved sufferings from breast cancer, financial problems, and lack of sexual life. Because he could not copulate with his wife, he was left childless after Evalyn’s death. He continued with his life and considered his nephew Marlon living next door as his son instead, he told Evanswinda back then. The house they lived in was owned by Evalyn’s parents before their deaths. This disturbed her in the beginning, thinking how the dead wife would have felt when she began living there. Then again, she was not sure if the dead still felt anything or if their pain and memory would be wiped out after their death. Maybe for the dead, but not for the living. Evanswinda was alive, but it seemed like she had to compete with the dead wife when it came to calling her Eva by her husband.
Evanswinda was aware of how overjoyed Tiyong was when she found out she was pregnant four years ago, until she had the miscarriage. She bled two nights before she lost the baby. It began with just small smudges of blood on her underwear. The next day, she started having cramps in her lower belly, like having dysmenorrea doctor for a prenatal check-up was expensive and their meager savings were not enough. But then one day, while she had gone to the comfort room, she felt something come out from between her leg. A fetus dangled, the umbilical cord still connected. The baby would have perfectly fit between her palms. She looked away and closed her eyes, urging herself to wake up from the nightmare. But she had been awake, and the baby still hanged from between her legs. Her body shuddered and her hand quaked. She did not know what to do if she would have to touch the small baby or call for help. But her husband was at work and she had no one with her. She tried to pull the tiny being and thought the fetus would be warm to the touch, but this one felt cold and wet. A boy, she noticed, with tiny feet and long fingers. Warm droplets fell on her arms as her body trembled.
Evanswinda was a household help when she met Tiyong. She was often sent by her mistress to the wet market to buy vegetables, meat, and fish once a week. Tiyong stood a few inches shorter than her. He had a gentle face but had a brawny figure. He worked as a porter, carrying crates of fishes and blocks of ice in the market. Whenever Evanswinda bought from a stall, her deep and loud voice would attract attention including that of Tiyong’s. While she walked around the market passing by Tiyong that delivered a crate of fish, he greeted her and called her “Miss Beautiful.” He thought calling her that would flatter her, but she only glanced at him with indifference. He continued to call her that every time they crossed paths in the market. Not used to being given attention by a stranger, she often ignored Tiyong. One weekend, her mistress sent her to the market again which she had grown accustomed to do. She had gone to the same habit of buying first in the vegetable stalls before continuing to the meat market. A man running frantically with two others pursuing him, knocked her from where she stood. She fell down, her palms and knees grazed. She heard a few buyers and vendors exclaimed in alarm—a thief! Her first thought was for the goods she purchased and quickly looked around. She sat up feeling relieved after seeing the goods hadn’t spilled inside the plastic bags apart from a single bulb of onion. She struggled to get up and realized she couldn’t walk. A man with thick matted hair picked up her plastic bags and when he looked up, she recognized him to be the man who had been bothering her in the market. The people had gone back to selling and buying after seeing her stand up and looking fine. Tiyong handed her the bags, which she snatched from his hand. She tried taking a single step that caused her to gasp from the pain. She felt anxious, thinking how she would go back to her employer’s house. Realizing her distress, Tiyong looked at her foot and saw her ankle had swelled. He took the plastic bags from her again and tried to put her arm around his shoulders. She hastily pulled away, feeling embarrassed as she looked around. No one paid them any attention, the people focusing on their goals at hand.
“I’m only helping you,” she heard the man say, his voice low and strong.
She hesitantly put her arm back around his shoulders and she limped to the road, assisted by the man to flag down a tricycle. He asked him where she lived and she told him the street of her employer’s residence. When they found a tricycle to ride, he helped her sit but he remained standing bidding her goodbye. She felt a hint of disappointment when he didn’t accompany her but quickly dismissed the thought. Since then, Evanswinda warmed towards him and started having affection for him. Eventually they became a couple. They lived together and got married after she got pregnant.
“Eva! You’ve finished, haven’t you?” Ma’am Rissa said, appearing at the washroom’s door. “Go to the store across and buy 2 liters of Coke.”
She really hadn’t finished but she quickly stood up and rubbed her soapy hands on her shirt. “Yes, Ma’am.” She handed Evanswinda a 100-peso bill, which the latter pocketed before leaving for the store. She was supposed to simply wash clothes for them, but sometimes she had to do other chores for them too. Outside the gate, she spotted her husband hailing a tricycle. She called out for him. He seemed to not hear when he stepped inside the tricycle that stopped in front of him. Strange, she thought. He didn’t tell her that he would be coming there. He did not even check up on her. He had never gone there actually, not even when she asked him for a favor. He detested the Granada’s, he told her, and disapproved of her employment to the family. She reminded herself to ask him what he was doing there when she got home. After buying the sodas, she left them with the household help named Gen, who prepared lunch in the kitchen. She returned to the washroom to finish rinsing the clothes. By noon, she was on her way home. She stopped in front of Sto. Niño’s entrance and paid the tricycle driver exactly eight pesos. The driver scratched his head with an annoyed face and left. Evanswinda was aware of some tricycle drivers’ ploy of saying they did not have change or saying that the drop off point was far and the passenger had to pay more. So whenever she could, she would prepare exactly eight pesos for the fare.
At the side of the entrance, the stench of the blackened large canal reminded her of the life she had. People were repulsed by the canal’s smell and veered away from it. Like the canal, she was despised by the neighbors. They were not friendly with her when she moved to her husband’s house, especially when they found out she washed clothes for the Granada’s. Their hatred for the Granada’s was extended to her as well. Unlike her, her husband still had friendly relationships with the other residents. Silverio Granada owned the land of Sto. Niño, which had been said to be donated to the residents. After Silverio’s death, his only son wanted to drive away the residents and construct a building. Evanswinda did not like the idea and shared the sentiments of others, but she never thought of doing anything out of fear. Her employers were from wealthy and powerful families. Some residents were already sent to prison because of the continuing battle for the land.
The laughter of children playing tigso in the open area stirred her from her thoughts. She continued walking to their house, which was situated near Sto Niño’s open area. She had liked where the house had been constructed, in which she could easily overlook the residents hanging around the large open space. Young shirtless men played basketball at the small basketball court. The children played at the side, while the grownups chatted by the sari-sari stores or just outside their homes.
Arriving home, Evanswinda took her slippers off and searched for a dry shirt that she could change to. Her husband wasn’t home yet, which made her wonder where he went after seeing him outside the Granada’s residence. She didn’t wait for him and ate the cold rice and dried fish left over from their breakfast. When she lay back to sleep on the bed, she thought to herself what her life would have been if she didn’t marry her husband. Would she have been happier? Would she have not experienced the miscarriage? She did not know, but she easily concluded that she would still marry someone else and remain poor. No rich man would marry her. She knew she wasn’t pretty. Her flat nose looked like a small bump in the middle of her face and her eyes were large and unattractive. With that last thought, she dozed off to a dreamless sleep. She was awakened by the door opening and the sound of feet hitting the ground steadily. No light came from the small hole on their wall, which meant she slept throughout the afternoon. She hastily stood up, remembering that she had not prepared dinner. She went out the room and saw her husband lounging on the sofa in their living room.
“Hey,” he said, sitting up on the sofa. “I bought dinner. It’s on the table.”
She walked away without a word and went to search for the food. The food was put inside a plastic bag. Peaking inside, she saw that there were four cups of rice and two dishes, pinakbet and ginagmay. She prepared the table and called out her husband. The shuffling of feet could be heard behind her when she sat on the chair.
“How did you find out that I haven’t cooked dinner yet?” she asked.
“I just know,” he said, flashing a barely perceptible smile.
Evanswinda chewed her food first before she spoke. “I saw you outside the Granada’s. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? What were you doing there?”
He didn’t answer immediately, knowing quite well that she was curious to know.
“They hired me to do errands,” he said. He focused on his food and wouldn’t look at her.
“What errands? I thought you hated them? You didn’t even want me to work for them.”
“Just simple errands. It’s just work anyway.” When she opened her mouth to speak he quickly said, “Let’s just leave it at that.”
She didn’t probe more and continued eating. She knew he hid something, but she could not determine what. He acted kind of edgy but tried to hide it well. He kept moving his leg under the table and looked anywhere but her.
For the past few days she had been seeing her husband coming in and out of the Granada’s when she washed their clothes during weekends. She had been asking what they had been ordering him about, but he wouldn’t budge. She had worked longer for the family, but she had no idea what her husband’s work entailed. She attempted to ask Ma’am Rissa, but she too would not say anything and would find ways to dismiss her. Tiyong might have told them to keep his work a secret from her, she thought. The thought that her husband hid something important to her made her frustrated and suspicious. He would not hide his work if he was not doing dirty work.
On her way home, a neighbor stopped her.
“Hoy, Eba!” Someone called out.
“You have been rubbing off on your husband it seems.” She turned to her right, seeing her neighbor Leah standing near a sari-sari store. She gave the woman a confused look. She would have left if what Leah said didn’t make her curious. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, stop pretending,” the woman said, huffing. Her thick brows furrowed and her lips puckered, clearly annoyed. “He had been persuading the other residents, even bribing the others to leave Sto. Niño. Have the two of you lost your minds? Just because you’re living in Evalyn’s house doesn’t mean you have become part of this place. Tell him we won’t leave but the two of you should.”
Evanswinda didn’t reply and walked with long strides to her house. That afternoon, she waited for Tiyong even though she wanted to have a rest ever since she left the Granada residence. The door to the house opened and Tiyong entered their home.
“Where have you been, Tiyong?”
“In the market,” he said, taking off the rubber shoes he wore. She had never seen a porter wearing rubber shoes while at work.
“Stop lying,” she said, giving him a dirty look. “You have been to the Granada’s. I saw you.”
“Then why do you have to ask if you already know?” He walked to their bedroom and took off his shirt.
“Are you making the residents leave?” she said, following him inside. He didn’t answer. “Tiyong why would you do that? You’re doing dirty work for them. Can’t you see?”
“You’re working for them too,” he simply said.
“There’s nothing wrong with washing clothes,” she said.
“How contradictory, I do the dirty work while you do the washing,” he said, chuckling without humor.
“There’s nothing laughable about that, Tiyong,” said Evanswinda.
He sat on the bed and said, “The pay is good. My back has been aching from carrying crates of fishes. There are younger and healthier men working in the market as a porter now. It has been difficult, you see?”
“There are other jobs,” she said, sitting beside him.
“No one would hire an old bat,” he said. “They always want someone fresh and strong.”
He began lying on the bed and closed his eyes, hinting that he wanted her to drop the subject. She could only sigh and lie on the bed too.
For days their marriage had not been doing well. She had been against with what he had been doing, but she herself couldn’t stop working for the Granada’s. They needed to survive. Day by day, she had observed her husband becoming easily irritated. Working with the Granada’s had taken a toll on him. The longer they worked for them, the greater the people were angered. Tiyong even lost the respect he had from his friends in the neighborhood.
Tiyong came home one night, opening the door with a loud bang. Evanswinda had been sitting in the living room, tinkering at an old radio. She looked up with wide eyes, thinking a stranger entered her home. Tiyong’s nostrils flared and he sighed in exasperation.
“What’s wrong?” Evanswinda asked.
“Manong Lindo wouldn’t even sell me a single stick of cigarette,” he said, slumping beside her. “He said some nonsense about betraying the people.”
“Aren’t we?” she said. Tiyong didn’t answer. “I’m quitting tomorrow. You know Linda? She’s my classmate in high school. She said she would help me find a job in the market. Won’t you leave too?”
For weeks, the thought of betraying the neighborhood plagued her mind. They were not just betraying the residents, but also themselves! It was not just a single stick of cigarette that their neighbors were not willing to sell. Even the essentials had to be bought outside of Sto. Niño or in the palengke. The people would gossip about them, sometimes something true but trivial and sometimes something made-up. She got weary of their neighbors’ eyes following their every move. After deciding that she would quit, she sought for other jobs and inquired from her friends.
“I’ll even work two jobs if that would make you quit,” she said.
“No.” he shook his head, trying to rid of the idea. “It won’t be enough.”
“We had been living fine,” she said, putting the broken radio on top of a cabinet.
“Marlon will be graduating from high school,” he said. “Your nephew?” she said.
“Yes,” he said, giving her a dismal look. “If he only lived, he would be starting school now.”
Evanswinda realized that it was no longer Marlon they were talking about. “We’re not talking about this again.”
“He died because I couldn’t provide you enough,” he said, drowning himself in self- pity. Evanswinda did not look amused. “I should have made you stopped working then.”
“What does this have anything to do with quitting work for the Granada’s?”
“The pay is good.” She heard the same reason again. “If we want to start again I should have enough saved up when you give birth.”
“I’m going to bed now,” she said.
“You think I want to work for them? I could not stand being in the same room with that family, telling me to betray our neighbors. I can’t even look at my friends in their eyes without feeling ashamed of what I am doing. But the money is of utmost importance right now. I want a child of my own. I’m getting old, Inday.”
“And so am I.” She walked to the bedroom without glancing back.
The next morning, Evanswinda and Tiyong walked on their way home, past the Eagle Hotel and uniformed prostitutes in Chikay. They had just been in the palengke, buying three kilos of rice, vegetables, and some meat. Evanswinda had finally quit and began working in the wet market. Tiyong had accompanied her instead of going straight to the Granada’s. He had not quit as much as she wanted him too. She knew how much he abhorred working for the family, but his pride was always on the way. Was his pride that important for him to disregard the people around him? Of how he truly felt? She looked at him and thought he certainly did.
A few kilometers from where they stood, though indistinct, smoke billowed in the night sky. With their armpits sweating and heart pounding, they ran. Upon arriving, people cried out in hysterics, some running to the houses with buckets of water, others brought things from their unburnt house. Evanswinda searched around for anything that could put the fire out, but found nothing. She looked over at Tiyong who stood frozen on the spot, staring at the burning houses. He looked as if he wanted to help, but his feet wouldn’t move. He squatted near the entrance, pulling out his hair.
By night time, it was declared that the fire was out. The fire cost five families their houses, including his. Most of the houses in Sto. Niño were made of wood, the most inexpensive material the people could find. The investigators said the fire possibly happened because of faulty wires. A lit candle probably caused the fire another said, but there was no use for a candle in broad daylight. No one believed the families caused the unfortunate turn of events, but many believed the Granadas did. They even pointed Tiyong as a possible suspect for working for the Granadas, forgetting for a while that one of the houses burned into ashes was his.
“That’s his karma for working for the Granada”. Maybe he even caused the fire but didn’t expect his house to also burn down.” Evanswinda heard one of their neighbors say.
Tiyong still squatted by the entrance, rocked his heels while he covered his face. He was mumbling to himself. Evanswinda approached him, calling his name gently. When she got closer she finally heard him.
“Nothing’s left. Nothing. Evalyn, my son, my house. Oh God, my house.”
Evanswinda felt her heart ache upon the mention of his first wife. She was still there, alive and by his side but he seemed to forget. He didn’t even notice her when he glanced at his left and picked up a piece of metal. Dread washed over her when she saw him start stalking away. She followed him but could not catch up with him immediately when he rode a tricycle.
Evanswinda saw Tiyong stop before the large gates of the Granada’s residence. She shuddered at the sight of it, which she had not experienced while under their employ. She witnessed Tiyong raising the metal piece and shouting at the Granada’s to come out. He looked crazed, his eyes wide and wild. She shouted at him to stop and wanted to get closer, but he was full of rage. She herself was afraid of what her husband would do. The Granada couple went out to the veranda to see what the commotion was about. When they saw Tiyong, Ma’am Rissa went frantically back in their house, scared of the mad man. The metal piece in Tiyong’s hand glinted under the moonlight.
“He’s holding something in his hand!” Ma’am Rissa shouted out of fear. “I think it’s a gun. Call the police, Gen. Tell them he has a gun.”
A few minutes later the police arrived, believing that what Tiyong held in his hand was a gun. In their blue uniforms, the policemen urged him to put down his weapon and surrender. He didn’t listen and raised the metal piece in his hand to the police, shouting profanities. He said something incomprehensible, tears streaming down his face. This was the first time Evanswinda witnessed Tiyong out of control. Then she saw the policemen level their gun at him. Evanswinda’s frantic shriek mingled with the gunshots. The metal piece fell along with Tiyong.
Cara Mae M. Fajardo recently graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in English major in Creative Writing. She lives in Tagum city.