written and illustrated by Jofelyn Martinez Khapra
written and illustrated by Jofelyn Martinez Khapra
I look at her, lanky but with such lovely facial features. High cheekbones, thick endless lashes draping doe-like soulful eyes. She is only 14 but already wearing out from the cares of the world. Now that she’s older, her family’s poverty is more pronounced. On her tattered clothing, on her dejected bearing. As a child, she was more carefree, oblivious to the state of her life. She used to burst with energy and aspirations, but as she grew into awareness, the limits of her ambitions are slowly dawning on her. I often used to wonder what will become of her. What will happen to her in the future. It devastates me to think of the inevitability of what the rest of her life would be like.
I kept asking her what are her plans for college every time I meet her. I can always feel the hesitation. The sigh around the room.”She wants to be a doctor.” Her sister would say, her voice laced with regret.
Her sister once tried defying tradition but now has acquiescence to the endless nagging of the convention. She will get married. She will give a dowry. Her sister had gone to college. She’s got a job. She is doing her masters. But those will hardly make any difference.
“Life ends once you get married.” I’ve heard this phrase too often from girls of marriageable age in this country.
This is unimaginable for me. For a girl, 20 years is such a short time to live.
Babar immediately regretted his decision once the tents disappeared from his view and he found himself lost in the middle of the forest. The place was eerily quiet except for the faint sound of gushing stream from a distance.
“What are you doing out here alone?” somebody growled from behind him.
Babar barked in surprised.
– a page from my ebook, Babar And The Wolves In The Forest
*story and illustration by JMKhapra 2014
( I am looking for a publisher for the print edition of my book. If you are interested please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)
” They should thank the ruthless fate that separated them when their love seemed still to be at its height. They might suffer, but they did suffer in beauty. They were spared the real tragedy of love. “
-Somerset Maugham, Red
“You don’t know that. My ex-boyfriend looks just like you.”
I regretted uttering this inane statement as soon as I saw the expression on his face. I saw a glint of hope in his dark cunning eyes.
I still cannot believe that it only takes muttering those few words for someone to be absolutely obsessed with you.
Fast forward to a couple of months, Cris was in front of me crying, begging for me to love him back. I was enraged. I was in love but not with him. He had done all he can to come in between me and the man I loved.
It was raining and I was working late. I left my work station to get a cup of coffee from the vending machine installed at the editor’s lounge .
” You too, huh?” Ryan said softly from behind, startling me.
I smiled, shrugging my shoulders . ” Yeah, my deadline is looming. ”
We took our coffee and sat on the sofa facing a large glass window. The rain outside poured incessantly. We sipped our coffee in a companionable silence.
” I like working in the night. It’s more peaceful to work when half of the employees are not here.”
” Yeah, though I don’t like sleeping during the day. It disorients me.”
Ryan chuckled. ” I don’t even notice the difference.”
My heart skipped a beat seeing his smiling face. He did not smile that often but every time he did, it was a ray of sunshine. I reached out to touch a curly lock that escaped from his ponytail.
” I really find these adorable.” I whispered, smiling a little. He took my hand that was holding the curls and gently pressed it to his lips, looking intently into my eyes.
We tried not to make a sound while inside one of the cubicle in the women’s restroom but I could not suppress my giggles when he showed me his underwear, grinning like a little boy . Printed on his boxer briefs were numerous little yellow round smileys. His whole body shook with silent laughter as he pulled me towards him.
I was sitting between Ryan and Cris at the cafeteria. Cris invited himself when he saw Ryan and me on our way there. Ryan was whispering one of his stupid jokes in my ear and I was laughing in spite of myself. Cris hated our happiness. But at the same time he was drawn to it. Cris was in love with our romance.
His jealousy was palpable as he looked at me while I was wiping Ryan’s spoon and fork with a paper napkin.
” Ryan, I spoke to Leo, I told him I want you on my team.”
” Wow, that is great man! Thank you. It is a great opportunity to work with you.” Ryan shook his hand enthusiastically.
I looked at Cris, coldly. He looked back at me, smiling with malice.
Cris made sure Ryan and my schedule never synched. If I was working at night he would assign Ryan to a day shift and vice versa. But Cris made sure his own schedules matched with mine.
” I know what you are doing. It will not work.”
” You just need a chance to get to know me more. I will also include you in a bigger project than this one. Besides Ryan is just a pretty face. You can do better.”
” That is none of your business and I am doing well on my own. I don’t need your help.” I retorted, staring furiously at my computer screen.
” But you don’t have to work this hard if you are on my team.”
I looked at him with utmost hatred.
” Don’t force me to leave this job. I will, you know.”
He went pale and left my room without a word.
” I’m sorry. You know I needed this opportunity. It’s like a regular income for me. It’s like a two year contract. I don’t have to wait for random assignments anymore. And I can learn a lot from Cris.” Ryan told me over the phone.
It sucks to fall in love with a weak man. Why did I even fall for his charms? He was beautiful, I’d give him that. Lack of sleep could really impair one’s judgement.
” I guess we are not on the same page in this relationship.” I paused. ” Oh, excuse me. We are not in a relationship.”
” I am really sorry, Gia. You know I really like you. I am even in love with you but I really need this.”
” So you do not care that he is obsessed with me? ”
” It’s hard not to.” he said with his usual naughtiness. ” A lot of men around here are envious of me.”
I sighed. I thought I had fallen in love with a man. It was heartbreaking to realize I was in love with a boy.
” What is wrong with me? Why not choose me? ”
Though my heart was filled with hatred for Cris, seeing him drunk and sprawled helplessly on the ground, my heart softened a little for him.
” I am not attracted to you. I was just being nice when I said those words. You were feeling so low about yourself.”
” You are so cruel. I was a drowning man. You don’t throw a lifeline like that only to eventually hang me with it. ”
” I’m sorry.”
He grunted and passed out. I called Ryan to help me take Cris home.
” What a memorable christmas party, huh? ”
” He is really a nice person when you get to know him.”
I was putting on the seat belt but my hand stopped in mid air.
” You’re kidding right? Are you advocating for him now?”
Ryan placed his hand on my knee.
” The poor guy is really in love with you, sweetheart.”
I swatted his hand away.
” You have read Somerset Maugham’s short stories, right? ”
” Have you read his short story, Red? ”
Ryan turned his head to look at me. ” Yes.”
” Cris is Neilson and you are Red.”
I heard Cris mumbled something unintelligible from the backseat. Ryan withdrew his gaze and stared silently at the road in front of him.
“The tragedy of love is not death or separation. How long do you think it would have been before one or other of them ceased to care? Oh, it is dreadfully bitter to look at a woman whom you have loved with all your heart and soul, so that you felt you could not bear to let her out of your sight, and realize that you would not mind if you never saw her again. The tragedy of love is indifference.”
― W. Somerset Maugham, Red
Copyright 2013, JMKhapra
I’m an editor. U-hu. A common reply when people ask me what I do. A video editor. I would elaborate. And again. A-ha. They would hide their confusions by this curt reply. I am prompted to explain. I work for TV. Their eyes would lit up. TV. Finally, a word they can relate to. ” For ABS- CBN.” Their eyes would show interest. Really? Is Piolo Pascual gay? I would try not to roll my eyes. I will not reply so they would ask, ” Yes, but what, exactly do you do there?
What exactly do I do? I edit. I cut. I paste. I fast forward. I rewind. I can slow down time. I can freeze a moment. I can play a song while a woman jilted by her lover sobs in utter desolation. I can put laughter when a boy trips over a wire. I’m a mini-god over the lives of those who inhabit my sequences. That is when my director leaves me alone. If not, he then plays god over me. Continue reading
Most of the time my father is a tight lipped man but since this summer all of his kids were together again under his roof out comes pouring his jovial nature. He has been telling my husband and I that in the recent years flashbacks of his younger mischievous days plague him constantly. Some he regrets, some he revels upon.
My husband shares my enthusiasm in listening to old people’s tales. Their stories are goldmines for those who want to write novels with a magic realism genre since sometimes the sequence of events does not make sense at all as memories blur over time. What they remembered might not be what actually happened giving the tale a fantastical flavor. Plus the stories are likely to have happened around a historically significant period. Like one particular anecdote he told us which easily became our favorite. The incident happened during World War II when the Japanese army occupied the country (he was just a very young boy then but he has lots of colorful stories about that period.) Continue reading
If nothing is sweeter than first love then nothing hurts like the first time a heart gets broken. Though by the time I met Liam’s father my heart had been broken and mended a few times already. The scabs had gotten thicker and thicker that over time it feels nothing more than a dull pain every time a relationship ends.
I still I feel a little pinch in my heart every time I remember Ian, my first love. What a mess it was. It took a few years before I could get over the humiliation I felt after dating him. Looking back now, I am not even sure if we were in any kind of relationship at all.
Come to think of it, Ian was also a product of two races. His mother a young Filipina, worked in Japan as an entertainer and then later on married a Japanese man. These entertainers were called Japayuki, though I think it sort of demeaning to call them that. As I mentioned previously most of the Filipinos were leaving the country at that time and besides being domestic helpers this was the most popular choice of occupation abroad.
Unlike me though being a biracial didn’t affect Ian much for he was popular and was considered good looking. I guess his facial features were still similar to that of a typical Filipino, chinky black eyes and brown skinned. Sometimes I wonder what a native Filipino really looks like. I mean, since Magellan landed in the shores of Cebu, the natives have been inter marrying or having relations with every colonizer who ever step foot in the country. With the Spanish, the Japanese and Americans and even with the Chinese who later migrated there. I do not think any single Filipino has a pure blood in him. No wonder the Philippines itself, like me feels at odds with its neighbors in South East Asia. In terms of religion for example, we are the only majorly Catholic nation in the region.
I guess you can call it a cute meet, how I met Ian. He and his popular friends were playing volleyball in a small yard near the classroom where I was going to that day. I was lost in my thoughts and hugging a couple of thick books when the ball hit me. He came running towards me to apologize and help pick up my books which had fallen on the ground. Our eyes met and I thought sparks flew. Well at least on my side. I could not hide my embarrassment as my otherwise pale cheeks became tomato red. I was speechless and ran towards the room while Ian’s friends laughed and hooted. After that incident every time I pass Ian’s group of friends, they would heckle and tease Ian.
” Uy Ian! si tisay! Go on ask her name! ” Tisay is a slang for the word mestiza meaning a girl of mixed race with one part Filipina.
Ian would then walk beside me and ask me if he can help me carry my books. I was not immune to his charm as he would smile sweetly but I did not know how to respond as I was used to shying away from any unwanted attention. His friends would laugh loudly when again I would run away from them.
Ian was flirtatious with me when he was with his friends but every time I ran into him while he was walking with his girlfriend, Juliet he would pretend not see me. I think now that was the lure that got me entangled in a web. I was in that phase of my young adolescent life where I have already concluded that being a wife is the most boring thing a woman can be. I was then living inside the novel Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I was obssesed with Countess Olenska. She was so mysterious, enigmatic compared to May the colorless wife of Newland. Countess Olenska and Newland’s hopeless and unfilled love made me toss and turn a few nights. And in most of my days I day dreamed about them. I begun to think I was Countess Olenska, Ian was Newland and Juliet, was May. In my own twisted mind we were in a love triangle.
It was a few weeks before Prom, I was a junior and Ian was a Senior, when I received a letter from him, handed to me by one of his noisy friends. It was tucked inside of a slum book which he asked me to fill up. Slumbooks were wildly popular then. You have to answers cheesy questions such as ” What is your motto?” or ” What is the name of your crush?” it was a really subtle way of getting someone to reveal which boy or girl they like.
To be continued…
Copyright 2013 JMKhapra
*This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Why do we choose the path we had taken? Why do we become the way we are? Are we truly only “nothing more than the sum of our memories and experiences” as Michael Scott has stated? I did the things I did because of what I became over the years. My childhood had greatly affected Liam’s childhood. What kind of person had I become that I could do such a thing? I would say I became who I was without resistance. I never felt I belong to the world I was born into, so I hid.I retreated.
When I was two years old my mother married a co teacher from the school where she was teaching. Out came three of my step siblings from that union. Of course I looked nothing like them. My step father was a good man though and I was not wanting in love and attention from the parents I came to know but even at a young age I know something was not quite right.
I got a lot of unwanted attention because of the color of my hair and of my eyes which was in that small town unlike anyone else. Although most people were curios about me I didn’t feel I was truly welcome among them. It didn’t help that the teachers who were working for that school on top of the mountain were also living inside the campus. I was already different but also isolated from the lively town below.
After classes were over during my primary years in school, my classmates would be walking down towards their homes in a bustling community at the foot of hill .These afternoon walks at the end of the day at school were very crucial in forming friendship. I missed out in a lot of gossiping, chit chat and fun because I had to stay behind the gates of the school compound where our house was. I often wondered if this was among the reasons why my group of friends never really regarded me as one them. Because of this I became fond of taking solitary afternoon walks in the nearby forest surrounding the school. Since solitude was my only friend I begun to cherish it. Once I would reach home in the early evenings the feeling of being the odd man out only resonates more as I walk towards the dining room where my three siblings, all heads bent over their books were, doing their homework with both of my parents helping them. They always made a lovely picture of the perfect family that I always prefered not to disturb their cozy circle. Retreating to my room, I would sought my favorite book to comfort me in my loneliness and there I escaped to a world where I felt I truly belong.
Copyright 2013 JMKhapra
* once again, this is a work of fiction only.
I know I said I am going to write about Liam today but first I want to rant about the shitty state of my country’s economy. I am not trying to make excuses but I guess the whole situation back home is partly to blame for what had happened.
Even after a decade of dramatic change of hands in the country’s governance nothing changed the plight of the Filipino people. Despite revolution after revolution, EDSA, EDSA dos, A failed coup de etat, impeachment dramas, the majority of the citizens still found themselves jobless and hopeless for the future.Forcing an exodus of workers from the Philippines to leave their own families and scatter globally to earn a living. Leaving damaged broken families and confused children in their wake. What is the relevance of this in my story you asked? Confused children grow up as restless adults and cause some damage along the way in the process of growing up. Sadly the cast of characters in this tale belong to this group. For I myself was an interracial baby. Liam’s father was an interracial baby.
My mother was a teacher who left for the United States to take care of American babies when she was 25 years old. Teachers were poorly paid in the country. Whatever she was earning was not enough to support a family of eight. Her five siblings, her mother who was a housewife and her father. Her father retired early from the military before achieving any significant rank due to a mishap in the field. Soldiers are also grossly underpaid and his pension was barely enough to pay for his medication. It was her firm belief that education will save their family from further poverty so bravely she left her homeland so she can send her brothers and sisters to college. But fate intervened. I can only surmise for she kept this part of her life untold even now, that during those lonely years abroad she had fallen in love with a white man. I suspected, a married man. She returned home in the 70s with a protruding belly. Her parents and her five siblings whom she supported while slaving away in a foreign household disowned her. It was a big scandal for a devout Catholic family like them to have a child out of wedlock at that time. My grandfathers and the society were less forgiving then unlike now when overtime raising babies without a father is met with just a nonchalant shrug . Ganyan talaga ang buhay. Life is like that. What can you do. My mother went to live with my aunt who was nurse in a government school in the province of Rizal. After giving birth to me she started teaching in the same school. And there I was born and there I grew up.
* this is a work of fiction and purely an invention of the writer’s imaginative mind. The characters in this story do not exist and any similarities to anyone is purely coincidental.
– copyright 2013 JMKhapra
Only in the middle of the night when finally all is calm and quiet, my husband snoring softly by my side, my dog in deep slumber by my feet, can I start to weave the tale I am itching to tell. Figuring out the best way to narrate the story my thoughts darted to and pro in different directions. While I am processing it I felt this time I needed to record it.
I flung back the quilt that was covering me and tiptoed barefooted towards the dining room to grab my IPad from the table. I tried to be as quiet as possible upon returning to bed, careful not to disturb my boys in their blissful sleep.
The glare of the screen blinded me when I pushed the button to open the tablet. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to brightness of the white blank page I opened in Pages application.
After much hesitation, I decided this is it. I am just going to tell it how it was. Or Is.
I often ask my self why do I need to write this. Why do I need to tell this story. Will anyone be interested in what I have to say? Is there a lesson at the end? Is it a confession. An easing of guilt? A justification? I am not sure. But Iam compelled to write it.
My thoughts wandered to the image of my kids, sleeping safely and contended in each of their rooms. Sleeping soundly as innocents do. Loved and cared for by both parents, not a thing to worry about. Then I thought of another child, from far away, a casualty, a victim of the careless and selfishness of the young confused days. She must be 22 by now but when I met her she was just as young as my daughter. When I looked back in the past my memories of her was the thorn that pricks me every time my mind takes me to that period of my life. She was never gone from my mind completely and how it jolted me when I read the headline earlier in the day while I was checking the news from my country.
Starlet Overdosed on Cocaine Dead
Her name was Liam.
“Justine darling, come here. ” my husband was awaken by my stifled sobs. The dog stirred a little, let out a deep sigh and went back to sleep.
” Baby, I know you are very upset. Try to sleep now and write about it tomorrow.” He said kissing my forehead, I closed the IPad and tucked it under my pillow. I pushed the dog a little and snuggled close to my husband.
Tomorrow then, I will write about Liam.