Monday, July 05, 2004

vignette: the barber's sister

On the day that her brother became a barber, Riza de Leon finally decided to run away from home. While Mario ironed his new white shirt in the laundry room, she emptied a small drawer of clothes into her favorite wicker knapsack and walked quietly to the kitchen. She took three cans of pork and beans from the pantry, half a loaf of bread from the refrigerator and a fistful of miniature bags of peanuts from an open shelf.

Before she stepped out of the house she’d been born in, Riza knelt down before the small sepia picture of her dead grandmother and begged for forgiveness. Her grandmother frowned and shook her head like she did when she displeased, when she was alive. But Riza’s heart was set and no amount of her grandmother’s silent disapproval could sway her. She apologized and kissed the old picture frame.

“Where are you going?” Her brother’s voice startled her.

“Away,” Riza said. She picked up her knapsack and moved towards the door, evading her brother’s eyes.

“Where are you going?” Mario stood in the doorway, a tight white singlet embracing his muscular frame. Coarse black hair crowned his head, covered his chin and cheeks and powdered his chest, arms and hands. “I thought you were coming with me today. Today of all days, I need you to be with me.”

“You don’t need me anymore,” Riza told him, finally meeting his gaze. She never liked Mario’s eyes: twin pools of blackest black that reflected nothing. It reminded her of the nights during the power outage that lasted for two months. It was so dark that even the light of candles and flashlights were useless.

“But I do, I do,” Mario smiled, stepping towards her. When his fingers grazed her smooth arms, Riza recoiled and found herself pressed against the nearest wall.

“Please, Mario. Please, let me go,” Riza said. Her hand unconsciously went to her unevenly cropped hair, curly and straight, long in some parts, shorn and shaved in others. She turned her face away from him when he leaned closer to her.

“You promised me I could cut it all off,” he whispered into her ear, his breath fresh and minty, his moustache bridging the invisible distance between them. “And I will.”


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