Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Maia, Daughter of Oceania (fiction)


Maia looked up to a blur of faces ogling her from the wooden circular ramp a few feet above her watery enclosure which was made up of welded galvanized iron sheets to form an oval basin. She was seated on a wooden chair the legs of which have been sawed off so that half her body would always be submerged in the murky water. Maia was one of the stellar attractions of the feria that had set up camp in the town of Tanza for the feast of San Agustin. Although already in her early forties, she was still attractive, but, in a matured way. She had an earthiness much like a classic Rubens’ ideal though not as corporeal. She has been billed as the mermaid Maia, daughter of Oceania, Queen of the Seven Seas.

The itch on her left calf started again. This pesky affliction began about a week ago from the prolonged immersion in dirty water. The show had been on for almost three months and what started as a slight skin irritation became a grotty fungal infection. She tried to reach out to the itchy part but the scratching did not help any. The thickness of the soft leatherette material that was used to wrap her lower body and the sewed on scallop shaped fake scales on her fish body made scratching ineffective. She didn’t have anything on from the waste up. What kept her modesty was a white kerchief that was carefully draped over her bare breasts. Every time she would extend her arms to reach for the itch she would not only expose a bit of herself but would wet the white kerchief which caused to reveal the roundness of her breasts and the pointedness of firm nipples. At this point the lewd faces of the audience would go wild and breakout in raucous encouragement to reveal more. Wizened faces of men of the soil, fisher folk with hair yellowed by salt and sun and a few eager-eyed boys in their early teens loomed above looking with lecherous glee. The idea of the white kerchief was a token precaution to the town censors, but, also as a part of a tease act. The owner of the freak show must have borrowed the idea from a popular movie trend at that time about Japanese women pearl divers whose white diving clothes turned diaphanous each time they emerged from the water.

This insatiable itch helped keep her mind from the abasement and the shame of the lowest depths that she had sank into. Because of this distraction, the natural feelings of immodesty and embarrassment she felt the first time she did the act, no longer bothered her. She had become jaded and indifferent to her absurd and sordid state. The itch was an incidental solace.

She sat there with half of herself on the water’s surface unmindful of the cold and the din of the jeering from above. The grotesque faces of the crowd above looked like a swirling kaleidoscope. Gradually the faces took turns at being focused and became recognizable and familiar.

The face of Minyong Tengco asserted itself. He was the impoverished sculptor and husband of more than a decade, whom she ran away from to free herself from the fetters of boredom and destitution. She thought that running away with Rudy, the young and roguishly handsome “carrera ng daga” barker would be the fulfillment of her dreams. Suddenly one of the faces darted towards her. It was that of Clara, her retarded daughter. She had turned her back against her and left him to the care Minyong. Despite the dearth of expression of her pallid face it had a tinge of an accusing bewilderment that caused her to quickly avoid her gaze.

The makeshift tent that housed the freak show hardly had any roof. A circular clearing directly above her showed myriads of stars, a glorious array of God’s handiwork as if assuring everyone that He is there and all is well in the world. And yet…the tawdry show place, a place that was secured from the nonpaying crowd outside by patches of soiled tarpaulin and some large poster discards still having the grinning faces and slogans of political candidates in the last elections wrapped around a circular wooden platform that served as perch for the paying crowd. “Wala ng Hubad, Wala ng Gutom, Wala ng Palaboy”, “Kampion ng Api” were some of the faded promises on the tattered recycled posters.

As she gazed upwards to the dazzling lights in the firmament she could see herself wearing a flouncy pink gown dancing the cotillion at her debut held at the Manila Hotel. Maria Paz Reina called Maia by her close friends was beaming with pride as the dancers went through the ritual steps revolving around her. Her siblings were jealous of her exceptional good fortune. The expenses for the grand debut were all paid for by her grandparents. The grand parents took her in their fold from a very early age. Her grandparents were exceptionally adept at spoiling her and she grew up to be an intractable brat alienating her siblings and her parents as well. She defied everyone when she eloped immediately after her coming out party with her young artist boyfriend who didn’t have anything much to offer but his good looks. This was ages ago and from the discomfort of her watery seat those days seemed as distant as the glittering stars in the sky.

About two weeks ago she began to feel a heaviness in her chest which she alleviated by clearing her throat with a heaving cough. Constantly being soaked in her galvanized iron confinement her condition worsened and just a few days before, the coughing became more intense and was accompanied by a stinging pain she felt inside.

As she shifted to reach for the itch she felt a stabbing pain in her chest. It reminded her of the kick that her erstwhile live-in partner, Rudy, the “carrera ng daga” barker, delivered on her ribs as she cowered in a corner after she nagged him for the thousandth time about his womanizing. It was also the thousandth time that he had battered her for being the termagant wife. At that moment she decided that it was the last time she would suffer a beating from him. She hastily packed her clothes in a bundle and with the help of a forceful push from Rudy she flew out of the door into the relief of a dark uncertain night.

She sought the help of Emang, the lady who tended the ring toss game booth. The ring toss was a simple game of tossing a small hoop into the constantly moving and bobbing heads of geese. Emang was a simple woman who has remained single, resigned to the life of manning the ring toss booth not caring when it will ever end. When asked why she has remained single all these years she facetiously remarked that she just enjoyed teasing men but never giving in…just like the geese whose heads were perpetually beckoning and dodging hoops.

Emang was the one who convinced her to take on the job of the Feria mermaid. The hairy wolf lady who was a big attraction in their "feria" decided to shave off her hirsuteness to get married and lead a normal life. Other ferias had mermaids and they were surefire attractions because of the popularity of the movie entitled Dyesebel which was enjoying several remakes at that time. One look at Maia and Emang was convinced that she would make an attractive Dyesebel, so she started to peddle the idea to the booth owner who lost the wolf lady and upon seeing Maia the booth owner gave her the thumbs up.

She was an instant success as a mermaid so much so that they had to reinforce the wooden ramp to be able to handle the weight of the growing crowds that lined up each night. On weekends they were able to jack up the entrance fee and it was really a successful enterprise. The booth owner shared his good fortune with star of the show by doubling her salary but she also had to endure the many amorous advances which the owner thought he was entitled to.

She laid there wincing from the stabbing pain. Her writhing was mistaken by the audience as paroxysms of ecstasy, a fit of passion. They clapped with much gusto and became all the more convinced that this was worth the peso and fifty that they paid for. More customers streamed in as the exiting patrons endorsed the show to the bystanders in the freak show lane.

The pain dulled down, it was still there but it had taken on a new sensation, it was as if she was on a high, so much like the benign numbness one experiences after a heightened and extended agony. It was this that made her impervious to the sting of the cadenced jeering, the lascivious remarks, the insults from a frenzied crowd. It was her purgatory. She was emerging from it devoutly wishing for her absolution, to be cleansed of the sores, the slime, the pitiless cold and the shame of the obscenity that she came to be.

It was a cloudless dawn at the Julugan shoreline and despite it being nearly daybreak it was still a dark gray because the moon had already disappeared in the western horizon. At a distance the light of the basnigs were flickering a few miles offshore. The lights of the city farther off to the north were like an unclasped diadem waiting to adorn someone’s neck as an honor, as a reward or as a token of forgiveness by a waking Poseidon, the awesome god of the sea.

Mang Turing went back to shore a little earlier than usual. It was a bright night and the fish were moving about dispersedly. This made for the scarcity of bites despite the Coleman lights that he lit when he moored at his favorite fishing spots. As he paddled ashore his thoughts were occupied with mermaids. Earlier in the evening, before pushing off to fish, he was in town and was among those who paid a peso and fifty to see Maia, Daughter of Oceania. He was so mesmerized at the sight of the live mermaid. Though reluctant to believe in its reality he was disposed to suspend his disbelief. He felt pity for the mermaid seeing her captive and being jeered and insulted by the crowd. Mermaids exist in the fishermen’s lore. They are known to be compassionate creatures who look after men lost at sea. At certain times of the year they shed off their fish bodies and take on human form to mingle among humans. Maia must have been washed ashore at the time of her transformation and was caught and now displayed in the feria.

After beaching his small banca he pushed it a bit farther ashore so that the tide could not wash it back to the water. He hauled his fishing gears into a basket and lugged the boat paddle on his shoulders and proceeded to walk towards his hut past the cluster of aroma bushes. He trudged on the fine sand with effort as he approached the rise where the bushes were. As he reached the rise the light coming from his hut made the ground in the area shadowy but clear. He could see a large track on the sand which looked like a sack was dragged on the sand or of someone creeping on all fours on the ground. He dropped his burden and followed the tracks which led to the receding water line as the tide was drawing back seaward. He thought he saw a human form walking toward the sea and from the adumbrated image he could make out the outline of a big fishtail which the hazy figure was carrying on its shoulder. Moving in closer, he stopped at the waterline, not daring to go any farther. He watched from there as the shimmering silhouette pushed on to a calm and comforting sea until it was swallowed by the thin early morning mist.

3 comments:

houseband00 said...

Happy Birthday, Dad! =)

See ya later! =)

wayfarer said...

Thanks Eric. Looking forward to seeing you and D.

leeney said...

Hi Dad! Youve been tagged!
Haha,,,pati si daddy sinama!