A new day has come in Sitio XIV as the sun rose up the cloudless skies and lit up the cultured land of the village. The roosters cackled as soon as the rays of sun hit their eyes. The farmers prepared their salakot and their basket for their harvest early in the morning. For today will be a long day.
Romina was awakened by the light of the rising sun in the horizon and by the sound of the bus traveling the main road. She rubs her sleepy eyes to see that they have already arrived in the province. She turns to her mother half-asleep right next to her. She tries to talk to her but decides not to disturb her mother sleeping.
“I wonder how living is like in this place,” she thought as it is her first time to visit the province.
Romina took the moment to gaze upon the fields counting every cow that passes by her vision.
“I’ll grow bored with this,” she said. “I need to have some fun stuff I could do.”
Soon, the bus arrives at their destination – Sitio XIV. Romina and her mother get off the bus where a man approached them and gave a beso to her mother.
“Joleng, you’re finally here!” the man welcomed them.
“It’s good to be back here,” Romina’s mother said. “Was it 15 years already?”
“I already forgot since I was busy counting the chickens!” he chuckled.
“Oh, anak, bless from your Tito Luis,” she told Romina.
Romina took her uncle’s hand and placed it on her forehead.
“Mano po,” she said.
“Is this my pamangkin, Rommie?” Tito Luis asked in awe. “My, she has grown tall already!”
Romina smiled back at him, not knowing what words to say.
“How old is she?” Tito Luis asked.
“She’s 19,” her mother replied. “It’s her first time here.”
“Ahh! She’s almost the same age as my daughter, Julia,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they’ll get to know each other easily.”
Romina’s eyes widened when she heard what her Tito Luis said. She thought she would spend the Holy Week in the province alone with no friends. But she saw Julia as a ray of hope. At least, to keep her from feeling lonely for a few weeks.
“Are you hungry?” Tito Luis asked them. “We have bread at home. You can wait inside the tricycle while I get your luggage.”
Tito Luis took Romina and her mother’s luggage and placed it inside the tricycle’s sidecar where Romina’s mother is seated.
“Tito Luis, may I sit behind you?” Romina eagerly asked.
“Sure, just hold on tight! The road will be a bit rough later,” her Tito Luis answered back.
Tito Luis kicked the starting pedal and drove back to his house as soon as the engine ran.
Romina felt the chilling breeze of the cold morning air of Sitio XIV. Though the sun was a bit high up in the sky, she didn’t feel any burning on her skin. She closes her eyes as the cool air smashed into her rosy white cheeks. She looks back to see the dusty trail left behind them. By the road, she sees corn kernels laying on the ground. She turned to her Tito Luis.
“Tito, why are there corn kernels on the side of the road?” she curiously asked.
“Ahh, they’re drying up the corn so they could lose its moisture,” he answered.
“Why do the farmers do that?”
“It’s because it’s ideal to sell corn at a lower moisture level. If we harvest corn that is not dry enough, we dry it in a grain dryer or under the sun if we’re on a tight budget.”
Romina looked back at the ground again, still confused. Nonetheless, she looked upon the field and saw cows and carabaos grazing on the grassland. The morning was quiet and the only noise she hears is from her Tito’s tricycle engine. She breathes in the fresh morning air of Sitio XIV. Romina felt like she belonged here.
They arrive at a two-storey house big enough for a small family. Romina gets off and takes a few steps around the stony land on her feet while Tito Luis unloads the vehicle. Her mother was greeted at the doorstep by a woman. It was her Tita Mary, Tito Luis’s wife. Romina was hoping to see Julia step out of the house but she did not see her.
“I think Julia is still asleep,” her Tito Luis noticed Romina.
“Ahh,” Romina uttered as she was too surprised to say a word.
“Romina, anak, come here and greet your Tita Mary,” her mother called her.
Romina approached Tita Mary and took her hand.
“Mano po,” she placed Tita Mary’s hand on her forehead.
“Come inside,” Tita Mary said. “I prepared something for you.”
Romina and her mother stepped inside Tito Luis’s house. The first thing that Romina noticed was the house’s altar. It has a figure of the crucifix with lots of flowers decorated on its feet. Rosaries were hung on the crucifix and the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is placed behind it.
“This place feels holy,” Romina thought.
Tita Mary set the table and prepared breakfast for their visitors.
“Oh, it’s been a long time since you’ve been here, Jolina, and I know how you missed my chicken inasal!” Tita Mary told Romina’s mother as she placed the steaming hot roasted chicken on the table.
“Yes, I really missed how you cooked inasal,” Romina’s mother said.
Tita Mary and her mother had quite a commotion for quite a while and Romina was feeling a bit hungry now.
“Now, where’s your daughter?” Romina’s mother asked.
“Oh, I think she’s still sleeping in her room,” Tita Mary said. “Wait, let me call her.”
Romina felt alive when she heard what her Tita said.
“Julia, anak!” Tita Mary yelled. “Your Tita Jolina is here!”
“Coming, nay!” Julia yelled from upstairs.
Romina felt the excitement, knowing that a new friend will walk down the staircase anytime soon.
Moments later, a young teenage girl walked down the staircase, still brushing her hair. Romina’s eyes grew wide to see how gorgeous her cousin looked. Julia approached Romina’s mother and took her hand.
“Mano po,” Julia said to her Tita Jolina.
She turned to Romina and smiled.
“Hello!” Julia waved her hand at Romina.
Romina was stunned. She just smiled back at her. Julia then took a seat beside her mother.
“How old are you, Romina?” Tita Mary asked.
“19 po,” she said.
“Ahh, Julia here just turned 18,” Tita Mary said. “I hope you become good friends while you stay here for the Holy Week.”
Julia looked at Romina and giggled. Romina smiled back at her Tita Mary. Tito Luis then joins the table for breakfast.
“Let us pray first and give thanks to the Lord for our meal,” Tita Mary said.
They all bowed their heads in prayer. Romina, however, peeked to see Julia and watched her pray.
“Romina, bow your head,” her mother whispered.
Romina bowed her head and waited for the prayer to be finished before eating.
Once the prayer has ended, the family started to eat. They each served themselves some rice and a part of the chicken inasal. The family had a conversation, getting to know how Romina’s mother, Jolina, had been doing in Manila. Romina was not paying attention to the conversation and focused on her meal. But of course, her eyes can’t let go of her cousin, Julia. It felt like there was something in her cousin that makes her want to be really close to her. It must have been her wavy long hair or her mesmerizing eyes. She doesn’t know. She feels that she just wants to look at her the whole day.
As soon as they were finished eating, Julia fixed the table and placed the plates on the sink to wash. Romina was feeling a bit too tired from the trip and followed her mother upstairs where they should rest. But before she ascended on the footsteps, she took a glance of Julia. Her cousin looked back at her and smiled.
Romina went inside a bedroom with a large bed good enough for her and her mother.
“This is where you’ll sleep while you stay here. If there’s anything you need, just call us and we’ll be there. I hope you enjoy it here, especially you, Romina,” Tita Mary told them.
Romina looked out the window and looked at how beautiful the scenery is. From afar can be seen the wide plains with a few farmers harvesting their crops. Further away are hills heavily covered in luscious green trees. She heard a few birds chirping and the sound of a motorcycle engine from afar. Romina seems to enjoy the ambiance and the view. Feeling drowsy, she joined her mother in bed and took a nap.
Romina wakes up a few hours later alone in bed. It’s already afternoon. She went downstairs to see Julia, hoping to finally start a conversation with her.
“Tita, where’s Julia?” she asked Tita Mary.
“Oh, she’s by the stream washing some clothes,” she replied. “It’s just a few meters behind the house if you want to go there.”
Romina took her sandals and walked the rocky path behind the house leading to the forest. She walked carefully not to fall out of balance. After a few minutes, she could hear a faint sound of rushing water and a girl humming a lovely tune. It was Julia and she was about to get finished washing clothes. Julia looked back to see where the footsteps were coming from and saw Romina walking towards her.
“Hi, Romina!” she smiled.
“Uhm, hello!” Romina smiled back. “I heard you were washing clothes.”
“Yep, and I’m almost finished.”
Romina nodded and smiled.
“The water here is pretty clear,” Romina noticed.
“Ah, yes. I really like it here,” Julia commented. “This stream actually leads to a river.”
“Really? Are we allowed to swim there?”
“Of course! I take a bath there sometimes.”
Romina took a deep breath from what she heard.
“I heard Manila also has a river,” Julia continued.
“Yeah, but it’s dirty and nobody is allowed to swim there.”
“That’s bad,” Julia frowned. “Have you ever swum in a river before?”
“If you want, we can swim together,” Julia suggested. “Just tell me whenever you want.”
Romina smiled and saw this as an opportunity. For what? She’s not even sure.
“Do you need help carrying those on the way back home?” she asked Julia about her laundry.
“Sure,” Julia smiled. “Just carry those ones over there.”
Romina and Julia had a little chat as they walk back home from the shallow stream.
“You know, Romina, I’ve never encountered other girls from Manila,” Julia said. “And it’s funny because the first Manila girl I have encountered is my cousin.”
“Ha ha!” Romina grinned. “Well, I’ve already encountered some girls from the province there in Manila.”
“Oh, how I wish I could be there too. Nanay and tatay don’t want me to leave the province because nobody else would help them here if I leave.”
“Manila is a nice place. But you know what? I think I like it here.”
Romina looked at Julia and smiled. Julia giggled.
“Just call me Rommie next time,” she continued.
For several days, Romina and Julia became close friends. Julia taught Romina some of the things that she always does for fun; climbing trees, throwing stones, and hopping on cow dung. They both grew a close bond between each other. So close that they became too comfortable with each other.
“Rommie, come here,” Julia called. “I’ll show you something.”
Romina followed Julia as they climbed towards the peak of the hill.
“Why do you keep on going up?” Romina was a bit exhausted from the hike.
“We’re nearly there!”
They soon reached the top of the hill and there they saw an overview of Sitio XIV. Romina was amazed at what she saw. She has seen pictures of the province in textbooks and on the internet, but this was her first time to see such a wonderful view before her.
“It’s so beautiful, Julia.”
“I know,” Julia smiled. “I often go here whenever I feel alone. It makes me feel better looking at how tiny the people look from up here.”
“Do you feel lonely now?” Romina asked.
Julia looked down. She didn’t say a word.
“I’m already here,” Romina said. “You won’t feel lonely anymore.”
“But you’ll be leaving soon. And I’ll feel lonely again.”
Romina looked at Julia with a sincere face. She moved closer to Julia and placed her arm around her waist. Julia looked back at her looking straight in the eye. As the sun goes down, their heads drew closer to each other. They drew closer and closer until their lips touched. Romina felt that the cold air around them suddenly warmed up and that the trees around them lit up in a wildfire. Julia snapped out of the heat and let go of Romina’s lips.
“No, this shouldn’t be happening,” Julia wiped her lips in disgust knowing that she did something wrong.
Romina stayed calm. Julia looked around to see if somebody else might have seen them kissing. She’d be dead if her parents knew about what happened. Romina held her hand to help ease up her nervousness.
“Julia, calm down.”
Julia tried to breathe in slowly so she could calm down. Her tears were almost crying.
“Would you like to go to the river tomorrow?” Romina asked. “I feel like I wanted to go swimming.”
“Uh… Okay,” Julia was still trying to calm down.”
Romina stood up and laid her hand before Julia.
“The sun is setting. We should go now.”
Julia smiled and held Romina’s hand to stand up.
“Don’t tell anyone!” Julia warned Romina.
As the night begins to fall, they descend the hill holding hands, only to let go when they finally reach the house.
The next day, Julia woke Romina early in the morning and told her to get her stuff ready for the swim. They wore some thin clothes and brought a couple of towels.
“So, where’s the river?” Romina asked.
“We just have to follow the stream where you saw me on the first day,” Julia said.
They entered the forest and walked to find the shallow stream. But instead of seeing the rushing water, they only saw wet stones.
“The stream must have dried up,” Romina noted.
“That’s strange,” Julia puzzled. “It’s too early in summer.”
“Let’s just follow the trail.”
Romina and Julia followed the trail of wet stones, hoping that it would still lead them to the river.
After a few minutes, they reach the river. Romina looked around in awe as it was her first time to see a river this beautiful. She could hear the water rush past the stony riverbank. And she could see the flock of birds walking across the river, trying to fish for food.
“Let’s just place our stuff here and let’s swim,” Julia told Romina.
They placed their towels on a dry rock and walked slowly into the water. The river’s surface was as high as their waist.
“Woah, there!” Romina almost slipped. “The current is kind of strong here.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Julia smiled.
Romina took a handful of water and splashed it on Julia’s face.
“Hey!” Julia laughed.
She also took a handful and threw it on Romina’s face.
“Oh, you want a fight, huh?” Romina laughed.
They both splashed water at each other and laughed until both of them were soaking wet. They laughed at each other and smiled.
“I’m really enjoying my stay here!” Romina yelled with her arms held high.
“I’m really enjoying my time with you,” Julia said.
Romina looked at Julia and both were speechless. Romina dragged her legs and walked towards her. Julia took her hand and pulled her close. They wrapped their arms around each other and, once again, they kissed. Romina’s hand brushed through Julia’s long hair while Julia held Romina’s head with her hands. They step around the water, looking for the shallow ground where they could kiss more steadily. But, unfortunately, Julia makes a wrong step and slips into the rushing river.
“Julia!!” Romina screamed as she slipped away from her grip.
She placed her arms into the water, hoping to grab a part of Julia, but she’s not there anymore. She looked to the direction of the rushing water and saw Julia’s unconscious body floating on the river.
Romina was in a panic as she ran to get Julia’s body. She grabs her arm and pulls it out of the water. Romina checked if Julia was still breathing and if she still has a pulse, but there was none. She was devastated. She didn’t know what to do. Romina was too afraid to tell Julia’s parents about what truly happened. Her mother would also be mad if she finds out. They could not know that Julia died because they were kissing.
“This shouldn’t be happening!” Romina cried.
Afraid of the guilt that she feels inside, she thought of suffering the same fate with that of Julia. She climbed up the highest rock on the river and plunged head first into the stony river.
“Here’s to my love!” she whispered before her head hit a large stone, killing her.
A few moments later, Julia woke up from unconsciousness and coughed up the water that filled her lungs.
“Rommie?” she went looking for her.
She turned around but saw nothing. Her eyes soon began to cry. But then she saw a stream of blood from the other side of the river. Julia gasped as she saw Romina’s body floating by the riverbank.
“No!! Rommie!!” Julia wailed. She cried so loud that the flock of birds flew away out of fear. Julia became depressed out of loneliness.
“If I can’t be with you anymore, what purpose should I have for living?” she cried.
Julia pulled Romina’s body out of the water and laid her on the riverbank.
“When I met you, I only had one wish,” tears were falling down Julia’s eyes. “And that was to escape this land just to be with you.”
Julia held Romina’s cold hand and kissed her lips.
“Your lips are warm.”
From afar, she heard noises of her parents calling her name.
“Oh, noise? Then I’ll be brief.”
She pulled down her own underwear and placed Romina’s hand inside her vagina.
“Oh, tiny little daggers, my soul will be your sheath. Rust inside my body and let me die.”
Julia yanked Romina’s cold fingers on her vagina faster and faster as her moaning grows loud. Romina’s sharp fingernails scratch through Julia’s thin vagina, bleeding her.
“Julia!! Julia!!” the noises grew faint as she loses consciousness and bleeds herself to death.
Romina and Julia’s love, like a shallow stream at the peak of the summer’s heat, grew stale and dried up. Leaving nothing but bloody stones washed out with mud.
April 2, 2017
Author’s Note: I’m thinking about turning this short story into something bigger. A novel or a short film, perhaps? Let me know what you think in the comments. 🙂