Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guest Blogger: Marianne Villanueva's Short Fiction

Our Guest Blogger is 

MARIANNE VILLANUEVA was born and raised in the Philippines, but now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her stories have appeared in a wide range of publications, veering from science fiction to prose poetry. She is the author of three short story collections:  Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila; Mayor of the Roses; and The Lost Language; as well as a novella, Jenalyn, that was published last year and made the shortlist to "Best Novella of 2013," given by the Saboteur Awards.

Marianne shares two short shorts. Thank you, Marianne Villanueva!


Note:  OFW stands for “Overseas Filipino Workers.  As of 2010, there were believed to be close to 2 million OFWs working in almost every country in the world, including Albania, Mongolia, Romania, and Swaziland.
            You with the round face, the dark blue headscarf, I saw you first at 3 p.m.
            It was a hot afternoon in August.  I’d opened Marie Claire or Glamour, I don’t now remember which, and there you were, grave and unsmiling. (But what cause would you have to smile?  I found out all, later.)
            Your father’s name was Karim, and your mother’s, Bai.  You grew up in the town of Sultan Kudarat, on the island of Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines.  You were fourth in a family of 14 children.
            Your father earned $3 a day in a lumberyard, your mother less than half that, selling vegetables in the public market.
            The man who raped you was dead (I was happy to learn).  You stabbed him 34 times.
            It was the worst thing you ever imagined.  Not just the pain, no -- it was worse than that.  The telling to your mother – it nearly finished you.
            Your mother wept.  “Who will marry you now?” she said.

            When you were standing in the line for immigration, you were afraid.  Your passport said you were 18, but you were 13.  The household you were sent to consisted of an elderly widower and his four sons. 

            He had you on the floor, his hands around your throat.  He had long, yellowish fingernails.  They gouged your skin.  You thought you would die.
            You were afraid, but the fear was nothing compared to your shame. After, you curled up on your mat in a little space under the stairs.  The bleeding went on for weeks.  His wife kicked you and made you get up to mop the floor.  You stayed eight months more.
            People asked, “Why?” 
            Your brothers too said it, but they pointed fingers at your mother (who wept, who refused to leave the house for months, who even attempted suicide).
            They shouted, “Why did you let her go?  To a place like that?”
            As if anyone could have foreseen such a catastrophe.
            There were demonstrations in front of the UAE Embassy in Manila. Your face began to appear on television news programs.
            You remember the words of the old priest, the one they allowed to visit you in prison:  When God gives a man a brief happiness, it is only to ruin him.
            At the police station in Abu Dhabi, the man you knew only as “Pak” said, over and over:  “You said that such and such a thing happened on such and such a day.  Why do you make up such stories?” 
            You thought, how could I ever. 
            You replied, as calmly as you could, “I am innocent.“
             “It says on your immigration document that you are 18.  You lied about your age to get a contract.  Lying is a sin. You will spend the rest of your life in jail for telling these lies.”
            They said that if you confessed, you would be permitted to return home.
            You held out for seven months.  They gave you stale bread and muddy water, sometimes a thin soup.  Your jailers leered at you behind the bars of your cell.  One would come into the room simply to slap you. 
            The man named Pak came again and again with the form and finally you broke, you signed it.  “Now you have nothing to worry about,” Pak said.
            A week later, they brought you to the courtroom to hear your sentence. A woman whose face you couldn’t see, a woman sheathed in black from head to foot, stood next to you whispering the translation.  You kept your eyes on the floor.
            The judge spoke.  The translator hesitated.  In that space of a few seconds, you knew.
            Seven years imprisonment.
            150,000 dirhams in blood money to be paid to your employer’s family.
            You were lucky.  The murdered man’s sons spoke on your behalf.  Yes, they told the court.  Our father beat her if she did not do as he wanted.
            But, the judge said, that did not justify the murder.
            He sentenced you to execution by a firing squad.
            It was considered an act of kindness when the judge reduced the sentence to five years and 100 lashes. 
            After two years in prison, you were pardoned and allowed to return home.  You were thin and wan – Oh, you were much changed.
            You became a singer. Newspapers described your voice as untrained but  “pure,” which pleased your brothers no end.  They called you the Missionary Singer of Sultan Kudarat.
            An overseas recruiting firm comes to your town twice a year.  Banners announce the date.  Hours before the recruiters arrive, a line of applicants starts forming around the plaza. 
            In the evening, the recruiting firm celebrates the success of the day by arranging a free concert in the plaza.  You listen from the shadows, ashamed but unable to keep away.

 All the Missing," was first published in Phoebe 4.1 (Spring 2012)

For Jaycee Lee Dugard
They’re alive, all of them.

One day they’ll present, alive and well.

They’ll be older; a few might even have their first gray hairs.

They’ll come out of tents or basements or caves, or wherever it is they’ve been kept, all these years.
Their names are Ilene, Michaela, Polly, Sandra.
Some are blonde.  Some are brunette.  Some are redheads.
Some have braces.  A few have freckles. 
The parents stand on street corners.  They organize search teams.  They hand out photographs.  They implore complete strangers:  “Please, please.”
The little girls’ hair is always neatly combed, their eyes are bright.  Most of them smile.  A few seem self-conscious.  These are school photos.  Therefore, posed.
Not all of them are pretty.
Now it’s summer.  School’s out; the kids are everywhere, giddy with excitement.  Their mothers think:  What shall I do, how shall I get through the summer, with all the kids home?  Already the eyes of the mothers are glazed, their shoulders hunched in discouragement.  They feel old, they look old.
The man is deliberate, nonchalant. 
The girls set off a chord.  The man's whole being is alive as though struck by an electric charge.  His soul hums.  What touches him, sets off this humming?  He knows only afterwards.
He chooses, things happen quickly.
The girls pull back, stunned.  The shock turns to fear, they become almost stone.  Mister, are you crazy?
The crowds eddy away.
             It’s too late.  This thing in them has set the man alight.  They won’t call him a “Bad Man” yet, and maybe they never will.  He can’t be bad, because he has chosen them, he has seen their special-ness.  Maybe they are even a little proud.  Shame doesn’t come until much later. 
Ilene was taught that her real name was Pam.  Michaela was told that her name was really Rebecca.  Polly became Kelsey.  They said yes, yes, I am no longer Ilene.  I am no longer Michaela.  I am not Polly.
They said yes to the pain.  Because it meant coming through to the other side.  And that meant they were still alive.
They still have marks around their wrists and ankles, from when they were bound. 
Some suffered unspeakably:  those have a thin, haunted look.
Their keepers --  they are always somehow male, though more than a few had wives who looked on, who nodded in satisfaction  --  are the ugliest looking men I have ever seen.
One man has big, red bumps all over his nose and scar-pitted cheeks.
Another has no chin, and his eyes have the milky, grey look of pebbles.
Their hands are monstrous.  Those same hands squeezed the little girls’ necks until they fainted.
But now the little girls are back.  Their families call them by their true names, the names they were given at birth.  It is marvelous, the sound of these names, and now the parents can’t stop saying them, over and over and over. 
The mothers and fathers drop to their knees.
(Oh, the mothers.  Will you look at the mothers?  Who can look at them for long?  Their joy is overwhelming.)
When the little girls finally return, there is not a shred of doubt in their parents’ minds.  The mothers and fathers will say:  We had faith, we knew. They are who they say they are.  They belong to us.
They are still alive, all of them.  
I am sure.
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