It happened in Maytime, summer of beginnings, of awakenings, even rude ones; season of the santakrusan festival and alay bulaklak kay Birhen Maria -- (the Lady wasn’t called Mama Mary back then).
Naku, the hermana mayor wants you to be a sagala tonight -- her mom told the young girl that Mayday, as she came home from the palengke, catching her breath. Excited, she omitted to say she was to stand in for another girl, a cousin, who suddenly came down with the flu.
The 10-year-old, just then beginning to enjoy being quirky, said no, no, no. You can’t make me. I will die first.
You don’t want to be Reyna de los Flores? -- her Mom asked, unbelieving. That’s second honor to Reyna Elena, don’t you know? The girl wasn’t impressed.
She showed her a pink frock of taffeta, chockful of sequins and flowerets, borrowed from she didn’t care who. The girl didn’t give it a second look.
Then she added that Rudy, a young boy from Antipolo Street -- would escort her.
That was when the ten-year-old blinked: “Sige na nga,” she relented, but not before she played pakipot for yet another hour.
Rudy was the younger brother of her Ate Malu’s best friend, Rodora. He was mestizo-looking, tall and quiet, and had this smile best described as pamatay. Every other girl she knew had a crush on him, but quirky as she was, she herself liked to boast she didn’t give a hoot about boys.
She had her first ever hair-styling session at the neighborhood beauty parlor that afternoon. Her long straight hair was intricately rolled, patch by patch, around wire rollers then inserted into a helmet- shaped dome where her head was turbo-broiled -- sort of -- till her ears turned lechon-red. When the hair stylist was done fussing with her hair, she had a headful of coily curls or curly coils – take your pick -- loosely tied at the back. It was called tribuson, the preferred do for young hair.
She had goo applied to her face. And a black pencil drawn on soft places around her eyes. Plus the final touch – red kolorete smack on her mouth and smudged on her cheeks, blusher-like. She liked what lipstick did to her face – almost grown up, and a bit like, she decided, not child star Tessie Agana as the stylist insisted, but her favorite adult actress, Lolita Rodriguez.
That night, amidst torches ablaze, and to the beat of bugles and drums, the mestizo boy, looking dapper in embroidered barong tagalog, took his place beside her. She thought he looked worried but she continued to beam to the crowds, feeling absolutely gorgeous.
A few paces later, as the procession turned from Angat to her own Pampanga Street, he leaned to whisper in her ear as her heart skipped a beat.
(NOTE: Here's where the audience/READER participation begins. Rudy could have whispered one, ONLY ONE, of three things. Pick one, if YOU will.)
· “Anna, this is so boring. May chewing gum ka ba dyan?”
· “ Anna, ang kapal ng pulbos mo. Bawasan mo nang unti.”
· “Anna, mas bagay sa akin ang gown mo.”
As she dabbed a pink handkerchief on her face, “Dios te Salve, Maria” reverberated dolorously, like a funeral march. She felt the beginnings of a stomach ache as the procession traversed the main Juan Luna Street, and then back a seemingly endless time.
She never marched as Reyna again, not that she remembers being invited to be a sagala again.
(Two years later, Rudy became her classmate in first year high school. Neither of them behaved as though he or she remembered that disastrous May evening. They would nod shyly at each other when they met, and that was it. They didn’t even become friends. Tsk.)
- Santakrusan- or Santakrus de Mayo, a procession/parade reenacting and celebrating the search for the Holy Cross led by Queen Helena of Spain.
- Sagala – the young women/girls who marched in the procession, playing the various characters in the long-ago search, wearing long, colorful gowns.
- Hermana mayor – the host and organizer of the Santakrusan
- Alay bulaklak - flower offering.
- Reyna de los Flores - Queen of the Flowers.
- Pakipot – coy, hesitant, but only pretended
- Pamatay – killer, thus killer smile.
- Ang kapal ng pulbos mo, bawasan mo nang unti – You have too much powder on, remove some of it.
- Mas bagay sa akin ang gown mo – Your gown would look better on me.