The Woman Who Got Plastic Bags for Christmas
Illustration by Justine Bacareza
The cool northeast wind blew signifying the last “-ber” month, it was finally Christmas Eve for the folks.
Oh, how I loathe this time of the month.
They called it the most wonderful time of the year yet it was the mere commercialization of what they called “Christmas”. Spoiled kids created wish lists leaving their parents obliged to buy such extravagant gifts and hypocrites swarming to foundations acting all charitable when in fact, they only did for their own interests. But on this particular evening, I caught myself attracted to this woman walking in ragged clothes with naked feet bringing huge plastic bags filled with what seems to be spare food and trash. Not that she was physically attractive but her thoughts lured me closer and closer to her.
She was walking on the main street of Barangay Luz. The street was busy, as neighbors went from house to house sharing what they could for the Noche Buena. Others started their karaoke marathon, their boisterous laughter louder than the music being played. And of course, the bystanders of the town were on their usual spot ready to get drunk as they clinked their beers with great cheer.
It was an hour past midnight and the bells rang. The more religious families were on their way to the local chapel for the Misa de Gallo. And there she was. The woman made her way to the local chapel. The people of the barangay gave her sympathetic looks, but she never looked at anyone in the eye, her hands shaking and her head twitching from time to time. She just stood there.
The mass ended and the attendees delightfully exited the chapel because a feast awaited them in their lovely homes. The chapel lights were turned off, but the woman was still standing outside. She grew tired, finally sat down and curled up like a ball. The scratches from walking barefoot all day finally stopped bleeding but her wounds were the kind that never fully healed.
There she laid alone in what happened to be the merriest time of the year, but not for so long. A hand tapped her on the shoulder and she slowly looked up. Her eyes brightened in an instant because for the first time in days, she had finally seen her daughter, Neneng, who was already holding her hand. Her daughter pulled her up and invited her mother to go inside the chapel. It was Misa de Gallo all over again. I can’t believe this is happening, she thought.
After the mass, they all went outside to watch the fireworks display prepared by local officials. People of the barangay assembled and anticipated the show. Neneng jumped for joy as she pointed her tiny finger to the array of colourful outburst that filled the sky. Her mother looked at her with so much gladness. How I wish it was always Christmas, she thought.
But what made both Neneng and her mother more excited was the Noche Buena that was prepared in their peaceful home at the far end of the barangay. The walk home was long, the festive mood faded and it got a lot quieter in their area. To their surprise, they saw a red parol hanging by their door of their concrete home. They did not remember buying it.
When they finally reached the doorstep, a man welcomed them with open arms. Never did they expect he’d be back so soon. He was the missing puzzle piece to what they called family, and they all embraced heartily. Hot tears fell down the woman’s cheeks holding on tighter and tighter to her dear loved ones. This was the best Christmas, she thought.
But in the corner of the chapel, there she laid still curled up in a ball; her plastic bags filled with her so-called treasures slumped beside her. The bright morning sun in contact with her skin signifying Christmas day. Once again, people passed by with sympathetic looks plastered on their faces as they saw the poor woman.
“Hay na ko natug na sab’s Jennifer diri,” they said. The moment her thoughts lured me to her was also the moment I realized I did not need to take her with me. She did not need to die because she already did. Her mere existence with only distant memories of what could have been the perfect Christmas haunted her. The loss of a former life was already death in itself, after all.