The rain was pouring when my parents left. They were going to visit my sister, Ate Rachelle, who was then busy with college life in Manila. I wasn’t sure what the reason behind their sudden visit was. I heard them whispering the night before they left but I could only recognize a few words.
It was around six in the evening when the rain finally stopped. After eating dinner, I decided to take a walk just to pass the time. I remembered how Ate Rachelle and I used to walk around town and exchange stories about our day in school. I could still remember the first time she and I walked around. It was before Christmas break when she asked me to go on a walk with her after eating dinner.
“I’m about to tell you something incredibly top secret. Not even the girls know it. You’re going to be the first one to know about this, but you have to promise me that you wouldn’t tell a soul,” she told me in a whisper as if she feared that someone in the shadows was listening.
I raised my right hand and nodded. “I promise.”
She looked around, leaned closer, cupped her hand near my ear, and then whispered, “I’m already dating Ludwig.”
My eyes widened. “Ludwig? As in Manang Rosa’s son?”
She covered my mouth with her hand. “Keep it down.” She looked around again. “Don’t tell anyone.”
I just nodded.
I went back to the house. After I fixed my stuff for school the next day, I decided to go to sleep earlier than usual. I tossed and turned but I still couldn’t get myself to sleep. The cold breeze filled the room so I pulled my blanket and covered myself up to my neck.
The next day, during our lunch break I stayed near the fish pond. The last time I sat here with my ate was when she told me about getting a scholarship in a good university in Manila. Again, I was the first one to know. I didn’t know why she had to keep it a secret from our parents but they found out eventually, anyway.
After we were dismissed, rather than going home, where there would be nothing but silence, I decided to take a walk along the airstrip. It made me miss Ate Rachelle.
I passed by one of my father’s best friends, who looked at me with pity. I shrugged it off until I reached the end of the airstrip.
I remembered how Ate Rachelle and I used to race in the airstrip then watch the sunset before heading home. Our mother would scold us for it almost every day. “How many times do I have to tell you to go straight home not to the airstrip?” she would always say. We would just smile cutely then tell her how pretty the sunset looked.
What our mother didn’t know was that it wasn’t only the sunset we enjoyed at the airstrip. Ate and I would talk about all sorts of stuff—but mostly about our little secrets—but whenever we got scolded, I would hide in ate’s room and there we would do the same.
“You kids keep on whispering to each other. Gossiping isn’t nice,” mother would always say.
There was a time when I was so close to getting in trouble in school—two of my friends fought and I was caught in between. My parents always told me how happy they were that I was a good girl like my ate. I didn’t want to disappoint them that I only told Ate Rachelle about it. She hugged me and told me that she would never tell our parents. And she never really did.
She always had my back.
One afternoon during a weekend, she and Ludwig planned on having a picnic behind the school. She needed me to cover up for her from our parents. The whole day, I asked our mother to teach me how to bake cookies just to keep her occupied. After that, I asked our father to help me with a Math homework. I learned so much that day that even I didn’t notice when ate got back from her date.
I always had her back.
On my way back, few of my parents’ friends were whispering apologies and condolences. I furrowed my brows as I continued to walk past them. I stayed at the Carlos Palanca Jr. Complex, thinking of how most people looked at me and all the whispering.
I didn’t like the way they kept on looking at me and then whisper as if I didn’t see them. I even spotted familiar faces like some of my mother’s friends. They could directly ask me even though I wasn’t sure I had the answers.
Confusion wrapped me. Questions swam in my mind.
The sky was turning into a darker shade of gray but rather than cooking dinner for myself at home, I found myself in the faculty room of the only school in town with the hope that some of my mother’s friends had answers for me.
“Did you hear that Manang Christy’s eldest child passed away yesterday?”
“Rachelle? I thought it was just some sick rumor made by the kids.”
“She was in my class. She’s such a nice kid.”
“Very smart too.”
I felt glued to the floor. The names mentioned were too familiar but I wished they weren’t. My chest tightened.
Maybe those weren’t the answers I needed. If it were, then maybe I didn’t want it to come from them. Maybe I needed to hear it from a much familiar voice.
I headed out and went to my tito’s house.
“Joy, there you are. I was about to look for you. I just received news from your parents and they want you to pack a few clothes then follow them to Manila. It will be just for a few days. There will be a plane to Manila tomorrow at around five in the morning.”
“What about my classes?”
“I’ll inform your adviser. Mrs. Sison, right?”
I just nodded. I went back to the house and did what I was told. On my way back to the house, I was looking at the ground as I walked. I couldn’t really feel my legs because they felt like jelly.
I was in front of Manang Rosa’s house and there was Kuya Ludwig, running towards my direction.
“Is it true?—what everyone is talking about?”
I opened my mouth to tell him I wasn’t sure, that my tito didn’t even tell me the complete details as to why I was supposed to go to Manila but no sound came out.
Kuya Ludwig’s shoulder slumped. He shook his head as if the mere action would be enough to shake off the thought of the bad news. I saw a tear escaped his eyes but he quickly wiped it away. He placed his hand on my shoulder for a while then gave me a pat. He breathed heavily before he walked towards their house.
I went back to the house and did what I was told as if I was robot.
That night, I didn’t go for a walk. I curled in my bed and stared at the window. My breathing started to grow heavy. I pressed my lips together. A cold breeze hit my legs so I pulled my blanket and even used it to wipe my cheeks.
In a little town such as ours, almost everyone knows anyone, making news travel fast. It has its perks and disadvantages. Sometimes, I wish I could pick the news that would reach me because there were news that weren’t meant to be discovered through whispers.
The next day, as I was walking towards the airstrip, I saw a few people glancing and whispering. I took a deep breath then boarded the plane.
The window felt more like a screen that played the times I was with ate—the airstrip race, the night walks, sitting near the fishpond, and hiding in her room. It was like I could hear her voice, laughing and then whispering. It was those little things that I would miss.
The sky was dark when I arrived in Manila, and it wasn’t because of the time. My father was waiting for me. When he saw me, he rushed to give me a tight hug. Just then, the rain started to pour.