It’s still vivid, the memory. I was in fifth grade; I would have been ten or eleven. I had tied a corner of my handkerchief to the pointed tip of a ballpen, managed to secure the cap over the knot and twirled my instrument so that the fabric spun and wrap itself around the pen. A classmate, initials GB, was watching and asked, “Isip bata ka, Leah?”
I didn’t answer but I stopped what I was doing. Even before that, I didn’t like her that much. But I already had a sense that I was behind, not intellectually (in fact, I consider myself somewhat ahead in that department), but in developing that air of adulthood. Girls in my class were already keeping their hair well-combed and adorned, maintaining an oil-free face despite our classrooms not having air-con. Their movements were already graceful, they raised their eyebrows and bat their eyelashes, their laughter careful. It would take me another two years to carry a comb and a compact of pressed foundation, another fifteen years to wear full makeup on a daily basis, and to this day, I sprint in my reasonably-heeled shoes to catch the bus where I sit and stare wearing a drifting expression. I look at college girls, the teens on social media, and sometimes my three-year-old niece’s quizzical eyes and I wonder how I missed out on that grown-up aura.
I consider myself a pretty self-sufficient adult otherwise. I cook meals, keep myself and the home tidy. I work and pay my bills–I even have a retirement fund! I pick up groceries and sometimes prescriptions. News stresses me out and I take pleasure in a good night’s sleep. Perhaps we all keep that child version of ourselves and it resurfaces in times of uncertainty or pure joy. The husband tells me that child-likeness tethers a person to his/her purer self. Nice sentiment though we both agreed that living requires a fair amount of fortitude and guile. A child is often helpless and in need of supervision. Someone to be cared for but not to be taken too seriously. Surely, no self-respecting adult would like to give this impression.
I want to tell GB now that my handkerchief was some thick, creamy sauce, chocolate perhaps and my pen a mixing spoon. That was what I imagined then but I can’t remember why. Maybe I was hungry. Maybe I had a brief fantasy of being a confectioner. It doesn’t matter, really. We were both kids, one was too young to know to mind her business (but she could certainly mind her manners), the other young enough to let her imagination take flight. I hope the latter hasn’t grown that much.
Featured photo © 2023 Leah Ranada