My father told me I looked like a beauty queen. He told me that if I tied my hair neatly and walked gracefully, I could put on a crown. He bought me many pairs of shoes – orange, yellow, and black, different colors, and dresses that are charming but out of this world. I’m proud to wear those dresses because glancing eyes followed me that echoed what father said: You are beautiful!
Beauty for me was self-expression. It was the way you carry yourself marvelously neat, and appropriate, sometimes even by simply opening the mouth, tacitly smiling and boastfully laughing, or just by displaying an awkward mannerism. Father told me about these things.
But my classmate, like Elizabeth (how much I envy Elizabeth!) glided like a ballet dancer. And Ara with her long lashes brushed with black mascara, and Sophia with her rosy tinted cheeks and glossy powder patted on her face, formed like buds in the morning. I wanted the same things, too – on my eyes, on my cheeks, on my face. “But no makeup, I wouldn’t like you to put on makeup. You would grow pimples and allergy. Don’t apply nail polish, too. Stay plain. Stick to the name of simplicity. It’s the essence of being a woman,” father said.
Being a woman. It was fun being a woman. My friends said it’s as beautiful as butterflies with transparent wings, the feeling of mist, and sunrise. “A woman blossoms to a full bloom with a fragrance enticing the earth to settle and bow down to the sky.”
But not yet, being a woman maybe later …
Everyday when I went out the house, I could observe people’s personality were enhanced by the clothing they wore. They’re wrapped in different packages. Though it’s true I saw how they adorn themselves in a civilized environment, I also wanted to discover how they would differ from animals. How we differ from the cats and dogs, lizards and mosquitoes, boars and wolves.
Oh, the skin and its pores – fine pores and coarse pores. Violy’s skin was flawless and white while Judy’s was dark and shimmering. Violy always shouted in her squeaking voice, “Francia, Francia we have to try all possible ways how to look attractive!” I would just look at her. We worked together with school projects. And then Judy would tell me, too – “You have to go with some boys and Andre so you would know how to feel and be woman.” Judy was our school muse who walked in stiletto like a model. She swayed her hips gracefully like the bamboos that swayed with the wind.
My looks spelled naivety. There were times I felt boys were afraid of me because I was so plain, and maybe like them? But I always remember what father said, “You are beautiful Francia.”
One day father bought me two dresses from Escolta. One dress was a violet quilt that seemed to make me a princess ready to sleep, and the other was a red and blue dress, pleated up to my knees which let me symbolized something worthy of praise like a flag. I wore that blue and red dress during an awarding ceremony. I felt simple and elegant in the red and blue dress. And respectable, too.
I could imagine myself so proud in that dress, while father would hand me the award for my declamation. Awarding day came and made me stand glued near the canteen and small gate. I was waiting for father. He didn’t arrive. I could play jumping jack. It didn’t matter anyway, my teacher just gave me the plaque. By the end of the ceremony, father came with his friends and uttered his sorry. That was okay. I hugged him tight.
“You look like a beauty queen,” he teased me and I smiled.
Such was my father.
College graduation highlighted a change in the way father treated me.
“You have to be responsible of your actions and the work you would soon do, Francia.”
“But of course, father. Don’t you trust me?
‘There are many things in life one has to learn. You would know soon. In the jungle out there, sometimes, you have to be a lion and sometimes you have to be a rat.”
“Opposites? Like day and night?”
That was how we spoke to each other.
“What gift would you like to get from me?”
“Nothing, maybe only a few bucks so I wouldn’t ask for any other expense when I look for a job.
“You have to beg now,” father laughed out loud as if insulting me.
The next day father gave me something. I thought it was strange, because of all the reasonable things he told me, what he gave me was immaterial.
“I thought you didn’t like me to put on makeup?”
“You are an adult now. You could paint your face as you like. Reinvent. Disguise. Express. Color.”
I was engrossed inspecting the big box full with varied cases, bottles, and tubes of makeup. Some brands were expensive, some were cheap, but all in all –the gift was very attractive to me. I knew the big box cost more than my expensive novelty.
Thank GOD not only because father could afford these things but also because he had taste.
That night I tried the different hues that would seem to look good on me. Eye shadows and lipstick – pale and daring colors. Yes, I could model and ramp on graduation day!
Father’s gift was so exciting to me. I knew it did not make any sense but I really liked it. He said that putting on makeup made one prepare for maturity, I answered that it gave me the thrill of being a child. Of being free. To experiment on things I’m not used to find importance. Could I be like Violy, or Elizabeth, or Sophia?
Father peeped in my bedroom good night, noticing how excited I was. Maybe on graduation day, I would feel woman.
“Good night Francia. Just wait for me tomorrow at the auditorium. I will be there and would listen to your graduation speech. Mr. Banong would bring you to school early because I have to see a client. And don’t worry, I wouldn’t be late. I’ll make sure of that, I promise.”
My heart wandered a bit. It throbbed a deep longing for my father. But in a way I was quick to get my words right.
“Tomorrow I would wear all these makeup father,” I laughed and kissed him.
“Good night again, model student.” then father sealed my forehead with a kiss.
The next morning, Mr. Banong brought me to school early. In school everybody wore the best they could to impress. You know teenagers and the would-soon- to be adults, they’re searching for identities. And pushing to be on top. Popularity counted for us.
And so the awaited day right in my hands. The hallway leading to the auditorium was full of spotlights. It was elegant and quiet. But inside me, it looked cold and freezing. There was a tinge of loneliness in my heart I couldn’t explain.
Later, I would be delivering the speech as a model student, and I’d make sure father would be seated in front to listen to the girl, he chanted to be the most beautiful in his life. Father was my mom, too, and I could identify with him – not from what a baby would suck from a mothers breast, but because of his sweat protecting me to become a worthy person. I may not be as gorgeous as my other friends but my breeding is something history would preserve. I owe my father.
“Francia, hurry the program would be starting in 10 minutes,” said Elizabeth. “You have to go in front and remain seated.”
“Daddy is late again… hahahaha” Elizabeth laughed. I winced at Elizabeth then she hurried away. I still waited until the emcee called my name and I run through the spotlights going to the stage. The scene was a bit dramatic because I deviated from the procedure, and the sitting arrangements. People glanced at their programs, and maybe questioned, “… the model student?
What mattered to me was father to see me deliver this final and memorable speech. I thought he would glory in my shimmering eye shadow, red full lips and a rosy tint – his baby girl and beauty queen: a real star!
But father was not around…My eyes searched all corners of the auditorium to seek for this robust and gentle man until my speech ended. I got applauded for the model student address.
After the other ceremonies, I ran near the canteen to check had father arrived. Time passed by and I stood waiting, shrunk like a soaked sponge in the shifting afternoon.
My face began to sweat oil and I could feel the sticky mascara and eye shadows smudged all over my eyes. I wiped my face with my bare hands and tried to free it from the colors that blemished my innocence . “Where is my father?”
I seemed lost in the night until Mr. Banong came to get my things.
“Where is father?”
Mr. Banong kept his silence. I asked again.
“We would go to your father.”
I felt a deep mystery inside my heart but I kept my peaceful pace because I was accustomed to father’s business meetings.
I have to let father know he did not keep his promise to me, let him see how an adult wears makeup and how an adult expects a promise. A promise is more than words. More than a ceremony. More than something to compromise for… I have to let him know a promise is sacred like the freedom I get putting on all this make up.
Mr. Banong, what did father say?
The driver didn’t answer me. Instead he repeatedly beeped the car so we could make a turn.
And he stopped in front of a mortuary.
I did not ask Mr. Banong questions anymore but hurriedly went down and run the creepy hallway. I guessed I knew what was happening and I didn’t like to understand it. Father was all I got and never in my dreams had I prepared for this scene of meeting him inside a box topped with a mirror.
They said father suffered three gun shot wounds because of the bad guys who wanted to kill him. Anguish was around me – in the air, in the shadows, in my body and in my face. Now I would be alone. Was this the responsibility father told me about?
I still got some colors on me, and I tried to explore my face in front of father in the coffin, with the little angels that watched on the Cross.
/rose flores martinez. 2008