A steady drumbeat pierced through the din of voices and suddenly everyone in the dark, cramped room was silent.
A seemingly bizarre bass guitar riff floated through the smoke-filled air, and people started moving, slowly but deliberately.
A rhythm guitar joined the fray, and the energy level of the spectators increased.
A voice, more a musical groan, took up the melody, and the crowd started going wild.
The music slowly reached its climax, and suddenly there was silence.
A single spotlight turned on and focused on a lone figure caressing a sleek black electric guitar. The sounds made by his fingers running across the strings brought the people in the club to a frenzied state. The guitar solo was both powerful and heartrending, the guitarist’s face was covered by a mass of unruly long hair.
Blackout and silence.
The anticipation was palpable. A few seconds more and the music exploded. The lights went on, and a voice pierced through everyone’s consciousness. From that moment, everyone’s focus was centered on the singer, whose voice soared above the music; every word he uttered went straight to the heart. He was taller than normal, lean, wearing a simple white T-shirt, black ripped denims and boots. His eyes were deep-set and expressive, and his mouth was wide, his lips full, but his mop of longish unruly dark brown hair concealed half of his face. Ordinarily, offstage, he was considered almost handsome, but when he was onstage and making his music, he was beautiful.
The crowd went crazy.
Very apt, since the band onstage was named . . . Baliw, the Filipino word for crazy.
Another email, this time with no link, just a picture and a screenshot of part of a document. The picture is of a child on a long bench or pew surrounded by important-looking people, inside what looks like a courtroom. The child is playing with a Barbie doll while eating what looks like a pack of biscuits.
The document screenshot underneath the photo had portions blacked out.
“That sometime on the _____ week of _______________, ______, at ______________, Barangay __________________________, Municipality of _____________, City of __________________, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the abovenamed accused, by means of force and intimidation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie with and have carnal knowledge with ____________________________________, a six (6) year old minor, against her will and consent.
Contrary to law.”
Notwithstanding the misspelling and wrong tenses, it should hurt, but it really doesn’t anymore. I am numb. Even with the details blacked out, I know what the words would say. How can I not?
I know the name of the child in the picture. Elizabeth F. Henson.
The child in the picture is me.
The case is of my rape when I was six years old by my next-door neighbor.
No wonder I’m screwed up, right?
Whoever sent this email wants me to be flustered.
But I am not.
So, whoever you are, bring it on.
Nothing more can hurt me.
The bastard who raped me made sure of that.
My own family made sure of that.
There had been a series of home burglaries in the executive subdivision where the Chinese mom lived. The village was huge, situated over three big local areas—Pasig, Cainta, and Taytay. There had been speculations as to who were involved. People said the police were involved. Some said the burglars were residents.
They’re almost correct. There was a policeman involved, some hired muscle, and yes, a resident—me.
I’m no mastermind. I was no longer sure why I got involved. Okay, I know why.
I did it to be accepted.
I am an information broker. You can’t imagine how much information can be had from different sources that we don’t know can actually make us very vulnerable.
First, there is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and other social media platforms. The amount of information you can get about someone from the internet is actually insane, if you know how to consolidate and use it.
Next, there are the people we usually let into our homes without a second thought. People who can be asked to divulge information without them even knowing it. The maids, the electricians, the plumbers, the construction workers, the guys who deliver the mineral water and gas, the men who deliver and pick up party tables and chairs, the home service masseuses, and even the tutors.
If you have a way to get specific pieces of information from all these sources and know how to weave them together, then you get enough to stage a burglary.
Take the pretty Chinese mother, for example. A construction guy known for being a tsimay killer (or someone who likes getting pretty, young house help as his girlfriends) was in my payroll, to an extent. We would hang out for drinks after he does some work on my house, and I would just let him talk. I would make prodding follow-ups, and on his fourth shot, he would basically tell me anything. Sometimes, I could ask him to date a maid and transmit to me what he finds out. What he knew was that I was a writer, and I needed lots of material. He never questioned my motives for the questions.
From him, I found out (courtesy of a not-so-young-but-still-single nanny) that the beautiful woman’s husband was a prominent businessman who had lots of cash lying around the house toward the end of the month. He also liked his gadgets and toys and has a state-of-the-art entertainment center. The maid bragged that when the family was out, she would watch her favorite noontime show on the big-ass screen with surround sound. From her too came the schedules of his frequent out-of-town trips. She was also too glad to share that she was happy not to have to clean up after any house dogs, and that she usually cleaned the garage on the dot at 5 PM, opening the gate to let the garbage out.
I should have told the beautiful woman to fire her blabbermouth maid.
“Mom, you’ve got to believe me! There’s a monster inside the closet!”
“Liam! For the thousandth time, there is no monster in your closet! You should stop watching those horror cartoons and playing those stupid games on your tablet!”
“Go to sleep! I have an early conference tomorrow, and I need to prepare!”
Liam’s mom tucked him in and hurriedly kissed his forehead. She left the door open a bit, but she forgot to turn on the night light before she left.
Liam sighed. He switched on his night light and waited. He had made up his mind. This had been his mother’s last chance. And she had blown it.
Liam stared at the door of the closet intently. He tried to still his breathing, because he had to be prepared to go through his plan. It was the only way he could be free.
The closet door opened a fraction of an inch. Liam had to rub his eyes, because he wasn’t sure whether it was just his imagination or if there was really something there. Some part of him wanted to suddenly confirm that he was really just imagining everything, like what his mother said.
But then the door opened another inch. And when it was opened around six inches, it stopped. Liam knew from experience that it would take a few more minutes before the door opened wider and the monster appeared and his nightmare would begin. He had only a few minutes.
He took the glass of water on his bedside table, drank a few gulps, and then screamed at the top of his lungs.
As always, it took his mother a few minutes before she stomped into his room, irritation on her face.
“Liam! I swear! You are just doing this to annoy me! I need my sleep! I don’t need your drama tonight!”
“Mom, I am seven years old. Couldn’t it be possible that I screamed because I really am scared and I just need my mother? You are still my mother, right? Not just someone who looks at me like a burden?”
Liam’s mother couldn’t speak. She stared at the little boy that used to mean the world to her. The little boy that she loved to death, and for a moment, she almost went to him to embrace him, sorry that she had been short with him the past couple of weeks.
She had been struggling to make ends meet. The separation from Liam’s father had taken a toll on her, and she just didn’t have time to coddle a troublesome little boy at this point in time. So instead of softening, she hardened and said the words that sealed her fate.
“Do you blame me for looking at you like a burden? You have done nothing but try to make me believe this far-fetched lie about a monster in your closet. Liam, we have to face reality. We no longer live the perfect life. The sooner you realize that the better. I am trying my best!”
“Mom, I’m seven. I don’t have to face reality just yet. But you do.”
Liam’s mother looked at the steely resolve of her son, dressed in his Transformers pajamas, tucked under the Marvel superheroes blanket on his bed. He looked at her, not as the innocent seven-year-old boy she was trying to make grow up fast, but as a person that was years beyond his age. And there was something in his eyes.
She heard a loud creak and the closet door to her side opened wide.
Before she could ask Liam what he meant, she saw something emerge from the closet, something she would not have ever imagined existing in her entire life. This “something” was huge and dark and had lots of teeth. And this something had suddenly taken hold of her and was dragging her into the closet. It was happening so fast, she couldn’t react. She didn’t even have time to scream. She felt the most exquisite pain and then there was blackness as the closet door closed.
The monster will no longer bother Liam, ever again.
Liam stood up, went to the closet, and opened it gently. Inside, he saw the familiar sight of his clothes and toys on the shelves. He smiled, and closed it again, just as gently.
He went back to bed, prepared to have a good night’s sleep, something he has not had for the past weeks. Before he closed his eyes, he whispered some final words to his mom.
“If only you believed me . . .”