Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Fiction: Debts, Deaths, and Dreams

Dani stared at the LED screen showing lithe, bespectacled girls riding a gold bus down Las Vegas strip. Awash in cotton candy pink and yellow lights, the models blew bubbles and strutted down the street like it was their personal runway. Tall, confident, carefree. The girls on TV were everything Dani will never be.

Deciding she's had enough, she turned her back from the digital ad billboard and turned to the crowd in the shopping mall coffee shop. It's been fifteen minutes and her client is nowhere to be found. A brown envelope of cash burned through her purse, twenty thousand pesos she failed to deposit before the bank closed for the day. A handful of money and yet she couldn't spare to waste a cup of coffee for herself. She'd have to commute back home with the cash, but it's not something she hasn't done before. 

The trick is to act like there's nothing valuable in your bag. It helps that her nondescript tote is tattered at the edges, the synthetic leather peeling in different areas. Unlike the black nylon tote she sold that afternoon, a high-end bag she purchased two years ago before she left her last company. She originally asked for a higher price since the bag was in very good condition (she only used it once on a trip to Bali), all the gold hardware scratch-free and the straps were made of Saffiano leather, but her client was a frequent buyer and asked for a discount. With another deadline from the corrupt BIR officer looming, Dani had no choice but to give in. 

The last two months had been a blur of buying and selling her things, material possessions she acquired since she started working, stuff she now realize don't really amount to much in the grand scheme of things. Not when you were left with a mountain of debt by your mother, who decided to up and leave without any warning. 

Dani had a plan. Before she resigned from the events company she toiled in for five years to start her own wedding coordination team, she prepared everything needed to make her dream come true. She crafted a business plan, consulted her network of industry insiders, reached out to her freelance friends to jump on board. Everything was ready. What she didn't count on was her mother ruining everything for her. Again. 

When Dani was about to apply for a sole proprietorship at the BIR, she discovered that she was in fact, several years due for tax payments and penalties. It turns out, her mother used her TIN in opening a short-lived massage place (one of her many big ideas), forged her signatures, didn't pay the taxes, and never bothered to inform the bureau when it closed down.

So instead of starting her dream venture, Dani had to spend her savings to first pay for the fines of a business she never benefited from. 

Sadly, it was an all too-familiar scenario for the petite, insecure, and uptight lady now waiting to let go of another possession at a loss. She dug through her purse and felt the small drawstring pouch that holds a gold 18k necklace with a medallion pendant bearing the letter "D". It was a gift from her late father Danilo, after whom she was named. 

Dani tried her best not to break down. She had no time for drama right now. She gripped the wooden table before her, holding on tight as the tears threatened to spill. The necklace was the last thing her father gave her on his last trip back to the Philippines, when he spent two whole weeks of uninterrupted quality time with Dani and her mother. They went to a beach in Zambales, gorging on mangoes and grilled seafood. They went to Baguio and hoarded jars of Good Shepherd Ube Jam and Lengua de Gato.  

The next time Mang Danilo came home from Saudi he was in a coffin. A freak accident with a cement mixer at the factory where he had worked for ten years. Dani was sixteen. 

Mang Danilo made sure Dani and her mother would have a good life even after he was gone. But all his hard work went down the drain in two years when Dani's mother started gambling. It was small time at first. Cards and Mahjong whenever she and her friends would meet up for dinner at one of their houses. Then a friend introduced her to e-games, where she spent hours in front of a digital slot machine, befriending all the attendants and security guards where she played. She was winning too, but became too addicted that she ended up losing more than what she won. 

Soon Dani noticed pieces of furniture and appliances were missing. Her mother's handbag collection, gifts from Mang Danilo every time he went back home, started disappearing too. Then she saw a text message on her mother's phone, to an unnamed number, saying she needed to see him and pawn her ring because she already lost three hundred thousand that night.

When Dani confronted her, she denied everything. She said she was just destressing, handling her grief and passing time. A month later she disappeared, leaving a trail of debts and angry former friends banging at their door.

That was six years ago. And now the ghost of her mother still haunts her. Dani slid the necklace back to its pouch and began to stand up. It looks like her client is a no-show, and just as well. She won't be selling the necklace after all.

She's done paying for debts she doesn't owe.

*Friday Fiction is my attempt at writing again. Writing to better myself, and not just because I need it to earn money. On Fridays (not every Friday though), I'll be posting something I wrote. It can be snippets, short stories, or even poetry. Hope you can come back and check! 

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