No amount of Sunday heat can stop the sheer will of middle-aged women. Just notice Aling Belinda's fanning: wrists frantically bobbing, you could not help but feel concerned for the hopeful kagawad living on her handfan's surface. Too bad he cannot escape his eternal fate—to unconditionally smile and, quite literally, wave.
Legs crossed underneath her white bestida, she proudly sat on a run-down wooden bench with her back inhumanly straight. Do not be fooled by this pretentiousness, however. If humans had tails, hers would be wagging with teeming anticipation. Ah, but how could it not? There is much to say about these sweat-riddled passersby! Much like a muzzled canine, her eyes twinkled in restrained hunger with every new face her gaze lands upon.
Then, on the walkway nearby, a family of three halts in their tracks. The whining child tears away from her parents’ hold and latches herself onto her father’s leg. All hell breaks loose—Belinda immediately whips her head towards the makeshift matinee. While her eyebrows draw into a knit, she purses her lips to prevent them from curling upward. Passing onlookers threw the family pitiful glances, but Belinda watched them intently, expecting a bigger outburst.
She was right.
Her face red, the embarrassed mother goes down on her knees and calmly bargains with her crying daughter.
"Mga bata talaga ngayon.”
Belinda eases into a grin as she hears the snide remark. Alas, the hound reunites with her master—masters, rather. Two women dressed in similar frocks slide on the empty spaces beside her. Together, they form a triad of bobbleheads who religiously nodded in unison. The new arrivals swerved equally colorful fans by their necks and faces, forming some kind of heated dance with that of Belinda’s.
“I’m sure you know why, Luz,” Belinda snorts, turning to her amiga who had initiated the conversation. “None of these children get beaten anymore. Teach them a little discipline and you’ll find yourself villainized on Tulfo!”
The child lets out a deafening wail, to which the three women react by craning their necks, as how one would peek out the window to get a glimpse of their arguing neighbors. Regardless, the mother keeps her cool facade. Much to the eavesdroppers' disappointment, her whispers remain out of earshot.
“Naku,” the third woman squeaks instead, head stuck in a furious shake. "With how the world's gone liberated, nawa’y hindi siya mapariwara."
“Tumpak, Delilah. Who knows what kind of person she’ll grow up into?!” Luz sighs dramatically.
“I won’t be surprised if she rebels.” Belinda chimes.
“I wonder what obnoxious color she will dye her hair with,” Delilah frowns, which makes Belinda and Luz burst into hearty cackles.
In between stifled laughs, Belinda continues the disdainful train. “Or what thug will she get her tattoos from.”
“Or-or—” Luz gulps. “What addictions she’ll be into.”
A silence falls over the three women. Shivering in their seats, they exchange horrified looks.
“It's still a big problem in our barangay, ano?” Delilah points with pouted lips at Belinda’s fan. “Too bad Ka Jimboy was not re-elected.”
“Ah. What do you expect,” Belinda huffs, flipping her fan to look at Ka-Jimboy's photo. “Filipinos never learn!”
“His implementation of the drug war went well.” Luz muses. The other two proudly nod in agreement.
“Our family has never felt more safe.” Delilah adds.
“That peaceful time brought me back to my childhood." Belinda’s eyes glisten with nostalgia.
“Oh, oh!” Luz snaps her fingers in recollection. She bounces in her seat like a student raising her hand in class, eager to be called by the teacher. “Because we had the death penalty!"
“Let's hope they bring it back. Look at how bad our country has gotten—"
Before Delilah could finish her preaching, the sound of giggling suddenly jabs at their ears, bursting the bubble they had unknowingly enclosed themselves in. As if snapping out of a trance, the three women pull their attention back to the very reason of their conversation.
Despite the puffy glow her face was smeared with, the child had now pulled her mother into a tight hug, to which she reciprocated. The women watch in disbelief as the mother triumphantly stands up and ushers the child back into her grasp, taking their initial formation. Hand in hand, the family walks away from periphery, leaving the women with mouths hung open.
Before they could let their sharp tongues wander further, the cheerful ringing of bells forcefully dulled them down. Instinctively, the three women abandoned their seats, dropping behind their beloved fans on the sweat-pooled bench.
They hurriedly made their way to the center aisle, filling in the gaps of a white-coated entourage. Wearing their best smiles, they politely stood where the family had once made a scene. As more bells echoed across the room, other people also began to stand from the comfort of their own rickety benches.
Joining in on the choir's song of praise, the three women proceeded with the solemn procession. With their hands spread in prayer, they gaze lovingly at the altar in front of them, each mentally rehearsing the names of the passages they were tasked to read today.