The Irony of Life: A Short Story by Felisa Daskeo
The clock on the painted wall by the bed seemed to suddenly slow down. Could it be possible that the clock had changed gears in order to fit the environment? How different her life seemed now. Why just a few days ago, she was in Canada, working night and day, unmindful of the time.
Now she was relaxed. No hassles, no fears, no worry. She lay down on her soft bed enjoying the feel of the soft satin on her skin, listening to the murmur of the air-conditioning. Tomorrow, she could get up late, and still not worry. She had saved enough and could afford to sit and relax.
“There’s no place like home,” she sighed with satisfaction. A few minutes later, Dana was asleep. She woke to the loud crowing of the rooster. Without its loud noise, Dana could have slept ‘til noon. But there she was, with lids heavy, forcing her way to the bathroom to clear her half-awake mind. A quick glance at the clock told her that she was two hours late for breakfast. But wait; there was no need to hurry. After all, she had all the time to herself now.
Loud cheers coming from outside her window alerted her senses. She rushed to the window and immediately her eyes were directed to the crowd gathering in the vacant lot just below the house. A cockfight was going on with men betting on their favorite cock. She backed out from the window and slowly closed it.She wanted to go back to sleep but needed to eat.
In the kitchen, she found out that she needed groceries.
Well, she dismissed. No problem at all. Sari-sari stores were everywhere and she just had to open her door, take a few steps and lo, one was in front of her.
She stood for a while watching the early buyers of a store in front of her house, smiling to each one who greeted her warmly. She’s only been there a few days but everybody seemed to know her.
After a while, it was her turn to buy. But then, a woman came rushing and she gave way. She was on vacation anyway and didn’t need to hurry.
“One peso coffee, two pesos sugar, two pesos oil and one peso soy sauce,” the woman said in succession.
Dana stared at the woman in disbelief. She thought she was joking but then saw the storekeeper picking up small packets of the items that the woman mentioned.
“Oh, I forgot something,” the woman added. “Can you give me one-fourth kilo of rice please?”
Dana followed the woman with her gaze. She couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed. She couldn’t imagine how a family could survive with one-fourth kilo of rice. Or perhaps, it’s what she could afford. Dana was still trying to figure out everything when a voice behind her startled her.
“Hello, Aling Martha,” the newcomer greeted the storekeeper, looking around first before saying, “Can you please loan me a kilo of rice? I have no money to pay you yet.”
The owner of the store glanced at Dana first then turned her attention to the woman. “Aling Loida, you still have a balance from what you owed me last time but I am being considerate of you. Please pay as you promised.”
Dana had heard enough and almost left without buying anything. However, she realized she had to buy something to eat. Her stomach is already rumbling.
She returned home, switched on the component and did some stretching. She didn’t hear any knocking on the door but she saw the knob turning slowly. It was not one of her custom to lock her door. In the province where she hails, doors are never locked and visitors were always welcome. As she waited, someone pushed the door open and came in.
Dana lowered the volume of the component as the woman approached her.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Dana. My name is Leah. I live three houses from here,” she said with a smile.
Dana invited her guest to take a seat. “You’re early,” she said.
“Yes. I badly need your help,” Leah said softly.
Dana watched her without talking. She had met Leah only two days ago. She didn’t even know her name but remembered her face.
“I won’t stay long,” Leah began. “I just came to ask for your help. My husband was stabbed last night by unidentified men and is now fighting for his life in the hospital. Please, Dana, you’re the only person I know who could help me.” Leah said with tears in her eyes.
“How did it happen?” a concerned Dana asked.
“My husband was drunk. He was walking home when it happened.”
“Nobody saw the incident?”
“Nobody. Or if someone did, he’s afraid to talk.”
“How serious is your husband’s condition?”
“It’s very serious. If I can’t produce the money, he will surely die,” she said as she cried.
“Okay, Leah, stop crying. How much do you need?”
Leah’s face lightened up. She stood and hugged Dana tightly. “Oh, Dana. Thank you very much.” She slowly released Dana and looked into her face. “My husband needs an operation. He lost too much blood. I need a big amount of money to save him.”
Leah stopped for a while and played with her fingers. “I need fifty thousand pesos.”
Dana’s heart almost stopped beating. Leah was asking too much of her.
Leah sighed and blew her nose. “It’s okay, Dana. If you can’t lend me money,” she said and slowly stood. “I’ll say goodbye now.”
“W-wait,” cried Dana. “Don’t leave. I can’t lend you that big amount but I can give you a portion of it.”
Leah held on to the armrest of the chair and gazed up to Dana who was standing. “How much then?” She asked with wide open eyes.
Dana had a strange feeling that Leah was only acting but dismissed her thoughts. No decent human being she believed would say her husband is dying just to get something. She studied Leah’s face carefully then said, “I can only afford Php5000. I’m sorry.”
Again, there was a spark in Leah’s eyes that Dana doubted. Nevertheless, she gave her the money.
Dana’s head was swirling when Leah left. She didn’t know what to think. The holiday that she thought she was having wasn’t a holiday anymore. Instead of eating breakfast, she put on her jeans and shirt, took her bag and stepped outside. She needed to breathe and relax. To her dismay, she passed by a group of women seated around a table, playing Tong-its. She didn’t want to look but a familiar face forced her to stop and take a second look at the group.
Leah was raising her cards and saying, “I won, I won!” She didn’t even notice Dana watching her a few yards away.
“Oh, no,” Dana whispered in dismay. She almost shouted with anger but instead hurried to leave the place.
It was already getting dark by the time Dana decided to go home. When she passed by the table occupied by the women this morning, the table had doubled and more than ten people were added. Leah was still there, her loud voice and giggles filling the air.
Dana was startled when someone called her name. It was the store owner in front of her house summoning her.
“I heard that Leah borrowed money from you,” Aling Martha whispered.
Dana was speechless. The news really travels like a rocket in this place, she thought.
“How did you know?” asked Dana wanting to avoid talking about it but the store owner seemed to have more things to tell her. Dana would have ignored it but then the incident she saw this morning made her interested to talk.
“Everybody knows Leah here.” The store owner was saying.
“What do you mean?”
“Leah is the number one liar and swindler in this place.”
“You mean- that’s her job?”
She nodded. “That woman still owes me a thousand pesos.”
“How much did she borrow from you?”
“Ten thousand pesos. That was three years ago. She pays me ten pesos every day.”
“Oh, my God. How will she pay me?”
“It will take years before she can pay you back. She owes money from almost everyone here.”
“But how is she able to do that? Can’t anyone teach her a lesson?”
“She knows what she is doing. She can sweet talk anyone. She can fabricate stories to make anyone cry. And without knowing it, you find yourself taking out your wallet to hand her money. She does it to people who do not know her.”
“That’s what she did to me. She came crying this morning and told me that her husband had been stabbed and was in critical condition.” Dana shook her head in disbelief. “How could someone do something that deceitful?”
“She’s used to doing that. She can even tell people that her child is dead just to be able to draw money from them.”
“But what does she do with all the money?”
“Well, she’s jobless and her husband is a drug addict. They have five children and she’s pregnant. She plays Tong-its every day and more often than not she loses her money.”
Dana stood staring at Aling Martha ranting things she isn’t absorbing. Her mind was too busy. After Aling Martha finished, Dana made some comments then said her parting words and left.
Dana went home with a throbbing headache. It had been a tough day, worsened by what Aling Martha had told her about Leah. She went to bed early but couldn’t sleep so she went to her computer instead and read some articles.
The next day, Dana decided to stay home and do her laundry. She had a washing machine but decided to hand wash her clothes to save on electricity. The clothes weren’t that dirty she reasoned to herself.
As she hung the clothes to dry, she heard a knock on her door. This time, she had learned to always lock her door to avoid intruders. She was surprised to find her neighbor outside her door carrying a load of soiled clothes.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Dana looked at the woman keenly. She didn’t know the woman but she had seen her hanging clothes near her house two days earlier.
The woman smiled and set down the laundry basket overflowing with dirty clothes. “Dana, I’m sorry to disturb you but my washing machine broke down and I can’t use it today. I thought I could borrow your washing machine first.”
Dana stood looking at the woman saying nothing. How she wanted to get angry that moment but she has learned to control her anger at all times for many years.
“Please, Dana,” the woman begged. “I have to wash these fast because I have a baby to take care.”
Dana could feel her face growing hot. She wanted very much to say a word but thought of the baby with no one to take care of her.
“Alright,” she sighed, “you can use the washing machine now but please have your washing machine repaired very soon.”
She stood there watching her neighbor, assessing her and wanting very much to escape the place. Her mind was busy thinking of the people around her. She never thought that she would be living in this kind of neighborhood. She wasn’t born rich. They were poor, but she was taught the right way to live. She came from a well-organized family and an educated one, too. And the reason they led a comfortable life now was that they were all hard working people.
She doesn’t condemn the poor people nor does she dislike them. She understands them too. In fact, she never hesitates to help those who are in need. But if people are like what she is witnessing around her, she doubted if she can live in peace in the place. Dana could almost imagine what life would be like in that place. Turning her back to her neighbor, Dana decided to go and find things to do.
“Oh, I forgot something,” Dana heard her neighbor say.
Her neighbor who didn’t introduce herself and that Dana didn’t know her name was scratching her head and looking at her like a little girl who wanted to ask for candy.
“What’s the problem?” Dana asked.
“I forgot to buy detergent,” she looked up to Dana.
“It’s alright, you can leave those things here then you can go and buy what you need,” she said.
“I’m sorry, Dana. My husband left for work and forgot to leave money for us. Maybe you could let me use some of your detergents now. I’ll pay you back as soon as my husband gets home.”
Dana is already on the verge of berating someone but she kept her cool and opened the cabinet to get the detergent. She handed it without talking to the woman then left her to do her laundry while she went inside to look for something to do while waiting for the woman to finish her laundry and give her some of the privacy she needed so badly.
That night, as Dana lay down on her bed, she thought of all the incidents that had happened in her few days stay in her new apartment. She had purchased the apartment at a very low price from her broker friend. Her friend had told her that it was a good price and she will like the place. Of course, any broker will tell that to her client. She was excited because she wanted to be independent and have her own house. But things seemed to be going all wrong in her new place.
The next day, Dana packed all her things. She hung a notice on her door that said, “For sale”.
Later in the afternoon, Leah dropped by Dana’s.
“I heard that you are leaving,” she said in a muffled voice.
“Yes, I think I need someone to live with. It’s lonely living alone. I need my parents and I’m going home.”
“I think I know why you are leaving, Dana. I’m sorry for everything. I apologize because I can’t pay you now.”
“Leah, that money you borrowed doesn’t count much but I have to tell you frankly that I hate liars. Don’t you have any plans for the future? Your kids need you to provide them with what they need and you can only give them a better future if you find a job and be good.”
Dana felt relieved when Leah finally said goodbye. She went out to say goodbye to everybody.
Dana looked at her apartment for the last time and then walked away. The truck she hired to move her things was waiting. She boarded the truck then waved to her neighbors. She was going back to work. Work was better than indulging in a long holiday.
© 2018 Felisa Daskeo