Rosa's Hope: Short, Short Fiction
Manila North Cemetery
The graveyard was littered with bags of bones by children who evicted the dead from crypts for a place to live. Their dirty faces peeked out of dark, empty vaults like baby birds out of the hollow of a tree. They all fought the common enemy of poverty, but some had another, more sinister adversary who would exploit their bodies, youth, and innocence.
Rosa, a fourteen-year-old Filipino girl, sat atop a pastel blue crypt waiting for her social worker, the one person who had offered her hope, to arrive with news about her possible adoption by an American couple. She was excited because someone wanted her to be part of their family. They sent photos of their home which had a bedroom just for her, a big back yard, and a huge dining room table with a silver candelabra in the middle.
The sight of a red tam knocked Rosa out of her daydream. Her heart pounded with fear as she slid off the crypt and ran through the concrete jungle of Manila North Cemetery. The hat belonged to Cesar Long Hair, a man with long dreads who was wanted by the police. Rosa had worked for him earlier that year and wanted no part of the job that involved hours every day in hotel rooms with old men. Cesar had collected cash from the clients and gave Rosa just enough food to keep her from starving. She brought in a lot of money for Cesar, and he wanted her back.
Rosa’s parents had been killed in an earthquake when she was five years old. She had lived in the cemetery ever since. She longed for the sweet innocence of her earlier childhood when even without her parents, there were times of simple happiness. Cesar had robbed her of that. To Rosa, he was a man peddling death. She wondered if she would be forever bitter and unhappy.
She didn’t want to flee the cemetery because Mahalia, her social worker, was due to arrive at any moment. Rosa peeked over the top of a crypt and spotted Cesar. She also saw Mahalia. The two were speaking. Why would Mahalia be talking to Cesar? Then she saw something that knotted her stomach so much that if there had been anything in it, she would have vomited. Cesar held out what appeared to Rosa to be money—lots of money.
The adoption was as phony as Mahalia’s friendship. Rosa crept away and hid among the blues, greens, and pinks of the only home she could remember. She smelled the acrid smoke drifting from the burning landfill. This was where she had fled to after her parents’ deaths. This was where she would die if she refused to work for Cesar.
The corner of her eye picked up a flash of red. She jumped and ran. Rosa was fast, and Cesar couldn’t catch her. Another man blocked her path. She made a sharp right turn between two vault stacks and a hard left behind them. She knew this cemetery well and anticipated a ladder. She scrambled to the top and pulled it up behind her. Rosa dropped to her belly and waited.
She heard the footsteps of the two men stop just below her. If she crawled forward, Rosa thought she could pull Cesar’s tam off his precious dreads. She banished the thought when a hand grabbed the top edge of the vault. Rosa jumped up, and the heel of her tattered shoe came down hard on the fingers. She heard them snap like green sticks. A scream of pain and anger chased her to the opposite side of the vault stack where she lowered herself to the ground and fled.
She stayed hidden the remainder of the day thinking about her future. Her parents were dead, There would be no adoption, no move to America. She was just weeks away from her fifteenth birthday, the age the Philippine government considered to be too old for adoption. She had run out of options. Rosa was growing desperate.
A few days later, she stood on the top floor of an unfinished mausoleum. Children used the twisted, exposed steel framework as a precarious set of monkey bars. She approached them and said that Social Services was on the way to round up children to be sent to orphanages. They scattered like leaves blown by the wind.
Now Rosa had the entire area to herself. She set her worn backpack with her few belongings in it on the floor. The day before, she had contacted Cesar from a phone booth using a telephone number he had given her when she worked for him. She waited several minutes until the sound of a boot grinding on the dirty concrete grabbed her attention. Cesar Long Hair rounded the corner glancing one way, then the other. When he saw Rosa, he relaxed.
“So you are finally ready to come back to work for Cesar Long Hair?”
“My adoption fell through. I don’t have any other choices.”
“Don’t you worry, little Rosa. I will take good care of you.”
“I know. Just like you did before.
“That’s the spirit, my girl.” Cesar put his arm around Rosa’s shoulders and walked her toward the stairway. “You know, we make a very good team.”
Halfway down, Rosa stopped. “I forgot my backpack. I’ll be right back. At the top of the stairs, she disappeared around the corner. A moment later she returned with a police officer at her side.
Cesar turned to run down the stairs, but it was blocked by two more officers.
Rosa walked down toward Cesar. When she was one step above where he was standing, she looked him in the eye. “These men will take good care of you, Cesar Long Hair.” The officers led him away. She had evicted the man of death from her life, and she watched him walk away with the tam, full of dreadlocks, swinging across his shoulders like a bag of bones.
© 2019 Chris Mills