And then it was time. Time to meet her father. The father who had so often denied her. It was time to meet the father who chose to play with a broken woman and break her again, then blame her for being fragile. Time to meet the father who had held her as a baby and decided she wasn't worth it. Time to meet the father who, on her twelfth birthday, sent one movie pass in a dollar-store card signed Victor and Jinky; the last time he had sent anything. The movie pass was old and folded and leftover in a wallet from a trip to the Philippines; worthless in America. That was the last tangible expression of love she had received from this father.
It was time to meet the father who saw her lying deathly in a hospital bed and decided to compound his other mistake by playing a game of chicken with a broken woman. A game played by both and lost by each. It was time to meet the father who wished he had just paid the 20,000 pesos; or in a perfect world, sent money for the funeral. At least this is what Princess Mae believed.
Will she know Victor Bajar in a crowd? She had no recall of his flesh and bone, but just a two-dimensional memory from video calls and photos. She had not been held by him since before she could remember being held. Is there a loving and gentle side of this man, the side she never saw in the tension-filled, long-distance exchanges in the home of her mother? Wilma spoke little of him, intentionally trying to keep the poison from spilling upon her daughter. But there were snippets that dripped from the corner of her mouth; moments when she would burst from holding in breaths of betrayal and abandonment.
She was ushered from the plane beyond security and there he was. Just the same in real life as she had seen on telephone screens. There was a younger man with him, a Filipino with a plump and jolly face, and he smiled and waved with a vigor beyond the forced smile of Victor Bajar.
After showing the identification necessary to receive his daughter, Victor said without so much as a hug, "Is this all you have? I told your mother it was cold here."
"It's all right, she can have my coat," the younger man said.
"It's just that the woman is dumb. She's always been stupid. And then the kids, any wonder they get pneumonia?" It was not the first sentence, but it took him two sentences to begin the assault on the character of Wilma Alcordo. These were the words that had been feared by the mother all along.
It was then Victor realized perhaps a gesture of affection was in order. Something tender for the daughter you haven't seen since infancy. He held her head loosely to his chest, impersonating fatherly affection, and petted her with feigned enthusiasm.
"It's okay, daughter. We will find you a coat tomorrow. This is your Uncle Omar. He is your mother's nephew and lives with us," he said, assuming Princess had naturally accepted Jinky as her mother.
"Nice to meet you, Princess Mae. Welcome to the family," Omar said and hugged her close, engendering affection the father could not.
"Thank you for coming to get me," Mae said, remembering what her mother had told her to say.
Outside the air was biting cold as they walked through the covered parking garage to the cheaper outdoor lot. And suddenly there it was, dirty white and crusted in piles.Snow. Glorious snow in large mounds on the edge of the walkway and she was transfixed by the sight of it. She wanted to just reach down and grab a handful, but dared not, captive under the march behind Victor and in front of Omar. The sidewalk was damp and pebbles of salt stuck to the bottom of her shoes, then crossing the lot she stepped in little slushy mounds of dirty half-melted snow and her socks became cold and wet.
Victor put her bags in the back of the old minivan. She sat in the middle seats and the men sat in the front.
Omar said to Victor, "Maybe we should stop at the Tim Horton's? Maybe she hasn't eaten much?"
"It's already late and she has school tomorrow."
"Are you hungry?" Omar asked Mae.
Mae looked at Victor and thought it best to deflect, "We were given food on the plane." Which they were, but it had been many hours and she was hungry. But she was often hungry and the ability to feel hunger could be sustenance in its own right.
"We could stop and get her a doughnut," Omar said.
They did not stop, but drove fifteen minutes along the quiet late night highway, through the tall empty buildings of the wintered city, getting off on Niagara Street and weaving through passages of the old west side. Once a thriving hub, now an immigrant ghetto with a Latin flavor. They pulled into a narrow driveway sandwiched between two tall clapboard century homes with high pointed peaks. It seemed so big to her; twice as long as it was wide. It had a concrete slab porch with an iron railing and rusted metal awning. It's green paint faded and peeling away in corners. They were rich beyond imagination, Mae thought.
As they lumbered into the old structure, Victor guided her in whispers, but the luggage bumped loudly off the aluminum storm door. The staircase emptied into the hallway and it was there Jinky appeared in her nightgown with a scowl.
"What are you doing? You'll wake the girls," she snapped in a whisper.
"They won't wake up," Victor said, his tail between his legs.
"Look at the time. You know, some of us have to work tomorrow," Jinky huffed.
She had only come part way down and addressed Mae from above, "Tonight you can sleep on the sofa downstairs. I don't want you in the clean bed until after you've showered and changed." She looked at Mae in the dress so carefully chosen to make a first impression, but it could not umbrella the expectations of a dirty waif come to call.
"I've left a blanket and pillow on the sofa," Jinky told her.
When Mae stood frozen in the ugly glare of Jinky Bajar, Victor admonished her, "What do you say to your mother?"
"Thank you, mama," Mae said meekly.
"Okay, go take your rest and we'll fix you up tomorrow."
Jinky went upstairs and the men moved quietly about setting Mae upon the couch. Spreading the blanket and puffing the pillow before tucking her in. Victor kissed her forehead and went to bed. Omar lingered a moment longer and sat close.
Omar told her, "Don't worry. Things will be better tomorrow, once everyone sleeps."
"I know she doesn't want me," Mae said.
"She will be fine. You'll see. She isn't nice when she's tired. And besides, they have been arguing before you came and they will get over it."
"They were just fighting as married couples do, that's all. You just keep saying 'yes mama' and everything will be fine, Princess Mae." He ran a tender hand along her cheek, shut the light and went upstairs.
Then there was only the light from the street, squeezing dimly through the shades. The room alive with hushed silhouettes; messengers of fortune reminding her she was truly alone now. Alone for the first time in her life and when she turned on the couch there were no ripples to be sent or answered.
YOU ARE READING
Princess MaeGeneral Fiction
Princess Mae lamented many things about her life; hunger, poverty, struggle, and sleeping altogether in the crush of their two-room tenement. For these things she blamed her mother and the poor choices which had left her the sole provider of four c...