Standout tales of love, survival and fantasy from high school writers
La douleur exquise
By Jannah Corrine B. Jumamil
LA DOULEUR exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have
Hanahaki byou : A fictional disease of the human system that coughs up flowers due to severe one-sided love
The first time Rena threw up white petals was during the night in her lonely bedroom. There were books in front of her, each waiting patiently to be studied for the coming exams. Beside the boring books were an empty cup of coffee and the crumpled picture of someone Rena wants to forget.
Rena curses and runs a hand through her messy hair. She stops halfway through when she feels something clogging up her throat. She immediately puts a hand over her mouth as she starts to cough harshly; she coughs once, twice then sees a white petal in her hand.
Her eyes follow the crumpled picture beside the cup and she stares at it until she can see nothing for the tears in her eyes and the feelings of unwanted love.
This will have to be a secret, Rena says to herself as she puts on her shoes and gets ready for school. She does not know exactly what this is and why in just 14 hours she has managed to cough up at least 16 white petals.
On the long walk from home to school, Rena stops and coughs up more white petals and she does not stop coughing for the next seven minutes. She stands there, staring at the petals in her hand and the petals that fell to the pavement.
She knows exactly what this is. Rena has seen it somewhere. Probably in her dad’s newspaper, or on the Internet, or maybe she heard it from some girls. She cannot remember what it is. Honoki? Hanakiha? Or something in between those.
But, as far as she can remember, it is a disease caused by unrequited love. She does not remember though how her feelings reached such an intensity that petals piled up in her chest, all ready to fall from her lips.
Her thoughts are suddenly forgotten when someone’s voice rings in her ears.
In less than a minute she feels an arm around her shoulder and in less than a second she feels her heart skip a beat.
“Raven,” she quietly says, afraid that her friend will hear the worry and sadness in her voice.
“You seem down,” Raven says and Rena curses silently. “What’s up?”
Rena avoids eye contact and tries not to remove the arm around her shoulder as they walk side by side. The arm creates a tight grip on her heart and she feels something starting to run up her throat. But if she pries off the arm, Raven may realize something’s out of place and everything will fall into a pit of darkness.
Raven must not know.
Despite their 13 years of friendship, there are still some things that Rena can’t tell Raven. Like the fact she stole Raven’s purple crayon when they were 4, or that she sent Raven random text messages: “I saw you in a nightclub. How’s your day, baby boy?” just to mess with him. Then there is her secret that Raven must never know: She is in love with him.
“Nothing big,” Rena lies, in response to his question.
Raven pulls his arm away and Rena feels a little relieved but there is still something ramming her throat. She swallows hard to push the petals down because it is not a good time to cough up white petals, not in front of Raven.
“Just stress I guess.”
She is interrupted when Raven pulls out his phone.
“Read,” Raven says sternly.
Pushing Raven’s hand to put the phone at a readable distance, Rena starts to read the headline of an article. The petals start collecting in her throat, all fighting their way to her lips.
Hanahaki disease. So that is what it is called. Just as she remembered, it is a disease caused by unrequited love, a disease that makes a person throw up flower petals when the case of unreturned love has become severe.
“My cousin is suffering from this because of a senior who won’t look her way,” Raven says.
The petals are being too pushy now.
“That’s sad to hear,” she says.
Rena coughs, covering her mouth with a hand, and takes her eyes away from Raven’s face.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” Rena says.
Her coughing has become harsher and it is hurting her throat and chest.
Raven stays where he is. She imagines her best friend standing with a confused look on his face that Rena finds too adorable. There is not enough time to reach the women’s bathroom so she stops beside a trash bin and coughs up the petals stuck in her throat.
There are more petals than she can count and the tight grip of loneliness in her heart hurts too much. Rena feels like she is drowning. It feels like she has been coughing up petals for hours.
It all stops after a few minutes. The petals are piled up on the ground and look pretty. They seem to not have done any harm to Rena’s throat and chest. Prettily painful, as Rena likes to describe it.
“Why me?” Rena mutters before kicking the white petals, creating an even bigger mess around her and the trash bin.
“Why me?” she repeats before deciding to skip her first class and just drown in her pit of feelings.
First class is not the only class she skips. She is lucky no student passes by the area where she cries and cries, surrounded by petals.
“Where have you been?” Raven asks during lunchtime.
“I slept somewhere,” Rena lies.
Raven seems to accept her explanation. He shows her a bouquet of white flowers, their petals too painfully familiar.
“What?” Rena jokingly asks. “Getting married?”
She tries to laugh, but it comes out awkwardly short so she bites into her sandwich to cover it up.
“No,” Raven replies before sighing lovingly. “For Jaeya.”
Rena feels something in her throat, something familiar. She hopes the floor will split in half and consume her and her whole life. Why must she feel like this every time she is with Raven?
“She said she loved gardenia flowers. I decided to get her a bouquet,” he says.
When Rena gets home, she spends the rest of the night bent over the toilet bowl releasing all the white petals stuck in her chest. All the pretty gardenia petals fall into the bowl, together with her tears and her hopes for Raven’s love.
She flushes all of them down, watching everything swirl and descend into a world Rena will never know. But she wishes that the hopes and dreams she flushes into the toilet bowl will land in a better place.
The words at the tip of her tongue are left unsaid. She ignores the pain for now, unmindful that it will be worse when the sun rises and she has to face a world opposite to the surreal world where her happy ending exists.
Jannah Corrine B. Jumamil is a Grade 10 student at International Philippine School in Riyadh.
The secret cavern of the pickpocket
By Elijah Joaquin de Guzman
THE WORLD was gray, as it always was, when I woke up. Not literally gray. In fact it was a sunny morning, but it was lonely. I did not feel happy. I did not feel loved. I felt desperate, needy, broken, hopeless. I felt gray.
Gently pushing open the wooden door of my kariton, I took in the view: trash scattered everywhere, fumes from the jeepneys so thick they were visible as they hung in the air. Like I said: gray.
I got up and stretched a little bit. Behind me my sister was sound asleep. She was only 5 and she would not make it on the streets on her own. That was why I had to step up, a 15-year-old street child abandoned by his parents. A common sight in this country.
I got up and pushed the kariton’s door back in place, whispered “I’ll be back” to my sister and took off for a brisk walk. I walked to the nearby marketplace, careful to stay behind boxes of fresh fish, hidden from the vendors’ view.
I was sort of a notorious thief around these parts, so getting caught and beaten up so early in the morning did not exactly seem like a plan. But that was who I was. I did not sit in a corner begging people for money. I did not wait for doors to open; I made my own opportunities.
Throngs of people had already gathered to do their morning shopping, filling the air with noise and odor, both of which were not sweet. Time to get to work, I thought.
Poking my head out ever so slightly, I scanned the surroundings for vulnerable targets. My eyes knew what to look for: exposed wallets, young kids sent on an errand by their parents, hung-over men who had drunk too much the night before.
After a couple of minutes, carefully making sure that the vendors were focused on their customers, I slowly stood up and made my way toward the crowd.
My stolen cap kept my face partially hidden and I carried an empty plastic bag to look the part of a shopper. Not long after, I spotted my first target: a young boy, about 10 years old. He was busy buying tomatoes from a vendor who was yelling. I spotted a couple of bills tucked inside the elastic of the boy’s shorts. A P20 note hung at the edge, away from his skin.
I did not waste any time. Briskly walking towards him, I stealthily reached my hand out, clipped the note between my fingers and yanked it out. A delicate job, but I had been doing it for so long that it was not so difficult.
Most children learn how to read, write and add; I learned how to take things from your pocket without you noticing. The sound of the money being taken was muffled by the people’s voices. The boy did not feel anything because the money never touched his skin.
I continued walking, putting as much distance between us as I could without drawing suspicion, then discreetly left the marketplace.
A pushcart vendor was selling pan de sal outside and I took the P20 I had stolen and bought four pieces of bread. The vendor put them in my bag and I headed back to the junkyard. My sister was awake when I arrived.
“Kuya, you’re late!” she said, giggling. “It’s 7:15.”
“Just by 15 minutes,” I replied as I walked over to her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Hey, where’s Albert?”
“He’s still sleeping because he drank too much red drink.”
Albert was the alcoholic owner of the junkyard we lived in. He took us in even though we had nothing to offer him. He did not exactly help or take care of us (except give us water), but that was something I could live with in exchange for having a home.
We silently munched on our salted bread and chatted for a couple of hours. All we had in this cruel world was each other and I had to ensure that we stayed alive every day.
It was almost noon when I headed out again to get us lunch. I stayed away from the marketplace and started walking to one of the stand-alone fast-food restaurants that lined the streets.
Street kids were not welcome inside, unless you wanted a beating. I spotted a few kids sitting outside, begging. I sat down with them and pretended to beg as well. But I was not a beggar, I reminded myself. I was a thief.
A couple of minutes passed, then an hour. People went in and out of the restaurant, but I still had not spotted a target; patrons were either keeping their money securely or were careful to put a distance between us.
I was getting hungrier and I was sure my sister was feeling the same. Another half-hour passed and I was getting desperate.
A man and his family emerged from the restaurant, carrying plastic bags filled with takeout. My mouth watered. They would not be easy to rob discreetly, which was what I preferred. No use getting caught and have everyone chase after you.
But I was not thinking straight anymore. I was starving. I slowly stood up. They were making their way to their car. Once inside, they would be impossible to reach. I had to strike. The man opened the car door and I charged at him. He gave chase but I did not stop running until I reached the junkyard.
My sister and I started eating the food greedily. It was not every day that we got to taste what others ate. It made my sister happy and it made me happy. I started to think that almost getting shot was worth it.
“Kuya,” my sister began, “I have a question.”
“Why do you keep stealing? Don’t you ever feel sorry for the people you get money from?”
“Uh,” I sigh. It was not the first time my sister asked me that and I hated it. I had gotten used to hiding my emotions whenever I was stealing, folding them up into this place in my heart and keeping them shut there. All the guilt and compassion stayed inside, never reaching the surface.
“It’s because there isn’t really anyone who will help us if we don’t. If we don’t do this, we die,” I replied.
She did what she always did after I answered her question. She nodded.
We ate in silence afterward. It was around 6 when I left again, this time to look for our final meal. Three meals a day. It was what I always told myself I would give my sister, but it did not always happen.
The sun was going down, making it easier for me to blend into the shadows. I kept my senses sharp, seeking my final target for the day. It was not long before I found her.
She was an old lady that just got off a shuttle bus. She was walking to a mall, but her pace was slow. Even better, she had a P500 bill sticking out of her purse.
I silently ran up to her and grabbed it, not making a sound. I was prepared to run away and revel at my unbelievable luck when I took another look at my victim.
Her back was hunched and she walked slowly with a cane. Old and frail. This money would have been for her dinner and commute home. She would end up on the street if she did not get home tonight and I would be responsible for it.
My sister’s words echoed in my head. Was I really feeling sorry now for stealing? A part of my heart opened up that night, a place that had been locked, a cavern that I had not looked into for so long.
If this old lady was going to suffer, I was not going to be the one to cause it. I ran up to her and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, lola, you dropped this,” I lied.
She thanked me and securely tucked the purse under her arm, then slowly made her way to the mall.
I stood by the shadows and watched. My sister and I would not be having anything for supper, but at least the old woman would not spend her last days on the streets.
A small smile crept up my face and maybe, just maybe, a little color seeped into my world.
Elijah Joaquin de Guzman is a Grade 10 student at International Christian Academy.
By Ann Rei L. Conte
AS LONG as she could remember, Aiah had always seen women dancing in the rain.
They were not the people who got caught in the rain without umbrellas and just made the “best” of it.
No, Aiah saw women dancing, literally dancing, in the rain. They seemed to fall with the rain. Maybe they were droplets—spinning, trotting, galloping and doing a graceful ballet as the water pattered on the ground.
She had watched them when she was a child, completely fascinated and striving to imitate their movements.
She had told stories about them to her family, her mother, her brother, her father (when he was around)—everyone.
Those stories stopped on a stormy night in her eighth year when she tried to drag her mother outside to watch the dancing women.
Her mother snapped at her, telling her the women were not real and she needed to stop believing in stupid imaginary friends and grow up. Aiah had looked at her mother with confused, young eyes and said, “What do you mean they’re not real?” as she stole a glance at the window. “I can see them right now. One of them is doing a pirouette.”
Her mother grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “They’re not real, Aiah! Now go to your room and do your homework or something.”
Aiah obeyed. That was the moment she realized that not everyone could see the women and that people tended to laugh or think she was crazy when she mentioned them. So she learned not to.
Sometimes, she almost believed that the women were not real but she never did, simply because, well, they were real. They had always been there, dancing in the middle of a pouring rain and she did not really feel crazy, although she was hardly an expert on the subject.
As she grew up, she learned to keep quiet about the women and thought about them less and less.
Slowly but surely the women began to fade from sight, existing just in the corner of her eye. There, but hardly noticeable. Just another crazy thing in her crazy life.
That was until the day she walked into her apartment and saw one of them standing in the middle of it, a serene smile plastered on her face.
Aiah did not know how but she recognized the woman. She was one of the women who danced in the rain.
“Hello, Aiah,” the woman said, her voice reminding Aiah of a trickling stream. “We’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
Aiah stared at the woman slack-jawed, her eyes lingering on the woman’s clothes—clear as fresh water, flowing like a cascading waterfall. The woman’s hair was tied in a loose bun with a few strands framing a much-too- pale face that held clear, gray eyes that seemed too blank.
“Uh—well—um.” Aiah, for the life of her, could not come up with a thing to say. All she could really focus on was the impression that the woman was so pale she almost looked blue.
The woman smiled at Aiah, her lips seemingly whiter than her teeth.
“You must be nervous, but don’t worry, I’m not here to harm you,” she said.
She held out a hand and said, “Take my hand. I’ll show you something beautiful.”
Aiah hesitated. This was crazy; maybe she really was crazy and should see a psychiatrist.
“Come, Aiah,” said the woman and Aiah found herself moving without thinking. She reached out and grabbed the woman’s hand, feeling a great rush of air and water swirling around her before she felt herself drowning.
Aiah surfaced from the water with a gasp. She found the woman standing a little away from the riverbank’s edge. The woman still had a smile on her face but it did not reach her eyes. Aiah headed toward her and took the hand that was offered.
“Welcome to the land of the fae,” she said, as Aiah stepped onto land and headed toward the group of women that she had not noticed before.
They were all wearing the same dress and shared the same unnatural paleness, as the one talking to her. And all of them were looking right at her.
“Where am I?” she asked, feeling a jolt of dread and panic. “Who are you people?”
“We are the fae of the rain and you are in our cove,” said the woman. “We are the sisters of water.”
Aiah stared at the dark-haired woman who took her from her apartment, then at the other women in the clearing. This must be some crazy dream. Yes, that could be the logical explanation—this was just one big crazy dream. She decided to play along. Crazy dreams are fun after all.
“What am I doing here then?” she asked and the woman smiled at Aiah as if she was a child who had said something particularly funny.
“You are here to join us, of course. You are ready,” said the gray-eyed woman.
Aiah was acutely aware of the other women slowly inching toward the river and toward them.
“Join what?” asked Aiah, backing away slowly. The woman moved toward her.
“Us. The fae,” said the woman. Aiah was still confused. The woman sighed in frustration. “The women you’ve seen dancing in the rain all your life.”
“Why would you want me?” Aiah asked.
“You are one of us, Aiah,” the woman said kindly, inching closer and closer while Aiah backed farther and farther away. “That’s why you’ve been able to see us. You were born to dance in the rain for the pleasure of the Great Beings. Few are given such great honor.”
Aiah tripped over a rock at the river’s edge and fell back into the river. She tried to get back on her feet, but the woman grabbed her shoulders and held her down. Two other women stepped forward and held her feet. Aiah struggled with all her might but to no avail; their grips were like iron.
“Don’t I have a say in this?” she asked as a fourth woman came forward holding a dagger.
Aiah’s breath began to quicken. She was quickly beginning to realize this dream was no longer the “fun” sort and willed herself to wake up.
She did not.
“This is your destiny, Aiah,” the woman said, her gray eyes sightless but somehow boring right into Aiah’s soul.
Aiah found herself thrashing with all her might, but the women holding her down were too strong. She stared at the woman’s face, then at the women holding her feet and the one with a dagger looming over her like a priestess ready to offer a sacrifice. She stared at their very pale faces, the lips so white they almost seemed blue, and the eyes …
The eyes were much too blank, gazing at her sightlessly, without light …
“You were born to be one of us, Aiah,” said the woman placing a hand on Aiah’s forehead, her voice sounding like rushing water, like water rushing into someone’s lungs. “That is why you’ve been seeing us since you were a small girl. You were chosen by the Great Beings to give them honor. Accept this, and it will be easier for you.”
She pushed Aiah’s head toward the water. Aiah caught a glimpse of the dagger as it was slowly brought down toward her body. The sound of something like a prayer was heard from a distance. Aiah began thrashing in earnest but the women’s grip was strong. She felt the dagger pierce her heart and the darkness consumed her.
A woman rose out of the river, wearing a dress of water. She stared into the faces of her sisters who were smiling their distant smiles.
“Welcome, sister,” said one with dark hair and gray eyes. “You are ready for the rain dance.”
The woman smiled. This was where she belonged.
Ann Rei L. Conte is a Grade 10 student at Our Lady of Perpetual Succor College.