“Boys grow up to be men. And it’s men who cause all the trouble. They’re the ones who shed the blood and poison the earth.” – Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties
ONE SUNDAY MORNING, the world woke up without women. No man really knew what happened. Were they abducted by aliens? Were they all kidnapped by a mogul? A male news anchor on TV screamed, “We’re happy the transgenders and intersex who are biological glitches are gone but where the hell did our wives go?” News on the Internet kept announcing reward money from Caucasian men for any one with leads as to where their wives and children have gone. Even the male presidents and prime ministers did not know where their wives went or where they have taken their children. One Sunday morning, the world woke up without women. Of course, wherever the women go, the children go with them.
As to Rolando Magsaysay, a Filipino with a sound mind and body at age of 35 years old, his world suddenly become at a standstill. He woke up expecting her wife and children at the dining table waiting for him to join their breakfast. Instead, he found the house empty. There was no laughter and heavy steps from their seven-year old daughter Charo and his three- year old son Gabrielle. There was no kitchen smelling like pancakes and coffee. There was no one but him.
Sunday is market day for the Magsaysays. Although a bit unusual for Rolando, he thought that maybe there was an emergency that made Aurora forgot to wake him up before leaving to buy groceries. He called her cellular phone five times and instead of hearing her voice, he heard the ringing of the phone kept inside the drawer of their bedside table.
The frustrated Rolando immediately went outside to ask Nanay Lusing, their neighbor, if she saw Aurora and the kids going to the market. He didn’t even bother to change his pajamas. While he walked to Nanay’s house, he saw men wandering the streets. They were drinking bottles of liquor as they loiter around. They looked like ghosts or probably zombies never knowing where to go. These useless drunkards again, he thought to himself.
When he arrived at Nanay’s house, he didn’t see her sitting on her wooden chair at the balcony of their house. Instead, he found Nanay’s husband, Mang Kiko, who was crying. “I am old. I am old already! Lusing, why did you leave? What have I done?” Mang Kiko was probably too consumed with his emotions that he could not smell the burnt meat from the kitchen. Rolando rushed inside their home. Even Mang Kiko did not notice him passed by. Rolando turned off the stove. He sighed.
AFTER eating breakfast with Mang Kiko, Rolando decided to continue the search. He did not believe that her wife and children were lost the same reason the other women and children were. For him, Aurora would not choose to disappear just like that.
He drove around town in their family van. He glanced at the tickets on the passenger seat. Today was the seventh anniversary of their marriage. He was supposed to treat the whole family with watching a great film at the local theatre. Instead, he had to look for them with no clue at all as to where he could find them.
He visited the park near the house. He went to the church where they attend the Sunday mass. He visited the clinic of their family doctor who is a woman as well so her nurse could not contact her, too. He visited the small family mall especially the humble arcade where Charo and Gabrielle love to go. They will play all kinds of games when Charo wins a contest or tops the class. They especially love the basketball game. All these places are full of people looking for their people.
When he finally visited the police station to report the missing, he saw long lines of upset men. Hopeless, he joined a line. After just a second, many men followed him. After two hours, a policeman announced that the national government on television declared that yes, all women and children are missing. Unfortunately, the police cannot handle all cases so every man should find his own wife and children.
The men started screaming. “I pray to God they were not victims of tokhang or else. Put$%&@.” Some men started to punch each other just to release all pent-up fear anger. The police then immediately stopped the riot.
Rolando left before he could get hurt. He started the car, muttering all kinds of curses. Puta. Demonyo. Tangina! $#%* He even banged the steering wheel. “Tangina! Where did they go?”
“DON’T SKIP MEALS, LANDO.” Rolando could hear his wife’s voice in his head. He arrived home at 10 PM. He couldn’t bear to look at an empty house. For him, all the more he’d feel empty. He did not eat lunch and dinner just to look for his family.
He went to every inch of this town: public market, billiards, seaside restaurants, shopping centers, salons, everywhere. Even those places he knew his wife hated because of the overpriced products or because she was once catcalled there when she was still in high school.
He placed the ten bottles of beer he bought on the dining table. What is a full stomach for when you are alone? He started to drink as he thought hard of everything Aurora said to him for the past days, weeks and months. Mostly he remembered bills to pay, groceries to shop, children’s books for Charo and Gabrielle to buy, garbage to dispose of… Many things that he also did when asked but usually hours or days after that Aurora had to yell at him a few times.
But in his defense, he had a lot of assignments and projects to grade. His working table in the house was already swarming with unchecked papers. If only they could check themselves!
Aurora understood him. Why wouldn’t she? There were also days when he had to do the household chores and taking care of the children all by himself when she wanted to be undisturbed in the basement with the research team as she was close to finishing a book she worked hard for almost a decade or when she was gone for weeks doing research. There was always this book or that book to write.
“I need all the facts first,” she’d say as she tells him of her weekend getaway in mind.
DRUNK AND HOPELESS. Always not a good combination. Rolando started to throw plates and glasses to the ground. He was crying out loud until his knees touched the ground a few inches away from the broken plates and glasses.
A few minutes after, he stood up and went for their bedroom. He rummaged the closet and threw out all the clothes while cursing out loud: the red gown when she first proposed to Aurora, her wedding gown, the red lingerie she wore when they made love and then days after became pregnant with Charo. He cried at her everyday clothes, too. He loved ironing her blouses, maong pants and panties along with his office clothes. Their deal was that laundry is for Aurora and ironing clothes is for Rolando. He screamed and screamed. That was until he found something that made him quiet.
Hidden in the depths of the closet was a letter from Medusa Travels dated January 12, 2030. The letter was said to be accompanied with a ticket. He read in the letter the tagline of the company he never knew existed: “Women deserve a planet, too.” Ronaldo sat there dumbfounded, perhaps just like all the other men like him all over the world. Men were left behind by women. Their minds were bombarded by random vignettes and motion pictures of moments where they have hurt their wives, daughters, and sisters. But I have loved them in my own way, they must have thought. Rolando punched the wall so hard his fingers bruised. “Oh fuck, Oh fuck!”
In the news, men were reported to have filed cases against all companies named Medusa Travels. Some even broke into the offices of these companies. They damaged the doors shouting to no avail, “Bring our women back!”. In the news, male presidents of rich nations were reported to have activated all the drones in outer space to look for their wives and children but still haven’t found them. In the news, the National Astronomical Space Association was being pressured to report if certain spaceships have left the Earth last night. The team of men left at NASA was seen in a video, scampering around and making sense of the data. Just like the all the other space agencies worldwide headed by women. Anyway, all pieces of information available from various credible sources including NASA seemed to show that no spaceship has left the Earth last night. In fact, there was no living person spotted in Mars or any other planet in the Milky Way Galaxy, except for all registered astronauts allowed to travel in space by law. In the news, all sperm banks worldwide were reported to have shut down.
In the news, the president of the country spoke in his midnight state of the nation address that should the women come back they will be chained to the bedposts forever. They would not be allowed to leave the house anymore. In fact, they should be shot at their vaginas for such betrayal.
ROLANDO went to bed despite knowing he can never fall asleep. Their queen-sized bed felt bigger for him tonight somehow.
Medusa. Medusa. Rolando thought he heard him somewhere before. Not just from Greek mythology, mind you. Didn’t Aurora mention him that before in passing when she said she hired a research team to work with her in their basement? Didn’t they work there for the past years?
Rolando immediately looked for the key to the basement. Knowing Aurora… she must have hidden it somewhere. He looked for the safe box behind the clothes in the closet. He entered her anniversary date. He cursed when it didn’t open. He entered other dates: Charo’s birthday, Gabrielle’s birthday, Aurora’s birthday… nothing! He then remembered other dates he knew she might have forgotten: the date when they first bought their own house, when he proposed to her, when he proposed for the second time and finally got lucky for a yes, when she found out her debut book got published, when her debut book got an award and etc. Of course, he didn’t try all of that. Even still drunk, he knew their safe box had only four chances before being locked out. He then remembered he have not tried his own birthday yet. He was surprised when it opened. How could his wife have left him when she is this sentimental over his birthday? He grabbed the key and ran to the basement door.
What he saw was beyond his imagination. The walls were full of research articles about Planet M and how to get there. There were news articles of women becoming head of space agencies worldwide. There were pictures of things they should acquire: sleeping pills, invisibility chips, sperm donations, seeds, space suits, portable solar power kits, water purifying system, two-way radios, medicine kits and etc. On top of the wall, there were words written in full letters: PROJECT MEDUSA. Below is a picture of Medusa, a winged female creature.
Everything is overwhelming. Aurora had kept too many secrets from him. Did he really know Aurora?
As his mind looked for good memories instead, Rolando remembered that one night with Aurora some weeks ago. They made love for the first time after Gabrielle was born. They cuddled and talked a bit before dozing off to sleep.
Aurora kissed his cheek. “What if one day you wake up without me? What will you do?”
Rolando was used to his wife’s grand dreams of travelling the whole universe. Heck, he’d always hear of unicorns and pots of gold at the end of rainbows. Aurora would always tell they are true and that she deserves these magical things. So he laughed and answered, “Where will you go? Will you come back?”
“Maybe,” Aurora said.
Rolando kissed her forehead and asked, “Can I come with you?”.
“I need you here” is what all he heard.
I need you here. I need you here. It all kept repeating on his head. When one puts it like that, somehow it gave him comfort that his wife knew what they had all gotten into. But that doesn’t mean he will stop hoping he could see them again. He should have replied, “I need you here, too.” Seeing the basement, of course he was too late now.
That Sunday for the first time ever, whether full of thirst for vengeance or emptiness, the world had to sleep without women and children.
This literary piece is part of Katitikan Issue 3: (Re) Imaginations.