Illustration by Carlo Patricio P. Franco
You and your daughter are lying in bed. Your little girl has been holding your finger for the better part of the past 20 minutes. You kiss her forehead as you hum a lullaby. She opens her eyes and, from that moment, you decide to call her Hope. You place her down the mattress beside you. You will think it through tomorrow. You just need to be her mother for tonight.

It was not long ago, on a night like this, when you were the daughter making your parents proud.

As your father shook the principal’s hand, you glanced at the audience and smiled, saw your family up on their feet clapping. Your father put the medal on you, his face beaming with pride. You could hear the photographer yelling at you to stop and pose, but you ignored her, knowing that your cousin, Julie, had taken a lot of pictures already. She just got married to Ricardo, a banker from Spain, and they were back in the country in search of a baby to adopt.

On your way to your seat, you took the medal off and handed it to your father. You told him to let your mother stuff it in her bag, the same way she did with the other six.

The vision of you garnering these medals had been your parents’ motivation for sending you to Manila. They did not mind taking exhausting rides and waiting in long lines, just as long as you—their intelligent daughter—got the best education you deserved.

Your father parked the secondhand FX in front of the building. It was your first day in college and the whole family tagged along the three-hour ride, eager to see your new school. Your mother wished you good luck and you forced a smile as you kissed her and your father goodbye. You felt uneasy as you stepped out, thinking about how you had become your family’s biggest investment.

You entered Room 302 and sighed in relief for the professor was not there yet. You were surveying the room for vacant seats when you felt someone push you. You braced your arms just in time to save your face, but the damage had been done nonetheless. Most of the guys laughed, the girls gasped, and a couple of your classmates sitting in front helped you stand up. You looked behind you and saw a tall guy staring at you with indifference written over his handsome face.

“You were blocking the way,” he simply said before heading for a seat at the back.

The professor came shortly after—a man in his mid-forties with a fatherly smile behind the stern look on his face. He asked everyone to stand up and take the bags, before turning to the class list. He started calling you one by one, pointing you to your designated seats.

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It did not take long for surnames starting with F to be called. You looked at the professor, waiting for your last name, wishing at the back of your mind for a kind, funny seatmate. “Fuentebella,” you heard him say. You were too busy looking at him that you did not notice who that was. “Fuentes,” he said next. You went to where he pointed you, only to realize who Fuentebella was. The guy looked up and caught you glaring at him.

Once everyone was settled, the professor told everyone to get a piece of paper. Just when you were about to close your bag, you saw a pen tap over your desk. You wanted to say no, but could see some of your classmates looking expectantly at you. You did not want to be rude with them staring, so you gave him a sheet of paper, turning your eyes back to the whiteboard. You smiled, finding out that the professor only wanted your contact details. You started writing when you felt him looking at your paper.

“Fuentes, Nina Kristine,” you heard him say. “I’m really sorry about earlier.”

You gave him a look that said Shut up, but he simply went on.

“By the way, it’s Fuentebella, Alex Martin,” he said with a wink.

But ignore him, you did.

You came in early and found both of your seatmates talking. Danica saw you and transferred to her seat as you made your way to yours, moving past Alex. Once you were settled, she began filling you in about her weekend. You saw a paper on your desk which read, Good morning, Fuentes. I hope you don’t mind me asking Danica for your cellphone number—Fuentebella.

You crumpled the paper and glanced at Danica, who was badly failing in trying not to giggle.

After class, you and Danica went out of the room. You were on your way out of the building when you felt someone tap your shoulder. You turned and saw Alex with sweat trickling down your forehead, smiling as he tried to catch his breath. He asked you where you were headed and you simply said “Lunch.” He did not ask if he could come, but said he would and led you to an eatery outside the school. After that, he drove Danica to her dormitory and you to the bus terminal. He said he had fun before driving off. As you climbed the bus, you realized you did, too.

“You’re late again,” your mother curtly said as she opened the door.

“Danica and I had trouble finding this book for our major subject,” you lied. Truth was you went to the mall with her and Alex.

Your mother nodded and went to the kitchen. You were sitting on the sofa, about to put on your slippers, when you heard her say that she and your father had rented an apartment for you to stay in during school days. No matter how hard you tried, you just could not help but smile.

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The apartment was small, but with your mother’s help, the space had been maximized. It was not long before it became your hangout place.

One day, Danica missed school because of flu, but that did not interfere with the usual. You and Alex ordered lunch for takeout and went to the apartment. No words passed between the two of you as you ate, which was unusual for a talkative guy like him. You put your food down the table, touched his knee, and asked what was wrong. He looked down and put his food beside yours, saying that it was his birthday. You were about to greet him but he told you that no celebration was in order for his father left home to be with his mistress. You saw sheer hurt when he met your eyes that you could not stop yourself from touching his cheek. He sighed and held your hand, turning his head to kiss your palm. Silence filled the room, the air was cool, but your heart was racing. The somber look on his eyes turned intense and he leaned closer. You could smell the perfume he was wearing as his lips touched yours. Gently, he took your hands and had you sit on his lap. He guided you into deepening the kiss and had you responding in no time. He started unbuttoning your blouse and you would have been carried away if he had not groaned. You jolted back to reality, opening your eyes and pulling away. He smiled, stroking your kiss-swollen lips with the pad of his thumb.

“Just this once, Nina,” he said, catching his breath. “I’ll take it slow, I won’t hurt you. Please, I just need someone so much right now.”

It felt too good to be there, in the aftermath of sex, when he told you he loved you. Despite the lingering pain between your legs, you felt great. It turned out that the pain would ride up even long after the act. Up to your heart.

It was the last day of semester and despite feeling nauseous, you went to take the last two exams. You stood at the hallway, waiting for your friends to come out. Alex emerged a few minutes after you, a huge smile on his face. He hugged you and before you could ask what was going on, he said that Danica had said yes.

Finally, Danica was his girlfriend.

You congratulated and told him you would not be joining them for lunch. Before he could respond, you walked away. All you wanted to do was to go home.

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You heard the FX pull over in front of the house and you looked at your mother, who gave your hand a light squeeze before standing up to meet your father. She led him to their room. You sat there, unconsciously tapping your feet on the floor, door swung open and he furiously stepped out, your mother pleading behind him.

“How could you do this to us, Nina?” he asked albeit tears. “How could you be so stupid?”

You did feel like a fool. Your mother asked what you wanted to do. For the first time in your life, you could not make up your mind, until your Ate Julie came in for a visit.

You sobbed in the comfort of her arms as you told her everything. She simply listened without blame or questions. By the time you felt tired, you looked up at her and asked why she wanted to adopt when she could just have her own.

For a few moments, she did not speak. You waited, staring at her. “Because Ricardo and I are both impotent,” she said softly, meeting your eyes. “It’s quite a gift you have there, Nina. I’d give everything just to have one.”

The gift came on a windy July night.

You were awakened at midnight by a gush of water. You got out of bed to clean up, but it brought a strong contraction. You went down on your knees, one hand gripping the side of the bed while the other felt your crotch. Through your underwear, you could already feel the baby’s head. You wanted to call for help, but the sudden urge to push stopped you from doing so. You were lowering your underwear when you felt the need to bear down. You moaned loudly as you answered that urge and with that, the baby’s head emerged. It did not take long for the rest of the body to come out. You smiled, seeing that it was a baby girl. You heard footsteps and saw your mother standing by the door, about to ask what was going on. You looked up at her as you held the baby to your chest.

“You can still say no,” Ate Julie said softly as she took a seat beside you. She arrived with her husband, Ricardo, a couple of hours later—when you were nursing the baby.

“Let her think about it tomorrow,” her husband, Ricardo, said as he took your cousin’s hand. “She needs to rest.”

Your cousin kissed you and the baby good night before they got out of the room. You looked down at your little girl and smiled. She just might change your mind. Rose-An Jessica M. Dioquino

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