WHILE scrubbing away dirt stubbornly etched on my ankle, shouts were heard reverberating across the hallowed walls of the bathroom. I stopped midway from scrubbing and turned the faucet off.

“Damn it! I allowed her to stay and I’m still the one who doesn’t understand?”

“I just wanted you to talk to her, to make her feel at home. She is still my daughter.”

I can hear the sharp scrape of a chair against the wooden floor as I sense my dad stopping her from doing any more damage to the house.

“I’m leaving!”

A small suitcase was left opened on the bed. Hoarding a good number of clothes enough for three days away from home, she stuffed them all inside, zipped it, all the while occasionally glaring at her husband.

As soon as I got out of the bathroom, she was making her way to the door. Dad sat on the edge of the bed with his head bowed.

“Therese, let’s go!”

With my three-year old half-sister lumbering in her wake, she slammed the door behind her and I just stood there, aghast, then it hit me.

It came so naturally—pure, unconceivable fury shackling every bone of my body—so great that tears which would naturally flow at this point froze like dew on a humid morning.

My other siblings were still playing with the computer, still unaware of the chaos, unaware of my helplessness. Knowing what to do next, I hurriedly went inside the room and packed my bags. My half-brother finally woke up from his DoTA-induced stupor to ask.

“Where did Mama go? Why are you packing your bags?”

“I’m going back to Tita, that’s where I live anyway.”

“But you’ve only stayed here for two days! When are you coming back?”

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I wanted to mumble “never”, but silence had the better answer.

Lugging my bag to the living room, I saw my dad sitting by the corner, clearly in deep thought. My presence seemed to snap him back to his senses.

“I’ll bring you back home to your Tita, now. Please don’t mention any of these to her,” he pleaded, guilt written all over his eyes.

The insensitivity of his words gripped me, igniting further the throbbing fury in my veins. Before I could lash out to him, I just whipped my bag from the floor and made my way outside, leaving his wreck of a home that I was never welcome to.

“No, thank you. I’ll go home by myself,” I said.

“Ella, please.”

***

The night was cold, with the scent of rain hanging in the air, calming my mind enough to think of what to do next. I checked my watch and saw that it was one in the morning. With my bag in tow, I pushed the button of the fancy condominium elevator, silently cursing the prissy, commercialized building filled with its equally prissy residents.

No wonder she wanted to stay here.

Our eyes met the second the elevator door opened, the mirrors behind her reflecting my awkward stance. Therese looked up, clapped her hands at my presence, thinking Ate was coming along with her.

My fists clenched at the thought. I tore my gaze away from her as she quietly stepped aside to give space. It seemed dubious, annoying even, but I took her act as something that resembled kindness if ever she had the heart to show it.

8… 7…. 6… the building seemed to go on forever. For every pause to accommodate more passengers, the space grew tighter, inching me a little closer to her. She smelled of artificial raspberries, her signature scent, a smell I came to abhor since the day she hid all the toiletries in the bathroom every time I visited their home with my traveling bag.

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The passengers were just what I pictured them to be—haughty, their noses up in the air. They had bags with huge designer monograms printed on them, as well as pets that looked like mutated rodents. I wanted to throw up.

***

The atmosphere teemed with further unease as the last passenger left for the fifth floor.

Growing restless, I absentmindedly stomped my foot in annoyance just when the elevator came to a halt and the light suddenly flickered and died. As an alarm went off, Therese began to cry in fear, deliberately ignoring her mother’s hushing. My heart was painfully beating in my chest, expecting the worst, imagining us hurtling to the bottom floor and eventually crushing into smithereens.

Realizing the stupidity of watching my own death in my head, I pushed the emergency button, to which a voice emitted from the speaker above instructing us to keep calm and wait for the electricity to return.

“What the hell? What if it takes hours for the electricity to go back?” she exclaimed in disdain.

Restraining from rolling my eyes, I sat on the corner and watched Therese thrashing about and crying, asking for her sister, some food, some sleep. Maybe if she was a little mature, her child would not be suffering this much.

“Acceptance of what we cannot control is a step towards inner peace, you know,” I mumbled. It was the first time I ever talked back to her, a refreshing change from all the forced small talk for the last twelve years.

She stared daggers at me. I was expecting a crisp slap on my cheek, but none came.

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“This wouldn’t have happened if you…” her voice dwindling, cheeks reddening in fury.

“This wouldn’t have happened If I wasn’t my father’s daughter?” I smirked.

“Yes.”

I really did not expect that.

***

“Is it my fault that I came first in my father’s life before you? Did I ask for this? Do you think you just could shove me back to my mother’s womb?”

“If I could, I would.”

Seething, I closed my eyes in prayer, asking God for restraint from hitting this despicable woman.

“He loved your mother too much,” she said.

“Is that a sin now?”

“He loved her too much, even after everything she’s done to him. Still, I remain second-best. Now you get all the sympathy, while I get all the spite.”

“Are you seriously jealous of my consolation prize after being abandoned by my own parents?”

“Your father loves you.”

“He loves you more.”

“He doesn’t.”

I sighed. The elevator gave a faint shake and woke up from its slumber. Therese gripped her mother’s hand tightly, finally relieved from the darkness.

“I live with an aunt who shoulders all my expenses. She provides me with shelter, education and food, along with other things that I never even asked for. Ironically, my parents are not dead and they know I exist,” I said.

Fresh air flooded the stuffy elevator quickly as the door swung open, revealing a plush lobby. The moon casted an eerie glow on the swimming pool from afar.

I threw a quick glance at the mother and child, still standing inside the confined space. The button for the twelfth floor was glowing as the elevator door finally came to a close. Mika Rafaela A. Barrios

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