I can’t say I had a perfect childhood, but mine was a happy one. As far as I recall, my siblings and I traveled to more expansive spaces using our imagination, even when we were never allowed to venture out of our house without adult supervision. Our favorite activities therefore took place nowhere else but inside our property; but we were permitted to play house, tear up leaves and stems from Mom’s garden for make-believe “culinary” sessions, fashion mud and sand cakes, skip rope and play piko, place newborn kittens in a wicker basket and pretend we were selling them, dig a hole in one corner of our lawn to make room for a shallow “swimming pool” for barbie dolls, and mess the kitchen to make chocolate ice cubes out of frozen Ovaltine and milk.
Because children are famous for their weird imaginations, I’d usually pretend I was some successful professional living in her luxurious apartment each time a play-house session was in order, and my sister would fancy herself a store cashier, using our broken piano as her cash register. My brother meanwhile would either be a bus driver (the living room sofa was the bus), a debt collector, an annoying messenger from the electric company, or anyone annoying, period.
Pops and Mom were often away because of work, so whenever school was out, the three of us would be locked inside the house and forbidden to play outside until Madame mother would return home between four and five in the afternoon. We were always instructed to take naps after lunch, wake up at three, and watch cartoons while having our merienda. We weren’t allowed to leave the house and play with the neighbors’ kids until after Madame mother gets home. But we were too much of a restless bunch to think that a nap would do us any good. By the time we had the house to ourselves (Mom would leave soon after we’d feigned sleep), we were already plotting the roles we wanted to play that day. If I remember correctly, some days I would be a schoolteacher, and other days I would be some sort of Muslim princess, draped in a malong and wearing long strands of plastic pearls. On really boring days I would pretend to be sick or even dying, in a hospital perhaps, where I am immobile and almost out of breath from the makeshift oxygen tubes stuck into my nostrils (little beverage straws that I’ve managed to breathe into), and “dextrose” needles that keep pricking me (a plastic bottle ingeniously turned upside down and hung just beside the window jamb, taped with a pair of long threads at the end of which two needles were attached and taped again onto my wrist). My younger sister would play nurse, wear a white shirt and white jogging pants, carry a clipboard and shiny ball pen salvaged from my father’s old office stuff, and deliver me a small cup filled with white candies for my medication. My younger brother at that point would either be a family visitor, or someone who did not care at all if anyone in the house was dying because he was busy with some other little schemes all by himself.
Sometimes, if we were feeling more adventurous, we would plead with Madame mother to allow us out of the house after our naps. And some days she would be generous and permit us out, but only with the condition that we’d remain as fresh-smelling as the time she’d left us. We’d troop straight away to the empty lot facing our house, and where the rest of the neighbors’ kids busy themselves with their usual tricks. One of those summers I finally learned to ride a bicycle. For quite some time I have even mastered bicycle-riding with only one hand, until I hurt myself so grotesquely that I could not stand straight naked in front of my mother for weeks.
We also participated in pointless fights with the other kids, fights that usually involve nothing more than name calling, territorial disputes, and nonsensical kiddie gossip. Being the cry baby that I was, I would go home crying sometimes, but that would not deter me from my resentful machinations. One time, a little kid from the other group did not allow me access on their part of the street while I was on my bike, and when she remained undaunted by my threats of squashing her with my “wheels”, I delivered on my threat without any further ceremony – I ran her over with my bicycle, and left her bawling and lying on her pathetic side on the ground. I immediately regretted what I had done, but she dared me, hasn’t she? She dared me; I took it, and that was it.
We would often look for signs of Mom up the street while we were playing and the moment we spotted her walking toward the house, the three of us would scamper home, prudishly sit on the sofa all sweaty and grimy, and give our poor mother an apologizing look. She would reproach us for being dirty and reeking of earth, but we would simply look at each other with foolish smiles, and start finger pointing. This was how the day would usually end: we would take our afternoon baths, wait until Pops got home from the office, and eavesdrop a bit on his conversations with Mom, the topics we couldn’t care less about. All we ever cared about were play houses, bicycles, street fights, endless running and playing catch; and we dreamed of all these too, perhaps in the darkest, deepest parts of our sleep.
I was unlucky to get my first period after a few summers, and soon I was no longer allowed to participate in these childish games; behave like a proper lady I must. Where was the justice in my young life, when I was no more than eleven then? How I resented my mother for all her rebukes, and how I yearned to skip rope and ride a bicycle as I used to. Truthfully, I never wanted my childhood to end, never appreciated my budding adolescence. I was miserable for a long time, praying for that day when my mother would assure me that my menstruation had stopped for good and that I can finally go back to my sweet, carefree, messy, tomboyish ways.
Fast forward to fifteen or so years later and the three of us will have finally earned our university degrees on time, gotten ourselves jobs, and lived our lives as any independent-earning twenty-something would. Amusingly, my sister is now living out one of her favorite childhood roles; she works as one of the tellers in a big private bank, handling money as she had done many summers ago on her make-believe cash register. My brother works in a private bank as an accounting assistant and I am just thankful he did not turn out to be the bus driver or annoying collector of our play-house afternoons, although I have nothing against bus drivers or collectors, really.
Well, I’m still far from the successful professional who lives in a luxurious apartment, but I do have plans of getting there very, very soon :p. I know I can’t be crowned a Muslim princess in one of the far-off islands of my native Mindanao unless I marry a Muslim blue-blood, but thank heavens my health is doing fine, which means I am not about to die (knock on wood) in a freaking hospital, or freaking anywhere, either.