Instead of a temple with 127-bedecked pillars or a palace with a 20-hectare garden, she lives in a nondescript hut in a ghetto-like area just outside the tall walls of the town’s imposing cathedral.
Fame? She is known only to a few families for whom she works menial tasks. You’d hardly notice her as she joins the streams of people coming out of the cathedral some Sundays, except for her distinctive clothes: a faded yellow DECS-Kalinga coat, violet pants and blue Converse rubber shoes.
No one would envy her physique for she is less than five feet tall matched by a skinny figure – a far cry from Charlie’s rangy and shapely sweetheart. She doesn’t have the crimson lips of England’s Rose for she burns hers with a daily take of local cigarettes. I guess the only thing that brings her closest to the patroness of Ephesus is her skin color – a work not only of heredity but of the environment as well because of the nature of her daily toil.
She would nod whenever I remind her of the high cost of her vice on her pocket and lungs but she’d quickly defend herself by saying she just couldn’t help it. Once, she said, she joined a Charismatic group because she was told it would help her stop smoking. She managed to brush aside her yearning for the stick for some time, but not for long. And because she couldn’t quit smoking, she quit church.
But she is strong! Just think of her day-to-day bouts with mountains of laundry from house to house. She could not be too strong for her jobless husband though, who would berate and beat her most of the time she arrives home. Her husband’s daily serenade consists of the usual stanza of cuss words and a refrain of suspicions that she gets her money from selling herself to various men in town. These last few years, she has been a little dull of hearing, thanks to the battery of punches to the ear delivered by her often drunk mate.
And she’s fast too, having developed a running skill that can remind one of Asia’s former sprint queen Lydia de Vega – again thanks to her murderously playful husband who twice chased her with a bolo. She escaped unscathed in the first attack because she was able to beat her husband to the street just in time for a tricycle. There was no tricycle to whisk her away from carnage the second time, but she got away anyhow.
Aside from her man, there are other extra baggage in that small house. One of her two children married a jobless lad just after high school and recently bore a sickly baby. Thrice did Diana tell me she wanted to leave her family for good, but what ties her leg to the post of their hut is the thought of being separated from the children. And, of course, the thought of being hunted down by a drunken man.
Thus, there was nothing else she could do but develop a nerve of steel so she can endure the ton of lead on her shoulders.
She has had a very limited geography. When I told her I married a Bicolana, she nodded but didn’t seem to understand. My sister explained that the only place she knew at the time was her beloved Kalinga, especially Lubuagan, Kalinga. When I took my wife to the province for a visit, Diana was not able to see her at our house, but she managed to catch us the last day to see us off at the bus terminal. She merely looked at my wife in long silence, unable to understand nor speak Tagalog. The only thing she said before our departure was, “Umayakto nga agawir ti anakyo!” (I’ll be visiting you to be your babysitter). She was only able to do so when she was tagged along by my sister for a December breather. That was about two years later when we moved back to Baguio from Naga. Her promised babysitting took only a little over an hour, but, at least, the visit meant for her a broadened geography – and an expanded Tagalog vocabulary.
I haven‘t seen her for a long time now, but every time I think of her I’d wonder how many more women out there have exercised a like faith and suffered a like fate. And, compulsively, I’d wish I could instantly offer her and her kind the world of Snow-whites and Cinderellas.
But I guess Diana does not need to live in Fairyland. Nor does she need to dwell in the Temple of Ephesus or in the Buckingham Palace, for she is more at home in a hut.
She just wanted a happy ending.