Her mother leans against the balcony, cigarettes in hand. She glares at the uneven stalks of grass. Above her, the sky is wringing out clouds, snapping and coiling and thinning out. The wind flurries through her hair — her olive skin peeks through. She cautiously tussles a stick of Marlboro red in between her fingers, and beside her, a mountain of powder is piled onto the ashtray. Her daughter looks away.
The blazing midday sun creeps through the papaya trees. She turns against the sunlight to face her daughter, “It’s time to go to tita’s house.”
The scent of freshly opened mangoes. The quiet chatter. The trees dancing in the warm breeze. The adults gather around the table.
“What grade is Ann in again?” Tita Mai whispers to her mother.
“Uhh grade seven or eight… Hija, what grade are you in again?” her mother nervously chuckles.
“Grade eight, ma,” Ann plucks at the fibers of the napkins. The titas unanimously sigh.
Her mother coughs violently; her throat rumbling as she attempts to cover her mouth with a napkin. Her brittle yellow nails are enunciated by the white table cloth, however, her daughter instantaneously buries them beneath a napkin. She rolls her eyes, and frowns at the sight of her mother.
The titas continue their small talk.
“We have to go now,” her mother announces. Her mother makes beso. Her footsteps are light yet swift. Her daughter languidly wiggles up her chair, sighing, as her footsteps skid across the tiles.
The titas — their eyebrows furrow, their eyes wander, the creases on their lips wrinkle inward, “Tsk. You’re always in a hurry.” They shrug. They carry on.
The door quietly shuts behind them. Her mother hurriedly shook off her shoes, almost dislocating her ankle in the process. She rushes to the balcony. Her hands flutter beneath the stool in pursuit of the lighter. She unveils the cancer stick from her pocket, she exhales, it’s the relief that ignites from flicking her thumb down the lighter.
Heaps of nicotine. A rancid musty scent was emitted. The faint grey fog quickly dissipates into the breeze, like a puff of poisonous cotton candy. Her daughter clenches her jaw as she ignores the sight.
A table glints in the corner. A red square box sits atop. She glides her fingers against the thin plastic wrapping — the bolded words ‘Marlboro Red,’ ingrained in her mind.
The water cascades down the remnants of rice on the plate. Her mother grates the plate with steel wool. Her throat gurgles. The waves of remaining sunlight pierce through the kitchen window, as the purple sunset envelops her daughter’s silhouette. Opposite her mother, she’s chopping garlic. The wind whistles quietly.
Her mother sniffles. She increases the pressure of the faucet but the plate deflects the water upward – a light sprinkle dawns upon their kitchen counter. “Hija, can you pass me a towel?”
“Yes ma.” Her daughter’s footsteps are sparse as she oscillates through rooms. Her mother spews hardened phlegm down the sink then hastily silences her throat. Her daughter scoffs on the way back, yet, they carry on preparing dinner.
“Hija, please hang up the wet laundry.”
“Yes ma.” She scurries to the basins full of clothes and detergent. Her hands shrivel as she soaks them in soap water and hoists the t-shirts up the clothesline. Her mother starts barking, gulping down bundles of air, panting as she exhales. She turns her back against her daughter. Her daughter scowls, but proceeds to whistle along with the wind instead.
Her daughter glides into the kitchen. Her mother quickly starts hacking at the pan, pounding rigorously at the garlic. Her deep exhales could barely be heard as the wooden spatula ripples through the ceramic pan. A puff of smoke. The ashy smell underlining the fragrant garlic. The bright red packaging glimmers in her pocket, “Ma, it’s bad for you. Why do you keep doing it?”
“Hija, I don’t.” The spatula clamors against the coating of the pan.
“Ma, why did you start?”
“Stress, because of you,” her mother chuckles as her foot wags frantically beneath the table. Sarcasm, the Filipino way of dealing with confrontation.
Her lips fan out, her eyes set underneath her eyebrows. Her sour expression beams at her mother. “No ma.”
The women exchange glares. Droplets of oil spring up and out of the pan, the counter top is showered with grease, and the garlic fizzles into crumbs of charcoal.
Her mother slams the bedroom door, locking herself inside; while her daughter hurries towards the balcony.
The honking of Toyotas echo through the pavements. The street light flickers endlessly as the fruit flies congregate around the yellow light bulb. The balcony was embraced by an orange warmth.
She clutches onto the lighter beneath the stool, discreetly removing a pack nestled within her pocket. She dwindles the cigarette between her index and middle finger as she inches the lighter closer to her mouth. A small spark touches the butt of the cigarette. She took three puffs.
She presses the butt of the cigarette against the tray. The flakes of ash spiral into the crisp Manila air.
Tara Tulshyan is a sixteen year old living the Philippines.She is half Filipino-Chinese, and half Indian.