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Short story “Theresa” by Erwin Cabucos – part 1

THERESA pulls the duvet up to her neck, turns on her side and tightens the embrace of her arms about her body pillow beside her, revelling the warmth in her bed. She wonders if she tucked Wayne in properly last night. It would be a disaster if she hadn’t. Being dependent on medication, he could get sick quickly. She could kill him now, really, if she wanted to…

The irrigation water above the carrot and bean fields is flying in all directions and the gum trees around the farm are doing a samba in the forceful wind. She frowns, thinking it was an odd decision to water the field in the midst of a windy day – and in the morning at that. Wayne wouldn’t have done it, and she plans to ask Greg, the newly hired farm manager, about it later. But for now she enjoys the rainbow reflections from the rays of the beaming sun and they shine across the red earth of the fields towards the gum trees on the hillside, then onwards to the granite outcrops in the distance. She marvels at the breathtaking view from her bedroom window near the border of Queensland and New South Wales.

Back home, in the Philippines, the yodelling of the roving vendors would have woken her up by now, summoning her from the warmth of her bed to get up and buy some hot pandesal or tasty taho, the delicious soy bean curd in ginger juice that she loved so much. She never had a body pillow then – a comfort she mourns because it could so easily have been done by sewing a simple pocket of cloth and stuffing it with the cotton fluff from the pods of the Kapok tree from her backyard. Why didn’t she think of it when she was growing up, when those cottons were only blown away by the wind, landing on the rice fields. Good for the rice, supposedly an organic fertilizer, but as far as she is concerned, regretfully wasted – all because of the pervading perception that comfortable things are unattainable; beyond one’s reach, like a body pillow, an unconventional pillow, can only be bought expensively from a mall. She had to work hard for that sort of thing. Her parents were only rice farmers. Because of the prevalent hardship, her people resign themselves to the thought that nothing in life should be easy. When you’re poor, your life should always be hard – perhaps the villainous conditioning of the mentality of poverty. “But there are ways around,” she murmurs. “Just have to learn to welcome it, make do with what you’ve got and persist.” She turns to her other side and curls her legs. “Persist.”

She recalls the cows and goats she nursed back home as an after-school job which later helped her studies. She started one cow, watching it grazed all day in the unused fields of her town. It matured, bred and produced calves, some of which she got to keep over time. The calves and the kids grew and bred and multiplied before Theresa’s eyes while she, most of the time, was making vlogs about medicinal plants from the highlands. To her mother’s surprised she enrolled at the nearby university, took up Agribusiness, finished it and found a job as a farm assistant overseas, in an Australian farmland.

As her plane descended over Brisbane, she savoured the sweet slice of a rock melon on her breakfast tray, nodding as the woman sitting next to her explained proudly that it was Australian produce, guaranteed fresh and beautiful. “Good luck with everything,” the woman ventured. “I hope your Australian Filipino life will be all good from here on in.” Theresa managed to smile in response, Sana nga mag dilang anghel ka, I hope your hopeful words will happen.

She landed in Wayne’s farm, first as a packer of fresh produce then as his personal assistant. Since his wife died, he had found doing domestic roles challenging while looking after the demands of farming. The shift from packing carrots and beans to washing clothes, folding sheets, cooking dinner and cleaning his house wasn’t hard for her, especially being close to him, finding him handsome and shy, just the sort of guy she was attracted to. Each time she came near him to give him his cup of tea, arranged his clothes, turned his lights as they went to their own bedrooms were moment of bliss for her, indescribable sensation in her body even though they really hadn’t touched each other yet. He looked more handsome up close, and when he placed his palm on her shoulder one night to thank her of her good deeds around the house, Theresa didn’t hide the electrifying goose bumps that overcame her body. She stared at him as she switched off the lights in his room while he touched her. She didn’t resist when he pulled her towards him and perched her fingers on his back as he planted a soft, warm kiss on her lips while his palm cupped her chin. ‘I love you too’ was her reply to his deep and raspy proposal. The poor and ordinary lady from Licab, Nueva Ecija, didn’t take long to find a home and love in amongst the peaceful and scented sways of Eucalypt trees.

The howling wind still unsettles the world outside her window, the crops are bent as if combed by the master painter of the big canvas, but Theresa focuses on the clear blue sky in its vivid and steady spectacle that foregrounds the vista of her morning. She breathes in as she feels the soothing warmth for now before she’s back to her normal day, with Wayne, with his needs, challenging but a part of the normalcy of her world, because she loves him.

Not all things are red and rosy, and Theresa knows that. Wherever she goes, she adjusts, not even shaken by the announcement of the doctor when most of Wayne’s motor functions were debilitated by the stroke. It brought her down, but it never killed her.

Wayne was easy to love: good-looking, thoughtful and generous, not only for his willingness to help when she sent money home for a sick Filipino relative, but also for his concern that she was pleasured first before he’d release in her. Theresa did not remember any night she had not been made happy. The way he made love to her was perfect, she thought. She exults in delight even at the thought of it. Wayne moans from the next room. He must have just woken up.

Continued “Theresa” Part 2