It was dark. Suffocatingly dark and dank. What little illumination the room provided was made possible by small pinpricks of light streaming through the cracks on the wooded wall. The windows were boarded up and the door was bolted from the outside.
It was small, only about 7 square feet. Too small for normal habitation. Too small for one single person. Yet, she had company.
Big, hairy, smelly rats scuttled back and forth around her. She smelled their hunger. And she knew that they smelled her fear.
It’s funny how things happen that could entirely change the way you look at the world. One day, you’re thinking of what to wear to a party, what particular gift to give the birthday celebrant, what the budget is for buying the gift, and do you still have funds in your credit card? The next thing you know, you’re thinking about how to stay awake long enough to ensure that the rats don’t get you.
She lay on the cold cement floor in a pool of her own urine and feces. She has lost all sense of her bodily functions. All she knew was the pain in the various parts of her body. Even the bleeding had stopped a while back. But the pain was constant.
There was a crude rope tied around her right foot. The rope, about 12 inches fully taut, was tied to a stake in the corner of the room.
She lay on her stomach, her arms folded beneath her. Her back was a mass of wounds and sores. Her head lay to one side, with her hair stringy and wet, framing her entire head and covering half her face.
Her face was covered with welts and dried blood. Her left eye was half-opened, and her right eye was shut close by dried tears, blood and pus.
She had her life all planned out and she was content, because little by little, her dreams were being realized. Her career was going great having just been recently promoted to a position that would afford her more time to relax, and more money to enjoy life. Her dream house was nearing its completion, and she had just bought her first car. She was engaged to be married to the perfect man and the wedding was going to be very memorable. Everything was falling into place. And she was just thirty-one.
Lying in the isolation of the dark room, she remembered none of the above items. Instead, she thought about what happened to her just a few days before.
She was driving towards her fiance’s house in Antipolo. She had just come from her new home, supervising the renovation work. She was marveling at the purring of her new car’s engine. She was smiling at the way her stereo system was beautifully blaring out the recording of the musical, Les Miserables.
It was getting dark outside, but she was not worried. She had traveled this stretch of road many times before and she knew it by heart.
The radio whispered Eponine’s angst as she sang “On My Own”. It was a song that was close to Vicky’s heart for it was so full of sadness yet there was a tinge of hope as the heroine sang of a man she loved but knew she will never have.
She tried to hum the melody but the voice that came out of her throat was broken. Lying in her dark room, she tried to remember the last time she cried when she heard that song. A long time ago. A time she had tried very hard to forget. Was it because she has finally gotten over that particular phase of her life? Was it because finally, she has found hope in her life? Or has she just ceased to care?
Now, remembering the song, she wept. For once again, the familiar feeling of hopelessness washed over her.
The song finished and there was silence for a split second. It was the longest split second Vicky ever experienced. As if in slow motion, a black car shot right in front of her car and blocked her path. She was cruising at the maximum speed allowed. She hesitated, as if trying to tell her mind that she was dreaming. But she was not dreaming, and her foot slammed on the brakes. There was a deafening screech as the tires of her car desperately tried to avoid the inevitable collision.
The car stopped, bare millimeters away from hitting the other. Because of the impact, the air balloon inflated on the driver’s seat and Vicky was engulfed in white softness. She had worn her seatbelt like a good little girl and for that she was spared from serious injury.
For a while, she thought that she was dead and that the whiteness was a cloud, coming to take her to paradise.
A few moments later, Vicky managed to deflate the balloon. She peered through her windshield and saw that the car in front of her was empty. Then she made the biggest mistake of her life.
She unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. What happened next was so unexpected that it took her mind a few seconds to realize what was actually happening to her.
If there was a single moment in her life that she would have wanted to undo, it would have been that opening of her car door to see if the driver in the other car was all right.
Someone grabbed her from behind. A bag was forcibly worn over her head. There was complete darkness as she felt the bag being tightened around her neck. Then she felt something hit her at the back of her head and she lost consciousness.
When she came to, the nightmare began.
She was lying in the dark room, her foot tied to the stake. She was otherwise unharmed, except for the bump on her head. The room was musty and there was a sordid smell that she couldn’t identify. She looked beside her and saw that she was not alone in the room.
“Oh God, help me. Please somebody help me…”
There was a woman beside her. And the woman was a hideous collection of wounds, welts and sores. And the woman was barely breathing.
Vicky gasped when the woman opened her eyes.
“Are you all right?” Vicky asked, silently chidding herself for asking such a stupid question. Of course the woman was not all right, am I blind?
The woman nodded painfully.
“How long have you been here?” Vicky asked again.
The woman gave her such a heartbeakingly beautiful smile, shining even through the ruin that was the woman’s face, that Vicky wanted to cry. “Too long. I’ve been here too long…”
The woman’s voice was deep, wounded and husky.
Vicky remained silent, suddenly feeling panicky about her chances of survival. Then, she felt the woman’s hand on her own.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“Vicky,” the woman said. “Never ever forget who you are. Whatever happens, whatever is done to you. Never ever forget who you really are. And I mean, who you trully are, and not just who you think you are…”
Vicky frowned. The woman was probably delirious. She is talking gibberish.
“My name is Rebecca. And I am dying. But I am dying knowing who I really am, do you understand?”
Vicky nodded. She was confused. But hell, if the woman was dying, who cares if Vicky understands her or not?
Rebecca died a few hours later, Vicky remembered. And now, Vicky understood what Rebecca was trying to tell her. After everything that happened to her, Vicky understood what Rebecca meant by never forgetting who she really was.
There was a lot of pain and horror, Vicky admitted that. But the sum of those evil things that were done to her do not amount to who she has become in the last few days. Amid all the abuse, she discovered that before this ordeal, she had been hiding from herself. She discovered that there was more to her than she knew then. More to her than the successful career girl with the new position, the new car, the soon-to-be-finished house. There was more to her than the future wife of the perfect man. There was so much more to her than she gave herself credit for.
After Rebecca’s body was removed from the room, Vicky found out that she was terrified to be alone. And because of the time she had with nothing to do but think, she realized that she was not just terrified to be alone in the room, she had been terrified her entire life of being alone. And because of this terror, she set out ensuring that she would never ever be alone in the world.
She strived hard to succeed in her job, basking in the attention of her superiors and the awe and respect she received from her peers and subordinates. She made herself almost indispensable to everyone, ensuring that they will need her. Ensuring that there won’t come a time when she would need to be away from any of them.
She saved to construct a house, treating it like another entity. Showering it with an almost ridiculous amount of time, pondering every detail, making sure it comes out right. She had even bestowed the house a personality. The house was the child she was afraid she might never have. A child who will be molded and shaped by her love and guidance. A child who will protect and love her and nurture her when she is alone.
She bought a car. A car that she lavished attention on. Another child. Another baby.
She was getting married. To Keith. The perfect man. Tall, dark and handsome. Romantic, responsible, adoring and faithful. Who is totally, and completely in love with her. And whom she loves. But is not in love with. Vicky wanted the fairy tale. All of it. She fought so hard to have it. And she was about to get it.
Until that day she was kidnapped. Until that day she met Rebecca. Until that day that the man first raped and beat her.
That day, she realized that her life was a lie. All a lie.
Vicky remembered her awakening very well. It seemed like years ago. But she knew that this was just a few days ago. Funny what could happen in a few days.
She was bleeding. He had left her sore and bleeding. Vicky opened her eyes and saw that he was gone. Thank God, she thought. After the first abuse, the man’s periodic visits to her little cell was not particularly unwelcome. He was after all, another living thing. And in Vicky’s perverse mind, he was better than the hollow loneliness she felt when she was alone with the rats. She laughed a little, surprised to find that she still had a sense of humor. When was the last time she had a sense of humor? When was the last time she was truly herself that she could laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously? Too long ago. No, just two years ago. Just two years ago, when her entire perspective in life changed. Two years ago, when she started to lose sight of who she really was.
It was ironic that it was “On My Own” playing on the stereo when she met her accident. Because it was the song playing in her mind when she unconsciously decided to let go of a life she wanted.
Vicky suddenly found herself crying. She hugged her bruised and battered body and cried. She cried and cried as she remembered everything that happened two years ago, when she was twenty-nine.
Twenty-nine. Almost thirty. And she had fallen head over heels in love with Ian. They did not plan it that way. It just happened. It took both of them by surprise. One minute, they were just two people having a good time, and the next minute, they felt like they could not live without the other.
Vicky had just broken off a long engagement with her childhood sweetheart, who she realized she was no longer in love with. She had gone out with numerous guys, nothing serious, just honest to goodness fun. Then there was Ian. A blast from the past. A high school aquaintance who had always intrigued her. All those years ago, she felt that he was way too old for her in terms of experience. But now, when they happened to meet again, Vicky suddenly realized that now she could handle him. Ian. Cool, dangerous, exciting Ian. Who was not entirely truthful to her about everything. Which was understandable, given that they really did not set out to be too serious about each other.
And when he did tell the truth, it was too late. Because she had already drowned in him completely, and there was no turning back. Even after she found out the truth, she still continued to love him and he continued to love her. Until they had to stop.
Vicky remembered that when they had to stop seeing each other, she had a breakdown. No one knew about it. Only she knew. Because the breakdown was happening inside her, while she continued living like nothing of consequence has happened. And as she continued to pretend there was nothing wrong with her, she started to believe it herself. She planned out what she would do with her life and slowly and surely, she achieved each and everything she wanted. Or thought she wanted.
Because now, when she is surely near death, now she realizes that everything she amassed during the last two years, everything she has and will have does not matter to her one bit. She will surely die in a few days, as Rebecca did, and there was only one thing she wanted now. One thing she had always wanted. She wanted one more chance to see Ian. To look into his eyes, to kiss his lips, to hold his hand, to take him into her arms. To love him. After everything that happened, she still loved him.
Vicky cried again. “Oh God, Ian, Ian….”
Ian. They knew that they were meant to be with each other forever. They knew that they were the perfect match for each other. But in the end, they couldn’t be. And she couldn’t blame him for letting go, because he had a valid reason. There was another woman, whom he met and married before her, who was going to bear his child. His child. And Vicky let him go. Stupidly, bravely, she let him go. She thought that it was the noble thing to do, and he thought that it was the honorable thing to do. He really did try, Vicky admitted. He even did not tell her about the woman and child that was going to be born, because he had decided that he didn’t care for the woman. He decided that he would leave the woman, have his marriage annulled and try it out with Vicky and live happily ever after with her. He had told the woman not to go through with the pregnancy, that their marriage was a sham. But the woman went through with it. And when the time came when the child was going to be born, Ian felt the first real stirrings of fatherhood. And Vicky knew that she could not compete with a child. Ian wanted so much to make Vicky happy. He said he couldn’t tell her the truth because he knew he would lose her. But he didn’t lose her. Vicky was too much in love with him to just let go. She accepted the child. But the other woman wanted Ian for herself. And they were legally married. And she used the child to get him.
Vicky tried to hold on as long as she could. Hold on until the child was born and he had to face his responsibilities. But even before then, she had to let go. Painfully, she had to let go.
They were making love. Somehow, there was something different about the ambience of the whole thing.
Afterwards, he faced her and said, “Aren’t you afraid you might get pregnant?”
Vicky looked at him queerly and smiled. “I know that you are more afraid for me to get pregnant. It would further complicate your already complicated life.”
Ian smiled. “I know. But accidents can happen. Aren’t you afraid about that happening? You’ve already told me that you are not ready for single motherhood. So…”
Vicky felt a sudden pain in the pit of her stomach. She had to control herself to keep from crying.
Ian held her close. “All I know is that I love you very, very much. God, I love you so much.”
Vicky closed her eyes and willed the tears to go. After a few minutes, they both slept.
When they woke, they made violent love. Vicky was on the verge of crying when Ian came. He embraced her and shouted out.
Vicky embraced Ian.
“You know what I have to say about what you said a while ago?”
Ian cocked his head. “Yes?”
“I don’t want to think of the future. I don’t even want to think of the past. All I want to think about is the present. And right now, right here, I know that I love you. And you love me. And we have each other. That is what is important. And that’s all I care about right now.”
Ian embraced her tightly and started to make slow and poignant love to her. When she came, she screamed.
Afterwards, he whispered in her ear, “All I know is this. As long as we are together, I will make sure that you are happy. I will make sure that you enjoy every minute of it.”
Vicky couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. She cried, almost violently. Suddenly, the painful truth was thrust before her. Sometime, she will have to let go. He belonged not to her but to somebody else. And what they were sharing was borrowed time. He had already made up his mind. He had chosen not her, but the baby and his wife. And although she knew this even before, right now, the truth hurt so much that she could not quell the tears. She was still hoping that they could have a future together. He is no longer hoping. He knows they will never be. And it hurt so damned much. Because she no longer had any choice. She no longer had any hope.
She knew what she had to do. She knew she could no longer postpone it. She knew she had to do it even if it killed her. Better this than the slow dying she was going through. Better let go now.
She promised Ian that she would survive, and she honestly believed that she would.
Ian went back to his family. Vicky went to Europe for a few months. She had a nervous breakdown and she had to go through therapy, without anybody close to her knowing. When she came back, she was all right. She had convinced herself that Ian was just a phase, and that she was ready to move on. And move on, she did.
Vicky opened her eyes and saw the beady eyes of the rat a few inches from her face. She screamed. The sound that issued from her mouth was hoarse and throaty, but the rat scampered away to its corner. Vicky could not feel the pain anymore. She was already numb. She had been in this hell hole for so long, she was almost wishing for death. But suddenly, she found herself wishing something more. She found herself wishing she could have another chance at life. Silly, she thought. But she actually wished she could live long enough to correct all the errors of her life. She laughed. I just want to live long enough to see Ian, she thought. That’s all. Pathetic. But is that such a trivial thing? To see the love of your life? Yes, she thought. He is married to a beautiful woman who adores him. He has a child, or probably two by now. Yet, Vicky still wanted to see him. To just see him one last time. One last time, and she could die peacefully. She could die knowing she had been true to herself. She was still in love with him. He was still the man for her. And she chided herself for not fighting more viciously for him. Well, what was past was past. She just wanted to see if he was all right. If he was happy. If all the agony she went through had been in vain. If he was happy and contented, then she could die knowing that she did the right thing. She could die knowing that the love of her life was happy.
She dozed off with a smile on her face.
She woke up when she felt a nudge.
“Lady, are you okay?”
Vicky opened her eyes and saw a young woman looking at her with concern. Vicky opened her mouth but the effort was too much for her. She sighed instead. Another woman, another kidnap victim. That meant that she was dying.
“Lady, what the hell has happened to you? And why the fuck am I here tied down? Shit! I was just on my way to pick up some groceries when this guy comes out of nowhere and hits me. Next thing I know, I’m waking up in this god-forsaken place!”
Vicky tried to smile.
“I’m Bernie, Bernadette’s my full name. And if that guy thinks he’s going to mess with me, he’s got another thing coming. No man has ever laid a finger on me and not regret it for the rest of his life!”
Vicky laughed and her bruised voice suddenly sounded so young and so alive.
“My God, lady. What did he do to you?”
“I-I-I’m Vicky. And he messed me up pretty bad. But he helped me find myself.”
“Find yourself? Why, were you ever lost?”
“Oh yes, I was pretty lost and I didn’t even know it.”
“Hell, he touches me, and the only thing I’ll find is the place where my powerful knee will hit him!”
Vicky laughed again. She looked at Bernie and saw that the woman was young, healthy and beautiful. But there was a ruthlessness in the young woman’s eyes that made Vicky think that the rapist has finally found his match, or even his superior.
Suddenly, Vicky coughed and blood oozed out of her mouth.
“Oh, shit! We should get you to a hospital!”
“I’m okay. I don’t know if I have long to live. But just one tip. Act weak. This is going to be very hard for you. But, the time he is at his weakest is when he is climaxing. Wait for that time and then strike.”
“What? You mean I’ll let him put his hands all over me and his dick in me? No way! I don’t need him weak. I am strong enough to take him even if he was powerful.”
“Good luck, Bernie. I sure hope to see you again.”
“Oh you bet your sweet….. Vicky?”
Vicky lost consciousness.
Vicky was right, the rapist had found his match in Bernie. Bernie took Vicky’s advice and acted weak. And when the monster was climaxing, Bernie struck back again and again. Bernie then called the authorities and Vicky’s weak body was rushed to the hospital.
Vicky never really regained consciousness. But she held on for days. One day, she just let go.
As her relatives and friends wept, someone asked, “Who was the man who just left?”
Keith shrugged. “He said his name was Ian. He said he was a close friend of Vicky’s.”
“Funny, I never heard Vicky mention him,” Vicky’s close friend said.
And the subject was closed. Family and friends clustered around each other comforting each other.
In the hospital parking lot, a man wept helplessly in his car.
Vicky’s funeral was very well-attended. A procession of people lined up to pay their respects. Her colleagues at work remembered her as the efficient co-worker. Her staff remembered her as a charismatic leader and mentor. Her bosses remembered her as one of the few great managers of their firm. Her friends remembered her as a girl who knew how to have a good time, a listener, a stalwart friend. Her family remembered her as the perfect daughter who always brought pride and joy to the family. Her fiance, Keith, remembered her as the perfect girlfriend, who would have been the perfect wife and perfect mother of his children.
It is funny how so many people surround you and love you, yet never really know you.