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Sweet by Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

Sweet
by Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

One night, Yna Santamaria watched a pineapple truck hit Lola Monina, vaulting the old
lady to the neighbor’s driveway. It was a very simple incident, consisting mostly of a sizeable
white bulk whipping past the screaming Santamaria family at eye level, followed promptly by
one sharp tire screech and a De Dios Farms decal—a ring of whole pineapples, like a green-
rayed sun—trembling hurriedly away.
Yna’s father ran up to Lola Monina’s motionless mass and, grunting from the rare and
sudden bout of physical exertion, lifted it up from the Osorio’s freshly flattened birds of
paradise. Yna’s uncle did his part by bellowing one solid obscenity after another into the already
empty street, and then griping out loud over pineapple trucks that weren’t supposed to be in
gated communities but were thanks to particular families of particular fresh produce empires
living in said communities which was a fucking stupid excuse because this fucking place was
fucking private and had no need for fucking trucks full of fucking fruit. Yna’s mother did her
part by yanking Yna to her chest and holding her tight, placing a hand over her little ten-year-
old’s eyes as Yna’s father carried Lola Monina indoors, as if Lola Monina had become a raging,
rabid harpy on impact.
Trapped in the hollow of her mother’s hand, which was very dark and secreted a heady,
sweetish warmth, Yna decided that she would kill Francesca De Dios at school the next day by
throwing her into oncoming traffic.

+++

Yna pondered over the Death Plan for Francesca right through all her lessons, from the
tai chi session after flag ceremony, to the instant when the final strains of the Jan Pieterszoon
Sweelinck madrigal blended with the dismissal bell, calling a quite harmonious end to Dutch
Music Appreciation class and yet another day at Canterbury International Grade School of
Alabang.
She eyed Francesca as the girl handed her slumbook over to a classmate and asked her to
answer it. Such a futile custom, this collecting of people’s personal information and insights into
a broad spectrum of topics to be insightful of, such as Love and Your Future and Your Celebrity
Crush, and all as some form of friendship. Only Francesca would see the point in it, as her idea
of friendship was simple. Everyone could be her friend. Writing down your Chinese Zodiac
Sign, Favorite Dog and Motto in Life made you her friend. Not much was complicated when
your family’s income was made; with the country’s biggest and greatest number of orchards and
the human race’s eternal need for fruit, the De Dioses didn’t seem very convoluted. Their young
surely were not.
In fact, ever so silently, Francesca had already set herself above and apart the very first
time she entered class—the complete set of pink-and-white school supplies; the perfectly parallel
pair of gleaming white hair clips; the white, bone-dry face towel snuggled neatly against her
pink, powdered back. She was such a symmetric, sanitary little thing. She wasn’t the one to
worry about.
In truth, the largest obstacle in Yna’s way was Francesca’s yaya, a stocky, sturdy
specimen who, unlike the other yayas who whiled their hours at the waiting stations reading
pocketbook romances or starting their own with the drivers, sat static at the edge of the bench

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nearest the exit, eyes fixed on the iron gates, ready to pounce for her ward amidst the screeches
and stroller bags of dismissal.
Yna decided that the best way to go was to fake a threat. She and her uncle liked to spend
most weekend nights in their home’s audio-visual room, making full and calculated use of its
modern machinery. They would load up the DVD player with the latest action movie, switch on
the surround sound, and just drench themselves in the black and rank and highly flammable oils
of Vengeance. One of the many, many things that Yna had learned from these screenings,
besides the directly proportioned relationship between impeccable grooming and villainy, was
that threatening people always worked, one way or another.
She yanked out a sheet of bond paper and scribbled:

go to the gym tomorrow after dismissal or we will blow up your house!!

As Francesca returned her textbooks to her cubbyhole across the room, Yna slipped the
note discreetly into Francesca’s pink-and-white lunchbag, right in between the thermos and box
of De Dios Dried Fruit Mix. The yaya would most likely see the note while unpacking the bag
later that afternoon, and she would most likely storm the gym herself the next day to foil any
plans (her thin, grim lips and chunky calves seemed to cue her avenging, protecting proclivities),
most likely telling Francesca to stay put this won’t take long some faces just need tearing off
okay pangga?, most likely leaving the poor girl all alone for Yna to deal with. Exactly how she
was going to push Francesca into the lethally busy street and make it look like an accident was
still uncertain, but at least she had the first part of a plan mapped out. An idiot would have
overlooked the yaya in the first place.

+++

When Yna made her daily dash to the front door (it had been three months since Mang
Toby was let go and Yna was made to take the school service, but she still felt the grave disgrace
of communal van use quite deeply), she did not expect to find Lola Monina reclined on the sala’s
daybed, the bands of gauze twisting around her temples, thick yet frayed, not unlike the white,
fleecy nest of her hair. The blurry red spot at the very center of her bindings made her look like a
Japanese martial arts instructor, ready to kick major ass after her power nap. Yna shut the door
too hard, stunned as she was by the sight of the woman she thought Death had already karate
chopped, and startled her awake. The woman snarled.
Yna burbled her sorrys, rushing to Lola Monina’s side and telling her to go back to sleep.
Instead of closing her eyes, however, Lola Monina stared at Yna with a strange and burdensome
expression, as if nauseated by the girl practically genuflecting before her on the carpet, and then
switched her gaze to the ceiling fan and its whirring, cracked capiz blades.
Yna felt like dirt. She was sure she loved Lola Monina more than anyone else did. The
old lady she knew was a very happy human, who did nothing but celebrate the utter luck that was
her life, and made sure her granddaughter also rejoiced with her. Lola Monina could have
inherited much prime peso in the 30’s, were it not for her parents who decided to liberate their
daughter from the crusty, crystallized shackles of their generations-old tawas deodorant
company, sparing her from the hassles of inheriting lots and lots of money, so she could pursue
her true passions, whatsoever they may be. That, and a college degree.

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Fortunately, Lola Monina met Sixto Santamaria, the non-disowned heir of Santamaria
Sweets, at an inter-college school soiree and dropped school altogether. She liked telling Yna
that the second she and Lolo Sixto met, they clung to each other like hard candy in the hot
summer sun, her soul and his assets melding into one rock-hard ball of smooth, sugary love. Still,
she had acquiesced to their own children requiring college degrees—business strategies had
changed some in the succeeding decades—though she also made sure to inculcate as much of her
own knowledge into them as she could. There was one crucial, life-and-death thing, she told her
little granddaughter proudly, that she knew how to do exceptionally well: to be rich, and to be so
magnificently.
Yna could never fully grasp what her Lola Monina was always clucking about, but she
enjoyed being with her nonetheless, because Lola Monina was such a positive person—happy to
buy her shiny, fluffy objects; happy to feed her rich, buttery foodstuffs—just happy to indulge in
Yna, and to make her understand that pleasure must always be had. Delightful old woman.
But the one straggled on the daybed was not.
Yna asked her if she would like some tea, sensing the need to be sweet and
granddaughterly. She could tell Jobeth to make her some.
“Jobeth’s doing the laundry,” Lola Monina said sharply.
“But Annabel does the laundry.”
“We let Annabel go. Jobeth does everything now.”
“So Jobeth can make you tea.”
“I hate tea. Go away.”
Yna slunk up to her room with a strong, cold sting in her chest from all the loss she had
to process.

+++

Her mother was screaming in the foyer. Yna looked up from the map she had made of
Canterbury’s grounds, fashioned from cartolina left over from her Beginner’s Architecture
elective. Francesca’s yaya, represented by a curious cube of a rock Yna had found in Boracay,
was already positioned within the Crayola’d confines of the gym, but she (a chocolate-covered
macadamia nut) and Francesca (a cotton ball) had yet to find their place.
She had gotten used to tirades echoing around the house. She knew Lolo Sixto’s death
almost a year ago would provoke much sorrow and anxiety among the Santamarias, but the strain
had seemed to escalate over time, and this just didn’t seem right to her at first. Due to her
insatiable appetite for action movies, she had first come to believe that people, whether through
heady, elaborate schemes involving car chases/rappelling/time bombs/jiu-jitsu, or through the
stark simplicity of old age, died. Moreover, she had also believed that grief could only last so
long; there would come a time when loved ones would have to get up, dust themselves off,
maybe sever their ties with the sleek, corporate spy service they work for to join a grubby,
renegade band of freedom fighters (or not), and Move On.
But the adult Santamarias had failed to get over Lolo Sixto’s fatal fling with prostate
cancer. It seemed that the longer Lolo Sixto stayed dead, the more they howled and bawled at
each other, and Yna had come to understand that certain sorrows just maintained their pain
forever.
She opened her bedroom door a crack, cocking her ear to the foyer two balconies below.
Her mother’s screaming had expanded into the standard group tantrum, her father’s and uncle’s

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boisterous baritones having joined in on bemoaning the great dearth Lolo Sixto had caused. To
virgin ears, their ruckus may sound like an ugly disagreement, but Yna, over the months, had
come to hear the utter opposite. In fact, their yelling had a harmony to it, and could ring strong
with consensus. They agreed, once more and with much vitriol, that they deserved Lolo Sixto’s
wealth way, way, way more than the four hospitals that did get in on his gains. The hospitals
were made to split the spoils, supposedly, because the dying Lolo Sixto was suddenly and
severely hit—with a force accumulated from an entire lifetime of indifference—by the need to be
charitable to his fellow Filipinos. Of course, even little Yna knew that this was bullshit.
All the Santamarias knew about the Great Poisoning of 1989. Yna had learned of it via
bedtime story, when her mother had run out of the fairytales she knew by heart—a small sum to
begin with, considering Lola Monina was always busy at night telling other folks anecdotes at
salas or poolsides or verandas a village or two away. The fairytale went like so:

Once upon a time, there was a big, big grey building the size of fifty houses.
- You mean like our factory?
Sure. Like our factory. And in it, there lived thousands and thousands of trolls.
- What are trolls?
Tiny people. Stop asking questions.
- Okay.
Now, all the trolls in this big, big building loved chocolate chip cookies a lot. So
they worked together everyday to make lots and lots of chocolate chip cookies to
make them happy. But one day, there was one troll named Ronaldson who
decided he didn’t like chocolate chip cookies anymore because his sister troll
died from eating many of them. Ronaldson blamed the cookies for killing his
sister troll, but it was really Ronaldson’s fault because he was a bad, bad brother
troll, refusing to acknowledge his sister’s diabetes and failing to monitor her food
intake properly. And because Ronaldson was so poor that his Mommy Troll and
Daddy Troll failed to raise him with a proper sense of ethics, Ronaldson decided
that everyone should stop liking chocolate chip cookies too. So, he poured bottles
and bottles of evil poison into the cookie batter and made everyone very, very
sick, and the sick ones started telling everyone else that chocolate chip cookies
were evil and that nobody should eat chocolate chip cookies anymore.
Fortunately, the king of the building, who was a big, giant polar bear with six
eyes, ate Ronaldson and told the rest of the trolls that they should make a
different kind of cookie instead to make them happy. So, the trolls replaced
chocolate chips with rainbow sprinkles in their recipe and everyone was so happy
again and things were going to be okay forever and ever and ever. The end.
- Did our candy make people sick, Mommy?
What? I—
- Mommy, it’s okay. Lolo Sixto fixed it. Is that the moral of the story? I mean,
‘cookies’ is a code word, right? Right, Mommy? You used a code word?
You’re right, Yna.
- Yes.
Now go to sleep. Mommy needs her night swim.

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Lolo Sixto, certainly not one to scrimp on excess, had given the hospitals the biggest tip
he could and would ever give in his life—the biggest, fattest thank you (after a regularized string
of big, fat thank yous over the years) for keeping mum on the 40 or so rotten candy cases that
had saturated that one summer, an incident that could have soured the sweet virtue of his name.
Each child who had writhed his way to treatment, or at least his parents or legal guardians who
were, of course, just as ornery in their own way, had received a single, satisfactorily sumptuous
payment of hush money. But the hospitals, Lolo Sixto had feared, would require more to not
squawk about the whole thing in the name of all that is good and just and bright and shiny, hence
their surprise inheritance.
The gripe Yna’s mother made most often dealt with the sheer nitwittedness behind Lolo
Sixto’s betrayal. She highly doubted that the hospitals would have cried foul in the first place;
for one summer, Santamaria Sweets had become a major source of their revenue. Alas, the old
man was just too selfish to grasp this, so much so that the only thing able to fit and fester in his
mind was saving his own hide.
“We can help you,” someone said.
Yna opened the door a little wider, brows furrowing. This was a completely new, male
voice that had slipped in with the reverberations, although this one wasn’t so much frustrated as
pitying, its softer volume booming more respect and sincerity than any sound that had ever
bounced off the house’s pearl-white walls.
“We should,” yet another voice, a woman’s this time, added with conviction.
“What’s this patronizing shit? Of course you should,” Yna’s mother cried. “You are not
doing us a favor.”
Yna scuttled over to the balcony. She peered down at the group of people standing stiff,
each keeping at least four frigid meters apart, and grimaced at the sight of the odd couple out.
Although she had only seen their silhouettes behind the creamy black tint of BMW
windows in the past, she knew they were Francesca’s parents. They sported that same sheen of
perfect precision—with that extra patina of precise perfection—that Francesca did. The freshly-
polished leather in the father’s large, pointy, lace-up shoes; the silver in the oval belt buckle
resting snug against the mother’s flat stomach—they glinted all the way up at Yna, as if to signal
to the child not to bother for, yes, they were indeed impossibly impeccable, and she really didn’t
have to double-check, but thanks.
“There was an emergency shipment. A very urgent, last-minute thing from one of our
biggest distributors; first time it ever happened. I insisted on seeing a supervisor of mine first
before all the trucks were deployed but I didn’t know he’d actually come in one of them. I’m
very sorry. It was so late in the night. You know your street is the quickest way back to the
guardhouse. We didn’t think Mrs. Santamaria would be there, but I have already suspended the
supervisor and the driver, if this makes you feel any better in any way. I am all about solutions,
definitely; I promise we will fix this fast. We’ll cover all her hospital bills, succeeding
medications and any other damage we may have done to your property,” Mr. De Dios stated
firmly.
“And a little extra for all the stress,” Mrs. De Dios chimed in.
Yna waited for her mother to have a fit.
“A little extra?” Yna’s mother exclaimed. She then proceeded with a tantrum so ferocious
that Mrs. De Dios’s right hand jerked up and made a swift Sign of the Cross. Yna watched the
small gesture intently, feeling more and more incensed as she realized the De Dioses’ utter
insensitivity towards her family’s grief.

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The De Dioses should have imparted a better semblance of understanding. Hadn’t they
ever worried about themselves? Didn’t they hold family business meetings over Sunday lunches
too, and shovel callos into their mouths with such haphazard haste so as to speed up the unhappy
proceedings? And weren’t their Christmas afternoons just as wrought with rivalry, too, with their
matriarch and/or patriarch the target of one offspring’s pricey bequest after another—flat-screen
TV trumps ergonomic buckwheat pillows; 3-day vacation at Punta Fuego trumps hefty e-gift
certificate for all Ayala Malls—and amidst a blitz of hugging and kissing? Didn’t Francesca’s
chest tighten a bit each morning too, just as she is being driven up to Canterbury’s main drop-off
area, for fear that her car would pull up behind one of a noticeably newer make? Surely they all
felt something similar someway somehow?
Yna nudged away from the balcony. However heated she was by the De Dioses’ icy
countenance, by their decision to just stare at Yna’s panic-plagued mother with barely guised
horror, she would have to conserve her ire for the next day, when her Death Plan for their darling
daughter—whatever it was—would come to fruition. She returned to her room, closed the door
on the ruckus, and glared hard at the cotton ball on her map as if this could set it ablaze.

+++

Yna had arrived at Canterbury the next day the most determined she had ever been. She
had gotten up from bed far earlier than Jobeth’s early morning nudgings; she had munched on
her customary Froot Loops-Honey Stars combination to a purposeful, military rhythm; and she
had alighted from the school service for the very first time with her chin held up high. She had
spent the rest of the night pondering rigorously, and had absolutely no clue yet as to how she
could bring Francesca to hurtle into a speeding auto, but she still knew she’d find a way. If she
wanted something to happen, it would. Did action heroes cling to itineraries? Did they overthink
strategies and stick to strict and unwavering protocol? No, they did not. Ploys like these unfurled
best under pressure at the eleventh hour in the nick of time. She believed, despite everything, that
there was justice in this world, and that vengeance for Lola Monina must be a thing of nature,
spontaneous. Things would just click into place, she assured herself as she shuffled towards the
Grade 4 wing. She could feel it. She could really, truly, really truly feel it.
Moments later at the principal’s office, Yna could hardly feel a thing.
One part of her plan had worked out beautifully: Francesca’s yaya, while unpacking her
ward’s lunchbag the previous day, had found the note. But Francesca’s yaya was not like Jobeth
or Annabel or any of the help that had ever timidly tendered their services for the Santamarias.
Francesca’s yaya turned out to have more gumption than Yna expected. Upon reading the note,
she immediately rifled through Francesca’s backpack for any other nasty scraps that may have
been planted by some villainous brat or other, and chanced upon Francesca’s slumbook.
Yna fidgeted upon mention of the accursed book. She felt herself weakening more and
more as Francesca’s yaya, who was hunched across from her in the office, recalled her detective
work with no trace of conceit, as if Yna had been a long foreseen disturbance. Francesca wasn’t
even there. Her absence announced that she had better things to do than to watch an enemy fall.
Yna pictured her at the covered courts for P.E. at that moment, placing a custom pink-and-white
fencing mask over her ceaseless smile, knowing that her yaya was merely putting things to right.
The note, Francesca’s yaya explained as the principal, Ms. Violeta Consunji-Villufuerte,
cracked the slumbook open to an earmarked page and held it right up to Yna’s face, was a

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perfect match in handwriting with one particular entry. Yna tried not to inhale the berry-scented
sheets before her, but she could no longer hold her breath to the stink of her betrayal:

What is your favorite book: “The Little Princess”


What do you want to be when you grow up: Lara Croft
What is the best advice you’ve been given: My lola said always remember you
are special.
What would be the one thing you’d change about yourself: none
What is your deepest fear: That we become very poor and my Mommy and
Daddy become sick and die because we cannot buy medicines.
What is love: Love is blind.
Why are we friends: Because you are a kind and smart girl.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte asked Yna, taking out
the scrap of a threat and slapping it against the book’s pages, the identical handwriting spelling
out line after line of blame.
Yna ran through all possible answers to this question as quickly and calmly as she could,
and pared them down to two choices.
The first option was to deny the allegations. She could say that the matching scrawls were
borne of pure and freakish coincidence. Moreover, she could say that she liked Francesca and
would not have answered the “Why we are friends” portion, let alone touch the slumbook, if she
harbored such hateful intentions. The latter, in particular, she knew she could deliver
convincingly; in their history as classmates, she had never shown Francesca a smidge of ill will.
Didn’t talk about her behind her back; smiled at her when they crossed paths to and from the
washroom; was wholly cooperative when both were groupmates for Interpretative Dance,
holding her hand with no trace of revulsion as they mimicked the surging surf that had beached a
butanding in Batangas. There was no proof that she had disliked her beforehand. In fact, Yna
knew that if she had asked herself outright, just for the sake of it, whether she did dislike
Francesca or not, neither yes nor no would have served as an honest, immaculate answer. It was
either she thought she did but felt she didn’t, or felt she did but thought she didn’t—whichever
the day’s circumstances prescribed. What Yna was sure of was that Francesca had the right to be
admired, and that, when it came down to it, she did hold a genuine morsel of esteem for her.
The second option: an appeal to pity. Kyra Tantiangco had gotten out of the previous
week’s third quarter exams because her Senator dad and his mistress’s filmed foray into S&M
was going viral, and the media’s hubbub right outside their gates made it hard for Kyra to study.
All Yna had to do was confess something similar, something horrible yet factual and most
definitely someone else’s fault, maybe do so with a crestfallen, world-weary look on her sweet,
young face, and simply wait for understanding and forgiveness to commence. Yna didn’t mean
to try and kill Francesca, she could foresee Ms. Consunji-Villuafuerte concluding. It was a cry
for help, the poor girl.
The more she thought about it, the more appealing it seemed over the first option. People
were very nice to children who had post-traumatic stress disorder, which was what Kyra told
everyone she had the second she got back from her “healing week” at Shangri-La Mactan. If Yna
couldn’t remedy her family the way she had planned, maybe this was another way. If her family
believed that their woes had taken their toll on her, she would have to be given whatever she
wanted lest her brittle, post-traumatic heart collapse in a quick, pained puff of dust, and this

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collective effort to ensure her welfare just might bring them all together, maybe stop their griping
for once. Maybe if everyone would just stop scaring themselves and think, if they would just take
it upon themselves to actually do something, something decent could happen.
“My Lolo Sixto is dead,” Yna began, sinking her gaze to the carpet, trying to look as tired
as possible. “He died and he left us. I am so sad because he died. I cry all the time. My family is
very sad also. We miss him so much and I wish he didn’t die. My mommy and my daddy and my
tito fight all the time because my lolo is dead. We are very poor because my lolo gave all our
money away and then he died. It is so hard to be poor. We do not have many things anymore. I
am so scared. I am so scared that we will be poor forever and maybe we will not have food to eat
and our clothes will have holes in them— “
At this point, Yna had bunched up her face as much as she could, hoping each strained
muscle spelled an excruciating, undeserved sadness. Slowly, she glanced up at Ms. Consunji-
Villafuerte, likewise hoping her eyes were twinkling with the threat of tears, expecting concern
to glaze over the principal’s usual pallor. But she looked the same.
“—And I get nightmares all the time. I am so scared. I want to be happy. I want to be
happy like my classmates. My heart hurts all the time. I remember my lolo and I miss him
everyday. I miss the times when my lolo was alive and my family was happy. I am so sad. I want
to stop being sad! I want my nightmares to go away! I want to be happy! I want to be so happy
and I want my family to smile and laugh and love each other again like a real family! I want to
be happy again! Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte, please help me! Please help me! I am so sad! Please
help me be happy again!”
Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte closed the slumbook gently, set it on her desk, and clasped her
hands on top of its glitter-coated cover with a strange finality. Yna slumped back in her chair.
She felt that she had said her piece well enough. She couldn’t imagine anyone not feeling sorry
for her—what she had just said was just so cheerless and so despairing and, when it came right
down to it, tainted with just enough truth to make each word dense and firm. She looked straight
at Ms. Consunji-Villuaferte with unblinking anguish. The principal rolled her eyes.
“The Canterbury International Grade School of Alabang is committed to the inculcation
of the finest intellect within the minds of the most reputable young ladies in the nation,” she
replied. “While we would like to envision each and every one of our wards—including you, Ms.
Santamaria—to be of superior mental prowess, you must never forget to foresee the same of this
institution’s pedagogues and administrative body. I am not an imbecile. It is no secret that Mr.
Sixto Santamaria, just days before his decidedly unfortunate demise, exacted a very severe and
mysterious case of philanthropy that has left his kin sinking slowly but surely into poverty or, at
the very least, the throngs of the middle class. Mr. Santamaria was a most esteemed Filipino
businessman, with Santamaria Sweets being one of the oldest and most firmly established brands
in the nation, so it should most certainly come as no surprise whatsoever that the public had
caught wind of his bizarre pre-death wish. I comprehend that your life at home may be quite
conflict-laden because of this, and that you may be feeling much grief and uncertainty towards
the future, but neither this, nor anything else, can be seen as grounds for your atrociously poor
plans to endanger your fellow Canterburian Ms. De Dios. What good did you think would come
of this slovenly attempt at underhandedness, Ms. Santamaria? A handwritten threat? A maudlin
soliloquy about domestic stress to defend it?”
Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte sighed, and the fury in her stare then cooled to a stern, steady
sizzle. This slight change, however, made Yna more agitated than she already was, for it seemed
that the principal was set to wield something far worse than rage: her pure and pitiless authority.

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“I may not know exactly how repugnant your home life presently is,” she continued at a
more level, professional tone. “But I do know that your plan to harm the De Dioses was not of
exceptional quality, and that this cannot be pardoned. This is the crux of your problem, Ms.
Santamaria. In fact, your plan merited no quality in any way. It did not meet this institution’s
high standards. Have you no pride in your schooling, Ms. Santamaria? Have we taught you
nothing about revenge? I have appraised the coursework you have fulfilled since Prep 2—
Introduction to Warfare, Junior Business Negotiations, the Holocaust Primer, among other
subjects. One would think that all this knowledge would have enriched your transgressive little
endeavors. But, in your particular case, they have not, despite the fact that you do possess
enough of an intellect. So what is the reason behind your failure? It is because you do not try
hard enough. You have only willed yourself to exert the barest minimum of effort, when a
Canterburian truly worth anything would have invested her entire being into destroying her
enemy. You see, Ms. Santamaria, only passionate and disciplined people succeed throughout
history.”
Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte then let out a tiny, tired puff of air from her lips before
resuming.
“This is why your family has fared the way it has. They did not exert the optimal amount
of effort into bettering their state since Mr. Santamaria met his Maker. I do not know how it was,
exactly, that your family tried to boost their earnings in your grandfather’s glaring absence, but I
do know—I believe everyone knows—that whatever it was was far from satisfactory. So please
do not hold your family—or absolutely anything else—at fault for your own disappointments,
because neither can your family reproach anyone but themselves for their aggravations.
“It is no surprise that De Dios Farms is acquiring Santamaria Sweets by the end of the
week. Now, do not stare at me like that, Ms. Santamaria. The decision was declared in the
broadsheets this morning, so please do not feign your ignorance of this matter. Or were you truly
not informed? In hindsight, that seems to make sense; your kin would have liked you to maintain
your delusions, I feel. Anyway, as I was saying, just as your family should have stood up for
themselves more intensely, so should you have sought retribution with greater fervor. Were you
planning to use Ms. De Dios as actual collateral? Swap her for Sweets? Or were you more for
attacking her family’s psyche? Break them down from the inside, perhaps? Whatever it was, Ms.
Santamaria, the fact remains that you have proven yourself futile, and that the De Dioses have
proven themselves to be the much, much better lot. They won, Ms. Santamaria. They beat you.
They did what they had the very best way they could, and I do not care if that grimace of yours
says otherwise, Ms. Santamaria. They beat you. And you lost badly.”
As Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte went on to the details of Yna’s penance—a three-week
period as barista at Canterbury’s student café during lunchbreaks, and additional coursework on
Quantum Mechanics for the rest of the school year—Yna glanced at Francesca’s yaya, who had
not spoken or moved or quite possibly respired during the principal’s homily, and saw in the
crone’s gristly face for the very first time a tinge of contentment, maybe joy. It was an unsettling,
yet not unnatural, expression, and Yna could feel it directed at her deliberately.
She supposed she deserved it. If she were Francesca’s yaya, she would have shot the poor
girl before her with the same, self-satisfied look herself. There was a truth that was hovering
around them at that moment, calmly humming the refrain about Yna and her stubborn reluctance
to believe in herself. It was one of those familiar tunes that had always loitered in the backdrop
of her life thus far, ever-present yet only faintly heard, and although this sound could be readily

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ignored, she always strained to hear it all the same. The odd wisp of a smile on Francesca’s
yaya’s face, she realized, meant the yaya could hear it, too.
Yna did not look away from her, provoking a little staring match between them. Not
surprisingly, Francesca’s yaya was very good at it, as if her look was really meant to endure, as if
she were tasked to actually tell Yna something more specific and was just building tension for a
more distressing reveal. Or, in contrast, perhaps Francesca’s yaya knew something staggering
that she was forbidden to tell. Either way, Yna had a notion that she should be more upset than
she already was.
Lola Monina suddenly came to mind. She looked back on the old woman’s nightly
ambles, those dead-silent, stretched-out strolls around and around the Santamaria’s turf and the
normally empty piece of street in front of it. She would neither glance about in search of
something, nor touch things with the faintest fondness, but it was that very vacuity in her
movement—traveling in straight lines; turning at sharp angles; looking coolly ahead—that made
these walks seem so disquieting. They started shortly after Lolo Sixto passed away, and Lola
Monina seemed to have kept the habit unbroken up until her brush with the treacherous truck.
Yna would watch her from her bedroom window most nights, slightly startled and spellbound by
it, being so typical a sign of lunacy as it was, but never expected it to do the old woman more
harm than it actually had. During the only occasion when she was asked by Yna about her walks,
Lola Monina replied, and with much exasperation, To get an idea. And whatever that idea was—
Yna had wondered about it feverishly for a time but gave even that up just as fast—it probably
wasn’t supposed to be in the form of a speeding truck.
This led Yna to have ideas of her own. After all, a De Dios farms truck careening down
the streets of their gated village at the dead of night didn’t have to be so damningly arbitrary.
Why all this say-so that it was an accident? Then again, even if it wasn’t an accident, what did
that morsel even matter? How worthwhile would it be for her to speak up about her suspicions,
to point a steady finger at the true felons, to give her heroics just one more gracious go, after she
had just been christened a catastrophe?
“You may join your peers for recess, Ms. Santamaria. And thank you, Lucy. I extol your
prudence.”
Francesca’s yaya rose from her chair, gave Mrs. Consunji-Villafuerte a curt nod, and
headed towards the door.
Yna, on the other hand, stayed put, suddenly upset that that moment—that room; those
stares; that pungent, accusatory air—had to be wrenched away from her, because she was certain
that the longer she stayed, the safer she would be amidst the room’s wall-length bookcases in the
darkest dark wood and its thick, blood orange carpet, and Mrs. Consunji-Villafuerte’s frigid,
focused demeanor. There, there was still a chance for something to develop, some sudden
brilliance or flare of courage in her that would propel her to try and change her principal’s mind.
Maybe, if she waited long enough, she could muster up a way to speak up about Lola Monina
and what could have very well been the dastardly plot to exploit her. She wished she had brought
it up earlier on, although something had also been blurring or muffling it at the time, as if
sheathing the subject in a thick smock of smoke. She watched Francesca’s yaya open the door,
wincing a bit as the thing swung inward, as if this had let some rare and precious creature escape.
But there in the receiving area was another rare and precious creature of drastically
different specie, its back steel rod-straight, its feet twirled primly together and tucked back at a
ladylike angle. It was eating from a packet of De Dios Dried Mango Strips, nibbling at one
gnarled, dark yellow piece with relish, as if nourishment was a hobby it dabbled in at idle hours.

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Sweet by Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

It was this correctness that the Santamarias craved, this immunity to the world’s strains. The
creature seemed to have no qualms sitting there, as if being told to snack in the principal’s
receiving area instead of with the children in the gardens was nothing to be worried about.
Because it wasn’t; whatever the De Dioses did, they did it without fault. They feared nothing.
“Please leave my office, Ms. Santamaria.”
Yna pretended not to hear Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte. At the very least, she would wait
until the figures by the doorway had left before attempting to peel herself from the chair. She had
determined the creature to be dangerous, and preferred not to risk corrupting its space. In a way,
it was even a little bit nice to be staring at it from a distance, far enough as she was not to
provoke it, yet just close enough for its raw might to be palpable. It was then that Yna recognized
how powerless she was before it, and how fruitless her hopes to harm it had been from the start.
Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte rose sharply from her chair and walked up to Yna, who
continued to ignore the woman now glaring intently by her side.
“Please leave, Ms. Santamaria!”
By this time, Ms. Consunji-Villafuerte’s ire had lost nearly all of its potency for Yna. The
little girl merely gripped the chair’s backrest doggedly and kept gawking at the exquisite scene
before her.
As the yaya adjusted the face towel bunching at its nape, the creature continued to feed. It
bit into each morsel slowly, leisurely, chewing with much patience, looking so pleased at that
moment, as if it had been served a costly delicacy for the very first time in its life.
Yna then stared at the small pieces of food being brought to its lips—these knotty, dulled
little things—and realized that she had never tried them. She had never experienced these
perplexing fragments of fruit, like shriveled specters of their old, succulent selves. She
wondered what they must taste like, sliding her tongue bit by bit across the inside of her lips,
closing her eyes for an instant and willing her mouth to water.
She thought about it hard. She thought of something sweet. ●

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