Porcelain Dolls

On TV, Elemento runs. Scenes of children in uniform running and playing. I’m taken back to my childhood, when I was in my elementary school uniform – running and playing and having fun like the boys on TV.

The kid I’m watching is swapped with an Elemento. I’m not sure how that happens, but as far as I know, when an elemento is involved, there’s a swapping… of “elements”, so to speak.

The mother doesn’t notice; she would not know. How would she know? She does not look at her son when he asks, “Can my “friends” and I play in my room upstairs, mom?”

Like the boy on TV, someone from my past had been “swapped”, too. It was not with an Elemento, but with one of the porcelain dolls in the house on the street across from where my playmates and I used to play.

Every afternoon, after class, my friends and I played under a big shed with a roof made of nipa. The shed is owned by a former Senate President. Together with the other kids, I played as I waited for my father to come fetch me. In those days, when families were knit closer than their present day counterparts, a family-sized tricycle was the practical means for transporting children to and from school. We owned a humble-looking tricycle back then.

Across the street from the big shed, a house with a large oriel window faced us as we played. If the window opens, we get to see what is inside – wide and clear. But that oriel window rarely opened…

Every afternoon, we waited to see if the window will open – curious to look at the inside of the house. They said an old lady lives there. They said that the old lady’s husband died at the prime of his life, and that she never recovered from her loss and despair. To nurse her perpetually aching heart, she collected porcelain dolls and placed them in a large vitrine.

The old lady has a hundred dolls – people said. It is a mystery how there came to be so many dolls since the old lady rarely leaves her house. There was no online shopping hitherto, so that was not her means of acquiring dolls. Some folks said that the dolls were once real girls. They became like so because the old lady caught them doing naughty things.

One morning, a girl from our school went missing. It was said that she never went home the evening before. She was that particular girl who climbed the tree nearest the old lady’s house, one afternoon. She was an efficient climber, in my opinion. She wanted to peep inside the old lady’s window and look at the hundred porcelain dolls. Are the rumors and tales true at all? – she wondered. Like me, she was curious. She wanted to know. Is there really a vitrine of a hundred porcelain dolls? I would have climbed that same tree out of curiosity – if I had worn shorts …

That afternoon, before she went missing, the girl wore shorts underneath her skirt and she decided to climb the tree nearest the curious oriel window. It was a daring antic and a naughty thing to peep inside a closed window; it was a very naughty thing indeed!

After class the following day, when uncritical suppositions of the missing girl’s whereabouts thoroughly  dispersed among credulous ears, my friends and I hurried to the shed to face the old lady’s oriel window…

Alas, a disturbing revelation!

The old lady’s window only opens when there is a new acquisition…

The view of an Oriel window opened wide with hundreds of dead and glassy eyes staring right back at me is a vision etched in my mind forever! The eyes were encased in porcelain pre-figurative eyeball sockets, behind a glass surface – locked inside a vitrine indeed! Those eyes warned me not to do naughty things – not while their eyes are open – not while the old lady sees.

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