It had been years since she last came back to this place. The vegetations now greener, more vast. The foliage thicker, like a canopy that hides a whole new world below. A world she knew she should not be visiting.
Places change, just like people do. But there will always be the marks of the past as subtle reminders, like the worn out paths of the woods, now concealed by overgrowth and fallen branches. Hidden, but there, — if one knows where to look.
She carefully followed the winding path, stumbling every now and then. Low growing branches scraping her. Mosquitos feasted on her exposed skin.
After an hour and deep into the woods, she emerged into a clearing. Except for the empty beer bottles, cigarette butts, and an old camp fire on the side of the big boulder, everything is just as she remembers it. Tears welled up from her eyes, uninvited — offensive.
It still hurts to remember. Even after years of perfecting her armour, of crafting a future that knows no uncertainties, after years of erecting walls, the past could come with such force and her carefully constructed safe haven becomes a mere delusion.
The big boulder, — her special rock, stood untouched by the years. But just like her, it had grown old. The rock that witnessed horror, concealed secrets, and bore the scars of a broken life. She came closer, and carefully inspected it. She knew were it is, — on the underside to the left, low enough for her to reach if she stands on her tippy toe and stretch her arms real high. Scratched into the rock was a phrase she understood too well, — Jill was here.
It’s been 15 years.
Mr. Aguilar was a good teacher. He had been teaching Chemistry in The Calahan School for 6 years, and he had taken on young Jill under his wings, presumably because he had seen huge potential in her. She wanted to be a chemist and Mr. Aguilar did everything to fuel her dream.
Unlike other girls her age back in the 80’s, Jill had very little interest in frills. She’d come to school excited to learn, not to be fashionably bored. She’d spend a lot of time in the library, or assisting Mr. Aguilar in the lab. In spite of her young age, Jill is very perceptive, and intelligence has a way of making her look more mature, a mirage among many others.
Jill showed keen interest in chemistry, and paid particular attention to organic chemical changes. She also showed enthusiasm in the biosciences, in fact, she was the first to memorize the anatomy of the frog including the origin, insertions, and functions of its muscles long before her class had even reached the topic.
Jill is an only child. They live in the big house. Her Dad works as municipal auditor while her Mom stays home. Her father however is over his head in debt, forcing them to live under the graces and shadow of her Grandmother, who controls everything from the food they eat to what school Jill will be enrolled in. She owns the very air they breath. Everyone thought they were living the good life. What they don’t know need not be told.
Mrs. Anissa Toledo, Inherited a fortune from her father, the late Ernest Toledo, who cultivated and made millions out of his tobacco plantation. Anissa, just like Jill’s Mom, Elise, is an only child.
Everyone knew that Anissa does not approve of her daughter’s marriage to Dante Reyes, but when Elise came home one day, pregnant and sobbing, Anissa pulled strings to make sure her only daughter is wed before it becomes apparent that she is carrying., and so Elise, her new husband, and their infant daughter all lived in the big house, seemingly shackled to the walls and old beams, to the satisfaction and grand entertainment of the matriarch.
Jill never met her grandfather. Elise never talked about him, and there had been no picture of him in the big house. Jill learned not to pursue the topic.Secrets have their reasons to stay hidden. She knew that her family made many mistakes. Her Grandmother had always reminded Elise how marrying Dante was a no brainer. Maybe, her grandmother too made the same mistake with her grandfather. “ Well, I’ll change history for them”, Jill thought. “ I’ will not make a mistake of marrying the wrong man”. She knew that was a huge promise to make, since she too was just a mistake.
Jill discovered the clearing by accident, while she was collecting cones and ferns for her botany project. she was amazed by the size of the boulder which she could climb by stepping on some smaller rocks. “ It’s nice to be up high”, she thought. From then on, the clearing became her hiding place and the boulder her throne, away from the shadows that dominate her home.
During the summer, Jill volunteers in the district hospital. Normally, hospitals don’t allow kids who are not patients within its vicinity, but San Rafael District hospital is undermanned, and it needs all the help it could get.
Jill finds the hospital an opportunity for learning and a plausible excuse to be out of the house most hours of the day, most days of the week, until school resumes in June. Her work is pretty much straight forward. She organizes the charts in alphabetical order and stack the galenicals and medicines that are delivered every Wednesday to a small nook beside the nurses’ station. She is also tasked to run to the small parish near the hospital to get the priest when patients and or relatives request for the Last Rite.
It was one late summer afternoon when the sky looked like a newly formed bruise that Mr. Aguilar, the science teacher, approached Jill and asked her if she knew of a place where they can try a new science experiment, — a place where the noise will not disturb people. Of course she knew of such a place, and she took Mr. Aguilar to the clearing.
While Mr. Aguilar sets up his experiment, Jill found a broken branch and started scratching on the left under belly of the huge rock, “ Jill was here”. She was stretched out finishing her message when she sensed Mr. Aguilar standing very close to her. It was too late when the scent of danger finally registered. She was pinned down. By the boulder. While the sun sets.
Jill was consumed body and soul, forever corrupted and destroyed. As if to highlight the crime, —- it rained.
She was found dazed, bruised, and dirty the next day, sitting on the curve of a road near San Rafael District Hospital. The crime was apparent, even before doctors confirmed it. But Jill wouldn’t talk, in fact, she stopped talking altogether for two straight months. No one, not, her parents, nor her rich grandmother wanted to pursue. Jill knows it. In a small village such as San Rafael, no one wants to be tied up to rape.
In a backward society, the victims of rape are just as guilty as the perpetrators of the crime. They are socially shunned, humiliated, and unfairly judged. The crime of rape often goes unpunished. The victims simply learned to pick up on where their lives had been fragmented.
It was raining when the remains of Mr. Aguilar was laid to rest, in a family plot on the outskirt of town. The funeral service was a grand one, with orchestrated processions. They said he had a heart attack. He was found slumped on his desk one afternoon inside the shadowy chemistry lab of the school. He was declared DOA.
A full week after, Mrs. Anissa Toledo was found dead in her room, with her eyes open and her face twisted into a harrowing death mask. She too was said to have suffered a heart attack. She was buried without the same frills Mr. Aguilar had been given. When you fail to love in life, love should not be expected in death.
Anissa and Mr. Aguilar were buried in different graves, and in different ways, with their crimes forever hidden from everyone else except to their victims, just like the tiny puncture mark on their bodies, where Jill injected the needle and pushed the plunger giving them both the lethal dose of Succinylcholine.
Their deaths were never considered suspicious, so autopsy was not mandated. But Jill knew that even if post mortem investigation had been performed, nothing would be proven. Succinylcholine acts fast and metabolized fast into Succinate, a naturally occurring substance in the human body. A correct dose of Succinylcholine however causes sudden paralysis of the muscles of respiration, often fatal in a matter of minutes.
Jill thanked her job in the hospital dispensary for the unaccounted drug.
The sun is setting in the horizon. The breeze had become cold. Jill gave the clearing one last look before she traced back her steps towards the path leading out of the woods.