THE FESTIVAL'S FIRST NIGHT
“Joy, sit still!” Joan exclaimed, pulling Joy’s hair together into a braid. “It takes longer if you struggle.” Well that’s because you’re pulling my scalp out, Joy thought. Joan did not know how to take it easy when putting Joy’s hair into a braid. If she didn’t know it was Joan braiding her hair, she would’ve assumed it was a baboon yanking at her hair. She would’ve done it herself, but she didn’t know how to do a French braid. Plus, her arms got strained from having to hold them up.
“Hurry up!” Dina ordered. “I still gotta do her makeup.” Dina had volunteered to do Joy’s makeup, considering the fact that Joy never learned how to put on makeup. What was she going to wear it for? A date? A school dance? A wedding? Not likely. Unless they took place at night…and if she was more sociable.
“Okay, done!” Joan announced, fastening the braid with a hairband. Dina took the opportunity to steal Joan’s seat and turn Joy to face her. She’d applied her own makeup and done her own hair before coming over. She hadn’t put on her dress yet, preferring to wait so she could help Joy with her makeup (probably to avoid getting some on it).
“Okay, I couldn’t really find a shade of foundation that matches your skin tone, but I did find powder, so it’ll have to do.” Dina pulled out a little plastic jar filled with face powder, then applied it to Joy’s face with a big makeup brush. She held her breath, not wanting to breathe any of it in.
“Girls, are you almost ready? We’re gonna be leaving in ten minutes!” their father called up.
“Just wait a sec, dad!” Joan called back. Joy fidgeted uncomfortably in her seat. What was the point of even wearing makeup for this? She couldn’t really recall seeing the other performers wearing any makeup from her youth. Or maybe they were and it was hard to see because it was getting dark. These festivals didn’t use much electronics (save for speakers), so they only used candle lights to help lighten the performers’ faces. Not to mention the fireflies. She wondered if there’d be any flying around her or Dina or Ciara while they were performing.
“Okay, eyes closed. I gotta apply some eye-shadow,” Dina said. Joy obeyed, and felt the uncomfortable sensation of more powder applied to her eyelids.
She also wondered if there were going to be any mythical creatures watching (or joining) the festivities. Probably not the Kapre, but perhaps Diwata or disguised Tikbalang (that, she hoped not). Perhaps mainly Diwata, since they could easily be mistaken for a human.
“Mascara. Eyes open,” Dina directed. Joy opened her eyes and Dina began to apply the mascara to her lashes.
“Okay, come on girls. The city bus is leaving,” their father called up. Dina finished zipping up the back of her dress and the three of them hurried downstairs. Their father was standing by the door, car keys in hand. He looked at Joy and Dina as the trotted down the steps. “Don’t you both look lovely.” Dina smiled.
“Come on, dad,” Joan said.
“All right, let’s head out,” he pointed. Joan climbed into the front seat while Joy and Dina climbed into the back.
Joy looked out the window at the sky; the sun was already going down and the sky was a beautiful peachy-orange. Even though she had been really looking forward to the festival, she was on pins and needles at the thought of getting up on that stage. She was sure that she wasn’t going to be able to get a sound out of her mouth; the most she’d be able to manage was a small, nervous squeak at best. And then she’d pee herself out of fright and embarrassment. She could already hear the people laughing at her, and she did her best to repress the thought. It wouldn’t go away.
Ever since she saw the Kapre that night when she was attacked by the Wak-Wak, she began to see it more often, most times in their tree in the back yard when she was stargazing. She’d play that Oracion song from Pokemon: Rise of Darkrai on a leaf, and it’d just sit there and listen. It seemed to enjoy it. Other times, it’d look in at her from her bedroom window in the evening.
It didn’t really scare her. Kapre didn’t really pose much of a threat, save for the fact that they got people who explored the forest lost or scared children who wandered the woods at night.
Whenever she baked, she’d leave a piece of the pastry on the windowsill. When she came back a little while later, the food was gone, but the plate was still there. Licked clean, actually. She also woke up to more flowers in her room.
It became clear that it’d fallen in love with her. She’d read stories about how that happened. There were also ones where they kidnapped their beloved and transported them to their kingdoms. So far, it hadn’t done that, much to her relief.
“Joy?” Joan’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts. She saw that they were now in the parking lot of the grocery store their father worked at. “Didn’t you hear me? I said we’re here.” Funny, she wasn’t even aware that they’d started moving. She must’ve been really deep in thought.
“Come on. Let’s go have some fun before we perform,” Dina exclaimed. Her face was animated into an excited grin, something Joy didn’t see too often. She got out of the car and followed Dina around (Joan agreed to stay with their father).
There were a lot of people, some dressed in traditional garb. There were children running around with spinning pinwheels and sparklers, giggling and just having fun. There were many booths, most handing out food and treats and others that housed games. Dina ordered a plate of meat called Adobo, then turned to Joy.
“See anything you like?” she asked. Joy shook her head.
“I, uh…don’t really like meat,” she murmured, looking to the ground. She didn’t know if she counted herself as a vegetarian (she didn’t like the idea of announcing that she was and most certainly didn’t like criticizing people for eating meat), but she didn’t like the idea of animals being hurt for food.
“What are you, a vegan?” Dina asked. Joy simply shrugged her shoulders. Maybe, maybe not. That was all she could think of to explain it. Dina nodded in understanding. “That’s fine.” She turned back to the man in the booth and asked if he could make Pinakbet, something Joy had tried before and actually enjoyed. He said they could.
While they waited for their food, they went to the next booth, which was a game booth. If you could shoot down three wooden block towers with three baseballs, you’d win a stuffed animal. Dina was able to knock down all three and received a pink bunny. Joy was only able to knock down two and only received a tiny teddy bear.
“Pagkain!” the man from the food booth shouted, which was “Food” in Filipino. Dina grabbed the two plates, and handed the one with vegetables to Joy.
“Enjoy your plate of disappointment,” she joked with a smile, the one which let Joy know that she was only joking. Thank God. She didn’t want to be picked on for her dietary choices. So what if she didn’t like meat; a lot of people didn’t like meat. The only problem was that some of those people who didn’t like meat always let other people know and criticized those who did. She didn’t like the idea of doing that.
“Thanks,” she said, and took a big bite of the vegetables. The eggplant and fish sauce together gave it a very strange and very interesting flavor, which she enjoyed.
“Hey, I see some of my friends. Want me to introduce you?” Dina asked, a mouth full of meat. She was pointing over to a group of people around their age. Joy swallowed the food in her mouth, then shook her head. “Oh, come on. They’re nice, I swear.”
“I’m, uh…not a social person,” Joy argued quietly; a little too quietly, she found, as Dina did not hear her over the chatter of the other people. Dina grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward the group of people. She tried resisting, but Dina wouldn’t loosen her grip. The group turned their attention toward Dina and Joy as they approached.
“Hey guys,” Dina greeted. The group turned their attention to Joy, their eyes full of curiosity. It made Joy wish to be invisible. Why did she let Joan drag her to the audition? Why?
“Who’s that?” one of the girls asked.
“And why is her hair so light?” a boy asked. Joy glanced up at them momentarily, then turned her attention to the ground. She didn’t want to look into their judge-y eyes.
“Oh, this is my friend, Joy,” Dina introduced, trying to sound as polite as possible. It did nothing to deter Joy’s fear. They were going to call her weird. She was sure of it. “She’s…you know, albino.”
“Oh. That explains the white hair,” the boy commented. One of the girls bent down so she could get a good look at Joy’s face. Joy looked her in the eye, trying to tell the girl with her eyes that she was severely scaring her. The girl stood up straight again and looked at Dina.
“She looks kinda freaked out,” she remarked. Dina looked at Joy, then back at the girl.
“Oh, that. Yeah, she’s not a very social person. Considering that she’s in the house all day,” she clarified. Then Dina turned her attention toward the girl’s attire. “Hey, are you performing too?” The girl nodded.
“Yeah, I’m, uh, going up before you,” she affirmed. The girl turned back to Joy and held out her hand. “No need to be afraid. My name’s Maria.” Like Maria Makiling, Joy thought. She took Maria’s hand and shook it. Her smile seemed genuine enough. Maybe she is Maria Makiling. Maria turned her attention toward the little teddy bear held in the crook of Joy’s arm. “Cute teddy bear.” Joy looked down at it briefly, then smiled a little.
“Th-thank you,” she said, trying to be loud enough for Maria to hear.
The sound of a gong going off caught everyone’s attention. On the stage, one of the women from the auditions was smacking a gong with one of those mallet-things. Joy recognized that: it was to signal the performers. Maria and Dina made their ways to the stage, with Joy following.
Once they got to the stage, Joy found that Ciara was already there. She looked as nervous as she did when she stopped by Joy’s house that day. Almost like a child who accidentally broke a vase and is waiting for their parent’s inevitable reaction.
There were people lighting the candles around the stage, so that the audience would be able to see the performers’ faces. Joy looked toward the forest (the festival was always set up next to the forest, maybe to show the forest spirits the festivities). She could see the Kapre’s glowing eyes among one of the trees’ leaves, looking at her and glancing around at everything.
The woman came backstage to meet them.
“All right ladies, remember that you have to project your voices. We need the people to hear you,” she explained. Ciara raised her hand slightly.
“Why are we not using microphones?” she asked.
“No electronics. This is supposed to celebrate nature and the nature spirits. And they don’t have electronics,” the woman clarified.
“What about the speakers?” Ciara asked. The woman shook her head.
“It’s for the music. Don’t worry, it’ll be turned down low enough for the people to still be able to hear your voices.” The woman patted Ciara on the head. “Now, is everyone ready to perform?” Dina and Maria nodded their heads (that made Maria’s curly hair bounce). Joy shrugged her shoulders. Ciara didn’t really do anything. The woman didn’t seem to take notice. “Okay. Now, Ciara is up first.” She left from back stage and made her way to the radio, where she’d be playing the CDs that would play their music.
“Break a leg, Ciara,” Dina whispered. She stayed where she was a moment longer. The woman looked up at them, wondering why Ciara was still not on the stage. Joy placed a hand on Ciara’s shoulder, and she turned to look at her.
“Don’t worry, you’ll do good,” she assured softly. Ciara looked down at the ground, took a deep breath, then made her way up on stage. The audience clapped politely, maybe for reassurance. Dina and Maria looked through the big piece of checkerboard trellis panel that was set up on stage to watch her. Joy peered through it as well. It looked like she was trembling, but she managed to signal to the woman to start the music. It started, and after a moment, she started singing. She sounded wonderful, with her clear little voice.
Joy recognized the song she was singing as Pandangguhan, something she’d heard a singer perform at a previous festival. In her opinion, Ciara sang it much more beautifully than that performer.
Once Ciara finished singing, Maria went up after her. But she wasn’t singing; Joy could tell by the hurdy-gurdy she’d been tuning while Ciara was finishing up her performance. Nope, Maria was playing Santa Clara on the hurdy-gurdy. It was pretty, very pretty.
After her, Dina went up. Joy was up last, and she couldn’t help but be nervous. Her turn was coming up. Her nerves made it seem like everyone’s performances were going much faster than they should’ve been. She hoped at the very least that she’d only make one tiny squeak and not pee herself. She looked back toward the forest, at the Kapre’s glowing eyes. She could see a few fireflies coming from where its eyes were. She wasn’t sure she could actually get up there, let alone start singing.
Once Dina concluded her performance, Joy suddenly found the strength to actually get moving. She marched up the steps and stopped at center stage. The candles made her white dress seem peachy-orange in color. She looked around at all the faces, most of them she assumed were judging her. She felt her throat shrivel and her mouth grow dry.
What was she thinking? She had to get out of here. She had to get home right now before she threw up in front of everyone. She’d become the laughing stock of the town. And that was the last thing she wanted to happen.
Then she felt a hand touch her shoulder, and she looked over suddenly. The Kapre was sitting beside her, its hand on her shoulder and giving her a reassuring look. She looked back out at everyone. They didn’t seem to see it, otherwise they’d be panicking. Then she remembered that Kapre had the ability to appear invisible to everyone except for those they’d befriended.
She took a deep breath. She just needed to calm down. She turned to the woman and signaled for her to start the music.
Once it started, she simply closed her eyes. She imagined that she was back at home, sitting on her bed and listening to her music. In her mind, she was alone in her bedroom. Charlie was sleeping next to her. Once the cue came, she started singing, alone in her room. She’d chosen the song O Ilaw, because she liked the tune. She imagined Charlie stirring a little, looking up at her briefly, then curling up and falling asleep again.
Then the song ended, and the applause brought her back from this waking dream. She looked back toward where the Kapre had been sitting, and found that it’d gone. She found its glowing eyes back in the tree. Then she looked back out at the audience. They seemed to have genuinely enjoyed it.
Then she noticed another thing: there were many fireflies, dancing around in the air.
After playing a couple more games and meeting back up with their father (Dina decided to hang out with her friends), they started climbing back into the car. Joan had her arms full of stuffed animals and treats. She looked like she had a lot of fun. Joy also had a fun time, but her only items of proof were the teddy bear and a small bag of treats she’d gotten for performing. She wasn’t very good at the games.
“You did very well, Joy,” their father praised. Joy smiled at him.
“Thanks, dad,” she beamed. She was happy that she was able to actually start singing up on stage, and she was grateful that the Kapre was there for reassurance. It really helped a lot.
Once they were pulling into their driveway, Joy could see Jake sitting on his front porch. It looked like he was playing on his DS. He looked up at them as they were getting out of the car, then closed the DS and slipped it into his jacket pocket.
“Hey Joy,” he greeted, jumping off the porch and crossing over to her yard. She politely waved to him.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“I just wanted to say good job at the Festival,” he claimed. She smiled a little.
“Thanks,” she chirped. “I didn’t even know you were there.” He shrugged.
“I was only passing through,” he explained. “Mom wanted me to get some food. A lot of the stores were closed, so I just got some from the festival. I heard you singing.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “You did good.”
“Thanks,” she repeated, then pointed to the pocket with the DS in it. “What game was that?” He pulled the DS from his pocket.
“Mario Party,” he replied. “I’m playing the Waluigi character.” He smiled when he said this. She smiled back. “You play video games?”
“Nope,” she said. “I just read manga and watch anime.” Jake nodded.
“Cool. By the way, my mom wanted me to ask if you’d be free to babysit Jen tomorrow,” he recalled.
“Remind me again why you can’t do it?” she asked.
“Because I am not responsible enough,” he stated in a slightly sarcastic tone. “Last time I was left home alone with Jen, she almost fell out of the tree.”
“Wow. What stopped her?”
“Oh, she grabbed onto a branch at the last moment and only got two scraped knees. After that, mom doesn’t trust me to watch her anymore.” He looked a little uncomfortable saying this, and she simply shrugged her shoulders.
“All right, what time?” she asked.
“Okay. When’s she gonna be back?” she asked.
“Okay. I’ll be by tomorrow,” she agreed. He nodded.
“Okay, have a good night,” he hummed, walking back to his house.
“You too,” she said, walking up to her own house. She opened the back door to allow Charlie in, then walked up to her room, ignoring Joan’s teasing (talking with your boyfriend?) and changed out of the dress. She hung it back up in the closet, then went to the bathroom and took a shower. With all the smells of the festival, she wouldn’t be surprised if some of them clung to her. She decided to practice her song for tomorrow night. Might as well.
As she was drying herself off, she suddenly realized that she’d managed to actually talk with Jake. That’d never happened before. She assumed it must’ve been from how good she was feeling about being able to sing in front of people.
She clothed herself in a robe, then started drying out her hair with a towel. She could see Charlie’s shadow under the door, as if he was just sitting in front of the door, waiting for her. He really was a loyal little puppy. He also seemed to be very trusting of the Kapre; but, then again, the Kapre must’ve given Charlie to her. Maybe it kept him for a short while before giving him to her.