Searching for Sheryl Festejo
She lived next door to us in Jacob Putol in Naga City. Her house was in the innermost lot of the neighborhood we were in, so her two-storey home was almost completely enclosed by a high perimeter wall and dark trees. The house I lived in was the very first house that Da built for Ma.
Suitably enough, Pot-Pot was my very first best friend, and she made me feel preferred. She would stay with me in our house most afternoons after school, and sometimes we would play in her living room, where her hundreds of dolls were displayed. She had all kinds of Barbie dolls, including one which had very long hair that we could cut half an inch from, and see it grow back right there and then. There was a larger doll who could change the color of her hair, a doll that sang to us, a doll that cried to us, and I think there was even a doll that danced the hula for us, in a grass skirt and all.
That young, and enamored with Pot-Pot, I was sincerely happy, in the prosaic way only children could be. Also, I never wanted her to leave at the end of the day. I would hide her slippers, or her toys, believing she will not leave me without them. What she would do, then, is put me to sleep for a late nap, and then she would leave, without her slippers, but when I would wake up in the evening at dinnertime, and Ma and Da would already be there. But then during most of the next day, I would go through the hours looking forward to when I would see Pot-Pot again.
She always seemed glad to see me, too. After school, even before going into my own house, I’d go running to her gate, and she would meet me with some kind of contrivance that she had innovated for my amusement: a new dress for one of my dolls, a pair of Barbie doll shoes that she painted with her mother’s glittery red nail polish, a fan made out of leaves, a headband with rabbit ears. I revered her, and she adored me.
We would sometimes fight, of course, and this was always because I couldn’t get what I wanted at once, but Pot-Pot had the knack for making my childish anger dissipate within minutes. Once, I remember I got mad at her because of something, and I went to sit and sulk on my bed, leaving her at my desk. As I sat there smoldering, she cut a square piece from a sheet of cartolina, and curled it into an S-shape, laid it on the desk and started typing on it, the concave surface jumping up and down the desk. I was immediately captivated.
“What’s that?” I asked, my eyes getting bigger and bigger.
“It’s a calculator,” she said, smiling at me.
I jumped out of bed, and we were friends again.
There, in that valley of dolls, dark trees, late naps, and murky orange afternoons, I found the seat of my girlhood. There I learned how to marvel at toys made of paper, hair that grew before my very eyes, magic wands that really do magic, and the resilience and clarity of someone who understood me to my core. Perhaps I never really left that place; perhaps after all of my three and a half decades of life, I have never really grown past five years old.
When my family moved to a different house, Pot-Pot and her family moved to the United States, and we lost each other. Not having the benefit of technology at the time, and all wrapped up with growing up, I let go of her, and moved on to jeans and brassieres, and new friends with short hair and who listened to pop music. I suppose she let go of me, too, in her own way. But now I wonder how my life would have been had we stayed together, in our street, living out our afternoons in the microcosm of our childhood.
My fondest memory of her is also my last. It was late afternoon, and we has just finished making new magic wands out of Bic “Haba-Haba” ballpens, ribbons, foil, and old tinsel stars from the previous Christmas. We decided to test the magic of our new magic wands while taking a walk around our neighborhood wearing matching dresses. So we skipped out the door, singing nursery rhymes and casting spells on birds and bushes and rocks and butterflies and fruits and parked cars, and cats that rejected our spells by hissing at us and then slinking away. And then we reached the end of our street, and before us, when there was supposed to be more houses, lay a vast field of cogon in full bloom, with nothing beyond but an orange and magenta sky where the sun was slowly sinking like the last forgotten candy in the wrapper.
And I was awed by the magic that our wands had created.
I am looking for her. I hope I still find her.
[Image credits: 1, 2, 3]