‘Inocensia’ by Harriet Chan (The Philippines)

Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

The police investigator shuffled through the papers on his desk. Then he looked at her with kind, but searching eyes. She looked back with a steady gaze. Her companion, Nanay Isa, the same person who accompanied her from the hospital this afternoon, sat on a bench behind her, twisting and folding a handkerchief she received as a gift from a suitor fifteen years ago. The sound of typewriters clacking and cranking against the sound of the AM radio blended in an almost tolerable noise, considering the kind of place this was. The entire office reeked with the smell of cigarette smoke, and now and then, her throat would itch and she would try to cough it out until her eyes began to water.

“Miss Inocensia Baler?” the investigator asked.

“Yes sir,” she answered.

“You live in the same house where the victim, Romulo Dayong lived?”

“Yes sir.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Since high school, he was six years my senior but he was still in the third year when I and his cousin, Martha were in the first year.”

“The victim is not a relative of yours?”

“No sir.”

“Why do you live with them?”

“I ran away from my aunt four years ago. She was maltreating me though she was my mother’s sister. My mother died when I was ten, I lived with my aunt ever since. When I ran away, I had nowhere to go. Martha pleaded to her foster family to take me in. They did, and even reported my case to social workers but since there was no action from them, the Dayong family just took me as part of the household help. They clothed me and even supported my college studies.”

“You said Martha was a cousin of the victim. How then did the Dayong family become her foster family?”

“Martha was a distant relative. Her father was dead and her mother was in a mental institution in Bulacan. Having no other relatives there, the Dayong family took her here to live with them.”

“And where is Martha now, is she in the U.S. with the other members of the family?”

“No sir. Martha is dead. Almost a year ago… killed herself…”

The investigator reached for the bottom drawer of a file cabinet on his left. He laid a thick folder on the table. He leafed through a few pages, found what he wanted, then ran his forefinger down through a column headed SUICIDE: C-D. He looked up to the young woman before him and shook his head. “We have no file of a Martha Dayong suicide case here. Every suicide case within our jurisdiction is reported to us. And this case was only a year ago?”

“Martha del Crus, sir.”

The investigator turned to the next page and once again read the column. Slowly he nodded while twirling a pen in his left hand. “No suicide note?”

She nodded.

The year before, two days before Martha’s birthday, the 28th of August, she committed suicide. It was not true that she left no suicide note. Before Martha hanged herself, she crept inside Inocensia’s room and left the note atop of her bookshelf. Only Inocensia knew the real reason why her friend killed herself. In her letter, Martha asked for forgiveness for having to leave that way, but she said that she had no other choice. She was tormented, disrespected, and violated, that was why, before she lost her sanity completely, she chose to die. She also pleaded to Inocensia to keep her reason a secret for she did not want her aunt to get hurt. Before Martha’s grave, Inocensia promised.

“Miss Baler?”

Inocensia was startled, “Yes, sir?”

“What were you thinking of?” the investigator asked, his brows almost meeting at the center of his forehead.

“Nothing sir, I just remembered Martha. She and I were close friends. In fact we’re almost like sisters, and…”

“Yes of course,” he cut her off, “but Miss Baler, do you know anyone who has a grudge against the victim?”

“No sir, but you can ask his friends about that. Rom and his friends often fought other rival gangs.”

“Did he not happen to mention anything about a serious conflict with any member of those rival gangs or even with his own friends for that matter?”

“No sir.”

“Not even to his sister?”

“Not even to her, sir, I think.”

The investigator placed his right elbow atop his desk and touched his forehead. He bit his lower lip and read his notes again. The sister, Alliana, found Romulo Dayong, 24, dead this morning. He was soaking in his own blood in his bed, his throat slit open from ear to ear. There was no sign of struggle; he must have been sleeping when killed. The weapon used must have been a razor, or a very sharp, thin blade. No evidence was found at the crime scene, not the weapon used nor fingerprints of the killer. Only a handkerchief. The crime happened between 1:30 am and 2:00 am. There were four people who lived in that house: Romulo, the victim, Alliana, his sister, Inocensia, and Nanay Isa, the housemaid. Nanay Isa and Alliana were not home during the attack. Alliana found her brother’s corpse at 5:00am. She came home from a party that lasted until the wee hours of the morning; there were people who could attest to that. Nanay Isa, on the other hand, had her day off and she was in Malate at her cousin’s house from 8:00 am yesterday to 5:30 am this morning. And Inocensia was found unconscious on the kitchen floor. She was taken to the hospital and was treated for bruises and lacerations on her back. She was also found to have inhaled a considerable amount of chloroform. A handkerchief soaked with chloroform was found in the living room. No member of that household was known to own it. The three were ruled out as suspects but Inocensia could be a witness.

The investigator cleared his throat, then asked, “Miss Baler, I understand that you are still weak and confused after what happened, but, it would be a great help if you could at least describe how your attacker looked like.”

“He was almost as tall as Rom but his body was bigger and more muscular. I wasn’t able to see his face because it was hooded by a shirt tied to the back of his neck, and only his eyes showed.”

The investigator sighed. “Can you relate how he attacked you?”

Inocensia took a deep breath and then began her tale.

“At around 1:00 am, a noise in the kitchen woke me up. I did not worry because I thought it was only Rom. He had the habit of having midnight snacks. A few minutes later, I could not get back to sleep. So, I went to the kitchen for a glass of cold milk. When I went down, no one was in the kitchen; I switched the light on and saw Homer, Alliana’s cat. The cat saw me and hissed at me, which was strange. But I ignored that. I took a glass and went to the fridge. When I was about to open it, someone yanked me by the shoulder. I was startled and dropped the glass I was holding. He pushed me hard against the fridge. I tried to scream for Rom to help me, but a hand clamped my mouth shut. Then he swirled me around and my head hit the edge of the kitchen cabinet. I got dizzy and collapsed to the floor. I fell on my back against the shattered glass. Then the hooded man pulled me up by my hair and jammed something against my nose and mouth. I remembered I smelled something both warm and sharp, and then there was nothing else.”

As she talked, her gaze was straight and she sat still on her seat. The investigator saw no telltale mannerisms he observed in some people who fabricated tales. Inocensia looked credible enough, but that also meant that she would be of no help to the case.

“Alright, that would be all for now, then. If we have more questions, we would just call you, will that be okay?”

Inocensia nodded and prepared to stand up. “Yes sir, I hope I was able to help. We were so grieved about what happened. We would really be happy if the killer is arrested.”

“It’s a good start, Miss Baler.”

Inocensia thanked him before taking Nanay Isa’s hand and together, they went out of the investigator’s office.

***

Four months passed after the incident. The Dayong family had gone on with their lives. Alliana joined the rest of her family in the U.S. Both Inocensia and Nanay Isa were left to take care of the house. The case about Romulo’s death on the other hand, remained unsolved. Nobody knew who the killer was, the perpetrator remained a mystery. Romulo’s friends were not able to prove their accusations against the members of the rival gangs. Inocensia’s description of the killer did not match any of the suspects either.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright, Cening?”

“Yes Nanay Isa. You will only be gone until 5:00pm, and besides, I won’t run out of things to do. I’m sure by the time you return, I’ll still be cleaning this big old house.”

“Okay, just be careful then, if you are hungry, there’s adobo in the kitchen. Just reheat it. Be sure to turn off the gas tank after using it. And our clothes, do not forget, it might rain early this afternoon. The cat’s food is in a container beside the sink.” Nanay Isa continued giving instructions to Inocensia even as she went out the gate. Inocensia nodded politely and waved goodbye.

As she closed the door, the event that took place four months ago flashed back in her mind. She looked about her, the house was still. As still as that night she would never forget. She heard Homer meowing in the kitchen, asking to be fed.

Inocensia went to the kitchen and poured Homer’s food in his dish. The cat purred and brushed his side against her leg, his whiskers tickled her. The sound of her own laughter in that empty house saddened her. She missed Martha again, but this time, with lesser pain. Still, she wanted to cry.

She went to the refrigerator for a glass of cool water. As she closed its door, she saw the shiny scratch marks on the surface. The buttons of her pajama top created them when she slammed herself on it. She remembered how she had difficulty breathing for days after that. Her breasts were deep blue and she couldn’t wear a bra for days either.

She turned her gaze to the cabinet above the sink. She touched its right fore-corner, where she bravely hit her temple. She was sure that she lost consciousness right then, but when she collapsed and her back landed on the broken glass on the floor, the pain brought her back to a state of awareness. She thought that she was lucky not to have fractured her skull and the broken glass did not cut too deep through her broken flesh.

She stared on the floor where Alliana found her. Inocensia felt sad that she had to cause Alliana so much pain and trauma in finding her there, sprawled on the floor, bloodied and bruised, and then worse, to see her younger brother dead in his own room. But she had to do it, her reasons may not be acceptable to others or even to God Himself, but she just had to do it. She gagged herself with chloroform soaked handkerchief, which completed her little dangerous play. As she expected, people pitied her through such cruelty and for losing someone who cared for her. They never suspected her. Well, what did they know? Even the police investigators said that the killer intended to kill only Romulo and had Inocensia not awakened, she wouldn’t have been attacked.

“Yes, I am innocent,” she said against the stillness of the house.

***

Inocensia knew the time had come to carry out her plan on that third day of June; Nanay Isa had her day off; Alliana was invited to an all-night, all-morning party at a friend’s house; and Romulo came home drunk from a wedding celebration. As soon as she was sure that Romulo was asleep, she took out a screwdriver and tampered with the doorknob of the backdoor. This would give the idea that the killer managed to climb over the high walls surrounding the house and then forced the backdoor open.

When she finished, she wiped the knob with a cloth. She turned off all the lights on the first and second floors then went to her room. There, she took out a box cutter and a green handkerchief in a plastic bag. The handkerchief was soaked with chloroform. She glanced at her digital watch: 9:00pm. She must wait for about four hours more, when their neighbors were surely tucked into their beds.

Inocensia laid there in the dark, thinking. In her mind, she played over and over the steps she must take to accomplish without any flaws the job she had set to do. She must not forget a single detail, lest she would fail.

When it was 1:00am, she got up and undressed. She took the cutter and pushed the blade on until it was about three inches long. Silent as a cat, she made her way out of her room to Romulo’s. She was guided only by her familiarity of the house and the faint light coming from the streetlamps outside.

Romulo’s room was equally dim, but her eyes quickly adjusted and she saw the outline of his body on the bed. The same bed where he dragged Martha and raped her repeatedly when she was still alive. The same bed where he dragged her and raped her when Martha was gone.

She clenched her fist tighter around the handle of the box cutter. Its blade glimmered in the dark as it caught a faint light and let it dance on its surface. The grim beauty the blade exuded in the dark fascinated her.

She circled the room to the head of Romulo’s bed. Romulo was splayed across the bed, his left arm on his side, and his right one across his chest. He snored loudly.

Cautiously, Inocensia climbed onto the bed. She kneeled above Romulo’s head. She cleared his face of his long, unruly hair. She traced her forefinger below his jaw, right on the throat, and stopped just below his left ear. Romulo moaned. Inocensia smirked with disgust. She felt a soft spot under his upper jaw. She guided the blade with her left forefinger.

She took a deep breath before thrusting the blade deep into his flesh. Romulo jerked, his left hand raised into the air but dropped limply back as Inocensia slashed his throat with all her known strength. The blade cut through his flesh like it was paper.

Blood spurted all over, his chest already glimmered with his own blood flawing and seeping onto the cover sheets. Inocensia quickly stood up, not wanting to be soaked with blood, his blood.

She went out of his room, keeping her hands close to her body to keep blood from dripping to the floor. She went to the bathroom and switched the light on with her elbow. She washed the cutter, her hands and body, being careful not to wet her hair. After she wiped herself dry, she looked for blood drops on the bathroom floor and on the floor in the hallway. She went back to her room and put on her pajamas. She hid the box cutter below the mattress of her bed.

She went down to the kitchen with the chloroform-soaked handkerchief. There, she began the ritual of sealing the crime she committed against the savage bastard who had ruined her best friend’s life, who then took her own, and he who had taken her very own innocence by force. This crime would remain a mystery.

Indeed, to this day, only three souls knew about this murder’s secret; Inocensia’s, Martha’s, and Romulo’s.

Glossary:

Nanay: means mother but also used to respectfully address a woman as old as or older than one’s own biological mother.
adobo:
a common Filipino dish of chicken or pork marinated in soy sauce, vinegar and garlic.

Illustration by Alan Van Every

About the Author:

Harriet Chan is a 28-year old Filipino freelance web content writer and SEO specialist who blogs and writes essays and short stories in her free time. She has a blog called Pinoy Home Worker aimed at fellow Filipinos who are looking for ways to earn money from home through the Internet. She maintains two other blogs: VirtualPresence where she writes reviews and posts her opinions on various subjects and Virtual Footprints, a review blog.

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