There were children scurrying with a façade of innocence – their movements were calculated, if not a bit sloppy. Malnourished and ignored, beggars slumped by the church doors panhandling with only buttons and lint in their hats to show for it. Men left the church with long pants and sleeves of expensive fabrics despite the warm, wet, tropical air. The women wore layered thick and wore wide-brimmed hats as if any inch of sun-kissed skin screeches, ‘ugly hag’!
Colonizadores1, Tala thought, scowling to herself. For the most part, those excessive types had kept to the hills but as properties expanded, their decorated hands extended into the Outskirts, Tala’s outskirts. She wove through the marketplace, dodging fish salesmen, street kids, and the policía2above all. They would love any excuse to beat a lumad3kid.
Wrapped in her faded malong4, Tala snaked her way to an open corner between Andres the vendor and the abandoned herbal stand.
“Slow day?” Tala asked, clearing stray cats from her stage.
“Could be better,” Andres said, shrugging his shoulders deeper into his thick beard.
“Give it a moment.”
In one fluid motion, Tala unravelled her malong and set it on the stone pavement. “Magic!” She yelled, producing an array of daggers with a flick of her wrist. “Mayhem!” She continued as she began to juggle them for a small but intrigued audience. Tala surveyed the crowd, trying to pick out the right target when her eyes fell on a lady wearing beautifully ornate golden bracelets. The glint of the emeralds reflected in Tala’s creeping smile.
“You there,” Tala shouted over the roar of traders and hagglers. “Miss.”
The woman looked around then pointed to herself as if to ask, me?
“Yes, ma’am, you in the lovely dress, do you like magic?” Tala pulled her by the wrists –
two golden cuffs – and started her count. The magician brought the woman close, placing a hand on her cheek while the other slipped into her coat pocket. A timepiece, it seems.
“You look absolutely lovely today,” Tala said. A man, with thin brows and even thinner skin huffed up his chest. He looked at Tala as if she’d stolen his favourite toy. “It seems your boyfriend is jealous. You know, it should be a crime to tie down such a woman this beautiful.”
“Fiancé,” the man called out, grabbing the woman’s arm. “Let’s not entertain the witch.” The lady stood firmly in place. She wanted to see a show.
“What witch? All I see here is a hungry crowd.” Tala said.
The audience, now a reasonable size for a street kid’s magic tricks, gave a soft cheer.
The man relaxed his hand, but not his scowl. “Fine.”
Tala took the lady by the arm and led her in front of the crowd.
“And what is your name, Miss?”
“Mariabella. Mariabella,” She let the name roll over her tongue. “Would you like to see a magic trick?” The magician kissed the lady’s hand, and with a gentle pinch between her first finger and thumb, a ring was added to the day’s loot.
“Get on with the show,” The fiancé heckled.
“Alright, alright. Impatient, I see.” Tala pulled a handkerchief out of thin air. “May I?” She covered the lady’s eyes and turned her towards the crowd.
“As you can see, she is blinded. Mariabella, my sweet, can you see?”
The lady kept her arms close to her chest. “N-no,” she responded, her voice teetering.
“Perfect. Well, today, you will be the star of the show!”
“I will?” Mariabella asked, fidgeting in her cascading saya5.
The magician grabbed her blades and spread them out like a fan, hilts towards the woman. They were a lovely set, plucked from one of those foreign merchants who probably stole it themselves in the first place. “Pick one, any one!”
The woman felt around. “Are these… knives?” She gasped.
“Why, even blindfolded, nothing gets past you.”
The crowd chuckled.
The woman tapped the middle blade lightly.
“Fine choice,” Tala said – though all four were the same. The magician grabbed the middle knife with her other hand. “Step back,” She instructed. Mariabella, not knowing which way was back, ducked. The audience pushed into the stream of passersby. Tala turned towards Andres’ stands and reeled her arm. With a jerk, the magician tossed the blade. One man yelled. Another cursed. But the dagger was certain of its mark, stabbing deep into Andres’ finest mango. Tala had been practicing that shot for months.
“Hey!” Andres yelled, not appreciating deadly objects hurtling into his goods.
Tala skipped to the butchered mango, snatching it from the stand. “I’ll be paying for this shortly,” she said with a wink. Then again, Tala turned to Maribella.
“Another one, my darling.” Tala offered the fan of daggers, and again, the lady pointed to one near the centre – not that she could tell. “This time, I want you to throw it at me.”
A wave of unease shifted through the audience. Some policía began to flock. Rifles in hand, they waited patiently for Tala to slip up.
“W-what?” The woman stuttered. “Surely, I can’t—”
“My dear,” Tala cooed while wrapping the woman’s fingers over the handle of her chosen blade. Tala drew away her hand and with it – another ring. “You have nothing to fear. You are the star of the show, remember? That is, you could be, if the audience would be so kind as to show their support,” the magician gestured to her malong4, a few coins had already been thrown onto it. Several people shuffled through their pockets for spare change.
“Thank you. Thank you. Alright, Mariabella?”
“Yes?” The lady’s knuckles flashed white against her grip.
Tala patted the woman’s shoulder. “Don’t be nervous. Just trust yourself,” she said softly and put the mango on her own head. Tala took a few steps back, creating a respectable distance between them. “On the count of three, okay?”
“I can’t do this.”
“Wait!” Mariabella lifted her hand. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Funny coming from a Colonizadoras, Tala thought.
“Just follow my voice,” she said and walked over to the woman. Tala lifted Mariabella’s arm and practised a throwing motion. “Like this, okay?” While feeding the lady’s confidence, Tala estimated the tightness of her sleeve. Her range is limited, the magician noted.
Finally, she went back to her original position, a few feet away. “On the count of three now.”
As the woman adjusted her stance, so too did Tala.
“One…” A step to the left.
“Two…” A bend in the knee.
“Three!” Sharp gasps erupted from the crowd. Someone’s high-pitched screams shifted Tala’s concentration, but before she would have been scalped, her reflexes kicked in.
The dagger stabbed cleanly into the mango atop Tala’s head and the audience cheered with relief. The fiancé was beaming. Even the policía seemed impressed. Tala was sweating, nervous sweating, excited sweating, glad-that-she-didn’t-just-get-stabbed sweating.
The woman removed her blindfold. “I- I did it!”
“I knew you could,” Tala said.
Mariabella gave the young magician a kiss on the cheek and trotted back to her fiancé, who congratulated her with a warm embrace. Tala slipped her hands into her pockets and fiddled with the stolen jewellery, feeling the gems on the ring and the intricate design on the timepiece. Then for the last time, she addressed today’s audience. “Thank you for watching. Please show me some of that Christian gratitude.” She watched them huddle around her malong, dropping coins galore. “And some thanks for Andreas, over here for supplying me with a snack,” Tala lifted the butchered mango. “He’s got the best fruit in town.”
When they filtered out, Tala walked over to Andreas with ten pesos for the mango.
“Keep your money. I owe you that much,” he said, slapping her on the back. “Say hi to your nanay6 for me.”
“Thanks, I will.” She tossed the man twenty and before he could register the gift, the magician was on her way.
Colonizer – inspired by Filipino colonization by the Spaniards
A recognized ethnic group in the Philippines, indigenous Filipinos, who continue to fight the post-colonial legacy
A traditional, long, tube-like fabric folded in various ways to produce skirts, bags, head-dresses, baby carriers, etc.
A long skirt, worn as part of the Maria Clara gown, a hybrid dress of Spanish and Filipino fashion; worn by aristocratic women