That’s the thing about this city, it comes to life at night. Lights and vibrant colors dominate the city filled with tourists spending every minute with smiles and office workers drinking the stress of the day. But as daytime break the cheerfulness dulls, replace with rush hour and glum faces of people stuck in traffic and workers who were tired of doing jobs they never dream of doing. Many are stuck with it. Every person is busy to care that one person among them doesn’t belong to the crowd. A girl with pearly white skin, splash pink hair, and steel-gray eyes. She wore a black crop top, a black short skirt, and barefoot. Those alone should have attracted attention but they failed to notice her despite standing in the middle of scorching Philippine sunlight. Failed to see there’s no trace of shadow beneath her feet, or that she stood few centimeters above the ground. She also glides instead of walk.
She smirked as she peered at the phone of a high school girl. The girl made a deal to meet after school with her secret boyfriend. “Be careful not to get caught. Maybe I should tattle on you? Follow you home and tell your mom?” she said with a wicked laugh, but the high school girl tucked away her phone and cross the street, weaving herself between the honking cars.
She shrugged and glides to another person to spy. No one would care, no one sees her. She can invade anyone’s privacy and they would never find out because she’s invisible to the human eye, she who guides spirits of those who killed themselves instead of fighting to live. She can do whatever she wants without anyone caring, she had done so for millennia.
She existed long before the first car, witness wars, celebrated with humans as Armstrong left the first human footprint on the moon. Watch television get bigger and thinner, phone screen get bigger and powerful. She saw it all, except, they never saw her. Her shoulder dropped a bit before she looked up to a building across the street and sigh. The sight of a crying man at the roof, tentatively stepping to the edge annoyed her.
“Jump already,” she mumbled and snapped her finger. A parchment appeared in front of her and the picture of the man on the rooftop was on the paper, below was his name, Eduardo. Age, forty-six. His work, lawyer. Cause of Death, suicide. Reasons, losing the will to live after his family got murdered after refusing a bribe. Time of death, one-thirty in the afternoon. She looked back at the clock of carinderia behind her.
Seven minutes before Eduardo’s death. She lowered her eyes and froze at the sight of the young man, not older than nineteen standing behind the display of cooked food. His coffee-brown eyes looked straight at her. “You can see me?” she asked passing through the small seating area, but before she can glide beside him, his suntanned skin paled and he passed out.
“Ay diyos ko po!” His female coworker shouted. “Manang, Danilo collapse! Manang, your son!” The coworker sat beside him and shook his shoulder and put a finger over his nose. “Danilo, wake up! Manang, he’s not breathing!”
A chubby woman in her forties rushed out from the back of the carinderia and join Danilo’s coworker. The mother looked as if she’s about to hyperventilate as she kept calling her son’s name and told his coworker to call a taxi. “Let’s bring him to the hospital.”
She pressed a finger on her forehead. “Filipinos are too dramatic.” She hovered over them and frown at Danilo's soul rising soul slowly rising out of his body. She grabbed her parchment and used it to slap the soul back to its shell. “It’s not your time to die. Wake up, I need you physically conscious to know if you really can see me.”
Danilo opened his eyes and gasped for air. His mother crushed him into a hug. “Hijo! Please don’t scare me like that!”
She opened her mouth to get Danilo’s attention. She wanted to know, needed to know if he can hear and see her, but the screams across the street made her turn. The parchment still floating beside her now blinking with words that say, the soul ready for collecting.
She looked back at Danilo. He got back on his feet, glance around, and like everyone's gaze across the street. There was no sign of him seeing her. Danilo would react another way if he can indeed see her, but his unseeing eyes passed her and the parchment. She glided out of their carinderia and levitated above everyone. A bitter smile appeared on her lips as she floated over the traffic and stunned faces of the people around.
Ever since she got this job, not a single person hear or see her, how could she expect a man from a modern time to notice her? She shook her head. What the hell did you expect? She mocked.
She approached Eduardo’s spirit, looking lost as he wanders out of the crowd forming around his lifeless body. “Eduardo, I need you to come with me.”
He looked at her, at her feet floating from the ground. “Are you the angel who will bring me to heaven?”
She laughed. “Oh, I’m not.”
“Are you the devil then? Did God deemed me unworthy to be in heaven with my family?”
She grunt. “Look, you’re not going to heaven or hell. If you hadn’t kill yourself you might have gone to heaven, but since you did, you’re leaving with me.”
Eduardo’s face fall. “Where are you taking me?”
“We will go to a place where you’ll face a different judgment. Where you go next all depends on what kind soul you are, if you learned something in this life or needed to reincarnate to a similar life.”
“Is it possible for me to request to be with my family?”
Occasionally there is a soul who refused to go with her and she needs to resort to force and violence to make them, but souls like these are hard in their way. He wasn’t refusing but isn’t willing either. A headache to deal with.
“Probably,” she replied. A lie. Souls from suicide are usually put through a painful trial, one of the mildest was getting reborn onto similar fate over and over until they live through the hardship and died a natural death, or by accident as long as they didn’t end their own life. The hardest place is close to hell, where the soul experiences joy and then is thrown into a wave of unspeakable despair. And there’s her, not dead nor alive. She looked at Eduardo. “If you don’t come with me, who knows what other beings might come for you,” she said and after a few more words, she sighed with relief when Eduardo took her hand and let her guide him away.
Danilo stared up to the sky where the woman with splash pink hair and gray eyes flew with some foggy thing hanging in her hand. Ever since she appeared early in the morning when he opened the carinderia, he can’t help noticing her. The hair and the eyes were part of it, but she also got a supernatural vibe about her. Her eyes were cool and dull as she looked back and forth, then there are her feet as she moved inside people’s personal space. Her bare feet weren’t touching the ground, she doesn’t have a shadow and a strange piece of paper appeared at the snapped of her finger. He wanted to scream in fear at first, but then he heard her talk to everyone, but everyone ignores her, and each time they go she looked dejected. He pitied her, but the feeling only lasted for a few minutes. Only lasted until she turned to look at the clock and caught him looking at her.
He covered his face and let out a laugh. He fainted. He can’t believe passing out from seeing her glide toward him.
“Danilo, this is not a laughing matter!” his mother scolded. It’s dark outside now and his mother has been talking about the suicide all day. He can almost write about the dead’s lawyer story with his eyes close. “As pitiful as that man was, our business will suffer for sure. People will not eat in a place close to where someone killed themselves.”
He rubbed his mother’s shoulder. “‘Nay, relax. If you don’t, your beautiful fat will attack your heart, and I’ll be an orphan.”
She reached for his side and twist her fingers in a tight pinched, he yelped. “I’m strong as a horse, I won’t be dying soon.”
Danilo laughed. “That’s good,” then seriously said, “The moment the news gets old, everyone will forget. You’ll see.”
“Sana nga,” his mother wistfully said.
After delivering Eduardo’s soul, she returned to the street where his body the drop. They cleaned the area. Her eyes traveled across to the street toward Danilo’s carinderia. The cooked meals were gone, the seating area tucked away to the side. She found him right away pulling a metal grille of the carinderia.
She tilted her head, unable to understand why she felt so strongly about him, but instead of thinking so much about it, she floated up and stood beside him. She waited until Danilo pulled the key from the lock and say, “Hi,”
Her heart raced as he turns to her and smiled. “Hello,” he said.
“You can see me?”
She glides backward, “How?”
“I don’t know,” he dropped the keys to his shorts pocket, “I just did the moment I saw you when I opened the carinderia earlier.”
She looked down, trying to think of what to say, for millennia she dreamed of speaking to someone, really speaking, and not only communicate with souls she needed to convince to follow her. A living person who will talk to her and make her feel noticed. Now, there’s one standing in front of her and all she could do is choke at her tears.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Danilo asked, the panicked on his face as he grabbed her and dried her tears with his hand made her cry even more.
“It’s been so long since someone touches me!”
His hand stopped moving. “What?”
And you think Filipino are overdramatic, said a sarcastic voice inside her but she kept wailing while Danilo took her hand and walk.
Not that he usually pulled a girl to follow him, but that night, Danilo can’t help but smile as the people looked at him like some lunatic. Seeing someone with the hand in the back like they’ll pulling something when they see nothing is the perfect recipe of being mistaken as someone with a loose screw. If only they could see and hear the girl floating behind him, everyone will run screaming. He should be scared too. He knows nothing about her, but he can’t bring feel any fear. Even when he collapse earlier, it wasn’t fear, but overwhelming surprise, and a strong sense of being pulled out of himself which caused him to lose consciousness. Her command, however, made him felt as if his soul was tossed back to his body.
He pretended not to see her, thinking maybe she was a product of his imagination, but after touching her, he knows, she isn’t. He can’t even think of leaving her after seeing her cry of happiness simply because he can see and speak to her.
“Here,” he said offering her a cold drink from the vending machine near the park where he brought her and let her cry it out. No one cares. No one hears other than him.
She shook her head. “I’m not human, not anymore anyway, I don’t need human food or drink to stay alive.”
“Okay.” He opened the lid and sat beside her on the bench. He looked at her small feet, clean feet. “Don’t you wear shoes?”
“Don’t need it.” She floated up, crossed her legs, and softly land beside him. He whistled and she blushed.
“What are you now?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Okay. You said not anymore, that means you use to be a human. How did you die?” No answer. “Where do you live?” Silent. He changed the question. “How old are you?”
He spat his drink. “What!” He coughs and dried his mouth. Chug down the rest of his drink.
She turned to him with all seriousness. “I’m more than a thousand years old.”
“You don’t look much older than me, younger even. Eighteen? Seventeen?”
She sigh. “I’m one-thousand-one-hundred-twenty-seven years old. Satisfied?”
No. Danilo thought but decided to give it a rest. “I’m Danilo.”
“I know. I heard them call you.”
“Right. Your name is?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Are you serious?”
She nodded, her face blank. A short time later she took a deep breath and told him everything. The painful tale of a past she can’t remember, not even her name, only that she committed suicide and her punishment was waiting for the souls of those who committed suicide. Knowing most of them are victims of injustice and she can’t do anything but watch them die, and some even suffered a bit more before dying.
“Today is the first day, I felt free, and tonight, I strangely feel content,” she said with a smile. A sweet and soft smile but dim and lonely like the moonlight shining on her, it created a halo at the edges of her hair. “If somehow this is just a dream, I’m happy to remember that once I was not invisible.”
Danilo felt his heart ached, it’s as if she will fade away the moment the clouds shaded the moonlight. He reached out as she slowly levitates from the bench. “Tala,” he called.
“What did you call me?”
He anchored her down and caressed her cheek, “Tala, the goddess of the stars. That name suits you, and I’ll always see you, I can see you, Tala.”
“Ow!” she cried. The people in the park turn before moving on. She was too busy rubbing her butt and stretching up to notice, but Danilo saw it. They turn. The people turn. “Strange, I can’t float. Something’s wrong I can’t summon—” She paused and no matter how many times Danilo called out she remained silent and then tears flooded her eyes.
“I remember now.”
Danilo let go of her shoulders. “Your name?
She shook her head. “My past. I murdered them. I murdered my father, my stepmother, and my half-siblings. I killed them all in their sleep and tried to kill myself. But I was saved and given this punishment. My first task was to watch my mother get abuse and killed without knowing who she was, not even remembering as her soul beg me to go with her.”
Dread spread through Danilo, not because of the crime she did, but for her. She lived so long and suffered without remembering, but that in itself is mercy. “Everything will be fine. You must have a reason for doing it, and you’re regretting it now.”
She turned to Danilo in horror. “You don’t understand, I receive this punishment for my crime, for my jealousy and cowardness. And now, they’re lifting it off me and leaving me here as a human. No friends, no family, no one who cares. That name doesn’t suit me.” But she also refused to be called in her old name.
Danilo cupped her cheek. “Tala, you have me, I care, I’ll be your friend and family, okay?” His bright smile pushed the darkness away from her human heart. She nods and took his extended hand as he stood up. “Let’s go home.”
Home, she loved the sound of it. I’ll do my best to be useful, she inwardly promised him. After walking fifty-meter, however, she felt like a burden. Danilo saw her winching from the pain at the sole of her feet, not use to walking again, and offered his back for a piggy ride.
She loved his scent, his warmth, and she isn’t sure she will be able to love him other than a man. She leaned her mouth close to his ears. “I don’t want to be your family, I want to build a family with you someday.”
She felt him tensed, then in a hoarse voice he replied, “Yeah, me too.”
A small giggle escaped her lips. She pressed herself on his back, hugging him, eyes heavy from unpeaceful rest through the millennia.
Danilo groaned at the indecent thoughts running through his head. He wrapped his arms tighter on Tala’s legs and continue his way back home, carrying the woman who journeys through many human generations and be with him.
Danilo looked up at the moonlit sky and whispered a silent thanks.
That’s the thing about this city, no one notices except those who take time to look a bit closer about the mysterious things happening every day.