After seventeen years, Cecilia's hair was finally cut for the first time. She took the scissors and indulged in cutting her long thick, jet-black hair that extends to her waist. Chunks of hair strands went through the scissors' blade and fell off one after the other. She didn't care about the style or whether the hair was cut evenly. All she wanted was to cut it.
She went out of her room. Her hair's length was just until underneath her ears, which she intentionally showed to her papa, who made it a law in their house to never chop her hair off. Her face was warm when she saw her father's eyes widened with the sight of her. It was a success, her first act of defiance which will be followed by another one.
'What has gotten into your head?' Her papa, Julian, screamed as he ran towards her. Miranda, her stepmother, followed.
Cecilia didn't answer and proceeded to pack her things in her shoulder bag. Her five and only pairs of blouse and skirts, her Bible, and the worn-out Jane Austen books that she must have read thousand times over.
'Where are you going?' Julian asked. She didn't respond, just like how he never answered her whenever she asked why she couldn't cut her hair.
'Your wedding is in a month after your eighteenth birthday. What do you think you are doing?'
'Leaving,' she shrugged.
She took the photo of her mama on the coffee table and said, 'I'm taking this. She doesn't deserve to be left alone in this house.'
She took her bag and walked out the door. Julian pulled her by her right hand, and as she turned back towards him, she fell to the ground. Her face stung from taking the hit of Julian's palm.
'Where do you think you are going?' he asked.
She looked up, 'away.' Her face hurt so much she wanted to cry. But anger overcame the physical hurt. Her eyes looked straight into her papa's.
'Is this what the nuns taught you in church?'
'The nuns taught me how to be a good person. They have nothing to do with this.'
She stood up and started walking away.
'I told you not to let her go to the church,' Miranda whispered.
'Cecilia, one more step away, and I will drag you back in a way you wouldn't like.'
'Let the ingrata leave Julian,' said Miranda.
Cecilia stopped and looked back. Miranda stepped back and hid behind Julian.
‘Ingrata?’ She stared at Miranda. 'What should I be thankful for? Tell me?' She grinned. 'That you found me a husband so that I can get off your backs when I turn eighteen? That you didn't let me go into high school because I'm going to get married anyway? When you let me study until the 6th grade, which was free from the government anyway? When I never had a birthday cake even once? When I never received any Christmas gifts, but you, my dearest Miranda was showered with gifts by my beloved papa.'
Miranda was dumbfounded by the truth. And she couldn't handle it. She was only able to say, 'Julian,' as she held his elbows and hid behind him.
'Do you really think you can have any better life other than getting married to Juan Pedro? That's what every girl in San Mariano was dreaming of.'
'Then they can marry him, but I won't.'
Julian's hands were about to hit her again when Cecilia said, 'go ahead. Slap me one more time. What does it change?' Julian's face was fuming. He figured out some neighbors were already looking at their ruckus. 'Why could you not hit me now?' Cecilia said, aware of the onlookers. 'Because I am your beloved daughter or because you don't want to ruin your reputation?' With that, she grinned and walked away.
She walked under the blistering heat of the midday sun. It hasn't rained for months, and the unpaved road of San Mariano was scorching.
She found a red Toyota Corolla parked under the shade of an Acacia tree. She looked around before opening the door and sat on the passenger seat.
Sister Victoria started the engine. The bus station is a three-hour drive. Cecilia rolled down the window to let in some breeze. She felt different emotions all at once. She was nervous and a little scared to leave San Mariano as this was all she knew. But at the same time, she felt excited about what awaits her in the city.
The road was uneven and dusty, but Sister Victoria, as old and gentle as she was in the convent, looked like she had been driving her whole life. Cecilia didn't feel all the bumps on the road. But that could also be because she was thinking.
Cecilia looked at Sister Victoria and felt sad that she's leaving her. She was like a mother to her. She taught Cecilia algebra, literature, and history in the evenings of their supposed prayer meetings when she found out that Julian didn't want to send Cecilia to high school. She gave her the Jane Austen books that Cecilia read so treasured because she never had any books. It was in the convent that Cecilia really felt at home.
They reached the crowded bus station and bought a ticket to Avenida, the ticket to Cecilia's dreams. She felt overwhelmed. She had not seen a crowd as huge as this. Indeed, San Mariano was just a very small world. The bus was bound to leave in another hour, so they went to the restaurant and bought sandwiches and fresh juice.
'My niece would be waiting for you at the bus station,' Sister Victoria said. 'You can live with her until you can live by yourself. Luisita is a very nice girl; you will like her.' She had made arrangements for Cecilia to have a day job in a small eatery to support her studies. She also wrote a letter to the Mother Superior of Collegio de Trinidad to let her take in evening classes as a working student.
'Sister,' Cecilia said. Her voice was shaking, and she was about to cry. 'Thank you for helping me.'
'It's a wild world out there, don't let the city eat you alive.'
Cecilia looked down at her dusty shoes and bit her sandwich. She chewed slowly as tears fell down her face.
'Now, now, are you regretting this?' Sister Victoria rubbed her back. 'You are already here; there's no turning back.'
With her mouth full of bread and her tears flooding down her sticky cheeks, she nodded.
She thought of the shame that her father will face in front of Don Pedro once they found out that her soon-to-be daughter-in-law ran away. They have spent a lot in preparation for their wedding. They might ask Julian to pay for the expenses.
She's wondering if Don Pedro will send people to find her and bring her back to San Mariano instead of facing embarrassment. The city is big, it will take time to see her if they will ever find her.
But marrying Juan Pedro wasn't her dream. She knew she wasn't meant for that. She knew she wanted something else. She wanted to be something else.
She hugged Sister Victoria one last time before hopping on the bus. 'Take care, my girl, and write to me,' she said as she ruffled Cecilia's short hair. They never understood why Julian never wanted to cut it, but that doesn't matter now. She handed Cecilia an envelope with money, 'it will help you get through.'
Cecilia boarded the bus and sat on the window seat where she could wave at Sister Victoria. She kept waving until she couldn't see her anymore and until whatever signs of San Mariano disappeared before her eyes.