English translation of “Muning” by Maria Kristelle C. Jimenez
From the time that Monica brought the kitten into their hovel, she loved placing its warm body against her whorl. This activity consumed most of the teenager’s time, especially after she bribed her older sister to answer her modules. She also let her sister borrow her tablet, so her sister could perform any of the new TikTok challenges that happened to be popular. Her sister also used the tablet for business, as in the “you’re too young to pry into other people’s private lives, most especially mine” kind of business. She would make it clear that Monica was too young for any more information when the younger teenager prodded about this business.
“What are you going to call that kitten?”
“That’s what I want.”
“Your life, kid. That’s your cat.”
“Hey, you promised me, ha, ha, ha?”
“Yeah, yeah. I won’t tell mother that there’s a cat in the house.”
The young girl’s dimple became even rounder as she heard her older sister’s response. She fished for some cash from her pocket and gave it to the older sibling. The older sister wondered about the younger one’s predilection for the kitten, but Monica didn’t mind. What’s important now was that Muning was here—her new playmate, her new companion, her new child.
The room filled with laugher whenever the kitten would climb on top of Monica’s head. The kitten had only spent about two weeks in Monica’s bedroom, and yet the teenager felt she had been with the kitten for years. The kitten would sometimes play with the teenager’s long hair. The critter would sometimes try to tangle the hair, and if this was unsuccessful, the kitten would just lick its master’s locks until it grew tired of the hair. In return, Monica would gently squeeze the furry creature’s pink paws. The paws were so soft, they were like a child’s dimples…that happened to be hairy. Muning, let’s stay here. Muning, play with my ear. Muning, lick me. Muning, you’re mine alone… you’re mine… you’re mine… mine.
Monica loved playing with anything that had hair: teddy bears, plushies, the severed head of a Barbie doll (because she only wanted the hairy part), a rag doll, the hair from customers of her parolarista mother, her older sister’s hair which changed color monthly, anyone else’s hair; as long as it’s hair, hairy, or hair-like.
Monica’s fantasies were intense, and anything that had to do with hair is free to enter her world. In all her life, this was the first time that she had “living hair” or fur from a member of the class Mammalia (that wasn’t from a fellow human). This is also the first time that she had a pet at home. Pets were forbidden in their house. It was hard to scrub animal shit, said her older sister. I have asthma, said Monica’s older brother. And fuck the mistress of your drunkard father who tasted a Kamuning whore’s hairy pussy and never came back home… said Monica’s mother.
And these are the reasons why Monica would hold the kitten tightly to her chest every time her mother would come home for a short time, to see how they’re all doing, before disappearing and drowning once again in a thankless, worthless job that barely brought home the daily minimum wage. Monica, my child, here’s your allowance. Don’t waste it. Don’t be like your brother who wastes my money on marijuana. Son of a bitch, it’s a good thing that he still hasn’t been tokhanged, by the mercy of God! Rebecca, what is this I hear that you’re doing TikTok again, eh? Gaga, make sure I don’t find out that you’re stripping again, you whore. Sugar baby? What do you mean sugar baby? You idiot, you can’t even wash your panties, there are ants all over them! This house is a mess, it’s a good thing that I can still cut hair?! What if all of you ended up like your father: a gambler who’s drowned in alcohol- a baldy too! Son of a bitch, they said the curly ones were cursed, they didn’t know that the bald ones were the spawns of the Devil himself. Shit, will I be cutting hair until I die? Unless I can cut the pubes off of Rodrigo’s dick. Bless me, Tatay Digong will never be like your father—he changed what “Rodrigo” meant in my life. I can get off Tatay Digong’s pubes—just his pubes! Has our electric bill been paid already? Rebecca, do your thing so it doesn’t get cut, okay? Use your noggin. Let the meter reader fuck you so he doesn’t tell on us. The guy has a huge body and I’m sure he has a hairy…
Monica’s smile widened as she heard the word ‘hair’ from her mother’s mouth. Her smile reached both ears. Her mother saw the smile and she immediately had goosebumps all over. She immediately took the small dresser that contained the tools of her trade and fled to the door, avoiding her daughter’s eyes. Monica was still smiling when she left.
Monica’s mother blames her pregnancy cravings for balut for whatever ails her daughter. It was only recently that she opened up about her suspicions, as she colored Rebecca’s hair (again) just outside their hovel. She took advantage of the opportunity as Monica attended her online class.
“Balut? Are those pregnancy cravings the real deal, Ma?”
“You don’t believe me? What do you think? Where would your sister get her fetish for hair?”
“Well you know kids now, Ma, they like being alone to find new friends and playmates. Maybe all along, she was a pervert, Ma…”
“Pervert? You make it appear that your younger sister is a whore just like you! She’s an introvert!”
“Oh yeah, you’re right!” Rebecca spat as she held a small bowl of watermelon seeds.
“You know Eka, I don’t know if you’re just maximizing the free hair dye at the salon where I work or you have some weird trip in life. I have seen your hair in silver, red, blue and green. Do you dream of becoming a Power Ranger?” asked the old stylist.
“No, Ma. I wish to be like a carnival chick.”
“You are truly a wench.”
The two drowned in laughter, before the air was punctuated by a palpable silence.
“If that’s true, then what did you crave for when you were pregnant with me?”
“I craved for a dumb whore, Eka. Which is exactly what you are, an itchy whore.”
“Just like you, bitch.”
The mother’s tone changed.
“Do you think, Eka, that Monica still has friends even if she’s… like that?”
“Yes, Ma. Why not? Ikay is a happy kid, she just happens to love anything hairy, but she is very friendly.”
“That’s not what I meant, child. You know how we are. We are dirt poor. If no one asks for a haircut, we won’t have anything, even for salt. Even your youngest sibling’s toys, and clothes for school are hand-me-downs from our neighbors. I don’t even know where he’ll end up, or if he can even enroll in senior high school.”
“Ma, God has mercy,” the younger woman said.
“But nothing can explain why my child is like that. God may be really blind, deaf and an invalid!’
“I remember you thanking God for giving Duterte,” the daughter resisted.
“Ah, but it was a different God who made the Philippines better. Duterte was sent by heaven! The only thing preventing people from trusting Digong again is this COVID-COVID thing. That’s why Inday Sara should run so the Philippines get even better.”
“Why don’t you get Duterte to cure Ikay’s disease? And Obet’s addiction. And your joblessness. He could make us rich, too. Why not, you worship that president so much,” the daughter mumbled as she chewed on a watermelon seed.
“There, your true colors! It matches your hair perfectly. Yellow! Moocher! Terrorist! Leni Lugaw!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, you crazy bitch!” And the younger woman left, bringing the plastic monobloc chair, before slamming the door. Monica was inside, and she looked at her older sister.
“A different color again, sis?” asked the child innocently. Her online class had just ended.
“What do you think? What if I just tell on your little secret?” she said, trying to scare the younger sister. Monica immediately fled to her room. Rebecca on the other hand, went to the toilet to rinse her newly-colored hair.
Rebecca ran out of the toilet as soon as she heard the wailing from Monica’s room. She tightened the towel that was wrapped around her body, that almost slipped off as she ran to her sister’s room. As she opened the wafer-thin door, her sister’s bleary, wide eyes greeted her. The younger sister was looking at the white box that was the kitten’s bed.
“What happened to your kitten?”
“I don’t know, ate. After my class it was already like this.”
“Did you feed it?”
“I made some milk for it. He used to lick the milk before.”
“Son of a bitch. Did you feed it?”
“Yes, I asked for help from Kuya Obet.”
“From your addict brother?! Why, Ikay?”
“You were gone. You took my tablet, too.”
“Son of a bitch. What did he give you?”
“A syringe, the one they use in the hospital.”
“Obet, you son of a bitch!”
“Did he give you a needle?”
The young girl decided to simply give her older sister the bag of used syringes, which were given carelessly by the older brother to the younger sister who knew nothing of the vice. Rebecca grabbed Monica’s bony arm. Monica was shaking as she awaited the oncoming tirade.
“Do you know what this is for?”
“Brother said I can use it to feed my kitten. As long as I remove the needle…I could use it,” Monica said, trying to defend herself.
“Do you know what this is for, Ikay?” The younger girl shook her head. She rubbed her moistening eyes.
“Do you know what happened to your kitten? It was poisoned. Your brother puts poison into those syringes. Why do you think Obet ended up like that if his brain hasn’t been addled by the poison? Your kitten is dead. Let’s bury it before it stinks up the house.” Rebecca directed. Rebecca’s brows furrowed, emphasizing their freshly-shaven state. The younger girl had only begun processing her sister’s pronouncement. Poison. Licked. Dead. Bury. She couldn’t connect the stories threaded before her. Most of all, she couldn’t accept how her first “living hair” had died—because of her, of all people.
“What are you waiting for? Get dressed, we’re going to the yard. Make it quick, before Mama arrives.” The older girl left Monica’s room.
As the door shut, Monica was alone again in her room, literally now because her pet had died, her companion, her child. Muning, wake up. Muning, let’s play again. Muning, you’re not going to leave me, right? Muning… Muning… Muning.
There was no meowing this time to respond to each “muning” that emanated from her mouth. She caressed the soft fur of her pet, which was now increasingly becoming cooler to touch and was also becoming as hard as timber. Its tiny tongue also hung from its mouth. As Monica stared at the kitten’s tiny tongue, she also noticed a few strands of white-gray fur. They came from a time when they were still able to play in her small room, when the kitten was still able to energetically lick with the whorl on top of her head. Monica tried to imagine the soft, tender pads on the kitten’s paws and how the kitten caressed her head, which doubled as the kitten’s second home. She knows everything about hair. Her teacher in Biology once told her that hair was actually lifeless—they only exist on “borrowed life” when they are still attached to the hair follicles or the tiny bags that served as foundations for the individual hairs. The same principle applied to animals like dogs and cats. In the case of kittens, the mother cats are tasked with licking and grooming the kitten’s fur until such time that the kitten learns how to do it herself. The mother cat constantly licks its kitten. The child’s brain licked Monica so she would be the kitten’s mother. The child licks her arm. The child licks the idea of being a mother. The mother is licked until she gives birth to kittens. Monica licks the kitten. Monica licks her kitten.
Monica felt a different kind of sensation arch across her back whenever the kitten licked her whorl. She gained a better understanding of why the kitten licked her hair, and why she should have done this before. Monica continued licking the kitten’s belly, as it stiffened with rigor mortis. Her tongue was coated with white-gray hairs. She swallowed Muning’s hairs, a memory that would forever stay (or at least, until her other end relinquishes the memories) these memories of their union- and hair-licking.
When she heard the loud thumps that ultimately led to her room, Monica immediately closed the white box, giving her dead kitten a last, split-second adoration for the last time. Before Rebecca could even open the door, Monica was already on her feet, holding the box that would now double as a coffin for her temporary love.
A WEEK WENT BY FAST. It was also an entire week without Muning’s shadow in Monica’s room. After her online class, like always, Monica buried her tiny body in her now massive, empty room. Here, she would fill her mouth with hair. If she used to be satisfied with simply licking her long hair, she now feels more satisfaction cutting them out and chewing on them. She would cut the strands until they were only as long as Muning’s hairs. She would then place the strands one by one on her tongue and roll them around her mouth until her spit covered each one. When the spit was sufficient, she would swallow.
She had been thinking of her sister’s hair for a week now. She wants to sample that kind of hair, too. Monica rubbed her stomach tenderly, before wiping her salivating mouth with an arm. It was now Rebecca’s hair. She has never seen such hair before; it looked sweet and good for eating. In Monica’s mind, she was eating and playing with “live hair.” She felt happier and more satisfied as she imagined cutting the strands until they resembled the golden fur of the departed cat—much like Muning’s hair—there were so many things that she could do with her sister’s hair now.
She knows what to do tomorrow. She has done the correct calculations. She intends to give her savings (all ten months’ worth—supposedly for Muning’s litter box) to Rebecca. Her savings amounted to about a thousand pesos. Her sister won’t be able to refuse, as she loved money more than anything else. Monica can no longer hold it in, the temptation to hold and cut away even the tiniest portion of “live hair.”
Marius D. Carlos, Jr.
Marius D. Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. Contact him for writing projects. Connect with him on Facebook. Email Marius: email@example.com.