Maria Santiago Sandoval disappeared in the middle of the procession.
One second she was standing right behind Juanito Crisanto, who was carrying a statue of the Sto. Niño, and she was gone the next, completely vanished into thin air.
Juanito, a boy of ten at the time, bawled his eyes out, blaming himself for the disappearance of the beautiful Maria Santiago Sandoval.
People whispered about it, the doñas behind their gilded red fans, the children amidst their blue-green marbles that resembled small planets, and the men among their fighting cocks with bright, shiny feathers.
They couldn’t explain how she disappeared.
Most of all, they were baffled why someone like her would bother to leave everything she had behind.
Maria Santiago Sandoval’s beauty was renowned far and wide. Her long, midnight-black hair, when left unbound, dared a man to reach out and finger its soft curls. Her eyelids, when fluttered at the right moment, could make a man forget the existence of a wife. And her lips? When in a pout, they could drive a man to the brink.
Maria Santiago Sandoval was also in possession of a very wealthy husband. She was adorned with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds from Africa, India, and other far-flung places with exotic names my clumsy tongue couldn’t pronounce.
So, why, they wondered, would a woman as blessed as Maria Santiago Sandoval go and leave it all behind?
I was the only one who knew.
After all, she was my mother.
Among Maria Santiago Sandoval’s assets, I was the one most commonly forgotten.
I had taken after my father in both looks and temperament, a fact which many considered to be unfortunate.
Our ancestral house, a sprawling mansion that scared the village children, was located near the beach. On cool, summer nights, my mother would take a walk near the water, a nearly-invisible shawl around her shoulders.
Under the moonlight, she looked like a painter’s dream. The wind would play with her hair, making it fly around her shoulders and contrasting against her pale face. Her shawl sometimes flew away and landed on the sand.
On rare occasions, I was permitted to go with her.
She would take my hand and point to the never-ending sea. “Isn’t it beautiful, Elena? I wonder what lies beyond it.”
“It must be filled with wonderful places, Mama,” I agreed, wanting to please her.
“I think so, too,” she whispered. “I want to go to those places someday.”
“But Papa won’t let you.”
A sad smile formed on her immaculate lips. She continued looking at the waves that were sometimes gentle and other times vicious. The scent of salt hung in the air, and the smell reminded me of her ever since.
I wanted to snatch my words and stuff them back into my mouth. They broke the magical moment between Mama and I. It was gone and I could never get it back.
Maria Santiago Sandoval disappeared soon after.
Fifteen years passed after my mother’s disappearance. For many, Maria Santiago Sandoval became a memory, beautiful and gossamer-light but quickly fading.
The doñas who gossiped about her behind their red fans transformed into old crones with yellowed teeth. The children who talked about her amidst their blue-green marbles grew and traveled to the faraway lands Mama dreamed about. The men who whispered about her among fighting cocks with bright, shiny feathers started to resemble their precious fowls.
I was the only one who remembered her.
I married Juanito Crisanto, the bearer of the Sto. Niño in the procession where my mother disappeared. I wasn’t sure whether I chose him because I loved him or because he was an indestructible link to the day of my mother’s disappearance.
Every time I walked along the beach behind our ancestral home, I heard her beckoning to me. I stared out at the same gentle yet vicious waves, and wondered what lay beyond. The scent of salt slithered up my nose.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Elena?” Mama whispered to me, her voice mingling with the wind.
“Yes,” I whispered back. “I want to see what lies beyond it.”
“But Juanito won’t let you.”
Then, she laughed, a tinkling melodious sound, until I couldn’t hear her anymore.
A sad smile formed on my lips, and I continued looking at the waves. They were calling out to me, begging me to join them.
Sometimes, I wondered if Maria Santiago Sandoval truly disappeared.
Darlyn Herradura has wanted to be a writer since she was little. She started by writing down her own versions of/combining fairy tales in spiral notebooks. Every time she wanted something to happen to her (it usually didn’t), she wrote her thoughts down and these soon evolved into short stories. At the moment, she’s a college student majoring in Literature.