When I was six, I wanted what a lot of
little girls wanted.
I wanted to be beautiful and smart and
mature. I wanted to be older, because older girls were listened to.
It might’ve been a childish thing to think
– older girls get taken seriously and all of them are so smart and so clever, but it was what I
believed was true. At six years old, everything that I said, thought or did
couldn’t be taken seriously simply because of my age. I would try fruitlessly
to seem more clever and sophisticated, but I wouldn’t ever really get far.
Sitting still and refraining from dancing around or singing loudly in the
kitchen was really hard.
My mother always told me I was clever, but
how could I believe her if my aunties never listened to a word I said? They laughed at my ideas; they told me I was too young
to think so hard when I told them of my future plans. It was extremely
I needed the approval of The Aunties. The
group of ladies who convened in the family lounge, some of who were not
actually my relatives, but I called my aunties just the same. It was a summer
holiday in the Philippines in 2000, and I was a child that was disregarded
simply because I was young, and I was tired of that. I needed to change. To
Dejected, after another failed attempt at
discussing another issue that my family members shooed me away from, I sought
the help of another, different aunty, stirring a pot of delicious-smelling
magic on the ancient family stove. As I sat on the countertop, chewing a carrot
thoughtfully, I told her my woes of being excluded from the women’s business,
and how I wanted more than anything to grow up so they would listen to me too.
I wanted to be smart enough to be taken into consideration when I shared my
tiny pearls of so-called wisdom at the time. My cousins were all boys, after all. And they were stinky and had cooties, so I didn't want to play with them.
“Tama na, anak.” She soothed me in our own
dialect. “All will be well. Follow me, I have something special for you.” She
added, covering the pot and turning off that gas.
Curiously, I followed her until we reached
the room she shared with her two sisters. She pulled an old stained bag that
smelled strongly of acetone and other chemicals from under her bed and began to
rummage through it while I stared blankly at her. What on earth was she going
After a few more seconds of searching, she
picked me up, sat me on the bed and held up the glittering prize in her grasp.
“This,” she began, “Is special. It’s magic,
passed on through our generations for many years. It holds an extraordinary
power - when you wear it, you become mature and sensible! Just like your titas.
You become smart, and everyone will listen to you.”
She dropped a small silver vial into my
tiny hands. On closer inspection, I saw that it was a little bottle of silver
nail polish that gleamed when it caught the light.
“Mama says I’m not allowed to wear nail
polish. She says only naughty girls and Jezebels wear nail polish.” I said, as
I looked up at her skeptically.
“Jezebels?” she questioned, with a frown on
“I don’t know what it means, no-one will
tell me…” I sighed quietly.
“Ay nako, that is nonsense. I wear nail
polish all the time, and I’m not a naughty girl! Mama just wants you to stay
beautiful and young. Nail polish is for big girls.”
I looked at her doubtfully again. “But then
why are you giving this to me?”
She paused at that, considering for a
“Well… just this once then! You want your
titas to listen to you, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course I do!” I said quickly.
“Well then. Let us make an exception. Don’t
you worry, I’ll talk to your silly Mama and it will be okay, just for this
once. It is no ordinary nail polish after all.”
After about a millisecond of intense
consideration, I smiled delightedly, holding out my hands for her to put on the
silver sparkles on my fingernails.
“First, we need some music.” She then
waltzed over to the side of the room and put on a Nat King Cole record. She
began to sing along, and I hummed with her. She sounded like Liza Minnelli, and
I was so jealous of her beautiful voice.
She shook the bottle in her hand over the
dulcet melody and whispered seriously as she approached me.
“Now remember, anak. This is special, and
it’s been in our family for years. But don’t tell everyone that it’s magic, or
it won’t work, okay?
“Yes tita!” I replied giggling, and she
poked me in my ribs me when I saluted her.
She took my pale fingers in her warm,
tanned hands, like worn leather, and began to paint gleaming silver lines on my
nails. I couldn’t help but squeal excitedly in delight, and she chastised me
When she was done, I stared at my gorgeous
fingers in joy. I looked like a movie star! I couldn’t wait to test out the
powers of this magic nail polish. It was bound to work. Tita said it would, so it would.
After a quick hug and a promise to come
back to eat lunch when I was done, I walked out with an air of confidence to my
chattering aunties sitting in the lounge. I was so excited. This was going to
To my surprise, when I got there, the aunt
that painted me silver was already sitting with her sisters. She smiled at me
knowingly as I sat tentatively on the worn sofa next to her.
My aunties didn’t seem to notice my
entrance. She continued to talk, about their disobedient sons, about how awful
the caldareta the neighbours made was, how expensive rice had gotten. For once
in my life, I was silent. I wanted to wait for the right time to speak. It had
“Ay nako. It’s ridiculous, why would anyone
want to pay so much for a sack of rice?”
“Maybe you would, Kaye. You eat enough rice
for this whole family!”
As they erupted in laughter, I looked up at
aunty and she smiled back encouragingly.
“What do you think, anak? Isn’t the rice so
I stared back in shock as all my aunties
turned to face me, seemingly waiting for an answer.
“Um, yes tita. It is very expensive. But I
think that’s because there’s not enough rice..." I began, "Than there are people who want to
buy it?” I responded hesitantly.
They all raised their perfectly manicured eyebrows at me, this
six year old little girl, twisting her fingers in her dress and waiting
anxiously at what they had to say.
“Very smart observation, anak!” One of them
“I’m proud of our niece.”
These comments flew around the room, and
shortly after the conversation started up again, on different topics. They all
asked me accordingly for my opinions and what I thought, and finally I had
gotten what I wanted – to be included in the women’s business.
The realisation made me flush with
I looked up at my aunty who was still by my
side, and she just winked knowingly at me, and stroked my hair.
“Thank you, tita.” I whispered quietly.
“It was my pleasure, anak.” She hugged me,
and the conversation droned on. She then led me to the kitchen where we ate
lunch and talked about how lovely it was that I was finally heard.
Many years later, I found out that she had
simply talked to my relatives, and explained that I had told her of my wishes
to be heard, and that I now believed that a special nail polish on my tiny
fingernails would grant me this wish. Naturally, they played along for me,
because if I was happy, they were happy. We were a family after all.
I still have that silver nail polish today.
It’s old and doesn’t quite sparkle like it used to, but it’s still pretty all
the same. I found out that it was bought for about 80 pesos, and it was simply
a colour that my aunty bought and didn’t like so much. It wasn’t an heirloom,
and it wasn’t really magic.
But sometimes, whenever I feel like my
voice isn’t being heard, or I feel too naïve to pitch my thoughts across, I’ll
sweep a few layers of silver on my now larger fingernails, and watch it catch
the light again. Watch it glisten.
It still feels the same.