She was the first beautiful woman I ever saw. She was our fifth grade Science teacher. She had clear skin, wavy hair, and perfectly arched brows. Her skirts were always tighter and shorter than the ones worn by the other teachers. Her shoes had higher heels and clicked and clacked more beautifully on the wooden floors of our old classrooms.

Our classrooms sat in a compound of decaying wooden buildings and acacia trees that could block out the sun even at the peak of summer. But it seemed that the shade had nothing to do with the trees’ thick foliage. These trees were said to be homes of enchanted beings; gateways to the unimaginable. I always avoided these trees. I never sat on the benches under them. I never stared too long at the shadows created by the leaves and the twisting branches. Eluding these brooding trees was fueled by my fascination with stories about the creatures who were said to inhabit them. They were stories of trapped humans being offered black rice. Of innocents whose lives can be saved by eating salt. Of girls forced to marry the residents of the trees, creatures inhabiting a world much like ours but more confusing and nearer to hell.

Arriving in school one morning, I was met by students abuzzed with stories regarding the inexplicable and horrifying event that took place the day before. I heard snippets; accounts that were less gripping than the infectious fascination of the storyteller. “Science teacher.” “Possessed.” “Evil.”

For many days after that notorious afternoon, she did not report for work. Our science classes were temporarily handled by the 6th grade Science teacher. Of course, we never paid attention. At random moments, we would look at the empty table of our Science teacher. Often, I would imagine some enchanted creature holding post at her table, awaiting the day that she would return to school. Dust gathered on the glass. Dejectedly, our homework shook under an unforgiving paper weight. As I step out of our classroom at the strike of five o’clock, I would glance at random things on her table, random things forever printed in my mind. A can of Kankunis slimming tea. An overflowing pen holder. Framed pictures of her kids. And yes, I would always smell a hint of milk.

Our class president, being a huge fan of our teacher, told us one morning that we should visit her at her house. Not everyone wanted to go. They were probably scaredas. My curiosity won over my fear and I went.

Her house smelled of milk. We sat on a wooden bench, just off the foyer. I don’t remember why we never dared to venture further to the living room couches, house plants, dusty picture frames, and the muted television. We took in everything from the little corner where we conducted our visit. I know I was scared. The whole house was dark. It seemed that an oppressing thing blanketed the whole place to keep sunshine out. This thing, in my head, smelled like milk. She did not come out of her room to see us. Her daughter entertained us. She was as beautiful as her mom but I don’t think any enchanted creature would have wanted to possess her.

Growing up, I always heard that only those who are beautiful are possessed. It seemed that spirits and other-worldly beings are drawn to beauty. But I learned something different from what happened to my teacher. I am certain that creatures that are not of this world do not yearn beauty. Perhaps, the beauty that we have was stolen from a vanishing ripple that started in their world. You see, us humans are far from beautiful. We love and cry and fail and kill. We lie and feel pain and vanish. We are humans and creatures that are not of this world are drawn to our wrinkles and scars — signs that we have lived.

Our Science teacher loved. She bore children. Her husband cheated on her and left her. Her son had a brush with gangs and illegal drugs. She once faced death in the hands of guerillas, in one of the mountain schools where she first taught. She experienced these and more. I was sure that her squinting eyes revealed pains that only a woman who has lived would recognize.

*i know this is not craft-related. sometimes, i write stories to pass the time.

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