The mall salesman had led me to an aisle of standing mirrors. He pointed at the lofty mirror, asking if it was what I needed. Then, he pointed at another one before leaving and giving me enough time to contemplate the extent of my vanity. I turned away from the standing mirror and explored the next aisle where I browsed the different shapes and sizes displayed on each shelf. I sauntered through the aisle, postponing what was waiting for me downstairs.
I was supposed to be standing by the school gate with a few friends, shouting and pumping our fists in the air. But I was stuck with my father at the mall. The only choice I had was to separate from him and walk around.
I hid the pink cap I was supposed to wear during the rally in my bag after debating in my mind if I should ask my Dad one last time. But I realized I did not want to hear him reject the idea for the fifth time—and in a higher tone of voice.
But I couldn’t really think much with the loud music coming from just outside the department store where a pageant for children was being held in the middle of the mall. I headed out of the store, stopped by the landing and looked down. From the second floor, I could see a small crowd watching. They sat around a round stage, which had Fisher Mall’s logo imprinted on the platform. Little girls in big, sparkling dresses stood around the platform for all to see. I looked up and immediately saw a few people approach the landing in every floor, trying to get a glimpse of the pageant.
Another thing that distracted me from strolling peacefully through the department store was the mass of women trying to buy what else was left on sale. I would have had just gone to a coffee shop downstairs, but that would be full, too. I brushed through the busy crowd and made my way to the escalator heading upstairs, hoping that no one else would huddle around the furniture area.
I was not going to allow myself to be completely drowned out by my father’s unreasonable tirade, too, just because I wanted to join a group of people shouting and holding streamers, protesting a known leader’s comment the other day.
He believed that it was dangerous, futile. He said I was just trying to find “comfort from the wrong group” and that I needed to “think and act smarter.” Tired of hearing him explain his point—which I had heard multiple times on the way to the mall—I excused myself and said I was going to the fifth floor of the department store to look for other furniture for my empty room. My father hesitated at first, ignoring me when I said I was going upstairs. I repeated my excuse. He knew I wanted to get away from him as soon as possible so he let me go.
It was my only chance to escape, even if it was just for a few minutes. It would be one less annoying thing that I had to face that night.
My father loved to do two things—other than dictate what I should or should not wear—and that is to make decisions for me when he thinks I can’t handle a situation and tell me at the last minute. I used to try to understand his side and think that maybe he had just started to be this forgetful and controlling after Mom’s passing, but sometimes I feel like he just enjoys using his impulsiveness as a strategy to cancel my plans.
Before I took a turn to the next aisle, across the walkway, I noticed a familiar face that I only ever had a chance to see on my timeline. She seemed to be aimlessly walking and looking at the displays on the shelf while a guy, who was following her, spoke to her. I was thrilled. The image of my pissed-off father brushed off and replaced with Lea Malaya smiling at me while I gawked at her whole being from afar.
Lea Malaya smiled at me. She had seen me staring!
It took me a second before I cringed at the thought of what I must have looked to her. I didn’t look too starstruck, did I?
I wanted to follow her but I was unsure of what to say and how to say it. I didn’t want her to think of me as the overreacting fan who doesn’t care about personal space, and I knew that she had always emphasized the value of personal space. I remembered this clearly because she mentioned a recent event that involved the issue of personal space in her new blog.
A fan interrupted her during her dinner with family. She was furious. But despite typing away her anger, she still managed to compose an organized and hard-hitting post. I began to wish I knew how to write like her.
She urged her readers to pay attention to the smallest things. She believed these small gestures, if avoided, could help avoid bigger issues. One of those small things is respecting the boundary between fans and famous people.
I agreed while some didn’t. They argued that she chose to be an ‘influencer’ and it had consequences. But Lea had a point.
Think about it. No one would want to be interrupted, confronted, and shouted at about an article they posted some months ago in front of their whole family during their birthday.
I thought that I just had to resist scampering towards her like a 12-year-old fangirl. I swore to myself that I would try and keep composed and calm.
I took out my phone and started texting my friends about the lucky incident I was in. I think I sent multiple messages to multiple people and I didn’t care as much. Then, I tapped on the camera app while walking toward her. In my head, I rehearsed how I’d tell her that I admired her courage, principles, and personality online.
Suddenly, I was teeming with excitement after realizing that I was meeting her personally. She never posted another photo of herself after she revealed how she looked once. But it was easy to recognize her with her square, purple glasses and pastel-pink hair.
She had her wavy hair up just like when we saw her for the first time online. Some believed it was an accident that Lea passed by a mirror during her live video broadcast for the launch of her new podcast. But I believed otherwise.
The angle of her reflection was too clear: a girl in a loose sweater and jeans, looking through the mirror with her big glasses. I knew she wanted to show us, her readers and followers, to know that she was just like us. Everyone knew—she is young, she is real, and she is a woman with real principles.
I walked to the other side of the mall, trying to find her, still rehearsing what I had to say.
And just when I thought I had lost my chance to meet her, she appeared behind the cashier and walked in my direction. I hurried and almost bumped into a pregnant mother and her small child when I tried to pass through. I apologized then turned around. I lost sight of her again. I looked around until I saw her pastel-pink hair. I began to walk briskly, trying to pretend that I was not all too excited, then approached her.
I took a deep breath and said, “Lea?”
For a second, she seemed to not notice me until I spoke again, “Sorry to go up to you like this, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m a big fan.”
“Oh,” she snapped out of her reverie, “Thank you! That’s really sweet of you.”
There was a short pause. “What did you say your name was?” she finally asked me. She was grinning and holding out her hand.
I beamed at her attentiveness then shook her hand. “It’s Anna.”
“I appreciate hearing nice things from you, Anna.”
“I mean it, though. You really helped me realize a lot of things, too. You get to say things I don’t have the words for.” I tried not to stutter.
She chuckled and bowed her head slightly, “That’s so sweet. You should hear the next episode for the podcast. I’ll be reading comments from you guys. You should definitely join and I’ll read it.”
“Cool! I’d so appreciate that!” I was grinning wider. She was too nice!
“Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve seen my update, but I’ll be talking about a few heavy issues. Would be great if you asked your friends to listen, too.”
“Oh yeah, I will, I’ll share it on my timeline, too.”
“Great, Anna. Thank you.”
I paused for a while then realized I did not want to gawk at her, “Anyway, sorry for keeping you from what you were supposed to do—”
“—Oh, no worries. It was nice meeting you.”
I told her the same and as I was about to leave, the guy I saw earlier walked in, “Lea—”
The guy’s stern look immediately changed. He didn’t smile or politely acknowledge me at all. He had a young, kind face that didn’t quite match his tall stature, muscular frame, and mood.
“Thanks again,” I said anyway with a grin before leaving them.
I turned around and walked away, heading for the escalator, the smile still plastered on my face and my thoughts scattered all over, replaying the moments that had just happened. I met Lea Malaya and she was overly kind. That was something worth shouting everywhere, especially online.
I had not really heard nor read anything online about followers meeting Lea. She was a blogger that most people admired for her wit. She was not exactly the type whose fans would wait for at the door to gawk or scream at. But the second I saw her, I was overwhelmed.
I still remember the first time I saw an article written by her. It was not even a full-blown article on activism. I barely knew her and only heard my friends mention her name when the topic about sensitive issues about women were brought up.
It was just a short article on how she used to deal with living with four sisters and a strict father.
She was the woman I wanted to be… maybe in another life.
Lea was the first person to expose another influencer for an old rumor which turned out to be a real incident. She managed to connect the influencer’s misogynist scandal with another group online. She called them out for promoting toxic masculinity through a program they called “How to pick up girls.” The influencer turned out to be one of the “masters” or teachers in the program.
She was unafraid. She probably would not even hesitate to face rich, dangerous men who bribed her. She had so much power that they feared what she was planning to expose on her blog. She knew what was right. She took a stand. It did not matter if she was being called names or cursed at by strangers. It did not matter who she was dealing with.
Perhaps one day I would have the same courage to insist on what I want, I thought. I would be able to post about my father’s senseless comments without having to worry about whether I could go home afterwards or not. I would confront the men from my family about the toxic masculinity they continued to mask as genuine care for the women in the family. I would speak up about the culture of victim-blaming and effortlessly win arguments with insensitive ‘keyboard warriors.’
As I descended the escalator, I realized that I had forgotten to ask for a photo. I hesitated for a while but realized that it was once in a lifetime opportunity. Would I annoy her if I came back? Would it be embarrassing? Would it be worth it?
I circled back and ascended through the escalator. Fortunately, I saw her walk by with the same tall guy, whom I assumed was her boyfriend.
I shook my head, knowing full well that it would be embarrassing or demanding of me to return and ask for a selfie, but at that moment, all I cared about was keeping the memory in a single photo.
As I briskly strode past aisle after aisle, I paused then involuntarily stepped back when I saw the guy Lea was with exclaim, “No!”
I hid behind the shelf and away from their aisle but I heard his words and the frustration in his tone.
“You’re just going to end up complaining if we don’t buy it now.”
“I just don’t want to make decisions spontaneously—” Lea responded, her voice fainter than what I heard earlier. I tried to take a step forward and saw Lea’s reflection from across the aisle on a tall mirror.
“’Wag ka’ng mag-inarte, Lea. Just fucking buy it.”
“I’m just trying to be sure, Allen.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re being a pain in the neck right now.”
There was a pause. Her eyes were averted from where she had been staring, “I just think—”
“You know what happened when you didn’t listen to me last time.”
“Are you really going to argue with me right now?”
She walked away, and I lost sight of her reflection.
“Don’t be stupid. I’ve known you all your life, and we both know time’s being wasted with your indecisiveness. Do you really want to go through it again?”
“Good. Jesus. Ask someone to get a new stock. I’ll meet you at the cashier.”
I panicked when I heard footsteps and didn’t know where to go. Before I could leave, Lea had appeared and walked in front of me. Then the phone in my hand chimed, saving us both from a long, embarrassing staring contest.
It was my father who texted, asking where I was. My phone chimed again, making me look down at my phone in my hand. A second later, Lea’s boyfriend followed behind her, “Hurry before—” but he stopped again when he saw me.
Then my phone rang and I immediately answered it, giving the couple a chance to walk away as if nothing had happened. But I saw Lea steal a glance at me when I turned around.
“Where are you, Anna? Are you testing my patience? You said you’d be back.” My father exclaimed on the phone.
“Yeah I’ll be right there, Dad.” I made my way out of the aisles and ran to the escalator once again.
“Hurry!” I heard my father exclaim before I ended the call.
I gripped the phone in my hand as I ran. I tried to catch my breath as the escalator descended. My head throbbed and I tried to stand still and hold on despite an inexplicable, cold sensation rushing through my whole body. Was it secondhand embarrassment? Was it disappointment? I was not sure.
My father stood impatiently at the foot of the escalator, carrying two boxes in both hands.
“It took you that long to come back here empty handed? Thought you were buying stuff for your bedroom?”
I didn’t even get to respond yet—
“You should’ve helped me instead. I should’ve known you were just going to waste your time. You didn’t even reply to my texts. I sent you like, what, seven messages? I was buying kitchen supplies and—”
“I don’t even know how to cook—”
“Exactly my point! It’s time you learn this early,” Then, he mumbled, “Kababaeng tao.”
And I stopped walking. He noticed I was not following him and he turned, looking at me, confused.
“What? We have to hurry. I have to pick up other things from the store across town. Other than that, you have to prepare for tonight. Your Tita’s coming over. Don’t act up now.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to do any of that.” I added, and his eyebrow raised.
I turned around, took out the pink cap out of my bag and wore it. I didn’t know how I’d get to Mendiola or if it was too late, but I headed straight towards the exit.