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 frustrating.

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 grow up.

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 to do?

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 her face.

“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 moment.

“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 for squirming.

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 work.

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 to count.

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 expensive now?”

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 replied.

“So clever!”

“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 pleasure.

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.

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