A one-shot prelude to The Night Rabbit Cried.
She was a quiet girl. So quiet that even a rabbit will be embarrassed to make a squeak in front of her. In her room, there was only the constant tapping of the keyboard. Clicks of the mouse. The movement of the fan. The wind-blown curtains. The ruffled pages of her open book. The specks from the sunlight dances while her mind is swept with all the words she typed.
Her door is a closed wall that only opens once or twice a day. Nobody at home will ever know whether she has left the house or not. Primarily because she hardly left the house. The second reason is because she was a quiet girl.
A wonderfully quiet girl.
Which is why it is excusable for everyone to be surprised to find out that Rouen was not in her room one day.
Nobody suspected it. She was long gone, five hours to be exact, before her mother stood in front of Rouen’s door, wondering if she should knock. Her daughter is quite moody when writing, and the school paper always demanded finely-polished contributions before anything goes into print. Rouen gave her heart and soul into writing. She abandoned every dream in order to create something for the world to read. This is her first step.
“I guess she’ll come out when she’s hungry,” the mother decided, walking away from the peach colored door, not hearing anything. A writer should not be disturbed during their epiphany, and Rouen is a moody, nutty character when bothered in the middle of her writing.
But Rouen was not writing at that moment. She wasn’t even there. Where she was, is somewhere far away, two or three towns away from home. She rode the bus early in the morning when everyone was sleeping, armed with a camera, and a pen and a paper.
“I’ll get back home as soon as I take the picture of the Safron Warbler,” she whispered to herself. Ever since she learned about the natural wonder, she decided it will be her next report. Her last report. She will be graduating in three months’ time, and she wanted her final contribution to be her best. Jouler High has been generous to people like her; a modest, scholarly daughter of a farmer. It’s just right that she return their kindness with good work.
Everything was well-planned before the trip; the location was googled the night before, and the camera was ready to be snatched before her father knows it is missing. “He won’t mind; he’d probably be in the farm to even know his pinhole’s already borrowed.”
Right. Borrowed. Rouen had always borrowed her father’s camera, and it’s not even an updated version. It was an old analogue shutter that can be mistaken for a piece of junk when placed elsewhere. Presently, the camera was dangling on Rouen’s neck. She is still riding the bus. She is unaware that she had passed Sta. Monica, the town where the Safron Warbler Sanctuary is. Rouen is heading somewhere farther, and she has a terrified, sinking feeling about it as she pinned her head outside her window.
Rouen, unfortunately, is dyrexic.
There’s sweat popping from her forehead now. She was never away from home. The farthest she went was during the school field trips, but she always had someone with her, which was convenient, because nobody had to know how ignorant she was of directions. When she googled Sta. Monica, she knew it’s just a bus ride away. Bus rides aren’t so scary. But when you’re riding a bus far, far away from your destination and you have little idea where you are, that’s when you become scared.
And Rouen is unfortunately, a quiet girl.
She can feel the storm raging inside her stomach. Her heart is taking leaps and is banging its head onto the walls of her chest. Should she go down? What if she gets lost? What is she does not know which bus to take home?
The worst part is, no submission for her school paper.
“Darn it, darn it, darn it, Rouen!” she groaned at herself. “I knew this will be a blunder. I knew it. You shouldn’t have left home. You should have at least told your folks about it. You should have asked your mom to accompany you, you stupid little girl!” Rouen loves inner monologues.
She decided to wait till the bus ends up in the station, two provinces away from her home. It’s still daylight. She can get back and say she did it for the school paper. “It is for the school paper,” she moaned, although her notes are still quite empty. “I’m just not that successful about it.”
Rouen hates this part of her. This quiet part of her. She could have asked the people in the bus about directions. And if she did not get it the first time, she could ask the locals for directions. Her being dyrexic is not the problem. It’s her being quiet about it.
And right now, a big wave of anger, hate and frustration is rolling inside her.
It was 10:45 AM when she reached the bus station. Everyone went down. Some of them were new passengers. Some of them rode all the way to the city of Masa with her. It’s not such a bad thing reaching this place. Masa is a sea-side place and there are many tourist spots around. There’s hope for her article. “Since I’m here (which, at the back of her mind, “Since I’m already lost”), I guess it wouldn’t hurt to look around.”
The station has a ride back home straight to Costina, thank goodness, and Rouen felt at ease that she could conveniently return, if not without any reprimands. “If only have left a note,” she wondered. “I didn’t know I was going to be lost.”
But nobody knows when they’re going to be lost, right? If you knew, would you dare to step out of you comfort zone into the confusing roads leading to different no-wheres? Very few venture on this adventure; only the brave and the bold. And Rouen was neither brave nor bold. Only quiet.
There was a lot of people in Masa. The half-city, half-rural area was filled with different busy individuals, all with their own destinations in mind. The only one without a purpose is Rouen, still afloat with the idea of how to get home or how to get her subject. Wearing her analog camera felt embarrassing as she saw high-end DSLRS and cute digital cameras worn by the locals. They look different too. She sticks out like sore thumb looking like the province girl she is. She felt conscious that her thick brown mane was un-brushed and unkempt, and that her tattered red cardigan was out of style compared to the cropped shirts girls now wear.
Rouen wondered whether she should take the bus ride home right now.
But something changed her mind. Almost as immediately as a blink of an eye.
Walking in the midst of the crowded station were five youth carrying different instruments. Their built says they must be boys, a regular group of delinquent musicians who are seeking early fame creating rock music. Ah, of course. Music is always an in thing. Now, the landscape seems so ordinary if not for one fact: they were wearing masks.
The five of them walked coolly among the crowd, perhaps with naughty, haughty faces as little children looked at their strange doodled expressions. Really, the animal faces were drawn badly, as if scribbled by a kid. But Rouen watched them as they went on, wondering what these five delinquents will do.
She wanted to follow them. She wanted to know what they are going to do and where they are going to play their music. It doesn’t matter if they do not sound good. They look like petty teenagers; teenagers aren’t entitled to perfect rock band performances. They’re more of a shabby, take-the-stage and savor-the-moment kind. Rouen smiled at the thought of watching these rock star wannabes.
But she did not follow them. She waited until the five of them were out of sight. They could have been a great subject for her article, but there are similar bands in Costina, and they’re not that interesting, if not for the masks.
“Yes, those masks make them special, if they aren’t.”
Rouen shook her head and took out her purse. “I guess it’s home time for me,” she mutters to herself. It will be a three-hour ride back home. She shuddered to see the face of her worried parents, especially her father’s, whose camera she took. Her notebook still is empty, but at least she got here all by dyrexic self. The scent of the sea filled her nose as she took her one big inhaling of the Masa atmosphere. Goodbye, sea-side city. When we meet again, I hope I know where my destination is.
Little did Rouen know she will land back in this place, many years later, with a purpose she have never imagined she will do.
When she got back home, her family were busy working in the farm. She slipped into her room without anyone knowing she left or where she went. When her mother came home that night, she finally made a gentle tap on Rouen’s door. In a small opening, she says, “Sweetie, would you like some baked potatoes? It seems you haven’t eaten lunch yet.”
Rouen smiled and nodded. She was a quiet girl.