My name is Iris and two weeks before my fourteenth birthday, I disappeared. No, I did not run away. That happened later. I literally disappeared. It started happening right around the end of school. I was an ordinary girl, living an ordinary life. Then my skin started to change.
First, I could see my veins. You know how you can see your veins on your hands? I could see them clearly except they did not look blue like normal, I could see already see the red. My hair was also changing, from a deep black its colors lightened to a honey brown. My mom was worried of course. I had no dad and I was all she had. We went to all kinds of doctors, dermatologists, pathologists and oncologists and experts. We even went to a Chinese doctor in Binondo who prescribed some wierd snake oil that smelled like rotten fish. It did not work. I saw myself disappearing bit by bit everyday. Day by day, I grew more transparent. My hair had become white, then soon transparent. After a month, I could see the the color of the ground underneath me.
Soon I had to hide and my mom had to make excuses. “She’s abroad visiting relatives,” Mom said to my best friend. “I’m sorry but Iris is down with the measles,” she tells my aunt. “You just missed her.” Eventually the excuses rang hollow and mom did not know what to say anymore. I used to answer every phone call and every text, but to keep the charade alive I turned off my phone and I have not looked at it since then. My Mom stopped making excuses and resorted to far away looks to nowhere in particular. Her final excuse was that I had run away and she did not know where I was. People seemed to accept that better, as if running away was perfectly normal for a fourteen year old girl. The strange irony of being invisible and having to hide myself was not lost on me. Our windows were shut, blinds drawn. As I vanished, my mother and I retreated into a world of our own.
It must have been disconcerting, your only daughter vanishing into thin air. She would sometimes talk to the air, thinking I was in the room with her. She would watch the food she prepared float up to my invisible mouth and dissappear too. If you were an outsider looking in, you would see my Mom talking to a pair of clothes floating in mid-air and you might have found it silly. I found it silly too and I ditched the clothes. Modesty counts for nothing when nobody can see you. If she was uncomfortable, she did not show it. If you knew my mom, you knew she was a trooper. She was tough and she tried to teach me to be tough too. She was a survivor and she wanted me to survive as well.
Of course I stopped school. When my mom was off to work, I studied at home. You can learn a lot of things off the Internet. I learned to sew. I learned to cook. I learned how to make the best roast beef sandwiches just watching Gordon Ramsay on YouTube. I discovered makeup tutorials on the Internet and I found out that even if I was invisible, makeup was not. Applying makeup on your face when you could not see it was a process, but I managed. I learned that with enough foundation, I had a face, except that it was one without eyes and no hair. I corrected that with a pair of shades and a hoodie. I drew the eyebrows and with a little lipstick there I was, Iris was back. This way, I could sneak out of the house once in a while.
This was my routine. This was my life for a good year. It was okay I guess. Nothing to worry about, just me and my mother. Things though, they always take a turn for the worse.
One night, Mom did not come home. I was worried of course. I waited all night and the darkness gave way to the dawn, yet she did not come. I tried calling her phone but she did not answer. I watched the news and there she was, on the morning program. She was shot on the way home, robbed at gunpoint by some thief who stole not only money, but he stole the only light left in my life. I screamed. I sobbed. I wept all day and all night.
The next day, I found where mom’s wake was held. I put on my makeup and dressed myself. I hired a taxi to go to the funeral home. Went I went down from the cab, I rushed to the bathroom, and I vomited in one of the stalls. I did not know how to face the people I had hid from for months. I finally stripped off everything and invisible, I walked into the parlor, I saw my mother. I stifled a sob as I went up to her casket. There she was, my beautiful mother. As I had disappeared from the world, she too disappeared with much more finality than me. A period in a long line of commas. She was gone forever. I stayed there hidden for days, until they buried her in the nearby cemetery. A part of me wanted to be buried with her that day, but I knew better. I had to live. I had to survive.
I went home, hiding in plain sight in the backseat of one our neighbor’s cars. When I got home, I composed myself and I made an inventory of my supplies at home. I had about a weeks supply of food left and I needed to survive. I knew I could steal food from one of the nearby groceries but that meant going back and forth to the house. I could not live here any longer. They would lock the place up and I would be trapped inside. I could reveal myself, but that meant questions and I did not want to studied like some lab animal. So I planned. I plotted the best course for an invisible girl to live in Manila. When my food ran out, I ran away from home. I put on my disguise and The Invisible Iris Survival Plan was put in motion.
If you wanted to know what the Invisible Iris Survival Plan was all about, I could tell you in three easy steps.
First, you needed to find a place that had plenty of supplies that an invisible teenaged girl would need. That meant a mall, and the great thing about the Philippines is that we had plenty of those. The problem was that it could not just be any mall. It had to be big enough so I had access to everything in my grocery list but not too big that it attracted huge crowds. Crowds are dangerous for an invisible girl. You know how you get jostled and bumped while walking through a crowd? Well, the impact is less when they see you because people in crowds have this instinct to avoid other people in the crowd. When you are invisible, they do not have that. Crowds are rough because you have to watch out for other people constantly. A hit from a person who just does not see you is nastier because they do not do anything to avoid you.
Also, I wanted mall that had access to a hotel. A hotel meant a place I could sleep in. It would be easy to filch a hotel key card from the front desk and I could sleep in one of the unoccupied rooms. Plus I would have access to a shower. I may be invisible, but you could still smell me and nothing beats a hot shower to relax you at day’s end.
So I had to choose a mall with that criteria in mind and only one mall fit that description. Greenbelt. It had all the important things I needed and it was right across New World Hotel. It also helped that I knew that place like the back of my hand. I used to hang out there with my friends when I still was not invisible and I liked it there. So Greenbelt it was. I trekked over there and up to this day that’s where I lived.
Second thing on the Invisible Iris Survival Plan is how to get the necessities. Greenbelt had plenty of food but i just could not steal food all the time. It was not because I had any qualms about stealing, it was just that I did not want anybody getting into trouble over anything I did. A meal cannot just simply dissappear. It goes out of the waitstaff’s paychecks. So I improvised. I ate leftovers but right after they’ve been sent back to the kitchen. Nobody checks if all the food is there. That’s what I filch. I learned to follow families with children, because kids really cannot finish all of their food. Parents always overestimate how much their children can eat. Voila! Free food.
Once in a while, I wake up to early and steal into one of the kitchens and I cook myself a real meal. Omelettes. Pancakes. Bacon. Just a little bit here and there that they would not notice.
The other necessities are a bit easier. There is a grocery, a health food store and two drug stores, so I have everything a girl would need, if you know what I mean. When I got sick, I learned from listening to the pharmacists which medicine was good for what.
The third and final part of the Invisible Iris Survival Plan is this – live. There are so many things to do in Greenbelt. I go to church every Sunday morning at the Chapel there though I was not really that religious before all of this. It’s there I find myself at peace. The roof is this stained glass ceiling with God looking down at every one but instead of fear, you feel that He is looking out for you. The wind in the Chapel feels touched somehow, as if the very air in that place empowers you.
Greenbelt has four bookstores and every day I read a book from one of them. I read them all. King, Green, Rice, Martin, Lawrence, Shakespeare, too many to name. They were my constant companions. I read because I not because I had nothing else to do, but because I need to transport myself to other worlds.
I visited the museum whenever there was a new artist on display, though some of the art is lost on me. I also watched the movies. I think I have watched every single movie that has been released for the past three years. I cried. I laughed. I got scared. You might be wondering how I survived the cold Greenbelt cinemas. I have learned to fold a blanket in such that I can cover them with my arms and when I hug it close to my body, it becomes invisible. I always at the topmost chair and I wrap myself up in the blanket as I watch. I lost myself in the love stories and the fantasies. I reveled in the action.
There’s also another past time that I like at the mall. I watch people. I see lovers fight and make up and fight again in the span of hour. The office workers are either rushing to work or rushing home. The dogs, they can sense me somehow, but I think they know I am no threat. I see the working girls hang out I’m front of Cafe Havana waiting for their British and American boyfriends. Here’s a secret; if the girl has a red umbrella in her drink, it means she’s available. I do not judge. They have to survive too, just like I do. Sometimes I hear their stories as they talk amongst themselves. One of them, Rose, was taken here when she was twelve years old and she has been at this work for ten years today. They are people too, and they look out for each other. They tell each other which customer is nice, which one is mean and cruel, which one tips big. They are a family in a way, and there is dignity there.
The workers at the mall are also fascinating. There’s an elevator operator named Elmer who I think is the friendliest man to ever operate that contraption. He greets everyone the cheeriest good mornings, good afternoons and good evenings to everyone that enters his box. He is on a first name basis with the regulars. He makes small with the kids.
At one of the bookstores, is a big guy who can tell you where a book is at any given time. He looks Chinese but he speaks with a British. I have seen tell customers where exactly a book is and if he cannot find it, he will order it for you off the internet.
There’s an old security guard, Mang Lando, who knows I’m there. He pays me no mind most of the time, but sometimes, he talks to me. I never talk back back. He thinks I’m a ghost but he was not afraid of me. In fact, he said that he kinda liked the company, even if I did not talk back. One time he left me a flower for no particular reason.
That is the sum total of the Invisible Iris Survival Manual. I have lived like this for three years and tomorrow is my eighteenth birthday. I suppose I am writing this because finally, I think I’m ready to come out now. I have not spoken to anyone in years and though I have survived, I long to talk to another human being. I want my story out there. I want you to know that I am here, that I exist.
You know what’s funny? My name is Iris. It means ‘rainbow’. I am invisible and I am named after the most colorful thing in the sky. But do you know what a rainbow is? It’s a ray of white light that has split itself into its primary components. In a way that’s what I am. I am all the colors in one. You really cannot see what white light is, but ay the end of the day, it’s actually all the colors in the world.
I am Iris. I am the girl who dissappeared. Come find me.