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Flash Fiction by Donnaly Atajar

It's Different Here

Josephine swayed anxiously from side to side. A cheap leather purse hung from her shoulder, stuffed with savory pulutan and brightly colored kakanin she was sure would not be available in American grocery stores. The 16-hour flight left her tsinelas-clad feet swollen, but she could hardly be bothered amidst the prospect of a fresh start, all alone in a foreign country she had longed for since she was a child.

She strained her neck to peer over the shoulders in front of her. Everyone seemed so much bigger and cold here. Each family presented a large sum of money to the customs agent through a slot under the clear glass. Panic set in, as she feared they would put her right back on that plane after teasing a taste of freedom. When she neared the front of the line, her seatmate-turned-airplane-fling slowly reached back, sliding her an envelope containing $5,000 in cash. She received the first stamp in a newly minted passport and convincingly agreed that her visit would only be 30 days long. After proving she could support herself for the duration of her stay, she discreetly handed the stack of green bills back, adrenaline overtaking any show of gratitude she might have offered. Later, she would hear her father’s voice echoing in her head, “Walang hiya ka talaga...”

She emerged curbside at Tom Bradley International Terminal, not knowing what life held next. Unlike the other arrivals, she toted no cardboard box secured with rope and adorned with a street address three times in permanent marker. She had chosen to leave most remnants of her past in the province, desperately wishing she could have left the painful memories behind, too. Her name wasn’t even Josephine. That just happened to be the name on the visa that got approved.

Donnaly Atajar is a Filipino American educator and writer based in San Diego, CA. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Kubo, a content engine for Filipino millennials in the digital sphere. She holds a bachelor's in Sociology from UCLA and a master's in Higher Education Leadership from University of San Diego. Her mantra: "I can't have it all, but I can have all that is for me." You can find her on Twitter @donnalyy.

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