In which Sophie discovers she is always naked regardless of her clothes.
One morning Sophie Luna cried in her room as she was always naked no matter what clothes she put on. It was a hot day in June and she was trying on outfits to wear for her job interview when she noticed the reflection in her room’s mirror: she was completely undressed. Though she just wore her white blouse and brown khaki pants, upon looking at herself, her breasts, belly button, buttocks, and genitals were all showing in front of the mirror.
So she grabbed her phone and quickly took a photo of herself and it produced a nelfie, which means a “nude selfie.” She then tried her tablet and turned on her webcam and yet they only proved her nudity. She could see her clothes but they would not appear in her mirror or her devices.
“What has happened to me?” she thought. It was not a dream, for she was fully awake and had just taken a thirty-minute bath. She frantically tried her other clothes, but no matter what she put on, she was always a naked woman. “I’m going to get late!” she said while tiptoeing among her scattered clothes. Her room by now was littered with half the contents of her wardrobe. “I will just tidy it later. What a busy day!” She looked at her calendar and recalled all the things she planned for the day: she was going to attend a job interview, take a few things from the office and join her ex-colleagues for lunch as it was her last working day with them, buy the gift for her father, meet her boyfriend’s parents, and finally, have dinner with her own family for her father’s birthday.
Upon remembering her parents, she started to cry. “My parents will see me like this.” But after a few minutes, she stopped after seeing the clock’s hand move. It was quarter past six and the hands were moving on. “I better get going!”
Though she just graduated a year ago with a degree in Computer Science, Sophie lived alone in her two-room Condo unit, for she received good pay in her first job as a software engineer in the city’s biggest video game company. Her workplace was near her home, but now she had to leave because of an incident two months ago.
Finally, she was all dressed up and ready for the day and about to exit her room when she decided she could not leave her things as messy as they were, so she spent a few minutes picking up all her scattered clothes and arranging them neatly back into her wardrobe. “Now I’m ready! No cutting corners!” she proudly said to herself.
Sophie locked her condo unit and confidently walked toward the elevator. “I got this!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I will seize the day and pass all challenges with flying colors. And then later, I will have a relaxing dinner with my family.” It was in the elevator when she realized that due to her rushing earlier, she had missed something. “Oh no! I forgot to apply deodorant to my underarms! And it’s very hot and humid today! This is going to leave sweat marks on my clothes.” Just after saying this, she looked at the reflective wall of the elevator and saw her nakedness. “Still, I could not let sweat stain my blouse, and what if I perspired during the interview or what if I started smelling when I’m with my colleagues? And I have to face my boyfriend’s parents without having deodorant?” The nude reflection on the elevator’s wall showed a worried Sophie.
“No need to go back to my room. There is a convenience store near the taxi stand. And I need to buy mint as well. The question is: when can I apply the deodorant? There is no bathroom in the convenience store and I would not do that in public. That would be gross.”
She had these thoughts when the elevator opened and an eighty-year-old woman entered slowly.
“Good morning, Madame Tan,” said Sophie.
“Good morning, Sophie. It’s a hot day today, isn’t it?” said Madame Tan.
“Yes, I felt sweating even when I was taking a bath.”
The old woman smiled as she looked at Sophie’s naked body. Then she started to reminisce and quietly dream of her past.
When I was young, I had a body as beautiful as this. I was in my old village back then, more than sixty years ago.
I was thirteen when I first saw them. My cousin Elena said that people called them jeans. She was visiting us for my auntie’s upcoming wedding, and while both of our mothers were cooking in the kitchen, she showed me a magazine. That was also the first time I learned what a magazine was. It was thinner than a book and full of pictures. The one she shared with me showed the clothes of a distant village. Elena said that it was a fashion magazine.
“Where did you get this?” I asked.
“Uncle Pedro gave it to me. He bought it while working on a foreign ship and thought I might find it interesting,” said Elena.
“You mean girls over there can wear clothes like these? These jeans?”
“And they don’t get scolded for it?”
“Just wait till you see page 8.”
I was shocked by what I saw on page 8. Women were walking in their underwear in public, on a beach! How could they do that? In front of everyone? My cousin said it’s called a bikini and people over there usually wear it during summer. I was not interested in this thing called a bikini, as I found it outrageous and my parents would kill me twice if they ever saw me wearing that in public.
But these clothes called jeans piqued my interest. Page 14 of the magazine showed a group of female students walking inside a school. They all looked so beautiful and confident. I liked that. I had always wished to be like that.
“Can I have a page from your magazine?” I asked Elena.
“Just one page. I like to cut page 14.”
“Did you find a cute boy there? I thought it was all female.”
“I want to be like this someday!” I exclaimed while showing the contents of page 14.
“Fine. It’s okay.”
I quickly searched for a blade in my mother’s drawer so I could detach the page from the magazine.
“Wait, I will lend it to you, okay? Do that later. You can cut any page you want,” said Elena. “Help me with this.”
After I helped her with embroidery, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading her magazine. I cut page 14 carefully and hid it inside my favorite book because I could not put it on our wall as my parents might throw it once they saw it.
That night, while reading my book, I occasionally looked at my special bookmark, my page 14 jeans picture, and it made me wonder. What would it be like to wear jeans? Would I be as confident as the woman shown in the photo? What would it be like to study in that school? I knew my parents would never send me to the school in our village. It was just... not for us. Our families did not send women to schools. But I got this picture. And I was going to get my very own jeans.
I looked again at my bookmark. I wondered, what was it like to finish an education and be able to work like my male cousins? I wondered, what was it like to be in control of your life?
I knew I would not get any of that, but at least I could get my jeans. Wearing them would mean a lot to me. And to prove to myself and show my dedication to this, I would save and use my own money to buy them. And so, I executed my plan.
During those days, we had a neighbor with lots of children. Every weekend, I would help her do their laundry. Even though her children were all grown up and capable, not one of them was helping their mother. She would wash all of their clothes in the river, and they wouldn’t even help her carry the dirty clothes nor bring the clean ones back. One day after she finished collecting the clean clothes, it rained while she was on her way back home, and she had to do it all over again without help from her large family. So, for a small fee, I helped our neighbor every Saturday.
I started selling fried frogs every Tuesday and Thursday. I had to wake up early in the morning to get the worms in the rice fields before my father sent out the chickens to feed on them. Once I had collected the bait, I would borrow my grandmother’s fishing rod and use it for catching edible frogs in the fields. By 2 PM, I would have run out of fried frogs and sold them all in the market.
I would then use the money I earned as capital for buying bananas, oil, and brown sugar. I would sell fried bananas coated in caramelized sugar every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This way, I could double my profits compared to just selling fried frogs. But I could not just keep selling fried bananas as people wanted variety in their snacks.
I placed all of my earnings in a gray box which I hid beneath my drawer for clothes. After a few months of doing laundry and selling fried frogs and sugar-coated bananas, I saved enough money to buy my jeans.
I was still thirteen when I visited for the first time the shop that sold them. I didn’t have the money yet then, though. I just wanted to see what they looked like and check if they were similar to what I saw in the magazine. Once a week, I visited the shop to see their jeans, though the store owner would not want to buy my sugar-coated bananas because of his recurring toothache.
And so, on the big day that I brought my savings to finally buy my jeans, I could not believe that I was actually doing it. I looked at the pair worn by the mannequin for the longest time, imagining I was the one wearing them. I was so absorbed that I didn’t notice someone approaching me from behind. He was so quiet I would not have known he was there even if I looked back. I only found out when I saw his reflection on the glass wall separating me from the mannequin. It was the reflection of my father.
“Miriam, what are you doing here?”
“Papa, I’m just looking at the clothes on display.”
“You are not thinking of wearing jeans, are you?”
“Good. We don’t have money for that.”
“I would like to wear jeans. I saved money to buy my own.”
My father looked at me with surprise. I was unsure if it was because I had saved money or because of the jeans or both. He stretched out his hand and said, “Come here, let’s talk while we go home.” That day, I didn’t get the chance to buy my jeans. My father talked about a lot of things, but all that I remembered and understood were “You are still too young” and “Wait until you are seventeen.”
That night I cried in the bathroom after checking that no one else could hear me. I would not want anyone to know I was crying because I could not buy my jeans. It was not fair. It was not like I was asking them to send me to school. Why could I not wear them? At least I could be like those women, even if it’s just by wearing jeans.
After a few months, my father became positive for tuberculosis. And on his deathbed, he smiled at me. I was already fourteen then. He said:
“Do you still remember our deal?”
“Yes, Papa, no wearing jeans until I turn seventeen.”
“Please, do it as a favor for me.”
He coughed incessantly after he said that. He looked at me again and though he wanted to say something, he could not do it, for he was in too much pain.
I squeezed his hand as a sign I would do it.
He was near death and I would have promised him anything.
So I waited for three more years before I bought my jeans. I was sixteen then and about to turn seventeen in a few days. I wanted to buy them in advance so I could have them as a birthday gift.
I went to the shop on a weekend. It was a Saturday afternoon. But first, I had to decide on the color. I would like to choose black, so they can hide the dirt, especially on rainy days. But in the end, I chose blue, because I decided to wear them only on special occasions.
While thinking about the final color, I overheard two women. By the looks of them, they were students from our village’s school.
“Are you still going to buy them?”
“Yes, why not?”
“Our school announced the ban last week. We can no longer wear jeans.”
“And what if I wear them? Are they going to suspend me?”
“They will fine you each time you break the dress code. And then they will suspend you.”
“But why? What’s with this?
“Well, our admin said these kinds of clothes invite verbal abuse and sexual harassment and distract the teachers and students. He said the ban will reduce the cases of sexual assaults.”
“Yes, they say the girls who wear jeans have it coming, that they encourage the boys. Provocative clothing makes men do things. If girls wear traditional clothes, they say cases of sexual harassment in schools will decrease. We need traditional clothing to better obscure the curves of a woman’s body.”
“But the recent victims were not wearing jeans, nor were they wearing skin-hugging, skimpy outfits. They were wearing traditional clothes.”
I listened through their conversation but finally decided that it would not affect me. It’s not like I’m studying in their school.
Once I reached our home, I first checked if my mother was around, for I wanted to try the jeans I had just bought. I waited for her to visit our neighbor, the same family with many children. After she went out, I tried the jeans in our room and to my surprise, they fit me perfectly; even the length was matched, as though they were created exactly for me. With the t-shirt my cousin Elena gave me, I was practically indistinguishable from the women in my page 14 picture, which I kept after all these years. With me wearing these jeans, people would think I was also studying in that school. I would have liked to try them more, but after a while, I heard my mother return home so I quickly changed clothes and returned my jeans to the cabinet.
The next day, I visited our village cemetery where my father was laid to rest. I shared with him that I kept my promise after four years; I waited and didn’t break my words. Finally, I could wear my jeans and yet not make my father sad and worried.
While I was on my way home, I wondered when I could finally wear them outside in public. It should be on a special occasion, and of course, after my birthday. Then I realized that our Village Ceremony was coming soon. I could wear them then.
I attended the Village Ceremony with my mother, and if my father didn’t succumb to tuberculosis, he would have joined us as well. I was very excited to wear my jeans for the first time, and I wished he was there to see me. Even after four years since I saw the picture in the magazine, jeans were still not commonly worn in our area of the village, and I wanted to wear them to celebrate my seventeenth birthday.
However, my grandfather and uncles noticed that I was wearing jeans instead of the traditional village attire. My mother apologized profusely to her in-laws, but I objected because jeans were made to be worn and I should wear them. My grandfather and uncles took me away from my mother and dragged me to a vehicle, saying they were bringing me to the hospital for a check-up. Check-up for what? There was nothing wrong with me; I just wanted to wear my jeans.
My grandfather and uncles bullied my mother into submission and then drove the vehicle, leaving her with the rest of my relatives. They started beating me when we reached the river beyond the village. One of my uncles punched me so hard that I lost two of my front teeth, and my grandfather almost made me blind when he kicked his shoes right into my eyes.
I was about to pass out when I realized that they had started to remove my jeans and undress me. I knew I was going to get raped and I could not allow it, so I began biting and scratching anyone who came near me. I growled and snarled and foamed like a mad dog, but it only took two punches to my gut for me to lose consciousness. The last thing I saw was my grandfather and uncles getting me completely naked.
I didn’t know how long I was unconscious, but I dreamt later on that I participated in a religious ritual where people were flying a huge kite. It was soaring in the skies amidst the strong winds, and no matter how many men pulled the kite, they could not control nor bring it down. They pulled and pulled but the kite was too strong for them, and it tried to pull them up instead. But in the end, the men triumphed, and in one strong tug, they successfully brought down the huge kite, which was still shaking and twitching as though it was having a spasm. We ran and looked at the kite when it reached the ground, and it had long hair and was shaped liked a woman. This scared me and gave me a jolt.
When I woke up, I was in the house of a man I had never seen before. His name was Jiro. Though I was raped by my grandfather and three of my uncles, Jiro was able to come in time to stop them from killing me: they were about to hang my neck with a rope on the bridge above the river. I never returned to my village after that and Jiro became my future husband.
The elevator reached the lobby and Sophie let Madame Tan get out first.
“Have a good day, Madame Tan.”
“Take care, Sophie.”
Though it was only early morning, the sun was shining brightly when Sophie started walking toward the convenience store. There were not many people on the street, but she saw a beggar sitting next to the store and a cleric resting on the chair of a nearby shop.
“Maybe if there are not many customers inside the store, I can find a secluded area and use the deodorant there itself. I will pay for it first, of course.” Sophie giggled at the thought of doing it in public though she knew she would never do anything like that. “I will just apply it when I reach the bathroom in the building before my interview. It’s hot and I’m beginning to sweat.” Fortunately, the store was air-conditioned and it was cold when she got inside.