You discreetly pick a bit of meat stuck between your teeth, then triumphantly flash a smile again. Your living room is more cramped than usual because it’s your lola’s birthday. Her friends, a gaggle of old ladies from the neighborhood, have gathered around you. Their cackling sounds hostile, and you can’t believe you feel threatened at your own home. You stretch your lips even wider, hoping that your smile deflects their probing questions. Across the room, your cousins, all tall and self-conscious now, deliberately avoid eye contact. Never have smartphones been so handy.
You’re surprised at the amount of information they know about you. They know you work in Quezon City. They know you work for a government agency. They know you went to Hong Kong for your birthday. But there’s one thing you know they’ve been dying to ask. One thing they’ve been at pains to get from you. You see it in their quivering brows and knowing glances as they muster the subtlety they don’t have. You know it’s coming, because your twenty-three-year old cousin is there, and he’s brought along his baby and the baby’s mother.
But you are far smarter than any of them. So you pick up your plate, load it with a fresh slice of cake, and smile to them before they can even so much as give each other another glance. “My phone’s dead, I’m just going to charge it.” They don’t see it, but as you rise from your seat, it vibrates inside your pocket, like a writhing fish waiting to be unhooked.