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Fiction, Short Fiction

The Death of Rosa Roxas

by: Kartika

She lit a cigarette, blew five smoke rings and said "Welcome. Feel at home and get used to this place, you won't ever leave."

I rewound the tape and headed for the mirror. And as the same scene was playing on tv behind me, I faced the mirror, lit a cigarette, blew five smoke rings and said, "Welcome. Feel at home and get used to this place, you won't ever leave."

Perfect. The face in the mirror was exactly like the face on tv.

I was ready to be Rosa Roxas.

She lived in a townhouse in New Manila. Quite unexpected for someone of her stature. Granted, the townhouse was quite luxurious: a four bedroom, two-storey structure with a roof deck, a two-car garage, a walk-in closet and a Jacuzzi. Still, she could have easily afforded to buy a mansion in Ayala Alabang or even Forbes Park. When she was asked about her relatively modest living arrangements in her 1998 interview for BluePrint, she said, "I'm a single woman and I don't see myself marrying. Why would I need a big house? I like my solitude, and having a mansion would mean that I'd have to have at least three maids and I don't think I can live with that many people."

I've memorized everything she said in that interview. I've memorized most of the things she has said in all her interviews -- on print, on the radio, on TV. It was easy. There was nothing she has said in any of her interviews that I couldn't have said myself. Even her acceptance speech when she won Best Actress in the 2000 Manila Film Fest was precisely what I would have said if I had been the one receiving the award: "I would like to thank, most of all, the entire movie industry for allowing women like me to play diverse, interesting and challenging roles that allow us to stretch our craft and improve our skills. I look forward to being part of an industry like this." I didn't quite agree with her acceptance speech when she won the Famas Award that year, since she mostly talked about being an actress was nothing compared to what other people were doing with their lives -- like the nuns in the orphanage where she volunteers. I didn't particularly care about orphans, but after hearing her speech, I started doing volunteer work for that orphanage as well.

I waited in the van outside her townhouse for the perfect opportunity to make my move. I had to time things perfectly and make sure that my plan would go off with minimal effort and time. My body is not as strong as it used to be so I can't afford to tax myself. It gets to me, how my body is slowly but surely deteriorating. As I sat in the van for hours, I could almost feel the cancer cells moving within, contaminating healthy cells and leaving a trail of waste which would eventually leave my insides a wasteland for maggots to feed upon.

I would not have found out about my illness if it weren't for her. I was watching her on TV two years ago, taping the show when she made her announcement: "I don't plan to be an actress forever, I am more than my craft. In two years, I'll exit my public life and pursue other things. Travel. Do more volunteer work. Maybe even write my autobiography. I'd like to quit while I'm ahead. There's nothing worse than being a has-been. Besides, there are a lot of really talented young actresses at the moment and it's time for them to be in the spotlight." I fainted at the news and my maid had to call a doctor when she couldn't revive me. The doctor suggested a thorough medical check-up and it was then that they found the lump in my left breast. It wasn't benign.

I flew to the US for treatment. A series of tests, what seemed to be a million chemo-therapies and surgeries, and an endless sea of doctors did nothing more than to stem the damage the cancer cells were doing to my body. I knew I was going to die in two years -- just in time for Rosa Roxas' retirement. So instead of continuing with rigorous but futile therapy, I changed my plans. I went to see the best cosmetic surgeon instead, and, against all my doctors' advice, had a million more surgeries to change my face.

I put on my mask to hide my face when I saw Rosa Roxas leaving her townhouse for her daily jog. It wasn't time for her to see me yet, but it was time for me to make my move. I followed her in my van as she jogged, waiting again for her to stop by the water fountain as she usually did when she went running. I know her daily routine and I know all about her public life. For the past year since I've gone back to Manila, I've done nothing more than to watch her -- on TV, in movies and in real life. She had spent most of the year finishing her final film, "Gabriela: Hero and Lover", which promises to be a classic and a big hit. The film was released last week and she had spent that doing interviews and confirming her retirement. There have been features and short documentaries on her for the past few months. Her farewell.

What she and the entertainment industry don't know is that her final farewell will happen in six months, when I die.

I stepped out of the van as she bent over the water fountain to drink. I stand behind her, and as she turned my way to continue running, I hit her on the face and knock her out. I drag her to the van. Then I pump some valium into her to make sure that she stays unconscious in the van while I execute the rest of the plan.

She screamed when she finally woke up.

I don't know if it was because she found herself in a room filled with her pictures and newspaper clippings of her, or if it was because she found herself facing an exact replica of herself sitting across from her. Probably both.

Gone was the cool and sophisticated Queen of Philippine Entertainment. Gone was the confident celebrity. She started babbling about how I won't get away with this and that I'll pay for this. Then she started crying in confusion, asking me why I did this, why I kidnapped her and what was I going to do with her. Then she got tired and stopped talking and just sniffled and moaned like a drowned cat.

Rosa Roxas at her finest. This is exactly how she was in "Trapped: The Lorena Tuason Kidnap for Ransom", which won her all the best actress awards in 2000.

I lit a cigarette, blew five smoke rings and said, "Welcome. Feel at home and get used to this place, you won't ever leave."

I was Rosa Roxas at her finest, too, and her most classic scene. I pulled it off well, exactly how she did it in the 1985 classic, "The Witches of Siquijor".

"You're crazy," she said, lifting her head from her hands.

"Perhaps. But that's not the point here. I want to make a deal with you. You see, I'm dying. In six months, the cancer will have eaten up all of my vital organs and I'll die. You want a new life. You're retiring. You can have mine and I'll have yours. My plastic surgeon is on-call to have your face changed into mine. It's not a bad face. Quite pretty, actually. We could pass off as sisters, you know. Same build. Same complexion. Same hair type. It won't be such a major change. Basically, you just need a bigger nose and less full lips. Oh and less deep-set eyes. I'm the plainer sister, of course. And you're the pretty one. It's always like that. One has to be prettier than the other. Thank god for cosmetic surgery... But that's not the point. The point is we both need this exchange. You get a new life. And I get the death I want. I lied about you not ever leaving this place. You will be allowed to leave, of course. In fact, when I die, you can do pretty much anything you want to do. I'll leave all your money to you and you get all my money."

"I don't want a new life."

"Of course you do. You said it yourself. You're done with the whole showbiz bit, you want to travel, do volunteer work, pursue other things. Quit while you're ahead, remember? I'm offering you the perfect opportunity to do just that -- with both our financial resources. In six months, you won't ever have to lift a finger to work, you can explore the rest of the world for the next fifty years and you'd still have enough money to build one of those orphanages you love so much."

"Yes, I want to do all those things but I want to do them as myself. As Rosa Roxas. I've worked all my life to be who I am, why should I give it up just because a crazy woman thinks I'd want to be her? Just because you want to be me and want to have my life doesn't mean that I'd want yours."

"I really don't want to have your life. I want to have your death."

"My death? All of this is because you want to have a grand and public funeral?"

"Yes, I guess that's one way of putting it. You see, while I was lying in my hospital bed in between treatments and surgeries, I realized just how unremarkable my life is. Sure, I've made quite a bit of money in the course of my life, but other than that, I have nothing. And because of that, I deserve a grand death. I deserve to be in the newspapers when I die. I deserve my moment in the spotlight."

"Even if it's not really you? Even if all that publicity is not over you but because you took on my face, my name and my life?"

"It doesn't matter whose name is in the papers. I'll know that it was for me and I'll know that I've pulled off something that not a lot of people have been able to do. My life will no longer be unremarkable."

"No one would buy it. They'd spot you as a fake right away."

"You're wrong. You're forgetting that you lead a very solitary life. You don't allow anyone to get close to you. You live with a maid and a driver. Your family is not even in the country. No one is close enough to you to spot little inconsistencies. Besides, I'll only be you for six months. I can even spend those six months away from Manila and just return just when I'm about to die."

"OK. How about I give you those six months and take my life back when you die?"

"Don't be stupid. Dead people remain dead. Once I die, so will Rosa Roxas. You'll have no choice but to be me. Or someone else. You can talk to the plastic surgeon about who you want to look like."

"Then my answer is no."

I laugh. "You thought you had a choice in this? You don't. The only choice you have here is if you'll do this with me or if I'll do this to you. So what will it be?"

Back from the Dead? Another Rosa Roxas Sighting
By Sara Villanueva

Prague, Czech Republic - Rosa Roxas, Queen of Philippine Cinema, was spotted last Monday in the Kafka Museum. She was recognized by a group of Filipino domestic helpers working in Prague, but when they approached her, she ran away. Roxas was last spotted in Zanzibar, Tanzania by a Filipino engineer.

There have been twelve sightings of Roxas in different cities since she died of cancer in 2003.


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