WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Crimes of fashion

DUMAGUETE CITY (MindaNews/21 April) — With a deft twist, the man took her right arm cleanly off her shoulder socket. He nonchalantly swung the limb over his shoulder, his face impassive as he waited for his wife to take the other arm off. When she was done, he helped her roll the halter up and past the mannequin’s well-formed breasts and over her head. His wife then handed me what I asked for.

She was the third mannequin to shed her togs for me yesterday. There she stood, a forlorn parody of Venus de Milo, her nudity a testament to my crime.

For an uncomfortable instant, my mind flashed a collage of images –  of countless shop windows with all the mannequins that at one time of another I had a hand at disrobing. Most dominant was the image of three – bold and bare, and standing together as the sun went down – at a boutique window in Baker’s Hill in Puerto Princesa.

I took the prize and hurried away to the fitting room. Who was I kidding? I knew the blouse would be a perfect fit. I knew I brought enough money to pay for it. The fitting room was just for hiding out until the shop owners would have covered up the scene of my crime.

I had interrupted the couple at closing up time, stopping them from rolling down the aluminum accordion doors that would have prevented anyone from getting a mouth-watering eyeful of what was in the shop. All day, I had tried to stay away. That blouse had been there at mid-morning when I crossed the street to use the BPI ATM next to the shop. In fact, it was right after I took some cash out that I went over to check how much the blouse was selling. It was made from Nepalese weave. I like the earth hues and how those panels of different weaves are sewn together. I like that black lining embroidered with running spirals of bright thread that bleed into different colors – yellow to green to blue to pink and yellow again.

That blouse survived our first encounter because I had yet been virtuous at that hour. My withdrawal was for the purchase of a pair of pants to replace the one that I forgot to pack. So off I went in the direction of the pants shop.

As I remember, my target was three blocks down. What I don’t seem to remember exactly is just how many sneakily, seductively, come-hither boutiques there are between the ATM and the pants shop!

Lord, it’s enough to test a woman’s virtue.

Those boutiques wore me down. I really tried to hold on to my resolve to do with my money as I intended –that is, to go and buy pants – but a block down and my brain switched to calculator mode. It started sending me computations of what I could afford and still have enough left over when I get to the pants shop.

Silky georgette shift from Italy. My size. Hawaiian muu-muu. They, too, rarely come in XS. Japanese slippers shaped like a surfboard. Swim wrap in gauzy plum – from the sea to the party. Lord, I must have died and gone to heaven.

Two blocks down and my internal odometer took to sending me message alerts on the number of steps back to the ATM.

Eight steps further and my internal GPS summoned my cognitive map of downtown Dumaguete, helpfully highlighting in flashing dots all the BPI ATMs within a 100-meterradius.

Two hours and the third block finally, I found a pair of pants that had my name on it. Well, it seemed that way, anyway. The salesclerk said no one else buys pants this size. That means that all its life this had been waiting nobody, nobody but me! And right here where my feet had brought me.

Destiny. That is what it was.

Gosh, I wonder why I don’t go crazy in the airconditioned comfort of those malls sprouting up in my city. Here in this university town by the sea where the shops and the restaurants are a celebration of all things beautiful, I’d gladly throw away virtue to the wind, force nudity on these parodies of the female form, and walk away carting what brings a lift to my toes and lightness to my heart, my guilt conveniently tucked away in my back pocket.

Weak, so weak. Two-hour, Five-shopping-bag weak.

Too late perhaps to sweep off my mind the calculator, GPS, and odometer functions and call in the physicist who would work out space to fit all these in my flight bag.Wasn’t that why I didn’t pack the pants in the first place? Because the carry-on was heavy enough already?

Three more days in this town. Thus far, a walk down these streets meant a purchase every twenty minutes or so.

As I hiked back to my room, the calculator in my mind started computing the difference between what I earn in two hours against what I can spend at the same time. That road leads back to virtue and prudence and self-denial… Boring. I slammed the calculator function shut. Time enough for that when I get back to my virtuous, prudent, self-denying desk.

Nell, who understands my weakness, texted me: “Maghunos-dili ka, Gail Ilagan!”

Cease and desist. Yeah, too late, guardian angel. How about I just confess my crimes when I get back? Better yet, wear them?  (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected]. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says