Maria was an only child who lived in a big house with her widowed father, but he somehow fell into dire straits and mortgaged all they owned to a rich widow with a flourishing pawnshop business, but then he lost all including his house and everything in it, even his daughter Maria, to the pawnshop owner, and then she married him, and shortly after he died.
Maria was left to the mercy of Tia (her stepmother) and two children. And as these stories go, they were no-goodniks, so they treated Maria like a slave. They made her sleep under the stairs and eat leftovers and do all the hard work.
But Maria was a sunny child, so sunny, in fact, you needed shades to look at her. “I like to scrub the floor on my knees, it’s like going to Mass,” she said, and smiled like it was her birthday.
Tia and the stepsisters never gave Maria makeup, so she used a cheap broken lipstick she found on the street. All her clothes were ukay, but she looked gorgeous in them. So the threesome bought ukay, too, to look cute, but they ended up okray. Somehow the shirts they got were too long or too short or too gaudy or too silly, and so they reverted to their Ralph Laurens and Pradas which didn’t look any better on them.
Maria used only their leftover nail polish, which was so little she ended up with nails unmatched, each one a different color, which made an unintended fashion statement. The trio got so mad they broke the washing machine so Maria would have to wash everything by hand and ruin her nails. When Maria couldn’t finish the daily wash, they beat her up like there was no tomorrow.
But Maria still had that irritating, radiant smile on her face that nothing could erase. The envious sisters got really pissed off and took ashes from the barbecue pit and smeared it all over Maria’s face. But she only emerged a black beauty!
What could you do with a stepsister like that? So one day they decided to drown her; Tia and the sisters invited Maria to swim with them in the sea. That afternoon there was a strong undertow that swept them all to the middle of the sea where no one could see them, and the wretched trilogy panicked. But Maria managed to cling to a bloated pig and save all three of them!
One day, while Maria was washing clothes by the old well, a huge crab crawled up to its rim. “Hi, baby,” said the crab in a familiar voice. “Don’t you ever think of me?”
“Is that you, ma?” said Maria, jumping up, all excited, to give the crab a soapy kiss. “How come you got that tough shell, and those claws and things?”
“Oh those! Karma,” said the crab. I’ve got to work it off. That’s why I’m here to help you. Pretty wretched life you have, huh?”
“Can’t complain,” said Maria, “They let me eat their leftover pudding which was only partly spoiled, and I can still wear my favorite ukay dress even if they made me mop the floor with it, and I still look like Kim Chiu, so what more can a girl ask for?”
“Who do you think you are, Iron Woman II?” asked the crab. “Yes, plantsa woman,” grinned Maria. And they talked for a long, long time.
Unbeknowest to them, the three baddies had been spying. They trapped the crab against the pleading of Maria and brought it to the kitchen where they laid it out on the kitchen table.
“Ay, bakla, sarap!” slurped Tia. They forced Maria to watch while they built a fire under the grill and roasted the crab alive.
But Maria believed in miracles. “Good fishes go to heaven. Good crabs die and resurrect,” she said to herself, as the three ate all of mama, soaking the sweet flesh in vinegar and downing it with glasses of Cheval Blanc.
All that was left of the massacred crab was cracked shells. And the evil trio had indigestion. Maria quickly gathered the shells and buried them in the backyard. Making a small cross out of twigs, she put it on top.
Maria cried and cried but still looked like Kim Chiu. Her tears soaked the ground and one of the twigs began to sprout leaves. In a short while it grew into a sapling. Then into a tree, all in one night. “Ask anything and it shall be given to you,” a voice said.
Months passed. Maria still washed clothes by the well because nobody had bothered to repair the washing machine. Then she heard the familiar voice again. “How’s life, baby? Anybody been torturing you lately?” Maria ran and hugged the tree.
“Never had a better life,” Maria reported. “The stairs fell down so I am now sleeping under the stove. Tia and the girls are studying kickboxing and are practicing on me. Oh, by the way, I have a car.”
“A car. In the cave at the back, remember? A Lamborghini with matching chauffeur.”
“Tell me more before I wilt.”
“The palace had announced that there was going to be a ball. Since I’d never been to one I decided to go, dressed in a Valentino gown and riding my wheels. The instant the prince beheld me, we fell instantly in love. We danced the Argentinian tango in the garden under the twinkling stars all night. It was heavenly.
“And then, and then—someone whispered that there was an attempt to carnap my Lamborghini! I ran, leaving behind one of my dratted Christian Louboutin slippers with 12-inch heels.”
Of course you readers know the rest of the story. How a guard found the slipper and all the world was asked to try it on, including the three uglies. But no matter how many tried, their feet were always the wrong size because those were magic slippers that shrank or grew too big if they didn’t like the wearer.
So of course it was Maria’s Christian Louboutin 12-inch-heel slipper, and it fit perfectly. So she was brought to the palace to marry the prince wearing a gown by Monique Lhuillier, its 10-meter train studded with pawned (unclaimed) jewels. From then on Maria lived in a two-hectare house made of bamboo by Ning Encarnacion Tan, interiors by Kenneth Cobonpue, imported accessories from the establishments of Marlene Ong and Ben Chan (so that the Chinese are adequately represented, too).
Oh yes, the meanies didn’t get torn apart by a Porsche and a Maserati sports car. In fact, they got invited to the wedding. So eager were the three to attend that they forced the driver to go 150 miles against the traffic and collided head-on with an empty bus on Edsa and got dedbol.
P.S. Once in a while, Maria missed her old life and would force the prince to sleep under the stove with her. But other than that, they lived happily ever after.