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January 29 2012 1 29 /01 /January /2012 05:04

 

 

 

 

                 A Song Of the Sea

 

                                       by Antonio Enriquez

 

 

The city man and his three companions are fishing very early that morning off the west coast of Labuan, a fishing village in Zamboanga City, island of Mindanao. With him as fishing-guide is Old Tacio, who knows all the best fishing grounds in the Sulu Sea, and a boy-helper who baits the fish and unrolls the tangled nylon lines. Suddenly Mr. Castro jumps up on his feet as the tánsi fishing line sizzles in his soft hands, with a huge fish struggling and streaking the water with its great fin just behind the bamboo outrigger. Then they see its ash-colored body about half a meter under the surface of the sea like an ominous shadow.

“Help! Help!” cries Mr. Castro to his companions. “Big...very big fish.” He is nearly jostled overboard as three men rush to him and grab the line to pull in the great shark. Only they do not know it is a shark until, with the hook hurting its mouth (for now four, not one man, are pulling in the tánsi line), the shark lifts himself out of the water and explodes like a bomb. Then the old man shouts at the boy to pull up the iron anchor hanging halfway in the water, so that the tánsi line will not get entangled round the anchor’s rope. And then the great shark comes alongside the outrigger, they see that it is as big as the motorboat, its fin alone is over two feet over the water surface. For a few minutes they all stand in the boat  and are dumb and speechless watching the monster not seven meters away behind the bamboo outrigger, they can see it all, just behind the parallel outrigger bamboo tube: ash-backed, small-mouthed, and pig-eyed the great shark is. But before the boy-helper has completely pulled up the iron anchor, the great shark suddenly wheels and plunges under the motorboat, and everyone on the canoe fears the great shark will leap up and turn their motorboat upside down and with everyone overboard; then what horror as the shark feeds on them. The line again sizzles hot in their hands and then goes slack—and the shark is gone, it vanishes apparition-like in the depths of the dark sea.

Although old Tacio and the city man are so disappointed, they go on fishing since there is yet more than five or six hours of good fishing. In fact, they catch two game fishes, a ray fish and a sword fish before they decide to call it quits and return to shore.

The old man Tacio begins to sing as he steers the fishing motorboat toward shore. A soft westerly wind is blowing behind it.

“What  is the old one singing, boy?” says the man from the city.

The boy says, “About good fishing.”

 Then the man says, “Do the fishermen in your village always sing whenever they come home from fishing?

“No-no,” says the boy-helper. “They sing only when the fishing is good to thank the gods for their protection in the unpredictable sea, or when they plead for good fishing.

The boy-helper and the city man are both watching the old man Tacio squatting on the bow of the motorboat. He is singing of the good fishing they had that day and the past three days. On the stern in front of the boy-helper, three other men sit, and the wind from the speeding boat blows the hot, black motor smoke into their faces.

As they come into the bay, the sun behind them is round and red just like an egg yolk. The old man stops singing and the boy cuts off the motor. Languidly the boat slides in to the shore. The old man gets up on his feet, rising automatically, and jumps waist-deep in the water pulling the boat’s line in one hand. Wading toward the shore, the water now up to his thighs, he with other fishermen on the shore pulls the boat in by the rope, and, turning around serpent-like, they hold the boat firmly in place, as the boy-helper and the city men jump on to the shore.

Now the three men unload the fishes on the beach, and the bountiful catch lies lumpily, sand-powdered, gape-mouthed and goggle-eyed on the sand. There is a pair of ray fish and a ninety-pound sailfish whose eyes are filmy and dull in their sockets. 

Some naked children bathing in the bay now come running to look at the fishes. The mops of hair on their heads are bronzed by the sun and their naked bodies are wet and scaly like the fishes caught in the sea by the city men.

Meanwhile, the sun scorches the sea with its rays and taints the horizon red and yellow with its last fury.

The old man says, “It was very good fishing, Mr. Castro.”

“Yes, we were very lucky,” says Castro. And then to the three men he says:

“Better take them fish to the jeep.”

“All right,” they reply.

So, the three men, with the boy helping, carry the fishes to the jeep parked in the vacant lot beside Belo’s barbershop in the market place. Two of the men go back down to the shoreline and grab the sailfish by its tail and head, and carrying it between them climb up the beach to the vacant lot. They lift the sailfish up and plop it into the back of the jeep. When the two men come back, the boy leaves the vacant lot and walks down toward the motorboat to bail out the seawater on boat's bottom.

The old man and Castro are walking barefoot up the beach. The latter swears at the hot coral rocks and the sharp pebbles cutting the soles of his feet, and  limps along the shoreline. A row of vintas covered with dry coconut fronds like preserved carcasses outlines the front of the village. Their empty hulls are raised half a foot from the sand on slabs of wood that have been eaten and pitted by brine. Both men, the old fisherman and Mr. Castro, halt before the fishing canoes, which are called vintas by the local folk.

The old man says, “I think you will come back soon, Mr. Castro. Your fingers will be really itching for more fishing, again,” “Ah-ah,” Castro says. “Yes, my fingers will itch for some fishing,” “Too bad about the tiburón,” says the old man Tacio. “It is the biggest my old eyes has ever  seen ... ”And in the old man’s mind he sees the shark again, leaping white-bellied alongside their bamboo-outrigger, too dangerously close. Then Tacio, his patched short trousers and hair-whorled legs dripping with water, says, “If the tánsi line had not … ” But his voice is not sad, since the lost shark is not everything of the good fishing they had those four days in Labuan. Looking up and slapping at his wet trousers with both hands, he grins happily at the city man whose tanned and sun-burnt face is as red as the devil’s.

“Grandfather, how much do you think we could have sold the shark for?” asks Castro. The soles of his feet no longer hurts on the fine, warm sand up on the beach — not so hot on the shoreline as before.

“Maybe, in the market here it would have sold for fifty pesos,” the old man says. “In the city it would get double the price. The Chinese, for its fin alone, would pay as much as forty pesos. It’s a delicacy to them.”

The old man Tacio was terribly happy. He was happy even with the loss of the great tiburón that had run off with more than two hundred yards of the tánsi fishing line he had borrowed, and, of course, with his own wire leader and home-made hooks and lead sinkers.

He says, “I think we were too excited. We could have speared the shark the moment it came alongside our boat. But in the excitement we all forgot the salapang .... Anyway, you caught the second sailfish. That alone is already a priceless catch.”

In the vacant lot one of the three city men leans forward through the door of the jeep and clamps his palm over the horn. Suddenly, the quiet late-afternoon splits and its mantle of last daylight tears in half, as the jeep’s horn goes beep, beep, beep. Two of the city men climb in and sit on the back seat,  while the other continues to clamp his palm over the horn.

Castro says, “We are leaving now, grandfather.” He reaches behind and pulls out a leather wallet from his hip pocket wrapped in a plastic bag to keep it dry during the four days of fishing. The city man draws out some bills, which are new and crisp, and counts them slowly before handing the money to old Tacio. Says Castro, “That is fifty pesos. You may count it yourself”reminding Tacio he had given him thirty pesos as advance payment last Thursday. “Do you remember?”

The fisherman-guide Tacio did not even look at the money, although he was holding it in his dirty calloused hand. Instead, he looked up at Castro’s peeling nose, his tanned cheeks, his sun-burnt forehead and his red puffy face. It was splotched and mottled from the sun and four days of fishing off Labuan Bay.

 “Si, I remember…. ” says the old man. “But this money isn’t enough.”

“ No?” says Castro.

Old Tacio shifts his feet on the sand, saying, “No! It doesn’t pay for everything.”

“How much then?” Castro asks.

“One hundred and fifty pesos more would settle everything,” says Tacio.

 “What!” says Castro. “You must be kidding.”

Beads of perspiration roll down Castro’s tanned, pudgy face and from the corner of his slit eyes. They streak down the creases of his sun burnt neck and across the folds of flesh shiny with their own fat.

“We do not make jokes concerning money, Mr. Castro.”

 “But our contract was for eighty pesos only.... ” says the city man.

“Let me explain first, Mr. Castro,” says old man Tacio. “It is true our contract was eighty pesos for four fishing days. But what I am asking now is for the fishing line you yesterday lost with that tiburón.”

“You mean that tánsi line costs a hundred and fifty pesos?” Castro says.

Tacio is still looking up at the city man with that same grinning expression in his face, saying, “Yes; my mestizo Chino friend told me he bought the tánsi line not long ago. I am not even charging you any more for the hooks, the wire-leader, and sinkers also lost.”

In the vacant lot beside the market the jeep’s horn again goes beep, beep, beep. Says Castro, “All right, grandfather ... You wait here. I will get the rest of the money from my companions.” Castro walks off toward the jeep parked beside Belo’s barbershop, and the old man turns and leans back against the bow of one of the vintas along the beach. Just then the boy-helper comes up the beach from securing the motorboat to its mooring and sits by him and then he and the boy watch the city man walking rapidly across the vacant lot toward the jeep.

The city man Castro slides into the driver’s seat and switches the motor on, throwing the gear into first and the jeep springs forward down the dirt road like a bug. Tacio, realizing Mr. Castro is driving away without paying him, runs quick as a deer down the beach after the fast-going jeep and instantly was covered with smoke and dust-cloud from the motor car’s exhaust. His nose smarts from the sharp tang of burnt rubber and gas. When the dust-cloud disappears, he stands alone in the middle of the road, and the jeep turns the bend speeding toward the city and vanishes behind the grove of coconut trees.

The fleetest deer could not have caught up with that fast jeep and the fleeing city man, old Tacio says to himself.

Belo the barber steps out of his barbershop, and the women in the stores along the beach come out and stand in the door ways while the men in the vacant lot edge closer to the dirt road. Holding an open razor in one hand, Belo approaches the old Tacio who has come up the road.

“What happened, Tacio?” the barber asks.

“They cheated me,” Tacio says and flings his buri hat on the ground. He stamps down on it with both feet, as if it were his hat’s fault that Mr. Castro ran off without paying him in full.

“What happened?” the barber asks, again.

“He made a fool of me, demonio!” he says and jerks his head up. “Cabron! Cuckold!” 

Old Tacio and Belo the Barber gaze down the road for a minute, and then Tacio bends forward picking up his trampled buri hat and slaps off the dust on his thigh-trousers and walks down the beach.

Belo walks alongside the old man a little way, the former stepping in cadence, and, without a word, spins abruptly around and walks back to his barbershop leaving the old man alone.

Tacio  goes on, and the boy-helper upon seeing  the old man  comes up  and  walks  beside him. Slowly and heavily, they walk together until they come to a store the biggest in the fishing village.

On the steps of the store sit two half-naked children wearing only camisetas or Chinese T-shirts. Their sleeves are soiled and damp with mucous. Behind the counter lined with glass jars filled with candies, biscuits, threads, buttons, and fishing hooks a woman sits on a stool, and under her printed dress the woman’s belly's taut brown skin swells pressing against the cloth.

 “Buenas tardes, missis,” says old man Tacio. “Is your husband Julian… ” He does not wait for a reply and walks toward the room in the back of the store. Up along the walls hang fish hooks with wire or nylon leaders and two-coiled fishing lines, and in one corner a fishing net trails down from a nail onto the floor.

A middle-aged Chinese mestizo sits mending a fishing net at the head of a long wooden table, looking up when the old man comes into the room. His hands with woman-like fingers do not cease pulling a long cord.

“Hoy, friend Tacio,” says the Chinese mestizo. “And how was the fishing?”

Old Tacio with the fifty pesos in one hand, replies, “Very good. O, here is the money, Julian. But it’s only fifty pesos—” standing before the table and hearing his own strange voice.

“What? Only fifty pesos?” says the Chinese mestizo Julian.

O, o,” says Tacio. “I am indeed ashamed that this is the only money I can give you now. But something happened ... “ And he tells Julian what happened down at the beach. The merchant Julian cannot believe what he is hearing. Had he not provided the fishing guide Tacio with the gasoline and oil for the four fishing days and even loaned him his new tánsi line? When they lost it the second day, Tacio promised to get the money from Mr. Castro on Sunday or the last day of fishing. But now here he is with only fifty pesos ... just enough to pay for the gasoline and oil.

“I will pay you all of my debts,” says Tacio. In his effort to hold back his shame, he squints and his dull eyes flit toward the merchant's woman-like fingers. “Little by little I will pay you back …. It might even be sooner than you yourself will believe possible,” he stops. “Trust me.”

“Of course, I trust you,” says Julian. “But I need the money on Saturday.”

“I still have my small boat, Julian,” says old Tacio. He does not look at Julian but instead smiles hard with the corners of his thick mouth barely rising. “Maybe you have forgotten …. ”

“I have not forgotten, friend,” says the Chinese mestizo. Both hands lie still before him on the table for he has ceased mending the net. “But can you pay me on Saturday even half of it? No? I thought so .... ”

“No-no,” cries Old Tacio, “I mean yes, I will pay you.”

The Chinese mestizo merchant does not say anything for a while, and then continues: “You know, friend Tacio, I was depending very much on this money which I expected from you. I planned this week to buy new stocks in the city for my store, which you can see is very much empty!”

“Yes, I know ... ” says old Tacio looking at the other and with great effort raises his eyes from the woman-like slender fingers to the merchant’s face. Again he squints, and still slightly squinting wearily says: “That’s why besides the regular ferry and charter trips I do now and then, I am going dynamite fishing with Lungi tomorrow.”

Julian says nothing and is silent for a while.

Then the merchant says, “Surely, you don’t mean yourself!”

“Uagh …,” says Tacio. “I myself will go.”

So the other says, “Yourself, really, my friend Tacio?”

Julian leans over the table and quietly gathers the fishing net and pushes it away to one corner. “You are too old for it,” he says. “Diving for dynamited fish is only for strong young people. You are an old man now. You do  not know that!”

Sharp words that hurts old Tacio but makes him more determined to go dynamiting for fish. He says: “Uagh, one is never too old for dynamiting fish.”

Says the Chinese mestizo, “Whom do you think you are fooling, hah? That devil Lungi is only interested in your motorboat to take his dynamited fish to market. He cares nothing for you but only for his fish. Ay, old Tacio, you will be dealing with the devil himself! You know that ... !”

Tacio thinks, He doesn’t believe I’m a good diver and can dive very deep.

Julian swears to himself, Fool! and right away ceases; he has been too rash and impetuous. “And you, friend Tacio,” he says aloud, “believe him ... the devil himself!”

However, when old man Tacio leaves the Chinese mestizo’s store he is carrying half a can of gasoline, and the boy who waited outside on the steps takes the gasoline can from him and carries it himself. Down the beach the two walk unhurriedly and up to the open shed in front of one of the two stores beside the market place.

There the boy says, “Old one, is you going dynamite-fishing tomorrow?”

“That’s right, ‘noy,” he says.

“I heard ‘Ñor Julian say you are too old for diving!”

Offended, Tacio says, “You ... shut your big mouth, hah!”

Both sit on a slope of beach and for some while watch the sunset in the bay. After a while he tells the boy to bring the gasoline to the house, and to tell Lungi he will go dynamite-fishing with him mañana.

Old Tacio goes into a tuba-an, a coconut wine store, just behind the shed. Store owner Pacita herself brings out a glass and the bottle of tuba she reserves for old Tacio every afternoon when he comes back from fishing. She pours the tuba and leaves the bottle on the table in front of the old man. Through the night he drinks out of his reserved tuba bottle and a couple more until he retches outside against wall of the tuba-store. Stepping into the dark, his stomach sour and with wobbly legs, he starts walking toward home; the boy comes to his side, who has returned from seeing Lungi, and holds up his arm to keep the old man from veering off the path.

When they reach the hut, Tacio climbs the bamboo steps alone with the least of noise so he does not wake up his young wife, whom he took from the native Subanon tribe as his second wife.

He suddenly feels hollow and empty inside. Drinking has not killed his shame … only makes it worse. The old man Tacio skips his supper and goes to sleep on the bamboo-split floor next to the bed he shares with his woman. But he cannot sleep, thinking of the dynamite-fishing in the morning.

A little before daybreak before anyone is awake, old Tacio gets up and after drinking his coffee wraps some boiled rice and a piece of dried fish in a banana leaf for his lunch. Going down the steps Tacio makes less noise than he had last night and goes rapidly up the path toward the beach. He carries the half can of gasoline himself since he does not  need the boy-helper this trip—unlike the four days fishing with the city man Mr. Castro. At the end of the path that merges with the dirt road, he sees that many of the vintas are still up on the beach, but his motorboat is already in the water. On its bow stands barefooted the dynamite-fisherman Lungi and some other dynamite-fishermen and fish divers; Tacio approaching them suspects they are  laughing at him for going dynamite-fishing at his old age. I could be mistaken, he thinks. But if so how is it they have  not stopped sneering?

 The drab morning clouds are low and so densely hovering over the village that surely he can touch them if he will only reach out with his hand. Ay, it is perfect weather just as perfect as the day before when he and Mr. Castro and the other city men had gone fishing off the bay.

In a while the village dynamite fishermen and the fish divers stop chuckling and lift their fishing canoes from the wooden boards and carry them, one on each side, down the shore into the water. Before their canoes are a few feet from the shoreline, the fishermen and the fish divers jump into the canoes and kick the water behind them to keep the canoes from floating back to the beach in the returning tide.

Later, when the morning sun is beginning to rise over the shimmering horizon and the clouds high in the sky, Tacio sitting on the stern of his motorboat lifts his head back and sings aloud for a generous catch. His voice is plaintive and full: laden with hope and passion. Quietly the young divers listen to him and quiet their mocking voices and under their breath hum with old Tacio’s plaintive song,  thinking with the old man of the home-made bombs that will soon explode and kill the fishes and of the many trips they must make to retrieve the bruised and dead fishes in the depths of the dark Sulu sea. And they also sing mournfully for their fisherman companions, who had lost a limb or an arm when the home-made dynamites prematurely exploded in their hands or on the bottom of their canoes.

 

                                 End

gaff

coconut wine

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September 5 2011 2 05 /09 /September /2011 19:13

 

Copyright © 2006 by A. R. Enriquez

 

 

                                 Jesuits Return to Fort Pilar: 1666---No Way!

 

Cornerstone of the fortaleza was placed on June 23, 1635, in New Samboangan (ancient name Naawan, and present day Zamboanga); it was called La Fuerza Real de San Jose; the garrison and the fort was commanded by Captain Juan de Chavez, who, two months earlier, came with 300 Spanish regulars and 1,000 Visayan auxiliary; though built in two‑three months time (details and facts vary from one historian to another), it was of stone and mortar (question is:  where did they get so much stone?), and had no equal elsewhere in the region "to Samboangan's by either the Portuguese or Spaniards themselves."

It was abandoned in 1663 when Gov. Sabiniano de Lara, crouched in a musty corner in Intramuros, anticipating the Chinese corsair Cogseng’s threat to invade Manila, ordered all Spanish "able‑bodied men" to shield him from Cogseng, who had just overran Formosa. A great blunder it was, politically and militarily, for Cogseng never made it here, having given up the ghost before he could carry out his plan to assault Manila. He had either caught a virus, as was rumored, or had died of consumption.

            When the Spanish forces, with the inevitable missionaries of course, at their heels, returned in 1719, 56 years or so later, was the time the fort of Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza was constructed, more massively, over the old foundations of Fort San Jose. 

            The forts’ builders:  San Jose fort ‑‑‑ a Jesuit and architect‑geometrician, Melchor de Vera, planned and constructed the San Jose fort; what we have today, called Fort Pilar, was built by an Army engineer, Juan de Sicarra.

            Here's the error on the marker of Fort Pilar, and the correction of Fr. Hilario Lim y Atilano, who, while he was around found great pleasure in pointing out to anyone, who could listen, as a way of explanation, the swapping of “S” to “X,” in the suffix "SJ"; he being an "ex" or former Jesuit, unfrocked.      

            I paraphrase what I can recall of his words:

            The Jesuits didn't return in 1666; no way they could for the decree for the fort's restoration came in 1668, and was implemented 51 years later, that is, in 1719; it was then through the order of Fernando Bustillo y Bustamante that the "Jesuits were only too glad to comply."

            The marker with the aforementioned error remains uncorrected on the brass plaque by the national government---for all, Indios, Whites, Brown, Black, Yellow, whatever color, to see, using the usual refrain:  no funds; read, comatose and unconcerned!

 

                                                            -End-

 

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September 5 2011 2 05 /09 /September /2011 18:54

Copyright © 2006 by A. R. Enriquez.

 

 

Jambangan: the “Garden of Flowers” never was!

 

My compoblano and I were talking about the original name of Zamboanga or its root. So,  to him, a media practitioner himself, whom I’d known for years, I said,

“Zamboanga, as a ‘garden of flowers’ never existed. So, why call it ‘city of flowers?’”

He  said, “Verdad—?What you said?

In Chabacano, I replied, “Si, es verdad –it’s true.

He said, “How? Why don’t you write about it?”

I said, “I will.”

So I — kind of thinking it as a challenge — wrote:

I only heard that Zamboanga, the ciudad where I was born and initialized to manhood in its bars and dancing halls, was the progeny of the Indonesian word “jambangan,” when I was already in high school, in the early ‘50s. Before that never! The common word was “sambuan,” meaning the long pole Samals used to fasten their sailing-canoes to as anchor, when they go down to barter in the old port town of Masinloc.  Samboangan, as spelled on the map of Murillo Velarde sketch of Fort Pilar, published in 1734, was the unchallenged name then; it definitely wasn’t “Jambangan”; as early (or late) as in the 18th century. And a historical novel I later wrote had “Samboangan,” with “S” instead of “Z” and an affix “an” in its title: Samboangan: the Cult of War , UP Press, 2006.

Back to “Jambangan.” In his book, Roots of Zamboanga Hermosa,             ex-Jesuit Father Hilario Lim y Atilano wrote, “To dispose of this myth, once and for all, let us set the record straight.”

Faithfully, I followed his track, untrodden until then, but fairly a good path. None of the Subanon “apostoles,” he claimed there, like the Italians Sanctini and Paliola, who spoke Subanon like natives do, ever mentioned jambangan, the “garden of flowers,” nor Combes in his book, who wrote of almost everything he saw. While on a mission with the Subanons, he wrote of fishes that ate the slime of the huge tree and excreted ambergris (ME ambregris, fr. MF ambre gris, gray); the school of tiny fish which metamorphosized into shape of huge monsters to fool their predators; of pearl divers who cleared their eyes with blood of white cocks before diving to the floor of the sea. He wrote of fruits, vegetables, and minerals but never once scribbled of the garden of flowers in the forest of Zamboanga.

Majul and de la Costa had ransacked the archives of the world, but did not find the mythical jambangan of flowers, as referrence to Zamboanga’s root name.

In Blair & Roberson, 55 volumes, Zamboanga is spelled 18 different ways (two are missing, according to Fr. Lim: “San Buagan” and “Samboungam”), no one historian ever spelled it jambangan to refer it to the myth or legend.

Then there was this story told to me by the late Adolfo Navarro, known faithfully as “Cabonegro,” then retired Zamboanga City tourism commissioner. He had authenticated our interview by signing on every page. This to me, “wraps it up” — excuse the mundane expression. The story he told me went something like this:

A couple of Indonesian guests came to Zamboanga, and while the late Mayor Cesar Climco and Adolfo Navarro were entertaining the Indonesians, the latter mentioned about the familiarity of the word Zamboanga to their Indonesian word “jambangan.” Mr. Navarro recalled the four of them were standing there under the veranda looking out  toward the sea. “The word ‘jambangan’ to us in our language means ‘flowers,’ they said. Immediately, Mayor Climaco, an energetic and quick-witted person, who was then anxiously promoting Zamboanga for tourism, picked it up as a monicker to promote Zamboanga. “Jambangan” then was found everywhere: Jambangan coffee shop, Jambangan restaurant, Jambangan hotel, Jambangan everywhere—until it ended up as the pretentious ancient and original derivative of “Zamboanga” — because of its multitudinous usages and repetitions.  A couple of years later, I met an Indonesian woman, wife of a protestant minister, who said the word “jambangan” doesn’t even mean flowers, rather it is the ‘vase in which we put  flowers...a flower vase.’”              

So, compoblano, take this as a reply to your “how,” but don’t throw the flower vase.

 

                                                             -End-

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May 23 2011 2 23 /05 /May /2011 09:53

Son

Copyright © 2010 by Antonio Enriquez

Digital Philippines

From paper book- Dance a  White Horse to Sleep and Other Stories, Asia-Pacific Series, UQP, Queensland, Australia, 1977

 

 

Son

                                     by Antonio Fermin Enriquez

 

“Papa will surely get angry when he sees this fallen fence,” he said as he came from the house to meet his girl. “And he fixed it only this morning.”

“Why did it fall down?” she said.

“It is because of the carabao of ’Ñor Piloy. I does not know why he cannot keep his carabao tied good and strong.”

Tito pressed down the rusty barbed wire with his feet and Thelma, carrying the food basket, held up the hem of her skirt between her brown legs and went through the fence. “Be careful with your dress,” he said. “It may get tangled on the barbs.”

She waited for him on the other side.

“Is that why your father was so angry with ‘Ñor Piloy the other day?”

Si,” he said. “His carabao ate up most of Papa’s coconut seedlings.”

He straightened the bamboo post and dug in some stones around it. She stood behind him and watched him work.

Tito and Thelma had come to the beach to fish and eat under the shade of the trees. Tito brought along fishing lines, one for himself and the other for her. He carried the lines himself because he remembered how Thelma had pierced herself once with the hook while carrying her line and how he had to pass the hook all the way through her forefinger and how he had to cut off its head before pulling it out.

They pulled off their slippers and walked barefoot on the sandy bank, going toward the trees where they would leave the food. There were dry leaves in the shade under the trees and they crackled under their feet.

“Just leave the food there,” Tito told her, putting down the pail of shrimps. ”O, o. Just there.”

“Them dog might eat it,” she said.

He said, “We can watch the food from the shore while we is fishing.”

Tito uncoiled the lines from their bamboo reels and made sure that there was no break in the cords. Then he attached a small weight to each line. He picked up the pail, and together they went on down the beach with their bare feet cold on the sand.

“I hope to catch a big one,” she said, smiling at him and digging her toes into the sand.

“You will get a big one,” he told her. He handed her one of the lines and some shrimps in a banana leaf.

“I thinks I will fish over at the bocana,” she said. “There at the mouth of the river.”

O, o,” said Tito in Chabacano. “There is plenty of taraquito there.” 

She started off toward the inlet, Tito watching her from where he stood. Then he reached down into the pail, his hand chasing the shrimps. He caught one and hooked it through the tail so that it wouldn’t come off while in the water. And then he threw the line way out, throwing it like a lasso.  It hit, weights splashing, and sank quickly.

Tito stood in the afternoon sun holding the line in one hand, waiting for that sudden jerk at the line. But the fish were not striking, not even eating his bait; so he rolled up his pants and moved knee-deep in the water, changed the bait with a live shrimp and made that asthmatic sound by pressing the line hard between his thumb and forefinger and pulling at it suddenly against the other hand holding the bamboo reel. This was supposed to attract the fish. Still, the fish did not strike and he turned and watched her sitting on the bank of the bocana.

“Did you catch any yet?” she shouted from the inlet.

“Not yet,” Tito shouted back.

“There is no fish here either,” she said.

“There is plenty there,” said Tito. “There is always taraquito when the tide rises.”

“I does not seem to catch any,” she said.

Tito drew in his line, coiling it around the bamboo reel. He walked up along the seashore toward her. He stopped and gave her his line and took hers. He said, “Perhaps the bait is gone.”

“I did not feel any fish biting my bait,” she said.

“You has to jerk it at once when the taraquito strikes,” he told her. “Or else it will get away.” He watched the hook as it broke the surface, skimming the top of the waves. “You put the bait on the wrong way,” Tito said, breaking off the head of the shrimp and throwing it back into the sea.

“No, she said. “I did it right.”

“Then why is the head left instead of the tail?” he said.

“I does not know,” Thelma said.

“You must hook the shrimp through the tail,” said Tito. “Then it will not come off so easily.”

“I put on the bait correctly,” she insisted.

“No, you did not.” He knew he was being contentious, unfair. But he went on: “You hooked it through the head,” he said. “You did not add any weight when the current became strong. How can you catch any fish with that kind of line?”

Thelma did not answer. She was suddenly angry. And she had been very happy a short while ago. But he had spoiled it all.

They went on fishing, together, without talking. A wind came down and made little, fast-moving waves that raced interminably to the shore. Tito and Thelma both knew it was useless now to fish, even if they put on more weights. So, still without talking, they went up the white-pebbled shore toward the shade of the trees, Tito carrying the pail of shrimps and the fishing lines and walking ahead—and she following behind. They sat under the tree where they left their food-basket.

She set the food on the banana leaves and cradled the bottle of water in the sand. Then they ate without talking. The wind came in strong from the sea, ruffling the surface of the sand.

“What is the matter?” said Thelma.

Nada,” he said. “Nothing.”

“Something is the matter,” she said. “Why does you not tell me? Like you always does.”

Nuay nada ba,” said Tito. “Nothing-nothing.”

“Is it about your mother?”

“It is not about anything.”  Tito did  not want to think about his mother. Somehow, it always upset him and usually spoiled the day for him.

“You seems so upset,” she said. “You always gets this way when you has had a scene with her.”

He said, “No; we never quarrel.”

“I knows she loves you,” she told him. “But her kind of love has made you bitter. It suffocates you.”

Tito did not say anything.

“Is not love beautiful anymore?” she asked.

He could not look at her. The wind was blowing gently on his back now and ruffling the dry leaves—shrieking up the shoreline. He felt her probing him with her eyes, but he could not look at her.

Si; it is not beautiful any more.”

They sat there quietly for a while.

“I cannot love anybody,” he said. “Not even you. I mean, I tried ... but it is like—“

She knew he was trying to say something which often came hard when he was moody and crabby; then he would stop even before he had finished. The ants were crawling over the food. She started counting them in her mind.

“It is better this way,” he was saying. “I cannot really love anyone, really love anyone—freely.”

They sat across each other. Then she said:

“I thinks we would better go.”

Tito helped her put the leftovers and the bottle of water back in the basket and handed it to her. He picked up the pail of shrimps and, without looking at her, said: “I is sorry, Thelma. But I cannot help it.”

But already she was running down the shore, the food basket swinging in her hand. She ran toward the point, running quick-legged without looking back.

Alone, Tito stood there watching the sun now low over the horizon. After a while, he walked down the footpath which cut through the woods. He followed the path around the schoolyard back of the house. He opened the back gate and went around the house. Then he climbed the steps.

He went through the kitchen and into the dining room. He saw his father come in from the bedroom.

His father said, “Has you just come in?”

“Yes, Papa,” he said.

His father said, his voice sad: “Your mother has been waiting for you. You goes in and see her now.”

Tito looked up from the table then. There was something in his father’s voice, although there was nothing in his eyes. So he went into the bedroom.

He smelled sickness there as soon as he entered the room. It came from the leaves soaked in oil, from a bottle on the altar. She used the oil to ease the pain in her chest.

“Mama …,” said Tito. “What is it?”

The light from the petrol lamp on the altar threw grotesque shadows over her face. She motioned to him with a thin hand, and he moved to her bedside. Her eyes were pale and her face ashen: the color from her cheeks was gone.

“Is you feeling very bad, Mama?” he said.

“Just  the usual chest pain, hijo,” his mother said.

“Does it hurt badly?” said Tito.

“I is used to it,” she said, her voice harsh but faint. With her fragile hand, she pated the side of her bed, saying, “Sit here beside me.”

Tito sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I  has been waiting for you,” she said.

“I was out with some friends,” he lied to her.

His mother was looking straight into his eyes, with her own eyes saying: “You is lying again, hijo. You has been seeing her, again.”

He read those words in her eyes. Still, he lied to her again, saying, “I has not seen her, Mama. Verdad!”

“I is glad,” she said. “You must not ever see her.”

Tito said nothing. Talking would only hurt his mother and he did not want to hurt her. How can you tell your mother to leave you alone? Because you’re a man now, no longer the little boy she used to spank. How can you tell her that when she is sick—very sickly?

Her voice came in harsh whisper, “Tito, does you love your mother?”

Still he said nothing. Then, he felt his hand become wet on her cheek.

She caressed his hand, pressing it against her own cheek. “I will always love you!” she said.

Tito gently drew his hand away. He felt, all of a sudden, drained out and tired. He stood up and went slowly out of the room. He walked up to the table where his father was sitting.

“How  is she?” his father asked.

“She is all right,” he said. “I think she would like some hot soup.”

“You must not worry her too much, hijo,” said his father. “She is a very sick woman. Your mother es bien enfermosa …” His father walked away to the bedroom, carrying the hot soup in a bowl. Tito looked up from the table, out through the window, and across the river to the forested mountain. He watched the peaks beginning to sharpen against the sky, the slopes forming deep clefts as the evening shadows deepened. The humps of the mountain looked like a woman’s breasts, and, looking at them, Tito felt hollow and empty inside.

     

                                                       End 

 

pompano

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May 23 2011 2 23 /05 /May /2011 09:15

Antonio Fermin Enriquez

 

                                                  Beyond

 

A boy came down the dirt trail dragging one foot behind the other, like one in a trance. As he walked step after step, his feet scuffed the dust behind him in a puff of cloud. His head was bent over his chest, and he raised it every time he lifted his feet forward and dragged them one behind the other. Now when he looked up he saw the sun hanging like a red ball over the horizon. And below the horizon was a small village with flat sun-scorched savannas flanking each side and a dark highway cutting through it.

I says, “We can rest here. Stop a while, old one.”

“No” the old man says.

I says, “I is very tired.”

The old man says, “Just a few more steps, Manolo. And we will be on the highway.”

The boy was really alone. No one was with him although he seemed to talk to an old man. But in his mind the old man was with him and speaking to him as if he were there in his make-believe world. He had been with him for two nights and a day. The old man who was really dead now, had started the journey with the boy to the city. Now he lay way back behind, beside the trail with only a stone marking his grave. The boy had buried him there and continued with his journey.

 I says,Does you think we can get a drink of water there?”

The old man says, “We will ask the first house we come to.”

I says, “I wish I had the water now …  And some food.”

  He seemed to hear the old man in his mind. Now he tried to swallow his saliva to wet his throat, but even the back of his mouth was too dry. Something gnawed at his empty stomach. He could not go on. He bit his under lip till it hurt and ran the tip of his tongue along the hard parched skin of his mouth. 

We will rest in the village, Manolo. It is not too far now,” says the old man. “Look, you can see the houses.”

The boy took a step and then another, dragging his feet one behind the other. He kept his under lip clamped between his teeth so he could go on. The sun was now a quarter of the way down the horizon and the red rays sunk deep in the small village beside the highway. The boy turned round the bend, lifting his eyes at every step he made, and as he came at the end of the curve, the trail abruptly vanished and became the highway.

Meanwhile, the sun had completely sunk in the horizon; and after a while the lights in the village came on. Along the highway, the trucks and cars came rolling by with only their dim lights on, for there was yet enough daylight to drive on. A hundred yards off was a gasoline station.

The boy looked toward one and then the other end of the highway. Then he crossed the road and walked up along the side of it. There were some pies de gallo grass beside the ditch, and his feet hurt on the sharp, crushed rocks lying along the highway. He turned right toward the gasoline station just as a car swerved past him and halted in front of the station. He went on until he stood under the glaring electric lamps.

A man in baggy pants and uniform khaki shirt, with a blue star insignia sewed over his breast pocket, came to the car and lifted it is hood. A hot cloud hissed through the radiator as he turned the metal cap. Then he came up around the carand stood beside  the driver’s door. He said, “When is you coming back, Mon?”  — wiping off the dust on the glass window with an old rag.

Said the man called Mon, “Oo, maybe Monday or Tuesday.”

“Regular?”

Mon said, “Same. Ah, thirty liters, Please check my tires.”

The driver dropped the car keys on the man’s open palm. The man in the baggy pants went over to the back of the car, already fingering the tank key in one hand, and pulling the gasoline rubber hose with the other. He bent over the mouth of the gasoline tank, tipped the hose into it, and filled the tank with gasoline. Standing under the electric lamps near the gasoline machine, the boy heard it click and whirr, and, turning round, he saw the liter numbers going round in a circle.

The man in the baggy pants lifted his head and looked at the boy. He noticed that the boy’s shirt was dirty and torn at the sleeves, and that standing there under the light his legs were caked with mud. The boy walked up past the driver toward the man and stopped before him. He looked up at the man’s face, his eyes peering out from inside their sockets. Said the man in the baggy pants, “What does you want, ‘noy?”

The boy said nothing.

“We does not want kids hanging around here. Better move away, ‘noy. Go on.

He said nothing.

He ran the tip of his tongue between the parched skin of his lips. He felt very thirsty. He blinked his eyes, for the electric arc light white and glaring before him, had pierced through them. On each end of the driveway, the pair of arc lamps were like two noon suns against the dark of the sky.

The man in the baggy pants looked suspiciously down at the boy. Then he went round the car, pushing the boy aside, and tapped the tires with his fist to check the air. As he walked over to the front of the car, the driver put a hand out through the window and placed some bills in his hand. He thrust the bills in his trousers pocket, and walked on toward a water faucet beside the gasoline station. He picked up a bucket of water, walked back to the car, poured some water into the radiator and shut the hood closed. He made a sign with his hand, and the car slid down the driveway and on to the highway.  

As the man in the baggy pants spun on his heels to set the bucket down by the faucet, he came face to face with the boy or rather he looked down and their eyes met, the boy’s eyes having that same quality of peering out from inside of their sockets. They were like a pair of burnt holes in a blanket, and the boy more like a scarecrow than anything else with his long arms and stilt legs. “What!” The man in the baggy pants said. “Oo, do not stand in the way, ‘noy.”

The boy said, “Sir, Could I please, sir —— ”

The man was suspicious of the boy. He craned his neck and looked past the boy on to a bunch of tires lying beside the station building. The boy, he thought, could be only a camouflage while the older boys were stealing  his tires and tools. So he said, “Go on. Do not stand in the way. Go on.”

The boy said, “Please, sir. Could I… please, sir—— ”

The sun-scorched hue on the boy’s face made his skin look like a leper’s. Suddenly, the peering quality in his eyes vanished and turned into a pair of dirty water pools. Then his lips began to move, to form words, the hard dry tongue slithering; and, somehow, the man seemed to hear the words, though not a word came through the boys parched lips. He said, “Is it only water you want, ‘noy?”

“Sir!” —That was all. As though the man would understand, knowing without him saying the words, but merely forming them in his parched lips that refused to talk or say anything.

The man looked down at the bucket in his hands as though to make sure there was still water in it. Then, he put up his face. “Here,” he said. “Alright. Here, then … ”

The boy’s long arms stretched out and grasped the bucket, nearly pulling it away from the man’s hand that was wound round the handle. The man stood back to watch the boy drink from the brim of the bucket.

The boy felt the water lance through his lungs and rip through his stomach like a ball of lead. After a while, the hardness became soft and smooth. The man had seen the boy’s head disappear in the bucket, and now,  as it tilted back, he saw the boy, face wet and beady, the water dripping down his chin on to his chest. The boy returned the water bucket, looked at the man once, and then muttering something through his lips, he walked past him and down the driveway.

The man set the bucket down by the faucet and thrusting his fist into his trousers pocket marched up into the station. His wife who was entering an account on the journal book looked up at him. She was sitting behind the table. Her face had an unnatural pallor, and it iswas increased by the table lamp before her. But she had a pleasing face, the kind of face that had been pretty when she was young.  The wife said, “What is the matter, Pa?”

He said, “Nothing.” He pulled his fist out of his pocket and placed the paper bills into the cash box. He had his back to her.

She said, “What is really the matter?”

He said, “The boy’s eyes… they was so sad and his face so pitiful.”

 “What boy? Was you talking with a boy out there?” his wife said, her hand poised with the pencil in mid-air.

The man turned round and faced his wife. He was angry and cross about something and he wished he could grasp it in his bare hands and choke it to death. That was the way he knew how to kill it. The boy had made him angry. But why? he thought despairingly. All at one time, he felt pity and anger for the boy. And the anger, a part of it now, was his distrust and suspicion not only in the boy but in everything. He said, “Some boy … you know, the kind of boys who comes in here and runs off with some of our tools or a tire perhaps.”

His wife looking up curiously at him said, “What did he want?”

He said, “Just a drink of water.”

“Oo —— ” she looked down at the journal book and commenced to write something on it. Then she said, “Was that Mon in his car?"

The husband said, “Ugh-huh.”

After a while she tilted her face back and said, “I was thinking , Pa, maybe we could take off on a week’s vacation. Visit Mama at the farm.”

He said, “O, o. But no one will look after the station.”

The wife said, “Maybe we could get someone, Just for a week.”

The man said to her, almost angrily, “Whom can we trust? You cannot trust anybody nowadays.”

His wife said, “Well, I was just thinking, Pa.”

Meanwhile, the boy was walking along down the highway. The sharp crushed pebbles made his toes cringe, and he bit his under lip, till it nearly bled, to lessen the pain. From his chest down to his trunk, he felt fresh and fine, for the water had cleared his head and cooled his breast. He wished, though, his feet and legs would stop aching and not hurt him very much.

The boy walked off the highway and sat down beside the ditch. The grass was tall on the slope, and the dark came with a certain coolness as the settling of fog in the hills where he and the old man had lived comfortably alone in a small hut by the river bank. Behind him the trucks and the cars, now with their full lights on, sped up and down the highway. The whooshing the rumbling shook the night air, it rippled through the tall grass, and fiercely blew the dust and burnt motor fuel at him. Below the slope was a nipa-thatched house, with its door already closed, but a faint light came through a window crack. It was the first house he saw from the gasoline station, and there were no other houses nearby.

 Maybe we can get some food there,” I says. “You stay here, old one.” It is easy to bring the old man back in his mind. All he has to do is to say something that they both shared, and the old man would be with him. Because two days before, the old man was lying down at the side of the trail and feeling worst than ever since the beginning of their journey. The old man said, “You must go on without me, Manolo.”

The boys said, “No-no, I does not wish to go without you.”

The old man said, “Listen, Manolo, If you go on, I will be with you. But if you go back, then you shall be alone.”

 The old man seemed to see the beginning of the trail a long way away in back of his mind. He could see the small hut, where he and the boy lived alone together, the river beside it where he and the boy would fish, and the small room where they slept together; and here in the hills the boy had grown up till he was nine years old. Then one morning they both went down the hills following the trail to begin their journey to the city. The boy said, “My wish, is to be with you.”

“Do you believe me, Manolo?”

The boy began to cry quietly.

The old one said, “No-no, do not cry, you must trust me. Whatever I have told you shall come true. So stop it, and go now immediately.”

Said the boy, “Let me stay with you and take care of you, old one. Then we can begin the journey together.”

The old man said, “You must go now. Only when you go will I be with you.”

But the boy did not leave him, and when the old man died the next day, the boy buried him beside the trail and placed a stone to mark his grave. Then he went on down the trail, alone, but somehow he could bring the old man back by speaking of something that he knew they could share together. For the old man had told him so.

The boy, now, went down the slope and climbed the steps of the house. He knocked on the door and stood back. Then he heard movements in the back room and light steps coming up the sala to the door. A woman’s smallish face peered through the crack.  It was an old face, and her cheeks were hollow as if all her molar teeth had been pulled. She said, “What do you want, ‘noy?”

The boy said, “Do you have some food to spare, please?”

“No. Go away.” The door shut on his face.

Then it opened back a little, widening the crack. Her smallish face would be seen peering through the crack again, and she asked, “Are you all by yourself?”

The boy said, “Yes, ma’am.”

Said the woman, You is not lying to me, is you, ‘noy? I does not want to have strangers in when my husband is not here.” She craned her neck and look past the boy and into the dark outside. The boy looked over his shoulders as if he himself did not trust his own words. “Anyway, there is only left-over from tonights supper,” she said. “Just about enough to feed one little mouth.”

The boy said, “No, mum; not lying.  I is alone, alone by myself.”

“I has only half a fish and bananas. Those I has enough.”

He said, “It is alright, mum, I has had nothing to eat since yesterday.”

The woman widened the crack.

The boy slid through the crack and stepped into the house. The woman closed the door behind him and dropped the bar down in the groove. She was quite certain that no one had followed the boy into the house, yet she was still suspicious. Now she turned round, going to the kitchen, saying,  “Sit down there, ‘noy, by the table.”

He sat on a wooden stool, watching the door of the kitchen where the woman had gone off. He heard her moving round After  a while, the woman emerged through the door and set the plate of rice and dried fish and some boiled bananas in front of him on the table. There was a pitcher of water that was half-full, covered with a piece of clean, white cloth. A glass of water stood beside it.

The woman walked past the table and stood beside the door where she could watch the boy and at the window all at one time. The boy slipped a piece of dried fish into his pocket while the womans face was turned toward the window. He commenced to eat, hungrily chewing even the bones of the fish and choking on his bananas he put into his mouth. She watched him suspiciously, but twice the boy was able to slip a banana under his shirt. She said, “What is you doing, ‘noy, out alone by yourself?”  Her cheeks collapsed in her face like a punctured balloon when she spoke.

The boy chewing on the dried fish said, “I is just passing through, mum.”

“Passing through? Where is you going?”

“ — “To the city, mum.”

The woman said, “Does your parents know? Is they aware you is traveling alone?”

He said, “They does not know, mum. An old man took care of me.”

He went on eating, trying to chew rapidly as he could the food on his plate. He swallowed a large bite of boiled banana and a fistful of rice and nearly choked on them. The woman asked, after the boy had finished eating, “Where is the old man now?”

The word nearly slipped out from his mouth. He was about to tell her that the old one was outside waiting for him in his make-believe world. In his dream-world, in his make-believe, the old man was as real as the smallish face woman. Truly he is waiting for me outside, he thought. I have some food for him. “He is back at  the trail,” the boy said, without looking up from the table.

The woman walked away from the door and peered out the window. Then she walked over to the table and took the piece of white cloth off from the mouth of the pitcher. She poured him a glass of water and set the pitcher down on the table. The boy drank off the glass and wiped his mouth on his sleeves. He stood up and the woman went ahead of him to the door. She lifted  the bar off the groove, and the boy went out through the door.  She said, “If I were the old man, I would not have you tramping through the country by yourself. A boy like you could get in a lot of trouble.—Why did he ever let you go ahead all alone, hah?”

The boy said, “He has left me, mum.”

She asked, “Oo, is he waiting for you in the city? I thought you said he was back at the trail.”

The boy said nothing. He went down the steps, his bare feet swishing on the wooden slabs of the stairs. “Wait,” the woman said. “You, there —— ” she passed the door following the boy outside. “What kind of an old man is he to … Does he not care what happens to you along the way?” The boy went down the steps of the house and down onto the ground. “Hoy,” the woman said. “You, boy —— ” He went on, beginning to cross the small garden planted with cosmos flowers beside the house. “Now, you there,” she said. “Wait. Now, you wait.” The boy then stopped among the cosmos plants and looked back over his shoulder. “What did you say you were going to the city for?”

Said the boy, “My mother sent for me.”

The woman stood under the porch, and said, “Why did she send for you?”

Said the boy, “She sent for me, so I could go to school. She says I is old enough now. I is nine years old already, mum.”

She said, “And the old man?”  

The boy said nothing. He turned and started walking along the ditch which ran alongside the highway. The woman went into the house, barred the door, and brought the empty dishes to the kitchen sink. Then she cleaned the table and with a rag wiped off the rice grains that had fallen on the table. She swept them off with the rag to one corner of the table and caught the rice grains in her open palm; not noticing that almost all her boiled bananas were gone. She walked to the window. She leaned out and peeped sidewise into the dark, but the boy was not anywhere in sight.

The boy had crossed the ditch and was walking on the green slope of the highway. The tall grass reached to his waist. Now and then, the twin lights of a car would sweep the dark, and for a moment the boy would be suspended in the lights as though he had stopped walking and his feet had ceased moving. Then the car would speed on, and the dark would come in as suddenly as it had vanished.

 I do not like her, old one, I am thinking. I would not have eaten anything, if I was not so hungry.Then, “Let us rest here. It is too dark to go on now. Here, I brought you some food.” I draw a piece of fish out from my trousers pocket, and then put it right back in. It satisfied me very much that I had given the old 1some food. After walking a while in the dark, I sit down on the slope of the ditch. I stretch out my legs, sitting there straight-legged beside the highway without a thought in my head. Then I lie back on the grass, closed my eyes, and immediately fell asleep.

The boy first felt the sunlight filtering thro his eyelids. He batted his eyes, closed them, and sealed them with an arm across his eyes. But soon he tasted the heat of the sun on his lips, and he knew he would not be able to sleep again. So he sat up, took out the piece of fried fish from his pocket and the boiled bananas from under his shirt, put some bananas down on the grass beside him, and then commenced to eat.

When he had finished eating he looked round where he could get a drink of water. He did not wish to go back to the frightened, small fish-faced woman. Maybe, he thought, I can get a drink of water at the next house. Or at the next village.

“Let us walk already, Manolo,” I hears the old man say.

I says, “It is early yet, old one.”

He says, “We starts now while there is  yet no sun.”

I can hear the old man speak in my mind as though he was here and not lying at the side of the trail many kilometers away with a stone marking his grave.

He says, “Come on, hijo.”

I says, “How far is it yet, old one?”

He says, “Maybe  about a hundred kilometers more.”

The boy stood up from the green slope and climbed into the highway. About this time the sun was already a quarter of the way up beyond the hills. Now, standing on the highway with the sun behind him, he saw it is orange-red reflections along the highway and on the roof beams of the houses and on the flat country before him, with his shadow tall and flat ahead like the land on the travel catalogue.

He began to walk, dragging his feet one behind the other, and lifting his face at every step. After he had gone some hundred yards, his feet began to hurt, the toes cringing, and the crushed sharp rocks cutting his skin and opening up old sores. He limped, his back arched in a hump melting into a similar stance. He took a step and then another, his body from the waist up not moving except his head; and, somehow, the boy felt the old man beside him and their steps falling together and scuffing the dust in a puff of cloud.

Meanwhile, along the highway, huge trucks and cars came whooshing and rolling by.

                                                            End

 

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April 16 2011 7 16 /04 /April /2011 09:37

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The Activist: book launch
by Antonio Enriquez

Author Antonio Enriquez reads from his historical novel "The Activist" (UST Publishing House, Manila, January 2011) at the book launch at Ateneo de Zamboanga Univ., Zamboanga City, March 10, 2011; a considerable portion of his guests were close family, who came in a sort of the Enriquez clan reunion; sponsored by his almater Ateneo de Zamboanga, represented by Fr. Tony Moreno, S.J., Ateneo president; special guests present were Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and Congressman Erbie Fabian; former Senator and Senate President Nene Pimentel and Congresswoman Beng Climaco, sent their representatives, for they couldn't make it themselves, since the Zambonga Airport was closed due to an accident when a PAL domestic flight got stuck on the runway, day before the book launch.    

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August 17 2010 3 17 /08 /August /2010 11:04

Picture-6.jpg

 

Calandracas #1

 Selected Stories & Other Writings


 

 

Philippine Copyright©2006 by A. R. Enriquez

 Cover Design by Anton Vladimir V. Enriquez

Drawing by Nonoy Estarte

 Contents

 

Fiction

 

Short Stories

Asocena 6, Iguana 25, Pablo-Pedro 54, The Ant Hill 79

The Icon 97, Dance a White Horse to Sleep 167

 

First Chapter

Subanons

English 193

Chabacano 210

 

Essays

To Forge a Voice 228, Writing in English 245

 Scraps

Zamboanga:the “Garden of Flowers”

never was! 255, Jesuits Return to Fort Pilar: 1666—

No Way! 259

 

 

Fiction

 

Short Stories

 

 EXTRACTS:

 

 

ASOCENA

 

Like most of the boys in Labuan, a

coastal barrio in Zamboanga, Chu had a farm

dog. He called him Leal, which in the native

tongue Chabacano means loyal. It was always

fun to watch Leal chase the big monkeys in the

cornfield, for as the dog passed under the low

branches of the trees on the slope of a small hill

above the slash-and-burn farm, the monkeys

hanging by their tails from the low branches

would reach out and pull Leal’s tail. This

always enraged the dog and he would bark at

the foot of the hill until the monkeys, bored,

left for higher branches. Chu could not think of

anything funnier happening to a farm dog.

Early one morning Leal was missing,

and Chu went up to their farm to look for him.

“Have you seen Leal, Pa?” he said.

“No,” his father said. “I thought he was

with you when I left the house.”

“I hope nothing has happened to him,”

the boy said.

The father noted real worry in his son’s

voice. His boy was taking it badly. He was too

“Maybe he’s in the house,” he said.

“I already looked for him everywhere

in the house,” the boy said, “and on the yard,

too.”

“Don’t worry, Chu,” the father said. “He

is just around somewhere.”

“Do you think, Pa,” Chu said, “anything

has happened to him?”

There was that worry in his voice again,

the father noticed. Chu looked bad trying to

hide his worry, not knowing how to handle it.

“You are a big worrier,” he said. “Why don’t

you look for him at the river? He loves to flush

those wild palomas pigeons along the river

bank.”

The sun was still very young in the

morning. Chu walked barefoot along the

footpath, coming down the slope of the hill

through the meadow in front of the house. The

path was smooth and the dew was cool under

his bare feet. He passed the house and went

around the back and on to the long bank of the

river, his feet wet in the mud clay, and then

went up the river to a clearing below the woods

where the wild pigeons came down every

morning. But the palomas were quietly feeding

in the black sand, pecking at the small pebbles,

lumping low and short-legged on the river bed.

If Leal were here, he would come between them

and the clearing, and once they flushed they

would come whirring at him, some rising

steep,others skimming by his head, before they

angled back down into the brush. And so Chu

went on, around the clearing, taking the longer

route back to the house.

At lunch Chu would not eat anything.

He sat at the table staring at the food on his

plate. He had that worried look again, the same

one as at the farm, staring at his food without

touching it.

His father said, “Don’t you want to

eat?”

Chu said,” I’m not hungry.”

“The tapa sundried meat is

wonderful.” The father picked up Chu’s plate,

put a piece of fried venison on it, and, setting

the plate down in front of the boy, he said, “You

try it, hijo.”

Chu’s mother reached for a knife on the

table and cut the venison into slices. Then she

set the knife down beside the meat. She said,

“Try a tiny piece, Chu.”

“I don’t want to eat anything,” the boy

said.

__________________   

 

 

Iguana

 

 

We heard the mother hen croak.

“Get up, Macario,” Ma said.

“The mother hen…”

“What?” said Pa, awakening.

We heard the hen croak again

and then, all of a sudden, become quiet…

“The mother hen,” Ma said.

“Maybe the iguana has entered the chicken

house. Quick.”

“Leche!” Pa said.

I am sitting on the top rung of the kitchen steps

with a .22-caliber rifle in my hands. I sit there

waiting for the iguana to come out of the

bamboo thickets across the river. It is morning,

soft and light.

Just then I hear mama call me from the

flower garden. I lean the rifle against the wall

of the kitchen and go down the wooden steps.

Then I go around the back of the house and on

to the footpath, worn smooth and scoured by

countless interminable feet, and then across

before the now useless, broken-down chicken

house. I go on. Suddenly the path levels off as

straight as a plumb-line toward the garden. I

walk a small way on the footpath before

stopping in front of the garden.

Ma is squatting on the ground before her flower

bed of daisies. Her hands are busy turning the

soft black loam over and patting it gently

around the stems. “Where is the water I asked

you for?” she says without yet looking up at

me. “Did I not tell you to bring me some

water?”

I have forgotten all about the water.

“You did not tell me, Ma,” I say. She stands up,

her hands caked with black loam and hanging

rigid at her sides. She turns toward me. Her

eyes become locked with mine, quiet and

searching. But I still don’t move.

“You must help me in the garden, hijo,”

she says. “For your father won’t lift a finger to

help me.” As I look back at her, I notice the

reddish blotches on the balls of her eyes and the

swelling around them, and I think, She cried

some more after Pa left. She cried there in her

room. Alone there in her room she cried as papa

tramped angrily out of the house.

Earlier Pa had shouted at her and was

very red behind the ears with anger. I was then

under the house, the bamboo-split floor not

three feet above my bare head, and I was about

to take the fodder to our pigs when I heard him,

in the sala, say: “I’m not giving you even a

centavo. Not one centavo, do you hear? Nothing

for that foolishness of a chicken house.”

“The iguana will kill all my chicks,”

said Ma. I suddenly stood stock-still under the

house, not making any noise that would warn

them. Then she said, “Last night I lost my last

chicken, the mother hen of those chicks. If you

don’t give me money to repair the coop, the

iguana will eat all those chicks tonight. See if I

am wrong.”

I could hear them talking loudly in the

sala through the bamboo-split floor. I heard Pa

say, almost hissing with anger, “That wouldn’t

have happened if you had listened to me. But

you would not listen. What you listen to are

those foolish ideas which go around in your

head.”

“You do not care about the chicks,” I heard

mama say. “You would rather see them all eaten

up by the iguana than give a centavo to repair

the chicken house.” Standing under the bamboo

floor directly where they both stood or sat I

heard papa’s chair scrape as though he were

about to rise, and then just as suddenly he

changed his mind and remained seated, still and

immobile.

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August 17 2010 3 17 /08 /August /2010 10:32

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Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh

 

 

                                                By  Antonio Enriquez

              

 

 

 

 

Extract

 

Chapter 1

 

The two of them—Alberto Gonzales and  his cousin Francisco—were  on top of the papaya tree by the house in Zamboanga.  They were then still boys.  Suddenly, the papaya tree started to sway toward the house.  Before he and his cousin could climb down, the three fell.  The papaya top broke off against the edge of the galvanized iron roof and came down upon both of them:  fruit, flowers, leaves, and all.  They were too shocked and scared of his mother and Tia Isabel, who were in the yard near by, to cry.

“What was that, Albertito?” said the mother, using his pet name.

Nada, mama,” he said.  “Nothing”—although they were standing there, the papaya tree trunk still between their legs, for they had had no time to climb down because the tree fell so quickly.

“Ooohhhh,” she said.  She never once looked at them, not even to turn her head for a glance, since she was too busy talking to their aunt.  “Then what was that racket I heard?”  She went on talking, not looking at them still.

“It was nothing, mama,” he said. Nada, nada,” although the leaves, flowers, and fruit were still coming down on them like rainfall.

The two squatted there under the eaves, Alberto and his cousin Francisco, not moving a hair, really scared to move so as not to catch his mama’s or their aunt’s attention.

They were then still boys.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

For was he not a Zamboangueño, born and raised in Zamboanga, with Moros as his childhood playmates?  Quite often, outside of his home town, in the Visayas or in Luzon, he was mistaken for a Moro.

“You must be a datu –chief,” the dimpled whore from Culi-Culi, a haven for worn-out prostitutes in Manila, had said to him while putting the money away under her elastic panty belt.

He had tipped her generously for one lay and treated her more gently than he would a decent girl.  “No, no, I’m not a datu,” he said, sitting up on the side of the pallet and gazing at the icon of Christ on a tiny altar up against a wall.  “Why do you say I’m a datu?”

She sat up on the pallet too, and, wrapping her arms round him, leaned her head on the small of his back.  She said, “Did you not say you were from Zamboanga?”

“It does not mean I’m a Moro,” he said.  Her hair brushed against his back.  Under a glaring electric ceiling bulb he was naked but for his socks, which he had not taken off.  While screwing her he had felt silly and had even once turned his head to look at his stockinged feet.  “Much less am I a datu,” he said, “just because I gave you a big tip.”

Because Alberto had treated her decently, gently, the whore said she would give him an extra lay.  He said, “No, no, no, thanks,” and immediately felt so proud for having self-control and strong will.  And yet one lay was truly enough, because before the week was over he had the clap, and while pissing into the toilet bowl in his boarding-house in Sampaloc, Manila, to relieve the burning sensation, he broke the toilet bowl cover, and two days or so later he nearly broke his head when he slipped on the bathroom tiles.  He made up his mind then to see a doctor who had his clinic on the unlit ground floor of a half-demolished building in front of the University. The doctor gave him a long sermon on morality and the virtues of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the soldier saint and patron of fornicators, but after over half an hour had not written any prescription for his social disease.  Alberto stood up to leave, and the doctor nonchalantly asked him where in the devil’s name he was going without the prescription.  Alberto changed his voice to an effeminate’s, and said, “I’m going to see a preacher.”


 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

In a way crudely, that was his life—always going crack, crack, crack.  Or perhaps more like a duck’s nervous quack, quack, quack.  But there was always a crack a cleavage, a break, and somehow he was always responsible for it.  He was never conscious of it happening at the time.  The exact moment could only be traced back—or, sometimes, foreseen—but at that infinitesimal moment when the break, aayyiiieee, the crack came:   never!

He left some girls (not so many as he would like to boast or pretend to have had to his friends by his non-committal silence when the subject of girls and prostitutes was brought up)—before that rumble near the school, over a girl, in Zamboanga.  He would like to think he left them, but now looking back and being true to himself, it seemed they had drifted away when that crack came.    

And as for Myrna, that moment came some two years ago.  They were standing by the side of the Liberal Arts building, in half darkness, the concrete parade-ground walk hard and firm under his feet.

“I have mother’s jewelry and some money I saved in my handbag,” she said. She smiled, so sweetly, and her face seemed to light up in the half darkness.  It was as though she had smiled into his face, sending radiation of light into his with her love and trust in him.

He wanted to ask what she was doing with her mother’s jewelry, with the money.  But then it suddenly came to him that her reply might force him to a commitment, irrevocable and implacable—to say yes to her.  So, instead he said, “Won’t your mother be angry if she discovers the loss of her jewelry?”

“Does it matter when we are gone?” she said.  And he saw the light in her face begin to dim.  Still, she looked radiant standing there before him in her green-and-white school uniform, so beautiful and desirable.  He ached wanting her.  But was he ready to pay for tonight’s and all the night’s screwing for the rest of his life by running away with her now and eventually marrying her?

He tried not to look into her face when he said, “Maybe we should think more about this.  Why don’t we talk about this again tomorrow?”

Finally, the light, the glow in her face, dimmed:  but oh!  she was so beautiful still.  And then, suddenly, quiet and pitiful, she stood there with her mother’s jewelry and the little money she had saved in her bag.  She did not say anything, although her eyes said, painfully, to him—or so he imagined—“You goddamn coward!  You pitiful (how ironical), goddamn coward!”

And then crack, crack, crack!  And nothing he could say or do afterwards would change that scene or bring back the light, the radiance in her lovely, innocent face.  Crack, and that finally was lost.  O that I shall die!   

And then there was Baby.  He called her Baby, although her real name was Concepcion.  She was a quiet, silent young girl, very dark, not so tall as Myrna, but more vivacious, easily excited: more soft in your arms, liquid-like, the moment you touched her.  The two of them were in the unlit operating room of the town hospital, in the darkness, and she was in her immaculately white nurse’s uniform, since she was on night-duty. 

“You mean do it here?” he said, incredibly, holding both her hands in his and looking round for the operating table.  He hardly could see it in the darkness; and there, in the unlit operating room, only her white nurse’s uniform reflected the shafts of faint moonlight coming through the windows.

“Why not?” she said, as she withdrew one hand and quickly thrust it inside his pants.  She was panting then, and he thought he saw her red lips parting, hot, moist, falling like dewy rose petals.

But he was not ready:  trembling and scared that if he gave in he would have to be tied up with her every moment for the rest of his life.  Or, perhaps he wanted to show her he was much more gallant than other young men, mas galante; and had more dignity by refusing her:  to quell her soaring passion on the operating table.  “What if the head nurse sees us!” he whispered, stalling for time.  “She comes in here during her rounds.”

Really, she did not say anything, but in the closeness of her mouth and her breasts he felt her silent laughter begin to rise, to tremble as much as he trembled then—and to soar up her throat before breaking with contempt and hate for him.  This he had not expected.  And now, viciously, he heard her say, although she never said a word above a hiss, heard her say, spitefully, lashing her hiss-words like a horse-whip across his face:  “Miss Lydia Tamparong!  She lays more men here on the operating table a night than there are patients operated on by Dr. Carreon in a week!”

He lost her.  He tried to capture the falling petals, to open her red roughed wet lips with his, but catlike she withdrew; hiss-falling away silently, invisibly, wafting down in the air-current of her hissing when he tried to kiss her again.  And he swore just as silently:  Dear God!  Dear, dear God! 

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August 17 2010 3 17 /08 /August /2010 09:34

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Extracts

Subanons

 

Antonio Enriquez

  

PART I

 

                                          1.

 

Against theflickering petrol torches on a piece of land in Guipos,

Zamboanga peninsula, Mindanao, 400 or so nautical miles from

Manila, was the camp of an Army unit from the 10th IB. Here and

there, stumps of coconut trees protruded, and alongside a rutted

dirt path were the petrol torches of tattered cloths attached to the

ends of bamboo poles. In the soft wind, the flames slanted away

casting shimmering light and long shadows on the ground. Filled

with potholes the wheel-rutted path ran diagonally toward the

camp before making an abrupt slant, then went on in a straight line

for several meters, then ended where an empty uncovered

six-by-six Army truck was parked.

 

With dark clouds of petrol-smoke curling up toward the moonless

sky, throwing shadows that danced crazily on the stumps of coconut

tree-trunks, a pale-orange expanse of light shuddering about the

fringes of the coconut-lot—the camp looked more like a hideous

devil-worshipper cult camp than an Army barracks.

 

Into this camp, one dark night in July of ’85, the Subanon village

chief Datu Amado Bualan went quietly, unarmed without any sort of

weapon. Unlike his predecessors before him. Just about its

entrance were a bunker of coconut trunks and nipa-shingles, and

three layers of sandbags rose several feet before it, that served

both as a guardhouse and machine-gun nest. However no sentry

was in sight. As he went past the bunker he met no soldier and the

camp looked empty.

 

He only saw the first soldier when he was a few meters from a

 


 

nipa-roofed and sawali-walled building, shaped incongruously and

irregularly. For some portions, as if as an afterthought, jutted out

of the main structure and the building was the only temporary

structure there. Of course there was the usual outhouse and latrine,

which you couldn’t miss in military camps a distance away from the

entrance gate, and a small unused shed, and two unrecognizable

structures of light materials. Looked like it was about to collapse

any moment or its nipa roof down any second on your head. The

latter served as soldiers’ quarters as well as a room for operations,

where they plan to shoot either combatants or noncombatants. This

could mean anybody. Looking extremely bored was the man who

sat on a bench before a table. He didn’t turn his head as Datu

Amado had expected when he walked toward the barracks. Much

less raise his eyes to acknowledge his presence. You know what I

mean, not even when he almost brushed against the bench set close

to the barracks narrow door. The door was a mere hole in the

building and probably its single door-leaf had been discarded or

burnt as firewood by its former occupants. The hinges of the

missing door-leaf was still there and already rusty.

 

Inside the quarters was a ladder with rungs of round-wood. It led

to a bamboo-split platform that rose several feet from the earthen

floor of the barracks, a little over a man’s head. On it a number of

soldiers, mostly half-naked, were sleeping soundly. Barracks had

windows only on one side, left, opposite the raised platform, and so

the hall was damp and airless and suffocating.

 

On the wall hang some five oil lamps. Of empty milk cans. They

were the only source of light in the entire barracks, and so the

place was in half darkness and the side where the sleeping quarters

where was unlit full of unsteady shadows. If you were not to look

closely you would miss seeing on the wall above the oil lamps two

framed copies of oil paintings of the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos and

the First Lady Imelda Marcos. The couple was pictured as a royal

couple, complete with sash and emblem and crown, from an old

 


 

autocratic European country. Everyone knew Marcos came from a

barren dry, little place called Batac in Ilocos.

 

Before the ladder in sleeveless camouflage shirts stood three

soldiers, talking aimlessly with each other, in that sort of idle talk

to pass the hour. A third, with beer-belly and fat arms, was looking

toward some activity going on at the other end of the narrow hall.

There, two more soldiers, who unlike the three were naked to the

waist, were pushing a man against the wall, delivering blows to his

head and body.

 

Right away Datu Amado recognized him as the farmer he was

looking for--the unfortunate Rigîd, who had come looking for his

carabao late that afternoon. Every time the farmer lowered his

arms to cover himself –he had been stripped naked –to ward off the

blows, the two soldiers pounded his flanks with their fists and

jabbed them in the pit of his stomach. On the wall, their shadows

flitted crazily about, drawing a variety of shapes and images. From

the core of Rigîd’s tormented body flowed a stream of

aahed-screams like this: Ahhh-yayaya-ggaaayyyy!

 

‘Your hands up, up, up!’ said the two shirtless soldiers. Their

muscled arms swung viciously and hammered at the farmer’s naked

body with their fists.

 

‘No, no, no!’ the farmer cried. His arms came down, clipping his

flanks to ward off the blows, and at this the two shirtless soldiers

started punching and kicking him more viciously: from his flanks

and chest and belly came thud sounds as the blows fell. Again

through Rigîd’s bruised lips sprang a stream of cries.

 

‘Ahhh-yayaya-gaayyy!’

 

‘Up, up, up with your hands!’ the two half-naked soldiers

commanded. ‘You mother-fucker, son of a communist whore!’

 

‘Aahhh-yayaya-ggaaayyyy!’

 

On the raised bamboo-split platform, the soldiers, used to scenes

of beatings and torture, slept on. Not one was awakened by the

cusses and cries for mercy. They were all drunk and satiated with

 


 

food taken during their drinking binge. Like logs they slept, many

snoring loudly, through their mouths and noses chugging sounds

emerged as from a tug-boats. Seemingly oblivious and deaf to the

farmer Rigîd’s groans and screams were the three camouflage-clad

soldiers by the ladder. A moment later, as if awakened from a deep

sleep, the two, who’d been talking earlier with each other,

seemingly ignoring the third soldier, walked quickly out of the

barracks. Left alone by himself the beer-bellied soldier continued

looking down one end of the hall, where the poor farmer was being

beaten. Flabby and immobile he stood there by the ladder.

Everything in him was in a state of momentary suspension: the only

sign of life were the rise and fall of his beer belly, and the whoosh

of his heavy fat man’s breathing.

 

Rigîd screamed in pain and for mercy. He begged: ‘Have pity

have pity on me! I only came looking for my carabao. It’s the truth.

Aayyyiieee, have pity!’

 

‘You mother-fucking liar.’ The two bare-breasted soldiers thrust

their elbows into his rib cage, ‘You’re an NPA, are you not? Hah?

You mother-fucking communist liar!’

 

Rigîd cowered and went down on his rump onto the earthen floor

of the hall. ‘No, no, no!’ he said. ‘Have pity have pity! I was only

looking for my carabao. That’s the eternal truth...’

 

But with kicks and fist-blows the soldier-tormentors forced him

to straighten up against the wall and raise both hands over his head.

Afterwards they commenced hitting him again.

 

‘Your hands ... up, up over your head,’ his tormentors said. ‘Son

of a mother-whore! Mother fucker communist liar! What? What did

you say?’

 

‘—only looking for my carabao. That’s the truth honorable

soldiers. I’m just a poor farmer; not an NPA, good soldiers.’

 

‘What! You no-good lying communist! Pretending to be a farmer

hah? You won’t amen you are an NPA hah-hah? So you’re

hard-headed too.’

 


 

After accusing him of being a member of the communist New

Peoples Army, the two soldiers struck him on the head with their

knuckles, slapped him not hard with the shell of their palms, as

when one slaps a boy around to call his attention. This last they

hadn’t done before. It was just as if they had discovered a new trick.

Slapping him in mockery, they now timed the knuckle blows on his

head to fall simultaneous with their cussing. So delighted the

soldiers became with this discovery, that hideous laughter rang in

their throat.

 

All this while, not once had the poor farmer looked toward Datu

Amado Bualan. Shame and humiliation, not unmixed with confusion,

had held him back from returning the datu’s-village chieftain’s

gaze. But now exhausted, and in unbearable pain, he turned his

head to him and said, ‘Ay datu help me ...’ but a cry involuntarily

rose in his throat and gagged him.

 

Ignoring now his own terror, Datu Amado stepped up before the

beer-bellied soldier. ‘Sarge, excuse me,’ he said. ‘But I know this

farmer personally ... he isn’t an NPA, not a rebel. He’s from my

village ... Karpok. What he says is true, that he came here to your

camp to look for his carabao—’

 

The datu’s soft apologetic voice aroused in the beer-bellied

soldier contempt and anger, instead. He was that sort of a man you

meet quite rarely. To such a man human kindness is a weakness.

Right there, he rose from languor. His brows knitted, below them

his eyes, dark and fiery, pierced into Amado’s face.

 

Rapidly he said, ‘What, what –what!’

 

Datu Amado repeated, ‘He’s only looking for his carabao. Please,

Sarge, understand the poor farmer. It’s the only working animal he

owns ...’

 

The fat soldier shouted into his face, ‘Fuck you! If you don’t shut

up we’ll beat you up too.’

 

The fat soldier’s lips pursed bulbous, on his forehead folds of

flesh swelled. Looking like termites trenches. From a silent, unalert,

 


 

beer-bellied man, he had turned into an angry tuba wine-smelling

brute. It looked as though a magic wand had touched him, turning

the soldier into an ogre before the datu’s eyes.

 

Quickly Datu Amado turned his head away. He had never been

spoken to so hideously and shamefully. But the brute’s sour breath

of tuba palm wine stung his nostrils still. ‘These soldiers are

drunk,’ he thought. ‘Likely, they’ve feasted on the farmers missing

carabao already.’

 

Just then a clanging sound was heard by the entrance. There

followed the reappearance of the two camouflage-clad soldiers.

They were the same soldiers, who had earlier stood by the wooden

ladder with Datu Amado and the beer-bellied soldier. In their hands

swung a big battered pail of slops. As the pair set it down before

Rigîd, the contents slapped round the side of the pail. Swishing

threatening to spill onto the earthen floor.

 

Into this pail the two camouflage-clad soldiers plunged their

hands. When they withdrew them, coils of huge slimy entrails were

strung round their arms and wrists. Pieces of animal meat oozed

between fingers, a few slid down on to the earthen floor.

 

Ruthlessly, the pair jammed the intestines and pieces of meat

into the farmer’s mouth.

 

‘Eat eat these now,’ said one of the two camouflage-clad

soldiers. ‘Lets see if this meat comes from your carabao … you

big-balled son of a communist whore!’

 

More handful of slops was forced into the poor farmers mouth by

the second soldier, who commanded, ‘Eat, eat, eat! What’s the

matter? Hah? Even a datu eats carabao meat! Are you more

delicate than a datu, hah-hah?’

 

‘No-no ayiieee mother!’ cried Rigîd, bringing his cupped hands

over his mouth.

 

A vicious fist crashed into it breaking the skin of his lips.

Methodically, blows were delivered to his stomach and flanks, and

thuds resounded from his rib cage, as if his ribs were made of guitar

 


 

strings.

 

The first two half-naked soldiers screamed at him: ‘Up, up, up

with your hands. You mother-fucker of a communist!’

 

With both hands raised to his face Rigîd’s body was left

unprotected and exposed to the kicks and blows. From one end of

the hall, the thud sounds could be heard as the blows fell on the

half-naked body. ‘No no I won’t eat the meat of my own carabao!’

said Rigîd. ‘Ayiieee mother help me!’

 

‘What?’ said the first camouflage-clad soldiers. ‘Did you say this

is your carabao’s meat? Did you say that you communist!’

 

The one camouflage-clad soldier thrust his hand into the pail for

more and more entrails and pieces of meat. With a look of scorn

and contempt, he pushed the intestines into Rigîd’s mouth with his

fingers. Then, in a slow and deliberate motion, he wiped them off

his hand on the farmers face.

 

‘Your carabao ...’ he said. ‘Did you say? Ah-hah then eat it! Go

on and eat it. Go on! Prove to us this his meat from your carabao.

Eat it!’

 

‘No-no ayiieee mother!’ Under his cupped hands, his pleas were

muffled like this: Pfff-leeshhh, pfff-leeshhh, pfff-leeshhh.

Augh-uagh!

 

‘You mother-fucker of a communist liar!’ the one went on.

‘What were you doing sneaking around here hah? You’re a

communist spy. Oo, o.’

 

On the raised bamboo-split platform, the drunken soldiers slept

on, their chests rose and fell like bellows with their snoring.

Four-five soldiers fidgeted or tossed round on the platform. One

with trouble in his bladder rose and went to the side of the building,

where he pissed. Not one of them gave any sign they’d been

bothered by the farmers beating and pleas for mercy.

 

Finally, after fistfuls of entrails and pieces of meat went down

Rigîd’s throat, his strength left him. Suddenly, his battered naked

body collapsed on to the earthen floor. Alongside his flanks, his

 


 

arms lay limp and elbows bent awkwardly by his body. Rigîd no

longer pleaded or complained. Only animal-like groans came

through his lips, on his naked body thud-sounds resounded like a

sounding board, because, methodically and mercilessly, the

soldiers continued beating him. Not hard enough or as frequent now

as to kill him. They knew their work well, and just how much

torture and pain a man could stand a hairbreadth from death,

having honed their skills through practice and brutality on helpless

victims. They inflicted just enough damage to his lungs and kidneys

before he would collapse.

 

Rigîd swayed forward on the balls of his feet. Up and down, his

head bobbed on the end of his neck, making funny spasmodic

movements before falling upon his bare chest. All at once, from

the very core of his body, it seemed pieces of meat and coiled

intestines flushed out through his mouth. Splattering on to the

earthen floor in an incessant flood. On the ground, before him, a

small pool of slops started to grow, expanding its fringes while the

entrails and pieces of discarded meat lay there in an uneven lump.

 

Realizing Rigîd couldn’t take more punishment; the second

camouflage-clad soldier flung him back his shirt and pants; though

his clothes missed him and instead fell in the pool of slops. The four

soldiers climbed up the upraised bamboo-split platform. Soon

afterwards, the four tormentors fell asleep. Snoring as loud as the

other drunken soldiers. Meanwhile, the beer-bellied soldier joined

the one at the door of the barracks. The latter looked just as bored

as before, when the datu came to the camp earlier that evening.

 

With his head in the shell of his hands, Datu Amado sat on a lower

rung of the ladder; the light from the oil lamps flickered on the mop

of his grey-streaked hair. Never had he felt so powerless, so

unworthy of being the datu of the Subanons.

 

Rigîd, stark naked, on his haunches on the earthen floor, was

finally left alone: his spirit broken and physically humiliated. By his

side lay the pail of slops, now half-empty, with the entrails of his

 


 

working animal. Inside it his trousers soaked in the pool of slops.

 

It was quiet now in the camp. No sound except for the drunken

snoring and occasional creaking of the bamboo-split platform. Up

on the wall, slightly to one side of the farmers head, the pictures of

the Despot Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady Imelda Marcos hung

crookedly having been jarred during the beating of the poor farmer.

In the flickering oil lamps, Marcos’s confident and benign-dictator

disposition never faded, and the ‘Iron Butterfly,’ as the First Lady

was called, wore the knowing smile of a Mona Lisa on her lips.

 

Datu Amado patiently waited for the soldiers to allow him to take

Rigîd home. He wouldn’t dare to ask before he was told: had he not

just seen what animals they were! However the soldiers seemed to

have forgotten them. The beatings and cries of pain from the poor

farmer had never happened! The existence of the native Subanons

meant nothing to the 10th IB soldiers. At worse, their attitude was

that of a spoiled child, who got tired with his playthings.

 

But a quarter of an hour later, what seemed forever to Datu

Amado, the beer-bellied soldier told him to take the ‘trash’ away

back to the village. He growled at him to do it right away, as if it

were Amado’s fault they’d not left. Maybe, he would put the datu

in the camp’s stockade for the night.

 

So Datu Amado went to the other end of the hall, where the

farmer sat on his rump on the earthen floor, his legs spread out.

Against the sawali-woven wall, he had propped up his head and

shoulders. He couldn’t get up. He was inert and unable to move to

dress himself, when he saw Datu Amado approaching him from the

hall.

 

Datu Amado said, ‘Let me help you, Rigîd’ slipping the trousers

up the man’s legs. ‘Turn the other side ... Oo, o—that’s it.’ After he

wrung the slops out of the old patched shirt and pants, Datu Amado

helped him put them on.

 

‘It ... it’s all right,’ said Rigîd. ‘I can do it datu.’

 

But his arms were useless. They didn’t have any strength even

 


 

to button up his pants. Stabs of pain lanced at his flanks every time

he strained and flexed a muscle. ‘Aahhhh-gaaayyy!’ His voice low

as he held back the cry. ‘Wait, wait, my sides ... so painful.’

 

‘All right,’ said Datu Amado. ‘Don’t move. Let me do it for you:

but we must hurry.’ Before these devils change their minds, he

wanted to add.

 

Very slowly this time, he pulled the man’s trousers up to his

waist. He had not once looked at the farmers nakedness; of course,

he had seen men –and women too, ayiiee– nude before, but not like

the farmers nakedness that bared not just his uncovered body but

his very soul naked as well. It forced embarrassment and shame

from the onlooker too, though he himself the datu was a man.

 

‘I’m sorry very sorry ... my arms they’ve no strength left. I

cannot move them,’ said Rigîd as the datu helped him put on his

shirt, slipped an arm through its sleeve. ‘Aahhh-gaaayyy,

aahhh-gaaayyy!’

 

Datu Amado didn’t immediately take the poor farmer away. He

had to be sure the beer-bellied soldier wasn’t just making fun of

them. With his right hand around Rigîd’s waist, the other gripping

the farmer’s forearm slung over his shoulder—Datu Amado raised

him up from the earthen floor, and then dragged him toward the

door. ‘Sarge, sir, can we go now?’

 

But the beer-bellied soldier, by the side of the table, behind

which on a bench sat the bored soldier, seemed to be now playing a

game with them. He simply ignored the datu. A few anxious

moments passed. His heart knocked against his rib cage. When it

seemed both of them might be placed in the stockade, he once

again heard the beer-bellied soldiers growl: O what are you waiting

for? Are you deaf hah? Didn’t I tell you to get out of here? Go on,

move! Get this “trash” out of here now! ... Shit!’

 

Quickly, Datu Amado went past the door and the table, outside

half-carrying the limp Rigîd. Neither of the two soldiers by the table

so much as nodded or glanced at the passing figures. Once out of

 


 

the Army camp, the datu went as fast as he could on the path, while

Rigîd leaned heavily against him, holding back his cry of pain and

humiliation.

 

§

 

On the back of the house, on the open porch, Amado left the

poor farmer Rigîd. The latter after he set him gently down on the

bamboo floor insisted that the village chief leave him there alone in

the dark outside the back door. No words were needed to explain

this to Amado, nor for him to have light to see it in Rigîd’s eyes:

that the soldier’s insults and blows delivered savagely to his naked

body had reduced him to a shameful unhuman pulp. He wouldn’t

wish his woman to know that his battering and humiliation was

witnessed by another being, though it was the village chief himself.

Instead of relieving the shame and indignity he had suffered, her

knowing that in their village someone had witnessed her man’s

debasement, would only add to his monstrous loss. Quietly, Datu

Amado walked off the open porch, unnoticed, and slid away into

the dark outside.

 -------

                                 






 



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August 17 2010 3 17 /08 /August /2010 05:07

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Présentation

  • : Antonio Enriquez's name
  • Antonio Enriquez's name
  • : Work of folktales, historical pieces, fiction and nonfiction: stories and novels set mostly in Zamboanga Peninsula and Maguindanao. Chabacano pieces.
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