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                                            Bridges

 

 

Me and my men comes out of Pulangui Barrio about two o’clock in the afternoon. I takes off my glasses and one of the dark complexioned boys, who came with the middle-aged Ilocano, who drove the cart and brought in our surveying instrument, hands me a binoculars when they sees I needs them to look across the river where our party chief was standing on its bank with the Land Rover behind him. Looking through the binoculars, I sees Engineer Morales and one of our laborers behind him; I cannot make out who he is standing that far; I could see the river how swollen and murky it is, and beyond to my left I can also see the old wooden bridge, which we had crossed before coming to Pulangui Barrio; it was okay then, but now only half of it is standing across the river because the flood had carried half of it away. The river is not as swollen as before hours earlier that morning; and we is planning to cross it with a canoe which was waiting across the river with a rower. I returns the binoculars to the dark boy, and shouts at the laborer:

“Where is the canoe?”

“It is on the other side yet,” says the laborer.

“Did you signal the canoe-rower to come for us, Kiko?” I says, recognizing him through his voice.

O, o,” says Kiko, the laborer.      

Me and one of my men stands on a patch of ground, which was a road before the flood, by the cart waist-deep in the water, with slush-coated leaves and flood debris floating in the receding water, like it was a river over what was once a road; and they twirls and lingers round us and the cart before they shoots past into them flooded muddy field.

Along each side of the road now a river whitish bubble-foam clings to them tall talahib reed.

 “Oo, Alberto. How is our trianglation tower?” says Engineer Morales from the other side of the river.

“It is already finished, Engineer,” I replies.

“We were there” — pointing with one hand to the bank where the old wooden bridge is  — “waiting,” says Kiko. Then, he waves his hand at us so as to attract us, and adds as a joke, a sort of unique joke with surveyors:

“We thought you got lost.”

“We also thought the same of you,” says I; the irony not lost in any of us.

Engineer Morales does not say anything, and I says aloud,

Oo,” says I. “Who is driving the Land-Rover?”

“Totoy,” says Kiko.

We transfers them pack and surveying instrument to the canoe when it comes, and, all of us embarks on it, and with long bamboo poles, them laborer and the rower pushes it down a little into deeper water. Though the flood has ceased about midday and it is already mid-afternoon, yet the current is still strong in the middle of the river; and just before where the old wooden bridge has broken down, you can see it swirling with the debris and going fast down river; so the rower and them laborer leans heavily against them bamboo pole and pushes and controls the canoe with them pole, so we does not turn over and with us our surveying instruments, which the company says costs very much. With them pole man controlling the canoe, it goes along a curve through giant-leafed hyacinths and past the bank on either side and then floats back down river with the current and beyond the old bridge. Across on the dry road, the driver Totoy stands alongside the Land-Rover. After another trip in the canoe, everyone has been brought across the river to the waiting vehicle.

Not half an hour after unloading our stuff and paying the dark-complexioned Ilocano for the  rent of his cart, we is on the highway back to our headquarters in Pikit. We is going very fast, since everyone wants to get home before dark, and them laborer sitting at the back thumbs and pounds them side of the motorcar with their palms open and fists clenched. Against the wind, I hears them sing aloud, and one laborer Teng is singing the loudest at the farthest back and him singing a tavern song at the top of his lungs:

 

            While the cups is always full to the brim,

                        Maiden that is  a virgin who knows how to pipe.

                        We passes  a life of gaiety and fun

            With one pretty maiden, instead of the wife.

 

Listen to him sing, I thinks. As if nothing had happened back there in Pulangui and you would think he would clamp his mouth shut this time after that … even for delicadeza –refinement. But what would you expect from one shameless, hah? What would you expect? Coño! Oo, listen to him sing, I tells myself quietly. Like the devil of an Ilocano!

Because earlier that afternoon we has been bringing them pack and equipment down from our quarters to the wooden cart, drawn up by the dark-complexioned Ilocano, and it had just stopped raining, and out of nowhere this Moro datu –chief, threateningly halted before us; and we sees right away the laborer Teng stiffens, his eyes pops out and a stupid grin crinkles his face, makes it look like he was wearing a loose mask; and in the same instant, a wad of beetle nut mascada juice spat by the Moro datu splashed all over his face. What shame! Coño!

“Udder of your mother!” we heard the Moro scream, spitting the mascada again . …

“So sorry, sorry, datu,” said the laborer Teng, and the beetle nut mascada, thin-reddish streak of sputum, coming down his white and rigid face; and  again the Moro datu spat on his white-as-paper face. Splash!

“You, excrement!” said the Moro chief, and so livid with hate and anger we thought he was going to draw his kris –a serrated long sword. “What does you mean? You, tell me what you means? …. But the laborer Teng stood there by the cart, not even outraged, just standing there dumb and unmoving, while the beetle nut mascada juice was coming down his chin and you could see they was like little drops of blood.

We has no idea at all why the Moro datu was so mad and had spat the beetle nut mascada full at Teng’s face, and yet, we would have sympathized with him, sabes tu, probably, even protected him from the angry datu if necessary, for a deep sense of camaraderie always exists among us fieldsmen. It is the experience you get there in the field when you have to depend your life on your buddy, that is  why. But now we is past helping him, since many other ugly things had happened before that, things that makes you think before helping the laborer Teng; and besides, not a month ago, a handful of Moros with barongs –long knives, had hacked to death the barrio’s government sanitary inspector, right  in his own house, coño! while everyone was at the school benefit program some ten houses away. Because the morning he was murdered, we learned, the sanitary inspector had injected antibiotics in a sick Moro child, who was very ill and dying of gastroenteritis, and, in the afternoon, the Moro child began to have spasms and died a few hours later. When Mr. Dominguez (that was the name of the sanitary inspector) was murdered that night it had not come as a surprise to them few Christians living in Pulangui, for although Mr. Dominguez had lived in the Moro barrio for ten years as a government worker and a member of the Muslim Council of Elders, them Christian barrio folk believed that they could not truly trust a Moro, not even if they had him already eating out of their hands –ta come ya na diila mano.

If them Moro would murder a man who had done only good for them, I thinks, what does you think they would do to one who perhaps had insulted them? You cannot explain anything to a Moro, or make him understand that you had offended him unintentionally. A Moro never listens to a Christian, oo, yes, never! They keeps their own primitive savage ways very stubbornly, never listening to anyone and before you knows it one has stabbed you in the back with his kris; and sometimes they turns into juramentados or suicide assassins, and kills Christians, so they would, them Moro says,  go to paradise flying on a winged white horse. Treacherous, that is  what they is! How does that saying go? O, yes — “There is no good Moro like a dead Moro.”

I is sitting in the Land-Rover sandwiched between the driver Totoy and Engineer Morales, and them wheel plunging into them pot-hole pocking the road and the muddy water splashing and spraying on them tall talahib grass close alongside the road. Through the front window I sees the water swish apart before the Land-Rover’s hood splaying like twin waves from a ship’s prow … something very like it.

Leche!Teng can really bungle things. Even without meaning to, he can really bungle things.

Like that time I and my men was serenading Nita Initan — she is my girl friend — in Pikit, near our headquarters. and this laborer Teng, he walked off without saying a word, not an excuse like “I will  see you, engineer-sir (that is  what he calls me, like my other workers do), or “I will  be just a while … ”)  and to them  serenading under Nita’s window, not even to them did he say anything, and went into the Initans’ chicken coop under the house, not even being quiet or cautious. He just walked into inside the chicken coop. “Stop, Teng,” his co-laborers said to him. “The Initans will  hear you, surely,” and yet he went on into the chicken coop. “You, there, Teng … ” but he still went in and grabbed the leg of the hen instead of her neck, and right away there was pandemonium like it happens when you goes into a chicken coop without warning and grabs a hen by the neck and tries to strangle her. “Let her go,” Toti  said to Teng, cringing at all the racket. “Stop showing off.” Because that was what we thought he was doing, trying to show off. Still Teng grabbed the hen now by the leg to stop it from getting away; and the fowl shrieked and flapped her wings for its life, and then them other fowls broke loose inside the chicken coop, cackling and croaking, and smashing themselves  against them bamboo-slat wall of the coop like hens with an iguana with them inside the coop: their feathers flying in all directions as if someone had punched them hole in a feather pillow and then shook all them feather out in the air. Surely, I told myself them Initans heard all that pandemonium, and we had to give all sorts of reason so we could leave before Mr. Initan got hold of his farm bolo, and chase us out of his house. What would Nita think of me now?

“Let me beat him up,” said Toti afterwards. “For you, Engineer Gonzales,” he said to me, although I is just a surveyor. “I will  beat him up for good.”

“No, Toti,” said I. “He is one of us. It is not good that we should quarrel among ourselves.”

“He has a strange way of showing he wants to be one of us,” said Toti. “You would have the girl Nita now if not for him. He is always spoiling things.”   

O, o,” said I, thinking, I could be laying her now. But he had to show off. Perhaps Toti is right. Why does he do that if he wants us to take him along, again?

That thing happened some four months ago; and now on our way back to our Pikit headquarters I sits between Totoy and Engineer Morales in the Land-Rover. The pair of legs of my khaki trousers that got wet in Pulangui River is drying up faster from the heat of the motor than if I had hung them out the clothesline. The right window is on Engineer Morales’s side; and he looks out at them tree and grassland on the mountainside that sweeps by; and me I had nothing to look out to being seated between Totoy and our party chief, I does not have anything to see to while away the time, which was hours away from Pikit. So, I listen to them Eduardo and Toti and Teng and other laborers in back to their thumping them sides of the motorcar and singing lewd and drunk songs at the top of their lungs.

In an hour when we get to the concrete bridge they will stop that, thinks I. I hate to think of this concrete bridge anddem Moro outlaw maybe waiting to ambush us. I would hate to get there after nightfall. I hope we is driving fast enough, I tells myself, and wishes we had not delayed too long in Pulangui. I wishes the old wooden bridge there had not broken down during the flood, half of it carried away by the brown muddy water, or when nature forgets or rests in the meanwhile that them Moro would steal them wooden plank and steel wire and iron girdle. I wishes it had not rained there all week so we could have used the old wooden bridge to bring our stuff to the dirt road and drive off. I wishes that something cuan there at Dada’s tuba –coconut wine, store had not happened.

For me and my men all had been drinking since morning. And was now quite drunk and the table filled with them empty and half-filled bottle of tuba wine while plates of appetizers “flowered” on the table; o, o, you could see them plate everywhere; and still Teng kept coming and pouring slices of stewed squid on them plate, even when they were not empty, from them newly opened canned goods. A moment later, the storeowner, grumbling under her breath, came and began taking away them plate of stewed squid.

“Why is you taking away them appetizers already?” said Kiko. “We is not through yet.”

“Does you think I cannot sees?” she said. “Is I blind? You are getting my canned goods while my back is turned and I is talking with my other customers … that is  why.”

I knew she did not mean Kiko, or any of us exactly, since we had not stood from the table once save to piss behind the dirty kitchen. So right away me and them others knew who it was, we just knew it, nobody had to tell us, and we began looking around for Teng for surely he was the culprit and he was nowhere in the back nor in front of the tuba wine store. As we could not find Teng, me and my drinking buddies went back to our table in back of the store; I sat back in my chair  and wondered what the hell should I do with all them stewed squid and opened cans on top of the other on the wet table.

“You are right, Toti,”  said I. “I should have let you box him that night we was serenading Nita.”

“I told you he has a strange way of showing us he wants to become our friend,” said Toti.

Storeowner Dada noticed we was not drinking anymore; in a rankled voice said,

“Now who is going to pay for all this?”

Nobody answered her, and instead another laborer, Eduardo, the biggest among us, broad-shouldered and muscled, said to Toti:

“Come on. Let us look for Teng at our quarters,” and off together they went. 

Dada, the storeowner, was very much alarmed that everyone would leave and nobody left to pay for the tuba wine and them stewed squid. She said,

Hoy, who is going to pay for all this, hah?”

I was thinking, When you asks Teng why he would say, “I was only doing it for companionship …. ” That is  what he would say. and also he would say, “I wanted us to be happy-happy.”

I remember like that time the two of us was drinking in an eating-place in Mlang, a barrio far from our main headquarters. I did not really know what he was doing, and if I knew what was happening I would have stopped him for sure. Because I noticed Teng was acting strangely when Mr. Gorospe came to switch on them fluorescent lamp, acting strangely as I ordered beers — as he was stooping wriggling his body all the time until the girl Inday’s face grew dark and tight and with that severe quality turned suddenly at him. She said, as calm as she could, you could see how hard she was trying by the way the tightness was wrenching her face.

“No, no. Please, do not do that …. ”

Oo, you Inday,” said Teng, stooping and reaching a hand down under the table, while his body twisted and wrenched above it. Just like when I saw it before.

“Do not, do not, please. It is not allowed …. ”

“I was only joking,” he said and I could see that Inday was about to cry. Right then some sense must have come to Teng, because he quickly withdrew his hand from her thighs under the table and put up a face above it like a child who means no harm.

I watched Teng and the girl Inday from across the table, staring past them empty beer bottle, I watched just in case things got worse, whatever. They was both sitting close to each other still, Teng had not moved away, he had just withdrawn his hands from her thighs, that was all; he had had earlier sort of squeezed himself at the left corner of the table against Inday.

What is Teng trying to do? I is going to punch his mouth if he does that again!

In the inactivity, or non-activity, Inday realized it would not be so noticeable if she shifted in her chair, and, turning away from the laborer, pushed the back of it away against the unwashed wall. Just then holding them bottle up on a tray, a boy brought in more beer setting them down on the table and then went back to the kitchen. The boy’s arrival distracted Teng and he forgot for a while to maneuver his hands on Inday’s thighs; and the girl’s task was completed.

But Teng was not finished though them girl’s thigh was not under the table any longer, and she seated a bit away against the wall from him. Because now he drew his head against hers, nodded his head at the girl Inday, bating one eye, looking at her like a lovesick dog, looking very funny, like a love-sick dog ... Dios mio! He even looked funnier, abruptly, when he drank off his beer and an inverted foam-beard stuck round his mouth; I almost split my sides holding back my laugh. I pretended not to see it, really, turning here, turning there, closing my eyes, opening them, and never looking in his direction, because I knew I would not be able really to hold it much longer. I pretended I was not seeing his inverted foam-beard, even when the laborer wiped it off on them sleeves of his soiled shirt, saying, “Did you see my new beard, Inday? Hah, did you?”

Truly, I had had enough of  the laborer Teng already. Fuck! So I said:

“What are you trying to do? Hoy, what—? ”

“We is  drinking.”

“If you do not stop that …. ”

“What is the matter? O, engineer-sir?”

I is not really an engineer. “You, Teng, chinga vos puta madre! –fuck your mother-whore! if you do not stop that …. ”

Instead, Teng stood up from his chair, casual-like, and went across the room, sort of swinging his arms by his flanks, the way people does when they know deyre being watched, and then he inserted some coins in the juke box, and came dancing across the length of the floor, the whole empty space; no longer swinging his arms by now, but had one hand over his breast, an arm extended out like that, with the palm of his hand open, like he was dancing with a partner. His eyes was always fixed at Inday, who was sitting there nervously in her chair; her eyes wide, unblinking. Twirling around, really showing off to her, he winked and winked at her … when suddenly I saw him fly uncontrollably forward, you know, like when something large and heavy hits you from behind and you fly off with a start—because one foot had tripped the other and he was lurching forward and stumbling fearfully so close in front of the girl youwud think anyone moment now he would come crashing hard and full on top of her. Really, truly funny, es verdad, though I  did not laugh, not even when Teng was outrageously laughing at his own clumsiness, at himself.

After he had recovered, he said,

“Come, girl. Let us dance.”

“No, no!” said Inday.

Unexpectedly, he pitched forward as if he was so drunk and could not control his limbs, just like before. But I was wrong because he grabbed her arm sudden-like.

I said, “Sit down, Teng …. ” and thinking, Hes going to get whatever is coming to him this time; he is going to get it alright. Chinga!

“Come on, Inday,” said the laborer Teng, wrapping his ape-like arms around her shoulders, pulling at her arms, her wrists.

“You, Teng,” I said, my throat rasping in a warning. “I told you to sit down” — Here it goes. You, damn fool of an Ilocano. See how you like this: I thrust my fingers under Teng’s belt and jerked him roughly back from behind; and, falling back into his chair his rump missed it and he came tumbling down on to the floor dragging the entire table cloth and all them beer bottle there, everything crashing to the floor and as well as him bumping his head against the edge of the chair, thud! you could hear it loud in your own head, Good for you damn fool Ilocano. Break your head on the chair, go on break your head there, chinga vos!cussing in my native tongue Chabacano.

I should have really, truly, stopped him, I is thinking, while us is riding in the Land-Rover back to our main headquarters in Pikit, while them laborer thumps them sides of the station wagon; and Teng singing at the top of his fuck lungs. I should have stopped him then, chinga! before it got there and it would have stopped there then, and that would have been the end of it, finished. Fin, coño!

“Does you think you can go to Matalam tomorrow?” says Engineer Morales.

O, o,”  says I. “If it does not rain.”

“I wishes to God this rain would stop,” he says; in a sort of begging tone. “It is ruining our schedule.”

Engineer Morales looks out of the side window of the Land-Rover; and the passing wind beats on his face. Casually he is watching them tree and them forested hillside sweeping past, as our motorcar goes fast down the dirt road toward our headquarters in Pikit still some distance away, which had turned into a gravel highway an hour or so ago.

I looks straight ahead through the front glass of the motorcar imagining the concrete bridge. Instead, I sees them smudge in my spectacles, and taking them off I cleans them lenses on a clean spot on my shirt and mechanically put them back on.

Recalling of that time Teng had come with me to visit my girl Nita Initan: I had never seen anything so shameful in my life, de nuay vergüenza. I was more of a fool than him, o, o, that’s right. I shudnt have listened to a drunkard, no! that was my first mistake.

“Please, Alberto, let me come with you, please, please,” Teng begged me, and the minute he opened his mouth a foul rancid smell emitted from it and made me almost choke. He had filled himself up to the gills with week-long tuba coconut wine before returning to our headquarters.

“I is visiting,” I said, and added: “and she does not have a sister.”

“It is alright,” Teng answered …. “Just let me come with you. I does not have anywhere to go.”

I shudnt have listened to him, coño. Not to a fool drunkard anyway, who cannot even stand firm on his own two feet and smelling like a week-long discarded refuse the garbage man forgot to pick up in his route. So I said to Teng:

“You will  be bored to death. Ders only her strict mother, you know … very strict woman, to talk with. No one else.”

“I does not mind, engineer-sir,”  said Teng …. Nothing would change his mind. “Nobody has to talk with me. You can talk whatever you wishes to in front of me, I would not listen, no, not me. I will  just keep you company, that is  what I means; I would not be listening.”

Later, I and the laborer Teng sat at a table in the receiving room, and the girl sat across from us and her  mother sat at one end of the table; the latter pretending she was not smelling the foul week-long coconut wine, which was in the laborer’s breath, that I could smell even from the place where I was seated.   

“I has not met your friend yet,” said Nita’s mother, sarcastically. “Has I met him already, Alberto?”

“No, ma’am,” said I, looking toward Teng. Even then I thought Teng looked very sick.

“Why has you not brought him along before?” she said, her voice ringing with sarcasm, imbibing a tone of complete politeness in her voice. It was all very nice the way she said it, and, if you were not looking at her directly, or into her eyes, you would not notice that it was just put on and inside her was fuming with anger.

“Your friends is always welcome here,” she went on and smiled at Teng; a witch’s smile.

Coño!I did not want him along, I almost cried at her. I could have said it too, except her daughter Nita sat there watching me, her eyes begging for me not to say anything. So, I said to her mother:

“Yes, ma’am.”   

Then I knew that Teng was very sick and that I shudnt have brought him along, even with all the begging and all his drunkenness. Teng was now really very sick, and all of a sudden, he folded up over the table top and his head sort of turned that way and then it came, as if the retching and his feeling sick were two different things, unrelated and alien to each other, him retching coño su puta madre! before the three of us, and the vomit flowing freely from his mouth like a jet of water on to Nita’s mother’s dress. Coño! I shudnt have listened to a drunkard was all I could think of saying to myself.

A few weeks later, it was mid-June; them rice field was flooded and beginning to rot and smell; and here I was in our main headquarters watching the potbellied Visayan man crossing the path, and then the two of us stood on the side of the path in front of our headquarters in Pikit leaning our hands on them bamboo post of the fallen barbed wire fence.

Oo, Engineer, may I speak with you?” he said. I was thinking, I is not really an engineer but a surveyor.

“What is it, Pedring?” I said.

“What is the matter with your boy? You must tell him not to talk too much,” said the pot-bellied Pedring the Visaya.

I was then leaning my hand on the bamboo post; in the canal beside the road, pot-holed and cart wheel-rutted, I could hear the muddy water flowing through them reed and over the grass lying flat with the current, like a witch’s green hair. I said:

“What … does you mean? You means Teng?”

“He has been talking to everybody,” said Pedring the Visaya. “He tells everyone I has an illegal card game of monte in my house.”

I had nothing to do with it.“Why does not you tell him yourself?” said I.

“I told him,” he said, his voice assertive. “But this morning he says to me, ‘I is telling them to come to your monte, so you will  have more card players. More gamblers.’ So, I told him enough talk already. But he would not listen …. ”

“What is wrong with that?” I said, thinking, Does he not want more business, more card players?” But instead I said so I did not have to cross him: “That is  good, so you will  have more gamblers and higher stakes.

“Yes, Engineer,” said Pedring the Visaya. “But he tells the wrong people. Yawa! –Devil! the other night he told a policeman, a lispo (from the inverted Tagalog word “polis”). So I had to give tong –protection money, to the lispo.

at supper that same day I told Teng not to talk any more about the new card game of monte at the Visaya’s gambling house. I was not sure that he would stop. I could never be sure what the laborer Teng would do next but he must have stopped then, because I heard later that he was again at Pedring the Visaya’s every night playing monte and losing all his wages happily ... “I lost all my wages again,” he laughed, adding in a plaintive voice: “Will somebody loan me some money? Somebody please, please!”

“Did you find enough round-wound?” says Engineer Morales. I turns my head a little to one side toward the engineer. “Lagman says ders a lot of wood near your camp.”

“There was not much, Engineer,” says I; my mind swiftly goes back to the triangulation tower we had built in Pulangui and them thick wood far away from it. I notices that by this time my pants has completely dried in the heat of the motor; faster than if I had it dried on a clothesline.

“Where did you get your round-wood then?” says he; a bit curious. “Not far from the triangulation site?”

“We had to go to Sulang. It was not easy getting them round-wood,” says I —  recalling then Teng speaking of the Inday incident: “I did not mean any harm to her,” Teng said to me. He said it soon after that thing happened in the eating place; I recall his head was still bleeding and he was holding it in his hands saying, “I did not even know his brother. I could have told him, I did not mean any harm to her.” What does he mean, hah, he means he did not know he was shaming her, coño!  he means he was just being friendly to her, he means that.

Yet I almost felt sorry for him. He looked totally defeated, and for the first time he seemed hurt, as though he had a little dignity now and maybe he would even have fought, even the brother, I bet, if somebody had prodded him just a little instead of pushing him out like I did.

“Let him go, Inday!” said I. “Oo, o, Inday … You, Teng, get out and kill yourself.”

Oo, my God! Is my head bleeding? Teng asked the girl Inday, turning pitifully at her.

“No-no,” said Inday …. “You are all right now.”

“He hit me with a bottle!” He bent his head toward her, to show the side he was sure was bleeding. “Is it bleeding much? My head … ?”

“He did not hit you with any bottle,” said I.

I told myself then that I could be sorry for Teng. But he had to spoil that, too, with his whimpering. Because then we heard him say, “Oo, my God! My head … my head’s broken!” and I saying to him, “Shut up, you — Teng. It is good he did not kill you … ” and still Teng did not know why the town bully had boxed him in the eating place. It was perhaps this kind of thing that would make anyone sorry for him, sorry at that moment, but then he would spoil it later on, and you was no longer sorry for him. Still he did not know why the town bully had boxed him there; he was innocent like a baby, for the next thing he was saying: 

“Who was he?”

Said  Inday, “Hes my brother.”

And Teng said, “Your … your brother —— ”

and still he did not seem to really realize it. Maybe he was then already recalling it, that time he was pinching her thigh, maybe … but I had to tell him, to make him really understand the severity of his position: Remember when you was drunk, trying to dance with the girl Inday. Remember that time, trying to force her to dance with you? — though it was not really forcing, since was he not smiling stupidly then?

“I did not know he …. ” said Teng. Then I saw his face twitch and his cheeks quiver, like a dog having a bad dream: like his master abruptly withdrawing the bone he had tempted him with. Teng held his head in his hands, like that; it was bleeding and his hands became wet with blood, and then he said, “Oo, my God. My head is broken …. ” and I said to him, “Shut up, Teng. It is a good thing your head is only bleeding, not your sides … not your throat. He could have killed you, you know, for fooling with his sister …. Him the most fearful bully of the barrio.”

And then he did something not even I thought he would do, it was so unexpected;  it never crossed even the girl’s or the girl’s father’s mind, I bet. Certainly it did not mine. For just then as he was looking across the table at us, at the faces in front of him, still holding his head in his hands, face bent to one side and his hair pasted to his head with his blood, he said abruptly:

“I  is going out … ” Just like that, as if he was not speaking to anyone, more like speaking to himself, or to a ghost maybe, and he got up and said again, “I is going out, Engineer-sir.”  

“Where is  you going?” said I, still quite surprised, and looked up from my glass, half-empty, not cold, rather stale like tuba –coconut wine fermented to vinegar, gazing up to where the laborer Teng was already standing by the table and moving away already. Then I picked up my spectacles from the table, predicting to myself maybe a struggle, maybe a fight; and put them inside my shirt pocket.

“Wait, wait,” I said. “Wait. Oo, Teng …. ”

Still Teng moved away. I caught him by the arm, but he pulled it away from my grasp, swinging it away, and, moving back, stumbled against the edge of a table behind him. He flung out both hands wildly, wringing them in the air, caught the back of a chair, and sent it crashing toppling down the floor, and bumping coño su puta madre! hard against my shins. I bent over holding my bruised shins, already feeling little mouse swelling on them, and hopped around some seconds like a grasshopper. When I had straightened up I heard Inday say to Teng:

“Do not go out. My brother will kill you!”   

“Pestilence! The milk of you and your brother,” replied Teng.

“Stay here only. Do not go out there,” said the girl Inday.

“The milk of you and your brother!” repeated Teng.

He raised the lid of the small opening of the door to go out, and I did not stop him. But as he bent his head and put it through the gap, the wooden flap accidentally came down and bumped his forehead hard. Inday was grasping his arm, as she held him back, her face screwed up and twisted like a child about to cry; she pulling him back, saying,

“Do not go out. My brother will kill you!”

“Let him go,” said I angrily, pushing him out. “Get out! … ” and pushing him roughly with  one hand — “and kill yourself.” So, I lifted the wooden flap and pushed him through the  open crack in the door, and, before the flap came down again, the laborer had turned around and his face, upturned toward us, wore an incredulous look.

“No, no, Alberto,” said the girl. She tried to lift up the wooden flap to get him back inside.

Exasperated, I hurled her aside. Really, I had had enough coño!

“He will be back,” I said. “He is just drunk ….. ” After a while, I said to Inday:

“He will be back in a minute. You will see …. ” and then saying to the girl, again, “He will be back in a minute.”   

In a minute he was back. For then I and the girl heard the wooden flap go up, seeing first Teng’s head, the rumpled hair dark and viscid with still fresh blood pasted on his head, and trying to hold himself straight before us.

You will  never know why he does those things if you ask him. Me cago!

I, now, holds my left knee against the other leg, as the driver Totoy reaches down for the round handle and shifts the motorcar to second gear; we plowed forward on the mountain slope.

He would say I is sorry, sir, I promises not to do it again, and he would run off and buy your Colgate tube or Vicks drops if you has a sore throat saying, “No, sir, I has paid for it already,” and he has not even enough money to buy himself a new mat. “It is nothing, truly, sir,” and many times he would fetch me a can of water and bring it up to the second floor.

“I brings you water, Alberto,” he would say, “for your bath.” We could hear his steps going down the hall, heavy and shuffling, past them other surveyors’ rooms with the can of water.

“Did you?” I said.

O, o, Engineer-sir. It is here in the open porch.”

“That is  good,” I said. “Very good.”

I remember that first morning in Pulangui mountain, at the site we was to build our triangulation tower. All along the way, Teng had strutted ahead like a cock of the road, up the hillside or down a slope, his water canteen swinging on his canteen belt. It was as though nothing had happened to him the night before. He had strutted like that all along the way, a proud cock of the road, with his water canteen swinging on his hip. They had barely put their packs and lunch boxes down on the ground when he began to tell the story.

“You should have been with us, Ramon,” he said to the big laborer. “Last night. We was dancing yet.”

“Who would dance with you?” Ramon said, staring at him, his chin jutted out from his chest. “With your form .... ”

Teng pretended not to hear him, and, placing a hand over his chest, extended the other arm  holding out a dancing pose. It was the same pose he had put on two nights ago in the eating place in Mlang. He had not drunk anything so early in the morning, and yet there he was beginning to dance on the grass, dancing around the ground while some laborers laughed loudly unpretentiously.

He said, proudly,

“——I danced with Inday. We danced cheek to cheek …. ”

Eduardo, as big as Ramon, joked,

“Her brother boxed you last night. Is that what you calls ‘cheek to cheek’?”

Ramon said,

“You was cringing in a corner, somebody told us, with your balls in your throat.”

Teng stopped his dancing, and said,

“Who told you that?” Then his arms drooped limply by his side. “I … I was the one who boxed him, not him who — ”

 Toti  said,

O, o … ” making the obscene sign with his cupped hand between his thighs and then raising the sign over his Adam’s apple: “Ha ha ha ha.”

For a moment, Teng stood there not saying anything, his arms hung limply like a corpse’s by his flanks, and the mask of fun he had worn earlier vanished as Toti roared with laughter into his face. “Ha ha ha ha,” he laughed, and even when he stopped laughing Toti’s throat still went on laughing like that: “Ha ha ha.” and Teng just stood there, naked and white, and Toti began to laugh again, “Ha ha ha ha ha” — making that same lewd sign over his Adam’s apple, with his hand cupped as though he were holding up his cojones –balls. Someone picked up a stone and chucked it at the laborer Teng. and Teng moved, almost imperceptibly, first his arms and then his narrow shoulders, and, turning around toward Alberto, he said:

“You can ask Engineer Alberto if it is not true,” although I is not really an engineer.

“Look there,” said Eduardo, pointing at the other’s head. “You still has some dry blood on your head.”

What kind of a shameless fool! Coño! What could make a man so shameless? Does he think that you can just forget that thing last night? Just then I heard Toti say,

“Your balls was up here.” Again, he made the lewd sign but this time he was not laughing.

There was a short pause.

“Did not I go after him outside his sister’s eating place?” said Teng, nearly shouting. “Did I not go after him, ha, ha, Alberto? …” he was looking everywhere but in my direction; and, spinning on his heels, and his face very white, and his jaws drooped like a clown’s; and I saw  him then  vainly trying to look straight at me. “You can ask Alberto if I did not go after him.”

I could lie for him, tell half-truth, and only the girl Inday, who was too far away in Mlang, and myself would know, really. But what good would it do? Thinking then, It is time somebody puts him in his place, puts him there and let him stay there. Then incredulously I heard him say,   

“Tell them, Engineer-sir.”

“Why does  you not shut your mouth, Teng,” said I, staring straight in his face.

“I bet you, he did not even dance with the girl,” said Ramon.   

“Did he dance with Inday?” asked a laborer, whose occupation was known as a “rod man.”

I was still staring at him, and said, “No, the only one he nearly danced with was her brother”; eyes fixed at him, watching his face become very white and bloodless.

“Stupid!” said the one, who had earlier chucked a stone at him. “Go away from here,” he said. “Huagh. Go away …” he picked up another stone and chucked it at Teng.  My eyes riveted at him, fixedly, and then I abruptly turned away, my whole body almost, and back to him again. Then, without a word, Teng walked away from the group, swifter, more abrupt, raw.

We watched him walk off quick-legged down the boulder-studded slope, sparsely mottled with stunted scrubs and brambles, and saw him sit there all alone on a boulder below the triangulation site … him glancing up at us once in a while above the slope, then turning away,  forlorn, a dejected soul.

That was the end of that, I thought then. It was the final break, for after that no one would have anything to do with him. I think he somehow felt this too, and for the rest of the month he would not force himself on us and everything was going fine until the spitting scene with the Moro datu in Pulangui earlier in the afternoon; and it was something perhaps he could not help but what I do not understand is how he could carry on immediately after that not an hour later in the Land-Rover, singing with them other laborer as though nothing had happened back there then.

Now, it is late afternoon. I is looking straight ahead through the front glass of the Land-Rover, my myopic eyes behind my plastic-framed spectacles is hurting me, and I knows I  is very tense; my eyes always bothers me when I gets too tensed and worried. As we drives up the incline, the gravel road becomes narrower and the talahib grass is thicker and taller and chokes each shoulder of the road; I notices that them laborer in back of the Land-Rover is no longer making so much noise; in fact, the thumping and banging has now ceased and only the singing, desultory and moribund, is till going on; and somehow I feels that we is now nearing the concrete bridge of Pikit.

I can see it in my mind, I means the concrete bridge. It is a strong and sturdy bridge that spans high across the river to our headquarters. It is not like the broken-down, old wooden bridge we had in Pulangui that is  of no use to anyone, because crossing this sturdy bridge means a great relief in our chest. It also means the oldest town of Cotabato was just across, the first to be Christianized by the Spanish conquistadors. and I can never think of the town without the strong, concrete bridge, or them half-naked savages and Moro outlaws maybe lying in ambush before it; hanging about there for Christian victims like vultures. So, it is ironical that it should also be the link to the wildness that is there, before the concrete bridge like the broken-down old bridge there now far behind us. But if you take out the concrete bridge, since you think it connects the savagery and wildness there at the broken-down old bride, I  tells myself, the peoplewl leave the town, and soon the wildness that is before itwl creep back into the town and the scrub and them bramble and them tall forest tree will choke it back to where it began: a wild and savage land, desolate and uninhabited.

That is  what will happen, I thinks now, leaning forward on the car seat and gazing straight ahead down the gravel road. That is  truly whatwl happen to this town of Pikit, the first Christian town here,  if this high, concrete bridge is torn down as the broken-down, old bridge had been there in Pulangui. I mean, the useless, wooden, old bridge that is of no use there to anyone now and was never put up again after the government had reconstructed it ten or twelve times, and the Moros tearing it down immediately as many times. After which the useless, broken-down, wooden old bridge in Pulangui was through, finished, and nobody is going to try putting it up again; after man and nature itself had torn it down, coño.

Because any stupid fool can see that them Moro wants to be left alone and does not want any Ilocanos, Ilongos, Visayans, or Christians in their villages. Them Moro really does not want them Christians.

“Did you know what them Moro did to one of them bridge-worker in Pulangui? I asks Engineer Morales. “This was not too long ago.”

“No, I heard nothing,” replies Engineer Morales, showing no interest or curiosity. 

Nevertheless, I said:

“They cut off his genitals, then hanged him up on a tree, head down, by his toes … till he begged them to kill him. Kill me, he said. Please, please, please.

He seemingly woke up from his indifference by the mention of one’s begging for death, rather than be tortured. “Tortured him?” says Engineer Morales, though still speaking without looking at me as he had done earlier in the trip.                 

O, o,” said I.  “ … Made fun of his genitals by sticking them with their spears and then cut them off. Yes, poked their spears into his side, too ... into his ribs. Them Christian there said they could hear his screaming through the night, begging the Moros to kill him quickly” — I thinking, and that will happen to us too. If them Moro ambush us before the sturdy bridge, they will cut off our genitals and hang all of us up on a tree and poke us to death with their spears. Dios mio! Where is that sturdy, concrete bridge? Now if anything it is a chance to save us, to get us across to our main headquarters in Pikit … it is the high bridge there, the sturdy, good bridge to civilization.

I must not think of the high concrete bridge, says I to myself. I is  thinking of it too much and it is no longer to me a bridge but a symbol of something and something-something. When you has already thought of a bridge as a symbol of something, not just a simple bridge, you has already thought too much. You must stop this then, I tells myself: so, stop it now and think of Teng as the something something-something. That is it … think only of Teng. It is not a very good thought, but it is better than thinking of the concrete one.

Muy bien,thinks I. But I could not think of anything else, and as we goes over the incline and speeds down the hillside, like a rolling boulder, I see the strong, concrete bridge spanning dark across the river some hundred yards away. The real bridge! and then, suddenly, half-naked Moros appears from the talahib grass and stands in the middle of the road, their spears showing like long wooden sticks by their flanks. In front of them a half-naked savage stood, grimly, unwavering, tall.

Totoy jerks a foot and clamps on the brakes, sending the Land-Rover skidding and spinning sideways — going uncontrollably fast. Then it halts abruptly on one shoulder of the road, the motor stopping, dying in a pall of dust and screeching of tires. Below, them half-naked Moro starts to climb the road, their spears held straight in front of them, and Totoy, with shaking hands, tries to restart the motor, turning the ignition key again and again, and we hears the motor coughs once, twice, but will not restart, as them half-naked Moro comes nearer and growing taller in the late afternoon light.

Out of nowhere, I hears Teng shout:

“Let me talk to them, let me … ”

“Do  not  be a fool,” says I.

“Try to start the car again, Totoy,” says Teng. “Maybe I can talk to them.”

“Get in the car, Teng,”  orders Engineer Morales.

But already Teng is going down the road, walking straight and tall, his feet firm on the sand and gravel, like a pair of pistons on the surface of the gravel road. As Totoy keeps turning on the ignition, the motor would puff and puff, and then cough cough … dying shuddering away, coño! like one having an epileptic attack. Suddenly, it becomes quiet in the late afternoon, and then, again, seconds later, we  hears the throttle pumping, and the motorcar shaking and trembling as the motor fan swishes a while before ceasing again. In front of the concrete bridge, them half-naked Moro, with spears taller than two men, halts when they sees a strange, tall figure coming down the decline, not fifty meters away; likely they stares doubtfully, unsure of him. and then, the motor fan swishes loud and smooth and now the engine starts and then them half-naked Moro hearing it start sprints up the road with the tall savage running in front of the other savages, screaming them on, their spears slanting sharply in the afternoon sun.

Them half-naked Moro savage comes running fast, running quick-legged up the gravel road, now brandishing their spears above their heads, now lunging at the laborer Teng, and the latter lying there face down below the gravel road, cheeks and forehead embedded with sharp gravel and mouth broken by blows and rocks.

As Totoy plunges the Land-Rover down the road toward them spear-wielding savage, I see them Moro scramble to either shoulder of the road; but the half-naked, tall savage does not t move, coño! his face contorted and twisted, his eyes burning like a pair of coals under a whirring fan — the Land-Rover still plunging head-on past them, then careening past the tall savage, the spears hitting it broadside and some zipping past the front glass and over the hood as the motorcar abruptly swerves away so as not to hit the body of the laborer lying there on the sand a

nd gravel.

“Are you not stopping?” I shouts at Totoy, his face fixed at the front window, as if the face was embedded there, not just the eyes.

“We cannot stop!” the driver Totoy cries back.

Ay, what if Teng is still alive?” says I.

The driver Totoy does not say anything.

“Maybe hes already dead,” says Engineer Morales.

Yet, when I turns my head toward the back of the motorcar, I thinks I see the body move. Teng is alive still! — the picture screams back at me. Me cago en tal!

But the Land-Rover is going fast, really very fast like a crazy motorcar, for it to stop;  plunging down it seems, all over the hillside and them stone and rock flying from its screeching tires; so I turns my head back to the front to look ahead and see if we is still on the road and then I looks back once more up the incline this time, and now I sees them half-naked Moro lumping over the body, it beginning to disappear underneath the heap of human mass, and now the body coño! is gone, vanished, as them spear quivers and throbs above it as in a nightmare. Then the Land-Rover jumps as it roars over the high, concrete bridge, shooting fast over it like an abandoned motorcar running full throttle. — Oo, fuck fuck! I cries aloud to myself. “He was still alive …. ”

Before them half-naked Moro savage had reached him, Teng as I knew him was maybe thinking: So that is  the way it ends. I does not know surely but … this is the end. How much you thinks ders that to it? … Not much, or when these savages get their spears through you that is the end of it. 

I was only trying to talk to them — Teng, if I knew him, was likely thinking, as he lay there on the gravel road, several spear-wounds in his sides and his face broken and bleeding. Only wanted to talk to them, that is just what I wanted, to talk to them, not bad to talk to them …. Them half-naked Moro were coming nearer, dust lifting under their feet. I was not trying to harm them;  no harm to them, just talk, that was what I wanted, and then swank and I felt numb on my side and they were all running away, not listening to me but running running running.

Maybe Teng as I knew him was thinking on, Why did they run away not listening to me? They should stop and listen to me, they did not stop to listen, only running and running and nobody listens to me, even my friends they does not listen to me, they does not want to be friends. Sure, sure, he was likely to continue thinking. I cannot reach them, never could reach them ….

Some days later, I stands on the wharf watching the coffin being loaded into an interisland ship. Some natives had found Teng’s body under the high, concrete bridge, it was thrust there underneath them saucer-shaped water hyacinth and  watercress like in Pulangui River. We then wrapped the body in coconut fronds and put it on a bus that brought the corpse to the city of Cotabato.

I think Toti is right, I tells myself, quietly, as I watches the coffin disappear in the ship’s hold. He wanted us to be his friends so that he almost seemed to force himself on us and he was so bad at it that after a while we gave up on him. and Toti said, “He has a strange way of showing it ... ” that is  what Toti said to me some weeks ago. “He showed it to us really very strangely, when he got down from the Land-Rover”  — and nobody expected him to do that and he getting murdered later by them Moro savage, punctured with spears like a pin-cushion. I believes Toti is right, though he was so crabby after that business of serenading Nita. “Let me box him for you, Engineer-sir,”  he said to me. and then he said to me again, “He has a strange way of showing it … ” That was what he said, though I does not think he knows what he was really saying then, I means the meaning and philosophy behind it.

On the wharf I stands thinking of all these strange events and crazy happenings, even after the coffin was lifted up the ship and deposited into its hold. Looking away toward the water now smooth as glass, crystal clear, with the settled quality of ship’s oil, I feels as though all this had happened many years ago, instead of just a few weeks. at that time if you had asked me what I thought of it I would not know what to reply …. What I means is, why did he do that something, no, those things, and embarrassed everybody and himself too and he doing those things and us not knowing … now I know and the thinking too and the knowing for the broken-down, wooden old bridge and the high, concrete one before our headquarters in Pikit.

Oo, yes, he was all the time building up bridges between us,  and across from us — thinking then, Even tried to put up a bridge to them wild Moro savage, they killed him and you know we killed him, too. Coño! Because we did not want the bridge, you know we did not want it, really, too … the bridge is both linking the wildness and the civilization. But it is friendship and understanding and safety, too, I believes.

I turns around and starts walking slowly away down the wharf to the waiting Land-Rover. Totoy is sitting behind the wheel, leaning back hard in the driver’s seat and looking straight ahead with the sun against his eyes. Several times he blinks ahead but doesn’t look at the interisland ship, he has not even glanced at it once after the coffin had been taken down from the Land-Rover. Totoy just sat there, almost remote, like a robot waiting for orders. I walks faster now. I opens the motorcar door and sits on the front seat with Totoy.

I thinks, Tomorrow, I will  go to Matalam and build a triangulation tower, and Engineer Morales had said, “We has been much delayed already. You must finish it as soon as possible …. ”  and yet coño! here we is, we cannot even put our own two feet firmly on the ground, I says to myself. and we is building a triangulation tower so we can reach the stars, too. Yet we would not even have the bridge; not to them Moro, nor even between us. Leaning way back on the motorcar seat, I looks through the front glass shield past the hood to nothing in front of me and we drives off in the motorcar away from the interisland ship and the wharf.

                                                    End

 

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  • : 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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