Memories always come back when you least expect.
My younger sister’s favorite song to sing when she was young. :)
Blessings to all!
“What’s that for?”
I was afraid, not scared, and curious why my cousin’s husband picked up a palm-sized rock from the ground. With the faint illumination coming from a disposable lighter with a pilot light, we trudged through the gravely path, not knowing what to expect on the road ahead.
“You don’t get frightened easily, are you?” he asked, glancing around, suspicious of the various sounds that disturb the stillness of the night.
“Nah!” I lied a bit. The specter of encountering a snake, lying in the middle of road did give me the creeps. “I can manage.”
“Grab something to protect yourself,” he suggested. “This is new territory.”
An owl hooted from atop a nearby undistinguished tree. A few seconds later, another hoot. I was not sure if there were two birds or just one repeating the unique call.
“Do you believe in supernatural beings?”
“If I see one, perhaps I will believe,” I remarked with reservations. I did not fancy a meeting at that moment when I was so tired walking for over an hour, carrying a heavy burden.
“If we meet one, I’ll run,” he jested, his voice sounding nervous.
“Don’t wait for me,” I laughed. “I might overtake you.”
A black dog suddenly appeared from nowhere. It passed us by as if we were not there.
“Don’t stare,” he warned. “We don’t know if that’s a real dog.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked angrily. “That’s a dog!”
“You know, somebody might be playing tricks with our eyes.”
I wanted to rebuff his wild theory with sarcasm when an unidentified creature flew overhead.
“Plik! Plik!” The sound was repeated within short intervals.
“I don’t trust that sound,” he confided, looking up, guessing if the creature would come back for another fly by.
“What is it? Tell me!”
“Local beliefs identify such sound as unmistakably coming from an aswang. The hairs on the back of my neck rose a while back.”
“Are you scaring me on purpose?” I asked, trying to banish in my mind the image of a grotesque creature that was believed to capture humans and eat their livers.
Before he could answer, further ahead, the tall grasses on both sides of the road swayed, the rustle was not natural because there was no wind to promote movement.
“This is not good,” he said, walking faster than our current pace. “Quickly!”
I started to jog, my heavy load seemed lighter, the scare perhaps summoned adrenaline to take over. I overtook him.
Then, a huge creature walked out from the grasses. It was black as the night.
I stopped, frozen stiff. When I saw the long horns, I did not know what to do. I began to believe that there were mysteries in the world that humans could not explain.
“Hey! Move on!” he shouted impatiently, a few meters behind. “Haven’t you seen the animal before?”
“Perhaps, someone is playing tricks with our eyes,” I said, unsure why I mimicked his earlier remark.
“That’s a carabao,” my cousin’s husband said. “That means we are near the house.”
“Are you sure you know where to stop?”
My cousin’s husband was mildly irritated whenever he heard me ask my oft-repeated query. In truth, we were both first timers so we had all the chances in the world to get lost. However, it was good to bear in mind that instead of circuitous roadways to make us confused, a single highway kept our hopes bright.
What’s left inside the surplus Japanese bus, re-customized to local standards, were ten passengers, us two included, a conductor (ticket master) and the driver, who kept nodding to the beats of music blaring from stereo speakers.
“It’s getting dark,” I whispered, looking out the window, having misgivings for travelling so late in the afternoon. “We should have waited till tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, there’s a big marker on the side of the road. We’ll never miss it.”
That comforting words from my cousin’s husband did not diminish my worries. I was not in control of the situation.
Then, the song on the player changed. I could tell it was the driver’s favorite because he turned the volume at full blast.
Halfway to the music, I shouted, “I saw the sign!”
“Para!” someone from the back yelled, robbing me of my chance to say the word.
The driver complied as his foot stepped on the brake pedal, sending us forward because of the abrupt stop. I bumped my forehead at the back of the seat in front of me. I could have sworn loudly were it not for my gratefulness that we finally arrived at our destination.
The screeching tires disturbed the neighborhood’s quiet ambiance. Stray dogs joined the fray with their incessant barking. Still, people did not get out of their houses, two or three I could make out from the dark.
“Where’s everybody?” I inquired, staring at the bus leaving.
“I think they are asleep,” he said.
“At seven in the evening?” I asked, checking my watch again.
“Come on. Let’s walk,” he suggested, lugging off his medium-sized tennis racket bag.
“Should we be waiting for someone to fetch us?”
“At this hour? There’s no more transports on the road.”
A quarter moon was in the sky while the evening’s cold air complimented the light rain.
“How much further?”
“Not too far,” he grinned, perhaps not wishing to discourage me.
“Well, I should know. My bag is heavy.”
“Do you see that corner?” he asked, pointing a hundred yards away to a wooden outpost.
“Yes,” I said, glad that it was not too far.
“From there, it’s about six to seven kilometers to my cousin’s house.”
I dropped my bag on the road. That time, I wanted to shout out loud in frustration. But I was afraid I might have given the dogs the provocation to chase us.
“If you have told me about this earlier, I should brought my horse.”
That funny remark began our hilarious conversation that made the entire walk in darkness more enjoyable.
“What’s the catch?”
Nearing my seventeenth year in this remote patch of the country, I guess the time for reminiscence comes every year, especially during this month. The weather back then was similar as of today,wet. A few hours before sunset, arriving by boat from a twenty-six hour journey from the capital, I was wide-eyed with expectations.
My first cousin’s husband and I were bunked with two ex-Colonels who were residents in the main island. They could be called a good-cop-bad-cop combination. One was amiable while the other was distant, however, they both wished us luck for our adventure.
When the invitation for relocation was first suggested to me I had second thoughts right away. The province was notoriously known to host malaria, where the kingdom of deadly mosquitoes resided. Those minute vampires would not transform you like them, rather they would render you desperate: feverish, losing your appetite, then your mind before losing your life. What a horrible depiction propagated by word of mouth.
The two ex-military, both in their sixties, confirmed the information but laughingly denied the horrific scary version. Both of them contacted the disease but still they lived to be talking to us.
Being the more inquisitive, I peppered them with questions, trying to satisfy my curiosities. I wanted to know if I would have to buy a return ticket or not when we reached port.
“I speak sixty-nine dialects,” bragged the distant one. He had three wives, all were natives and much younger than him. It was probably legal because he was still free to move around.
“I speak English,” happily relating my talent.
“Where do you think you’re going? America?” he laughed, infecting those around with his boisterous laughter. “You can talk to the tourists if you ever find one.”
“I can learn. I learned Swedish and that I think is more difficult than any local dialect.”
“Suit yourself. Just be careful not to offend anyone with your tongue.”
“Speak Tagalog,” offered the amiable one. “Almost everyone understands it, except the indigenous natives. Be careful with them: they know something you only read in occult books.”
“But if you want more than one wife, join me,” the distant one commented, trying earnestly to upset my serious inquiries.
“One is enough, sir.” I replied, forcing myself to grin.
“Suit yourself,” he said, repeating his favorite expression.
“Don’t mind his teasing,” the amiable one advised. “You have to get used to the ways of the rural folks. They may look at you as if you came from another planet. Your are much too refined compared to their simpler ways.”
“I am a cowboy, sir,” I said, using the local term used for persons who could adapt easily in any situation.
“Why didn’t you bring your horse?” the distant one blurted out, eliciting the loudest chorus of laughter inside the ship.
“I think I’ll purchase one when we get settled,” I answered back, not at all offended with the witty rejoinder. I was already practicing the lesson right away.
His eyes conveyed the words: You passed the test!
How’s that for a wake up beat! (It’s playing and I am wearing earphones.) :D
Life is beautiful!
We entered what we call locally as the ‘ber’ months (names ending in ber), the start for the long preparation for the holiday season. Yes, we Filipinos start playing Christmas songs early on. That’s how festive the mood is in the country. With all the problems facing us, we still have time to smile and get on with our lives.
I suppose you can also call us islanders due to the fact we live in an archipelago. Diverse groups of people with different dialects, scattered all around and often mixed with one another like a small version of United Nations.
We are a motley crew (not the band) of people trying to survive, and survive we will.
If you know a Filipino or familiar with one, you might think of him/her as a chameleon, a genuine example of an individual who can cope up with hardships and luxuries in the same breath, a person who can live in deserts, frozen regions and anywhere civilization exists.
At times, he/she is more westernized than Westerners, more leftist than Communists or more religious than those in the Vatican. But, all displayed in their own particular way. Most of the time. (And, there are exceptions, too.)
I am them. They are me. We are together, like husbands and wives, for better or for worse.
I am a Filipino, living in my homeland, staying for good after a few years living in distant shores.
I am home.