Watch Out

There was a time in my life I want to travel alone. In as much as I want to talk a lot at home, I prefer a silent journey.

After graduating from college, I was freed from the hassles of scheduled learning. I believed it was time to seek true education out there in the real world.

Invited by classmates for a trip to the mountains, I did not have second thoughts to say yes. I had lived all my life in the city so going rural was an exciting proposition.

The three-hour bus ride was comfortable enough. It was the anticipation that provoked my imagination of sites to see.

“Did you bring slippers?” my classmate asked, pointing to the wet road we viewed from the window. “I think the weather will not cooperate today.”

It was raining hard. Inside the air-conditioned bus, the outside sounds were muffled though we could approximate with accuracy how the conditions were if we were actually out.

“Except for the rubber shoes I am wearing, nothing.”

“We have to wade through ankle-deep flooding. Your have to take those off.”

Walking barefoot in the murky waters did not appeal to me. Either that or let my shoes took a dive while wishing for the sun to shine bright the next day.

“I am ready for the new experience,” I said while I removed my shoes and socks. “I an’t going back home without it.”

“That’s the spirit!” My other classmate patted me on the back.

When the bus stopped at the terminal, the door opened wide. Out there was the beginning for my love of Nature.

“Come on, man! We have to hurry! That’s the last vehicle to the resort.”

Since I was the first in line to alight, I had no idea how deep the water was. Only after I watched a passing vehicle’s tires did I guess the water level was a few inches high.

As my right foot felt the cold water, it produced a shuddering effect throughout my body. I was sure my left would complete the numbing sensation.

Not quite as I expected because my left foot stepped on to something deeper, a hole in the ground that the brown water camouflaged from my sight. I lost my balance, with my heavy backpack aiding my fall.

I tumbled face down, like a swimmer jumping off the starting block. My body flopped to the ground, creating a huge splash in the process. I was wet all over.

I could have accepted my misfortune with good humor except one of my classmates added salt to injury.

“Say, did you catch any fish?”

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Discovered

“What’s happening here?”

There was nothing that prepared me for the festive sight I was witnessing. People who were all familiar to me was too busy with their preparations that they failed to notice us arriving.

“Do you know about this?” I asked my godchild in a whisper.

He kept nodding, too proud for his successful participation in the meticulous get together.

“Ehem!” I cleared my throat to announce our appearance.

Everyone paused at what they were doing, most were puzzled why no one was assigned to be a lookout to watch for my surprise entrance.

“Happy Birthday!” someone yelled in jubilation, infecting everyone with his over enthusiasm.

The singing and dancing ensued while I was herded to a chair at the center of a table with lots of cooked food. Fruits and local pastries decorated the edges while native wines in large ceramic jars stood on dry ground.

Frankly, I was speechless with the outpouring of love and kindness bestowed on me that moment. I held back my tears whenever someone approached me and congratulated me for being me: the former city guy turned farmer.

Almost all my godchildren were there to present me with their common gift, which was the core of all the secrecy I tried to discover.

“Ninong, you’re the best,” the youngest of them all expressed. The rest nodded their approval.

“Thank you for the trouble,” I laughed, recalling all the guessing games I had to go through. “You skillfully run rings around me.”

When the music stopped, the call to initiate the eating spree followed. For more than an hour, the chatter mellowed to a minimum.

“Speech! Speech!” one of my kumpare requested. Many clapped their hands to second the motion.

I vacated my throne, took the microphone from the emcee and stood in front.

Another kumpare, who controlled the sound system, played the karaoke version of Bon Jovi’s Always. Everyone knew it was my favorite song to sing.

I was tempted to sing first before the speech but I chose not to drive them all away covering their ears. It was still too early to belt out a noise that the carabaos might recognize as a mating call.

“Friends, countrymen, all here present,” I began, eliciting grins from the adults, “I am grateful for your elaborate preparations for my birthday. Thank you.”

Huh? That was it! I could sense they expected more than what they heard.

“By the way, my real birthday is next month. That’s okay. We can repeat this again.”

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Divert

“Have you seen them?”

We arrived at the town center before eleven in the morning of a cloudy Saturday. It was called market day since farmers all around the municipality gather in one place to sell their produce.

My godchild was not interested on looking for the other boys. He was mesmerized by all the assorted cheap toys from China that were haphazardly displayed on the sidewalk by small-time hawkers.

I held on his right arm tightly lest he could get lost in the crowd.

“Let’s look for them near that restaurant,” I suggested without waiting for his assent.

“Ninong, I want to piss,” he said urgently while holding on to the front of his short pants. “I need to go now.”

I was never a good chaperon for children because sometimes I tire of their constant whining although they were lovable at best. At home, I could withstand all their swinging moods but never on the road.

“Just stay calm. I’ll talk to the store owner. Stay where you are.”

I left him alone but I got one eye on him the whole time.

I did not look at my watch but I thought it was only a five-minute talk with a waiter who granted my request. I signaled my godchild to come over but he was not in a hurry to come forward.

“What’s the matter? I thought you want to go to the comfort room.”

“It’s done, Ninong!” he claimed, his anxiety I observed earlier had vanished from his face.

“Where did you?” I asked, finishing my question with a stern look.

He pointed to the spot on the wall where the trace of his output was clearly visible.

“There are people around.”

“Ninong, I am still very young. They won’t mind seeing a small bird.”

I raised both my hands high in surrender. Kids nowadays could be so aggravatingly reasonable.

Without missing his seemingly rehearsed cue, he defeated my mission.

“Ninong, I saw them riding the tricycle home. I think we missed them.”

I was not sure if he was lying but the angelic smile he offered smacked of disinformation. I was probably led to a wild goose chase. Perhaps, they were not even there to begin with.

“Come on, let’s eat.”

The boy was famished.

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Concealed

They’re good!

I never realized all my made-up stories of spies and stuff would stick in their heads. Using some of the tradecrafts against me was brilliantly executed.

Frankly, I would not brag but I thought I was very qualified to extract information from someone without exposing my motives. If the subject was a child, it would be a piece of cake, or so I believed.

The youngest came to me once more the next day. He probably forgot how he managed to escape my queries.

“Ninong, can you give me ten pesos? I want to buy food.”

“Of course,” I said without guile. “You can tell the others to come so all of you can get something from me.”

With a toothy grin and a warm thank you, he took the money.

“They are busy with their homeworks, after that, their chores.”

“Where are you going this weekend?” I asked, lulling him with a different topic.

“I wish I could go with them to the town center. My father won’t let me because he said I am still too young to wander without an adult to accompany me.”

Bingo! He could be my unwitting accomplice.

“Well, I can ask your father. I can accompany you.”

He was overjoyed with the suggestion, jumping up and down like he won the lottery.

“Will you buy me a toy?” his eyes twinkled with anticipation.

“We’ll see,” I said conditionally. I was not really a fan of toys as gifts. I would rather treat them to eat out.

“I will tell them about this,” he yelled happily, eager to tease them of his luck.

“No, no, no,” I said emphatically. “We’ll surprise them. You said they’re going to the town center, too.”

He winked as if our connivance would never be revealed to no one.

“Go now. Not a word, huh?”

As I saw him ran toward the nearest store, I believed I got the upper hand in our little mysterious escapade. The weekend would be too interesting to all of us.

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