“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!