Tempo

The mood for every situation is dictated by the individuals during the event and how they wanted it displayed for themselves and for those observing from the sidelines.

In our case, a subdued ambiance was in order, the gathering followed the norms dictated by tradition. To be frank though, not everything that transpired then was connected to sadness. There were lighthearted moments and a few funny incidents, too. Those welcome sidelights somewhat consoled our grieving hearts.

Take for example the food served to guests during the wake (a nine-day vigil). Most popular (and easiest to procure) are instant coffee mixes and biscuits. As hosts we needed not bother to provide complicated forms of refreshments: Mother chose a similar arrangement. Because I was a few days late (another long story), I was not included in the planning.

As soon as I arrived from the pier, I opened the big box of coconut-flavored homemade candies I brought along. Pre-ordered from an acquaintance who sell them for a living, I was sure they would be a hit, especially to children.

As small tokens of appreciation, Mother reserved half of them to be distributed to medical personnel who assisted her during Father’s hospitalization. I promised to bring more when I come back.

Quiet for most of the time, I listened to stories related to my Father’s life as revealed by relatives. But what caught my attention more was the sight of guests trying out the round-shaped, orange-sized and flat candies we served. If it was not a wake, I bet I would be doubling up with laughter seeing the difficulty some people had savoring the sweets.

“This is too hard for my taste!” a disgusted old man commented, revealing most of his teeth absent and lost long ago. Several tries later and the candy would not be divided in his mouth. He looked like a baby struggling with the pacifier.

“I never had this sweet candy before,” another remarked while licking hers instead of biting small parts bit by bit. She, too, was denied a perfect set of munching tools. Her ordeal could last much of the hour while the candy would only melt if she persisted.

“I can’t wait to finish mine,” an inventive fellow confessed, busy cutting his share with a knife. Like any Filipino, he would find another way to deal with a problem.

“Leave them alone!” a female voice ranted to the group. The old lady readily accepted her limitations and decided not to test her chewing power: she chose a cup of coffee and a small plate of biscuits instead.

I kept my peace and decided not to ruin my calm pose. Cold as ice is a description many people referred to my demeanor.

“It’s okay to smile, or even laugh.”

I did not recognize the person who uttered those words because there were numerous groups around me exchanging pleasantries and stories. Their animated conversations were spiced with quiet laughter and gaps of silence.

Well, he or she was correct, I had to admit. By then, I felt less guilty for having a sunnier disposition. It did not diminish whatsoever the genuine bereavement we shared.

More or less, I almost forgot why I brought those candies along in the first place. To be exact, the specialty was one of Father’s favorites.

Portent

The owls did it again.

I did not mention this the other day because I seem to remember that I published a post about the local bird of the night predicting (accurately) the departure of life from the body.

Since I changed my sleeping hours, later than usual, I began to hear the noises of midnight and the early morning. Startling and spooky, the owls hooted as if they were talking with one another, keeping track of the invisible to the human naked eye and providing hints of what would come to pass.

Yes, depending on their location and distance from my position, I could take a wild guess where the dead would be located. (It’s a discouraging prospect but it is what it is.)

True enough, or should I say bewildering, the owls maintained their percentage of accuracy to a high level. Supernatural? I could not put a word to describe it. Fantastic, perhaps?

“Did you hear them, too?” my kumpare asked the next day. “I was pissing outside when I thought they were just overhead. I had to hurry up to go inside and hide.”

“You’re exaggerating,” I remarked nervously. “As always.”

“He’s dead,” my kumpare mentioned the name of our neighbor. “The next day after the owls hooted.”

Right there and then, I began to keep a more open mind. I did not know what to say, nor would I want to confirm what my kumpare surmised, I only wished the birds would leave and move far away from our locality.

However, that would be easier to hope for than realized.

When I told my godsons that the aswang was not real, I was simply excluding them from the anxieties and fears of adults. Children should be exempted, while still young, from the ugliness and obscenities of this world and beyond.

Believe it or not, there are unnatural phenomena occurring hereabouts. People could not explain them other than joke around and pretend they were folk tales of old, handed down through generations with embellishments as years went by.

Right now, I could hear the dogs howling one after another. Should I be frightened?

No. I am sure.

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Spinner

After I was forced to log off yesterday, I went out for a walk: to simmer down a bit.

A few minutes later, down the road toward the irrigation canal, I encountered another godson of mine. He rode his bike as if he was hounded by a pack of dogs: he raced, to be exact.

I raised my right hand to signal him to stop. Naturally, I expected him to obey me, sure that with his excellent sight he could recognize me a hundred yards away.

He passed me by, nearly sideswiped me with the rear wheel as he sped off downhill. I was afraid he would take a tumble but fortunately he excellently handled the bumps and holes in the uneven gravel secondary road.

I shrugged off the miss encounter as something ordinary, tossing in my head several theories why I received the snub.

When I reached home an hour later, he stood by my gate with another godson, my frequent visitor. They were in an animated conversation, hands motioning in the air as if their subject involved flying.

“Care to share with me the gossip?” I interrupted, opening the imaginary gate.

They laughed at my antic, accustomed to the way I interact with them.

Ninong, last night I saw an aswang outside our house!”

As curious as I was with the startling news, I calmly toned down my reaction, not contradicting him directly. I was most certain that his claim of seeing the folkloric local vampire was just a figment of his imagination.

“Did you not see me earlier?” I asked, diverting their attention toward reality.

“I was afraid so I did not look. Father told me to stop at nothing lest I could be snatched by the aswang.”

“Can you describe to me what you saw?” I asked, accepting his alibi.

“It was black as night, tall as a tree and silent as a mouse.”

“I saw something like it at home, too.”

My frequent visitor would not be defeated. He would match the story to stay in the forefront.

“I hate to tell you this but what you saw was your shadow. Look!” I pointed to them their afternoon black cast on the ground.

“But that’s at the back,” he reasoned out. “What I saw was in front.”

The lack of simple observation skill and the strategy of casting fear to a young mind created such a condition. Parents do not want their children wandering around at night so the tale was told.

“If you do not believe me, go out at night along with your father or mother, check out what I told you.”

Unimpressed, they politely waved me their goodbyes, probably thinking I was born a skeptic. Not true, of course.

Early this morning, my frequent visitor passed by on the way to school. He grinned to the max.

“You’re right, Ninong,” he reported. “I saw it.”

“I told you so.”

“But, there is an aswang,” he countered.

“Why are you so sure?” I asked.

“I heard mother calling father aswang last night after our lights went out.”

I said nothing further. Sometimes children misinterpret words they were not old enough to understand.

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Accessible

There was a small task that required my attention a few hours ago. It was not part of my daily routine but somewhat akin to what I mentioned in an earlier post about information dissemination.

A teacher imparts knowledge to students. I am not a teacher per se but I could entertain young people whenever they approach me concerning assistance about their studies. Frankly, I do not charge a fee as a tutor simply because I am no tutor. I regard myself as someone who can help when I can or if I can.

You might recall a story I told about some Trigonometry problems brought to me by a Civil Engineering freshman. Lessons of long ago come back to my mind as if they were stored in a vault and opened in a flash when the need arises. Even I was amazed at how easy for me to adjust to the situation which at first terrified me if I could not explain the matter in a satisfactory fashion. At least, after a while I calmed down to extend the help I was asked for.

This time, much to my relief, I was shown a short report to proofread and edit. I would give my student A plus for effort. However, the revision was total, cutting most of it and rewriting what was left on paper. It would be unjustifiably harsh (for one’s grade) if I let my student pass the report as it was.

One thing I make sure when I assist students is to see to it that they understood what I taught them. I often tell them that I could answer their homework but I could not sit in class and take the test for them.

I am always relieved whenever they come back smiling. That’s worth the short time and effort I spent to show I did care.

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Vigil

Before the year ended, another godson, my constant chess opponent, presented me with an alternative to television. He loaned me the CD-ROM version of the HBO series Game of Thrones, all four seasons for my viewing pleasure.

“I have a lot of work,” I said plainly. “I’ll probably watch it later if I still possess the energy to open my eyes.”

“I have a lot of questions, Ninong,” he confided. “I am sure you could answer them when you’re finished with all the episodes.”

“You understand English, don’t you? What’s the matter?”

“Yes, but I have trouble following the dialogues.”

“I see.”  Nuances could be tricky.

I could tell that he was very interested. His enthusiasm showed on his boyish face.

“I will check it out during my break.”

Frankly, I was as ignorant as my neighbors about the series. Even though I was online most of the time I was not too keen to preview even the short clips on YouTube. I was more of a music video enthusiast.

I went back to the house to take a quick peek.

After screening the first episode of season one, I was glad I was spared watching the spoilers online. I felt a sense of heightened suspense, not knowing what would come next as the story unfolded. It was riveting.

Instantly, I decided to stop my field work. I had ten hours on my hands: everything went on hold. 🙂

I was not surprised why the series earned a large following. It possessed all the drama and mystique of a great legend.

I have not read the books yet. I am aware that most adaptations somewhat veered away from the original, with the author’s blessings, of course. Still, the core of the story was intact.

Like my godson, I have questions, certain matters that needed straightening out. For starters, in the first episode, how did one of the rangers escape the White Walker? My guess: cowardice could be the answer.

I am hooked so I am waiting for the fifth season installments. 🙂

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Bored

When you wake up the next day, the dizzy spell nagging you to stay horizontal, giving you a reason to keep your eyes to remain closed or see the ceiling moving as if it would crash down on you, perhaps it’s a clear signal to stick to the alcohol-free oath you swore. No more exceptions, even the holidays included in the self-ban.

That summarized my condition after the celebration the day before. Eating, drinking (more than my limit) and singing had nearly shattered my schedule, particularly the morning chores.

I failed to mention that after my departure at my kumpare‘s place, someone accosted me on the way home and herded me against my will (or so I tried to justify how easy it was to be towed when one was weak) to another house for more merry-making.

“Come on! Seldom we have you around. Just this once.”

When I finally made his face, he was my other kumpare who was on the way to a store to buy more bottles of beer. Whether it was fate or misfortune on my part, I could never tell.

There I was, doing my ‘thing’ which they hoped to witness once a year. (laughs) The rest of the year, most of them rarely saw me wandering about, seeking company by simply hanging around at corner stores. I am often holed up at my place, quietly passing the days, doing my main ‘thing’ in private.

And, there I was, the day after, nursing a throbbing head. trying to command the rest of my body to disobey the order to stay inert, contradictory messages from the same source.

“Ninong! Are you awake?”

Unmistakably, the hasty question belonged to my frequent visitor. He practiced the routine of coming by at the wrong time. Not too many kids possessed such a knack.

“I am now,” I replied without emotion.

“Are you sure?” he tested again.

“How could I answer you if I am still sleeping?”

“My father talks in his sleep. One time I asked him a question and he replied.”

“Your father talks too much,” I said, forcing myself to finally rise. “That’s a good thing.”

“Huh?”

I went out the front door, walked like a zombie to the first calamansi tree I found, and peed. I stood there and waited for nature to take its course.

“You’ll kill that tree,” my godson warned me.

I laughed out loud, a bit louder than necessary. The thought crossed my mind so many times before but I came to accept the fact that the notion was false.

“To prove you wrong, whenever you come here, pee at that small tree. That’s yours.”

What do you know? The boy went straight to it and followed my lead. He came back grinning without saying a word.

“Why are you here? You should be in school.”

“Hello?” his singsong surprised me.

“Aw! I forgot,” I said, rubbing my eyes, waking up for good.

“My parents sent me here. They have things to do at home.”

“I am sure,” I sighed audibly, “and that does not include you.”

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Dandy

I almost forgot.

Earlier, at the same event, I overheard an out-of-town visitor complaining about his allergies concerning certain foods, particularly those coming from the sea. He was too vocal to tell everyone that his taste buds were choosy to the point he would vomit when given food that disagreed with his stomach.

When he first arrived, people thought he was a big shot. Later, we found out that he was not even wealthy nor overly educated. Pretentious was the word for him. I could sense he was acting the part to get the notice he did not really deserve. Such creatures appear once in a while, more so in village celebrations where many folks were easily duped by dramatic ostentation.I was sure he would be caught in his own lie when the time came.

Lunch was over but a late relative came over with big plateful of spring rolls. They were still warm when served in the middle of the table.

Mr. VIP did not wait for any invitation as he picked first, ready to munch what to him looked like French fries. Before we could eat our first, he had already devoured four.

“If you want to excuse yourself to go outside, feel free to do so.”

He was perplexed why I singled him out.

“I am fine,” he remarked, pretending not to have heard my advice. “These are delicious.”

I stood up, approached him and whispered, “Can I talk to you outside?”

He probably thought I would reprimand him for eating too much, though I did consider the same. But I had to point to him a detail he forgot to take into account.

“You said you are allergic to seafood.”

“Absolutely! I can’t stand the taste.”

“So why are you eating squid?”

At that instant I was ready for his outburst, of not being informed of the ingredient that could trigger his allergy, then belatedly throwing up in front of me to complete the farce.

To my surprise he did nothing of those scenarios I was afraid of: he simply smiled, caught of his charade but never verbally admitting I uncovered his scam.

“I’ll be on my way,” he said politely, eager to ease his way out from the embarrassing situation he dug himself into.

“Where are you going?” I asked automatically.

“It’s early in the afternoon. I can still make several rounds.”

“I suppose you’ll give them the same treatment like the stunt you pulled here.”

He did not need the scolding but I was offended by his impertinence.

“I am not a bad guy,” he reasoned. “Just a bit of fun, man!”

“I’ll let you off this time,” I conceded. “Next time, please come as you are. We are simple folks but we’re not naive.”

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Incited

The intervening period between Christmas and New Year went like a blur. Without the online incursions I was supposed to busy myself with when indoors, I had no excuse when invitations came from various acquaintances. I was never a party animal even when I was young, though this time around, most of the gatherings I attended provided more of eating and singing. One such occasion happened two days before the year ended.

In the local setting, drinking is never absent in celebrations. Even though I could claim to be the most capable person who could turn down offers of sprees without hurting feelings, I could give in once in a while but for only several shots.

By accident, I passed by in front of the video karaoke after a song ended. It was the quickest route out the door.

“I dare you to sing Hotel California,” someone shouted from the crowd.

Murmurs followed; the kind that provoked the challenged to defend his honor.

No way, Jose! I had already my plan of escaping the scene when the chance presented itself. I would not make myself the main attraction, belting out a rendition of a classic like I was Don Henley himself.

“I have a sore throat,” I lied convincingly, clearing the passage with the corresponding sound.

“Drink this,” my kumpare took his cue and handed me a glass with yellow fluid in it.

“What is it?” I asked, frowning to show my disinterest.

“Pineapple juice,” he replied, grinning from ear to ear. He looked like a ripe tomato, his face glistening with perspiration.

“I have to go home. I am not feeling well.”

“That man is from the city. He kept on boasting that village people were no good in singing. You could prove him wrong.”

Like a conspirator, my kumpare whispered more compliments to my ears, trying his darn best to force me to take up the challenge.

“Drink this and you’ll make him eat his words.”

The imp on my shoulder won: I drank.

Guess what? I was not that bad. Clapping of hands accompanied my performance. I was like a restless body on my chair, twisting and turning to the rhythm, slurring the lyrics as if the American accent was my own since birth. 😀

Roars of glee erupted when I was finally finished. I was not sure if they liked what they heard or they were simply happy that I entertained them.

“I am impressed,” the man approached me, patting my shoulder.

“By the way, how did you know I could sing?”

“Your kumpare boasted that village people are better singers than city folks.”

“One for the road,” my kumpare intruded in our conversarion and gave me another shot. “Here’s to our champion!”

What the heck! Such indulgence would be over once I left the place.

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Scheme

It’s another day in paradise. 🙂

What’s not to like? The sun is gloriously beaming its warm rays on my exposed skin, impressing on me that I should be grateful for its presence in my life.

Field work could sometimes be boring, the repetitive tasks deprived me of creativity. I felt like a robot whenever this happened.

Today was not such a day. I made sure of that. 🙂

Surprisingly, four of my godsons were present where I busied myself clearing cut branches. What came quickly to my mind was the amount of assistance they could contribute to my current task.

“Are you here to help me?” I asked when they orbited around me.

“Christmas is approaching, Ninong!” The eldest of the four stated. At fifteen, I believed he instigated the visit.

“I am aware of that,” I replied, turning back to picking up dried twigs and leaves. “However, I don’t think I’ll celebrate it this year. As you can see I have a lot of work.”

I was faking it, of course. I could imagine that with their silence, they possessed only frowning faces.

“You’re supposed to rest on Christmas Day.”

“How can I?” I faced them. “Look at this mess.”

I could sense they were fighting the urge to make a move, their eyes questioning one another if they were prepared to share time and effort at a time they were supposed to be having their aimless wanderings.

“Let’s help Ninong!”

In truth, I did not foresee such a chivalrous exhortation from the youngest of them. By reputation, he was the wiliest, the most frequent of my visitors, the inquirer of strange questions. Of them all, he could have vanished the minute work was in the agenda.

“If that’s the case, I might change my mind about a Christmas celebration.”

After the exchanges of teasing and boyish laughter, they went to work, treating the activity as pure play. They each formed their own pile, besting each other on who would end up having the tallest mound.

Not bad, I thought. I sat on a long felled log, taking a breather, watching them accomplished four times the work that should have been mine earlier.

Sweat formed on their foreheads, the physical exercise pumped them up. Naturally, they were hungry afterward.

“Since it was his initiative, he should hold on the money for your snack.”

“I am the eldest, Ninong. I also have the largest pile. I should hold the money.”

“Vote!”

As it turned out, the other two picked the youngest. It was three to one.

“Here!” I gave them fifty pesos each.

They scratched their heads, confused with the way I handled the situation. I had the feeling that they suspected that that was it, their Christmas gift.

“That’s for your snack,” I explained, laughing. “You’ll get your gifts much later.”

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Importance

Good afternoon to you all!

Just got back from the town center, searching for a permanent substitute for my departed cellular phone. I could have it repaired but the cost could be more or less the same value as a new phone.

Living in a Third World country has its advantages sometimes, particularly when it comes to buying electronic devices. Often the dumping ground of old technologies, there is a greater chance to purchase devices that are considered older versions of those found in industrialized countries.

A farmer like me does not need a touch-screen phone, much to my regret when I followed my fancy when I earlier bought the last one. I need a bare-bones device: call and text features would suffice.

I hunted, so to speak, roaming, window shopping from one store to the next. I felt like the prince in Cinderella, looking for the other glass slipper.

After more than two hours, I narrowed down my choices to two. Both showed almost identical features, the same price, different colors. But it turned out that one has built-in flashlight, so that tipped the balance somewhat. (You might have guessed correctly why it was the deciding factor.)

You won’t probably believe it but it’s a brand new ten-dollar phone. (Lower those eyebrows, please.) My new companion could be cheap but more importantly, it addresses all my communication needs.

When I re-inserted the SIM, exactly twenty four hours since I removed it from the drowned one, the alert tone for messages sounded repeatedly. Incoming texts that failed to come through lined up in the Inbox, almost a hundred or so.

Frankly, I am not an important person but people I know seemed to have missed me when I did not reply to their messages. That’s some kind of a comfort actually: there are still people who are convinced that I do matter.

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