Powerless

When you are in a relationship, like almost 24/7, parting is not so easy. There’s got to be a compelling reason to sever the bond, move on.

It was very unfortunate that this afternoon I found myself in a similar situation. Frankly, I was shocked to learn I was entirely to blame for the end.

I kept searching at first, then the realization dawned on me, I was left alone.

I traced my steps back to the house, wanting to believe that it was only my hunch, that what I suspected was a figment of my imagination.

Crossing a rice farm, I could feel the plants commiserating with my sadness: they probably knew why I walked the narrow paddies’ division. With bowed head, I finally accepted it was my fault.

Then, in an instant, my eyes confirmed what I feared. I almost shouted out loud to proclaim my regret for my unforgivable carelessness.

I knelt down, hoping everything would be okay, that for some miracle, I could salvage the situation, to bring back the hands of time.

Too late! Death was an undeniable conclusion, drowning the cause of my sorrow.

Goodbye, friend! You have been a loyal ally, a constant companion, the gatekeeper to the world of local telecommunications. I hate to see you go.

Tomorrow, another relationship has to be found. I would absolutely choose the cheapest kind so that when the time comes I would not feel too (financially) devastated during the next farewell.

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Sufficient

Half past eleven in the morning when I bid my new acquaintances farewell. I had half hour of a leisurely walk back home, seeking cover from time to time to escape the heat. I forgot to bring with me a baseball cap to shield my head from the scorching rays of the noontime sun.

A hundred fifty meters later, I passed by the elementary school where some of my godchildren attended classes. As soon as I saw kids gleefully running around the premises, I accurately guessed it was lunch time.

“Ninong, why are you here?” It was the six-grader godson who noticed my presence.

“He wants to see my teacher,” teased another godson, the ever-annoying fifth grader, riding his bicycle while circling me around.

“Do you have change, Ninong?” the third grader goddaughter asked, her palm opened wide for any grace coming her way.

“We eat lunch together, Ninong,” the fourth-grader godson informed me. He was the meekest of the four.

“I am hungry so you have to feed me,” I said, catching them off guard with my remark. “I am sure your leftovers are enough for me.”

They stared at one another as if asking themselves what has gone into me, visiting them and partaking of their lunch.

“Where have you been, Ninong?” the eldest asked. “You don’t come to school often.”

“I went for a walk earlier. I am on my way back home.”

“He’s probably looking for our would-be Ninang.”

They all grinned at the prospect. I did not react as if I did not hear anything. Better let the subject be forgotten the soonest.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Eat now. I am starving.”

They were considerate enough not to make me wait for the leftovers. Instead, they gave me the covers of their lunchboxes and left portions for my share.

“This is fun,” quipped the only girl in the group. “We should do this often.”

As I watched them eat, I felt young again. I could vividly recall how my childhood was filled with similar innocent experiences, unmindful of problems, both local and abroad. Thinking only of entertaining activities was programmed in my brain.

Half hour later, everything was consumed, no food was wasted.

“If you are still hungry, tell me. We could buy some bread if you want.”

Their faces lit up. They were always receptive to the word ‘buy’ especially if it was I who presented the offer.

“The ice cream vendor is just outside the school gate,” the fifth grader said, eliciting nods from the other three.

“So, what are we waiting for?” I said, leading them the way.

When we reached the ice cream cart, there were small children, most probably first graders, waiting for their turn. But I noticed the vendor was not doing anything to serve them.

“Is there a problem here?” I asked, handing the man a hundred-peso bill.

“They do not have money.”

Of course, the man was there for business, not charity.

“Ninong, look at them. I am sure they will cry if they see us eating.”

I counted them plus my godchildren. Right, no more change for the hundred.

“Please give them smaller cones,” I suggested so everyone would get their share. “Give me the last one if there’s still something left.”

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Dependent

Getting to know complete strangers had its benefits for both parties. Viewpoints were exchanged and perspectives broadened.

“I learned a lot from you.”

His knowledge of farming was too extensive compared to mine. He honed them through experience in the field, the result of trial and error through the years, valuable lessons that could not be learned from schooling alone.

“On the other hand, you gave me insights on what is more important in life. Frankly, I thought before that city folks are much better off than us. I have never imagined how fortunate we are living a simpler life.”

“Sometimes we compare lives for the wrong reasons. What we should be more concerned about is our own well-being. If we are satisfied with what we have, that’s already half the battle won.”

As we were finishing off with our conversation, a lanky fellow excused his way in between us. He held a small bottle which I believed was once filled by vinegar: the odor was distinctively acidic.

“Please put it in my tab,” he said after receiving the item he asked for from the old lady tending the store.

“Why do you always do this?” she complained. Her scowl created questions in my mind.

“Tomorrow is payday at the granary. You’ll get paid. I promise.”

Perhaps, the old lady has had enough of his untenable tactics.

“When you have cash, you buy at the other store. You come here when you needed a loan.”

Obviously, he was embarrassed when confronted with that fact. The other store which was closer to his house was owned by a stricter owner who would not give him a line of credit.

“I believe she has a point,” I politely interrupted. “You should be a more loyal customer to her.”

“Sometimes it is a question of distance,” he defended his action. “To save on time I go to the nearest store.”

“Yet you come here, further away, if you do not have cash. Isn’t that unfair?”

“I pay my debts. That’s important.”

“What if she does not give you a credit line like the owner of the other store?”

He considered my question and grinned.

I answered my own query.

“You’ll find another store, which is probably further away and hope the owner is not familiar with your practice.”

“It’s a democracy. We choose wherever we want to buy.”

“Granted,” I agreed. “But you should also have the decency to help those who help you through your hard times.”

My new acquaintance and the lady behind the counter nodded repeatedly, quietly approving what I had just reminded the customer.

“If she closes down, you’ll also suffer in the long run.”

“I guess you are right,” he replied, finally accepting my logic. “From now on, I promise to patronize this store, cash or no cash. True, she had been giving me credit for a long time.”

“Satisfied?” I glanced toward the old lady, waiting for her approval.

“That’s all I ask,” she said, grateful for my timely intervention.

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Entail

For the assistance, he invited me for a snack. Out here, we never decline if it was deserved and most especially if it’s free. 🙂

His smile did not leave his face since we walked away from the canal. It would seem he was familiar with me. On the contrary, I failed to associate his features to any name I registered to memory.

“You live near the highway, don’t you?” he asked, trying to confirm his first impression. “I have seen you several times before.”

That was strange. Almost everyone that passed by the road outside my fence was recognizable to me.

“When was the last time you passed. I am sure I will remember.”

“Two day ago,” he replied, thanking the store owner for two bottles of soda and two small packs of biscuits. “You stood up and stared at me.”

“What time?” I asked, accepting my share. “What were you wearing?”

“Morning, I rode my carabao,” he explained. “You were squinting, obviously because sunlight was on your face.”

His description of the event was hazy. For the day in question, if my memory served me right, five men passed by riding carabaos, all before lunch.

“You have to be more specific,” I said, munching my second biscuit.

He laughed, figuring out how to say something he was told about me.

“Some people tell me that you’re a snob.”

I nearly choked when I heard that derogatory term, coughing several times before I drank a shot from the bottle.

“I am not!” I exclaimed. “Who told you that?”

“It’s not important,” he tried to appease me. “I know they’re wrong. You proved that today.”

I was perplexed why some people saw me that way. I needed an explanation to correct my dealings with others.

“Did they tell you why?”

“At first, I believed them. I smiled at you when I passed by but you were too serious. I don’t know why. All you have to do was smile back.”

“I don’t smile a lot, especially if I could not recognize who it was. I learned my lesson for smiling at the wrong person at the wrong time. The last time was a disaster. It turned out the woman was angry at someone else. Because of what I did, her anger was transferred to me.”

“Did you recognize me now, that I passed by that day?” he asked, finishing off the contents of the bottle.

“No,” I said truthfully. “But that’s partly my fault I guess.”

“Why is that?” It was his turn to be curious.

There were times I would not elaborate about some of my shortcomings, especially about the physical side of me. In a way, he was still a stranger who should not be privy of my personal information.

But I made an exception. I wanted the ‘snob’ description scratched out from being associated with my person.

“I look serious most of the time because I have difficulty recognizing people twenty feet or more from me. All I see is a figure of the face.”

“You saw me but you didn’t actually see me.”

“My fault,” I admitted. “I don’t wear glasses outside. You understand, don’t you?”

“Of course,” he said laughing, taking out his own pair from a shirt pocket. “I don’t like to look old, too.”

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Convert

One thing led to another.

After I was cut offline yesterday (because of reasons you know about), I decided to wander off  for an hour or so. I had no destination whatsoever: I let my feet dictated where I was headed.

About three kilometers from home, I took cover in a roadside shed. It was only mid morning but the sun’s heat was relentlessly warming my whole body, extracting perspiration out, soaking my shirt with sweat.

Two other individuals were sitting side by side when I arrived. At first glance, they were acquaintances but as I approached closer I could see that they were both busy with their touch screen phones. Neither was talking: their fingers manipulated their respective gadgets without even recognizing who joined them.

“It’s too hot,” I commented, waiting for any response.

Nothing.

By now, I was beginning to be convinced that the younger generation nowadays was more interested with their social media status than their standing in the village. The I-don’t-care attitude at home kept them immersed in the virtual reality space they so eagerly joined to feel connected and wanted.

I stood up after a few minutes: if ever I wished for an interesting conversation, I might as well look for someone not holding an electronic device. (I left mine at home.)

I did find him after half a kilometer, wading in the irrigation canal, the water knee deep.

“Can I help you?” I inquired, taking off my slippers.

“Glad if you can,” he replied, holding a submerged sack, which I accurately guessed as palay seeds. It was part of the preparation for seeding three days later. “Can you push the other sack down?”

I knew the procedure by heart so instead of following his request, I jumped in the water and pulled the sack down. Still dry, it would float and it would be difficult to control with one hand holding another sack. The current was moderately strong.

In about twenty minutes, we tied the then sacks together to a post so that they would not be carried away by the current. Placing huge stones on top of each sack, the palay seeds inside would be soaked in water for thirty six hours.

“If my son is here, this job could have been finished before you arrived.”

I did not mention to him that I saw two teenagers by the shed. One of them has features that resembled the man in front of me. I was sure he was the one referred to.

“I think he does not want to be a farmer.”

He nodded, his lined face sad with that fact.

“My children want to change their future, out of the mud, out of here.”

As some form of consolation, I shared with him something to think about.

“What will happen if there are no more farmers left? Who will produce food?”

“That won’t happen,” he grinned. “As long as I am capable, I will continue with this job I inherited from my father, which he inherited from his forefathers. Others will do the same.”

I hope you’re right, I thought.

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Found Out

To date, not much has changed on how people interact with one another. Except for the appearance of new technology which the young generation, like the rest of the world, takes advantage of to communicate, most of the residents still talk in person whenever possible.

I had a lot of funny episodes about old (a bit older than me) people learning to use the new technology for the first time. Since I was one of the first to use a cellular phone back then, most of them saw me as an expert of sort. They gravitated to me when they got confused beyond the call feature.

There’s one story that took the cake so to speak. I was present when it happened, right behind the action.

A general assembly was at hand where the agenda was something about the approval of a particular quarry site. The groups of the pros and cons were present, their heated discussion made the occasion like a free-fall-all inside a wet market. I was there as an observer, invited by one of the opposition members.

On the row in front of me were the pros, older people who believed the earnings to be derived from the enterprise could help development possible. The lack of funding from the national government made their case strong on paper.

An older guy turned his head around and saw me restless in my seat: I wanted to go home to finish my field job for the day. The meeting was a rehash of older sessions since both parties could not agree on a compromise.

“Can you help me with this?” he asked, showing me his old model phone. “I can’t hear what the caller is saying.”

I was polite enough not to tell him frankly that what he needed was a hearing aid. The phone was functioning accordingly.

“You can use the speaker option. Adjust the volume to the level you are most comfortable with.”

A few minutes later, his phone rang. He answered it but to my surprise he did not follow my instructions.

The old woman beside him snatched the phone and turned the speaker on. Surely, she listened to our conversation earlier.

A female voice on the other line sounded too romantic. She was unaware that her every word was aired live.

I smelled trouble brewing.

“I don’t know her,” he protested, keeping his composure, noting the frowning faces around him did not believe his alibi. “Maybe she called the wrong number.”

“Is it just a coincidence that she referred to a man who has a similar name to yours?”

“Yes, that’s a possibility,” he replied, unable to look her straight in the eye.

“Do I look naive to you?” she raised her voice, getting the attention of more people in the audience. “If not for the young man here,” she nodded to me, “your philandering will still be a secret.”

He was cornered, continuing with his feeble defense was useless. Some of those present knew him too well not to side with him. He was the villain at that moment.

“Let’s go home and talk about this,” he pleaded, standing up and escorting his furious wife out of the hall. “You’re embarrassing us.”

I could not write here what she said, except all her shouting somewhat subdued the proceedings. People had something new to talk about. To that, almost everyone agreed.

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Reversal

We have a local saying that when roughly translated states: If you cannot take a joke, do not start one.

When I stared at my reflection in the mirror, I noticed I lines on my forehead. In some odd twist of thinking, I blamed the lack of practice of my sense of humor as the primary reason of premature aging.

“Ah, he looks like me,” I said, noticing all of them laughing. There was nothing bad for the elaborate hoax. Later on, I learned that it was some sort of a welcoming tale for all newcomers, to be ushered in to the lighter side of life which most in the village practiced so effortlessly.

“You believed it, didn’t you?” the leader of the group asked. “Your neighbor here had the same treatment several years ago.”

“In that case, am I considered a certified member of the village?”

“Yes. I hope you’re not angry at us.”

“Oh no,” I grinned without guile. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

It was sarcasm which they failed to understand. Theirs was simple and plain: mine could be practically subtle.

“I wonder who is the owner of the carabao I saw earlier, wandering about without ropes.”

Abruptly, they stopped eating. Everyone was all ears to my revelation.

“Is this some kind of a prank?” the leader asked, suspicious at the timing of my news. “Are you sure the carabao was loose?”

“See for yourself,” I said, wishing they would believe me.

They left their snack in a hurry, running to the direction I pointed. A carabao in the heat was more or less a disaster waiting to happen.

Twenty minutes later, they were back, their perspiration oozing from their faces, upper clothes drenched in sweat.  If my guess was correct, they did not find the non-existent carabao. I got my small revenge.

“Good of you to inform us about it,” my neighbor said, sitting beside me. “The damage was not too extensive.”

What? I invented the scenario but it seemed it did happen.

“We have to help the carabao’s owner to catch his animal. He’s from the next village. He had been looking for it for hours.”

“I am glad you caught it.”

“However, there’s something you ought to know.”

Suddenly, I felt nervous. Why was that?

“Did the carabao entered my place?” I asked, trying to figure out if the figment of my imagination did something real. “I am sorry about the joke earlier. It was a harmless prank, something like the one you did to me.”

“We’re glad for it somehow. At least, it ended in a better note.”

“You said something I ought to know. What is it?”

“I think you should go home and discover it yourself. You don’t want another round of laughter, do you?”

I hurried back home after waving to them my quick goodbye. If it was another prank, I would just laugh it off. I have to get used to it in the long run.

The plants were unharmed, even the fence had no sign of damage. It was a prank all right, I smiled.

But as I approached my front yard I saw a small mound of something near my front door. I could see the carabao’s hoof marks on the soft ground leading toward the house.

Yes, it was what I feared. Damn. I needed a shovel.

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Recognition

He was a fast runner, I tell you. 🙂

I was not able to kick him in the butt for such a conceited proclamation. Who’s he kidding?

When people tell me things, I do not swallow everything at face value. I learned from experience, living in this place, that people stitched fact and fiction to suit the situation. Often, it was the tone of the delivery that gave away the story’s added spices.

I remember once I was told a revelation which seemed too realistic to be doubted as an invention. I was a newcomer back then so I did not have the faintest idea I was being conned. 🙂

Tell me what you think of this.

A escaped convict from a penal colony (there is one near the capital), about 70 kilometers from where I resided, was supposed to roam around at night. Many people claimed to have seen the guy who looked like Rambo minus the ammo and the muscles. More likely from their description, I could visualize him like a Japanese straggler from the last world war.

Fear was not the factor, for they claimed the man was harmless, hiding from sight at every possible instance. He simply needed his freedom from the daily chore he had been doing for several years while in custody: planting rice.

“Beware,” many warned. “Do not hang your laundry outside. He might steal them.”

I possessed few clothes so I took the warning seriously. If he stole mine, he would probably have more clothes than me in the end.

Days later, there was a report that he was apprehended. I wanted to check his face to see if I had met him without me knowing it. I had seen a lot of strangers which was natural because I knew fewer people by name then.

Passing a small sari-sari store, I observed a group of farmers taking their mid morning snack. They were killing time while the sun shone its brightest.

When they saw me approached, smiles formed in their faces. I recognized two of my neighbors so I titled my head downward as a silent greeting.

“They caught him last night.”

Such piece of news aroused my curiosity. I had to get closer to hear everything said.

“Where?” someone asked, after sipping from a bottle of soda.

“There!” the lead storyteller pointed to the place.

Horrors! It was a stone’s throw away from my house. I never imagined that the convict could have trespassed in my land but the information led me to believe I could have met him face to face if I went out at that particular hour.

“Have you seen him?” I interrupted, relieved the threat was over but at the same time still curious of the man’s identity.

They stared at once another, seriously considering if there was a need to tell me the whole story. One of my neighbors kept shaking his head: he would not look me in the eye.

“What’s the matter?” I inquired. “Is he dead?”

“Are you sure you want to know what he looks like?” their leader asked. “You might not like it.”

I waved my hand, signalling him I was prepared for any surprises.

The man approached the store owner and whispered to her. She was reluctant at first but was goaded into following the man’s request.

When she came back, a foot-square object covered with cloth was in her hands.

“Go ahead,” the leader said. “Take it.”

My right hand was steady. I removed the cloth with my left.

It was a mirror.

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Led

My mistake. I spoke too soon.

After I published my last post, you guessed it, double disaster. Where is justice in the world?

Turn negatives into positives, I ordered myself. No use complaining to entities who seemed too immune to constant criticisms from their customers. The storm has passed and the only explanation for the disservice is inefficiency.

Go out and spend hours in the garden. Grow some vegetables. Prune branches. Collect dry leaves. There are thousands of chores to accomplish during the forced hiatus.

By chance, I had a talk with someone I had not seen for a long time. Nope, he did not spend time in some institution: he probably went on a vacation.

Where? I meant to ask him that but I just waited. During the course of our conversation, he was bound to reveal where he came from.

“Long time,” I greeted, observing his physique. “You lost weight.”

“That’s intentional,” he replied, caressing his flat tummy.

When I last saw him, he weighed more than a hundred kilos. For his five-foot-five height, he looked like a medium-sized fridge. Literally.

“Did you starve yourself?” I joked, knowing him as one of the most popular individual in the village with a healthy appetite. “But you look good, man!”

“Thanks,” he grinned, then adding, “I fell in love.”

(Hold your horses, people. I know this sounds fiction but I myself could not believe his claim.)

“You had a weight-loss diet so your girl will like you. Is that it?”

“Not exactly although I guess you can say I did it for her.”

“Ah, you went to a far-flung place, where food is scarce.”

He laughed at my insinuation which was based purely on deduction: less food meant less eating. Naturally, he would lose weight.

“I had to run after her,” he continued, still toying with my curiosity.

“Why?” I asked, raising both my eyebrows. “Is she a criminal? A snatcher?”

He bent over laughing, my guessing was going over to the extreme.

“You’re crazy,” he said,  giving me a shadow jab to the face. “Maybe if she looks like movie star, why not?”

“Why then?” I asked impatiently. “Are you telling me or should I wrestle you to the ground to make you cough it out.”

“See!” he lifted the leg part of his pants, showing me the hairy portion.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I was clueless.

“I have muscles. Before there’s only fat.”

“Why not just give me a short answer so we can do away with this charade.”

“She runs a lot. Daily, during early mornings and late afternoons.”

“So you accompany her every time.” It made sense.

He nodded.

“And since you are too big to run around in stride with her, you have to lose weight.”

“She runs 10 kilometers. The first few times I ran with her, I surrendered after the second kilometer.”

This story deserved a happy ending.

“Where is she now? Did you bring her with you?”

“Not really,” he smiled wanly. “She married her co-worker.”

“I am sorry,” I said sincerely, patting him on the shoulder to give him comfort.

When I stared at him, he did not appear devastated at all. On the contrary, his confidence seemed to have improved.

“It’s okay,” his face brightened. “Now, women are running after me.”

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Rebound

As the day wore on, more and more of the participants became rowdy. Perhaps, the introduction of the local coconut wine at the table was to be blamed. However, to some who exhibited earlier inhibitions, it was a boost to dispel any fears of losing the beat at midstream.

I could not say if I was lucky with the scores I got. The lowest I received was 80 which to my personal expectation was my best effort with a better rendition of a local ballad. Even I suspected that the machine was biased to reward so-so performances.

“You’re good with English songs,” one of the uncles praised me, his language sounded a slang of the vernacular. He was a bit tipsy, drinking wine as if it was ordinary water.

“That’s not true,” I humbly replied. “I am just trying to sound faithful to the original.”

“No, you are good!” he insisted, putting his arms around my neck. In a way, his action kept him in an upright position. “That was a good Bon Jovi song.”

Well, he was drunk all right. I sang a John Lennon ballad.

“Do you want to sing?” I asked, eyeing where the microphone was. “I know you are good, too.”

“Do you think so?” he looked at me, his eyes twinkling due to intoxication. “I cannot read the lyrics.”

“I’ll coach you,” I said, giving him confidence. “A local song you know.”

“Okay!” he agreed. “Order them to keep quiet.”

Relatives knew of his romance with the bottle but since he was a harmless fellow, they left him alone unless he became too noisy. When he reached his limit, he would simply sit and sleep.

I forewarned the others of my plan, to which they readily acceded to. We needed him calmed to continue the proceedings without any untoward incident to sour the celebration.

“Ready?” I sat him on a chair facing the TV screen: he kept bowing as if signaling me to begin.

It was a no contest. Even before the long intro was played out, he had dozed off. Relief was on everybody’s faces.

“You do have the ability to get along with the most problematic of people.” The remark was nice to hear, especially from the man’s wife. “He does not listen to me. I am glad you’re around.”

“I don’t argue with a drunk,” I confessed. “I will give him options to lie low and rest.”

“By singing?” she asked, shaking her head as if doubting my idea.

“He’s dizzy, right?” I explained. “Moving images will make his spell worse. Once he closes his eyes, there’s a greater chance he would not open them again until he wakes up. That’s good for all of us, isn’t it?”

She smiled, the idea favorable for her. “Now, I know how to make him sleep next time.”

I asked two other men to help me carry him while he sat on the chair. He looked like a royalty, intoxicated after celebrating a magnificent victory from the battlefields.

“The party continues,” shouted someone.

Yeah, I sighed. I wished it would end soon so I could go online. 🙂

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