The rain starts to pour as daylight chases the fleeting light of dawn. The idea of having to leave my work now that I am hearing rumors of promotion in the advertising company puts me in a hysterical state. But mother insisted that I must return so I could see the house.
It has been six years since I left the country. I worked as an advertising agent and a private tutor and at the same time finished my MBA. It felt like I was strangled with a barbed wire. For all that hard work, I was able to build my mother a house which had been completed five months ago. But she would never have a house blessing in my absence. She would never understand that one week of my work is more important than rituals. I’m sure the priest’s incantations and throwing of coins will ward off evil spirits even without me. And the holy water will do all the tricks.
The bus is now approaching the terminal. Six long years have passed and the bus terminal is still untidy and nauseating! Food vendors knock on windows trying to sell their unsanitary goods. How many years has the filth stayed in their fingernails? It makes me sick.
Damn. No taxi. My baggage would surely get soaked in the rain. And I can’t allow the porters to touch them. Why do I have to go through these things? And this jeepney seems older than my mother. I hate it. The passengers are looking at me. I feel like I’m in some kind of danger.
I turn on my MP4 and tune in to an AM station hoping to catch some news. Ha! I almost forgot they use Bisaya in local radio. I feel nostalgic. I remember my late father listening to this program with his half-filled bottle of rum every morning, contenting himself with the petty news they deliver. Always petty news for petty people. I’m surprised by the familiar voice of the broadcaster I used to hear when I was five years old. I notice a slight change in his voice.
Usa ka patay nga lawas sa babaye ang nakaplagan ganiha sa alas sais ang takna sa buntag sa may tangkungan diha sa Barangay Paglaum. Ang maong babaye naila nga usa ka Candida Hermosa nga naa sa singkwenta ang pangidarun, kapin kun kulang. Sa pagkakarun giimbestigahan ang mga posibleng hinungdan sa kamatayon…
My ears turn deaf to the next words he said. Candida Hermosa. Barangay Paglaum. These sound familiar to me. I grew up in the place and Candida Hermosa—I must have known her. How can I possibly not remember? Everyone knows everybody in Barangay Paglaum.
Candida… Candida…who is she? My mind goes deep in thought and I become unaware that I have reached the marketplace where I would take a motor cab, my last ride home.
Oh how I hate and yet miss this rudimentary vehicle. There are six of us inside, facing each other in threes with our knees bumping. I feel humiliated that the bulk of my things aggravates the scarcity of space. Two of them are hesitating to smile as they look at me. I feel certain they must know me. But I have to pretend I am someone they do not know, that they have mistaken me for someone else – only to spare myself from a torturing uneducated conversation. A few minutes pass and the animosity starts to vanish as they begin talking about the dead Candida Hermosa.
Maring, patay na kuno si Didang.
Ang buang? Santa Purisima. Kaluy-i iyang kalag. Ngano? Unsa’y
Wa pud ko mahibalo. Nasakit na baya to unya walay nag-atiman. Pero
naay dungog nga naghikog.
Wa pud siguro uy. Hikog ba sad. Unya, mouli iyang anak?
Kana maoy lisud tubagon nga pangutana. Anak ba uroy. Ambot na lang.
Now, I remember who Candida Hermosa is. She is Didang, the crazy woman. How could I forget her? She was a major part of my childhood. She was the subject of our fun as young children. I saw her laugh. I saw her dance. I saw her naked. I heard her sing. I saw her cry. I heard her cry.
When I was seven years old, my mother told me Didang was one of the four children of the wealthy Hermosa family who owned the land that became a squatter’s area where we lived. She was sent to UP Diliman to study journalism. After three years she went home pregnant and did not utter even a single word. She did not wail during childbirth. The neighbors’ speculation was that she was raped. As soon as she gave birth to her son, they settled in a rudimentary hut beside the kangkong field. There she raised her son. Alone.
At first, the family would try to pull the mother and the child out of the hut. It was a great shame for the Hermosas not being able to do anything for the two. But Didang’s mind was irreparable. One day, she decided to talk and the first sound they heard was a deafening scream. After that, Didang went dancing and singing in festivity as if in a mardi gras all over the barrio carrying the child in her arms under the scorching heat of the sun. Many times the family would take the child from her for fear that she might harm her son. But, Didang would never let them. They bathed and cleaned her but Didang would only get herself dirty again and go back to the hut with her child. Crazy as she was, there was one amazing thing with the way she took care of her son–the child was always clean.
After some time, the family got tired and fully abandoned the mother and the child. Didang went all over the barrio asking for help, stealing in the market, at times standing outside the towering gates of her family’s house. Most of the time, she begged in the church.
Her son grew up and we baptized him Pepe Kangkong. We were about the same age. We went to the same public elementary school together. How did Didang enrol him? We did not know. Perhaps the teachers helped Pepe out of pity.
Pepe suffered a great deal of bullying from us because of his mother. He never retaliated until we got tired of bullying him. But every time I looked at Pepe’s eyes, I could see the shame clouded with the tears that never fell.
Unlike some pupils, Pepe came to school tidy. His shirt was starched and his school things were ample. Judging by his looks alone, one would not know that he was a son of an insane woman. He was quicker than we in grasping the lessons. Was Didang teaching him? It was too hard to imagine.
We got to see Didang every day because she visited her son every five minutes before ten o’clock in the morning, peeping through the windows while we were having our class, always at the same time. She would signal to Pepe to come out and hand him two pesos and a piece of iced candy. During our recess we would watch her in her hurried pace away from us. We became so used to her routine that she became a part of our everyday lives. But for Pepe, every day as he advanced in the consciousness that he was different from us and inferior for that matter, his mother’s visits became perpetually
One time the rain poured so hard and we were all frightened by what seemed like the
sound of a collapsing building above us. It was the most terrible thunderstorm I could recall. The morning was so dark and yet, every time the lightning flashed, we felt like millions of fluorescent bulbs have just been lighted. It was the first recess that Didang did
not arrive. It was already ten o’clock and everybody kept throwing glances at Pepe. He will have nothing to eat at recess time. We looked through the window and saw Didang grope on the muddy and flooded ground holding an iced candy in her right hand. As the rain washed away the dirt on her face, it became clear to us that she was worried.
The rain may have drowned her tears but her swollen eyes suggested that she had been crying.
She had dropped the two peso coins on the ground. As the water reached her knees, she bent lower and the iced candy dipped over and over in the flood. Her hands searched on the mud but they only came out dirty and empty. She sat on the ground completely oblivious of the rain and the flood. All that she cared for at that moment were the lost coins so that Pepe would have something to eat.
She embraced the iced candy and wiped it with her skirt. We did not know what to do. We did not know what to feel.
Pepe came out of the classroom and ran towards his mother and guided her to stand up. They were both soaking wet. He led Didang home under the rain but his mother did not stop her sobs.
That was the first time I did not see Didang as a crazy woman. I saw her as a mother.
It was Christmas when the third grade was to present a play about Jesus’ nativity. Pepe and I were two of the angels. We had a rehearsal a day before but Pepe still was unable to get some wings. During the night, my mother told me she saw a woman chasing Didang for stealing a pair of angel’s wings in the market. She was not able to catch her and could not report the incident to the police. How indeed can she incriminate an insane person? The next day, Pepe became the brightest angel.
Our elementary graduation came and Pepe finished as the salutatorian. The people inside the covered court gave him a mixed look of admiration and ridicule when he received his awards. But where was his mother? I turned my head and saw from a distance a woman under the mahogany tree with her body half-hidden, half wanting not to be noticed, half wanting to be seen, and proud. Her face was somewhat radiant and clear, maybe because she was wearing a lei of grass flowers on her neck, on her ears, and on her head. I can tell that she was wearing a sad smile.
Such are the memories I can vividly recall of Didang. There were times when we made her dance in the street, saw her naked in the field as she bathed herself with mud while singing a happy lullaby. The last I heard of her was when I was in college. Mother said
Pepe had left her after high school when he received a scholarship. He never again returned.
Now Candida Hermosa is dead. Didang is dead. I can’t seem to believe how the woman’s life can create such an impact on me. Certainly, she was not one of the reasons why I wanted to leave my country. She was beautiful and pure.
Remembering the crazy woman detaches me from the emotions that I should feel as I approach home. In a while, I will be able to see the woman who among anyone or anything else is the very reason why I have had to endure the pain of exile. I think of mother. I feel a little lucky I was not Pepe, that my mother is not crazy.
I feel warm. When I look outside, the sun is already shining. The rain has stopped. The motor cab is now pacing the road beside the kangkong field. I want to see the hut where Didang and Pepe used to live, once more. I realize I have not really entered their hut. I ask the driver to stop and give him my fare. The passengers look at me and my luggage questioningly. Why should it interest me to suddenly stop beside the kangkong field?
I can feel my heart start to shrink as I draw closer to Didang’s house.
I knock, foolishly hoping to hear a voice, of Didang, or Pepe. But there is no one inside. I can feel the unbelievable warmth in this house, how clean and tidy it is inside. The first to catch my attention is the picture of Didang, in a frame, while she was still probably around sixteen, so beautiful and alive, staring at me, giving me a sweet smile. On the wall hung the rusted medals and yellowed recognition ribbons of Pepe for being an honor student. Oh how I envied Pepe for all these in our elementary days.
I look at the table. My eyes turn hazy when I see a melted iced candy on top of the table. Beside it, lay a pair of one peso coins. Waiting.
Rogelio Fantonial Garcia Jr. teaches literature and humanities at Xavier University, Ateneo de Cagayan in Cagayan de Oro.