The Talisman, Part 1

Fiction by | March 22, 2015

Fedawdaw was overjoyed when Tefu, one of his sons, came home from the city. The Teduray huntsman prepared a feast. He asked his two wives to bring out and cook the salted meat that the family had been keeping. If consumed by the family alone, the meat could last for a fortnight, but because Fedawdaw invited the neighbors, in one sitting, the meat was demolished.

“Now, my dear husband, what are we going to eat tomorrow?” complained Amung, Fedawdaw’s first wife and Tefu’s stepmother. “I don’t see why you had to invite the whole inged. There is nothing special to celebrate.”

“Tefu is here,” Fedawdaw said. “That is special. I rarely see him, Amung. He is always busy with his work in Cotabato.”

“You always prepare a feast for him. When he finished studying in the Catholic school, you slaughtered a wild boar and two deer. But what do you do for your other sons? When Minted, who is your first son, was married, you butchered a boar, and only half of it was cooked for the occasion.”

“Stop griping, Amung. Tefu may not be my eldest or strongest child, but he is the most intelligent. He deserves to be honored by his father.”

“Oh, don’t tell me that, Fedawdaw. That’s simply not true. Mesila, your youngest son with me, is the most intelligent of your children. Mesila knows where to set traps in the forest, what the chirping of a temugen means, and when to plant crops based on the position of the stars.”

“But Mesila, Amung, doesn’t know how to read and write. He did not go to school. He doesn’t know how to drive a vehicle. Don’t compare him to Tefu. Tefu studied in Notre Dame High School, as a scholar of a priest, and he’s working in Cotabato now as the driver of the bishop. Don’t you know how important that job is? In the Catholic Church, the priest is the datu, and the bishop is the sultan.”

“I’m not impressed, Fedawdaw. Your Tefu claims he has a good life in the city, but he can’t even give you a stick of cigarette. He doesn’t care about you as much as you care for him. He doesn’t care about his tribe. I bet he doesn’t tell people in Cotabato that he’s a Teduray, that his family lives in the mountains.”

“Enough. Your envy is eating you up. The mere fact that my son is here means he misses me and his mother.”

Amung laughed. “You see what you want to see, my husband. Your son isn’t here to make sure you’re fine. He’s here because he needs something from you.”

“What made you say that?”

“I look at him with my eyes, not with my heart.”

“Nonsense. If you could see through people, what is it that Tefu wants?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t say I could read his mind. I just smell something fishy. Ask him yourself.”

Nobody had to ask Tefu. The next day, when Fedawdaw took all his sons to hunt game, Tefu talked to him in the forest. “I am sorry, Iboh,” Tefu told his father. “I am of no help to you. I no longer know how to use spears and arrows.”

“It’s all right, inga,” Fedawdaw said, laughing. “Let me and your brothers do it. This tiring activity is for us. You don’t need to chase wild boars and deer in the city. Just stay here and keep an eye on these.” He pointed at the pair of deer on the ground, bloody and lifeless. One still had an arrow sticking out of its neck. The slain animals also had bite marks on their rear and legs, an indication that dogs had aided the hunters in chasing down the game.

Tefu nodded. “Indeed, Iboh, your ungit is still very effective.”

“Oh yes.” Fedawdaw touched the rattan string hanging from his ears. Tied at the center of the string, under his chin, was a soiled cloth containing powdered dried grass, bits of resins, and tiny pieces of unusual rocks. “This is one of the most powerful ungits in our tribe. Tested by time. It has helped feed our family for at least five generations. I just wear it always, rub it on myself and the dogs before a hunt, and there you have it, plenty of meat!”

“You are lucky, Iboh. Minted too. He will inherit the ungit because he is the firstborn.”

“No, I don’t have to hand this down to the eldest son. I’ve actually promised this to Mesila since he has a natural aptitude for hunting. You know what, inga, if this ungit were just useful to you, I’d bequeath it to you. Of all my children, it’s you I am most proud of.”

Tefu’s face brightened. He wasn’t just happy. He looked as though he wanted to jump in joy. “Really, Father? Then give it to me. It’s actually what I came here for. I really need an ungit.”

“Are you serious?” Fedawdaw frowned. “Why would you need an ungit? There are no game in the city. You have no use for an ungit there. Unless . . .” He stared at his son.

Embarrassed, Tefu shifted his gaze.

Fedawdaw laughed aloud. “Yes, indeed. You are old enough to marry. More than old enough, in fact. The men your age here already has children. But, inga, you don’t need an ungit. You don’t look bad, and you are educated. You don’t need a talisman to attract a woman. I can even arrange a marriage for you. My friend Datu Kling has a beautiful daughter. She’s—”

“The woman I like lives in the city.”

Fedawdaw fell silent.

“She’s a Catholic,” Tefu added. “She also works for the bishop, but as a secretary.”

“Well, I’m not surprised if you want to marry a Catholic woman. You are a Catholic yourself. The priest who sent you to school baptized you, didn’t he? He even gave you a new name. He calls you Ma . . .”

“Mateo. That’s who I am now. It’s the name I use in Cotabato.”

“Of course, inga. I understand. You want to marry a city girl. You want someone like you.”

Continued in Part 2

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