The Talisman, Part 2

Fiction by | March 29, 2015

Continued from Part 1

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.”

“I’m still not quite like her, Iboh. She’s a college graduate. I finished high school only. I’m just a driver. She’s higher than me. I don’t even have the courage to say hello to her.”

Fedawdaw nodded. “All right. I’ll help you get what you need. I’ll take you to the beliyan tomorrow. She can make you a powerful falusud.”

“Iboh, I don’t want a falusud.”

“But it’s the specific kind of talisman that you need. It will help you attract any woman you like.”

“It might not be effective. I need something that has been proven effective, something tested by time. I need an ungit—your ungit.”

“You can’t be serious, Tefu. If I give this to you, the whole family will starve. We are a family of hunters. We hunt for meat for our consumption and to give them to other families in exchange for grains and other items. We don’t do anything else. We don’t even farm.”

“Then it’s time you learn to, and I’m not referring to swidden farming. With the influx of Christians, the forest is getting smaller by the season. The people of our tribe can no longer clear an area, farm it, and then look for another area so that the forest can heal itself. There’s no longer enough space for you to move around. You have to learn regular farming. Settle in one spot and use fertilizer, as what the Christians do.”

“But hunting is my life. If I give up hunting, I will become someone I don’t know.”

“We have adapt to the times, Iboh. And you have to start now. It will be too late if you do it years from now. If you prefer to handle animals, you can raise pigs and goats instead of planting rice and corn. I will buy baby pigs and goats for you.”

“I can buy them myself if I want to. It’s not a question of money, Tefu. It’s just that . . . you don’t expect me to leave the old ways just like that.”

“You don’t have to do it overnight, Iboh. While the rest of the family is farming or raising livestock, you and Mesila may still continue to hunt.”

“But without this ungit . . .”

“You can create a new one, can’t you? You can create another ungit that is exactly like that.”

“I’m afraid I can’t. Each ungit has a unique set of ingredients, and one of the ingredients of this ungit is gone now. The plant used to grow in the riverbank, but because the Christians have populated the area and polluted the water, only weeds grow there now. I can still make an ungit with one ingredient missing, or I can use a different set of ingredients, but the new ungit won’t be as powerful as this one.”

Tefu is getting frustrated. “But you said you’d give me the ungit if it were useful to me.”

“As a hunting talisman! Not as something like a falusud. You know that if an ungit is used to attract a woman, it will lose its power as a hunting talisman. This ungit, Tefu, bears the history of our family, and that is its most important ingredient. I’m confident when I hunt because I know that the previous owners of this ungit are with me. The strength of my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather is in this ungit.”

Tefu didn’t care about dead people. His mind was in the present, not in the past. “You just don’t really want to help me.”

“When your grandfather gave this ungit to me, he said . . .”

Tefu had stopped listening to his father. He took his wallet from the back pocket of his pants and showed Fedawdaw four P500 bills. “Here, Iboh. Do whatever you want to do with it. Just give me the ungit.”

Fedawdaw stared at his son in shock. Slowly he took the bills from Tefu’s hand, and then he flung them at the latter’s face. The wind blew the money away, and both father and son did not go after it. “Is this what you learned in school, in the city?” Fedawdaw shouted in anger. “To disrespect your father?”

Tefu didn’t answer.

“With a pittance, you want to buy the identity of your family, the memories of your forefathers. And for what, Tefu? Just so you could seduce a Catholic woman, who probably does not consider you her equal because you’re a native?”

Still without saying anything, his eyes filled with hate for his father, Tefu stepped back, and then he ran away.

“No!” Fedawdaw said. “Tefu, no!”

Tefu didn’t care where he was going. He just wanted to be as far away as he could from his father. The old man was running after him, shouting something at him, but he ignored him. He suddenly found himself in a spot where the sunlight was brighter, the wind fiercer. There were no trees beyond. He was headed straight to a ravine. The realization struck Tefu too late. He was not able to stop his legs from running. But his father had caught up with him. The old man jumped at his son, and they both fell with a thud on the ground, just a few feet away from the edge.

Tefu sat up, and for a long moment, he stared at his surroundings, taking in the fact that he had nearly died by accident. His father straightened himself quietly. Overwhelmed with mixed emotions, Tefu broke down crying. Fedawdaw touched his son on the shoulder, but Tefu shrank away. He told his father, “You should have let me fall. I have no reason to live. I’m alone in the city. I don’t live for anyone.”

“Live with us,” Fedawdaw said. “This is your home. You are always welcome here.”

“Right. That’s what you want for me. You don’t care for your children’s future. You want all of us to stay here in the mountains and live a primitive life. I was lucky. A priest took pity on me and sent me to school. Otherwise, I would have been stuck here. I wouldn’t have achieved anything. I shouldn’t have come back here. I knew all along that you wouldn’t help me.” Tefu left his father and walked back toward the family hut.

It was dusk when Tefu reached the hamlet, so he had no choice but to stay in his father’s hut for another night. Not a single word passed between father and son that night, and at the break of dawn the next day, Tefu slung his backpack on his shoulders, said goodbye to his mother, and walked away from his birthplace, swearing to himself not to come back while his father was still alive.

The town of Upi, where the Teduray people lived, was far from Cotabato City, where Tefu worked. From the family’s hamlet, he had to walk through the forest for an hour, ride a public utility motorcycle for another hour, and ride a jeepney for four hours. When he reached the city, while unpacking, he was shocked to find his father’s ungit inside his backpack. The old man must have put it there the previous night.

Tefu was filled with guilt when he remembered the harsh words he had said to his father. But soon enough, excitement replaced the guilt. He couldn’t wait to ensnare the woman he desired.

The ungit was effective. Within months, the Catholic woman agreed to marry Tefu. She treated her husband badly, but at night, when Tefu had nothing on but the ungit, she would come to him trembling with desire, a slave who did everything her master wished. Tefu didn’t mind that his wife bossed him around and even made fun of him at daytime. The nighttime pleasure made him happy enough.

Tefu wanted to have children, but after more than a year of marriage and nightly humping, the woman still did not become pregnant. He found out why one morning. While the woman was in the sink, readying to go to work, he saw her taking a tiny white pill. He confronted her.

The woman sneered at him. “Do you really expect me to carry your child? I don’t want a Teduray baby, Mateo. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I know that I don’t really love you. I will never love you. I am just under your spell. Whenever you hang that strange necklace on your ears, something happens to me. I can’t stop myself from sleeping with you, but I don’t want to do it. I don’t want you!”

“That’s not true,” Tefu said. “You married me because you love me. You love me as much as I love you. Stop taking the pill please. It’s against the teachings of the church. We should obey the church. We both work for the bishop.”

“Don’t use the teachings of the church. You’re a heathen, a sorcerer. You want me stop taking the pill? Stop wearing that necklace first.”

Tefu knew what would happen if he acquiesced, so he did not stop wearing the talisman, and the woman did not stop taking the pill.

When Tefu had been with the woman for almost two years, he began to feel that he no longer wanted her as much as he did before. She no longer looked as beautiful, and he began to be more aware of, and hurt by, her ill manners. Until, after a year more, he no longer wanted to touch her.

To be concluded…

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