The Feast at Barangay Bagontapay

Nonfiction by | January 29, 2017

The news that someone had gotten into a motorcycle accident at Bagontapay Crossing, two kilometers away from our house, reached our neighborhood a few minutes after it happened. It was just after the second power outage that day. I was sitting in our terrace when Ante Doday, who lives across our house, walked toward our rusty pink gate and casually informed me about the accident. She is a wellspring of information in our area, spending most of her day sitting on a wooden bench attached to her small sari-sari store and talking to customers who dish out the stories.

Bagontapay Crossing, where the “roundball” or traffic circle is located, became an accident prone area after its construction. According to my father, who had worked in the road construction, the original road junction – three triangle islands – was safer because of its limited size and intricate course that slowed down the vehicles. It’s interesting how we, taga-Bagontapay and other nearby places, call the roundabout, “roundball.” I guess it is because of the circular concrete wall that looks like a big wishing well in the middle of the intersection. This also reminds me of how we call the sickle, “cycle,” because, again, maybe of the rotating movements of the hand when cutting long grass.

After hearing the news, I remained still in my seat, just waiting for my parents to come home from work. Because it happens all the time, news of the accident didn’t bother me. Unless, of course, I know the person involved or it happens in a very strange way like that time a husband was caught by his wife early in the morning in another woman’s house at the market. I was more worried about how I would spend the remaining one month of my long school break before I go back to Davao City for enrolment. In fact, I couldn’t wait to be a second year college student.

Strolling around never comes up as an option in our barangay. There is nothing worth spending some leisure time in our place. Bagontapay is not an out-of-the-way place because the main road is always busy, connecting two big cities, Davao and General Santos City. But no one stops by and visits us for tourist attractions. We don’t have any of that. No resorts. No malls. No parks. No fast food restaurants. But anyhow I couldn’t leave our house even though I would securely lock it. Here, thieves have special skills— even if you sleep next to your motorcycle, they can take it away.

So I spent the whole afternoon observing people passing by, listening to budots music from habal-habal motorcycle boom boxes, and guarding our house. After some time, a familiar face caught my attention. Clifford, a grade nine student at Mariano Untal Memorial High School, which I had also attended. He was a gay boy who worked for a landowning family.

I stood up and opened the gate. “Cliff, what happened?” I asked. He was carrying two bags and seemed to be dragging his feet.

Napatay si Pigon,” he replied that Pigon had died as he wiped his tears with his wrinkled uniform.

Ricardo Pigon was driving a borrowed motorcycle with his friend, Jay, to get their costumes for their cheer dance competition in the neighboring barangay. Near the roundball, for some reason Cliff didn’t know, the motorcycle skidded and slid under a moving truck. When I opened my Facebook account, I saw that someone had posted pictures of the accident. One of them was Ricardo’s body in a prone position a meter away from the roundball. His blue shirt and school uniform pants were covered with blood.

An image of Ricardo Pigon flashed before me—the day I took my lunch together with Nanay and her co-teachers at MUMHS. After finishing my meal, I went to the sink and noticed a small guy washing the plates of the teachers.

“Hi, Ate! Ako na hugas sa pinggan mo,” he cheerfully said as he took my plate from me. I chuckled when I noticed his thick make up that was hardly noticeable from a far because of his dark skin. I rested there for a while before going home and caught him reciting his winning answer in a gay beauty pageant. After washing the plates and wiping the tables, he went to one of the teachers sleeping on a long table, and started plucking the teacher’s gray hair. I couldn’t stop staring at him. He reminded me of my six gay friends that I haven’t seen for two years.

Majority of the people in Barangay Bagontapay are Christians and strongly uphold Christian values, yet the number of gay men is increasing. In MUMHS, the only high school in our barangay, there is at least one gay boy in every section. And in ours, there were six, and they were my only friends.

“Opposite poles attract,” they said. But it wasn’t exactly the reason I was friends with Digong, Francis, Ruben, Noel, Crispher, and Tawin. Back in first year high school, on the second month of the school year, my classmates already had their own subgroups. As a sole student who had come from a private school, I wasn’t in any groups. Because the gay boys were gregarious as diving ducks, I forced myself on them by helping them with our homework, tutoring them in Math, or treating them whenever we went to the canteen. One could say I was bribing them, but it was the only ticket I had to get into their group.

The first person I got along with was Noel. He was tall and skinny and had the nickname “Palong” because of his dwarf-like ears. Months after we became friends, he confessed that he had had a little crush on me before. I began avoiding him for a few days. I thought of those times he could have been pretending to be gay just to be near me. Those times he would hold my hands, hug me, or place his face close to mine. A maniac, I thought. But later on, he revealed to me that he also had a crush on John Paul who was one year older than us. I observed Noel stalking him and being in a flurry whenever they ran into each other on the path walk. And when he talked about John Paul, it was always accompanied with slapping and shaking of my shoulders. That was when I confirmed he was a certified gay boy.

As the horizon withdrew the last shaft of light, I almost forgot about the accident. Nanay and I went to Bebeng Fish Stand, just in front of the high school, to buy bangus for our dinner. The fish stand is the only place that springs to life in our barangay when the sun sets. But it doesn’t stay open late – no establishments are open beyond 10 pm. It seemed like there was an annual purge every night because people begin to lock their gates as soon as it gets dark. At 6 pm, when my brother wasn’t home yet, we started to worry. It was only in Davao City where I learned the term “Friday Night Out” and actually participated in it. The only times residents of Barangay Bagontapay filled the road at night were during community discos and beauty pageants. I have never gone to a disco and I rarely watched the pageant “Mutya ng Bagontapay” because my parents are afraid that there will be drunken men around the barangay hall.

At the corner of the fish stand, we saw Japhet, the youngest son of the fishmonger surrounded by adults. Nanay grabbed my hand and steered me toward the young boy who was recounting the accident. According to him, Ricardo was dead on arrival, while Jay had no chance of surviving. Japhet was beside the ambulance when the rescue team had carried Jay inside. He reported that Jay had been eviscerated.

Kaluoy nga bata,” an old woman I usually saw in church said woefully. “Bakla pa gid,” she added.

Someone beside her added that gays should change while they still have time, and everyone laughed.

I used to not care about people I didn’t really know in our place because I barely went out of our house. But while their topic changed to the lotto results, I still couldn’t get my mind off what the woman said and why they laughed. Maybe they said it out of their concern, but I believed Ricardo was much more happy to die gay than living longer and having to put up with people who wanted him to be cured of his gayness.

I couldn’t imagine my friends changing, making them “normal.” As if being gay were a disease. Or a phase in someone’s life that one will get over as he/she grows up, though I had heard a story that there was a father in Bagontapay who in his early years had been gay. What if he is still gay and simply chose to be a father?

I remember a Cebuano joke about San Pedro asking God who among heterosexual men and women, lesbians, and gays will go to heaven first. God replied that gay men will go first because they will have to decorate the stage. It is funny how that joke contradicts self-righteous people saying that LGBTs are not allowed to enter heaven. But it also stereotypes gay men as creative designers and entertainers.

Every time my friends flaunted their made-up faces and walked as if they were on the runway, people would stare at them and cheer. They seemed happy when gay boys were around. It seemed like a fiesta celebrating their gayness. And people question them when they are not acting “gay.”

I thought those cheers were signs of acceptance in our society. But I was wrong.

What they truly believe says differently. They say they are pro-life by putting an anti-Reproductive Health Law tarpaulin inside the church, but then they look down on pregnant teenagers. They say they are for the poor, but every New Year’s Eve mass, the priest explains in his homily, “Edad mo, Halad mo,” which is a part of the mass where one must offer money that corresponds to one’s age. The priest emphasizes that if you give an amount higher than your age, it means you will receive more blessings.

When we were in third year high school, our Filipino teacher asked us to write an oratorical speech for Linggo ng Wika. She later asked Noel to recite in front of the class what he had written. Noel started his speech with an anecdote from his own life, and out of nowhere, he shouted, “Bakit? Bakit ito nangyayari sa ating kalikasan?” Then ended it with a language-related insight. We burst into laughter while listening, as if everything he had shared was a joke. After reciting his speech, our teacher sarcastically praised him and told him to be our representative of the Oratorical Speech Contest during Linggo ng Wika.

On the day of the activity, he didn’t rent a gown or a barong like his opponents did. Instead, he cut off coconut leaves and then wove them to form a dress, then he used one unwoven pinnate as the train of his gown. Everyone stared at him as he walked up to the stage. Noel was overwhelmed because he never expected he could join an academic competition like that. Little did he know that it wasn’t because he had written a great speech, but because our teacher thought it would be fun to watch the gay boy perform.

I would admit that my gay friends are the funniest and craziest people I have met. But it doesn’t mean that’s all they can do or that is just who they are. They can be more than that. They are not literally gay all the time. They also have struggles aside from everyday discrimination. Noel had low grades due to absences because he had to help his parents in the farm. Crispher is still looking for his father who had left them after he was born. Rodrigo had to cope with his mother having a secret relationship with someone she only met through text messages.

There was not a single thing I wished they could change. These people never forced me to become like them. They never got mad when I couldn’t go with them in their little adventures. They helped me get through all the pressures in high school, but more important, through their different lives, my gay friends showed me what life was truly about outside the comforts of my home.

For more than a decade, I didn’t know anything about Barangay Bagontapay. I didn’t know that Muslim people were the first settlers here, that they derived the name of our place from a Bagontapay tree, that we have sixteen puroks, and that my grandfather was once a barangay captain. I learned all of these only when I left Bagontapay for college.

The accident at the roundball made me look closely at Bagontapay. Through the eyes and mouths of the residents, I learned that we were stuck in our traditions and beliefs. It made me go out, engage with the people, and find out more about our place. I am ready for more surprising stories, but I know I won’t celebrate the things I know are wrong just to belong to this community.

Wenna Jane graduated from the BA English-Creative Writing program of UP Mindanao in 2016.

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