Things were still not looking up for Judith. She just lost her job at the fish cracker factory earlier today. Your services are no longer required, they said. Well, that wasn’t exactly how they said it, but it sounded that way. And now, her son, Junjun, was nowhere to be found. Did she know where he was? No, she didn’t. But he’s old enough to take care of himself, anyway.
Today, she decided to just screw it and looked for the first thing she craved. Judith hailed a pedicab to the nearest sari- sari store.
The first few notes to Englebert Humperdinck’s “The Last Waltz” played inside her head. This was her ex-husband’s favorite song. That bastard. He used to listen to it all the time. The song rang in her ears until she realized that it was coming from the pedicab’s radio.
Judith bought three sticks of Marlboro reds. She inhaled the cigarette smoke, letting it creep into her lungs. It wasn’t her fault when Junjun’s father left them years ago. It wasn’t her fault that Junjun wasn’t able to attend high school when his father left. It wasn’t her fault that she didn’t have a job anymore.
She finished the first cigarette and went ahead and got a whiff of the next one. She was starting to sweat under her blue apron. Well, she may or may not have forgotten to return this uniform after she stormed out, looking for cigarettes.
She should be home by now. Judith would like to spend the rest of the day sleeping in. She threw the cigarette on the ground and stomped out the light. She braved the Gen San sun as her skin burned under the prickly heat. She walked to the highway to hail a jeepney home. She hopped on the first one that arrived.
A few minutes later, Judith hopped back out as fast as she could. She found a group of people flocking outside her neighborhood. The heat intensified with the crowd’s noise. Her kapitbahay, Lala, ran toward her.
“Dith! There’s a movie shoot! Right here, in our barrio!”
Judith stared at Lala. She didn’t know what her neighbor was talking about.
“Why are you home early, ‘day?”
“I just got fired, Lala. And I don’t know where Junjun is.”
Lala wasn’t paying attention to Judith. She appeared to be looking at the growing number of people behind them.
“Ay! Junjun noh? I saw him earlier! Murag namasada na man to siya.”
Oh, she thought, Junjun found a job. Judith didn’t even know when and where and how her son learned to drive. If only his father didn’t turn out to be an asshole who didn’t care about his family, he could have taught Junjun these things. Lala’s voice woke her up from her own thoughts.
“Naa’y shooting ba! Ali, let’s go!” Lala dragged Judith with her and they went back to where the people were being briefed on what was about to happen. Judith knew Lala didn’t hear what she just said.
She was about to break away from Lala when a guy with a blue cap cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. He stood at the heart of the crowd, discussing the basics. Judith only heard something about how people were needed inside a jeepney. They rented one for the day. The others were told to stay at the sides and appear to wait for something and/or gossip with their other neighbors. Judith got assigned to the people riding the jeepney; she initially wanted to go home but decided against it. She was going to get curious about the happenings outside her house, anyway.
Judith was escorted inside the jeepney with Lala. They were told to avoid looking at the camera—at all costs. Judith should laugh at something Lala said. She held a bayong filled with vegetables to make it seem like she was on her way home from the palengke. Before the first take, she turned to Lala who fixed her hair.
“La, what movie is this?”
“Gaga! Did you not hear? Kid Kulafu ba,”
The director—who could pass for a movie star himself, with his gentle brown eyes and megawatt smile—asked everyone to settle down. They were going to begin shooting in one minute, and he hoped they could finish this scene in an hour.
Three hours had passed. Judith could have slept in. She could have smoked five more cigarettes. She could have tried to cook merienda (if they still had any food left). But she was still inside the goddamn jeepney, and she wanted nothing more than to stuff these vegetables in Lala’s face.
She couldn’t keep count on how many laughs she had to fake. Each scene took almost half an hour to shoot, thanks to Lala. She chose to look at the camera every other take.
It was already the fifteenth one. Sundown was creeping up on them. They needed to end the shoot.
“Okay, take sixteen! Last na ‘to, ha! Please lang!”
Direk Tisoy looked at Lala pointedly.
“Ikaw, miss, for the love of God, please, please stop looking at the camera! All right, action!”
Right on cue, Lala shared another senseless story. Judith fake-laughed one last time. The director let out a huge “CUT!” and initiated applause. It was finally over.
Each of them received 500 pesos for sixteen takes of one scene.
When the movie set flurry died down, Judith was left on her own in her ratty old house. It was falling apart. The roof leaked. The dining room had also become the living room. The sink still had the unwashed dishes from last week—or was it the other week? She honestly couldn’t recall.
Yet there were still chalk marks on the wall where she used to measure Junjun’s height. They stopped keeping track when her husband left. Judith has to do a lot of double takes whenever Junjun is around. He was beginning to look a lot like his father, now that he’s not a teenager anymore. Good thing he didn’t inherit his father’s womanizing “talent”. Judith silently commended herself for never staying with a man like him.
She waited for her son to come home.
When he didn’t (again), she prepared for bed—still in her blue apron that reeked of fish crackers. The last few notes of “The Last Waltz” echoed inside the empty home. This time, Judith knew it didn’t come from any radio within earshot.
Judith woke up to silence. She thought about going out and looking for a new distraction. She hadn’t eaten anything yet.
She was smoking her last cigarette from yesterday when the door opened; Junjun was finally home.
He was wearing the same clothes she last saw him in—three days ago, to be exact.
“Why are you still wearing your uniform?”
Judith squinted at her blue apron; she almost forgot that she still had it on.
“Ay, sesante na ko, Jun. They didn’t really need me anymore,” Judith stood up and took the apron off. She threw it somewhere behind an old wooden bench she bought with her husband when they were younger. She saw her son heave a sigh before turning to her again.
“Do we have food? I haven’t eaten anything today,” Junjun put down his keys and immediately dashed to the kitchen.
She knew how her son would react when he opened the bare cupboards.
“I knew it. Wa ka gigutom, ma?”
Judith’s eyes rested on her son’s lanky frame. She didn’t know exactly when he got so much taller, but he also got noticeably thinner.
“I hope you don’t take after your father, Jun.”
Junjun looked like he was on the verge of punching someone’s face. Instead, he scoffed at his mother and slammed the door. Outside, she heard the pedicab’s engine start.
She wished she gave her money to Junjun before he stormed out.
Afternoons were awful. Judith got up when she couldn’t ignore the emptiness in her stomach anymore. She decided to go out and get some decent food; maybe she could find Junjun again and ask him to come back home.
Outside, she saw the same scene she left yesterday. The movie set was still there. And Direk Tisoy saw her. He waved at her and began sauntering toward her.
“Perfect! We have another extra. Nanay, will you join us again? Marunong kasi kayo sumunod.”
Judith scanned the crowd; most of her neighbors were also extras, but Lala was nowhere to be seen. Direk Tisoy led her to the heart of the set. This time, they were placed at the palengke. She was told to pretend to buy vegetables from a vendor. Kid Kulafu, along with his mother, was supposed to walk by her. Judith proceeded to act the scene out.
“‘Di ka mag-boksingero!” Kid Kulafu’s mother shouted her disapproval over her son’s newfound hobby.
“Pero ma, sports ra man nang boksing!”
Judith stiffened. In front of her, the vendor appeared to be calm and collected, except for her fingers that were shaking in the slightest way. The actors’ characters argued right behind Judith.
“Gusto ko mag-pari ka!”
Kid Kulafu didn’t want to be a priest, and he begged his mother to let him enjoy boxing.
“Ma, wala man ta’y kwarta pang-seminaryo!”
Judith’s consciousness was now focused on the scene unfolding right behind her. She turned her head towards them and almost caught sight of the camera. When she scowled at the commotion Kid Kulafu and his mother were causing, Judith saw Direk Tisoy give her two thumbs up. With that, she ‘paid’ for her vegetables and walked away from the cameras and behind the scene, just like she was told to.
Her pocket felt heavier than usual. She was paid another five hundred pesos for that single take. And Direk Tisoy asked her to come back tomorrow for a last gig. They were going to shoot around an old boxing ring in Kimball plaza. With a few afternoon hours to spare, Judith indulged in balbacua and three cups of rice.
Back home, she noticed the pair of worn-out sandals nestled outside the door. She stepped in and saw her son curled up on the only wooden bench they had. Junjun was snoring softly with his mouth slightly parted. Judith got a blanket and wrapped her son in it. He looked so peaceful with his eyes closed. She put away the food they were supposed to eat and decided to rest.
At breakfast, Judith was left with a meal for one. Junjun already ate and washed the plates. He also cleaned the home. A neatly folded blanket lay beside Judith. She looked around for any sign of Junjun. And there he was, sweeping the floor.
“You already ate?”
Junjun stopped sweeping the floor.
“Yes. I already prepared your breakfast. Salamat diay. But… I thought you got fired, Ma?”
She explained how she got her money.
“Tsambahan lang. They got me as an extra for that Kid Kulafu movie.”
“Mao ba. Thanks again. Balbacua tasted good.”
“You’re welcome, Jun.”
Junjun got his bag and was now putting his shoes on.
“Una ko.” He bid his mother goodbye.
Judith ate breakfast alone when her phone lit up with a text message. She left the home in a hurry; she had to go to Kimball plaza for the last shoot.
People swarmed the venue. Most of the audience-slash-extras were young men. Judith had to push her way to the ringside view of the outdoor boxing match. They were asked to cheer for Kid Kulafu, of course. But mostly, this extra role didn’t really require too much pressure—unlike the previous one.
“DING DING DING DING DING!”
The fight started. It wasn’t Kid Kulafu’s turn yet. He was scheduled for the next fight. Judith wasn’t really paying attention to the set. It didn’t feel like a movie shoot. The audience was having too much fun watching the fake boxing match.
Just then, she heard someone call her name.
It was Junjun. He was wearing a plain white polo and brown pants—a school uniform. In his hands were two sticks of banana cues and a cup of buko pandan shake.
“What are you doing here, ‘dong?”
“I found a job, Ma! Look, they made me wear a school uniform!”
Junjun grinned at his mother. He gave her a banana cue and his buko pandan.
“DING DING DING DING DING!”
It was Kid Kulafu’s turn. He wore red headgear bearing his last name in bold letters. His boxing gloves looked a bit worn-out. His shorts were soiled and tattered.
The boxers circled each other inside the ring. They began to throw a few punches.
“Cut! Break muna!” Direk Tisoy gave more directions to Kid Kulafu’s opponent.
Junjun turned to his mom and said, “What if I become a boxer?”
They both laughed.
“Gara ka ay. To tell you the truth, I just want you to go to school, Jun, like a normal kid.”
Judith gave him a tight-lipped smile.
“Let’s go eat balbacua again later, Ma,” he said as they watched the match together.
Emmylou Shane Layog is from General Santos City. She received her BA in English (Creative Writing) from the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She was a fellow at the 2016 Davao Writers Workshop. Her stories and essays have appeared in Dagmay and The Cotabato Literary Journal.