Arriving home, Evanswinda took her slippers off and searched for a dry shirt that she could change to. Her husband wasn’t home yet, which made her wonder where he went after seeing him outside the Granada’s residence. She didn’t wait for him and ate the cold rice and dried fish left over from their breakfast. When she lay back to sleep on the bed, she thought to herself what her life would have been if she didn’t marry her husband. Would she have been happier? Would she have not experienced the miscarriage? She did not know, but she easily concluded that she would still marry someone else and remain poor. No rich man would marry her. She knew she wasn’t pretty. Her flat nose looked like a small bump in the middle of her face and her eyes were large and unattractive. With that last thought, she dozed off to a dreamless sleep. She was awakened by the door opening and the sound of feet hitting the ground steadily. No light came from the small hole on their wall, which meant she slept throughout the afternoon. She hastily stood up, remembering that she had not prepared dinner. She went out the room and saw her husband lounging on the sofa in their living room.
“Hey,” he said, sitting up on the sofa. “I bought dinner. It’s on the table.”
She walked away without a word and went to search for the food. The food was put inside a plastic bag. Peaking inside, she saw that there were four cups of rice and two dishes, pinakbet and ginagmay. She prepared the table and called out her husband. The shuffling of feet could be heard behind her when she sat on the chair.
“How did you find out that I haven’t cooked dinner yet?” she asked.
“I just know,” he said, flashing a barely perceptible smile.
Evanswinda chewed her food first before she spoke. “I saw you outside the Granada’s. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? What were you doing there?”
He didn’t answer immediately, knowing quite well that she was curious to know.
“They hired me to do errands,” he said. He focused on his food and wouldn’t look at her.
“What errands? I thought you hated them? You didn’t even want me to work for them.”
“Just simple errands. It’s just work anyway.” When she opened her mouth to speak he quickly said, “Let’s just leave it at that.”
She didn’t probe more and continued eating. She knew he hid something, but she could not determine what. He acted kind of edgy but tried to hide it well. He kept moving his leg under the table and looked anywhere but her.
For the past few days she had been seeing her husband coming in and out of the Granada’s when she washed their clothes during weekends. She had been asking what they had been ordering him about, but he wouldn’t budge. She had worked longer for the family, but she had no idea what her husband’s work entailed. She attempted to ask Ma’am Rissa, but she too would not say anything and would find ways to dismiss her. Tiyong might have told them to keep his work a secret from her, she thought. The thought that her husband hid something important to her made her frustrated and suspicious. He would not hide his work if he was not doing dirty work.
On her way home, a neighbor stopped her.
“Hoy, Eba!” Someone called out.
“You have been rubbing off on your husband it seems.” She turned to her right, seeing her neighbor Leah standing near a sari-sari store. She gave the woman a confused look. She would have left if what Leah said didn’t make her curious. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, stop pretending,” the woman said, huffing. Her thick brows furrowed and her lips puckered, clearly annoyed. “He had been persuading the other residents, even bribing the others to leave Sto. Niño. Have the two of you lost your minds? Just because you’re living in Evalyn’s house doesn’t mean you have become part of this place. Tell him we won’t leave but the two of you should.”
Evanswinda didn’t reply and walked with long strides to her house. That afternoon, she waited for Tiyong even though she wanted to have a rest ever since she left the Granada residence. The door to the house opened and Tiyong entered their home.
“Where have you been, Tiyong?”
“In the market,” he said, taking off the rubber shoes he wore. She had never seen a porter wearing rubber shoes while at work.
“Stop lying,” she said, giving him a dirty look. “You have been to the Granada’s. I saw you. ”
“Then why do you have to ask if you already know?” He walked to their bedroom and took off his shirt.
“Are you making the residents leave?” she said, following him inside. He didn’t answer. “Tiyong why would you do that? You’re doing dirty work for them. Can’t you see?”
“You’re working for them too,” he simply said.
“There’s nothing wrong with washing clothes,” she said.
“How contradictory, I do the dirty work while you do the washing,” he said, chuckling without humor.
“There’s nothing laughable about that, Tiyong,” said Evanswinda.
He sat on the bed and said, “The pay is good. My back has been aching from carrying crates of fishes. There are younger and healthier men working in the market as a porter now. It has been difficult, you see?”
“There are other jobs,” she said, sitting beside him.
“No one would hire an old bat,” he said. “They always want someone fresh and strong.”
He began lying on the bed and closed his eyes, hinting that he wanted her to drop the subject. She could only sigh and lie on the bed too.
For days their marriage had not been doing well. She had been against with what he had been doing, but she herself couldn’t stop working for the Granada’s. They needed to survive. Day by day, she had observed her husband becoming easily irritated. Working with the Granada’s had taken a toll on him. The longer they worked for them, the greater the people were angered. Tiyong even lost the respect he had from his friends in the neighborhood.
Tiyong came home one night, opening the door with a loud bang. Evanswinda had been sitting in the living room, tinkering at an old radio. She looked up with wide eyes, thinking a stranger entered her home. Tiyong’s nostrils flared and he sighed in exasperation.
“What’s wrong?” Evanswinda asked.
“Manong Lindo wouldn’t even sell me a single stick of cigarette,” he said, slumping beside her. “He said some nonsense about betraying the people.”
“Aren’t we?” she said. Tiyong didn’t answer. “I’m quitting tomorrow. You know Linda? She’s my classmate in high school. She said she would help me find a job in the market. Won’t you leave too?”
For weeks, the thought of betraying the neighborhood plagued her mind. They were not just betraying the residents, but also themselves! It was not just a single stick of cigarette that their neighbors were not willing to sell. Even the essentials had to be bought outside of Sto. Niño or in the palengke. The people would gossip about them, sometimes something true but trivial and sometimes something made-up. She got weary of their neighbors’ eyes following their every move. After deciding that she would quit, she sought for other jobs and inquired from her friends.
“I’ll even work two jobs if that would make you quit,” she said.
“No.” he shook his head, trying to rid of the idea. “It won’t be enough.”
“We had been living fine,” she said, putting the broken radio on top of a cabinet.
“Marlon will be graduating from high school,” he said. “Your nephew?” she said.
“Yes,” he said, giving her a dismal look. “If he only lived, he would be starting school now.”
Evanswinda realized that it was no longer Marlon they were talking about. “We’re not talking about this again.”
“He died because I couldn’t provide you enough,” he said, drowning himself in self- pity. Evanswinda did not look amused. “I should have made you stopped working then.”
“What does this have anything to do with quitting work for the Granada’s?”
“The pay is good.” She heard the same reason again. “If we want to start again I should have enough saved up when you give birth.”
“I’m going to bed now,” she said.
“You think I want to work for them? I could not stand being in the same room with that family, telling me to betray our neighbors. I can’t even look at my friends in their eyes without feeling ashamed of what I am doing. But the money is of utmost importance right now. I want a child of my own. I’m getting old, Inday.”
“And so am I.” She walked to the bedroom without glancing back.
The next morning, Evanswinda and Tiyong walked on their way home, past the Eagle Hotel and uniformed prostitutes in Chikay. They had just been in the palengke, buying three kilos of rice, vegetables, and some meat. Evanswinda had finally quit and began working in the wet market. Tiyong had accompanied her instead of going straight to the Granada’s. He had not quit as much as she wanted him too. She knew how much he abhorred working for the family, but his pride was always on the way. Was his pride that important for him to disregard the people around him? Of how he truly felt? She looked at him and thought he certainly did.
A few kilometers from where they stood, though indistinct, smoke billowed in the night sky. With their armpits sweating and heart pounding, they ran. Upon arriving, people cried out in hysterics, some running to the houses with buckets of water, others brought things from their unburnt house. Evanswinda searched around for anything that could put the fire out, but found nothing. She looked over at Tiyong who stood frozen on the spot, staring at the burning houses. He looked as if he wanted to help, but his feet wouldn’t move. He squatted near the entrance, pulling out his hair.
By night time, it was declared that the fire was out. The fire cost five families their houses, including his. Most of the houses in Sto. Niño were made of wood, the most inexpensive material the people could find. The investigators said the fire possibly happened because of faulty wires. A lit candle probably caused the fire another said, but there was no use for a candle in broad daylight. No one believed the families caused the unfortunate turn of events, but many believed the Granadas did. They even pointed Tiyong as a possible suspect for working for the Granadas, forgetting for a while that one of the houses burned into ashes was his.
“That’s his karma for working for the Granada”. Maybe he even caused the fire but didn’t expect his house to also burn down.” Evanswinda heard one of their neighbors say.
Tiyong still squatted by the entrance, rocked his heels while he covered his face. He was mumbling to himself. Evanswinda approached him, calling his name gently. When she got closer she finally heard him.
“Nothing’s left. Nothing. Evalyn, my son, my house. Oh God, my house.”
Evanswinda felt her heart ache upon the mention of his first wife. She was still there, alive and by his side but he seemed to forget. He didn’t even notice her when he glanced at his left and picked up a piece of metal. Dread washed over her when she saw him start stalking away. She followed him but could not catch up with him immediately when he rode a tricycle.
Evanswinda saw Tiyong stop before the large gates of the Granada’s residence. She shuddered at the sight of it, which she had not experienced while under their employ. She witnessed Tiyong raising the metal piece and shouting at the Granada’s to come out. He looked crazed, his eyes wide and wild. She shouted at him to stop and wanted to get closer, but he was full of rage. She herself was afraid of what her husband would do. The Granada couple went out to the veranda to see what the commotion was about. When they saw Tiyong, Ma’am Rissa went frantically back in their house, scared of the mad man. The metal piece in Tiyong’s hand glinted under the moonlight.
“He’s holding something in his hand!” Ma’am Rissa shouted out of fear. “I think it’s a gun. Call the police, Gen. Tell them he has a gun.”
A few minutes later the police arrived, believing that what Tiyong held in his hand was a gun. In their blue uniforms, the policemen urged him to put down his weapon and surrender. He didn’t listen and raised the metal piece in his hand to the police, shouting profanities. He said something incomprehensible, tears streaming down his face. This was the first time Evanswinda witnessed Tiyong out of control. Then she saw the policemen level their gun at him. Evanswinda’s frantic shriek mingled with the gunshots. The metal piece fell along with Tiyong.
Cara Mae M. Fajardo recently graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in English major in Creative Writing. She lives in Tagum city.