The next day after painting graves, Tito and Elias took their time resting in the graveyard along with the other workers. The Barangay Captain had gone, leaving them with snacks. He supplied them with empaynada, pancit, and rice. Each had their own share and heartily consumed the food. Again, they were also given soft drinks. But, this time it was two liters of Sprite.
The older man among the three workers spoke, “There are hearsays about these people planning to excavate this cemetery.”
None of them said anything. Everyone intently looked at the man. He added, “The rich always get to do whatever they want.”
“But, the people won’t let that happen. There are… Ano? Maybe hundreds of dead people buried here,” the gaunt man said. His voice was surprisingly deep for someone whose ribs protruded over his brown skin.
Elias looked at Tito, wanting to see his reaction. He wanted to see the reaction of someone who had dug the earth and found a gold earring early in the morning. But, Tito remained calm and unaffected by what the other workers were discussing. He listened and relished his food.
Then, out of the blue, the teenager spoke, “Ah! Is that why there’s this Starex that had been passing by the cemetery lately?”
The men stared at the kid in confusion. They ignored him and continued eating their food. Elias observed that everyone seemed to be deep in thought. Maybe each of them was formulating plans of their own to search for whatever treasure was in the cemetery. Then Elias reflected on himself. Was he the only one not interested in treasures? Was he really contented, or was he just afraid? What did he want? Will he team up with Tito who already knew a spot in the cemetery? He looked around him and the skies had turned dark gray. The other workers were almost finished with their food. He lowered his head and stared at the ground. There were gold bars beneath him, there were pieces of jewelry underneath the tombs, there were treasures everywhere! Elias gasped and caught the attention of the workers. He cleared his throat and turned to Tito who avoided eye contact.
The other workers began to clean up and pack their belongings. After they left, there were only Elias and Tito left in the graveyard. Elias took the plastics from the food given to them and planned on throwing them away in the nearby trash bin outside the cemetery. He looked at Tito and the plastic he held in his hand. Tito then handed them to him without saying anything. He sat there, thinking. Tito was being greedy, too greedy Elias thought as he walked toward the trash can. He went back and planned to make clear to Tito what he had done.
Elias cleared his throat and asked, “Have you thought about your wife? Your children? If you get caught?” When he asked this, Elias told himself he was the one being greedy. He knew Tito wanted to uplift his family from poverty, and yet he kept on discouraging him from doing such a thing. He was aware that him wanting to find a gold did not make him any better from Tito. The facade of being moral hid his selfish side of wanting the treasure all to himself.
“My family is what I of all the time,” Tito paused and continued, “A thief never admits he is a thief, the more let himself get caught.” He patted Elias’ back and smiled at him. “Look around you.”
“You’re going to disturb the dead.”
Tito grasped his arm and said, “But we are still alive.”
Elias had been wiping and repainting tombs for hours he did not notice it was already dusk. In just a few more moments, everything became darker and the full moon appeared brighter against the skies that turned pitch-black. The other workers who cleaned the graves have long gone except for Tito and Elias. Tito sat on the ground taking a break. Meanwhile, Elias remained in the same area he had been before. He sat and inclined against a cold tomb not far from where the obelisk stood. The obelisk was clearer than how he had seen it before. It had a three feet high white block of foundation feet. One to two more feet of another stand was on top of the block. That was where the stone pillar with a rectangular cross-section and a pyramidal top. For him, the cemetery’s obelisk appeared to be a mini version of the obelisk in the Mintal Elementary School. He breathed slowly, his face covered with a handkerchief except for his eyes. He laid his hand on the cold asphalt and thought of how much colder gold bars were if he had them in his hand. But, its coldness would probably warm his hands. Elias’ train of thought went on and he thought about the stray animals that strived to survive by stealing. He recalled the channel of water that glittered under the sunlight, the fat woman whose earrings sparkled and gave off rainbow colors, and the man with a white-gold necklace. He recalled the earring that shone under the moonlight. Tito was stealing because he wanted to survive, while he was pretentious.
The more he pondered on things, he no longer convinced himself of false ideas and wants, accepting his desire to find even just a small gold jewelry. It may even be just underneath from where he rested. Elias moved his hand and felt more of the ground’s rough surface. While he did this, his breathing quickened and his heartbeat raced. Then, everything around him became unusually still. A high-pitched steady tone rang in his ears. But, he could hear his heart beat louder and harder against his chest. His vision darkened and yet he saw gold bars shined beneath the earth.
At the sight of his visualized and imagined gold bars, he was certain that he wanted to live honest to his desires and be alive, having a luxurious lifestyle. He wanted to have more of bulad and giniling, he wanted to eat a more palatable dish than just his comfort food. The moment Elias came to terms with himself, he saw the same smoke-like shadows. He blinked his eyes, but there was nothing. He drew in a deep breath, contemplating on how to approach Tito. When he turned to his left, Tito was already standing right in front of him, his back turned against him. He walked slowly straight ahead of him. Elias stood and attempted to follow Tito when he felt something thrown at him. He looked at the ground. It was a glove. Tito reached into his pockets where he pulled out another pair of gloves, wore them and threw another glove to Elias. Tito also had a shovel with him. Confused, Elias stared at Tito and waited for him to say something. But, he saw in Tito’s face he did not plan on explaining himself further. Elias then picked up the gloves on the ground and wore them.
Tito handed Elias a small flashlight and added, “You’ll be the watcher. I’ll dig. But, we can exchange roles from time to time.” Tito paced toward the small obelisk and went behind it. Then, Tito added, “You have to watch for people. Come on, we have to hurry.”
Tito started digging, while Elias watched over him. He mumbled, “They’re dead. Gold. They’re ours. From our lands. We’re just taking them back.”
Tito stopped for a while and said, “We’re taking them back, we’re digging our own graves too.”
Elias wasn’t able to respond. He remembered a day when he was at the Mintal Public Market. It was a day when he had extra earnings and he wanted to buy beef. He was choosing meat when a man carrying a pail of fish passed. The fish were still moving and one of them jumped out of the pail. Then Elias replied back to Tito in a rather irritated tone, “You keep digging, anyway.”
“And you’re here too,” Tito replied, catching his breath.
Tito kept on digging along with the ticking of the clock—minutes turned to hours. His body was drenched in sweat and dirt. He panted like an animal thirsting for water. But, he still pushed on. Elias turned the flashlight on Tito and had an urge to rush him. He felt that sooner or later they will be caught. But, no—he had to be patient. From time to time, Elias looked at the cemetery’s gates and the road, watching out for people who might notice them.
Elias whispered, “Have you found anything?”
Tito stopped and stretched his back. Elias jumped into the hole and took the shovel from Tito. “It’s my turn.” He gave the flashlight to Tito who watched out for people
Suddenly, a Starex parked near the gates of the cemetery. Two men came out of the car. They wore a black leather jacket and jeans. They looked around and then the back seat’s window rolled down. A figure of another man was there. One of the men who got out of the car approached the man inside the vehicle. Tito mouthed something to Elias, while he quickly hid behind the earth he had dug out.
“Elias!” Tito called in a whisper. “There are people outside.” He bent his body and reached for Elias.
“Come on! Let’s leave. We can just dig again, tomorrow.” However, Elias resisted and ignored Tito. He dropped the shovel on the ground and stood motionless. Tito looked at the gates again. The men were still there. They were stretching out their necks, scanning the graveyard. Tito pulled Elias again then he gasped. They both saw a gold bar on the earth and a gold watch. Elias couldn’t speak, overwhelmed by his joy. He fell down on his knees as he took hold of the gold bar and the watch. They were covered with dirt, but in the eyes of Elias, they shined more than what he had imagined. The treasures were cold, a refreshing one that warmed his heart filled with selfish desire.
Tito pulled Elias harder and said, “Pagdali! Take them! Take them!” It was only that time Elias moved, picked up the gold bar, the golden watch, the shovel, and hopped up to where Tito was. Together they pushed all the earth Tito dug out back into the hole.
Then, they rushed to their right, sneaking behind tombstones. They climbed over the fence and immediately went into Elias’ house. They sat on the bamboo floor. They panted. Elias stared at Tito and felt that something wasn’t right. How could they have found a treasure that easy? Was he right about Tito knowing the exact place where to find the treasure? Was he tasked to dig for treasures since the beginning? If so, Elias was no longer sure of their safety.
“Be sure to clean up your place before morning,” Elias said as he laid the gold bar and the watch on the cold bamboo floor. “Who were those people?”
Tito ignored his question and said, “You keep the gold bar. I’ll take the watch with me, so my wife wouldn’t get too suspicious.”
They opened the door a little and peered outside. Elias could still see the car, but the two men were out of sight. Tito went outside and paced back to his home as fast as he can. Meanwhile, Elias panicked over the gold bar he held in his hands. It was heavy and cold. He sat there just looking at the gold bar. He sweated, but he did not bother. His aching body suddenly felt light. He thought that with the money Tito and him could get from the gold, he would no longer live a day starving himself. He could finally eat meals with a different viand. He could finally eat as much as he can without thinking of his food for the next day, or the following week.
It was another usual day in Mintal where people set-up their stalls, go to work and school or go the Mintal supermarket. Among them was Elias. He sat at his small home and waited for customers. The coconut, husks, tuba and bottled gasoline he sells were already ready. But, he seemed dumbfounded from time to time. He was deep in thought and worried about what he and Tito did. He mused whether the men saw them, and or any moment from that day—police officers would come and arrest them. If they were seen, how were they supposed to exchange the treasures with money in any pawnshop? He was certain, if there will be a report on breaking the law of the banned treasure-hunting, he and Tito would have no choice but to hide what they found. He did not want that, but he also did not want to get thrown in jail. He pondered about the matter and came to a conclusion. Hiding the treasures would be better. At least, he had an assurance to be wealthy, his desire was within reach. That was enough for him.
Just from thinking, he perspired so much worsened by the seemingly humid morning weather. Elias looked over his shoulders and examined the pathway where Tito’s house stood near. He saw someone in a white long-sleeve shirt. It was Tito walking along the path with head low, his hands in his pockets. Elias started to shake his legs, while he waited for Tito.
“Elias,” Tito called. He leaned against the wall of Elias’ home. “Did you keep it?” Tito looked pale and drowsy. He appeared to have not slept at all.
Elias said, “We should stay lie low for now. When the time comes, we’ll look for a place we can exchange the gold.”
“Are we going to jail?” Tito asked.
There was silence for a moment. Elias’ heart pounded hard against his chest, but it was not because he was afraid. He was overwhelmed just by the thought of a treasure in his keep. However, he was perplexed by the unusual faltered Tito who had initiated the treasure-digging. Tito then went inside his home. He sluggishly dragged a chair beside Elias and sat.
Tito cleared his throat and said, “There are authorities going about the place. We’re going to jail. We should not have disturbed the dead.”
“A thief never admits he is a thief, the more let himself get caught,” Elias reminded Tito.
“M-maybe—,” Elias said and paused. He looked into Tito and wanted to scold him for having a weak heart the moment they got what they wanted. Doubt never came to Elias. He was sure this was what he wanted, and that he would not regret a thing. He continued, “I kept it underneath the earth at the back of my house.”
Elias reached into his pockets and handed Tito a stick of cigarette. Tito took it and smoked with a trembling hand. Elias went out of his house and checked the graveyard. Authorities kept the people from the cemetery, while a particular group examined the place. While Elias watched the crowd, he felt the heat of the sun on his skin. He remembered he had not eaten the food he bought on the first day he started working at the cemetery. He refused to eat them, saving them for another day until he forgot he had not eaten any meal at all. But, that did not matter. He had survived days without eating, sometimes solely drinking lambanog. He looked back and peered into his home. Tito sat on the chair, trapped in his own thoughts. His worn-out table was few feet away from where Tito sat. There it was. He could see the tray cover, keeping flies away from his food. He glanced at the rear side of his home as if he could see the earth behind where the gold bar was buried. Elias looked up the sky and took a long drag on the cigarette. The sun’s rays no longer stung his skin the way it did before. It was warm, refreshingly warm.
In Elias’ peripheral vision, a group of men in plain shirts and shorts ran toward him. He turned to them and he suddenly felt a sharp blow on his head. He became dizzy.
His body felt light, abruptly having a wider view of the skies. Silhouettes of men surrounded him. They looked down at him. A rough surface hit him and he saw a toppled view of his home. He could feel the bits of rocks on his cheek. He could hear footsteps of the same men. Some began to step on him and kick him repeatedly. Elias saw Tito running deep into the alley, the way to his home. A group of men chased him and knocked him down the same way they did to him. One of the men reached for Tito’s pocket, pulled out the gold watch, and ran away.
Andrey Caridad 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 Mintal, Davao City.