The Prisoner

Nonfiction by | May 12, 2019

“Bomba… bomba! Halin dira. Bomba! Ahhhhh… Ahhhhh… bomba!” He would mumble words, words that were hard to understand, plain nonsense for those who pass by the store near his isolated room. People in our neighborhood were used to hearing him shout. Sometimes it was very loud that even the ones living in the next block could hear. Whenever he tried to break free, we could hear the sound of clanking steel.

When I was a child, my mother often asked me to buy ingredients and other things in the sari-sari store. Our neighbor, Auntie Alma, had a store in front of her house so I didn’t need to go far every time my mother asked me to buy something for her. But it was a Sunday and Auntie Alma was out to go to church. I had to walk around the street to find another store so I can buy a sachet of Sunsilk and Safeguard. My mother instructed me to return immediately because my father needed it. I walked to the end of the street and found a small sari-sari store. I was very happy that I didn’t need to walk far to buy the shampoo and soap. “Ayo, ayo!” I called. There was no response except the barking of dogs and a voice of a man screaming. I was surprised and scared for a moment. I stepped back a little and hesitated to buy but I remembered my mother’s instruction. I looked at the dog and noticed that it had a leash so I was confident that it would not hurt me. I looked at the small room connected to the house of the store owner where the voice of the man came from. It was locked. I took a step forward and peeped inside the store but there was no one. “Ayo, ayo!” I called louder so that the tindera would hear me. I thought that she was watching TV because I could hear the sound in full volume. When she didn’t come, I called louder, competing with the barking of the dogs and the screaming on the other side of the store. She went out of their house and walked toward the store. I noticed that she was a bit mad because I called her. I asked for the things I needed in exchange for P14.00. When I got the sachet of Sunsilk and Safeguard with me, I turned toward the room, curious about the man inside. “Ante, sin-o nang sa sulod sang kwarto? Sagad tana ka syagit ah. Kag ngaa sa guwas sang balay niyo ang kwarto niya?” I had a lot of questions in my mind but she just dismissed me and told me to go home straight.

I called him Kuya Manong. The first time I heard him scream, I thought that he was just angry about something so he needed to vent his anger out and shout. Later on, I learned that he was crazy. There was a story that if he were released, he would roam around the neighborhood and harm people. So his parents put him in a room made of hollow blocks they built outside their house and locked it with chains. They said this will prevent Kuya Manong from harming people. They built a small rectangular window with bars for him to have a peek at the world outside. His room has no paint or something to make it colorful. It was just a dull isolated room. That was just one version of the story. I believed it until my father, who lived in the neighborhood for about twice the years of my existence and knew some secrets in the place told me the real story about Kuya Manong.

Papa told me that he was an ex-military who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD after his last encounter with the MILF’s during an all-out war declared by the former president Joseph Estrada. People in the neighborhood were curious about the things he often screamed about. It was as if he was commanding a group of soldiers during an intense encounter. Papa explained that Kuya Manong was a leader of a squad who went in the war. He was the leader and it was traumatic for him to see his comrades being shot and killed, leaving him the only survivor.

“Bomba, bomba… Halin dira, Juan. Hindi ka magkadto dira. Marlon… halin. James… bomba! Ahhhh… ahhhh,” he would shout these words together with the names of his comrades. His voice cracked from time to time. His parents would leave their store for a moment to check on him. After a minute or two, the shouting would stop and then a temporary silence.

Kuya Manong doesn’t pick a time when he wanted to shout. I would sometimes wake up early in the morning hearing a loud screaming from afar. Knowing that it was him, I would force myself to go back to sleep. Sometimes before noon, I would hear his cries and it would stop me for a while from doing the household chores assigned to me by my mother. In the late afternoon or sometimes at night, he would once again scream disturbing those who were taking their rests. The cycle repeated every day. I sometimes wondered, didn’t his family try to get him treated? Maybe he could have been cured in the hospital.“Pa, daw dugay naman nga amuna siya? Ngaa wala man lang siya gipadoctor? Wala sila kwarta haw?” I innocently asked my father why Kuya Manong was never brought to the doctor to at least get medical help. My father answered, “Dapat gani ginpa undergo man lang na siya sang trauma debriefing. Hindi man siya buang. Nawarshock lang.” I nodded in agreement even though that time, I didn’t understand what my father was talking about.

Trauma debriefing. I searched on the internet and opened a window that says CISD or Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, a process where a traumatized person undergoes a treatment. Clinically, traumatic events have a big impact on the person. Some cases of traumatic stress or what used to be TSD or Transient Situational Disturbance can be traced to military combat. This was the case of Kuya Manong.

“Bakal ka didto sang kamatis kay magluto si Papa mo sang escabetche. Hindi magdugay ha. Lapit na baya mag gab-i.” My mother then handed me three five peso coins. She asked me to spend all of it to buy tomatoes. Despite my mother’s instruction to return immediately, I took my time walking toward the store. Auntie Alma’s store was already closed so I walked further. I was kicking pebbles while humming a happy tune. I juggle the coins in my hands. When I caught all of the coins back in my hands I looked up. The sky slowly started to darken and the trees turned into silhouettes. The flowers lost their colors as I passed by them. My humming continued. When I was near the store, I heard Kuya Manong’s cries. It wasn’t loud like the usual but it still caught my attention. I bought fifteen pesos worth of tomatoes and the tindera handed me a plastic bag of tomatoes. After I got what I need, I turned around and started to walk back home.

“Bomba… bomba! Ikaw bata, halin dira. Ahhh… ahhh… bomba!” his eyes were filled with fear and panic while he tried to get his one arm out of the window to point at me and told me to run away. I was holding the plastic bag in my hand and placed it near my chest. I looked back at his direction. He peeped through the window, his eyes were round with shock when he saw me still standing outside in the street. “Ahhh… ahhh…” His cries were louder. I stepped back a little in fear that he might get hysterical. He cried. I ran away. I stopped in the middle of the street, his little room was still visible in my eyes. His cries rang through the air. I was thinking, will he be able to forget the memory of the war? Will he be able to break free from the guilt of losing the lives of his friends? Will he be able to break the chains outside his door and be able to live normally?

I turned away and relaxed, took small steps toward our house. The sun was setting down and it filled the sky with a shade of dark orange and red. The sun and the clouds were nowhere. The birds flying turned to silhouettes. The trees and flowers turned to black and the road I was taking became dark gray in my eyes. I remembered one of the silly questions I asked my Lola Aning before. “La, gapangakig man gali ang langit noh? Tan-awa oh, ngaa amuna ang color niya haw?” I asked pointing to the sky while we were sitting in a chair outside the house. My Lola just laughed. “Mabal-an mo lang na sa sunod ah. Ti dali na, lapit na mag gab-i.” She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she told me to go inside the house because it was getting late.

When I was just a few steps away from our gate, I looked back to where Kuya Manong was. I took a deep breath, looked away and went inside the house. I made sure that the tomatoes were safe in my hands. When I kicked the door open, my mother was already waiting, her hands both on her waist, ready to scold me for taking so much time to buy tomatoes for Papa’s escabetche.

Diana Katrina May Agcambot graduated from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in Creative Writing.

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