I met the bone collector when I was six or seven years old. He was tall. He wore a black shirt tucked in his loose brown cargo pants. On his belt, assorted keys along with tiny bones and sharp fangs of unknown creatures made clinking sounds as he moved. His body loomed over me as he dragged the dead crocodile inside our house to meet my Lola.
“Mao ni akong ipatrabaho, nay,” said the bone collector. He spoke in Binisaya which surprised me. I had never met a foreigner who could speak my language fluently. “Pila man imong pangayo nay?” he asked as he spread his wallet that bulged with papers bills.
“Baki ra man intawn akong ginaihaw dong. Kon kani, medyo dako akong singil,” Lola told him, assuring that she would be paid as soon as she would be done deboning and assembling. Then, the bone collector handed Lola a couple of one-thousand bills before he instructed lola to buy all the materials she needed.
I later found out that his name was Darrel Dean Blatchley, an American Marine Biologist who had been exploring the wildlife from different countries for a very long time. I wondered how he came here to Mindanao and settled particularly here in Davao City aside from the fact that he had married a Filipina.
Maybe someone had told Mr. Blatchley about my Lola—that she used to debone frogs and other animals for students taking medical courses like Nursing. Although the process had always been laborious for her part, the money paid to her was generous enough to support us.
No part of the bone must be lost, even the thinnest, tiniest on, I heard my Lola explain. She even added that the arm, leg, and tail of the crocodile must be boiled to make it tender for deboning. Mr. Blatchley was attentive but he chimed in with a light joke once in a while. During his visits, I learned that he devoted himself to collecting debris of animals found in coastal areas or in the jungles of a far away place. He told us his adventures, his finger trailing around his palm as if it was a map.
It wasn’t too long before the crocodile was assembled. Each part was placed back from where it was taken. I could see he was amazed. When he left with the skeleton in his cab, I felt my heart sank. What if we would never see him again? What if Lola would never be paid with that kind of amount?
But Mr. Blatchley came back, bringing a black disposable bag that held a dead reindeer.
“Nagtuon naman diay imong apo,” Mr. Blatchley when he saw me gathering the plywood filled with bones of frogs.
Lola had always commanded me to separate the parts that were all scattered on a round wooden plank: limbs on the upper left; arms on the upper right; heads and pelvises at the center, making sure that they were lined accordingly to their sizes. I was often tasked to separate the bones, so lola wouldn’t find it difficult to match them.
Meanwhile, Mr. Blatchley asked if he could do it on his own. He reached for the Elmer’s glue and snatched a piece of cardboard from the pile next to me. He began to place the spine at the center, dropping a dew of glue at its two end points, so that the head, particularly the jaw would be attached to it. But the head was too large for the spine. I picked the smaller one, slowly putting it on his cardboard.
“Kini and maigo diha kol o.” I blurted out. I should have not spoken to him, but it would have been a mistake if he forced those pieces to fit. I should have realized at that time, that some things were not meant to be pieced together.
Neil Teves is a young writer from Davao. His two previous works of nonfiction appeared here Dagmay. He essay “Paghanaw sa Iyang Anino” will appear in the second volume of Libulan Queer Anthology of the South. He is involve in poverty alleviation charity.