The Rice Cooker Crawl

Fiction by | July 26, 2021

Francis started the day with a busted rice cooker. It was half past noon when the youth woke up to a grumbling stomach. They spent the last three nights transcribing a thousand-paged medical reference for an online client and finally sent the copy at sunrise. Then, they had the tacky fairytale-esque write up for Nortia’s website that they didn’t bother checking.

The rice was washed, refilled with water, and ready to cook. But as soon as Francis plugged the appliance in the nearby socket above the tiny countertop, it sent sparks flying. They backed away with a shriek, hands close to their chest.

“No way,” they croaked. Taking cautious steps to the outlet, they gingerly attempted to unplug the cooker but it decided to startle them with more sparks and wisps of smoke. More shrieking and backing away. There was a rapid knocking from a wall.

Hoy! May natutulog dito!” an irritated neighbor grumbled. “Sorry!” Francis squeaked. They groped around the drawers across the kitchen for old thick towels. With towels wrapped around their hands, they pried the plug off the socket. They took a closer look. The exposed wires were singed, its cover warped. An acrid odor of burnt plastic hit their nostrils. Francis coughed while they put the offending object away.

“Should I get a new rice cooker at this hour?” they thought aloud. There were three options. One, they could give Auntie Faye a ring and tell her about the rice cooker. However, they could hear what she’d probably say.

Anak, you should learn to cook rice with a pot on the stove.”

However, the apartment they lived in didn’t allow stovetops, not even the butane-fueled ones because the landlord despised possible fire hazards. Also, they were embarrassingly bad at keeping tabs on whatever they cooked. They literally learned to cook a few basics with the rice cooker like boiled eggs, instant noodles, and the occasional rice porridge and hotdogs. The appliance was one of the few things they brought with them when they moved out of their aunt’s home in Cuambogan to an apartment in Purok Narra, Briz District which is closer to the city center.

The second choice was to buy some food from a nearby carinderia. But the portions were too little for the price they usually paid and most dishes were sold out after lunch.

Or third, they could simply buy a new one. Most malls sold rice cookers for one person for less than seven hundred pesos. They hadn’t bought anything other than groceries for the last two weeks. The paycheck from the online job was on its way before 3 p.m.

Maybe they could make it.

 

In a flurry of bathing and getting dressed, Francis stepped out of the apartment gate in a baggy shirt and cargo shorts wider than their legs. Damp hair was stuffed inside a baseball cap and they were ready to go. Hailing a tricycle ride nowadays was an exercise of haggling.

’Nong, JS Gaisano! Bale kinse!” they hollered at the first empty tricycle. The driver rapidly shook his head at the fare offer of Php15 and sped away. Another tricycle, with a passenger seated in front, stopped where Francis raised an arm out. They repeated their directions.

Singkwenta.” Driver number two haggled.

“No way!”

Driver number two drove past Francis.  “Fuck you,” they hissed. “Just because you lot got a taste of their payouts.”

The sudden burst of wealth in the city left a bad taste in their mouth. Sure, they had days where customers bought out an entire day’s supply of puto maya and sikwate before the 5 p.m. blaring alarm from the old City Hall on Rizal Street. But it also meant dealing with inconsolable customers who demanded to be served despite their repeated explaining that they had just sold out and were about to close the shop.

“What’s the point of opening a store if you can’t serve the customers?” Shrieking Old Lady demanded. It took Auntie Faye flashing her deathly glare and a firm, “We’re closed” before the former harrumphed her way out of the store.

A motorcycle stopped in front of a frowning Francis. “Where are you heading?” the driver asked. “JS Gaisano, fifteen pesos,” they drawled.

Baynte,” he haggled. Francis groaned and all but threw the twenty-peso bill on the driver’s awaiting palm before they rode off to the shopping center. As soon as they hopped off the motorbike, they made a beeline to the appliances area of the one-floor mall. Fewer people shopped there, with its bigger and more sophisticated counterpart existing across the highway. But to their surprise, the section for rice cookers were empty.

“Kuya?” Francis called the salesclerk arranging boxes of glassware across the rice cooker section. “Do you still have any rice cookers left?” they asked when they got the person’s attention. “Sorry Ma’am/Sir, we just sold the last fifty units last night,” The young man apologized while Francis’s jaw dropped.

“Who bought them?” Francis demanded.

“Some businessman. Presents for his employees, he said.” The salesclerk squeaked. “Ahh, you might want to visit other stores,” he continued, making himself small before the livid customer. “Oh, I will.” Francis muttered as they stomped out of the store.

Francis’s next stop was Gaisano Mall of Tagum (GMall for short), begrudgingly paying fifty pesos for a rush trip. There was no way a humongous place would not have a simple rice cooker. While riding the escalator, they eavesdropped on a gaggle of eager middle-aged women in front of them.

Mare, Nortia just gave me my first payout.” Loud Lady announced to her crew. She relished the sounds of friends wanting a treat or three from her. “Rice cooker or whatever, I’ll buy it for you!” She boomed. How Francis wanted to be one of that lady’s friend just for the damned appliance.

“Sorry, Ma’am/Sir. We ran out of them right after Nortia’s monthly payout last night,” Salesclerk number three bowed to Francis. The gnawing hunger in their stomach and the added stress of not being able to buy a stupid rice cooker soured their mood by the minute. They stormed out of the appliance store and passed by the crowded food court on the 3rdfloor. There were no empty seats. And in almost every table, they saw a person in black collared shirt with an olive tree embroidered on their chest. Nortia’s company logo. To them, it looked like squiggles and a waste of thread.

A hand landed on their shoulder and Francis all but jolted. “Ma’am, do you want to hear today’s gospel?” Random Nortia agent asked in a saccharine tone. The other person shoved them out of the way and turned to another direction.

“What? Gospel about how to swindle money? No, thank you!” Francis hissed under their breath, arms protectively braced over their chest.

 

As soon as Francis stepped out of GMall, they opted to walk to Gaisano Grand Mall. The roads were dusty and the vehicles were loud but they only cared for one thing: to get their hands on a rice cooker today or die trying.

Gaisano Grand Mall was not as grand as the name made it out to be with most of the stalls closed down and replaced by displays of their wares. They went up to the third floor of the department store. And from meters away, Francis could see a modestly sized rice cooker sitting atop a shelf. They speed walked towards the good and asked the salesclerk in the aisle.

“Can I have this tested before paying?” Francis all but bounced in their place. “Sorry, but that’s reserved.” Salesclerk number five spoke. “I’m buying that because I just got my first payout from Nortia.” Francis’s face fell. Body in autopilot, they left the store in a daze.

It was past three p.m. The client from before decided to send an untimely message over their phone.

To: Francesca Rico
Subj: Paycheck

Greetings Mrs. Rico!
We’re sorry if we cannot send you your paycheck because we had some issues to resolve before we could get to your mail. We might be able to deliver your payment within two or three days.

More power and Godspeed!

Nancy Hidalgo
HILAS Corp.

 

Francis hastily stuffed the phone in the front pocket of the shorts. With a deep inhale, they bellowed, “Putang-ina, I just want to eat!” Unbothered by the passersby glancing at them, their gaze was trained on the 7-Eleven across the street. Of course. They could approach him.

“Oh, Sir Pat’s on leave. He said he had things to sort out at home,” Connie answered when they asked about Patrick Ruiz’s whereabouts. “Is he in Kapalong?” Connie shook her head. “He’s probably in J Village. I can give you his phone number if you want,” she offered.

“It’s okay, I already have it.” Francis quipped. Connie excused herself to clean the tables, clearing them of trash and wiping them. Phone in hand and with Patrick’s number onscreen, they shot a quick text.

To: Business Geek

It’s Frankie. Mind if I crash ur place? Gutom na kaayo.

Patrick replied with “Okay.” With the last hundred-peso bill in hand, Francis hailed a tricycle to J Village. “Twenty pesos ‘kol.” The driver’s beady eyes were on the purple bill in Francis’s fist before he reluctantly let the other person ride. The drive going to Patrick’s house was slow with the traffic. Hunger threatened to rip a hole in their stomach.

Francis was in front of the peeling black gate when Patrick, dressed in a blue shirt and grey shorts, greeted them. They all but tackled the man, babbling a mix of “My savior” and “God, I’m starving.” Patrick caught them in a hold and tried not to laugh when Francis began to retell their crazed day, letting them be ushered inside.

“And the damn plug just had to do a mini fireworks show in my apartment!” they groaned. “You could’ve learned to cook with a pot on the stove.” Patrick replied while he scooped a generous bit of steamed rice in a bowl and ignored Francis’s glare. “Landlord won’t let us use stoves but he has one in his home. Hypocrite.” They pouted. But as soon as Patrick laid the food, a bit of squid adobo and hot steamed rice in front of Francis, they all but attacked the meal. He fixed himself a cup of coffee while he watched the other polish the food off their bowls and plate.

At last, Francis finished eating. “That was good, Pat. Thanks a lot.” Patrick ran a nervous hand on the back of his head. “It was my first time cooking that dish so I’m glad you liked it,” he stammered. The other snickered.

“So about that rice cooker thing, I happen to have an old one lying around,” Patrick continued. Francis listened raptly. “I haven’t used it for a few weeks since I have to get a bigger one, now that Enzo’s staying here. It’s still good though.”

“Do you mean…”

“Yeah, you can have it if you want.”

“How much?” Francis began to pull out the last bits of their allowance from the pocket. “No need to pay. You need it more than I do.” Patrick affirmed.

“You’re serious,” Francis deadpanned. The other nodded as he tried to find the rice cooker from the kitchen cabinets. Minutes later, he handed the small and well-used appliance to Francis.

“Guess I should leave? It’s your day off.” Francis mumbled as they headed to the door. “I could use a movie buddy for a few hours. Join me?” Patrick asked.

Francis placed the unexpected gift on the dining table, sitting beside Patrick to watch Shake, Rattle, and Roll.


Sarika Rey completed her BA English-Creative Writing degree in the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

Sonny 2 Needs a Heart

Fiction by | July 5, 2021

SV2 – Log 1

 Today I started building Sonny 2.

I decided to call it Sonny because Tatay’s name is Sonny. It is 2 because Tatay is 1. Nanay told me that it’s inappropriate to name a toy after my father, and I don’t know how to tell her that it is not a toy.

Anyway, I didn’t sleep much last night thinking of what it should look like. I kept drawing and drawing until the bumps on my fingers started to look like little mountains.

I would like to write more but as I said, my hand hurts and if I continue, this will be unreadable.

Here’s what Sonny 2 looks like: he has a wig to protect his head from bumps, his body is an oven, tv, and washing machine to help Mama, and he has rocket boots to carry me and help me see Papa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SV2 – Log 2

            Tatay called us today, so I was again inspired to work on Sonny 2. I thought of Tatay’s voice a lot. He sounded big and strong. He could reach the moon and crush it in his palm like a nut. Sonny 2 will be the same.

            I thought of how to build Sonny 2’s arms and legs. I have to go to Manong Alonso’s motor repair shop to see if he has the materials I need. If not, I will have to find some wood and rebars and pipes and old bowls (for the shoulders and kneecaps) myself.

            I don’t really know where Tatay is. He says that’s the point. He’s a seafarer, after all. His trips last about a year usually, but sometimes it’s more.  He could be anywhere in the world right now. Whenever I ask him, he answers with a different place. He was in France. He was in England. He was in America. He was in some other places I don’t remember.       

Sonny 2’s new target completion time: When Tatay comes home.

 

SV2 – Log 3

            I went to Manong Alonso’s place today. He said he couldn’t give me any of the materials I needed for free. The prices were too much! I tried to negotiate and he said that the best he could do was around 500 pesos. I’ve never even seen that much money!

I asked Nanay if she could help me with the money but she said that we didn’t have any because school is about to start. I told her that I didn’t need to go to school this year and she got really really mad. I said I was sorry. I didn’t know how important Grade 5 was to her and I felt bad.

Tomorrow, I will rummage through the neighbors’ garbage to see if there’s anything I can use.

SV2 – Log 4

            My cousin Biboy visited me today. I showed him my plans for Sonny 2, and he said it was impossible to make. I punched him in the stomach and I cried because he cried.

            During dinner time, I thought of Sonny 2’s head. I thought of how he could think. How smart should Sonny 2 be? Surely not as smart as me. Sonny 2 is tall, so it might hurt if he bumps into the branches of trees.

            Note 1: Make Sonny 2’s head as hard as can be.

            Note 2: Don’t punch Biboy again because he is your friend and he was really hurt.

 

SV2 – Log 5

            Today is my birthday and Nanay cooked me spaghetti when she came home from work. She sells vegetables and fruits at the market. I invited Biboy because  he already forgave me for punching him the other day. Friends may fight with each other, but in the end, they will share a bowl of spaghetti.

            Today I worked on Sonny 2’s stomach. My biggest problem was this: I knew how inconvenient it would be if he had to pee, but I wanted him to still be able to eat delicious things.

            I spent the rest of the day thinking of what to do.

            Note: Teach Sonny 2 how to cook so that Nanay wouldn’t have to work as much.

 

SV2 – Log 6

            It is Tatay’s birthday today. I borrowed Nanay’s phone to call him. I was sad that I didn’t have any gifts for him so I showed him my drawings of Sonny 2. He laughed so much. I think he really liked it. He said that he can’t wait to come home to play with Sonny 2 and me.

            Here’s another problem: Sonny 2 needed a heart. With it, Sonny 2 can move wherever he likes. He can love whoever he wants. Tatay once bought me a book called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the Tin Man also needed a heart. I thought of making a silk-and-sawdust heart, but I didn’t want to lie to Sonny 2. He needed a real heart.

            Note: Find a heart for Sonny 2.

 

SV2 – Log 7

            Note: Find a heart for Sonny 2.

 

SV2 – Log 8

            It’s been a month since I worked on Sonny 2. I didn’t know where to find a heart. I was afraid that I was wasting my time.

 

SV2 – Log 9

            Today Tatay called again and said he won’t be able to come home this year. Nanay said that Tatay had to work so that I could go to school. That’s okay. I haven’t found a heart for Sonny 2 yet, anyway.

            That’s okay.

 

SV2 – Log 10

            Last night I dreamt that I was Sonny 2’s heart.

            It was hot inside his chest but it wasn’t hot enough so that I would burn. I was so happy that Sonny 2 could finally move. We went to France. We went to England. We went to some other places I don’t remember. I met Tatay and he rode Sonny 2’s back. I was so glad to see him be able to rest.

            When I woke up, I cried because it wasn’t true at all.

            Still, I will continue working on Sonny 2 until Tatay comes home. I asked Biboy and Nanay to help me and they agreed. Friends and mothers are great like that.

            Note: I am Sonny 2’s heart.

***

Ivan Khenard Acero studies creative writing in the University of the Philippines Mindanao. He has been a fellow to the Davao Writers Workshop and the Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio Writers Workshop. An animated version of this story can be viewed here.

Buhay Frontliner

Fiction by | June 14, 2021

The night was silent. Dead. Sad. Only the echo of Mang Kaloy’s tired footsteps could be heard as he was walking down the narrow alley leading to their house. But it wasn’t a house. It was a space – one as small as a room put together by wood planks for a bit of “privacy”. It wasn’t enough for one person let alone two more. His wife and child were sleeping peacefully, sharing one pillow on an almost worn-out mattress stolen from a nearby dumpsite of a high-end subdivision. Judging from the loudness of their snores, it was evident they didn’t care. Or perhaps they were just used to it.

Mang Kaloy’s weary body yearned to just lay down and sleep beside his wife but he knows he can’t. Not yet. He still needed to take a bath and disinfect his body from walking around so as to not compromise his family’s health. From the hospital, he had to walk about 4 kilometers for a free shuttle that stops 15 minutes away from where he lives.

As he was taking a bath in the communal bathroom, he remembered the pale face of the last patient he had to bring down to the morgue. She died with her eyes wide open gasping for breath. Even if the doctors closed her eyes not that long after declaring the time of death, her face was still etched in Mang Kaloy’s mind. The way her pupils dilate, staring into nothing but something at the same time. The way she released her last breath as if releasing the last trace of life from her body. It was the 14th death that day and the 7th woman. As Mang Kaloy was putting on clothes for sleep, he thought of the finality of death, how it spares no one but sometimes has its favorite. And more often than not, it preys on the poor.

After taking his place next to his wife, Mang Kaloy’s body begged him to sleep but he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop thinking about how the lockdown due to the pandemic was a curse that took it’s toll on the working class. How thousands of people lost their jobs or were layed off due to budget cuts. How numerous local businesses had to close because they couldn’t keep up with the bills. How families resort to sleeping on the streets because they were evicted from where they live. Yet even with all that, people with money, the rich, still think it’s a blessing because they have all the time in the world to do what they want.

Just thinking of how they could eat more than three meals a day and having a nice bed to sleep in angered Mang Kaloy. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair how these people have the choice on what to consume when his family struggled to find food to eat at least twice a day. It wasn’t fair how these people could afford to have 2 or more cars when he had to walk under the sun just to avail the free shuttle to get to work. It wasn’t fair how they have gadgets more than their hands could hold when he couldn’t buy his son a simple android phone for his online class.

He looked at Junjun with tears in his eyes dreading to see the sad look on his son’s face when he tells him he had to stop studying. Because of the pandemic, his wife was layed off from work. Leaving him to pay for everything even though his salary wasn’t enough. Mang Kaloy never dreamed of becoming rich. He simply wanted enough for his family not just to survive but to live too.

This was Mang Kaloy’s last thoughts before finally drifting off to a dreamless sleep only to be woken up by his alarm hours later. As usual, he didn’t get enough sleep but he had to work.

It took him about 2 hours to get to the hospital. Over an hour late, again.

“Naku, Mang Kaloy, late nanaman ho kayo. Sabi ni Boss last niyo na daw yung kahapon”, Joseph, St. Peter General Hospital’s day shift security guard greeted as Mang Kaloy enters the lobby.

“Oo nga, Sep, eh. Kaso hirap talaga makasakay lalo na’t agawan yung free shuttle sa may amin”.

“Good luck nalang po, Mang Kaloy. Sana good mood si Boss ngayon.”

Mang Kaloy responded with a half-smile. He was trying to control his nerves because deep down, he knew this is it. He knew he was going to get fired. He could feel it. Fisting his hand, he knocked on his boss’ door.

“Gandang uma-”

“Wag na ho, Mang Kaloy. ‘Di na po kailangan. Tanggal na ho kayo sa trabaho”, His boss cut him off even before he could finish his greeting.

“Pero Sir-”

“Sorry talaga, Mang Kaloy. Sa gitna ng pandemya, kailangan ho talaga namin kayong mga maintainance. Yung ilang oras na late niyo, andami po kasing nasasagasaan. Yung mga kasama niyo sila yung nag co-cover ng shift niyo kapag wala pa kayo. Hindi na kasi tama yung ganoon.”

“Sir, maawa ho kayo. Natanggalan rin po ng trabaho asawa ko, wala na po kami halos makain. Yung anak ko po ‘di na po makapag aral kasi wala na po kaming pera. Itong trabahong ‘to nalang po talaga bumubuhay sa amin”, Mang Kaloy was on the verge of tears explaining. He couldn’t lose his job. Not now. Not when everything else is falling apart.

“May nahanap na ho akong kapalit niyo, Mang Kaloy. Mas bata din sa inyo. Mas marami pang mabuhat at magawa”.

Defeated and knowing he couldn’t do anything else, Mang Kaloy stood up and nodded at his boss in acknowledgement. He turned to leave the room, reaching for the doorknob and closing it shut.

Walking towards the exit, he took out his old keypad phone and texted his wife the news. Realizing that his wife probably didn’t have any load, He decided to call her. She answered after the first ring.

“Bat ka tinanggal? Jusko hindi ba nila alam naghihirap ang mga tao ngayon? Pano na tayo, Loy? Pano na ang pagkain natin? Pano tayo mabubuhay nito? Wala pa rin akong mahanap na trabaho hanggang ngayon. Kahapon pa ang huling kain natin. Pano na si Junjun? Di ko na kaya to. Hindi ko na talaga kaya, Loy.”

His wife ended the call even before he could talk. He decided to call again but he didn’t have enough load anymore. By foot, the distance from the hospital to their house was a good 6 hours. He dreaded it but it wasn’t like he had any other choice. The free shuttle only had two service times. One in the morning and another at night. With an empty stomach under the glaring sun, Mang Kaloy started his walk.

It was almost 5:00 in the afternoon when he reached his place. As he opened the door, he saw that only Junjun was inside. Before he could ask his son where his mom was, an ear-piercing scream tore through the room. Alarmed, he looked at Junjun and told him to stay put.

Outside, people were crowding near the communal bathroom. As he was walking towards the crowd, he could hear bits and pieces of their whispers.

Babae.

Bigti.

Hirap ng buhay.

Hindi na kinaya.

Suddenly his eyes went wide.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

He pushed through people to get closer to the front only to see his wife’s lifeless body on the bathroom floor with a noose wrapped around her neck. Mang Kaloy couldn’t breathe. Air was stuck in his throat and he couldn’t swallow. He was shocked, frozen to his feet.

Before anyone could react, his knees gave out. He knelt next to his wife, bringing her body onto his lap and clutched it tight. For a minute, he didn’t move. He just held her. Savoring the last of her warmth.

And then he screamed.

 


Samantha Lucille Tancontian is from Davao City, studying BA English in UP Mindanao.

 

 

Dua (Part 1)

Fiction by | May 17, 2021

The crescent moon appeared that night just as predicted. Before the sky turned completely dark, Norissa’s family already bathed, getting ready for the start of Ramadan.

Her husband was the one who took charge of bathing the family. He bathed himself first. Then, he bathed the kids — all eight of them – before he proceeded with his three wives.

Omar was an Imam so he had to move fast after bathing Norissa and his two other wives since he still had to preside the dusk prayer or Maghrib. When Omar left to prepare for his Azan, Norissa took charge of everyone, telling the wives to dress their kids up and to proceed to the Masjeed.

This had been their routine every Ramadan. Omar didn’t need to tell Norissa to take charge anymore since she already knew her duty: serving her husband. Every special religious event, Omar led his family of 12 to prayer and to other activities.

He had a total of five sons—two from Norissa, one from Salima, the second wife, and two from Zaara, the third wife. He taught his five sons about Islam, the male Muslim, and their responsibilities in leading the family, and how to read the Qur’an. Norissa was left to educate the other two wives and the three daughters. They learned about the importance of wearing their hijab, their service to their husband and to their kids, and their Sunnah’s.

The Masjeed was just within the compound of the Jama’a. Some of the community just prayed inside their houses, especially women. The males usually dominated the place of prayer. Norissa and other female family members usually prayed inside the house, but since it was the start of Ramadan, they had to show their support and pray inside the Masjeed. Inside the Masjeed, the males and females were separated, yet both genders could still hear the Imam.

The wives and daughters laid their sajjadas or prayer rugs, performed two sujoods, and waited for the Maghrib to start while listening to Omar’s sermon. Norissa glanced at her right and saw Zaara and Salima with their daughters. Silently, she wished she had a daughter. Would she ever have a daughter if Omar only had her and Salima as his wives? Or if she were the only wife?

Aliyah, Zaara’s daughter, sat between her and her mother. She met Norissa’s eyes and smiled. She caressed her head and whispered, “You should start looking for and taking care of your family no matter how young you are.”

Aliyah was puzzled to what Norissa told her. But instead of asking what she meant, she hugged Norissa and replied, “But Babo takes care of me and everyone.”

After Maghrib, Norissa had to go home immediately to prepare food for everyone. Salima and Zaara always helped her in the kitchen, so the task was divided. Omar and his sons stayed behind the Masjeed and discussed the Ramadan activities, the new Masjeed in the next barangay sponsored by some politician, and other personal issues backed up with the teachings of Qur’an.

“Kuya,” Atif, the youngest, said to Nashreen while holding his hand, “I wanna go home. When are we going home? I’m getting hungry.”

“I’ll tell Ama,” Nashreen smiled, stroking Atif’s hair.

Nashreen waited until Omar finished talking before interrupting. He wouldn’t dare talk while Ama talked because he knew he would be beaten if it happened. Once, he did that while Zaara and Ama were in their own house. He saw through the window Zaara sitting on Omar’s lap while Ama was blowing through her ears and brushing her hair. He decided to call Ama because his Ina had a high fever and he didn’t know what to do. Omar dragged Nashreen home. Ama struck him repeatedly with a long, thin stick when they got to Norissa’s house. He could not walk for three days after that beating.

“Ama,” Nashreen whispered. “Can we go ahead? We’ll help Ina in preparing our meals.”

“Didn’t I tell you to stay until the discussion is over?” Omar replied while still engaging a bit in the other conversation.

“But Atif wanted to poo. At his age, he could not help it.”

Omar glanced to his youngest son who was already smiling. He smiled in return and turned to Nashreen.

“Make sure the food is cooked once I get home,” he said. “I still need to lead the Taraweeh.”

Nashreen held his younger brothers’ hands and they walked home.

“Do you think Ama will take long, Kuya?” Fahad asked. “Ina doesn’t like it when Ama comes home late for supper.”

“Not sure, Fahad,” Nashreen answered. “What I’m sure of is this: our food is delicious back home so we have to hurry!”

“Is it bistek?” Noman asked.

“I think it’s chopsuey!” Abdul exclaimed.

“Chimken! I smell chimken!” Atif clapped his hands with glee.

“I just hope it’s not fish,” Saleem said.

The boys laughed on their way home. When they arrived, they saw their Inas at the kitchen. The girls were at the other room, playing dolls.

Atif ran and hugged Zaara. “Ina! I missed you,” he shouted.

“I missed you too, baby!” Zaara hugged her baby tightly.

“Ina, what’s for supper?”

“What do you think?”

“Chimken!”

“Correct! Adobong manok!”

“I knew it! Right, Kuya Nash? Kuya Fahad? I said chimken!”

Everyone laughed at how excited Atif was over the food.

“If it isn’t for your son, Zaara,” Salima said, “this house would not be this joyful!”

“I wish he would not grow up so fast,” Salima said.

“I am always your baby, Inah,” Atif said, hugging her mother.

Norissa was smiling while silently looking at the scene. She remembered when it was only she who was preparing the meals. Nashreen would be preparing the table while Abdul would be sweeping the floor. Then both sons would wait at the door for Ama’s arrival.

“I think the adobo is ready,” Norissa stood up and got her ladle. Smoke got out of frying pan as she opened the lid. Everyone could smell the savory aroma of the adobo — its sourness from the vinegar, saltiness from the soy sauce, sweetness from the sugar, and the spiciness from the bay leaves and pepper corns. She got the frying pan out from the heat and told Nashreen to set up the table for everyone.

The table was set. The food was warm. Everyone was inside Norissa’s house except for Omar. And it was an unwritten rule for the family that nobody ate unless Omar arrived.

“Ina, I’m hungry,” Aliyah said, holding her tummy. “I bet Babo Norissa’s adobo tastes good.”

“But Ama is not home yet, Aliyah,” Zaara said. “A little while, okay?”

Norissa heard this so she decided to tell a story to put the children at ease.

“Who wants to hear a story?” she asked.

“Babo,” Atif said, “it’s too early for bedtime story.”

“I wanna hear it, Ina,” Nashreen said. He knew this was what his Ina did to make the kids forget that they were hungry while waiting for their ama. He sat in front of Norissa and winked at her mother.

“Am I only going to share this story with Nashreen?” Norissa asked.

All the girls and boys, including Zaara, sat together with Nashreen.

 


Khamille hails in Mati City, Davao Oriental, Philippines. She has been teaching for 4 years now. When inspiration hits her, she expresses it through writing. She has been through various writers workshops, locally and nationally. Last 2019, her novel, entitled Budi, won as the Best Young Adult Novel for the Lagaslas Writers Workshop and is set to be published soon. She usually writes about the practices of Islam in her community, especially of how a Muslim woman is treated in a family.

Paingon, Pauli (Part Two)

Fiction by | April 12, 2021

Sukad atong nagsugod og pang-hitch si Bernard sa piggery trak, si ‘Nong Boyet mura na pud niyag nahimong amahan. Mangumusta kada buntag, manghimangno samtang ga-drayb padulong eskuylahan, ug usahay manghatag og pagkaon kon adunay maikahatag.

Dako ra ang balay ni ‘Nong Boyet para sa ilang duha sa iyang asawa, apan sakto ra kini kung naa ang anak niya, si Alvin. Sa mga nakasangit nga litrato sa balay ni ‘Nong Boyet ra nakita ni Bernard si Alvin. Maguwang ra kini og usa ka tuig sa iya. Apan wala na niya kini naabtan.

Grade 1 pa si Alvin katong nalumos kini sa sapa dili lang layo sa ilang Sitio. Apan ang storya, ang lawas nga nakaplagan daw sa mga tanod dili gyod kuno kang Alvin. Mao ra gyod daw pormaha, mao ra gyod daw nawnga, apan sa tinuod, punoan ra daw kuno ni sa saging nga gipuli sa usa ka engkanto sa tinuod nga lawas ni Alvin.

Samtang dili mutuo ang asawa ni ‘Nong Boyet niini, samtang nadawat na niya ang kamatayon sa iyang anak, si ‘Nong Boyet, sa pila na ka tuig karon, halos kada semana gihapon muhapit sa sapa aron pangitaon ang anak.

Dala pirme sa tiguwang ang dulaang kotse nga i-regalo unta niya kang Alvin sa iyang birthday. Naghinaot siya nga mubalik iyang anak alang sa dulaang kotse nga dugay na niining gidahom. Dili sama sa dulaang gigama niya gamit ang kahoy og taklob sa botelya, ang dulaang kotse nga iyang gipalit mularga kung birahon paatras, mutingog, musiga. Sa pagkamatay ni Alvin, matandog ra kini sa butanganan kung dal-on ni ‘Nong Boyet sa sapa.

Ang hutoy ni ‘Nong Boyet mutunong ra sab sa agiik sa makina.

“Muundang na guro kog drayb, dong,” sulti ni ‘Nong Boyet.

“Ngano man, kol?”

“Maoy ingon sa doktor. Dapat hagbay ra daw kong niundang kay di daw pwede mahago. Pero ang ako sad, magtungok ra ko sa balay ani?”

“Musugot man kaha ang intsik?”

“Wa siyay mabuhat. Di man siya ang magpa-ospital nako.”

Naa na sila sa highway. Tulo ka kanto na lang og maabot na sila sa eskuylahan. Ang mga tao nga ilang malabyan manap-ong sa kabaho sa piggery trak. Magpahiyom lang si Bernard ug si ‘Nong Boyet.

Nalabyan nila ang mga classmate ni Bernard kauban ilang mga ginikanan, suot na ang mga toga, bitbit na ang mga garlands, ang mga buhok daw gitilapa’g kabaw.

Gipikpik ni ‘Nong Boyet ang abaga ni Bernard ug gitarong ang kwelyo niini.

“Ayawg katulog sa graduation, ha.”

Nagpahiyom ra ang batan-on. Gi-abrihan ni ‘Nong Boyet ang purtahan og ninaog si Bernard, nagpasalamat.

Mulakaw na unta siya apan nanampit si ‘Nong Boyet.

“Kol?”

Sa glove compartment, gikuha ni ‘Nong Boyet ang dulaang kotse nga pirmi niya ginadala sa sapa. Giabot niya kini kang Bernard.

“Wa koy garland, dong. Kini nalang. Padak-a ni. Pasakya dayon ko.”

Gidawat ni Bernard ang dulaan, nisaka og balik sa front seat, ug hugot nga gigakos si ‘Nong Boyet nga gapugong sa iyang luha.

“Sige na. Ma-late na ka.”

Nagpasalamat usab si Bernard bag-o ninaog. Nagbaktas kini padulong sa eskuylahann ug palayo sa trak, bitbit ang toga, ang kalo, ang kodigo sa graduation song, ug ang dulaang kotse.

Bag-o nisulod sa gate, nihunong si Bernard ug nilingi sa piggery trak. Sa front seat, nagpahiyom si ‘Nong Boyet ug nitando.

Naghulat ang tiguwang nga makasulod ang batan-on usa gipaandar ang sakyanan ug nilarga.

 

***

Reil teaches Calculus. He lives in Davao City.

Paingon, Pauli (Part One)

Fiction by | April 5, 2021

Bisan layo pa ang piggery trak ni ‘Nong Boyet, dungog na ni Bernard ang saba niini. Sa halos adlaw-adlaw niyang sakay niini sa upat ka tuig niya sa hayskul, nasayod na siya sa matag detalye sa saba sa trak: ang kagang-kagang ug tayaong makina nga daw gi-asthma, ang agiik sa ligid nga galugos og subida, ang iwik sa mga baboy sa likod sa trak.

Kon madungog na gani kini ni Bernard, dayon siyang mutindog ug mukapkap sa iyang bag aron siguraduong wala siya’y nalimtang gamit: notebook, ID, balonan, cellphone, ug guna nga hangtod karon ginapadala pa gihapon sa ilang maestro sa TLE aron gamiton sa gardening.

Apan karong adlawa, si Bernard wala nagdalag bag.

Iya rang gibitbit ang pinilo nga toga, ang kalo sa graduation, ug ang kodigo sa ilang kantahong graduation song. Mas puti iyang uniporme, mas plantsado ang slacks, ug mas sinaw ang hinirmang itom nga sapatos nga gisudlan pa gyod niyag kinumot nga dyaryo aron muiho ra gyod sa iyang mga tiil.

Nihunong sa iyang tungod ang piggery trak ni ‘Nong Boyet.

Ang katiguwangon ni ‘Nong Boyet daw sama sa gidrayban niining trak: gaubo, pasmado ang kamot, ug lugos makakita kung dili niini ipiyong ang mga mata.

Ang piggery trak dili iyaha. Panag-iya kini sa tiguwang nga intsik nga adunay dakong babuyan sa ilang Sitio. Apan sa pila ka tuig nga pagdrayb ni ‘Nong Boyet niini, nahimo na pud kini niyang personal nga sakyanan. Naniguwang na pud siya dungan ang trak.

“Oy, Bernard!” ni ‘Nong Boyet samtang gi-abrihan ang purtahan sa front seat. “Pagpagi nang lingkuranan dong kay na, maabugan ‘nya nang imong uniporme. Hastang puti-a ra ba.”

Nagkatawa si Bernard samtang gasaka sa sakyanan. “Maayong buntag, ‘kol. Mao na gyud ni ‘kol.”

“Mao na gyud ni, dong.”

Nilarga ang sakyanan.

“Nagdala ka’g pahumot? Basin manimaho kag tae sa graduation.”

Nangatawa silang duha. Ang katawa ni ‘Nong Boyet natapos sa usa ka hutoy.

Sa paglabay sa panahon, naanad na si Bernard sa baho sa mga baboy. Niadtong una, mao gyod ni ang rason nganong dili gusto makisakay si Bernard sa piggery trak bisan pa og ma-late na siya. Dili siya gusto munaog nga manimahog baboy. Apan nihit gyod ang sakyanan nga gaagi paingon sa ilang Sitio. Ang dyip pirme gahunong – bisan kahoy hunungan – hangtod mapuno kini. Ang habal-habal, dili mularga kon dili kini muguot, hangtod sa lubot na lang ang magpabiling gakapyot. Mahal ra sab mupakyaw. Maong napugsan si Bernard usa ka adlaw nga musakay sa piggery trak.

Si ‘Nong Boyet maoy namugos niya. Sa iyang kauwaw, ginapahunong na ni Bernard ang trak wala pa lang kini kaabot sa eskuylahan. Dili siya gustong makita sa iyang mga klasmeyt nga gasakay niini. Apan kinaugmaan, gihinungan na pud siya ni ‘Nong Boyet, ug kinaugmaan pa. Hangtod naanad na lang si Bernard ug anam-anam nga duol sa eskuylahan ipahunong ang trak.

“Mag-speech ka ‘dong? Naa kay honor?” pangutana ni ‘Nong Boyet.

“Wa ‘kol oy. Usa ra’y ribbon nako. Graduate.”

Nihutoy og katawa si ‘Nong Boyet.

“Duha diay. Naa pay ribbon sa parent diri o.”

“Basta nakagradweyt,” ni ‘Nong Boyet. “Muapas ra imong mama?”

“Maoy ingon niya, ‘kol.”

Apan sa tinuod, wala kasiguro si Bernard kung makaapas pa gyud ang iyang mama.

(To be continued…)

***
Reil teaches Calculus. He lives in Davao City.

My Last Prayer

Fiction by | February 22, 2021

 It was just a little after lunch and the sun was high up but the forest around felt colder as we ventured deeper, the trees felt as though they had eyes, looking directly at us from all directions, above, the tree branches served as a canopy for the whole area, casting grotesque shadows on the ground and in the river parallel to our path, each step we took wearied us down as though the very earth had little hands that gripped our feet. The wind howled and moved through the plants around, making them dance, I felt as though I was in the middle of some kind of strange ritual, no words were spoken among the three of us since the trip started. I wanted to rest, I wanted to stop, I wanted to turn back. But I couldn’t. I was the one who suggested this, I was the one who invited them, I was the one who asked for this.

A shadow, a sound, a movement in the thick bushes around, the forest seemed to play tricks on us. JC stopped abruptly halting the movement of the whole group. We stood there for what felt like ten seconds or a whole eternity. “Maybe we should rest here for a while,” Irene said. “No, I feel like there’s something bad here. Let’s rest when we get there,” JC replied. It was only two in the afternoon but the forest felt really cold, and my wet clothes gave me chills whenever the wind howled. My head was spinning and I felt like throwing up. I felt like there were chains attached to my feet, and it was the forest holding the handle at the other end of it. We have been walking for two hours but I had a feeling we weren’t any closer to our destination.

 A fork in the road appeared upon us. JC took a minute before deciding which way to go. The path we took went outside the forest and up a slope that was filled with jagged rocks, pain for my exposed foot. The skies opened before us but it was slowly turning gray, signaling rain. The road continued to a narrow path on the side of a mountain where we had to walk in single file, to the right was the face of the mountain, and to the left was a steep downward slope. We kept looking at the sky, praying that the rain wouldn’t come.  The path went down and into the forest again. It was the same forest but this part felt totally different. I felt like it was another world; I felt like it was from a different time, a time long past and forgotten. The trees were bigger, and there was a feel to them that made it seem like they moved every time we weren’t looking, their roots intertwined with everything on the ground, covering everything.

It was dark and I was sure it was close to dusk. Just a little further we walked, and there it was, the tree with the red stripe painted around its trunk, and to its right was the spring, it was dim but the water sparkled, we climbed upwards through the spring rocks, one little slip to what would be a dangerous fall but onwards we climbed, carefully planning each step. It should have been getting lighter because we were climbing upwards into the open space but the light remained the same; it seemed that the rain would pour any minute. My body felt so exhausted, every flex and contraction of my muscles caused me searing pain, and my feet felt like they had needles pinned to them but at last, we were there. Atop the spring rocks was a small cave, the darkness inside of which was a totally different kind of darkness and the light from our matches only managed to illuminate our hands. I felt for something in the darkness with my feet, a rock with a depression in its center that made it look like a moon crater. Beside the rock, was our destination.

“How long has it been, since we last saw you, John?” The words echoed in the cave and sounded like they were not words. The wooden cross beside the rock illuminated by the weak firelight had no words engraved in it, a marker with no name, it lay motionless and dead, like the person buried under the rocks beneath it, but I felt it calling out to me.  My knees finally gave out, maybe it was fitting for me to kneel before it, emotions and memories ran wild in my thoughts, JC and Irene stood there behind me, silent. In the quiet dark I kneeled, In the quiet dark I remembered. In the quiet dark, I started to pray.

__________________

 

Jose Francis R. Sycip is from Bukidnon. He is a 1st year Creative Writing major from the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

Maria Al Qibtiyya

Fiction by | February 1, 2021

(For All The Sitties And Josephs)

Forgive me, Mother, for I may have sinned. I am with someone.

You taught me to cover my head, which I followed all through my adult life. But one morning I grew impatient. I discovered it was less stifling to let loose some strands of hair. The wind was cold, so I let it through.

Sinned, in the language of Baba. But you, you did not teach me to guard my heart. You encouraged me, in your silence, to find happiness as long as I kept my virtue, especially my faith. I am keeping my word. Would sin then include welcoming into the fold a man who has willingly embraced our beliefs and customs? That he and I shall serve the Almighty together. I am always to remember that Jannah1 is beneath a husband’s feet.

[Photo by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz]

Forgive me, Mother, for I may have failed you. I chose someone for myself.

I know the story of Umm Sulaym and Abu Talhah2. I learned how she was told it was better for her that Allah guided one person to Islam through her. I followed the honorable woman of the past like a dutiful daughter. I know the standards, beginning with a man’s religious commitment, seconded by his attitude and then physical attributes and financial ability. Most importantly, I am empowered by our faith to choose my own husband.

I chose well, I must say. Would you still think me as a failure when he has passed the test?

You made sure I was wrapped with royalty. I assure you the sound of the kulintang follows me everywhere. Once, when I visited his home to meet everyone, I thought I heard an agong cheering me on.

They too are royalty. They talked casually about their jobs at topmost government offices and trips to Europe. I saw attractive wood carvings and fine china. The decorations on that particular December night were so refined I invoked Astagfirullah3 for yet again appreciating the season. I invoked Astagfirullah many times as I let myself hum along Christmas carols that danced around me.

How sophisticated they are and well-mannered, the crowd in Montiya would surely be mesmerized. They said my hijablooked delicate and beautiful as my skin. Would you feel betrayed if I say I like them better than some of our inquisitive relatives?

Mother, I wear my dignity like a crown. He has committed himself to Allah so that he can marry me.

Would you dispute the holy words now and blindly call me a sinful woman or a failure of a daughter?

Hear me. Hear this verse as it was constantly recited in the halls of matrimony, “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.”

Mother, I have already made up my mind. Please bless us with your consent and acceptance.

 

 

Notes:

1 Paradise. Islam says a woman who prays her 5 obligatory prayers, fasts during Ramadan, and honors and respects her husband may enter Paradise by any of its gates she wishes. Islam likewise teaches the equal obligation of men to live with their wives in kindness and devotion—“the best among you are those who treat their wives well.”

2 One of the finest men in Madeenah during Prophet Muhammad’s time. He converted to Islam to marry Umm Sulaym.

3 Invocation for repentance


Arifah Macacua Jamil was raised in Lanao del Sur. She graduated from the BA English program of UP Mindanao. Currently based in Manila, she likes to talk to children.