Apong Cora

Fiction by | October 3, 2022

The nutty aroma of dark coffee filled the air as I brushed aside the curtain that acted as our door. When I stepped outside, I heard the cry of roosters in the distance. Beneath the wooden roof, my grandmother was weaving. Every day, she would wake up at 5 am to feed the chickens and then weave in the shade of the nipa hut.

“Good morning, Nina,” Apong Cora said. She removed her feet from the treadles of the wooden apparatus and offered her hand. I walked briskly towards her, took her hand, and pressed my forehead against it to show respect. “Sit there,” she said while pointing at a white plastic chair in the corner. I sat and played on my phone.

The small nipa hut, with its four acacia columns, had no walls. My grandfather, Toribio, built it in the 1950s as a gift to Apong Cora. She grew up with the tradition of weaving in Ilocos and, after moving here to Maitum, had my grandfather build the handloom.

Continue reading Apong Cora

Mama’s Apo

Fiction by | September 18, 2022

Since I came home to Davao for the holidays, Trixie and I have had this ritual of afternoon walks along Mama’s front yard. Trixie’s chocolate point fur and icy blue eyes seem to catch our neighbor’s attention, especially the children. It is an understatement to say that she easily became the darling of the crowd in the subdivision where my mother lives.

But she is more special to Mama’s eyes than any of her pets at home.

She has easily become her baby in a span of weeks since we arrived from Manila. She probably knows that the woman feeding her is my mother. Maybe, cats can smell that too, just like how they know their own kittens by their scent. Mama refuses to give her any dry cat food. She believes it’s harmful for the cat’s kidneys. Instead, she mashes some boiled squash and minces chicken meat for Trixie.

“You used to like this when you were a baby, Raymond,” Mama recalls while she blows the newly boiled squash. “I also used to mash sweet potatoes when squashes were expensive. They were your favorite too!”

Since then, the two have become inseparable. Most afternoons, Trixie keeps her company in her bed having siesta. And at night, she is Mama’s TV buddy while watching her favorite Ang Probinsyano for another episode of Cardo overcoming another near-death experience. Maybe, Cardo was a cat in his past life too.

For a 28-year-old man like me, I have countlessly used Trixie as my response for the undying question thrown at me in family gatherings: “kailan ka magkakapamilya?” Doesn’t family come in all shapes and forms? But how can I tell that to an elderly aunt or uncle stuck with an antiquated idea of what a family is? So, I seldom join family gatherings to save me from lengthy unsolicited advice of having to raise another human being in a country where living costs tons of money none of them are willing to pay anyway. Besides, that is just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t know Mama’s only son is gay.

“You never really liked cats when you were young, Raymond. I know you strayed Mingming away when you were 13 because you didn’t like it taking cat naps on your favorite shirts in the closet,” she says, breaking the afternoon silence while holding Trixie’s leash in one of our afternoon walks.

“What a terrible liar I was! Sorry Ma!” I laugh.

The sunset bleeds the sky orange. Davao’s horizon is kinder than the concrete jungle in Manila, where looking up to the sky is a luxury to do. In Manila, every second counts for a cog in a machine, but here in Davao, time breaths. Mama’s face is glowing, being hit by the gentle sunlight. Her wrinkles growing visible; her smile radiating.

Uy, Trixie not those!” she giggles as she carries Trixie away from chewing the snake plant near the gate.

I grab the cage and let Trixie in. Her blue eyes are begging for me to set her free.

Bukas na naman tayo labas. Mama’s plants are precious, Trixie. You shouldn’t be eating those,” I promise her while handing some cat treats in her bowl.

“Your father was the one who loved plants,” Mama says while cutting the plant’s edge where Trixie bit. “When he was courting me, he never gave me a bouquet of flowers. For him, it was foolish to kill a plant just to show affection. So, he gave me a pot of succulents instead,” she also reveals that Papa was the one propagating the succulents he gave to her.

“Your father changed me, Raymond. Well, love did,” she chuckles, hiding the tone of nostalgia in her voice. “And having these plants around reminds me of him even if he’s gone,” she adds.

“I miss him too, Ma.” 

Papa was one of the doctors in Davao who contracted and succumbed to Covid when the pandemic ravaged the country in April 2020. Although it has been two years since his death, there was never a day I regretted not coming back home to grieve with Mama. Flying back to Davao was impossible then. All flights were canceled. The pandemic robbed me the chance to finally say to my father who I am. So now, I will not let it slip away. 

The dusk settles in. The lamppost in the village starts to light up the street.

“I know what we’ll have for dinner. Spaghetti! Your favorite!” Mama announces, lightening up the mood, and rushes to the kitchen.

Si Rick, Ma.”

My voice halts Mama from walking any further. She turns and looks at me.

Si Rick. He gave Trixie to me as a gift,” I confess.

Anak nga kita. Nagmana ka nga sa akin,” she teases and hugs me. She sits on the couch with me.

She later knew that Rick and I have been together for almost a year now, and I have been meaning to tell her all along. She also knew that I met Rick in the same company I’m working in Manila. And he will be coming over for the holidays to meet Mama, too.

“Disappointed? Why would I be?” she asks surprisingly. Her forehead curls.

“Your only son is … this. And I can’t give you any apo.” My voice softens, embarrassed with what I just said. My aunts’ faces suddenly flash in my mind, whispering the embarrassment that I am.

“Trixie. She’s my apo.”

Mama holds my hands and hugs me.

“And I don’t care what they say,” she assures me. 

“As long as you’re happy. Are you?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

Never thought the day would finally come for me to know how it feels to breathe freely. I hug Mama tightly.

“Well, then, that’s all I need to know.”

She kisses me on my cheek.

I follow her to the kitchen where she asks me to help her prepare our dinner while Trixie patiently waits in her cage.

December night’s cool breeze creeps in the house, but I could only taste the sweetness of Mama’s newly cooked spaghetti filling my stomach and my heart full and warm.


Gilford is a graduate of the BA English (Creative Writing) program of UP Mindanao. He is currently teaching creative writing and literature courses to high school students in a Montessori school in Quezon City. While doing so, he’s also studying his master’s degree in history at UP Diliman.

 

Ang Bugtot

Fiction by | September 11, 2022

1984

Pauwi na ang magkapatid na Jenilyn at Baloy mula sa kanilang pinapasukang mababang paaralan sa Mudon sa South Sepaka sa bayan ng Sultan Kudarat. Si Jenilyn ay walong taong gulang samantalang si Baloy ay sampung taong gulang. Nakahiligan ng magkapatid na sabay umalis ng bahay nang alas singko ng madaling araw kasama ng kanilang tatay. Ngunit noong araw ay dalawa silang nagtungo sa paaralan. Binabagtas ang malayo at bako-bakong daan patungo sa destinasyon. Madadaanan pa nila ang malapad na ilog at ang dalawang daanan – ang daang papunta sa kanila pauwi at ang daan patungo sa tirahan ng sinasabing bugtot.

Sinasabi ng mga matatanda at mga nakaaalam ng kuwento ng bugtot, ito ay isang matandang babaeng kuba noon na mapangahas na tumira sa kalasangan doon malapit sa nagtataasang mga damong kogon at kawayanan, sa kabilang lupa ng ilog at hindi kailanman natagpuan ang tiyak na tinatahanan nito maliban sa malaking kamalig na abot- tanaw kahit pa’y ito’y may kalayuan. Ayon pa sa karamihan, kadalasang nakayuko itong lumalakad at may itim na delargo, palaging may hawak na pinuti o maliit na kutsilyo o di kaya karit, na paningit ng mga prutas kapag hindi maabot. May dala din itong sako na pinaghihinalaang dito inilalagay ang mga bagay na kaniyang nakukuha gamit ang pinuti o ang karit. At kung ano pa ang mas nakakakabang katangian ng matanda ay di umano’y nananampot ito ng mga mapangahas na tumungo sa lugar, sa mismong daanan mula sa punong daan.

Subalit may mga nagsasabing, ito ay panakot lamang sa mga batang pumupunta sa lasang o sa masukal na gubat upang magliwaliw o di kaya ay kumuha ng mga prutas at gulay.

Alas tres y medya nang sila’y lumisan sa paaralan. Maulan ang hapong yaon at walang dalang payong ang dalawa. Pinagtiyagaan nilang gawing panangga ang kanilang kustal na nilalagyan ng kanilang gamit sa paaralan. Nagmamadali ang magkapatid paramakauwi nang maaga sa kanilang bahay.

“Neng, ‘di bala dire daw padulong tung balay ka bugtot nga gabitbit-bitbit sang karit kag sako,” pag-uusisa ni Jenelyn sa kaniyang ate.

“Ambot gani ah. Tuod daw to siya haw? Daw himu-himu lang man ‘to nga istorya-istorya nanday, Tatay kag Nanay! Pati ka da…” pagtugon ni Baloy kay Jenilyn. “Kapila dun ta ja ka panaw, kag waay man nagatuhaw nga bugtot nga nagadala sang karit…” pagdagdag ni Baloy.

Sa isipan nilang dalawa ay magkahalong panginginig ng katawan at pagkatakot. Malamig ang bawat pagpatak ng ulan sa katawan ng magkapatid; samantalang sa bawat paghakbang ay singtaas ng mga halamang kogon ang nananalaytay na kaba sa kanila.

“Jing, dasiga ang paglakat … para kauli ta dayon,” hikayat ni Baloy sa kaniyang kapatid. Bakas sa bawat tikang nila ang kanilang paglasak sa maputik na daan.

Patuloy sa paglalakad ang magkapatid. Kahit pa nasambit ni Baloy ang kaniyang pagtaliwas sa kuwento-kuwento at pagtatanong ni Jenilyn tungkol sa pag-iiral ng bugtot ay kakikitaan pa rin ito ng pagkatakot. Nadaraanan na nila ang lugar patungong kalasangan. Nababanaag na nila ang malaking puno ng mangga na abot sa kabilang bahagi ng ilog ang mga sanga nito. Samantalang tila hihiga naman ang mga kogon. Mas dumagdag ang pangamba ng dalawang magkapatid nang kumulog ang langit.

“Neng, hindi man bala tuod ang storya nanday tatay kag nanay ‘di ba kag katig-a gid sang hawid mo sa akon?” batyag ni Jenilyn dahil sa mahigpit na hawid ni Baloy sa kaniyang kamay habang patuloy sa paglakad sa mga sandaling yaon.

“Hindi ko bala sagad sang ka pamangkot, kag magahod… batian mo man ang huni ka agagangis nga ina? Dakpun ka gid sanâ karon kay damu ka it ginawakal,” pagtakot ni Baloy sa kaniya.

Tatlong hakbang bawat segundo. Basang-basa na ng mag-ate ngunit padayon sila sa pag matulin na paglalakad.

Isang nakaririmdim na palahaw ang nangibabaw mula sa pinanggalingan. Hindi na nakayanang lumingon ng dalawa. Hindi rin nila alam kung sino ang gumawa ng nakakikilabot na sigaw na yaon. Nagtriple ang hakbang ng dalawang bata. Hawak-hawak sa kamay nang mahigpit ni Baloy ang kaniyang kapatid.

Sa pagmamadali at pagkatakot ay napadiretso sila sa ibang daanan. Hindi na nag-aatubili nang bumalik ang dalawa baka sila’y dakpin o hindi kaya ay habulin hanggang sa makuha sila nito. Maririnig pa rin ang alunig ng sigaw ng nakatatakot na tinig na yaon. Sa halip, dumaan ang dalawa sa ilog na sa panahong yaon unti-unti na ring tumataas ang ilog na napalilibutan rin ng mga halamang kogon. Wala nang ingay ngunit nababanaag pa rin ang kamalig ng hinihinalaang tahanan ng matandang bugtot…

Mag-aalas sais na. Bahagyang tumahan ang ulan at naging maruming asul na ang kalangitan nang makarating ang dalawa sa kanilang tahanan. Nagtatakang nag- aalala ang kanilang Tatay Bo-ok at Nanay Nene sa kanilang sinapit at ganoon ang pagtambad nila sa pintuan.

“Susmaryosep, Dios ko! Naano kamo duha? Ha, Neneng kag Jing-jing. Ngaa nagkarabasa tinyo duha? Way niyo ja gidara ya kapote? Aysus!…” pag-aalangang mga tanong ng Nanay Nene sa kanila. Nagpaliwanag ang dalawa ng kanilang karanasan at pagkatapos ay nagsipaghanda na para sa hapunan.

Mainit-init pa ang inihandang kaldo ng tatay Bu-ok sa kanila. Ito ang inihahanda ng tatay nila sa tuwing malamig at maulan ang panahon.

Magpapatak na ang alas siyete. Tanging ang kinki lamang ang nagpapailaw sa buong paligid ng tanan ng pamilya. Naghahanda na sila para makinig ng kuwentong kababalaghan at katatakutan sa radyo. “Malamig nga kagab-ihon sa inyo mga abyan! Subong ng gab-i ipadayon naton ng isturya nga may tigulo nga ‘Tiniente Gimo’…”

 

2021

Mag-aalas diyes na ng gabi. Tatlong dekada na at pitong taon na ang nakaliligad ng pangyayaring yaon at sariwa pa sa alaala ang mga nangyari. Gising pa ang lahat at nagkakasiyahan sa labas. Habang ako sa loob ay mag-iisip kung paano kapag nakuha sila Jenilyn at Baloy nang maulang hapong yaon, at dinala sa kamalig at doon pagpiyestahan ng bugtot at gamit ang kaniyang matalim na pinuti ay nilasog-lasog na ang kanilang katawan at ginawang hapunan. Pero totoo nga bang bugtot ang sumigaw? At ang kamalig? Marahil, konsepto lamang ang bugtot na ito. Hindi natin alam.

At marahil, wala ako ngayon. Wala ang maikling kuwentong ito; walang isusulat na kuwentong ganito.

Ang pag-iiral ng bugtot sa paniniwala ng taga-Mudon ay talamak at naituring na suliranin sa bawat pumuluyo ng bayan sa mga panahong ito at umiiral sa isipan ng mga tao lalong-lalo na sa pamilya ng dalawang magkapatid. Totoo man o hindi ang kuwento ng bugtot, wala nang higit na mas nakahihindik pa sa personal na karanasang ito ni Jenilyn, ang aking ina.

***

Si Ralph G. Bansawan ay estudyante mula sa Notre Dame of Marbel University at nasa ikaapat na taon. Siya ay ipinanganak sa lungsod ng Koronadal.

Abdul’s Party

Fiction by | August 15, 2022

Abdul was sitting in the military truck, looking at the cake being stepped on by different feet,  but none from a woman in black slippers. Red, blue, yellow, white, and finally, black slippers! He excitedly raised his gaze only to see a stranger. He disappointedly looked down and started searching again.

Abdul was waiting for his mother, who had gone back to their stall to get the bag that contained their earnings for the day, but it has been half an hour since.

“Boom!”

“Crack!”

The exchange of bullets had been nearing their area, so the driver decided to start the engine, causing Abdul to panic.

“Please, Bapa, Ina is not yet here. She will be here soon, so let’s wait for her. Please,” Abdul cried. The people in the truck looked at him in pity, but they knew they didn’t have a choice but to leave.

While the truck was leaving Marawi City, Abdul had his eyes glued to the narrowing street, still hoping to see his mother. But his eyes were starting to close from bearing the weight of the unfamiliar view.

 

When he woke up, Abdul found himself covered in a blanket and feeling the tears that dried on his face. He folded the blanket before going out of the room. He heard on television the news announcing the war between the terrorist group and the military.

“Abdul, you’re awake. How are you?” Bapa Ibrahim asked while watching the news.

“Bapa, have they found Ina?” Abdul asked.

“Your Bapa Saber and Bapa Taleb went back to look for her. You can join your cousin Mahdi first; they will play outside.”

Abdul looked outside the window to see kids running. He nodded to his uncle and followed them. When they arrived at a compound, the kids pulled pebbles out from their pockets and shot them into the empty sky. Since it is forbidden in Islam to hurt animals, they made sure to go to places that could cause less danger— few people around and almost no birds they could hit.

“Do you want to try?” Mahdi asked Abdul. Abdul only smiled and observed the pebbles falling from the sky, waiting to drop on an unknown target. He found the scene amusing and terrifying at the same time: amused by how the pebbles opposed the rising motion and terrified by their impact.

When Abdul had enough of the scene, he bid goodbye. He knew he was in Saguiaran, a municipality that was about nine kilometers away from Marawi City, because he had been here a few times. When Abdul slipped his hands into his pocket, he remembered the change from the cake he had bought for his mom. The chocolate cake he excitedly ordered to surprise her. The last time they ate a cake was at Aunt Jamalia’s wedding, where his mom finished almost four slices. That was also the first time he saw his mom enjoy food, so he made sure to save money for it.

He went straight to the convenience store and counted how much money he had. Although he only finished 3rd grade because of his father’s death, Abdul could do basic arithmetic faster than the other kids. With only 28 pesos left, he thought of what to buy that could feed his uncle’s family and his mom when she finally returned.

He decided to buy three packs of instant chicken noodles. He lacked two pesos, but the storekeeper was kind enough to let him have the noodles. Abdul smiled and thanked the woman before leaving.

It was sunset prayer so Abdul hurried to go back home. He was hungry and couldn’t wait to share the hot  soup with his cousins.  When he was near the house, he heard his Bapa Ibrahim fighting with his Aunt Fatima.

“Ramadhan is coming. How are we going to feed another mouth?” Aunt Fatima asked.

Astagfirullah, Fatima. How can you say that? His mother is not here,” Bapa Ibrahim answered.

“That’s my point. Why would his mother go back knowing how dangerous it was?”

“Because even if the bombs and bullets do not kill them, starvation will.”

Abdul listened from outside the house and cried silently. He was going to leave again for a while to pray at the mosque when he saw his Bapa Saber and Bapa Taleb running towards his direction. Abdul followed them as they entered the house and listened silently in the corner.

“How’s the situation there?” Bapa Ibrahim asked.

“It’s getting worse. No one can enter the city anymore,” Bapa Taleb answered.

“But a soldier gave us things they were able to retrieve,” Bapa Saber added before he looked at Abdul.

“Where’s Nihaya?” Bapa Ibrahim asked, which made Abdul attentive, hearing his mother’s name.

“We don’t know. I told you, we couldn’t enter the city.”

“What did you get then?” Bapa Ibrahim raised his voice.

Bapa Saber took out a familiar bag. “We retrieved the bag that contained their money. And this,” he pulled out a black slipper. “We asked the soldiers if they had seen the owner, but no one entertained us.”

Everyone was silent for a while before Bapa Ibrahim stood.

“Let us pray first, Abdul. Then we will talk again,” Bapa Ibrahim assured him. As everyone left the living room, Abdul took the slipper and flipped it. He saw the safety pin that his mother had secured on the strap so it wouldn’t be detached from the hole. He wept again.

“Ina, please,” he whispered. “Please come back. I brought home some food.” He cried until he lost his grip on the packs of noodles and they fell to the floor.

Ihdinas siraatal mustaqeem, siraatal ladheena an ‘amta’ alaihim, ghairil maghduubi’ alaihim waladaaleen.

(Guide us to the straight path, the path of those who have received your grace; not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.)

______________

Potri Norania Hadji Jamel, 21,  is a Meranaw student completing a BA English (Creative Writing) degree in UP Mindanao. An animated version of this story produced by CW 150 Writing for Children students  can be found in this YouTube link: https://youtu.be/GA-Rpyadpgc

5:01 PM

Fiction by | August 8, 2022

“Asa naman pud ka gikan? Ikaw, bata pa ka igat na!” My mother’s yelling echoes inside our room before it travels to the street. She thinks if I went home a minute later than 5 o’clock in the afternoon, then I was becoming a slut on the street where I spent most of my time, playing tumba lata with my friends.

My chapped lips were shaking as I tried to answer her question, ignoring the fact that she has just called me igat. “Sa gawas lang ko Ma, nagdula. Kaila man ka sa akoang mga kauban, Ma.” Despite knowing the people that I spend time with, she still proceeded to her definition of discipline: a hand clenched tightly around a plastic hanger and a 7-year-old girl that had red marks all over her body after what felt like an hour of beating.

Convinced that my mother hit me to show that she cares for me, I accepted her subtle apologies through the dishes she cooked for dinner and the junk food she brought home. However, her scolding wasn’t something that I was afraid of. I was more afraid of missing the afternoon fun that my friends and I shared after siesta time. With the help of my friends’ mothers, I managed to get home before 5 in the afternoon with their constant reminder that it was 15 minutes before my playtime was over.

Sometimes when my mother came home earlier than I expected, worse things happened. The term igat turned into bigaon, a whore. And the hand around the hanger wrapped around her leather belt. Convinced that the more that the beating hurt, the more love was shown, I allowed her to hit me with the buckle of her belt. “Mirisi nimo! Bigaon na ka nga pagkababae!” She would say while keeping herself satisfied with the sound of my flesh against the buckle. On some days when the worst things take place, she would tell me to get out of her sight as she was afraid that she might kill me.

I didn’t know if the beating was because of my friendship with all the girls along our street, or if it was because I look exactly like Papa who was completely clueless of the beatings. Not that he was a deadbeat father, but Mama also tried to beat him to death when he disagreed with her.

After the series of expressions of love or discipline that I received, I became afraid of 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I started going home on time for at least a month and finally memorized the time of her arrival. It became my new routine. I knew which end of the street she was going to pass. I even learned how to identify her steps by the sound of her heels. I acted according to her will to avoid the beating.

One day, she stopped coming home on time. Sometimes, she would knock on our room at 10 in the evening with a smile on her face, as if a miracle had happened. She didn’t look exhausted. From what she taught me, going home that late is immoral, but the thought of her becoming a whore on the street never crossed my mind. Maybe she has to work more hours to provide for our needs, I thought, knowing that my brother was in 8th grade and I was about to finish grade school.

So, I went back to my old hobby: coming home a minute later than 5. Nothing can stop me now, especially that she’s not around, my innocent mind dictated while folding the strap of my slippers, trying to hit the can inside the circle – as hard as how she would hit me if she found out about what I was doing while she was away.

Her nights of going home late turned into days of not being around. It meant more time for me to spend outside – to kill the boredom and to push away the curiosity. Kuya, asa si mama? I tried asking, once, twice, thrice, or more – I could barely remember. But none of us knew the answer, so I stopped asking. Until one day, the least-expected answers came to my door.

All the hangers and the belt buckles that didn’t stop me from playing with my friends were overpowered by the news that I received. It was from Mama, when she came home one day on a sunny afternoon after not being around for four days. She saw how beads of sweat caressed my cheeks from playing outside, but she didn’t say a thing. Instead she smiled at me – she looked so warm and happy, like how the skies and the trees look before a typhoon devours an entire town.

“Didto na mo puyo sa inyohang Lola, ha.”

Mama was moving out of the house that Papa and she rented to live with her lover. And so we had to be sent away to our grandmother’s house.

It was only after Lola died a few years later that Mama decided to take us into her new household. It wasn’t clear to me what igat and bigaon meant until I was messaging Papa on my phone, while listening to the laughter of my mother’s other children together with their father playing outside the house a minute later than 5 in the afternoon.

At least she stopped calling me names for playing outside.

_____________

Reggie Faye Canarias is taking up a Bachelor of Arts in English (Creative Writing) at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She is a graduate of the Special Program in Journalism of the Davao City National High School.

The Ghost in the Shower Room (Part 3)

Fiction by | July 11, 2022

“I also saw the ghost in the shower room,” I tell Marcus, who’s peacefully eating his breakfast. His mouth falls open in disbelief.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“I am.”

“When did you—”

“Are you sure you were not dreaming?” Owen laughs, a little bit over the top.

“I know I said before that I don’t believe in ghosts and such, but now that I witnessed it myself, it’s actually scary,” I explain.

Gab is silent.

“I told you it’s real!” Marcus exclaims.

“Maybe you’re just hallucinating or something,” says Gab. “You’re not wide awake, right? Maybe you just saw what you wanted to see.”

“Who wants to see a ghost?” I ask.

“What does it look like? Did you see it?” Marcus asks.

I am hesitant to answer the question. What if it appears in front of me tonight?

“Come on, tell us,” Marcus urges.

“You don’t need to tell us,” Gab says.

“Yeah, just forget about it,” Owen adds.

“Actually, it doesn’t look like a ghost,” I say.

“What do you mean?” Marcus asks.

“I think it’s a demon, like what Sr. Jenny said.” Their eyes are now fixed on me. “Ghosts can’t duplicate their bodies, right? I couldn’t see clearly in the dark, but I saw a body coming out from below the stomach of the creature I saw like it’s trying to detach itself.”

Owen coughs. Gab drinks water.

“Maybe it was really a wakwak or a sigbin,” Marcus says. “Or a manananggal?”

“Wakwak and sigbin can’t duplicate their bodies. And it didn’t have wings or halved body, so I’m positive it was not a manananggal either,” I say.

“Why didn’t you turn the lights on?” asks Marcus.

“I almost did, but I noticed the ‘ghost’ when a lightning strike. Then, I ran immediately.”

“That’s scarier than what I experienced.”

“Enough of that. Eat your bread and drink your milk. You haven’t touched it,” Gab commands.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” Marcus worries.

Me, too. Me, too.

 

Sr. Jenny knocks at our classroom the minute the first class starts. “May I excuse Gab and Owen?” she asks our teacher. I look at Gab and ask him what’s happening. “I don’t know,” he answers. I get the same reply from Owen. Their faces look so tired as if they didn’t get enough sleep last night.

At lunch, both Gab and Owen are nowhere to be seen. I start to get worried. Maybe they’re sick and went for a check-up in the infirmary? I tell myself. I look at Marcus, who is also not sure what’s happening.

“I think I heard them getting scolded by Sister last night,” he says. “I am not sure, but I think it’s Sister’s voice that woke me up last night. It was pretty loud like she was angry. After that, I saw Gab and Owen going to their beds.”

“What were they doing last night?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“We don’t have any assignments or projects that need to be rushed.”

Sr. Jenny enters our dorm and looks at the empty seats at our table. She looks angry. “Listen, everyone,” she says. “I sent Gab and Owen home.” Everybody goes silent. She doesn’t say anything else.

Even students with a failing streak in their grades are not sent home. It means Gab and Owen must have done something terrible—something that violates what this school and Sisters are teaching. I can’t believe it. My chest feels so tight I don’t think I can breathe. I want to cry. Will I ever see Gab again? What about Owen? What have they done? What’s happening?

We all remain silent. Sr. Jenny looks at Marcus, and then at me. She stares at us as if she wants us to say something, as if she knows some secret of ours and wants us to tell everyone about it. I know she thinks we know about Gab and Owen; I also hope I do, but I seriously do not know anything. “Marcus and Luis, follow me to the lobby.”

Marcus and I follow her; we stand in front of the giant mirror in the lobby. Sister looks at us with disgust; I know it because I have seen that look hundreds of times when she and other nuns look at Owen. I can feel her eyes interrogate us even before asking us any questions.

“Do you know anything about Gab and Owen?” she asks us. We don’t answer. It doesn’t matter even if we really don’t know anything. If we say no, will she believe us? Because of her tone, I know she thinks we know something. And what if we say yes? What will happen to us?

“I’m asking you a question,” She says.

“I don’t, Sister,” I say. I don’t have a choice.

“How about you, Marcus?” “I also don’t know anything about them, Sister.”

“Are you sure? You four were close,” she asks.

“Yes, Sister,” we reply.

“How come you don’t know anything? Aren’t you friends,” she asks. Just as I expected, there’s no getting away from her.

“They never tell us anything, Sister,” Marcus says. “And they act normal when we’re together.”

I only nod.

“If you don’t want to end up like them, you two should behave. If I catch one of you doing the same, I will not have second thoughts about sending both of you home. I don’t want any of you talking about this, okay? Do not tell anyone, even your dormmates,” Sr. Jenny warns.

At that moment, Marcus and I realized what they had done. But it doesn’t matter. They aren’t here anymore—Gab isn’t here anymore. It pains me so much I want to cry in front of Sr. Jenny. I never managed to express the feelings I have for him. I like him. Though, it seems he liked someone else.

 

Rumors start to roam around the campus again. This time, it’s not only about the supposed ghost in the shower room but also about Gab and Owen. Although everyone knows what they’ve done, some people just want to make their own story. Some exaggerate for the sake of telling a more exciting narrative, even if it’s a total lie.

“Why would Gab even want to talk about the ghost?” Marcus asks in a low voice.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe to let people think that he’s not at all connected to the rumors. Or maybe just to scare everyone, so no one catches them.”

“Like reverse psychology?” he asks.

“Maybe,” I reply.

“That explains why they’re so serious when we talk about what we saw and heard.”

“Exactly.”

“If only we knew something was up with them,” he says. “We could have told them to stop or wait until we graduate.”

“I guess we were never that close,” I reply. “If we were, we should have known or even felt something was off with them.”

Marcus nods. He turns his back on me and covers his face with his pillow. “Let’s sleep,” he says.

“Don’t cry,” I try to joke. I get up from my bed to close the windows. It’s windy tonight, and the sky is starless again. It almost feels like déjà vu. Only this time, no one’s going to ask me to wake him up when I’m scared, and there’s no ghost to fear.


Anthony S. Maluya is a graduating BA English (Creative Writing) student from the University of the Philippines Mindanao. He lives in Bukidnon.

Inayag Nga Lutak (Part 2)

Fiction by | June 13, 2022

Pag-abot sa siyudad sang Koronadal, ginbaligya anay sang mag-amay ang ila mga bitbit nga produkto para makabakal sang bugas, kape, kag kalamay pabalik sa ila puluy-an sa Sitio Kibul. Ginsulay sang mag-amay ang tagiti sang udto adlaw kag ang nagakinaran-karan nga mga traysikel kag salakyan sa siyudad. Kag nagdesisyon magsulod sa capitolyo. Daw indi pa gani sila pasudlon sang guwardiya bangod sa daw indi maayo ang ila panapton, pug-is ang shorts, daan ang t-shirt, kag upud ang tsinelas.

Namilit gid ang amay kon paano maestorya ang gobernador nahanungod sang ila lupa sa Ned. Wala siya gintugutan sang guwardiya nga makaestorya ang gobernador, bangod kinahanglan pa ini sang booking. Didto siya ginpalakat sa Assessor’s office sang probinsya, gindaho-daho ini sang mga empleyado didto, kag wala man lang nakahangop sang maayo nga proseso sa iya transaksiyon. Buot hambalanon, wala sing may nahuman ang mal-am.

“Nong, didto ka anay balik sa inyo barangay, pangayo ka sang certificate kag valid ID para ma-proseso ang imo transaction balik ka didto anay sa Lake Sebu,” siling sang isa ka empleyado nga gintulok pa ang mga kubos babaw-dalom bangod sang ila panapton.

Nag-gwa na lamang ang makalolooy nga mag-amay sa kapitolyo. Naglibug ang iya ulo, wala man gani ini birth certificate, valid ID pa ayhan? Wala man lang may nakuha nga impormasiyon nahanungod sa ila lupa. Nagngulo-ngulo ang mal-am kag naglumaw-lumaw ang mata sa iya nadantan. Wala lang gihapon nakahangop sang nagakalatabo ang iya subang, nalingaw lang ini gihapon sa mga nagasinumbali nga salakyan sa gwa sang kapitolyo sa Alunan Avenue. Bitbit ang duwa ka kilo nga bugas, diutay nga kalamay sa ila sako bag, nagdiretso na lamang ang mag-amay sa paradahan sang van.

“Dali na, to, mauli nalang kita. Sa sunod nalang naton ini padayonon,” pangagda ni Nato sa iya subang nga daw sa indi magbulag ang mata sa mga salakyan nga bag-o niya lang nakita.

Samtang nagabyahe ang mag-amay, gina-isip ni Nato ngaa kabudlay gid maestorya si governor. Nagbalik sa iya hunahuna nga sang-una sang nagapapili pa ini, nagsaka man gani ini sa Sitio Kibul kag nangape pa kaupod ang iban pa nga miyembro sang tribu.

Pero karon nga ara na sila sa posisyon daw sa indi na sila matandog sang mga katawhan nga kubos. Ginsabak na lamang ni Nato si Olaw upod ang duwa ka kilo nga bugas para indi na masakop sang pagpanukot sang pamilete.

Galain sa gihapon ang buot sang mal-am.

Kag sang pag-abot sini sa paradahan sang van, nakibot ini nga gindapit ini sang duwa ka lalaki nga nakaitom. Ginkarga sa kotse kag ginbulag ini sa iya subang nga si Olaw. Daw nadulaan sang animo ang mal-am, daw naglubog ang iya isip angay sang suba nga lutakon sa Ned. Ngaa gindakop siya kag ginposasan sang duwa ka lalaki? Ano ang rason? Madalom katama ang palaligban sa iya angay sang madalom nga buho sang minahan lapit sa ila puluy-an.

Mangin si Olaw daw nakibot sa natabo sa iya amay, wala na ini nakapauli kaupod niya. Gindala na lamang siya sang iya Ninong Francis sa ila puluy-an bibit ang duwa ka kilo nga bugas, kalamay, kag kape.

Wala niya nahangpan ang mga nagakalatabo. Ngaa daw may libtong sa ila lugar? Ngaa malubog ang suba? Diin na ang lasang sang mga kasapatan kag kakahoyan? Kag ngaa wala kauli ang ila amay?

Samtang gapungko ini kag nagapanampuay sa ila panalgan, naurungan ang iya mata sa nagakarab-karab nga kalayo kag nagaindakal nga tubi sa takuri. Bisan wala ini tinulugan, nadula ang iya katuyuhon. Ang iya kahapon nga masaku nga mata sa dalagku nga bulldozer – naglumaw-lumaw na.


Alvin Larida is a teacher at Libertad National High School in Surallah, South Cotabato. He studied Education, majored in Chemistry and Physics at Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City. He finished his master’s degree in Science Teaching at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He was the third prize winner of Malip-ot nga Sugilanon in South Cotabato (2019) and honorable mention during the Balay Sulat Sox: Play Writing competition (2021). He was awarded as third prize winner in Children’s Literature in Peter’s Prize 2021. Recently, he got honorable mention at Bantugan sa Panulatan Kinaray-a on his play.

Inayag Nga Lutak (Part 1)

Fiction by | June 7, 2022

Wala pa ka sirak ang adlaw sang ginpukaw ni Nato ang iya subang nga bata – si Olaw. Natuyo pa ini kontani sa pagpulaw ka pamutos sang uga nga tilapya nga ipagalibod sa siyudad sang Koronadal pagkaaga. Wala mahimo si Olaw, wala pa ka pamalu ang sulog, na-una pa sa pagpamalu ang mainit nga tubi sa takuri. Nagbangon na ini.

“To, kinahanglan ta mangin aga paadto sa siudad subong,” kuon ni Nato sa gapanghimuta nga bata.

Nagtango lamang si Olaw kay tuman pa ini katuyo. Tayuyon nga nagdiretso sa wala pa nahuman nga pulutson nga uga.

“Naglakat diri kagab-i si Ninong mo Francis, to, nahanungod sa lupa ta diri sa Kibul.”

“Ano ang buot mo silingon, má,” pagpahangup ni Olaw sa iya amay.

“Nadumduman mo pa atong lupa ta sa Sitio Kibul? Ginbakal na daw kuno ato sang sang-una anay nga gobernador,” saad sini sa iya subang samtang ginabak-it ang naga-indakal nga ininit.

“Ti, ano nalang ang aton maisan, má? Indi bala ginhatag na ina sa aton ni teme sang siya nadula?”

“Amo ina ang aton asikasuhon karon. Mangin ako man, to, nabudlayan hangpon kon ngaa nabaligya ato sa gobernadora.” Naglungo-lungo na lamang si Berto kay bisan siya indi makahangop sa mensahe nga gindala sang iya kumpare.

Mga 58-anyos na nga nagapuyo sanday Nato sa Sitio Kibul, patay na ang iya una anay nga asawa sang ginbun-ag ang ila subang nga si Olaw. Bilang parte sang Tboli nga tuluohan, nakapangasawa pa si Nato sang duwa pa ka bes. Kag ginlumon ang duwa sa isa ka puluy-an. Bangud man sang kapigaduhon nagdesisyon nga mag-abroad sa pungsod Kuwait ang iya duwa ka asawa. Tatlo ang mga kabataan nga yara sa iya poder, lunsay mga bataon kag aratipanon.

Dali-dali ginpreparar sang mag-amay ang ila mga produkto nga ipagabaligya sa merkado: uga nga tilapya, ginrara nga abaka, kag siklat nga kawayan. Kinarga nila ini sang ila kabayo para mapanaog ang mga produkto kag makarga sa skylab paadto sa banwa sang Lake Sebu.

Daw indi maestorya si Nato samtang nagabyahe sila sa lutakon nga dalan, daw wala man lang kabatyag sang undag nga daw ginaayag ang iya huna-huna. Madalom katama ang nagadalagan sa iya utok. Naghipus na lamang si Olaw, samtang ginasabak ang iya mga pinutos nga uga nga tilapya.

Sa ila pagpanaog sakay sa skylab, daw galumaw-lumaw ang mata sang mal-am sang makita niya ang dalagku nga dump truck, back hoe, bull dozers nga nagakutkut sang mga pula nga bato sa idalom nga Sitio. Ang sadto anay nga matin-aw nga suba Alah, daw turugban na ini sang karbaw kag daw gindumugan sang mga mapintas nga sapat. Lutakon ang naga-ilig nga tubi kag tuman man kapilit ang lutak. Dala man sang dapya sa mayami nga hangin ang mabaho nga agwasa sang lutak halin sa suba.

Ayawan man ang drayber kapugong para lang indi makadalin-as sa lutakon nga dalanon.

“Grabe nagid gali ang pagpamina diri sa aton, to, no?” didto lamang nagwa ang limug ni Nato mag-isa na ka oras sang ila byahe.

“Oo, Nong Nato, ginsulod na kita diri sang Bulawan Mining. Sang pagsugod sang tuig, Nong, gintugutan na ni governor ang pagpamina diri sa aton Sitio,” sabat sang drayber nga hanas katama sa iya paglusot-lusot sa mga bangagon nga dalan.

“Copper kuno kag bulawan ang ara diri sa aton, Nong. Mga baynte anyos daw ang ila kontrata sa pagkali sang lupa,” dugang pa sang batan-on nga drayber.

Gapamati lamang si Olaw sa panambiton sang iya amay kag drayber, wala niya pa nahangpan kon ngaa nagabaratsi ang mga trak. Nalingaw siya sa pagtan-aw sang mga dalagko nga equipment nga naga-ayag sang mga bato kag lutak, kag padayon sa gihapon ang iya pagtulok sa malubog nga suba. Sa iya edad nga nuybe anyos, wala pa ini kahangop kon paano ginagama ang mina kag kon paano ini makabag-o sang kinaiya.

“Bati ko pa, Nong, magpalapad daw sila sang ila area pati didto sa inyo sa Sitio Kibul,” siling sang drayber.

“Oo, amo man gani ina ang i-transaction ko karon sa kapitolyo kon ngaa may titulo na sang duta namon si Governor Tan nga kami man ang nagapanguma sina panahon pa ni Tatay halin sang 1968,” esplikar sang mal-am bisan magahod ang wawaw sang habal sa maundag nga dalan.

“Oo, Nong, tama ina, halos abi sa aton mga duta diri sa Ned, indi pa titulado. Posible nga napabangonan ang mga duta ta diri sang titulo sang mga manggaranon nga pangayaw,” nagngulo-ngulo na lamang ang drayber nga isa man ka tumandok sang Sitio Kibul.

Sa ila tayuyon nga pagbaybay paadto sa banwa, tuman kasaku ang dalan, paadto-pakari ang mga dalagko nga dump truck sang probinsya sang South Cotabato kag Bulawan Mining Corporation. Halos tanan nga naga-agi sa ila kilid puno sang lupa kag dalagko nga bato. Magahod, masabad, kag daw nagpadugang sa kagin-ot sang tagiti sang adlaw.

Sa taas nga bahin sang pukatod, nakita ni Olaw ang madalom na nga kinutkutan sang bulldozer. Daw sa libtong na ini kalapad angay sang Mt. Melibengoy ukon Mt. Parker sa Tboli, South Cotabato. Madamo katama ang nakita niya nga salakyan kag heavy equipment. May diutay naman nga building nga ginatukod sa mataas nga bahin sang pukatod. Ini kuno ang tarambakan sang merkuryo nga ginagamit para masupot ang mga gagmay nga bahin sang bulawan sa bato, lutak, kag balas. Apang siling sang pagpanalawsaw, makaguba sang nervous system sang mga tao kag kasapatan ang amalgam nga halin sa merkuryo nga maglakot sa tubi kag kadutaan. Mangin ang mga heavy metals nga makaon sang mga isda, makadala man sang di-maayo nga epekto sa lawasnon nga kinamatarong.

Magahod ang inayagay sang lupa kag bato, kag may nilukpanay man sa dinamita sa idalom pa nga bahin sang buho. Ang sadto anay nga lasang nga balay sang mga dalagko anay nga Molave, Katmon, Talisay, kag Sablot nga sa Lake Sebu lamang ginapatubo, wala na. Inubos na ka pang-utod kag pangluk-ad para makakali lamang sa mga bulawan kag copper. Ang mataas sang-una nga pukatod, malapad na nga lutakon kon tig-tingulan kag tuman man kayab-okon kon tig-tinginit. Nahanaw naman ang mga bugnaw nga mga busay nga puluy-an sang bag-o natukiban nga species sang kagang nga diri lamang sa Lake Sebu, South Cotabato makita – ang Isolapotamon mindanaoense. Indi naman gani siguro makita ang mga amu sa kahoyan, kalaw, bukaw, baboy-talunon, kag iban pa nga kasapatan.

Magtatlo na ka bulan sang gintugutan sang Sangguniang Panlalawigan ang pinanday nga Environmental Code sang probinsya. Tuig 2010 pa sang una ginpapag-on ang layi pinaagi sa Ordinance No. 4. May mga probisyon nga ginbag-o ang konseho sa pagpatuman sang pag-usar sang kinaiya kag kalupaan sang probinsya para sa pagmina. Diri gindula ang mga small-scale mining kag gintugutan lamang ang MIM Gold Corp. sa Tampakan, South Cotabato kag sadto anay nga Tribal Mining Corporation sa T’boli, South Cotabato.

Sa pagbag-o sang administrasyon, halos sa mga miyembro subong sang sanggunian nagtugot sa pag-operar sang mina sa pipila nga kabukidan sang South Cotabato, kag mapatigayon ang pag-operar ang Bulawan Mining Corporation. Madako ang proyekto nga ini nga nagpromisa sang madamo nga obra kag proyekto para sa probinsya.

Tuman kadamo sang reklamo kag rally ang naagyan sang amo nga proyekto halin sa pagpangindi sang Diocese of Marbel, sang kaparian, mga alyansa sa simbahan, manunudlo kag environmentalists. Ini tanan wala nahangpan sang pipila nga miyembro sang tribu Tboli nga una maapektuhan sa pagpangali sang bulawan sa ila kinaiyahan. Nakita man sang iban nga pagtuon nga ang mga banwa sa idalom nga bahin sang probinsya ang dako nga maapektuhan kon hinali mabuhang ang buho sang mina.

Gintulok na lamang ni Nato ang daw libtong nga buho samtang nalingaw man ang iya subang sa pagsinumbali sang mga magahod nga makina sa bug-os nga Ned, Lake Sebu. Wala kahangop, ang ara lamang sa hunahuna sang bata ang makalilingaw nga equipment sa binuhuan sang mina.

(to be continued)


Alvin Larida is a teacher at Libertad National High School in Surallah, South Cotabato. He studied Education, majored in Chemistry and Physics at Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City. He finished his master’s degree in Science Teaching at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He was the third prize winner of Malip-ot nga Sugilanon in South Cotabato (2019) and honorable mention during the Balay Sulat Sox: Play Writing competition (2021). He was awarded as third prize winner in Children’s Literature in Peter’s Prize 2021. Recently, he got honorable mention at Bantugan sa Panulatan Kinaray-a on his play