Thoughts of a Manila Boy (excerpt)

Fiction by | August 24, 2020

When I was younger, my parents told stories of Manila as if they were horror stories to scare children away. “Ah basta, wa’y ayo sa Manila. Nothing good happens there,” my father would always tell me.

So when my older cousin Thea came back to Davao and stayed in our house for a week, I tried not to think about my mother and father who talked about how ate Thea made a big mistake when she chose to go to college and eventually found work as a BPO agent in Manila.

 

Ate Thea brought her boyfriend with her. A tall and thin man, who I thought look sickly (probably from the Manila air, I thought), who she met at her workplace and has a typical Tagalog accent—the one I hear from Filipino movies.  Thea was welcomed by a big hug from my auntie Tessa, who also lives with us, and big smiles followed by “Kumain ka na?” by my parents. But my parents did not seem to notice the man beside ate Thea, as if he were part of ate Thea’s luggage.

“What’s your name again, dong?” my aunt asked ate Thea’s boyfriend.

“Leo,” the man replied. There it is again, the Tagalog accent. Even the sound of his vowels were foreign to my ears, soft and prolonged.

Ate Thea and I went to the kitchen to serve them snacks. She looked different from the last time I saw her. She wore a loose blouse over a black tube and paired it with maong shorts. Before she bent down to get some bowls from below the sink, she tied her hair in a bun, revealing a tattoo of a mandala. I grabbed the chocolate ice cream from the refrigerator when she started to talk to me.

“How old are you now again, Kelly?”

“I’m 17. I am in senior high school already,” I answered. “I’m taking STEM right now. I’m planning to be a doctor.”

“Doctor, huh?” she muttered as we started walking towards the living room together with the ice cream and bowls. “Back when you were in grade school, you always blabbered about directing films. Do you remember that?”

“It is hard to pursue film or art here,” I replied with a small laugh and shook my head.

“I still hope you give Manila a chance,” said ate Thea. “I think our family never forgave me for choosing to study there despite what happened to our old coffee business there.”

After placing the ice cream on the table, I realized the ambiance of the room seemed off.
Thea coughed and started talking.

 

“Ma, what time are we leaving for dinner later?” She asked Auntie Tessa.

“We should be there by 6 pm or else we won’t be able to take seats.”

“Great,” Thea exclaimed with her face lit up. She sat beside Leo, grabbed his hands, and squeezed it hard out of excitement. She told him how excited she was to let him try “the best grilled fish in the country”.

“But didn’t you eat grilled fish a lot when we were in Manila?” Leo grinned.

I looked at my father’s direction and saw how he rolled his eyes with what Leo had said. “She just told you it’s different. What we eat here is different,” my father grumbled to which Leo bowed his head.

Then I heard my father murmur. “Hilas.

*

We had arrived at Polito’s, home of the best grilled fish in the Philippines. On its walls were photos of different celebrities who visited the place. My parents, aunt, and Thea started conversing in Bisaya. Their conversation went well when suddenly Leo leaned to whisper on Thea’s ears. Thea laughed at what he whispered.

Dong, it’s rude to whisper in the middle of a conversation,” Auntie Tessa complained.

 

Leo immediately apologized and explained that he was simply telling Thea that her family reminded him of his own.

“How can we be like your family? We’re not like you,” my father hissed. As much as I wanted to stop my father at that time, his spur of words could not be stopped.

“I don’t understand why Thea chose someone like you when she could have simply chosen one of the people that courted her here. What an ignorant guy. Hilas.

 

Leo’s phone suddenly rang and asked permission to go outside and take the call. I also asked permission to go to the bathroom, which is just my way of escaping a mess that I know was about to happen at the table.

After I used the bathroom, I checked on our table and observed that Leo wasn’t still there. I was on our way to our table when I overheard my father spat “Those Tagalogs are all the same! We could have had more branches of our Mt. Apo coffeeshop in Manila.”

 

I decided to check outside and discovered that Leo was not even talking to someone on the phone. He was sitting outside alone. I approached him and sat beside him. Leo cleared his throat and started speaking.

“I’m from Lemery.”

“What?”

“Batangas.”

I was still confused. “What?”

“I’m not from Manila.”

“And what does that mean?”

“That means that I am not a Manila boy like what you guys think.” He smiled and laughed.

“Isn’t Batangas the same as Manila?”

 

Leo sighed. “We speak the same language, but our way of living is different. I’m still considered as someone from the province when I went to Manila.”

He paused for a while and stared at the floor while I was waiting for him to speak. “My parents didn’t want me to move to Manila before. They told me that even if I am not so different from them, people there would treat me horribly. They even told me stories about how Manila was a living hell, but I chose to pursue my dream.”

“But soon, everything turned out to be okay. And I also met Thea, who supported me no matter what I did. Then, I said to myself that Manila isn’t that bad at all, I was just welcomed by the wrong people.”

*

When ate Thea went back to Manila, I found out that she and Leo broke up not long after their visit in Davao. It was because Leo thought that Thea was being ashamed of him the moment she forced him to sleep in a hotel during their visit here.

Mga hilas!” my father banged his fist on the table while listening to ate Thea on the phone.

 

I left our sala and went up to our room. Weeks from now, I will be an incoming freshman about to take up a degree in nursing in a prestigious university in Davao. I thought of Leo’s words again and my parents’ horror stories about Manila. Maybe someday I’ll learn to give Manila a chance. I’ll learn to give myself a chance.

 

*** 

Alona, who currently lives in Davao City, is a Grade 12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) student from Stella Maris Academy of Davao.

 

Mosquito City

Fiction by | August 17, 2020

The heat of the city is a sweet fever that burns through rooftops and souls. This bizarre warmth has turned the city into a breeding ground for mosquitoes—bloodsucking pests that have terrorized homes. With growing rates of dengue fever coupled with a sudden increase in missing persons cases, the city is in a humid frenzy of mass hysteria and paranoia. Once a week, the city is covered by thick smoke from the fumigation efforts of the local government.

Today, the smoke finds its way through an open window on the third floor of an old apartment, into the room of Joseph who tries his best to keep his eyes open amidst the fumes. His unfinished essay on climate change issues lies next to two empty cans of Red Bull.

The 14-year old starts to feel the pleasure of drowsiness once again, only to be cut short by a sharp pain from his left cheek. He recognizes this familiar sensation and slaps himself—crushing the insect. He wipes his cheek with his finger. Upon seeing the smudge of blood, Joseph is filled with a sudden surge of joy—as if he had finished all his schoolwork. Maybe it was the bite that helped him feel alive in the morning, or maybe it was the smoke that was the cause of this change, but it doesn’t really matter to him as he then proceeds to storm out the room and glides across the kitchen floor.

The kitchen table is empty, not a single soul in sight, not even of his mother who would always wake up exactly an hour before now; at five in the morning. It was very strange indeed and Joseph had never experienced this before, so he checks on his mother to see if she was still asleep. But she was nowhere to be found.

The confused Joseph returns to the kitchen and is greeted by his sister, Marie, her head planted into the wooden table and obviously still sleepy. She was only a year younger than Joseph yet she was always the mature one between the two of them.

“Have you seen mama? She’s not here and it’s creeping me out,” Joseph shivers.

“I just woke up like five minutes ago, how would I know?” she replies in a snarky tone.

“Well I guess you’ll have to settle with some basic eggs for breakfast,” he says as he turns on the gas stove.

 

Joseph then showcases his meager cooking prowess as he prepares a pair of sunny-side ups while Marie prepares her favorite white coffee. The two were not reliant on their mother when it came to housework and basic survival skills, she was a single parent to the two since their father died when they were still very young. Joseph still grows worried over his mom’s whereabouts with the current situation and the city, not to mention her mother’s on-and-off fevers at night.

A lot of Joseph’s classmates are absent while some of their teachers seemed to have vanished into thin air. Joseph only finds out that they all had fevers a night before they disappeared. After school, the siblings head to the Police Station to report the sudden disappearance of their mother and they are greeted by a long line of people who seemed to have also lost a loved one.

“What is that?” Marie asks as she points to an enormous board of pictures and blurry text.

“It’s the total number of people that have went missing since yesterday.” an officer replies.

 

One, two, three, four, five, no ten! Ten rows of faces gathered in at least ten columns, over a hundred people were reported missing within a single day. The people in line were in bewilderment, shock bordering into insanity as no one can seem to comprehend how this came to be. The police announce that they will be investigating this phenomenon and sent everyone home with a heavy heart of worry and disbelief.

Joseph and Marie are silent as they arrived home.  Marie offers to cook their dinner and her hands shake as she slices garlic for their fried rice. Joseph knows his sister like he knows his own mind: she was scared and so was he. After dinner, Joseph peeks into his mother’s room, still silent and empty. He finds himself lying in her bed, wondering where she could have gone.

Then, he feels a sharp pain from his chest. Like a mosquito’s sting that was piercing his heart, the pain of loss and anxiety leaves him in tears. He closes his eyes until he falls asleep. A sharp pain, a needle-like organ pierces through his body as he lies sweating heavily in his sleep. A fever burns through Joseph as he feels a bizarre warmth run through his veins. With every pulse, he shakes and shakes until he stops moving.

Long pins of black scales begin to emerge from his sides, piercing through his flesh. Two long wounds appear on his back, oozing over a glossy material that resembled a spider’s web. The goo quickly hardens and forms into sharp-edged wings that began to flap on their own steady rhythm. Joseph feels no pain, no bodily reaction to this foreign sensation, his mind falling deeper and deeper into the empty vastness of sleep.

The scent of the morning smoke finds its way through an open window on the third floor of an old apartment, into the room of Marie. Marie has not slept a wink when a mosquito kisses her on the cheek.

 

 

Angelo B. Allito, 19, is from Valencia City, Bukidnon. He is taking a BA in English (Creative Writing) in UP Mindanao.

Blood Dilutes in Hot Water

Fiction by | August 10, 2020

As the white casket where my aunt Maria now rested made its descent into the hollowed-out earth, I could not help but utter a cry I could not hear. The rest of my relatives mourned with me—my father, trembling as he did, cried the most.  Sobs and wails pierced the air around us as if our mouths were not muffled by face masks and handkerchiefs.

She was a good woman and my father loved her very much. When she was still in the hospital, he made regular visits and brought her food. I even remembered how he would always prepare a hot glass of milk for my aunt Maria whenever she visited for the New Year. She was the only sibling my father spoke to since my grandparents died 20 years ago.

 

After the burial, we chewed on siopao and chicken burgers and drank soda out of palm-sized bottles, while the older relatives had coffee in paper cups. My father had told me to prepare a cup of coffee for him when Tito Ariel approached him. My father averted his gaze from him and folded his arms on his chest.

“‘Bro, tara,” Tito Ariel said, motioning him towards the tent a few paces behind me.

My father hesitated but then gestured to me for his coffee. I hurriedly poured the coffee granules in his cup of hot water. He took it and walked towards the tent where his remaining siblings were. He did not even stir his coffee. I could imagine the granules clumped like little islands slowly melting into the water.

For the first time in 20 years, he was reunited with his siblings. All of them sat on benches facing each other. Not one of them spoke. No one even attempted to bring down the face mask covering their mouths to speak. Until Tita Olivia, the eldest living sibling spoke.

“Let’s all just forget everything that happened in the past. It’s all behind us now.”

I heard Tito Toto snickered. I could not mistake the astig tone of his voice for anyone else.

“That’s easy for you to say.  You could easily accuse me of anything but when you finally found out it was not true, parang wala na lang. As if everything is okay again.  But if any of us does something that you think is ‘nasty,’ you’d want us begging on our knees for a decade before you accept a ‘sorry.’”

“She’s the oldest, ‘To. Respeto naman,” interrupted Tito Peter, the American citizen.

 

The bickering went on. From what I knew from eavesdropping on them through the years, there had always been a feud among the siblings. There were divisions, and where there were divisions, there were alliances, and where there were alliances, there were turncoats – and my father was sick of turncoats. So he refused to talk to them for many years. He made sure to keep his distance but continued to give help to whom he truly cared for—my Aunt Maria.

I remembered how my father would heat water in a kettle for my aunt’s glass of milk. When the kettle let out a hissing noise, it meant the water was already boiling. The water has to be really hot, my father had said then. Your aunt does not want milk curds floating on top. She wants things to look smooth, in order.

My father was known for his loud voice, he had the loudest among his siblings especially when they would watch basketball games on TV. But looking at him now with his arms crossed over his chest, and his eyes glued on his shoes, I did not know what he was thinking. He was silent despite the shouting match among his siblings.

But then Tito Peter shouted “Do you think she would want this?”

Everyone went silent as if they finally remembered why they were there.

“‘Coy,” my Tito Peter called out to my father. “Let’s put everything behind us already. Forgive your brother na. Whatever happened to the two of you in the past, let’s let it stay in the past.”

I heard my father scoff.

“Bro, I’m sorry,” Tito Ariel said chokingly.

 

But my father walked out. Until now, I did not know what happened between the two of them in the past. I could still remember how my Aunt Maria kept telling my father to forgive Tito Ariel but my father would always shake his head. Blood is thicker than water, whatever, he snorted.

The meeting ended after my father had left. The remaining siblings hugged and kissed each other’s cheek saying “I love you, ate. I love you kuya” before leaving like things were as normal as it could get. Some of them laughed that they weren’t able to drink their coffee because of their bickering.

“It’s not hot na,” laughed Tito Peter referring to his coffee. “We completely forgot about this.”

The other siblings laughed and I wished could have heard my father with them.

 

My Tita Sita went after my father and they walked away together as they spoke. They were far from me now. I imagined my aunt explaining to my father about the importance of talking as a family while my father would just scoff at her. But to my surprise, my father put his face mask down to his chin and spoke. I could not understand what my father was saying but whatever it is, I could hear the slightest hint of his famous loud voice like a hissing kettle. I guess that was enough eavesdropping for now.

 


Liane Carlo Suelan is a HUMSS graduate from the Ateneo de Davao University – Senior High School. He was also the Literary Editor of the Blue Bridge 2019-2020 and a fellow at the Davao Writers Workshop 2019. He is an incoming freshman of BA Literature in the University of the Philippines Visayas.

Yam Burger

Fiction by | July 20, 2020

LINGAW KAAYO TAN-AWON ang mga suga, bisan asa ug bisan unsa pud na color. Murag buhi ang mga suga sa Rizal Park, murag mas buhi pa gani sakua.

“Ben ayawg buhi! Basig mawala ka!” perting gunit nako kay mama sama sa kakusog sa iyang pag syagit, birthday pa naman nako karon. Duha ka tuig nalang, pwede nako mahimong Ben 10.

Perting daghanag tao sa dalan, sa sakyanan ug bisan sa Simbahan. Birthday naman gud daw ni Papa Jesus unyang kadlawon, parehas mig birthday. Ana si mama espesyal daw ko kay parehas mig birthday sakuang nag inusarang papa.

“Ma? Asa naman akong burger?” Akong ingon kay mama mintras gabira sa iyang sayal.

Iyaha rakong gitutokan nya nagpadayon siyag baktas.

“Mangita pa kog kwarta, mamasko sako. Paghulat lang sa layo ha, ayawg duol samua.”

Nipaspas ang paglakaw ni mama’g kalit

“Nganong di man? Hawod man ko mukanta!” Hawd bitaw ko. Ka-gwapo pa gyud sakong suot. Akong puti nga birthday sando, pati akong Ben 10 nga short ug tsinelas. Payts kaayo pang pamasko.

“Basta nak, bata pa ka.” Nihilom ug kalit si mama ug gipulihan sa kasaba sa kadaghan sa sakyanan nga nagdagan sa dalan. Patabok nami padulong simbahan sa San Pedro.

Pagtabok namo, natingala nalang ko kay naa’y lalake nga taas og buhok na nisinyas kay mama, iyang nguso raman iyang gigamit nya murag nilingo siya gamay sabay tutok sakua tapos nihawa palayo.

“Nak, diri ra ka ha. Mamasko sako. Ayawg hawa, ayawg uban bisan kay kinsa. Kabalo naka ha.”

Nipasi diritso si mama. Wa ko kabalo nganong mamasko siya didto sa lalake na taas og buhok, Basig tuod kay ka nawong siya ni Jesus.

Sige lang, diri rako. Gwapo kaayo ang mga suga. Ang kasaba sa kling kling sa nag baligya’g ice cream makabusog. Sabayan pa sa baho sa proben ug kwekwek na gina-prito, masimhotan na gyud nako ang tinood na Pasko; ang Pagkaon.

 

Pipila ka tao na ang niagi pero wa gyud nako nakit-an si mama. Adtoon nalang siguro nako siya?

Nagsugod kog baktas, hinay hinay sa, kay kulba, dayon akong gipaspasan. Sa kadaghan sa tao murag wa nako’y lain makit-an, sa kagamay sa akong katas-on igo ra nako makit-an ang mga batiis sa mga tao. Sa kadaghan nako’g nakita na batiis ug bagtak, wala gyud ang kinis kaayo na batiis ug legs nga ginapanghambog ni Mama.

Di na nako masimhotan ang proben ug wa nako’y madungog na kling kling. Nagsugod nako’g karatol, maayo pag naminaw ko kay mama. Masuko gyud si papa na gibuhat nako ni. Ana baya si Mama lain gyud daw masuko si Papa Jesus.

“Ben! Putragis! Asa man ka muadto?!” nadunggan nako ang tingog ni mama ug naundang ko sa pagbaktas ug di ko gusto mulingi. Nalipay ko kay kabalo ko naa na siya, pero wa pud ko nalipay sa akong kahimtang.

“Ana ko — AYAWG HAWA! Pastilan nalang kang bataa ka! Nya kung mawala ka?!” Perting syagit ni mama, nilingi nalang ang ubang mga tao pero ako wa gyud ko nilingi sa iya.

“Ali gud diri!” Iya kong gibira sa kamot busa napugos kog lingi.

“Sori ma. Gipangita ra tika.” Igo rako nagtanaw sa yuta, igo rako nag duko-duko. Wa gyud ko nitan-aw kay mama kay nahadlok gyud ko.

“Ayaw na sigeg acting diha wa kay angay. Basta ayaw nag hawa ha. Kabalo man ka palangga tika birthday pa gyud nimo.” Hay Salamat, di na kaayo kusog ang pag gunit ni mama. Ani gyud ni siya, dali lang masuko, dali lang pud mawala ang kasuko. Maong love kaayo nako akong mama.

Nag sige ramig baktas para mamasko daw si mama. Permi ko maghulat sa layo. Ambot nganong di ko patan-awon ni mama pero pagbalik niya naa naman siyay dala kwarta. Di nalang pud ko muangal.

Namasko si mama sa hospital dapit, sa tapad sa health center na pang family planning.

Ambot unsa na pero ana si mama pangdagko ra daw, bawal sa bata parehas nako. Namasko sad mi didto sa sulok sa ambot asa tung kantoha.

Permi makadalag kwarta si mama pagbalik niya, pero permi pud kulba ug nawong ang mga ginapamaskohan niya, lahi man mamasko si mama oy, kay duha ra sila nya mangita gyud silag suok. Wa pud ko kadungog na ni kanta siya. Permi siya dalaon sa layo na lugar sa akua, permi pud dakong tao na lalake iyang ginapamaskohan. Halos gasigarilyo pagyud tanan, isa ra dili katong naa sa hospital dapit na pution nya intsik ug nawong.

 

“Diri diba ka gatrabaho ma?” Akong ingon kay mama samtang gabaktas mi sa dako kaayo na bilding nya daghan kaayo ug punoan na perting tag-asa. Naa pay mga poste na naay lampara sa tumoy murag kanang makit-an sa salida. Gwapo kaayo ang gitrabahoan sakong mama. Bangko Sentral Ng Pilipinas! Astang dakoa sa plaka pang sosyal kaayo, tapos matagak-tagak pa ang dahon murag mga salida na koryan makita nako sa Tibi. Pero sa kadugay’g trabaho ni mama diri, wala gyud ko kasulod, ana siya mga dagko ra daw pwede musulod. Pang-gabii man gud daw siya, delikado daw kaayo.

Sa sige nako’g pangutana samtang gabaktas mi wala gyud katubag si mama, di gyud siya ganahan na storyahan iyang trabaho kay sekreto lang daw dapat namo ni, kay perti kadelikado daw mag-trabaho diri kay daghan daw kwarta na i-sweldo sa iya nya basig kidnapon mi o holdapon mi sa mga kawatan.

“Ma? Makapalit natag burger?” akoa nalang gilahi akong pangutana para di siya maunsa.

“Diri sa ka, last na ni.” Nipasi na sad siyag kalit niya naa na sad lalake sa layo. Gikapoy nako’g hulat-hulat ani, ikapila nani ba.

Bisan naa sila sa tabok nya naa ko sa Mercury Drug dapit, makit-an nako ang lalake na sigeg tan-aw sakoa, wala namani namasko si mama oy. Mura raman silag ga away. Murag katabukon ang lalake pero ginapugngan ni mama nya nakun-ot man ilang mga nawong. Abi ba nako’g bawal di malipay pag pasko?

Di nako kahulat. Ako kaya’y mutabok?

Hinay-hinay kog tabok kay dili ko hawod. Ana si mama bata pa daw ko para mutabok ug ako ra isa pero murag ginatawag man ko sa lalake, basig pakantahon ko, basig tagaan mig baynte, basig wan handred, daghan na kaayo na burger.

Nakakita nalang kog suga sa akong atubangan ug bosina na makabungog. Dako kaayo ang suga sa mulawin nga nisugat sa akoa. Wala koy nabuhat, natanga rako, nabungog ko sa bosina ug sa syagit sakong mama.

“Ben! Tara na!” Abi nako’g mabanggaan nako; mas gahi pa man diay si mama kesa sa sakyanan. Nitabok ug ka litsi mama nya iyang gisenyasan ang sakyanan pina T.M.C. tapos gipaundang nya, dayon iya kong gibira ug kalit.

Nihilak man guro ni si mama kay perting basaa sa iyang nawong

“Makapalit nata’g burger nimo, dali na kay hapit na mag alas dose.” Ni ngisi si mama. Abi nako masuko siya, pero wala man. Di gyud nako masabtan si mama, kung kanus-a dapat masuko, di siya masuko. Malipay gyud ko basta ingon ani si mama.

Nakasakay mig Jip padulong sa Jollibee, naghulat mi sa taas kaayo nga linya. Daghan kaayog klase-klase na mga tawo. Ambot asa ni sila gikan. Unsa kaya ni ilang mga balay? Unsa kaya ilang mga pamilya? Unsa pud kaya ilang mga kinabuhi?

Bisan daghan kog pangutana, nasayod ko na gusto gyud nila ug yam burger diri, bisan lahi-lahi mig mga kinabuhi, parehas lang mig gusto, burger. Asa kaya gikan ang burger? Sa laing nasod? Basig kay papa Jesus. Ana si mama tanan maayo na butang gikan daw sa iya, sa iya gyud guro gikan ang burger.

Ginatutokan ko sa mga tawo samtang gayawyaw ko kay mama sakong mga pangutana. Si mama sad kay sige lang og ngisi bisan wala siyay matubag; maayo unta’g sa ako siya mu ngisi, sa lain tao man. Di gyud nako na masabtan, nganong pag naa koy pangutana, di niya tubagon.

Iyaha ko’ng gipalingkod sa kilid kay saba daw kaayo ko. Naghulat-hulat rako kay si mama na ang sunod. Lipay kaayo ko basta mungisi na ang tigbantay sa Jollibee ug mangutana na siya unsa among iorder; ngisihan nako siya ug ngisihan pud ko niya. Mao gyud siguro ni ang tinuod nga pasko.

“Happy birthday nak.” Gihatag ni mama ang burger ug coke sakua samtang ginaihap niya ang nabilin na kwarta namo. Isa ka singko ug tulo ka piso nalang man. Namroblema na sad ni si mama sa pamasahe ba.

“Musabak na lang ko ma.”, ana ko kay mama nya akong gigunitan iyang kamot, gihatag nako sa iya ang coke ug nangita namig Jip.

Pagsakay namo akong giingkitan ang burger ug gamay ra kaayo. Giagian na sad namo ang mga suga sa simbahan, ang hospital, ang family planning center, ug ang Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas!

Ambot ngano pero pag musulod sakong utok ang trabahoan sakong mama gusto gyud nako isyagit kay gwapo kaayog barog ang pangalan, murag naa didto ang mga pinakagwapa ug pinaka-kuyaw na mga tao. Syempre, naa gud didto akong mama. Kung kuyaw ang mama, kuyaw pud ang anak!

SA KADUGAY SA byahe, kaduha lang gyud nako naingkit ang burger bisan gutom na kaayo ko. Nag sige rakog tutok sakong burger hantod naabot mi sa kanto na among babaanan. Pagnaog namo namaktas mi gamay, nya hay salamat kaabot nagyud mi sa balay. Giabrihan ni mama ang kahoy na pwertahan samuang gamay na balay. Nya pag sulod namo, natingala ko palong ang suga, pasko man unta. Bago pa ko nakapindot sa swits, nisigag kalit ang tanan.

“Happy birthday kuya!” nisabay ug syagit akong pito ka manghod ug ilang gitutokan ug maayo akong dala nga burger.


 

Franky is a third year Interdisciplinary Studies minor in Media and Technology student from Ateneo de Davao University. He is an indie filmmaker and an aspiring writer aiming to promote and advocate for local and unheard Dabawenyo stories.

Accomplice of a Murder

Fiction by | July 13, 2020

The rain fell upon the earth like light snow. It looked like dust when seen through a ray of light as it made its descent from the sky.

Her arms and legs were restrained. I made great effort to make sure she did not move too much, or else she would break free and escape. She could not speak to us; it was no use. She spoke in a different tongue. Her pleas for freedom, to us, sounded like nothing but monotonous shrills. But her eyes showed the fear that she could not otherwise articulate.

“She’s a native girl,” my partner said, stroking the girl’s dark brown back.

She was born and raised in the farmland where she and her many siblings only ate corn, often once a day, sometimes twice – when the landlord was generous enough. Corn was the only food her father – a fierce amateur boxer whose landlord managed all the winnings – could afford.

We knew the landlord very well. He was a “family friend,” one could say. We came to his estate one day and my partner grew so interested in this native girl that she asked the landlord if she could take her home with us. The landlord was hesitant at first, but my partner was able to convince him, even offering him a modest amount for the trouble.

Without warning, we took her away, as an eagle swoops down on its prey. We kept her in a cell that was too strong to break out of.

“Hold her still,” my partner said as she held the girl by her chin, exposing her pale neck.

My partner lifted the steel knife and drew it near the large artery of the girl’s neck. Though I had done this numerous times, I still could not bear to look. So, I diverted my attention to the girl’s widening eyes. She must have felt the cold metal against her flesh. She inhaled sharply and red fluid started dripping in the basin underneath her. Her body became warmer, her muscle tensed, and she started jerking, struggling, but I tightened my grip. I watched as the life was slowly draining from her eyes with every drop of blood. I watched as her eyelids started to weaken and – slowly, ever so slowly, as though still fighting the inevitable – close.

The deed was done.

“Wash your hands, now,” my partner commanded. “I’ll take it from here.”

I left the scene and washed my hands, but no amount of soap and water could ever wash away the guilt of the sin I had just committed. I reminded myself that it was a cruel world and we must adapt to it or face certain death; that it was death that placed food on our table and filled our stomachs each and every day. But only now again, after quite some time, did I experience it hands-on to kill, to murder for the preservation of life.

The raindrops were hitting hard against the roof. It was far from light snow now. It was a blizzard.

I brought the bowl of steamed rice from the kitchen to the dinner table, where my father sat, watching television. I then took my seat at the kabisera, my usual place at the table.

“Where’s your mother?” my father asked, turning over his overturned plate, ready for eating.

“She’s still in the kitchen,” I replied.

“Which one did you cook?”

“The native one.”

Then, approaching us with a steaming bowl of tinolang manok smothered with malunggay leaves was my partner – the mastermind of great cooking. She placed the bowl on the table.

It was horrifying and burdening to think that this tender meat, drowned in a thin, savory soup was once a living being. I dipped the serving spoon in the soup and filled my own bowl with the cloudy, yellowish broth.

The smell was so delightful that it made our mouths water.


Liane Carlo Suelan is a HUMSS graduate of the Ateneo de Davao University – Senior High School and was also a fellow at the Davao Writers Workshop 2019.

Etched

Fiction by | June 29, 2020

Francis looked at the scars on his thighs as if seeing them for the first time, feeling the need to rehearse his response to all possible reactions. Pity. Shock. Disgust. He would squeeze his thighs together, like sealing an envelope of secrets. Some curious guy would part them gently the way one would do with the envelope flap he did not want damaged. The guy would examine the scars – keloid that spread across his skin, inching towards his knees but only touching them tangentially. Like some careless cartographer’s map, his scars enveloped his thighs without discipline, without any amount of beauty and symmetry, as if each extra skin was in disagreement with another. Raising his head, the guy would ask Francis, just as he expected, What happened?

This time, Francis would not hesitate to answer. He would not describe it as a childhood accident one night when the power was out and he was dumb enough to play with the kerosene. The guy would instead lie beside Francis and gently pull his face towards his chest where Francis could rest it, and with his trembling fingers tracing the hem of the thin, thin sheets where they tucked themselves in, Francis would take the guy to Sitio San Roque, where he spent most of his childhood.

Francis might be able to tell him several things about the place, but he would not want to digress too much, for digression had become his coping mechanism – an opportunity to piece together inside his head what he was supposed to say next or a chance to hesitate to tell the truth. He would strategically start at that moment when he sneaked out of his house the night of the fiesta to see the annual Miss Gay pageant.

How old were you then?

Ten.

Continue reading Etched

Blind Oracle of Mactan

Fiction by | June 16, 2020

He is the blind oracle at Unchained Melody Massage Parlor.

He specializes in foot rubs. He can stimulate all kinds of glands with pulls and pricks of the tendon and phalanges.

He can, for example, make a person grow taller by pushing on the well of the big toe, which is the pituitary gland reflex point. Everyone knows this.

He can also tell people’s fortunes.

He made his first prophecy on April 26, 1521.

He told Ferdinand Magellan, seated on a cane chair, feet bulbous from scurvy, that he would not succeed if he went to battle in Mactan. Magellan did not listen, did not even tip him. Magellan died the next day at the hands of a local man named after a fish.

He was twenty-one when he made that prophecy.

He has been twenty-one for 496 years. He stopped aging the minute he stopped growing. He also became blind.

He was born in Mactan Island, Philippines, but moves around because of his debts.

He loves gambling, as all oracles do.

He does not give out happy endings. Neither adult nor the fairy tale kind. When he presses his clients’ feet, he sees only tragedies. For his grim prognostications, many people choose not to believe him. Almost always, those who ask him to read their fortunes end up dead.

It is convenient for him, as the dead cannot seek revenge.

Once in a while, his clients are only maimed and will come after him, thinking he’s jinxed them. This is another reason he moves so much.

The American general, Douglas MacArthur, on December 23, 1941, got a foot massage. He opted for the massage-prophecy combination, but did not heed the oracle’s advice. The next year, MacArthur lost the fort of Bataan to the Japanese, who made thousands of Filipino soldiers march to their deaths. Of course, MacArthur fled with his family to Australia, where he famously proclaimed, “I shall return.”

Very few know MacArthur was actually threatening the oracle.

Today, very few even know the oracle exists, or whether he takes reservations in advance. (He does, by phone. He is old-fashioned.)

Today, very few know he is still a virgin. He has bulging muscles, because how couldn’t he, noodling bodies over hundreds of years. Sadly, he can never get it up. He has seen far too many deaths to think of procreation.

Still, he is the ladies’ favorite. Some gentlemen’s too.

He does not discriminate. In fact, he is overly polite. This gets him into trouble, as often it is best to say No when we mean No.

Continue reading Blind Oracle of Mactan

Talong Policy

Fiction by | June 8, 2020

“Ayoooo.”

“Mayong aga gali Tiyay, ano imo?” magiliw na pagbati ni Owa, tindero ng isang tindahan ng gulay at prutas sa tabi ng daan papasok sa sentro ng bayan ng Alabel. Maraming talong ang kanyang paninda ngayong araw. May iilang saging na tordan, lakatan at sabá. Mayroon ring nakaboteng suka at mga kalabasa.

“Ilonggo diay ka? Kasabot rako ana niya wala tawon naanad akong dila. Akong bana ray kahibaw.” Sambit ng matandang babaeng kustomer habang tinitignan ang mga panindang talong ni Owa. “Pila say kilo ani, To?” sabay turo sa maliliit na talong.

“Ako man kaintindi lang ka Binisaya indi kamaan magistorya. Baynte-singko lang sa imo ah, bag-o ko lang na ginkwa sa basakan.” Nakangiting sagot ni Owa sa mamimili.

“Sa Palengke dadto sa Alabel kay dise-otso ra tawon ang kilo. Niya dinhi na inyuhang tanom mahal lage kaayo. Dise-otso na lang ni uy. Daghan bitaw akong paliton, To.” pakiki-usap ng matandang babae habang hinihila ang mga talong na siyang inilalagay niya sa kilohan.

“Lugi takon sina Tiyay. Baynte-tres na lang ah. Anhon mo ya talong haw?” inihanda na ni Owa ang supot na siyang paglalagyan ng bibilhin ng matandang mamimili.

“Aduna man gud koy Pastilan sa siyudad. No pastil, no talong amoang balaod. Kusog kaayo among baligyaay didto, To.” habang patuloy niyang pinapatong sa kilohan ang mga sariwang talong.

“Ay gali? Nami kay duro dya gabakal sa inyo. Dako ya ginansya.” Pagpupuri nito. Abala pa rin sa pagpili ng mga talong ang mamimili. Halos maubos na niya ang mga ito. Inihihiwalay niya ang may butas na may uuod sa loob. Maging ang may balikong hugis ay isinasantabi niya. Hindi gumagamit ng nakalalasong kemikal sa kanyang sakahan si Owa. Organic fertilizer ang ginagamit niya rito, mahaba ang proseso sa fertilizer. Binababad ng ilang buwan at minsan ay umaabot ng taon para magamit sa mga pananim.

“Kana, To. Pila man?” masungit na tanong ng matandang babae matapos piliin ang lahat ng talong na bibilhin niya, na siya rin namang pagpunas ng alkohol sa kanyang mga kamay.

“Lima ka kilo Tiyay, te bali lima ka kilo multiply sa baynte-tres taga-kilo kay isagatos kag kinse pisos ah.” kalkulasyon ni Owa na siya namang sinundan ng hirit ng matandang mamimili, “Isagatos na lang na uy. Lima ka kilo bitaw akong gipalit. Negosyante sa negosyante ra gud.” Sabay abot nito ng isang daan kay Owa na pangiti-ngiti pa.

“Tiyay, ginarespeto ko negosyo mo. Tani ya akon man. Baynte-singko gid bala kadakilo ti gin baynte-tres ko, dayon subong hayo ka duman?” naiinis na sabi Owa sa bumibili.

“Hangula nimo uy. Maligsan unta ka inig tabok nimo sa dalan. Sa palengke na lang ko mupalit. Uluron maning talong ninyo.” pagsusungit nito sabay tapon sa mga talong palabas sa tindahan ni Owa at nagmamadaling umalis patungo sa kabilang bahagi ng kalsada.

“No Talong kon puro ka hangyo.” ang tanging naisagot ni Owa sa matanda. Paunti-unti niyang pinulot at ibinalik sa tamang pagkakaayos ang kanyang mga paninda. Ikinalma ang sarili sa naudlot na bwena-mano sana niya ngayong umaga.

Nang walang anu-ano’y may humaharurot na pampasaherong puting van. Parang hari ng kalsadang hindi pinapansin maging ang tumatawid na matandang babae. Biglang may malakas na tunog na masakit sa tenga ang kumuha sa atensyon ng mga napaparaan, ng ibang nagtitinda sa gilid ng kalsada at maging si Owa ay nagulat sa narinig. Nagkagulo ang mga tao, sumisigaw ng tulong. May tumawag ng pulis at kumukuha ng larawan sa nangyayari.

“Ti kwa mo parte mo. Talong pa. Pastilan!” patuloy pa rin sa pag-aayos ang magsasakang tindero sa kanyang mga paninda.


Mary Divine C. Escleto is from Alabel, Sarangani Province. Fellow in 1st Sox Summer Writing Camp 2019 and Davao Writers Workshop 2019. She’s the interim Chairperson of Sarangani Writers League.