When a Frog Escapes

Nonfiction, Poetry by | September 28, 2020

The sack was too heavy to carry. Lola told me not to drag it because it might shred off the ground and that the frogs inside it might escape. But the thought didn’t bother me. Besides, I was just a few meters away from Bukagan near Bankerohan Public Market, a stall where differently-sized baskets were created and sold. It was also where lola had stayed over the course of three decades to sell frog skeletons for medical college students.

I kept dragging the sack with my thin arms along the pebbly street as if I was carrying a corpse. It was knotted, which made me wonder if the frogs were still breathing. They were all croaking but the larger ones seemed uneasy. They were jumping as high as they could to escape. I stumbled and my hands accidentally unclasped the sack. But I stood up, clutching the sack again. The frogs didn’t defeat me. I reached our house but there was no one home. I went to the corner where lola used to slaughter the frogs and dumped the sack there.


As a child, I was never bothered that animals like frogs also had lives and needed to survive. The act never mattered to lola because she once told me that if being merciless is the only way to survive a day, she would kill frogs forever. It was for our own good, she said. I had long understood that we were poor—no each single kind of request would be granted instantly. But I also that if it was really for our good, then why would my ates and kuyas leave the house every day, only to return by past midnight? They said they wanted to be happy. I somehow agreed. Who could even stay in our house with all its unpainted brick walls? There were only two windows, both had no curtains. There were empty containers wedged at the corner so that if it rained, we would placed them where drops of water raced to fall. The wires of television entangled around a brittle wooden pole that supported our roof.


There was no good memory of me and ates and kuyas eating on the same table together when we were young. But if there was something that made us close to each other as friends, it was the large pre-loved bed where we slept next to each other.

A neighbor who’d migrated to Japan gave that bed to lola. The old covering was scraped off. It made my skin itchy when we slept on it, so lola fixed it all by herself. She brushed and washed the used sacks where the frogs had been once kept. She cut each sack on both sides and hand them on our clotheline. For days, she stitched the sacks together and laid it on the old bed as it cover.  I could no longer identify the color of each sack, but I remember that it looked like a single side of an unsolved rubik’s cube. When lola finished mending the furniture, my ates and kuyas found their places on the bed. We would sleep together like we were inside a can of tinapa and would wake up each morning to share the dreams or  nightmares we had the night before.  But where would ate Jelly sleep? There was no space on the for her. None of us were willing to sleep to sleep on the ground with patches of brown cardboards.

But one day ate Jelly didn’t come home. A few days we learned that she eloped with a man ten years older than her. It angered mama. She scolded lola for being neglectful.

At those times, I couldn’t sleep. I would look up the open window beyond the passing trycicles and hoped that ate would come back home and would sleep beside us. I had always wanted to talk to ate, to know why she had run away. Maybe I should have asked what she was thinking. The thoughts she had while she was sitting by our window, combing her hair with her fingers. She was sweetly humming a song I had no idea what it was. She said it was from a dream she had sung. She told me I couldn’t understand yet because I was too young to talk about love, family or forgiveness.


After a few weeks, mama and I finally knew where ate Jelly was staying with the man. I was nervous when we started walking down the rocky paths going to an unfamiliar neighborhood. We both ducked as if we were hunchbacks because our heads almost hit the floors of the stilted houses made of plywood and Amakan walls. We passed through trails of barricading stilts and clothelines where panties and briefs were hanging. We were in the darkest slums of Bankerohan. We reached the shack were ate Jelly and the man lived. A palm crucifix was nailed at the center of the wooden door. We knocked on the door for a couple of times, but we realized that no one was really inside. We were told by the man’s neighbor that he’d left with a young lady. By the time mama realized that ate Jelly was hiding in a different place, she decided not to bring me anymore. She told me to stay with lola and I was back carrying sacks of frogs again, still deeply thinking where my sister was really hiding.


This time, I dumped the sack without talking to lola as she began to talk about ate Jelly while rubbing her long knife against a whetstone. “Imong magulang wa na gyud kaantos diris balay. She never returned,” she said bitterly.

She prepared boiling water inside the large tin can. She placed the long knife beside her small chair with a folded cloth so her back wouldn’t hurt. She would be sitting for an entire day again. But before anything, she would count and check how many frogs were still alive. She untied the sack I had just brought. All the frogs were jumping as high as they could.

Guniti og tarong ang pikas sako, ayawg buhi. Don’t let go no matter what.”

Lola would get them one by one. Each frog would stretch its limbs, helpless as it would be transferred to another sack after counting. But I clumsily dropped the sack as one frog had accidentally touched my hand. I couldn’t help it. All the frogs were jumping anywhere.

Lola cursed at me and pinched my waist. I cried aloud almost to the point of wailing. Lola bent and tried to catch the other escaping frogs.

Dakpa ang isa, dakpa!” She screamed at me. “Catch them before they leave!”

She was looking at the frog that was on its way toward the hole of a ditch. But I really couldn’t stop that frog from leaving this house.  Lola beat me with a broom. It bruised my legs and arms. I stared  at the window exactly where ate Jelly was sitting and thought of the world outside where all the frogs return to.



Neil Teves has been a fellow for Creative Nonfiction to the Ateneo de Davao Summers Writers Workshop, the Cagayan de Oro Young Writers Studio, and the Davao Writers Workshop, all during 2018.

Rewriting on the Walls

Nonfiction by | August 29, 2020

It was the same routine every day since the community quarantine started: I would wake up to an empty house since my brother and mother had left for their 12-hour-shift jobs; I would open our remaining ayuda of canned sardines for my brunch; and I would pass by the picture of my father in our living room, a lit candle beside the picture frame, and mutter “I miss you.”


My father used to be the breadwinner of our family. During the day, he was a vendor of noodles, cigarettes, candies and chips along the sidewalks of Tapa King in front of Davao Doctors’ Hospital. His usual customers are DDC students or DDH nurses and tricycle drivers who worked the night shift. He usually sells these goods until 3:00 in the morning but can go as further as 6:00 AM. He would tell me that he doesn’t go home until he is sure that his earnings are enough to pay his loans, provide for our basic needs and for my allowance in school.  During the lockdown, I wanted to apply for a job to help my mother and brother in our daily expenses. But instead, I was forced to be stuck here inside our house, merely lying down on my bed each day and staring at walls.


Our house was not actually a house for me. It was a small flat just along Malvar Street, one of the busiest streets in the city since was along one of the busiest hospitals in the city.  My groupmates in my grade 12 research always tried to persuade me to do our research in my house since it was the nearest from our school. I always refused. “Dili man to balay. It’s not a home, just walls and a roof.”

The walls in our house were dirty. It was filled with vandals I made when I was a child. Growing up, I would call them my own version of graffiti, even when my squiggles looked different from the graffiti on the facade of the abandoned Durian Hotel, on the steel walls of several construction sites, and along the streets of V. Mapa. While those works were full of color and style, mine was written using black or blue markers, and some were written with crayons only. And while most of the graffiti writers compress each letter to another, making little to no space between them, mine was written with gaps in between letters which looked like they wobbled on the walls.

Most of the vandals I had written was the word Nakaraan which meant past. I had written that same word in different colors of crayons and in different fonts on the wall. I remember writing this word since it was flashed every beginning of a TV episode. Apart from Nakaraan, I noticed the word “The End” was also written in some parts of the walls.

My father said he never repainted it because it served as a remembrance of my work when I was a child. A few months before he died last November of 2019, my mother and I wanted to repaint them.

Hugaw-hugaw lang man ni sa atong balay. And these writings serve no purpose. Why keep them?” My mother grunted at my father as she traced the squiggly lines of my writings, my graffiti.

But since my father really admired my weird writings, I never got ashamed of it. When my relatives came to visit Davao for vacation and started to ask about the writings, I told them that I really loved writing and I hoped to write a script for film someday. I was deeply in love with TV series and films while I was growing up because I only had our small TV to keep me company while my parents and brother were out for work. They never stopped working after all. Mahirap maging mahirap, my parents would always say.


I was excited the first time I went to a cinema together with my family to watch Spiderman. My mother did not talk that much then. I believed it was my father who forced her to use a portion of his earnings from selling chips and candies just so he could let me watch a movie. I could not help myself from getting excited when I stepped on the soft carpeted floors of the movie theatre.  My mouth hung open at the blue lights bordering the steps of the staircase until finally, the big white wall, where the film would be projected, left me stunned. I never though this big wall is where movies are created. Who knew walls could tell stories? At that moment, when I was seven years old, I wanted to become a filmmaker.

And my father gave me all the support I needed: he bought me DVD copies of the award-winning films, assembled stereo speakers to give more cinematic mood, and adjusted the colour of our television just to give me the best experience. I could never forget my excitement every time a new episode of “Honesto”, “May Bukas Pa” and “100 Days to Heaven” was released every night after dinner; my joy whenever my father bought me CDs of cartoons and Disney films along the sidewalks of Ilustre; the satisfying smell of a cheap felt-tip pen and the creaking sound that the marker creates every time I wrote words on our walls as if they were show credits of a film I had created.


When I was in 12th grade, I learned that a degree in film or art is only offered by private universities and colleges here in Davao City. Universities that I knew we could not afford.  My father gave me the best support I could ever ask from him—the opportunity to take the qualifying exam for a prestigious university that offered film studies, hoping that I would pass for a full scholarship. He even paid for the exam fee after a week of him going home at six in the morning.

My father was eager to let me study at the university where he once worked together with my mama. Both of my parents were cooks at the ADDU canteen, which is now commonly called as “Caf.” Right after I took the test, I heard him call his friend to borrow some money to prepare for my enrolment because he knew for sure that he would be paying again for the Medical Exams. Even though the results are not yet released, he was so sure I could ace the test.


Paningkamotan nalang namo, nak. Buhataon namo tanan namong makaya,” he had said to me on the day I asked him to sign the parents’ consent for me to become a participant for a research congress.

He always said he would do his best to support me and that is why he never stopped working. And so I became busy with my academic works. I spent a whole week conducting the In-depth Interviews and Focus Group Discussion together with my groupmates, fully unaware that it would be the last week when I could still see my father.


On the day he died, I was on my way to a computer shop, hoping I could finish my school projects despite my drained brain. Before I left our house, my father called out to me.

“Nak! Asa ka? Naa pa ka’y kwarta? Naa’y 100 oh!”

I pursed my lips before I could reply. How could I ask money from him when he had not sold in his mini-store for three days now? I looked at him while he was sitting on our wooden bench. His back was hunched over his wallet as if he were digging for treasure.

“Naa pa man. No need, pa!” I replied before I hurriedly left. Perhaps that was his last money. I saw his wide smile, as if in relief, after I responded. How I hated my last words to him. If only I knew that hours later, our family group chat would notify me a dozen times. Each bell sound from the messenger sounded like church bells. I froze at the sound.

Si Tatay Roger gidala sa ospital, di daw kahinga!


I hurried to the Davao Doctors’ Hospital ER when I found out my father had a hard time breathing. He was given streptokinase and was advised to get treated at the ICU. The rest of the hours felt like a montage: my father gasping for air like he was drowning in the hospital bed; nurses, looking like ghosts, rushing in and  out of the room to give him more shots of epinephrine, my mother holding on to me for dear life as if she would fall flat to the floor if I let her go. You have never stopped working, pa. I thought and I cried. He really had not stopped working. For me.

My father did not respond after the 10th epinephrine and was declared dead at 5:00 PM due to Sudden Cardiac Death secondary to ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction High Lateral Wall Type 1. Why I memorized this, I did not know. I repeat these words in my mind as if it were a script I had memorized just so I have words to give whenever people asked why he died. I did not have words to explain that too. And whenever I went home to our house without my father anymore, the words Nakaraan and The End on my walls seemed to throb.


I still managed to write and sequence the clips and narrations during  “Lantaw,” a documentary film-making activity in our Creative Nonfiction class. It was the only way I could keep my mind off my father. Since he died, I cancelled my plan of buying a DSLR Camera, a decent laptop that would have Adobe or Sony Vegas applications that I was supposed to use in making videos for my college years.  I knew for sure my mother could not afford to send me to a prestigious university despite her working overtime as a in a fast-food chain  across Davao Doctors’ Hospital, and despite my brother who receives quite a good pay from an automotive shop.

It was not only my father who died, my dream of becoming a filmmaker died with him. My high hopes of achieving my childhood goal became blurry, like a defected camera that could not focus. I remember my mother asking if I had already submitted my requirements for the state university I would be attending instead. I checked my e-mail to view the requirements. One mail thread caught my attention—an e-mail from Film Editing Pro which I subscribed last 2018. They offered me a great deal for a limited time offer inclusive of cinematic video clips, audio effects, visual effects, templates, tutorial lessons, software, and the most amazing thing was a webinar together with some of the film editors of  Universal Studios.

My hands suddenly became wet and I had the urge to tell my mother about this opportunity for film, but as I looked at her, I also saw the wall with Nakaraan and The End behind her. I felt trapped. I did not have the materials to install the software not money for the registration fee. I flashed one last look at the writings on the wall and the glint of joy I had when I was writing them. The thing about vandals is they would always remind you of how free you were to express yourself while you were writing them. Now, they were just a reminder of that self that dared to express. The self that dared to dream.


Another day with the same routine. But this time, after I passed by my father’s portrait, I traced my hand over the writings on our wall—the wall that my father never repainted so I could continue to dream of the films I would create and the stories I would write. The death of my father was not the death of my dreams. Because if I could still feel my father, no matter how far he is, I am sure that the child who wrote these writings on the wall, never left. My father was a big part of my nakaraan but I know he would forever be with me until the end.

I stared at the four walls around me and noticed a blank part. I found a cheap marker pen in my desk, took it, and wrote “Coming Soon.”


Gary Barela is a graduate of Humanities and Social Sciences (Batch Amihan) from Davao City National High School

A Matriarch Who Hates People Like Gloria

Nonfiction by , | August 29, 2020

Her smiles are prominent in the community; she is as tough as the nails that persevered for decades attaching the dying cells of bamboo poles and scraps of wood to make up a foundation to their humble abode planted above the mixed waters from the running Davao River towards the ocean, that has been moving away as the number of both the residents and houses engulfed the space that can never be called their own; while Ate Mar is laughing in front of her laundry, she is also fearful of her children’s future.

Cirilina Dagasdas, the name that Ate Mar is not known for, told me about some tales that made Dapsa a fortress to its people. She told me that Dapsa cannot exist without its people; they are the true owners of it, not the Villa Abrille, a family name that kept on hunting most of the slum dwellers in Davao. Though, they never fear the Villa Abrilles for its power to steal their lands. What they are more afraid of is their power to steal the future of their children. The residents, according to Ate Mar, do not want Dapsa to be the same thriving place of their children’s dreams. Dapsa, she added, is too small for grandiose dreams.

From a personal vantage point, residents seem to have forgotten the centimeters of space that separate them. Every day, they are conscious of the possibility that their transient houses will suffer from crashing monstrous machines accompanied by the rage of the demolishing team and police officers until they become satiated by scenes of helpless residents trying to save what’s left. Sadly, most of the time, nothing is left for them.

It is almost lunch time, Ate Mar calls her children Balong and Ikay with a familiar whistle that reaches every inch of the community. After three blows, she returned her attention to the pile of used clothes and smiled: “Ana gyud diri, sir.”

When her children arrived, I glanced at the two of them. They are both thin, deprived of the nutrients the only the rich can afford, but are filled with profound energy. I admired how they give courtesy to a stranger like me. Then, they sprinted towards their only table in the house. “Tinapa napud ang sud-an ma?” Balong asked Ate Mar with an innocent tone driven by his hunger for a new meal, and the food on the table.


“Sige lang gud nak. Wala pa man tay kwarta,” Ate Mar replied. It was interesting how Ate Mar never reprimanded Balong for pointing out their repetitive meal. She never raised her voice. She never complained. It seemed predictable to her what her children would say about their condition.


“Basig ugma, lahi na pud atong sud-an, nak,” she continued pacifying Balong’s hunger and told me to join her children on the table.

Inside, you can never distinguish the boundaries of their kitchen, bedroom, comfort room, living room and washing area. All the sets of furniture blend with the other as if there is no dent between them – just like how the people have fitted into the patches of land distributed carefully.

Ate Mar feared about the conspiracies of burning Dapsa along with its people, as the government’s quickest way to get rid of them. She added that it is easier to burn them than demolish their houses; the media can always turn against the residents and paint it like a circumstance rather than a foul play. She added that the government is never for its people; it only serves the people who benefit those who are corrupt; the people are only the government’s pawn or scapegoat, especially the poor.


“Wala gyu’y gobyernong tarong, sir,” she exclaimed.

Ate Mar is one of Dapsa’s political critics. She hated former President Gloria Arroyo and her cronies, former President Erap Estrada, current President Rodrigo Duterte and other politicians whose self-interests are strategically masked, for dragging the country towards political jeopardy expressed through an exponentially increasing social woe of the masses as corruption becomes more of a culture than a sickness. She views Gloria as a wise woman whose intelligence has become her immunity from the criticisms of the Filipinos despite her involvement in scams enough for incarceration; Erap as a monster who wrapped himself in a idle blanket of a promising but clearly impossible stint, “Erap para sa mahirap”; and Duterte who gambled much of the Philippines’ territorial domains to foreign countries in exchange for staggering debts, and started the nationwide hunt for the Holy grail of culpability of the unending human rights abuses which had turned morgues as the end points of thousands of lives.

I never noticed how just sitting on the only functional plastic chair Ate Mar has lets me forget the change of time. The extremely squeezed houses made it impossible for the sun rays to hit us or for the natural air to intersect between the crevasses on the walls. I noticed that the hands of their clock are unique, they have the same lengths which make it really difficult to determine time. Pinched on the hardest part of the walls, a rusty nail carries the weight of the clock which is miraculously operational: it’s almost three o’clock in the afternoon. I excused myself from our conversation to get something from my backpack. It has become a part of my visiting tradition to share any food I bought from proximate stores near the terminal. Inside the rustling thin cellophane that creates tension with my right hand, is a whole chiffon cake from a local bakeshop at the mouth of Barangay Bucana. I humbly asked Ate Mar for a plate and knife; I can smell the aroma from the cheap cake which I bought for only 100 pesos, that swindles my olfactory even without tasting it. I initiated to cut the first slice, and gave it to Ate Mar. Unexpectedly, a tap on Ate Mar’s experiential registry happened as she recalled her best memories with the chiffon cake. She admitted that any chiffon cake is the best pastry; not only because of its unsophisticated taste, but also because his husband always brings the cake during special occasions may it be their marital anniversary, birthdays or holidays. It gave me a realization that the chiffon cake is the poor man’s symbol of true joy and satisfaction – values that we disregard when we almost have everything in life. Oftentimes, we forget the things on our table; we constantly look at the other and judge ourselves for what we lacked.


Jupiter is a college instructor and a thriving storyteller from Davao.


Sunday Lessons at the Marketplace

Nonfiction by | February 16, 2020

It was on most Sundays when, as a child, I learned many of the basic lessons in life. And I learned them not in the classrooms but in the ladlaran, the flea market in Kidapawan that opened only during Sundays and, at that time, occupied the streets of J. Abad Santos, Perez, Labastida and Dayao.

I would always enjoy accompanying my mother in the market despite having to bear long walks and to help carry the basket because I relished my honorary task as “taste tester” of fruits and freshly-baked kakanin. Being one of the very few kids tucked by parents in the marketplace was an honor. I had always believed that it was a dignified duty for a child to have his opinion solicited, to be consulted on very crucial matters such as whether to buy palitaw or not.

During those Sundays, the streets occupied by the vendors were inaccessible to vehicles, hence the market-goers had to stroll along the ladlaran. And so it was never practical to bring a child along. But I was insistent every time. This prompted my mother to set some rules for me to observe.

Rule #1: Have extra patience and endurance.

My mother used to have the habit of going around the market, comparing prices before finally deciding to buy. For example, if she wanted to buy tomatoes, she’d survey all the stalls that sell tomatoes before she’d make a choice. That was what exhausted me the most. Oftentimes, I would want to complain but mom was always quick to interrupt to remind me that it was my choice to come along.

From then, I learned that in a marketplace, not all tomatoes are priced the same. Mother would tell me that the tomatoes could have come from a single supplier. However, those in the prime spots of the market could have the unwritten privilege of selling the tomatoes at a higher price, while those retailers in the remote spots would have to struggle for their commodities to be noticed and sold, hence they would normally sell at a cheaper price. And mom would prefer the cheaper yet equally fresh ones so we would have to hunt them in the peripheries of the ladlaran.

I had a hard time rationalizing why tomatoes with similar quality, with practically the same “use value”, would have different “exchange values”. Only later did I realize that on those occasions, I was implicitly learning Marxist political economy. And what better place is there that can offer me these realities but the market!

Rule #2: Learn to bargain.

In a farmer’s market, you can bargain for a cheaper price or for more freebies. And this works well if you buy from a suki. There is surely nothing like this in a supermarket where everything is fixed up to the last centavo. There is more human interaction and more humanity in the ladlaran.

One time lately, I came across a post in Facebook urging people not to bargain with small vendors because they need the money more. But my experience in the ladlaran taught me that these small vendors value friendship and loyalty more than the money. They would give extra even if you do not ask for it. They would offer it to you with a smile or a gentle tap on your arm, and would even win your heart with the words “balik-balik ha!”.

There were also times when I would use the skill of bargaining when I think I could no longer hold on to Rule #1. When I got too tired of walking around, I would present to my mom what for me was a win-win deal. Almost always, I would have her agree to leave me with our basket in a small space beside a kakanin stall along Labastida Street. In that way, she could move around faster because she would not have to carry with her the basket. I would convince her that a pack of bingka and bitsobitso would be enough for me to munch while waiting. With that, I knew I have helped solve our respective problems. I learned that for you to be given something, you have to bravely ask for it.

There are, however, various arts of bargaining. Such a situation showed how a careful mastery of Rule #2 could bend Rule #1. There are always exceptions especially to the rules made by a mother for her child.

Rule #3: Be streetwise.

In the ladlaran, like in most public places, you get to meet all sorts of people. It was there where I had my first encounter with several of the public figures in the city, most of them politicians. I would know because mom would tell me about them. But I was more inspired with awe meeting radio broadcasters in the ladlaran. There were times when I would peek at their baskets. And to my astonishment, the radio personalities I so dearly admire also eat tinangkong!

On the same streets strolled by the city’s political leaders and media personalities, there were also children selling plastic bags, repacked condiments and other small stuffs. There were porters “selling” only their service, their sheer force. There were beggars who have nothing to sell. And there was also this iconic young man with a cleft palate who, perhaps, was the only person recognized by every vendor for his role as the market tax collector. Whoever chose him for that task certainly knew how to play with human emotions because before the vendors could finish whining about the community taxes, they would feel sympathetic for the man’s predicament.

Because of this diversity in the market, mom would always remind me to be vigilant, to be mindful of our belongings. Just as you could find a number of saintly personalities, there would as well be a great risk of meeting fallen angels. The problem however is that you would not know who’s who until you’ve fallen prey. So, in whatever transactions in the market, it always pays to think twice of the consequences.

I got used to this Sunday routine even until high school. In the later years, my sister Dyan would occasionally join us in the ladlaran. At home, waiting for us would be my father who’s a very good cook. He would always be assigned to prepare the dish out of the fresh produce we just bought. He would have the hot beverages ready upon our return from the market and we would eat the kakanin. I don’t know, but the bingka and bitsobitso are sweeter the second time around, at home!

Sundays had always been very warm for the heart until I left home for college. When I came home in 2012, I learned that there was much tension between the Local Government Unit (LGU) and the ladlaran vendors. The LGU wanted to relocate them somewhere else. The year after, they were relocated along Baluyot and Lapulapu Streets. And this was a great favor because we live in Baluyot Street! The ladlaran, which I held so dear in my heart, was now just a few yards away from home. But it did not last long. Although the LGU allocated a piece of lot in Barangay Magsaysay, the vendors reportedly argued that the place is not easily accessible to marketgoers. Such a circumstance caused the vendors to disperse.

Today, the ladlaran no longer exists. It is sad that it had to succumb to the condescension of “progress”, of urbanization. But my memories of it, how it taught me important life skills and lessons, and how it established a niche in the culture of Kidapawenos, will forever be cherished.


Paul Randy Gumanao hails from Kidapawan City and teaches Chemistry at Philippine Science High School-SoCCSKSARGEN Campus. He was a fellow for poetry at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2010 Iyas National Creative Writing Workshop.


Nonfiction by | September 22, 2019

I have always been blessed with good hair – thick, straight, silky. I’ve never dyed it my whole life for I love its natural color – like pitch-black night, like charcoal.

“Ipa-opaw nimo ini lang? Nanga baya? Kinahanglan gayud? Ay ay kasayang isab,” Kuya Rho asked, quite distressed when I told him to have it skinhead.


“It’s okay Kuya, just like last time- it’s alopecia or hair loss. I am undergoing chemotherapy again. It’s really necessary to shave it all off as it is getting messy – my hair falling out everywhere – in my bed, pillow, t-shirt,” I replied.

Kuya Rho seemed to forget that this is the second time he shaved my head off. The first time was nine months ago, during my initial diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a common cancer in my age bracket starting in infection fighting cells called lymphocytes that grew out of control. Alopecia is no longer a stranger to me for I have witnessed it happen to my aunt who succumbed to breast cancer about seven months ago. She was 66 years old. The day she shaved her head off, her hair was still intact, alopecia has not started yet. The doctor advised her to shave it as early as possible so she will get used to not seeing it for a while. Before we went to the salon, she combed her hair while looking at herself in the mirror and said in a small voice, “I guess I will stop using you for a while”, referring to her comb. I pretended I didn’t hear her but hearing what she said broke my heart.

Cancer as portrayed mostly in television and movies show someone lying in a hospital bed, tubes in hands, legs or nose, bald, skinny and with a pale complexion and dark circles under the eyes. My Aunt Nelda’s battle against cancer is almost like that taking away tubes in the picture. Her body deteriorated each day. Her muscles shrunk, lumps were found all over, her bones became weak and the length of her left leg is longer than her right leg. Worst of all, her eyesight weakened to the point that the only thing she can see is a speck of light. She could no longer recognize anyone’s face and in order to know who she is talking to, she would need to listen carefully to the sound of the person’s voice and when she fails to recognize it, she would ask the name. When in deep pain, my Aunt Nelda prayed even more.

Cancer indeed is vicious but through the scientific advancements that are enjoyed today, treatments are available and the earlier the diagnosis, the higher the chances for it to be treated. Unfortunately for my aunt, she underwent chemotherapy already at stage IV. She completed the first line treatment but needed further chemotherapy after her cancer didn’t go away completely. When I was put into a similar situation, after finishing the first line chemotherapy for six months and three months after, my symptoms came back- my temperature went up to 39 degrees Celsius every day, I have night sweats and my hemoglobin dropped that I needed to have Epoietin injection once a week, I almost gave up but it was the memory of my aunt’s faith and courage that helped me continue. That is why when my doctor told me that I needed further chemotherapy; I took a deep breath and welcome alopecia again.

Continue reading Alopecia

At the Transom Window

Nonfiction by | September 15, 2019

A transom window is a framework made of wood or metal that is built into a wall just below the roof. In post-colonial Philippine Architecture, a transom has ornamental moldings with holes carved through to allow light passage and proper ventilation. It is usually installed in the living room on the top of a 10-feet tall wall. One needs to use a ladder or can levitate to reach the transom.

I used to rent a space with such post-colonial Philippine Architecture. I shared the space with two other women renters, but I stayed in a separate room. One of the renters was a former secretary who had to stop her work because she was under chemotherapy for kidney cancer. The two women belong to the same Seventh day Adventist Church.

Two weeks into my stay there, a new lady joined us. The owner of the house, herself a breast cancer survivor, needed a new cleaning lady. This cleaning lady looked very interesting. She had thin lips that allowed her big teeth to cover most of her face whenever she managed a smile. Her long black hair matched the deep dark color of her eyes. She was a 5-foot-tall woman in her fifties. Her name was Ate Liling.

Every day, Ate Liling would bring me biko. She said that I needed to eat because I was very thin. But I wasn’t a fan of the food she offered, so I left it to rot. Ate Liling didn’t like this lack of attention so she would visit me every so often just to chat.

Sometimes, Ate Liling would tell me tales about her family. She missed them so much.

Once, I asked where they were. She said they were gone. They died a tragic death. She said that food served from a wak-wak transformed them into such local beasts so the people in her community hunted and burned them to ashes. Ate Liling was a very good storyteller. Often, as she laid down the details of her past, I would find myself wandering into the darkness of her eyes convinced of the madness. As soon as she noticed that I was drawn into her tale, Ate Liling would laugh so hard, her face smothered by her big set of teeth. If I didn’t understand her humor, I would have thought that Ate Liling was deranged. “You know what wak-wak wants?” she would ask,”they want to feed on fresh babies. But sick people are tasty to them, too.” Her stories were wild, so I gathered that she probably had a traumatic childhood.

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Not Another Drunken Memory

Nonfiction by | August 25, 2019

I was walking down the unfamiliar streets of Ecoland at 10 PM, when I finally answered my mother’s phone call. I had missed nine calls from her.

Asa na ka? Pagdali na kay nag-inom imong Papa,” my mother told me with conviction in her voice.

I shivered at the tone of her voice and the thought that my father was drunk once again. When Papa was drunk, we should all be at home, either asleep or doing our usual evening routine. He would start acting like a teacher—checking the attendance of his students. After all, he was my first teacher who taught me how to be a good daughter by always choosing to be with my family no matter what.

I walked towards the bus station, unable to find a jeep. As I waited for our bus to depart, I thought about my groupmates whom I left with tons of work to do. We were all cramming to pass our Movie Trailer for our Literature subject that was due before midnight. I did not want to leave them but I had no choice. I had a greater deadline from a more terrifying teacher.
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Leaving Mrs. Joy

Nonfiction by | August 18, 2019

Thirteen years ago, my brother Nicko and I were given away to another family. Mama never told us to prepare anything that could have enlightened us why we had to come with the two women waiting outside our doorway. She told us to be good and the rest would be provided. I had no instinct as to where those women would take us.It was as if I was deceived by the absence of any instinct as a child. But now that I have already arrived in this age with a little courage to confront my own ghost, I think of the woman named Joy who treated me as her son when none of her children would love to.

Out of Mrs. Joy’s meekness, I oftentimes found it difficult to utter any word when I was with her. It made me hesitant to tell her that I was hungry, that I wanted to take a piece of pan de sal she had placed on the plate. She was a woman in mid fifties who wore a loose duster all the time. Her crimson hair clipped back. The thread at the end of her faded blue scarf began to lose. I always found her sitting alone on her chair. A mug of coffee slowly grew cold by her hand. She would look at the vacant chairs as if waiting for the arrival of a long gone beloved or friend. I knew nothing about the silence of her mornings. What I remember was that no one had arrived to join her.

I was living in a house that was different from ours, in the village called Novatierra, Lanang. There I couldn’t see large trucks passing. The only sound I could hear was the growling of her dogs caged in a dark cell.

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