Ning Ika-pulo sa Pebrero

Poetry by | February 23, 2020

Katingad-an ang kabugnaw
ning napulong gabii sa Pebrero.
Makalisang, kay di nako masuta
Kon diin kini nagikan:
sa bugnawng huyohoy sa lasang
o sa mapanglimbawot nga taghoy sa kasingkasing?

Makalisang!

Pero usa ra akong nabantayan,
Gapangurog ang akong kamot.
Igo sad nga makatagik tag balak
Samtang gapaabot
Sa iyang mainitong mga halok.

 

 


 

Si Angelito Nambatac JR usa ka lumulupyo sa Dakbayan sa Iligan ug kasamtangang naghuman sa kursong Masters in Culture and Arts Studies (MCAS) sa MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology. Sakop sa sumusunod nga hugpong sa mga magsusulat: BATHALAD-Mindanao, Himugso Kolektibo , ug Tigsugilon.

Hangyo

Fiction by | February 16, 2020

Saba kaayo ang bata sa dihang adunay nituktok sa among tindahan. Gibutang nako ang gahilak nga bata sa kuna dayon gisuong among tindahan. Nangutana ko unsay iya. Ingon ang nangayo, “Bai, imong anak nang batang gahilak? Puyde ako na na? Akong kaunon.”

Gilili nakog maayo ang nangayo. Aswang man diay ni. “Uy!” Nakuratan kunuhay ko. “Na! Sorry kaayo. Ika-tulo na gyud ka ba nga nihapit dires amo. Sorry kaayo gyud. Di gyud puydi.”

“Si Marcos man ko.” Ingon to nako. “Imong bana man tong natagak sa baybay tung niageng gabii, dili ba? Ako tong nipunit niya.”

“Ahw! Diay ba! Ali. Sulod sa.” Nisuong kog balik pasulod sa among gamayng sala. Hapit pa ko matakilpo kay natamakan nako akong malong nga nios-os. Giablehan nako ang mubong gate nga kahoy. “Ali. Kape?”

“Sige. Palihog. Salamat.” Nidayon ang aswang. Gihubo iyang itom nga sapatos. Nisulod nga nagmedyas. Ningsuong kay tangkad man ang aswang para sa sakto ra namong pultahan. Nilingkod sa sala unya gilingi ang kuna kung asa tua akong anak. “Wa pa ni bulan?”

“Pulo ka adlaw.” Tubag nako. Nahimong kusog kaayo ang kiling-kiling sa kutsarita sa tasa. “Ginapanid-an na mi nimo?” pangutana nako samtang gakaraw.

“Wa man sad. Karong semanaha ra man ko nibalik dires Tibungco. Sa una, sige gyud ko dire, katong wa pa kaayoy mga balay. Wa pa nang hospital dira. Labayanan pa nag lawas nang Bustamante. Karon, lahi na kaayog nawng.”

“Dire mo tig pangayog bata sa unaha?” Gidunol nako ang init pang kape.

“Katong sa unaha pa gyud. Apan katong naa nay eskuylahan dire, wa na kaayo. Basta naa man guy maestra—“

“Ah! Tunong? Mu-kuan man tog mga aswang, dili ba?” Nihinay akong tingog sa mga ulahing mga pulong kay murag lain man to isulti: mupatay man tog mga aswang, dili ba?

“O! Kabalo lage ka? Di man nuon tanang maestra. O maestro. Depende ra.” Nihigop ang aswang sa kape. “Kabalo lage ka ana?”

“Kabalo-kabalo lang pod gamay. Tingala man gud ko ba labaw na tong kaisa kay naay nibisita nga maestro dira sa silingan, nikilat ra mag kalit, bisan way uwan, unya sayo pa sa hapon.” Murag wa na naminaw nako ang aswang. Tua iyang mata sa kuna. “Uy, kanang sorry kaayo ha.”

“Puyde ko muduol niya?”

Nisugot ko. Kaming duha nagtan-aw sa batang gadidi sa bibiron.

Nawng ra sa bata ang gibilin nako nga wa nabalot og panapton. Nagpitok-pitok na ang mata sa bata.

“Pareha mog nawng.” Ingon sa aswang.

Nakatawa ko gamay kay nakahinumdom kos pasiaw nga di daw lage anak sa akong bana ang bata kay wa gyuy paila sa iyang dagway. Naundang akong ngisi kay naay niayo. “O. Kadali lang.” Nilingi ko usab sa aswang. “Uy, unsa gane tong ngalan nimo? Mark?”

“Marcos.”

“Marcos. Tama. Kadali lang ha.”

Nipalit og Tanduay tong palahubog nga kainom sa akong bana tong isang gabii. Nahubog gyud to akong bana maong nahulog siya sa baybay. Maayo na lang tua sa lawod akong bana karon. Naa pa to dire, nag-inom na ni sila.

“Hoy! May ra gyud kag inom ba! Gipasagdan ra nimo akong bana tong isang gabii! Nahulog hinuon siyas baybay!”

“Ikaw daw gukdog iro nga hastang dakua unya hastang puwaha pa gyuds mata, di ba ka mudagan! Imong bana man sad, inom-inom, dali ra diay malipong!”

“Akong bana pa gyud imong basulon. Ikay nidani niya!”

“I-regards ra kong Masood. Ingna ni-eksibisyon daw siyas baybay. Ingna “na-sud” siyas buslot.” Nikatawa rang amaw.

“Ambot nimo. Ayaw nag daniha akong bana! Di na ka kautang ron.”

Pagbalik nakog suong sa sala, tua na sa may pultahan si Marcos, nagsuot na sa iyang sapatos. Karon lang ko kamatikod nga nindot ang tabas sa iyang gray nga slacks.

“O? Mulakaw na ka? Manihapon sa ta.”

Nakatawa ang aswang sa akong ingon. Dayon hinay-hinayng nawala sa iyang aping ang ngisi. “Salamat. Salamat sa pagpadayon nako.”

“Salamat pod kay gipunit nimo akong bana. Imo pa gyud gihatod dire. Ikaw tong naghatod niya, dili ba?”

“O. Ako to. Katuod pa man siya. Naglisod ra siyag lakaw.”

Nabalaka man nuon ko kung asa karon makakaon ang aswang. “Unya, asa man ka karon? Pasensya gyud kaayo. Naa may manok dire pero sobra man nis kanduli.”

Nahuman nag suot sa sapatos ang aswang. “Nag-kanduli diay mo.” Nilili ang aswang balik sa sulod sa balay. “Nag-ubad dire?” Nagpundo iyang mata sa akong malong, murag wa na siya naghulat sa akong tubag. Human nabantayan sa aswang ang mubong palmera sa iyang kilid. “Daliday. Mao diay humot. Nag-ubad gyud diay.”

“O. Maayo lage kay humot ang daliday!” Nalipay ko sa dihang nakahinumdom kos kahumot sa bulak tong pag-ubad. “Aron makabalay sad mig dako oy.” Abi nakog nawala na ang humot pero nasimhutan pa gyud diay sa aswang.

Giplastar sa aswang ang kuwelyo sa iyang dark blue nga long sleeve. “Okay ra bitaw. Salamat. Di man sad ko ingon nga mamatay nas kagutom.” Nipahiyom gamay ang aswang. “Busog man ko ba. Lahi ra gyud akong bation inig makasimhot kog bata. Kanang maghalo bitaw ang baho sa pulbos ug dugo. Lami mukitkit sa bus-ok nga bukton. Unya ang tam-is-tam-is nga lasa sa liog kung asa nitulo ang gatas nga bag-ohay rang gididi. Kalami bitaw unta oy.”

“Sorry gyud, ha?”

“Ay seg sorry oy.” Nagngising nigawas sa among gamayng gate ang bisita unya ning lili dayon sa tindahan. “Bitaw. Salamat. Adto sa ko.”

Human nako makita nga nawala na ang bisita sa dalan, nakahinumdom ko sa akong anak sa kuna.

Gikuha nako akong selpon ug gipiktyuran si Ayshah. Sayang. Nakalimot kog picture sa aswang.

 


Frank lives in Davao and teaches in a school in Tibungco.

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.

One Wash, One Dry

Poetry by | February 9, 2020

The box was too small for the bulk
Of clothes made to fit inside its enclosure.
Stuffed, like marshmallows shoved onto
One’s mouth, pushing the walls of the cheek.
Barely holding, barely holding, clinging
Only to their brothers
Who share their filth.
Water flowed from all sides—gushing,
Seeking refuge in cotton,
Finding solace in polyester.
Then, the water swirled,
Banging the clothes to the edges—slamming
Them against the transparent wall. Circling.
They would shout for help
If they could.
But the stain was not removed by the white grains
Rubbing its soul.
Not removed, only transferred.
Red, purple, green, yellow—it was a masterpiece
Had there been no pain, no injury.
The water stopped swirling
And it was time to dry the clothes,
Forced out the water in them,
Then locked in unbearable heat.
For this is the only way
That clothes get cleansed and dirt gets scrapped.
Grime is removed with pressure, with heat, with torture.
And when the clothes get out of the tiny box,
They are purified—cleansed, birthed once again.
Then they’re welcomed
To the brotherhood.

 


James Limon is a beginning writer from Davao City and is currently a second year BS Psychology student in UP Diliman

 

Pit Senyor

Poetry by | January 26, 2020

Pit Senyor!

This is your thirty-first
candle this month. Your fervent hopes
of being with her,
walking in the rain,
sharing one umbrella,
trudging a journey,
together.

Your candles vary
every day. Some days, you lit them
golden and warm.
Some days, the wind
blows them stone cold.

You always say that once I light a candle,
Sto. Nino will eventually hear my prayer.

“Believe me, the unlit candles
are wishes in a state of sleep.”

But, do I need to light one?

Perhaps.

In silence,
I am with my prayer.

In silence,
I burn,
I melt,
I disintegrate
everyday,

alone.


Henrietta Diana de Guzman is a graduate of Creative Writing at UP Mindanao. She was a fellow for poetry at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop and at the 2nd Sulat DULA: Playwriting Workshop at Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan University). Some of her works have appeared in SunStar Davao and the Best of Dagmay anthology.

Tsunami

Fiction by | January 12, 2020

“Naa lage tsunami!” segun ni Boboy samtang nakig-estorya kang Jokjok nga toa nagbarog sa tunga sa dalan paingun sa bukid sa Kansan. Gidala niini ang iyahang tarak-tarak ug usa ka galon sa ketsap nga gisudlan og tubig.

“Boy! Dali na! Pagdali!” singhag sa inahan nga si Maricel nga nagkabaguod intawun sa mga kabtangan niini. Gibaba niini ang usa kadako nga bag ug sako nga sa tan-aw ni Jokjok mga sanina ang sulod. Naa sab ang manghod ni Boboy nga si Bebang nga toa mikulapyot sa hawak sa iyahang inahan. Mitan-aw kini niya. Unya niukok. Tingalig naulaw.

Pagduol ni Boboy sa iyahang inahan, gikusi dayun siya niini sa dalunggan.

“Agay! Agay Mang!” agulo sa iyahang kadula.

Hasta si Jokjok nahiiktin og apil. Morag nabati sab niya ang kasakit sa tiyabaw sa higala. Maayo nalang naabot ang papa ni Boboy.

“Husto na Maricel” nadungog niya nga ingun ni Angkol niya Balong unya gisung-ay niini si Bebang dayon gitapik niini ang ulo ni Boboy. Mingisi sab kini niya.

“Di pa mo manghawa Jok?” pangutana niini.

Hilaw ang ngisi ni Jokjok unya nitalikod ug nagdagan-dagan pauli sa ilahang balay.

Bag o lang milinog sa ilahang lugar. Kusog kaayo. Nahagbong ang ilahang family picture nga gibutang sa usa kaframe ibabaw sa ilahang dibayder, nabungkag kini, ilahang TV nga surplas hapit sab madani maayo na lang maoy una gigakos ni Jokjok tong miuyog ang yuta niadtong gabhiuna. Karon kay naglinog na pod.

Nakita ni Jokjok sa balita nga nangatumpag ang bilding sa ubang eskuylahan, nangaliki sab ang yuta sa kadalanan. Nakaingon siya nga maayo na lang nipa ilahang balay, kon ugaling matumpagan sila, dili man gihapon sila madat-ugan. Pero nabalaka siya sa giasoy sa higala nga si Boboy.

Naa daw Tsunami. Tsunami, dagkong balod, mas dako pa sa balay, sa punuan sa lubi, dako pa sa bangka, dako sa katanan! Tapos mulunop, malumos ang tanang tawo. Nahadlok si Jokjok tungod kay dili siya kabalo molangoy. Dugay na pod wala sa ilang balay ang iyahang papa, tuas Basilan kay sundalo man kini. Pero ingon sa mga tawo naa na daw kini uban nga pamilya maong dili na ni mobalik sa ilaha. Tua na daw ni sa tinuod niya nga asawa ug anak.

Pasulod pa lamang si Jokjok sa ilahang tugkaran misiyagit siya sa kusog.

“Mang! Mang!” tawag niini sa iyahang inahan nga si Lorna nga tua nagpalo-palo sa mga nilabhan sa may bomba.

“Asa man ka gikan?” gisigahan siyag mata niini.

“Mang, ninghawa na ra ba silang Boboy, nga atong silingan god, sila Angkol Balong kay naa daw tsunami” sugilon ni Jokjok sa inahan.

Morag niulbo si Lorna sa pagkadungog sa giasuy sa iyahang anak. Daghan pa siyag gihuna-huna dugangan pa gyod sa nagpabadlong nga anak.

“Saba diha! Maayo pag tabangan ko nimu manghayhay dinhi unya,” matod pa niini.

“Mang ba!” segun ni Jokjok nga nagkisi-kisi, dili madrowing ang nawung niini.

Nangwaswas na iyahang mama Lorna ug toa gihapon siya nagyampungad sa kilid sa bomba, naghulat sa iyahang inahan. Mora na kinig bata nga nagbisgo kay wala mapalitan og dulaan.

“Mang ba, naa lage daw tsunami!” ngaab niini.

“Di gani ka mohilum diha run, katilaw ka”, singhag sa babaye, mas nikusog pa ang pagpalopalo niini.

“Asa diay si Papang god diay!” singka ni Jokjok sa inahan.

Wala na makapugong ang mama ni Jokjok, gikuha niini ang palo-palo og aksyunan na untag bunal ang anak. Apan nadungog niini nga naghinagudlos si Iyo Dandoy paadto sa ilaha.

“Lorna! Lorna! Pamutos na kay ang dagat niatras daw ingon ni Sidong nga taga-baybay! Pastilan!” segun niini sa iyahang inahan.

Nabuhian ni Lorna ang palo-palo.

“Diyos ko. Tsu-tsunami! Si Ernan toas lawud!” segun sa iyahang inahan nga nagkara-kara og sulod sa ilahang balay. Hapit pa kini mapandol sa bangkito nga gilingkuran niini. Gibiyaan niini ang iyahang nilabhan.

Wala maka-ik si Jokjok.

Gilumsan sa kahilom ang palibot apan ang kasingkasing ni Jokjok napusga sa dagko kaayong mga balod, mas dako pa sa tsunami, mas dako pa sa balay, sa punuan sa lubi, mas dako pa sa dako nga bangka, dako ug bug-at sa katanan.

Taud-taod, gikuha niya ang nilabhan sa iyahang inahan, gipug-an kini niyag tubig unya gihayhay.


Hannah Adtoon Leceña is a high school teacher and spoken word artist from Kiamba, Sarangani. She was a fellow for fiction at the 2018 Davao Writers Workshop and at the 3rd Bathalad–Sugbo Creative Writing Workshop (2019).

Dead Rats

Fiction | January 5, 2020

The body of a boy washed up on the riverbank behind the San Agustin Chapel one Sunday morning. The stench pulled everyone off the pews right before the Holy Communion. Father Amado had to drink the sacramental wine first before he left the altar to look for the source. The mass was cancelled afterward. It was the third body found in Babag in the past six months—and the youngest.

The police arrived not long after. With them, Elena’s husband Mario who’s also an officer, still in his Sunday’s best, cordoned the scene and took care of the body. Elena didn’t want to look, but she had to chase Elijah when he followed his father. She flinched at what she thought was curiosity in the eyes of her ten-year-old son.

They found the boy entangled in mangrove roots, shrimps and small fishes feeding on his bloated body. He seemed to be not much older than Elijah. The body was barely a body now. It was more like a piece of bread left in the water for too long. The smell was the worst; like a rotting animal, but louder and more forceful. Elena felt it seeping into her skin, invading her insides and swirling it around until it reached her throat. Before she could vomit, she grabbed her son and they walked away, pushing through the gathering onlookers.

Dinner was quiet save for Elijah’s usual mealtime anecdotes. Elena cooked sinigang na baboy sa bayabas¸ which was her husband’s favorite, but he barely touched it. She understood, like she always did. They were shaken up by the events of that morning. Only Elijah seemed fine.

“Who was it, Pa?” Elijah asked.

“Eli!” Elena didn’t mean to yell, but she did, and she felt a tiny ache in her chest. “We’re eating.”

Mario stayed silent, his eyes fixed on the clump of rice on his plate growing colder.

Elena had heard earlier from the neighbors that the body had not been claimed yet. The authorities had been working towards at least identifying the boy, but he had been in the water too long. Any evidence or proof of identity was drowned in the river by now.

“I’m going to the station,” Mario finally said.

“Stay home for now, Pa” Elena said. “You can go tomorrow.”

“They’ll need me there.”

“It can wait,” she said.

Mario stood up before she could protest. He brought his unfinished meal to the sink. On his way, the fork slipped off his plate and clattered when it hit the floor.

“Sorry,” he said.

“It’s fine,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Mario left. Elena stayed at the dinner table, looking at Elijah sipping the sinigang broth from a cup. She didn’t know why but losing the argument made her feel embarrassed in front of her son.

“How’s school, nak?” she said.

“Okay,” he said as he licked the spoon clean. “I need a new notebook, ma.”

“What? Why? What happened to the ones you had?”

“I lost them,” he said.

Elena knew this wasn’t true. After years of raising his son, of course she could tell when he lied.

“I’ll go out and buy one for you tomorrow.”

Elijah nodded.

“If you need anything, or feel like you want to tell me anything, I’m here. Understood?”

Elijah kept still.

Mario came home around three a.m. He smelled of Tanduay and cigarette smoke. Elena had just gone to bed then, but she pretended to be asleep. In the next room, Elijah had just dozed off after waking up from a nightmare.

Mario slung himself onto the bed and his weight caused Elena’s body to shift towards him. She half-expected him to wake her up, but he didn’t.
He kept moving, trying to find a comfortable position.

“What’s wrong?” she said with a fake a sleepy voice.

“Do you smell that?” he said.

“The Tanduay or the cigarettes?”

“Don’t joke with me,” he said. He rose and sat on the edge of the bed. She followed him and draped an arm over his shoulders.

“I’m serious. What do you mean? You should go change.”

“Like—like a dead rat, or something.”

“I don’t smell anything. You’re just tired. Let’s go to sleep.”

Mario wasn’t one to do housework, but the next morning, Elena found him cleaning in the kitchen. The smell he mentioned must have really bothered him. She asked if he found the rat, but he said nothing. Either he couldn’t hear her over the sound of the brush against the tin sink or he chose not to say anything. He spent the first half of the day scrubbing every corner and crevice of the house; under the sink, the back of the rusty refrigerator, and even the plyboard ceiling that had dark, round ribbons caused by rainwater. Elena didn’t smell anything, but since the incident, her husband has been out of sorts, so she didn’t bother to argue.

The local government of the barangay organized a cleanup drive for the Babag River the week after the boy had been discovered. Having nothing else to do on a weekend, Elena joined the drive. She didn’t want to bring Elijah, so she left him at her mother’s house just across theirs.

Mario left even earlier. He’d been out of the house a lot since the incident. He worked hard. The Butuan City police force was lucky to have him, Elena thought.

Every house in Babag is near a body of water; a river, a large swamp, or even an atabay. It is where the kids would always play. Some even fished for food occasionally. As such, the dead bodies were a problem in more ways than the fact that they were dead. A few days after the boy’s body had turned up, some kids who bathed in the river got sick.

“Bugoy’s diarrhea only ended last night,” Manang Cora said as they ran their nets through the water and dumped whatever they caught on the embankment. Cora’s son Bugoy was one of Elena’s students in Babag Elementary where Elijah also went.

“Susmaryosep, you’d think that after what happened, the kids would stop playing in the river,” Olivia said, bent over to pick up plastic wrappers, carefully avoiding the water itself.

“I’m lucky my Elijah is fine,” I said.

“Oh, by the way, Ma’am,” Manang Cora said and took out a worn-out notebook from the tote bag she carried. “I think this is Elijah’s. I found it inside my son’s bag. I guess he must’ve borrowed it.”

Elena took the notebook. She flipped through it and on one page was ANAK HONG KILER in sharp black strokes. Son of a killer. Elena looked to Manang Cora, but they were now talking about the boy that washed up. She folded the notebook and shoved it in her pocket.

“I heard that the boy was shot,” Olivia said. “A service will be held today at the chapel since not one family member or even a friend has turned up.”

“So young,” Manang Cora said.

“Was he even an adik? At that age?” Olivia asked.

“Well the Squad has a quota to reach,” Manang Cora said. “Some say even the police have quotas, too.”

“The boys are getting younger, too,” said Olivia. “We’re lucky your husband is such a good police officer, Ma’am.”

Elena nodded. She felt searing stares from the people around them. She looked around, hoping to catch someone’s glare. She was ready to fight.

“Jing-jing’s son already left for Cebu to hide,” Manang Cora said.

Elena arrived home to Mario playing with Elijah in their room. They’d been wrestling, like always, and in the twisting and flailing of body parts, knocked things off the bed. She didn’t mind. It was the first time she’d seen her husband this jovial in a few days.

Mario, with his hairy arms, lifted his son up in the air and Elijah, laughing in between gasps of air, squirmed to go back down. She had then only realized how large of a man her husband was, and how much Elijah dwarfed next to him. It looked like Mario could swallow her son whole.

She clutched the folded notebook in her pocket.

“I’m attending the funeral,” she said.

“Why? You don’t have to,” Mario said and let Elijah down.

“Can we come, Pa?” Elijah asked.

“Someone has to. Can you imagine how sad that is? For a child to be alone in death.”

“Have fun, then,” Mario said and stepped out of the room.

“Don’t you want to come?” she said.

“No, thank you,” Mario said.

“What are you so happy about? Yesterday you were—you were different. Now that the boy is finally getting buried, you’re suddenly laughing again.”

“What are you getting at?” Mario said and left the room.

“What’s going on, Ma?” Elijah asked.

“Nothing, nak. Do you want to come with me? We can go buy you a new notebook after the mass.”

The service was held in the San Agustin Chapel. It was paid for by the LGU, so the preparation was at a bare minimum. The flowers had been recycled from a kasalan ng bayan the day before, and the candles from the pista. As expected, the casket which was made of plywood was closed. A public viewing wasn’t needed.

Elena brought Elijah with her. As soon as the prayers started, which always bored him, he ran off with his friends to play outside the chapel. Elena didn’t want to let go, but those days he’d started to learn how to slip off of her hands.

It was a short service. Not one of the fifteen-odd people in the chapel spoke, save for Father Amado with his perfunctory homily. “God speaks in the silence of the heart,” he said.

Everything was obligatory, detached. There’s not much anyone could say for a body without a name. Elena stood up as soon as the service was finished. She stopped in her tracks when Father Amado called to her.

“What is it, Father?” she said.

“Are you okay?” he said. “I’ve been hearing—things, and I just wanted to know if you and Mario are okay.”

“What kind of things?”

“Being an officer of the law in these times can be—challenging.”

“What are you talking about, Father?” She felt her voice sound more accusing, but she didn’t care.

“Just, if you want to talk, you know where—”

A commotion had started outside the chapel. As soon as Elena heard, she dashed with a singular thought: my Elijah.

“Your father is a killer!” Manang Cora’s son, Bugoy, said. Elijah was on the ground, blood sprawling on his left temple. Bugoy and two other boys teased and laughed at Elijah. “He killed the boy! He’s a bad, bad cop! He’s a killer!”

Elijah yelped and stood to fight back, but they pushed him again. Seeing her son like that, something visceral and savage and inevitable swelled inside Elena’s gut and she erupted at Bugoy. A quick, echoing slap. He fell on the church tiles. No one touches her Elijah. No one.

They left the stunned crowd and rushed home.

At the house, Mario greeted them at the door. He stepped back, startled by the sight of Elijah. He extended his large, calloused hand to help, but Elena pulled her son behind her and they walked past him. She took Elijah to the bathroom and locked the door behind. Elijah sat on the brim of the toilet bowl. Gently, Elena dabbed a clean, wet labakara on his wound.

Mario knocked on the bathroom door begging to come in. Over his knocking, Elena could hear the distant hum of a rushing river. In the air hung a faint smell of a rotting carcass of a long-dead rat.


Ivan Khenard Acero is studying Bachelor of Arts in English – Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. He was a fellow for fiction at the 2016 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2nd Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Writers Workshop by the UP Institute of Creative Writing. He hails from Butuan City, but currently resides in Davao.

Smokestack

Poetry by | January 5, 2020

I saw a smokestack jutting out
from a tin roof behind high walls
topped with barbed wire, belching
ink-black clouds that swirled
across a grey sky weighed down
with the low rumble of rain.

Here was a middle finger
cast from iron, pointed skyward,
goading wind and water both
with endless waves of poison
to beat it down to rubble,
yet they never could.

Here was a slow burn
unto itself, made self-sustaining
by an unseen fuel that drives it
despite the growing signs of wear:
rust on the metal, creaking gates,
hairline cracks on the concrete
growing wider every year.

Here was a ruin
awaiting the work of other hands
to strip it clean, and hammerheads
to tear into its rebar, pipes, and tiles,
yet still it hides behind its distance,
its faded signs, its old facade,
away from outside eyes.

I saw myself one evening
standing in a rooftop bar – drink
in one hand, cigarette in another –
mouth unglued after silence,
and nonsense, like sickness
sealed in a box, escaped in puffs
with the sultry wind, drifting
out into cityscape.


John Oliver Ladaga hails from Iligan City but is currently based in Davao, and hopes to teach writing classes for a living one day.