Secret Waters

Fiction by | March 15, 2020

I woke up to discover that the world has moved on. My family was gone and I was left behind with dust, dryness, and endless death. I have become the princess of a dead kingdom.

It was long since this planet has stopped moving, and that the sun stayed glued in its position in the sky. Its glare followed me like an accusing eye in the sky, shining down on me and these empty husks of trees in perpetual heat. The vistas were cracked and desolate like the skin of a dried insect in the arid dessert.

Days passed—or maybe eons or minutes—but I could not tell the difference. With the constant sun above, time was an illusion, like thought or memory. I have not slept since I woke up. I discovered I could no longer sleep. My dreams have fled me.

Mirages came and went with the heat. Running and stumbling, I would chase after them, but they would move away, teasing me with their promise of water. Eventually, I stopped running.

I discovered a puddle near a withered, gnarled tree. It was a dark silver circle—sparkling amidst the dryness of the land. I scooped some, the water clear and cool in my hand, then I drank it, savoring the liquid bliss. Suddenly I heard faint whispers coming from the waters’ dark surface. The whispers sound familiar to me as if I’ve heard them before? Is that my family? My mom promising me that they’ll see me soon? Wanting to hear more, I leaned closer, plunging my whole face into the water.

Beneath the water was a night sky—black with a scatter of flickering stars. Their lights beckoned me to come and I dived in, full body. I swam through its waters as if I was flying in the sky. I flipped and tumbled, weightless in my flight.

A school of winged fishes flew with me—glistering silver bodies glowing in the darkness. They guided me through the night and led me to my dreams. As I saw my dreams, it felt like coming home. My dreams held me like a lost lover.

I forgot the dry kingdom I had wandered on. I could not live on dry earth when my heart dreams to be with the stars. This is my home—the night, the stars, and the embrace of my lost dreams.


Ely Case Colao Jr. is a nurse from Davao City. He is heavily drawn to works of fantasy and horror by writers such as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Lemony Snicket. He hopes to someday publish a novel. 

Downsizing (Part 2)

Fiction by | March 8, 2020

Jacques begged her to stay, for them to try harder, for a chance to make it up to her. He apologized, even offered to quit his job though Sally knew that it was more for his sake than hers. It would have been easier for him to avoid this coworker altogether than to wrestle with the urge to act on his feelings just so he could come home to his wife with a clear conscience (or at least as clear as the conscience of any who had fallen out of love for their spouse).

Her Nanay cried on the phone when she told her. But why? What did you do? She needed to know where her own daughter could have possibly fallen short in the wife-hood for which she had carefully prepared her. You have to give him a chance, Sally! Your luck runs out after a certain age. You can never find one as good as Jacques! Marriage is about commitment, not bailing out at the first signs of trouble. It’s about trusting. Compromising. Forgiving, her mother said.

Sally was not sure where falling-in-love-with-someone-else-but-not-acting-on-it and self-preservation fit in her mother’s creed of marriage.

I left him, ‘Nay! I packed my bags! Sally wanted to scream back at her but bit her tongue, afraid of upsetting her mother even more. I told you so, her mother said, never trust other women around your husband. He’s a catch! Any girl would take every chance they can get to snag a white man, her mother said between sobs.

Their next-door neighbor, whom Sally had only befriended on account of a shared fence, concluded that it had to be their childlessness. Did you try to send orayer petitions to the nuns over at Pink Sisters? They work miracles for those hoping for a child, she said as she watched Sally stuff her boxes and bags on the back of a rented truck. Men stay when there are kids, she said.

Her friends had been less merciful when they learned about their separation. You should have beaten the shit out of that bitch, they said. You can never trust any woman these days. And, you could at least have kicked Jacques in the balls, Sally. That would have shown him to keep it in his pants.
Oh, but he did. At least he said he did.

And whose fault was it, really, that her husband fell for someone else? Her barren ovaries? Her modest sexual preferences or her aversion to contour makeup and lingerie? And suppose she changed to fit these ideals, would it have been enough for Jacques to love her again? To make love to her without imagining another? For him to really want to kiss her without wishing it were someone else he was kissing instead?

For the better part of the last three months, she oscillated between feeling angry and sad, trying and failing to find anyone or anything at which to direct her emotions. She had refused to talk to Jacques, and he had started coming home less frequently, taking more out-of-town assignments. And when he did come home, they played a game of hide-and-never-seek, always in rooms where the other was not. Once, they laid in bed sobbing quietly together, grieving the death they could not prevent.

Finally, a month ago she made her intentions known: she was moving out and needed two weeks alone at home to prepare for her leave. They sent the dog away to one of their friends and Jacques rented a transient unit to give her all the time and space she needed.

In those two weeks, Sally avoided sleeping on their bed, preferring instead the discomfort of the ratty couch in the living room. The old sofa had been kept for sentimentality, a piece of the old apartment from before they got married. They had watched countless movies there together, shared take-out food when she was too lazy to cook and made love on it during the happier seasons of their lives.

Jacques had insisted she keep the house. It was hers legally, after all. But how could she? Jacques was everywhere and all over. The paint stains on the bathroom tiles when he painted the shelves. The squeaky door hinges he had never gotten to greasing. The dent on the wall from when he moved the ottoman to the bedroom. She wondered whether Jacques would feel the same about living in the house without her, felt a twinge in her heart at the possibility he would not.

When she was packing her things, she spent more than two hours just staring at their clothes in their shared closet. Throughout their marital woes, Jacques had meticulously kept it neat; he folded and hung everything as he had always done on happier days. He had always been proud of how great he was in the art of folding clothes, a skill he had mastered from working part-time in a clothing store while in college. Their trousers and shirts looked like they belonged to a store window.

She scanned the length of their closet, avoiding the white box that laid at the bottom-left corner. In it was the white dress she had had made especially for their city-hall wedding and the restaurant-reception that followed. There were many happy tears that day, every single one in attendance overcome with joy that they had finally tied the knot. More than that, there was an air of relief – from her friends who thought they had taken too long, and especially from her mother who could now breathe easy knowing that her daughter no longer had to sell herself short by living with a man without the security of marriage; that though it was a “bargain wedding”, it was still a wedding nonetheless. Even the Mayor, an old friend of the family’s, expressed relief when he ordered Jacques to finally kiss his bride.

She took just a few pairs of jeans, some shirts, and all of her work clothes, and stuffed them in her duffel bags, leaving the souvenir shirts and winter jackets untouched. And yet, even without most of her things, the closet looked like it always had. As if everything that belonged to her was never part of it to begin with.

With her clothes already picked, Sally moved to the spare bedroom which they had turned into an office, intending to fill the cardboard box she had marked BOOKS.

Their tables stood next to each other, his tainted with overlapping wet rings and scratches, hers neat and organized with its color-coded folders and pens arranged in cups. They had shared many quiet nights here: engrossed in their respective paperwork or filling each other in on the things they had missed while they were apart, looking every bit content in each other’s presence. It was the image of picture-perfect coexistence. She wondered whether there had been signs of decay in there somewhere, micro-ruptures and subatomic holes that she should have seen.

She turned her attention to the two shelves lining the walls, both bursting with the books they had acquired together over the years. Some of the layers sagged under the weight of their contents.
It was impossible to know whose books are whose; everything was labeled Mathieu. Some had SAM for Sally Annabel Mathieu, but most were simply labeled by their shared last name; she and Jacques both had a penchant for desecrating books with their names and dogears. She ran her fingers on the spines of their paperback collection, feeling the creases from being read and reread.

Out from the corner of her eye peeked a hardbound book, its jacket missing, tucked under Jacques’ copy of a Madeleine Albright memoir.

Sally immediately recognized the book and grabbed it. It was a used copy of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ she had bought at someone’s going away garage sale years and years ago. Before she had met Jacques. Before she became Sally Mathieu. And there on the first page, just under the neat longhand of its original owner, she recognized her own handwriting: Sally Anabel Gomez.

She bought the unillustrated, unabridged copy though she had read the Ladybug illustrated edition countless times as a kid. It was the only book from her old collection at home that she brought over when she moved in with Jacques.

That time seemed so long ago now. When Sally was just Sally, when she did not have to consider Jacques’ opinion on the particularities of things bought and discarded. When her name was just her own.

She took the book and packed it with her clothes, the labeled box left empty in the middle of the room.

The unbearable noontime heat snapped her out of her reverie, forcing her to stand up and turn the air conditioner on. She scanned the length of the apartment, arms akimbo, and decided that she had to start somewhere.

So, she grabbed a piece of rag from the package that laid on the sink, filled a basin with soapy water and proceeded to wipe the closet, gray from years of neglect and desolation. Clearly this part had been overlooked by the landlord who had promised to prepare the unit for her arrival. The water turned the color of mud as she wiped the shelves, dust bunnies dissolving into gunk and mush and sediments floating in the basin. Several rags and a couple of swipes later and out emerged a clean pale-yellow shade, inching closer to what she imagined was its original off-white paint. Better. Much better, she thought, smiling contentedly at her work.

A staccato of raps on the door broke the lull of the errand. When she opened, an official-looking man in grey polo-barong and black trousers greeted her.

“Mrs. Sally Mathieu?”

The identification card pinned on his lapel said he was from the embassy. Jacques’ lawyers. This must be the divorce papers.

Sally took the manila envelope from the messenger and tucked it under her left arm with one hand, and the man’s clipboard and pen with the other. On the dotted line under the label Received By, she signed, Sally Anabel M… then scratched the M with a single line, writing instead the familiar strokes of a name she had not used in years.

Sally Annabel Gomez.

 

 


Hannah Rae Villarba was born and raised in Digos City. She currently works from her home office in Davao City

 

Downsizing (Part 1)

Fiction by | March 1, 2020

The last ten years had come to this, with her crammed on the old sofa in a box of an “apartment,” her body aching in various points from having slept in odd positions and where the springs poked through the couch’s thinning faux leather cover. This dying piece of furniture and a couple of carton boxes plus two duffel bags were all that was left of her marriage to Jacques.

Ten years had come to this. Just this. Sally could have kept everything they’d acquired together. Jacques would not have put up a fight. She could have taken the imitation bone china that she dearly loved, bought four Christmases ago on a visit to Strasbourg. Or the luggage set they had bargained for less than a hundred Euros in a street market in Venice the summer after their wedding. Authentic leather. Better than Louis Vuitton, really, the seller had said, his accent thick like the many cups of ciocolatta calda they had shared on that trip. She could even have taken Levin, their overweight beagle mix who, she now realized, would not have fit in this new space anyway.

Sally stretched her arms, careful not to knock over the stack of boxes that stood precariously overhead; her eyes, sticky and sore from oversleeping, adjusted with difficulty to the harsh midday sun that seeped in through the only two windows of the apartment in one of the many obscure little alleyways snaking through Uyanguren.

She gave her new home a sweeping look, examining the water stains on the ceiling and the imprints of dried up adhesives on the wall, feeling alien and gigantic in this tiny space. It is no wider than the full length of Jacques’ arm span; in its entirety it amounted to just a little over the size of their conjugal bedroom. Not that the house she had shared with her almost ex-husband was big – it was a humble two-bedroom bungalow in Ulas that they had moved into right after their wedding. It’s just that this room was small. The couch would have to go if she ever wanted a bed.

On one corner was a plain, industrial-looking aluminum sink with two floating cupboards above and two underneath, and next to it the door leading to the toilet and bath so small there was no point buying a shower curtain. On the other end of the apartment was a small built-in cabinet with a few layers of shelves on one side and a narrow space for hangers on the other; at the bottom a lone, boxy drawer with a missing handle. The closet left barely enough space for the door to open fully.

And on what little space she had left on the floor was her assortment of odds and ends, boxed and bagged remnants of her recently ended marriage. It had been days since she moved in. Her luggage was still strewn on the floor in various stages of disarray; next to it the heap of her used clothes, exposing the haphazard abandon with which they were tossed. There were a million things to be done – the cupboards were empty, the closet dirty, and she did not have a working internet connection. She needed to get some pans, maybe find a bed and some real pillows to replace the neck pillow she’d been using, buy a refrigerator that would fit, change her digital passwords and get her own bank account – things that a couple of years ago had excited her so as a young girl fresh out of college. She had felt like a true adult for the very first time then, going through the aisles of the home needs section of the old NCCC not far from where she now lived, carefully calculating and stretching what her first job’s salary could get for her first apartment. Doing these things filled her with dread now, imagining what people must think of a nearly middle-aged woman buying cutlery and tableware for one and the smallest rice cooker on sale, filling a house that was not even a house. She dreaded it so that she had settled only for whatever the supermarket offered her by way of home trappings, leaving the rest for when she had gathered enough confidence or need, whichever came first.

He had insisted that there was never an affair; that he never even touched her beyond polite handshakes and friendly hugs. This, even when they had spent many out-of-town trips to the South, and late nights together at work. He had described her only as a friend, a new colleague at the firm where he worked as a consultant for an international NGO. Yet, no matter how generic and harmless his descriptions of her were, there was no denying the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke of her, betraying the smile that his mouth had managed to conceal.

And then there was the silence and his inability to look her in the eye when Sally had finally summoned enough courage to ask him if he loved this woman. That was all she needed to see.

You should have tried harder to keep him, she was told. Should have been more adventurous in bed. That’s what white men love. As if coital acrobatics were all that was needed to secure a marriage’s success.

Maybe you’d let yourself go – foreigners get bored with plain wives, they said. You should have shown him you’re fun and liberated, wore more revealing clothes. It’s always the losyang ones who get jilted. And yet in the same breath they also said, but did you cook him great meals? The way to a man’s heart, you know. They choose Pinays because we are traditional and domesticated.
“Like submissive lap dogs?” she had wanted to ask.

Did you fight for him, tell him you’d love him better if he picked you? Did you even give him a chance to choose? He would surely have picked you, he is too decent not to!

And yet, they also said, Sally, you’re so lucky you can actually divorce him. Getting annulled in this country is its own circle of hell.

“Lucky. Yes, I must be lucky,” she thought.

Did you try therapy? They pried some more.

They did. They spent thousands of pesos on couples’ therapy sessions. Sex heals, the therapist had said. Try it when you’re ready. She was just short of telling Sally to fuck her husband back to loyalty.

Still, they tried. She and Jacques had spent one long evening in the middle of those tumultuous months, lying side by side in bed, hands just close enough to feel the other person, before Jacques made a move on her. He touched her, his long, bony fingers gently sliding along her forearm. Up and down. Up and down.

And then they kissed, first in small reluctant pecks on the shoulder, the neck, then on the mouth, like two teenagers exploring the act for the very first time in their lives, seeking and calculating before succumbing to ones of more animal greed, of tongue against tongue and skin and hair.

Then Jacques stopped and sobbed. His body shook as he clung on to Sally, his fingers gripping her bare clavicle. Sally laid there under Jacques’ clutch, half-naked and motionless, fat tears rolling down her face in full recognition of this finality.

To be continued…

 


Hannah Rae Villarba was born and raised in Digos City. She currently works from her home office in Davao City.

Inside the library reading Camille Rankine

Poetry by | February 23, 2020

Sunlight creases through my face.
I look at it, robbing myself of sight,
Loving blindness.

One more time, day ends.
One more time, I’m still a day alive.
And I breathe, thank god.

But not of fresh air.
The rooftop now is chilly. Bodies
can’t be sunning in winter.

Inside the library, books eat me.
I know they will outlive me.
But now I will outlive the sun.

In summer, my black hair
Becomes the golden rays of the world.
And the sun will already sleep

to gain strength in the coming months.
I let it crease my lips, sip my own
youth – whatever it wants

before it leaves. I refuse to refuse.
Books eat me and yet no knowledge
knows all of me. Maybe only the sun.

And maybe the sky. Whatever I want
they still can’t give, as books too.
Maybe someday I want to fly

or sleep inside the Danube. Maybe
I will write stories, still mind babbles.
Maybe I would outlive myself,

in the form of dying, as I become
a book, a paper, a word. Maybe the sun
would remain bright, even if evenings

rob me of sanity. Maybe I would dream
tonight of losing sight – I would dig
my own eyes and then face the sun.

 


Ian is an overseas Filipino student. He misses home.

Bangka 

Poetry by | February 23, 2020

Gatuya – tuya ang bangka sa naga lumpat nga indak sa balod,
Kauban ang tugtog sa gadumbol nga habagat sa kiliran.

Sama sa kakiat sa mga gasalom nga isda,
Padayon kining nakigbisog sa tubig sa wa mailhing dagan.

Samtang gasakay, gahangad ang ulo sa kawanangan,
Mata galurat sa mga gasidlak – sidlak nga mga bituon nga nakigtigi sa kahayag sa dakbayan.

Sa imong pagpangisda sa buntag, na murag pagpanghabol nimo sa akong nipis nga lawas
Inig kagabii, dagat ang habol mong gagakos sa akong gitugnaw nga kasing – kasing.

Pa? bangka pod diay kong dili makab – ot ang imong panganod.
Ang imong gugma.

Ang kahumot nalang sa zonrox nga nikapyot sa imong kamot
Ang magpabilin nga baho nga pangitaon sa akong ilong sa matag kabuntagon.

Tingog mong gadahunog sama sa kampana sa San Pedro
Ang mudu – aw sa akong dunggan sa unsa ko nimo patulugon matag udto.

Naglaroy – laroy akong huna – huna sa imong dagway
Busa ang kabuluyagun sa gahuyop nga habagat

Ang nisagpa kanako arun halukan ang samarang adlaw.
Dili nako mapasanginlan ang inosenteng sulog sa dagat.

Busa, kabalo kang mubalik ko kung asa una nakit – an nato ang matag usa.

 


Ivan Ridge Arbizo is a grade 12 student from Davao City National High School.

 

 

 

 

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.