Our Lady of the Frogs

Fiction by | January 17, 2022

Old people smell a certain way, I should have taken that in mind before I sat next to these two Lolas. The scent inside the Pabama bus on the way here from Davao wasn’t the most pleasant, but this stench right here is something more pungent and memorable. Both Lolas and the countless faces in the crowd speak in whispers, anxiously waiting for the next spectacle to take place in the center of the cramped room.

From the very last row, I can barely make out the scenery in front of me, my vision blocked by the sweat and the shadows of at least a hundred people standing and whispering next to each other. Ah, petrichor! Yes, the two grannies and this entire room smell like petrichor! It’s a good thing that my short nose is no longer a stranger to this earthy perfume. Mama used to smell like this every Sunday at church, her white dress and red sandals completing the look. Her husband used to smell even worse, like dry soil placed underneath a mountain of cheap cigarettes. Though I’m not sure whether it’s the people who smell peculiar or maybe this is just how a tiny, cramped room along the Pulangi River should smell. I should have left Davao a little earlier, maybe catch the first bus home to Valencia. Now I’m stuck here at the last row of cheap monoblock chairs, far away from the subject of my assigned work, and surrounded by a typhoon of early Sunday morning sweat.

Trying to take my mind off the scent brewing inside the room, I take out my trusty little notepad and jot down a few initial thoughts about this place–it is cramped, humid, inhabited by an armada of retired folk with their little kids rotating around the crowd like tiny planets orbiting the Sun. Bosing wants this feature article to be in his email inbox tomorrow afternoon, and I definitely don’t want to let him down. Besides, this feature might just be what I need to climb up the ladder, rise a little closer to the top. I can see it now, Harry Principe’s article on the headline of Today Mindanao- the title makes up half of the paper cover, making all the other headlines look like footnotes to my story. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? Nobody even reads the news anymore, nobody except presumably every oldhead in this room. Mama will read it though, that’s for sure. She’s always been a fan of whatever shit I wrote, keeping my contest works in frames. Keeping them far from dust and far from her husband’s rough fingers. Well, it doesn’t hurt to dream just for a little bit, not that I have anything better to do at the moment. It was only two days ago when a coworker showed me that video of a young woman spitting out a little frog, the slimy creature croaking loudly as it emerged from the depths of the woman’s mouth.

People spitting out frogs isn’t something uncommon these days, at least here in Valencia. The peculiar video was only part of a string of viral Facebook posts showing the same scenario – people spitting out frogs after some sort of ‘healing’ ritual. All of the videos reached at least ten thousand likes and even more shares, all of them filmed at the same place, all the miracles brought upon by them by some mysterious old woman. I knew that I’d be coming home to Valencia sometime this month, Mama told me to visit them last month but I couldn’t make it, and there’s really not much to do in this little town. I knew that I had to come home sooner or later, but I never thought that it would be to write a news feature on something so ridiculous and almost certainly fake.

The heat and the buzzing inside the room grows and grows as another minute passes, swelling to an almost unbearable heat until a cool breeze passes by- a whisper of cold wind from the Pulangi accompanied by a sharp sound emitting from an old microphone. The humid silence breaks as a faint yet raspy voice slips into the microphone’s beating, echoing across the room.

“My child, do you believe?” the old voice asks.

Now that’s a great question, I do believe in a lot of things. I believe in alcohol and the naughty spirit lurking inside every bottle. Ricardo was also a firm believer of the alcoholic, he’d show me how strong its effects were through the poetry of punches to the gut and flying kicks that never missed their targets. He loved them but he worshiped and loved a greater god, the thin and silent Marlboro Reds. Mama was a believer of curses and whispers, she cursed Ricardo in heavy breathing every time he showed me his love and affection. But the god of curses is a very generous god, he listens to our ill wishes and he grants us sweet revenge. I try to move a little closer to the front when another lady’s voice replies to the question from earlier.

“Yes Inay, I believe,” a familiar voice replies from the other microphone. I’ve definitely heard this voice before, but I just can’t tell when or where, weird.

Moving away from my seat towards the cramped center aisle, I can see the miraculous old woman from the videos sitting down on a wooden chair. She sits elevated from the rest of the room by at least five levels up a little flight of steps. They call her Inay, that’s right, they do call her Inay in those viral videos. As for who she’s talking to, I have no idea. As the non-elevated regions near the front are blocked from view by a painting of sweaty backs and necks, circling around the mic stand and chattering faster than the running waters of the Pulangi. But it seems like the people attending today’s service know Inay’s client all too well, apparent in their whispers and chit-chat while the woman speaks with Inay. But then again, that’s probably how they react to everyone and anyone in this situation, Valencia is a small town, and rumors flow freely from one’s mouth to another.

Inay is the closest thing to an actual ghost that I have ever seen. From where I stand, I can clearly see that her skin is extremely pale and her limbs are like toothpicks, connected by rusty joints that creak every time she moves. Her hair is exactly like the reeds growing along the Pulangi next to us, though her reeds are dyed snow white and scattered in thinner patches across the river. She looks so old that the lolas next to me look like prepubescent Nenes when seated next to her. Forget about her being a divine healer, she looks like she could use some divine healing herself. I proceed to write down what I see–an old lady, her ethereal appearance, an eerily calm demeanor, missing teeth bearing a miraculous smile.

After scribbling down random notes and eavesdropping on the countless conversations around me, I try to move in between the countless bodies crowded around the center aisle leading to where Inay sits. Their sweat hit the floor like heavy raindrops, every drop clear to the ear and I try my damn best to navigate in between them. I push and squeeze against the sweaty backs when the sharp sound of the microphone returns once again. Only this time, the voice behind it starts to break into audible sobbing, the type of sobbing one hears in the background of dull funerals. A sobbing that only causes more whispers to emerge from the humid crowd.

“Inay, please save my husband. Save him for his lung cancer. Save him, ” the woman says in between her sobs. She barely finishes the sentence before she shrinks into a sad puddle of tears.

This familiar voice, a husband dying of lung cancer, all these seem a little too familiar. Is she the one speaking to Inay right now? It can’t be her. Please don’t tell me it’s her. Mama doesn’t come to these types of spectacles, or does she? Plowing forward across a sea of sweaty bodies, I hurry to make it to the front. I may have been a little too passionate in my clearing and sweeping aside of sweaty bodies, as I hear a couple of groans and insults come my way. But that doesn’t matter right now, I have to know if Mama is really the one speaking to Inay. Maybe I’m reading into this a little too much. That’s right! I’m just overreacting like always, there’s no way this is her. It’s not her, it’s not her, I know it’s not her. Tell me it’s not her.

“He will heal us anak. First, tell me your name,” the old healer says.

“Mirna. My name is Mirna Principe, Inay,” Mama replies. It is her.

Mirna Principe, the strongest woman I know. Mirna Principe, I did not expect you to be here. Mama, she’s really here. The crowd seems a lot quieter now, the room is suddenly cold. I push a couple more people aside and there she is, her back facing us as she faces Inay. Her white dress looks pretty like always, tiny black petals scattered across the white fabric as design. Her favorite red sandals are also present, a little muddy from the bare road outside. Seeing her outfit takes me back to when we would leave our miserable house and head to church, the cotton candy and the popcorn getting stuck between my teeth. Those were great times, our little escapes from the scent of alcohol and Marlboro. But that was long ago and those moments don’t come back again. But sometimes they do, just like today at Inay’s little monastery.

“Come and receive his love and mercy, anak.” Inay moves down the steps, leading her to be directly in front of Mama. Two boys assist Inay in her descent, making sure that the old healer doesn’t fall facedown on the floor.

Without as much as a warning, Inay puts her hands on Mama’s soft cheeks. Inay whispers something to Mama right before she covers her ears and Mama nods to whatever Inay whispered to her. I assume it had something to do with Papa’s condition, maybe a personal prayer for the great Ricardo Principe. It’s been more than a year now, a year since the god of curses granted my wish from when I was a child. The doctors had no trouble finding what was killing him when he came to the hospital last year. Lung cancer had finally replaced the cloudy smoke living inside his lungs after a lifetime of sweet nicotine. Mama told me to visit them last year when they found out about the cancer. I did not respond. I decided to hide, to run away, and write. Maybe it was because I was a failure of a son, or maybe because those beatdowns I received from Papa still hurt me every day, or maybe I just wanted to get lost in my writings there in Davao. I don’t know. Maybe I should have come, I still don’t know.

Mama closes her eyes as Inay begins to blurt out what seems like prayers or incantations in a mix of Latin and Binisaya. Her once faint voice grows louder and louder after every syllable, the prayer turning into a speeding river of gibberish litanies. The room is infested by a swarm of cautious whispering, the people clearly intrigued and bewildered by this display. Hearing them talk and whisper about Mama pulls my heart down to my stomach, the rib cage giving way for my heart to sink deep in a mixture of stomach acid, shame, and melancholy. Inay begins to rock Mama’s head back and forth as her prayers go even faster and her voice turns to the loudest I’ve heard from any old woman. She’s screaming and the veins near her throat pop out like thick tree roots. From the looks of it, Inay seems to be the one undergoing something divine here and not Mama. The brigade of non-stop gibberish continues until the sound of sobbing quiets Inay’s passionate oration. Mama’s swollen eyes rival the river’s sheer downpour. I could also feel the Pulangi flowing down my dry cheeks.

One of the girls assisting Inay approaches her with a handkerchief still clenched in her fist, she glances at Inay and nods. The girl places the pink panyo on Mama’s shut mouth, covering it fully with her fist. I hear Mama cry as her head is still rocked back and forth, tears being launched forward from all the shaking, breath not escaping. This continues until a miracle happens, a miracle that comes in the form of a loud gag, a plop, the sound of vomiting. What follows is the sound of muffled croaking, a sound familiar to the Pulangi and now to everyone in this room. A frog emerges from the wet handkerchief, Mama just vomited out a living frog.

What the actual fuck just happened. The boy assisting Inay comes in with a bucket, and a girl drops the frog into the empty bucket. I have no idea what we’ve just witnessed, that couldn’t have been real. It’s gotta be a trick, some sort of choreographed act. Maybe it was with those handkerchiefs that the girls carried, yeah that must be it! They were clutching them in their hands since they came into the room and maybe there’s always been a frog inside them, opening them up to reveal the ‘miracle’ while Inay distracts the crowd. Or maybe I’m reading into these details a little too much. Divine healer or not, Inay is great at comforting disturbed people, maybe that’s the miracle in itself. The crowd’s whispering quiets down after the miracle that croaked right before their eyes.

I head back to writing down the insanity in this room- weird incantations, Mama’s head bobbing back and forth, the pink panyo, and a goddamn frog.

“He has touched your soul, anak. Keep your faith and your husband will be healed,” Inay says as she hugs Mama.

Mama does not reply, she instead hugs the old ‘healer’. They both cling tightly, Mama’s cries being muffled by the fabric covering Inay’s shoulder.

“Take this, it will keep him safe.” Inay hands Mama what looks to be a small pendant, a small piece of silvery metal held in place by a black string. There appears to be some sort of design carved etched into the metal but I can’t exactly make it out from this distance. Inay is assisted again by the two boys as she makes her way up and into a small door just behind her chair. It seems like today’s main attraction is coming to a close.

Mama turns away from Inay, making me jump behind some stranger in the crowd. The old man covering me is not amused by my actions, he raised his brows and crumpled his forehead. I take a peek to see that Mama is now headed to the side exit of the cramped room, although I am unsure if this is the end of this morning’s miracles or whether Mama just wants a breath of fresh air from the Pulangi. But this uncertainty is soon answered by that familiar and ever-painful sound of the microphone and the cheap sound system.

“Okay, brother and sisters, Inay will now be taking her rest, you can come back later this afternoon as we continue our sessions of faith,” a young woman with short hair and round glasses announces. There is an audible groaning and grunting from the crowd, perhaps wanting to see more of the old lady’s powers.

“For now, we are knocking on your kind hearts to donate and purchase some healing relics if possible. Daghang Salamat and God Bless.” She turns off the microphone and leaves in the direction of Inay.

A group of young girls goes around the room carrying small baskets, smiling as almost all the people throw away coins and even different colored paper bills into the boxes. Near the main entrance to the building, there seems to be a long line for some sort of ‘healing relic’. For someone who seems so simplistic and anti-materialistic in nature, Inay sure has a great sense of business and profit. Heading to the table that people are lining up for, I see two young men selling some sort of pendant to the attendees. The same exact replica of what Inay gave Mama after her ‘healing’. I left home three years ago looking for success as some kind of journalist, only to end up in an old rundown apartment and stuck in mediocrity at work. If only I knew that this type of job would be so profitable, I might have also set up my healing camp along the Pulangi as well. But alas, here I am. This is perhaps the best time to catch up with Inay, ask a few questions about what she does, and maybe even ask her a little bit about earlier. Taking all the little courage and determination I have left in me, I make my way to the door where Inay and her supporters entered a little earlier.

A single knock, nothing happens. I knocked again, twice this time. Still, no answer. Sweating profusely, I begin a series of light tapping on the wooden door, growing stronger and stronger in volume within a few seconds. The wooden door and the people inside stay mute. I continue the knocking and the knocking until the door opens from the other side. The short-haired girl with the ‘healing relic’ announcement from earlier stares at me, clearly annoyed by the knocking.

“Unsay ato? Mama is still busy and please just come back later.” She tries to slam the door back shut.

“I’m Harry Principe from Today Mindanao. You know, the newspaper company. I’d like to speak to Inay, it will be quick. I promise-” The door slams shut.

The door opens up once again and the woman just stares at me, measuring every inch from head to toe. For someone who works with such an understanding figure, this lady sure has judgmental eyes.

“So you can call her a fraud? Or maybe a crazy old woman? No thanks mister,” she replies.

Well, I definitely should have seen this coming, news outlets and faith healers don’t really have the best of history with each other. Sure they enjoy the free publicity, but all that noise creates even a whole lot of unnecessary drama and speculation. More drama, more controversy. And except for maybe Hollywood celebrities or social media influencers, nobody wants controversy. It’s alright, I just have to be really careful with how I go over this. Just need to be honest and look reliable enough for her to accept the offer.

“I’ll be writing a news feature, not an opinion piece. It’ll be just about this place and what happens here, no personal judgments involved,” I reply.

“Pasudla siya Anna, we don’t wanna be called rude in tomorrow’s news,” a familiar voice proclaims from inside the room. Inay seems very welcoming of this short interview.

Anna obeys her command and lets me into the small room, a small bed with a wooden frame and legs occupies at least half the entire room. On the walls are countless rosaries and little icons of the Holy Family, perched up like porcelain dolls on dusty wooden shelves. Inay sits on the side of the bed, a cup of cold water in her hands. She must be tired after that litany of incomprehensible prayers from earlier, that would have consumed all my saliva and strength if I was in her place. Up close, Inay’s divine and ethereal image seems more noticeable, I don’t know just how old she is but she’s definitely up there in age. Inay motions for me to sit down on a small wooden chair a few steps away from the bed. I approach the short seat, resting my nervous bottom on the wooden surface. From the back, I hear Anna closing the door gently. This is it, let’s just get this over with.

“Ah, good day po, Inay. As you may have heard, I am from Today Mindanao and I will be writing a news feature about you and your work here in Valencia. Is it okay if I conduct just a small interview right now? It would only take a couple of minutes po,” I explain to the old woman.

“Ay sige lang dong, just make it quick. Okay?” Inay says with the same smile from earlier.

“So let’s start with your identity po. People on Facebook and your supporters call you Inay. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and who Inay really is?”

Inay doesn’t respond. Did she hear me? Maybe she’s just taking her time. She just sits on the side of the bed, her eyes barely open. Is she asleep? No way. I can see her heavy blinking, slow and steady, in complete sync with her deep breathing. Not knowing what to do, I turn to face Anna. The expression on her face is hard to describe, not telling of any particular emotion. I see my tiny reflection on her round glasses, her eyes not flinching or even blinking. It’s been at least ten maybe twenty seconds now, Inay is still dead silent. For the second time, I turn to face Anna and she now seems more concerned and involved with the happenings in the room. Anna takes a step towards us and begins to talk to Inay, only to be stopped in her tracks by Inay’s response to my question. Finally, she answers me.

“Well, my Papa named me Faustina, ah Faustina K. Rabak. I was born on, on. When was it? Ah, December 12, 1941. It was early dawn when Mama finished giving birth to me, that’s what my Papa told me. However, my manangs said it was late at night, the day before. So I don’t really know,” Inay says to me. She drinks from her cup as she finishes her answer, the sound of cold water running down a dry throat fills the empty room.

Well that was quite the long answer and it sure took a long time to form inside her head, this interview will go on forever at this pace. I note down what Inay mentioned, her name and age are really all that matters for the article, but I’ll take all the extra info she can provide. Besides, she seems like a lot of fun to talk to, in a slow yet charming sort of way. Just really slow in her speech. Really, really slow.

“I was the youngest girl in the family. Not the youngest child, the youngest girl. I had a little brother named Ponciano, he was the youngest. There were 12 of us, we were quite the lively household. We also had step-”

“I think you already answered Mr. Principe’s first question, Ma. Next question na,” says Anna. Thank God, Anna decided to step in and help out even just a little bit. I definitely don’t have the energy to listen to all of Inay’s entire life story. The old woman keeps her smile on her face, not bothered by the side comments.

“No, your answer was perfect Nay,” I told her in my most sincere voice. “Before you became this sort of icon here in Valencia, what was it that you were doing? Like a job or maybe a passion.”

“Well, I worked as a school teacher until my retirement from a long time back. I love working with people, especially the young ones. I’d still be teaching today if I was to follow my heart. But now I have a greater mission in life.” Inay’s smile grows longer and wider, glowing like a ripe banana on her withered face.

“A greater mission? What is this mission po?”

“To help the needy and to heal the sick. Mama Mary told Inay to do so,” Anna suddenly answers from behind me, her back against the door. She really seems to wholeheartedly believe Inay’s teachings and miraculous prowess, evident with the intensity and passion she displayed in her unexpected declaration.

“The Virgin Mary told you?” I turn to Inay and ask her in bewilderment and apparent disbelief.

‘In a dream. She told me what to do in that dream. She healed me in that dream, all of my sins purified by her love and God’s grace. Her hands were soft and warm on my skin, her face so beautiful and fair. She healed me, cleansed me from my sins and worries.”

“Healed? Like what you do to the people who approach you?”

“Exactly like that, I also spit out all the impurity during that one dream.” Inay replies.

My pen dashes across my trusty notepad, I write down Inay’s alleged divine encounter. She spat out her impurities? Does that mean that she also spit out a frog, but only in her dreams? Weird. If this really is just some sort of scam or some brilliant act, Inay is definitely a hell of an actress. Or even worse, does she really believe all of these? Like some sort of delusion, a lived lie that has turned into some sort of truth. Whatever it is, Inay and Anna seem perfectly fine with it.

“Obviously, there are people skeptical and doubtful of what you do here. How do you feel about that?” I ask her.

Inay doesn’t respond, again. She returns to that state of drowsy stasis from earlier, blinking in lengthy intervals. Not this again, the interview was going so well. Was the question offensive. I don’t think it was. Wait, was it? Anna also doesn’t seem impressed with the question, her unamused eyes staring blankly towards my direction. And they said I had to make this interview quick, Inay seems to be in no rush to finish this whatsoever. The room is freezing cold, a chilling and stark contrast to the oven that is the adjacent hall. But why am I sweating like crazy? This is the coldest I’ve felt today. Inay takes another sip of her cold water, heavy gulping breaks the silence once more. Are they going to speak anytime soon? Well, this is awkward. I feel another drop of sweat forming down the side of my face when Inay finally responds.

“You don’t believe, do you?” Inay says in a faint voice.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with my question, Inay.” I glance at the concrete floor, hoping that this will end soon.

“No, no, it doesn’t,” she replies. “But you don’t believe. Why is that, Mr. Harry Principe?”

I keep my mouth shut.

“Prin… Principe? How are you related to that woman from earlier? Mirna Principe or what was her name again,” Inay says to me.

“It’s a very common family name, Inay. Besides, that doesn’t really answer the question from earlier,” I said to Inay, hoping that she’ll believe me.

“Well, I don’t really mind those non-believers, Anak. I just do what I can to help people like Mirna. Her sorrow felt heavy when I was talking to her earlier, poor woman. I trust that our Father helps her husband, he will always protect us. I’d like to think that Mirna feels a little bit better now, after her experience of his great and warm love. Don’t you think so, Harry?” Inay smiles at me.

“Maybe, Inay. Maybe,” I reply.

I thank Inay for her time and I leave the small room, returning to the humid climate of the other room. A few quick steps towards the exit leads me to the muddy road bordering the entrance. Fresh air, something badly needed after a whole hour of floating in a mixture of sweaty fragrances. I see one of the girls assisting Inay walk past me with an empty bucket, where did Mama’s frog go? She did come from the direction of the lonely Pulangi, maybe she let the little fella go after his bizarre birth. Then again, maybe that’s where they catch all the frogs, hiding them until their big ‘miraculous’ reveal. I don’t know, I really don’t know. A tricycle passes on by and I hop in. I tell the Manong driver my destination and the wheels of the tricycle rub against the mud. The small vehicle starts moving but it suddenly comes to an abrupt stop. What is it this time? I hear a now familiar voice call out to me, Anna runs up to the entrance with a shiny object in hand. She hands me a small pendant, the one Inay gave Mama and like the ones they sold earlier. She says it is from Inay, leaving as soon as she finishes her delivery. Weird.

The view of the entrance to Inay’s mini monastery grows smaller and smaller as the tricycle races away from the riverside. I feel my notepad slip out of my pocket. I push it back along with the pendant from Inay. What’s this? I notice the peculiar design etched into the silver pendant. On one side is the image of the Virgin Mary, on the other, a small figure of a frog laying flat on the surface. I’ve forgotten about the article but I think I’ve got a great title- Our Lady of the Frogs. I push back the notepad and the pendant deep into my pocket, there’s something I need to do first. I arrive at the public market and the Manong driver leaves me.

I buy some apples, some oranges, and some bottled cans of much-needed forgiveness. Papa probably deserves all these. I buy some for myself and for Mama as well. Jesus Christ, this market smells bad. A quick hour passes by, two bags of random fruits and supermarket goods are not easy to carry. This tricycle ride to the city hospital feels like an eternity. I ask the front desk for Papa’s room number, it seems like Mama also just arrived here a little earlier. Through a rosary of concrete stairs, with each step being a silent Our Father or another Hail Mary, I finally reach room 148. I drop a single knock on the pretty door, the knob instantly turning on the other side. From here I can smell the air freshener of Papa’s room, it’s not the best but I’ll learn to live with it.

“Our Lady of the Frogs”

by Harry Principe

Inside a small house near the Pulangi River in Valencia City is a crowded room of devout followers and believers of the miraculous Inay. Faustina K. Rabak, a 79-year-old faith healer is perhaps the most talked-about person in the province of Bukidnon following her many miracles and acts of healing. A retired elementary school teacher of Valencia City Central School, Rabak has amassed a sizable following who passionately refer to her as Inay. These followers flock Rabak’s small house every Sunday for her ‘Sessions of Faith’, a two-part (Morning and Afternoon) gathering where devotees seek guidance and healing from their Inay. In an interview with Today Mindanao, Rabak claims that her mission to help the needy and the sick came to her in a dream with the blessed Virgin Mary. Videos from these ‘Sessions of Faith’ have been uploaded on different social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, each of the upload reaching at least ten thousand likes and shares.

The main focus of the sessions, as seen in the videos uploaded online, is Inay’s gift of healing. This miraculous process of healing involves the faith healer holding and touching the head area of the devotee, moving and rocking it to the sound of Inay’s litany of prayers spoken in many different dialects. All of these performative acts of healing ended with the devotee spitting out a live frog, croaking loudly as Inay finishes her miracle. This peculiar act of alleged divine miracle has not only made Inay recognizable to the region’s citizens but has also set up quite a debate regarding its authenticity. A large number of believers believe that Inay’s works are indeed divine and healing in nature. A resident of Valencia and a follower of Inay, Mirna Principe, gives her testimony regarding her experience with Inay’s act of healing. Principe states that “Inay has been a source of hope for me and my family during a dark time in our lives”. She also credits Inay as being responsible for guiding her husband’s valiant struggle against lung cancer, adding that Inay has also made their family closer and stronger after her healing. On the contrary, a number of commenters in the many Facebook posts have expressed their doubts and skepticism regarding Rabak’s operations and intent. They posit that the whole frog act is orchestrated before the session occurs, pointing out that each reveal is the same as the last, with the frog emerging from a handkerchief that covered the devotee’s mouth.

Addressing the naysayers and the skeptics, Rabak says that she doesn’t mind these criticisms and instead focuses on helping the different people who approach her. Both the local Catholic Parish and the City Government are still to give their official statements regarding Inay’s operation and services. Though it remains unclear whether Rabak’s activities are for the better or for the worse, Inay has become a major talking point in the locale and in the entire region. Many lives and narratives are still to be influenced by the mysterious healer of Valencia City, our lady of the frogs.

Angelo Bariga Allito is an aspiring fiction writer and poet from Valencia City, Bukidnon. He is currently a third-year BA English (Creative Writing) student at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. Angelo writes about his hometowns and the Pulangi River.

Mosquito City

Fiction by | August 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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