The Bone Collector (part 2)

Nonfiction by | May 3, 2021

Mr. Blatchley visited us often. During his visits, I learned that he devoted himself to collecting debris of animals found in coastal areas or in jungles of places I had never heard of. He told us about his adventures, his finger trailing around his palm as he spoke. He looked like he was locating new bones to find on the map of his palm.

On some days, he would bring a couple of bread for us, tearing and spreading the paper bag on our table so that all of us could have a share. Bottles of fermented fish and a plate of burned rice didn’t disturb him as he sat with circles of light spat by the holes of our roof. I wished I had the courage that time to ask more about the complications he had survived before reaching this city. But I was more eager to know how he knew where we lived. Was our house a random spot in his never-ending map of discovery for bones?


Even before the bone collector heard about my Lola’s small business, we had already nailed a recatangular signage at our fence facing the road: For Sale: Frog Skeleton, Frog Alive. It was inscribed with a fancy depiction of stick drawings on both sides of the signage.  It was something I was never ashamed of. Lola had been doing this business before my siblings and I were born, with a help of a man suffering from a polio, who taught her how to debone. She had taught this skill to Mr. Blatchley who eventually became dear to us even if he never asked for our names.

He also became a friend of my half-brother, who sooner worked with him. They visited places and seas where whales and other trapped animals were found dead. A few years later Mr. Blatchley built his own museum at Bucana. It was named D’Bone Collector Musem with over 700 specimen. It instantly became a tourist spot here in Davao City.


One afternoon, during the celebration of my newphew’s christening, in a resort, I surprised to see the bone collector, bringing his family with him. It was the last time I saw him. My half-brother had stopped working in the museum, when he caught by the forbidden madness of this city.

I didn’t want to look for him. Maybe Lola would think that I miss the things that he had given me or the money he had offered her. So I kept my thoughts to myself and stared at our signage as often as I could, as if it was the landmark that the bone collector used to find us, and maybe, he could find us again.

What the signage kept reminding me was its message that our very own survival was rooted into something private. We have been surviving on our own with this peculiar business even before Mr. Blatchley came and gave us a taste of what could be a better life with higher business income. Or a better life with a father-figure.


I was often told by Lola and my half-brother to visit the museum, to look at how each animal, once lost in the entanglement of time and place, had been gathered for humanity to witness that life matters.

The bone collector had discovered a place where children wanted to escape from the misfortunes created by their fathers, the way I and my half siblings suffered. I had wondered what it felt like to be complete as a child, but it cannot be, even how many times I imagined it to happen. Some pieces of myself fell before I was aware of it.

Has something in me died? Did I need to be saved to tell people how dangerous or sad my younger years were? The only thing I am sure of is this: I am a person lost in the wildlife of my foolishness and happiness because some parts of me are still missing. My wholeness is yet to be found.



Neil Teves is a young writer from Davao. His two previous works of nonfiction appeared here Dagmay. He essay “Paghanaw sa Iyang Anino” will appear in the second volume of Libulan Queer Anthology of the South. He is involve in poverty alleviation charity.


The Bone Collector (part 1)

Nonfiction by | April 26, 2021

I met the bone collector when I was six or seven years old. He was tall. He wore a black shirt tucked in his loose brown cargo pants. On his belt, assorted keys along with tiny bones and sharp fangs of unknown creatures made clinking sounds as he moved. His body loomed over me as he dragged the dead crocodile inside our house to meet my Lola.

Mao ni akong ipatrabaho, nay,” said the bone collector. He spoke in Binisaya which surprised me. I had never met a foreigner who could speak my language fluently. “Pila man imong pangayo nay?”  he  asked as he spread his wallet that bulged with papers bills.

Baki ra man intawn akong ginaihaw dong. Kon kani, medyo dako akong singil,” Lola told him, assuring that she would be paid as soon as she would  be done deboning and assembling.  Then, the bone collector handed Lola a couple of one-thousand bills before he instructed lola to buy all the materials she needed.


I later found out that his name was Darrel Dean Blatchley, an American Marine Biologist who had been exploring the wildlife from different countries for a very long time. I wondered how he came here to Mindanao and settled particularly here in Davao City aside from the fact that he had married a Filipina.

Maybe someone had told Mr. Blatchley about my Lola—that she used to debone frogs and other animals for students taking medical courses like Nursing. Although the process had always been laborious for her part, the money paid to her was generous enough to support us.

No part of the bone must be lost, even the thinnest, tiniest on, I heard my Lola explain. She even  added that the arm, leg, and tail of the crocodile must be boiled to make it tender for deboning. Mr. Blatchley was attentive but he chimed in with a light joke once in a while. During his visits, I learned that he devoted himself to collecting debris of animals found in coastal areas or in the jungles of a far away place. He told us his adventures, his finger trailing around his palm as if it was a map.

It wasn’t too long before the crocodile was assembled. Each part was placed back from where it was taken. I could see he was amazed. When he left with the skeleton in his cab, I felt my heart sank. What if we would never see him again? What if Lola would never be paid with that kind of amount?


But Mr. Blatchley came back, bringing a black disposable bag that held a dead reindeer.

“Nagtuon naman diay imong apo,” Mr. Blatchley when he saw me gathering the plywood filled with bones of frogs.

Lola had always commanded me to separate the parts that were all scattered on a round wooden plank: limbs on the upper left; arms on the upper right; heads and pelvises at the center, making sure that they were lined accordingly to their sizes. I was often tasked to separate the bones, so lola wouldn’t find it difficult to match them.

Meanwhile, Mr. Blatchley asked if he could do it on his own. He reached for the Elmer’s glue and snatched a piece of cardboard from the pile next to me. He began to place the spine at the center, dropping a dew of glue at its two end points, so that the head, particularly the jaw would be attached to it. But the head was too large for the spine. I picked the smaller one, slowly putting it on his cardboard.

Kini and maigo diha kol o.” I blurted out. I should have not spoken to him, but it would have been a mistake if he forced those pieces to fit. I should have realized at that time, that some things were not meant to be pieced together.


Neil Teves is a young writer from Davao. His two previous works of nonfiction appeared here Dagmay. He essay “Paghanaw sa Iyang Anino” will appear in the second volume of Libulan Queer Anthology of the South. He is involve in poverty alleviation charity.




When a Frog Escapes

Nonfiction, Poetry by | September 28, 2020

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Leaving Mrs. Joy

Nonfiction by | August 18, 2019

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

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

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

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