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.