“Asa naman pud ka gikan? Ikaw, bata pa ka igat na!” My mother’s yelling echoes inside our room before it travels to the street. She thinks if I went home a minute later than 5 o’clock in the afternoon, then I was becoming a slut on the street where I spent most of my time, playing tumba lata with my friends.
My chapped lips were shaking as I tried to answer her question, ignoring the fact that she has just called me igat. “Sa gawas lang ko Ma, nagdula. Kaila man ka sa akoang mga kauban, Ma.” Despite knowing the people that I spend time with, she still proceeded to her definition of discipline: a hand clenched tightly around a plastic hanger and a 7-year-old girl that had red marks all over her body after what felt like an hour of beating.
Convinced that my mother hit me to show that she cares for me, I accepted her subtle apologies through the dishes she cooked for dinner and the junk food she brought home. However, her scolding wasn’t something that I was afraid of. I was more afraid of missing the afternoon fun that my friends and I shared after siesta time. With the help of my friends’ mothers, I managed to get home before 5 in the afternoon with their constant reminder that it was 15 minutes before my playtime was over.
Sometimes when my mother came home earlier than I expected, worse things happened. The term igat turned into bigaon, a whore. And the hand around the hanger wrapped around her leather belt. Convinced that the more that the beating hurt, the more love was shown, I allowed her to hit me with the buckle of her belt. “Mirisi nimo! Bigaon na ka nga pagkababae!” She would say while keeping herself satisfied with the sound of my flesh against the buckle. On some days when the worst things take place, she would tell me to get out of her sight as she was afraid that she might kill me.
I didn’t know if the beating was because of my friendship with all the girls along our street, or if it was because I look exactly like Papa who was completely clueless of the beatings. Not that he was a deadbeat father, but Mama also tried to beat him to death when he disagreed with her.
After the series of expressions of love or discipline that I received, I became afraid of 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I started going home on time for at least a month and finally memorized the time of her arrival. It became my new routine. I knew which end of the street she was going to pass. I even learned how to identify her steps by the sound of her heels. I acted according to her will to avoid the beating.
One day, she stopped coming home on time. Sometimes, she would knock on our room at 10 in the evening with a smile on her face, as if a miracle had happened. She didn’t look exhausted. From what she taught me, going home that late is immoral, but the thought of her becoming a whore on the street never crossed my mind. Maybe she has to work more hours to provide for our needs, I thought, knowing that my brother was in 8th grade and I was about to finish grade school.
So, I went back to my old hobby: coming home a minute later than 5. Nothing can stop me now, especially that she’s not around, my innocent mind dictated while folding the strap of my slippers, trying to hit the can inside the circle – as hard as how she would hit me if she found out about what I was doing while she was away.
Her nights of going home late turned into days of not being around. It meant more time for me to spend outside – to kill the boredom and to push away the curiosity. Kuya, asa si mama? I tried asking, once, twice, thrice, or more – I could barely remember. But none of us knew the answer, so I stopped asking. Until one day, the least-expected answers came to my door.
All the hangers and the belt buckles that didn’t stop me from playing with my friends were overpowered by the news that I received. It was from Mama, when she came home one day on a sunny afternoon after not being around for four days. She saw how beads of sweat caressed my cheeks from playing outside, but she didn’t say a thing. Instead she smiled at me – she looked so warm and happy, like how the skies and the trees look before a typhoon devours an entire town.
“Didto na mo puyo sa inyohang Lola, ha.”
Mama was moving out of the house that Papa and she rented to live with her lover. And so we had to be sent away to our grandmother’s house.
It was only after Lola died a few years later that Mama decided to take us into her new household. It wasn’t clear to me what igat and bigaon meant until I was messaging Papa on my phone, while listening to the laughter of my mother’s other children together with their father playing outside the house a minute later than 5 in the afternoon.
At least she stopped calling me names for playing outside.
Reggie Faye Canarias is taking up a Bachelor of Arts in English (Creative Writing) at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She is a graduate of the Special Program in Journalism of the Davao City National High School.