Introduction by Jude Ortega
Two Poems by Innah Johanee Alaman
Haram by Doren John Bernasol
Nagtapos ng malikhaing pagsulat na kurso si Innah Johanee Alaman. Masasabi namang sa sariling pagsisikap natutong magsulat sina Allana Joy V. Boncavil, Rossel Audencial, at Doren John Bernasol; mas hinubog sila ng mga akdang nabasa nila kaysa sa turo ng ibang manunulat. Magkaiba ang naging paglalakbay nila bilang manunulat, ngunit dito sa Cotabato Literary Journal, ang akda naman at hindi ang may-akda ang sinusuri ng mga patnugot, kaya napiling maitampok sa isyung ito ang mga gawa nilang apat.
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Editor for poetry Andrea D. Lim chose two submissions from Alaman, each one a gem. In “Daybreak,” someone wakes up to the sight of a beautiful sunrise. Or so it seems. With the poet’s deft use of irony, an inner turmoil is illuminated. In “Web,” Alaman shows how the internet has become a tool to prey on the vulnerable and how everyone is complicit. The poet further shows aspiring local poets how something short can contain and reveal something wide and complex.
Of the three short stories that editor for fiction David Jayson Oquendo selected, one is from Alaman—“Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings.” The story is about an ageing madam whose rundown nightclub is about to be demolished to make way for a building of foreign investors. Her clout in the city government, however, is strong and deeply personal, and she’s determined to use it to save her nightclub and the souls that it has become a haven to. Both uproarious and heartbreaking, the story depicts the plight not only of a woman or a city but of the whole country.
In “Barbie,” fourteen-year-old Boncavil weaves scenes from the life of a boy with extracts from police interrogations, in the process showing the reader how events in someone’s childhood can leave indelible marks in his psyche. Skilled with language and the use of restraint to heighten the drama, Boncavil is a name to watch out for.
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Mahitungod ang sugilanon nga “Bugas” ni Audencial sa usa ka bata sa usa ka pobre nga pamilya. Makita sa sugilanon unsa ang epekto sa hunahuna sa mga anak kung nagapasagad ang mga ginikanan sa ilahang katungdanan. Ginapakita pud sa “Bugas” ang kasagaran nga dagan sa relasyon sa mga Pilipino sa ilahang kabanayan. Matawag nga Cebuano ang pinulongan nga gigamit sa sugilanon, apan klaro nga ang nagsulat niiini gikan sa usa ka Ilonggo nga pamilya sa usa ka Cebuano nga komunidad, o nidako nga Hiligaynon ang sinultian ug nakatuon og Cebuano kinaulahian. Komon sa rehiyon ang mga sagol nga pinulongan sama niini, ug isip pagsaulog sa atoang kaugalingong kultura, gipreserba sa mga editor ang Hiligaynon-Cebuano sa magsusulat.
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Naitanghal na ng Apat sa Taglamig, isang grupo ng mga mandudula sa South Cotabato, ang dulang Haram ni Bernasol. Tungkol ito sa isang nagmamahal na kailangang itago ang nararamdaman dahil sa mga paghihigpit ng kaniyang relihiyon. Pinili ng patnugot na si Norman Ralph Isla ang gawa dahil, sa mga lokal na dula, “isa [ito] sa mga pinakamapangahas sa temang gustong ibulatlat” at “napapanahon” pagdating sa “isyu ng moralidad.” Isang “eksperimentasyon” din umano ang Haram dahil sa paggamit ni Bernasol ng “mga estetika ng spoken word poetry at dramatic monologue.”
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat
By Innah Johanee Alaman
Still with the haze of dawn,
the light and darkness play
tugs of war in the high-
vaulted sky. The east light wins
this time, staining the sky with hues
from today’s morning palette:
blue, rosy pink, and gold.
The sun’s first rays reach me
at ease—its light strikes
through my window, peeping
through the sudden, awaken me. Slowly,
my room’s filled with
the sun’s fault-finding
heat, revealing last night’s mess
I have, arranged without him.
Mornings are such
A body, at fifteen, unwrapped, raw
between split robe, quivers
before the intimate eyes of her lover.
A body, at fifteen, moans mute
in photos. Her soft limbs, small mouth,
stroke scenes in the minds of the uninvited.
Every inch of her skin exposed, posed
is viewed over and over again,
like an animal in a museum, most
beautiful when preserved—
Her photos tell a tale of a nymph taken out of the water
caught in a web, sprawled like a carcass,
suspended in the air on an invisible thread.
The predators are out, feeding
on the fragile innocence on the web—
the rotten smell of their lustful gaze
penetrate her. But the web knows not
of the nymph, the bruises and scars
hidden beneath the paleness of her skin.
They look at her lips
when they use her lips, share her lips,
only to speak of the taste of her dirt.
And the web knows not of the predators
who feast on the nymph pleading
don’t come don’t come
yet they come.
By Innah Johanee Alaman
It was searing hot outside when Babygirl had to go rush to the city hall unkempt, with no eyebrows on, wearing only her fitting red duster that squeezed her forty-year-old curves. Harried and desperate, she had been hailing vehicles for almost half an hour already, and her flailing arms were starting to hurt. Her lower back ached as the heels of her wedges pushed her butt up and outward. The old woman sighed as the tricycles sped past her, past the waiting shed where she stood, and past the concrete road before her that writhed under the lash of the noonday heat.
That sweltering summer noon in May, Babygirl had been massaging a bald man’s head in Boomtown club downtown of General Santos City when her entire place shook as the city’s demolition team dragged their crane and wrecking ball outside her property. A cloud of hot dust wafted through their broken door. Inside, the family’s picture frames, posters, curtains, wall clock, plates, mugs, and figurines trembled and jumped out of their places as the feeble walls quaked along with the floor. Everyone inside Babygirl’s run-down club stood wide-eyed in muted panic. She was about to storm out and bonk the crane driver’s head with a broken china, but an eviction notice held up against her face stopped her.
Department of the City Engineering Office
Dear Ms. Begonia:
In line with the city’s renovation of Pioneer Avenue, you are hereby ordered to terminate your residency at the property owned by the government of General Santos City. Willingly comply on or before the demolition time: 12 noon of May 1.
The reason for this eviction notice is: your failure to pay property tax due in ten years, interest included. A demand for payment was made every six months, in May and December, which you have refused forwarding the necessary amount accumulating to eight hundred thousand pesos (PhP 800,000) with the tax interest worth one hundred and fifty thousand pesos (PhP 150,000).
Signed by the City Mayor
And the Ling Xi Holdings Corporation
It really had to be her, Babygirl thought. She had to be the one who’d leave their house atop the nightclub lounge at the mercy of heavy machinery downtown on Pioneer Avenue. The lives that depended on Boomtown: from the lives of the stray dogs and cats she took in to the girls she supported, their shelter, sustenance, and safety—all these depended on her. No, not Lolita, Recolita, or the younger girls like Chisska, Klowie, or Chilsea, but it really had to be her. Babygirl, the saucy and bold Boomtown club manager, had just turned forty this year. For years, she enjoyed her certain fame as the single mother who took in troubled women in Gensan.
When situation in their homes became dire or violent, girls fled and sought shelter in Boomtown, as it was never closed for a sister. Like how Virgie, raped by her own father in Barangay Calumpang at sixteen, left her home after her mother sided with her rapist father. Chisska came to Boomtown after being severely beaten by her husband. Recolita, the thirty-year-old woman left by her husband for being barren, also found her way to the club. Klowie, almost choked to death after refusing to kneel and go down on her boss, left her housemaid work in Koronadal. Kemberly stopped going to school when her boyfriend left her pregnant, and Babygirl, the now old matron, helped her raise her son. Their gay sister Milkita left Purok Malakas when the brothers she raised and sent to school stole all her money and ran off to gamble. All these and more were stories Babygirl knew by heart. Twenty years—Boomtown put up and stood against the rages of time, and still the stories were the same.
As a seasoned private entertainer, several men offered to buy Babygirl’s hand in marriage. Even the fairly young city mayor used to call her up at midnight during stressful nights at the office and at home. But for the past five years, Babygirl refused. She had more important things to do than fulfill Mayor Biboy’s desire for a mature woman’s paid service to his manhood. During midnight, Babygirl had to act as her own club’s bouncer to scare off the unruly drunkards. Only this time, Babygirl had to seek the city mayor’s attention again lest her family of girls end up sleeping on the streets by dusk. Worse, without the alluring lights on, no one might even pick her or the girls up.
Out here on the sidewalk, Babygirl raised her head high, sighed, and raked through her greasy hair. She wished her “Sirboy,” her once little boy, still cared for her.
“It doesn’t matter,” muttered Babygirl to herself, “all I need is to talk to Mayor Biboy and it will all be well.”
And it was true; one meeting with the mayor was all Babygirl Begonia needed to keep Boomtown to herself, as it was since the ’90s. The city mayor, yes! Old ties for the old realty blues, she guessed. She was his “’Te Babygirl” after all—the nurse who raised the mayor since he was a boy, the older sisterlike maid who served him well during his teenage years. She looked over her shoulder and stared at Boomtown. At the heart of the city center’s pioneer area, between a bank and a Chinese mall, Boomtown stood on top of a two-million-peso lot.
One meeting with Sirboy, and she could flick the demolition team away—flick their forehead with a wooden sandal or something. Most of these construction workers, along with the cops, were Babygirl’s paying patrons of “Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings” promo, customers of shave, massage, and pedicure. Even that obese crane driver availed himself of her foot spa and nail art services just a week ago. The old woman hissed in contempt. She could not believe them. Someone turned these men against her.
It was the Intsik in suits again, thought Babygirl, and their demolition threat. Their threat came in a graver form this time—with a wrecking ball.
Sure, she abhorred them, but Babygirl could not help but feel fascinated with how these men seized her lifelong property using only ink, paper, and money. Babygirl could not imagine acquiring so much wealth in a foreign country such as China only to kick out a poor family to put up a bodega. Babygirl spat on the concrete road. Out of the many unoccupied lots in the city, the Chinese investors chose her home—chose to develop Boomtown by destroying it. Sleek, shiny, and smooth, these men from the Ling Xi Corporation looked like plastic figures inside a dainty dollhouse, too flawless they almost looked fake. Of what originally used to be a dump site, Babygirl received this property in the ’80s as a gift from the mayor then, the father of current mayor Biboy. When his wife left him for an Afro-American foreigner, Babygirl remained to serve the household in unique ways: as a stay-in housemaid, unofficial wife and mother, and an on-call sex worker to both men. Up to this date, Babygirl never felt ashamed owning up to the arrangement as it earned her a two-hundred-square-meter lot in ten years. Born out of a political dynasty, the mayor’s late father had no problems giving away a parcel of land they controlled for decades.
That Biboy could not kick me out of my house. I campaigned for him at the club, at the market, at the church, at every curb, at every barbershop, and office downtown! So he could win! Even if no one wanted his gambling ass in the office! Babygirl’s nose flared.
People could talk, but Babygirl Begonia knew in her heart Boomtown was the ex-mayor’s payment in gratitude for her unpaid services. And truthfully, if it weren’t for the girls in her parlor who became their wives, the truck drivers and merchants in the ’80s would not have settled down in this sunbaked and barren coastal city. Only the thorny dadiangas tree thrived here, thus the old name of the city. But that was then, and this is General Santos City now. Boomtown became a part of the city’s old memory that the young Mayor Biboy wished to bury. To make way for the high-rise buildings, people, houses, and trees were uprooted like grass roots on a fine summer day. And the folks, not in their duster dress or ukay-ukay shorts, but those in their white-collar tux, those Ling Xi investors rich enough to sit on anyone’s land, owned their houses and properties. With only one hundred pesos in her pocket, Babygirl feared her chances were slim against the Chinese investors. Yet she could not let Boomtown slip away.
Now, Babygirl, standing by the roadside still waiting for a jeepney, worried no one even remembered, much less knew, about her home’s humble beginnings. No one knew how she built it from scratch, how she fought for it for years. Boomtown, the old unpretentious cathouse in the city, was her family of girls’ home since the ’90s.
“Do you even know where your clit is?” Babygirl Begonia used to ask the new applicant in the nightclub. The other listening girls would jeer laughing, hugging their still-shy new sister who would blush, unable to locate her lady parts. “Oh, learn your body first! Your vagina! Learn it! Own it!” She found out that most girls never knew what to find within their womanly flesh. “Locate your clit!” ordered the bodacious matron. “Don’t come here and expect that you can make a man or anyone happy if you don’t even know how to make yourself happy!”
In the morning, while the girls offered manicure and pedicure services, waited tables, tailored clothes, and continued their works as a saleslady, cashier, street food vendor, cook, and laundrywoman, Babygirl knocked on every establishment downtown to sell home-cooked meal during lunch. She also offered back and head massage to office clerks and drivers on their break.
Now if the nightclub was to be demolished, where would they go home at dusk? Where would the girls sleep? Where would they hold their karaoke nights? They couldn’t go back to their old homes. It would be far too dangerous.
“It doesn’t matter,” Babygirl huffed. “I will to talk to Mayor Biboy. He can’t resist me.”
Babygirl pulled up her low-hanging duster. She figured she might have to make a deal with the devil. Babygirl imagined herself casually flirting like in the old times, saying, Yes, still happily single, Sirboy, still taking care of the girls, sending their children to school. Right, she still loved shopping at thrift stores. But it wasn’t like she lost half a million gambling and buying guns for her collection display, like he always did. There was just a lot of stuff the girls needed to buy. Yes, reason why she was a little behind the lease, ten years.
The old woman held her breath and practiced faltering her voice into a sob. But the Chinese mall owner, Sir Biboy? He never stopped threatening the girls into giving up Boomtown. He made up lies about the gas leak, termites, and even child trafficking in the club. He wanted the lot so badly that now mad, the Intsik brought a wrecking ball with him. The old woman could fake a sob, but she could not deny that losing her home crushed her inside.
Who would help her now—Mayor Biboy? Her Sirboy? The old woman worried. Would he still care for his ’Te Babygirl, his old sister and nanny?
Bedraggled, sweating, and distraught, Babygirl got on the first jeepney that stopped in front of her. The driver did warn her, however, that his last stop was still blocks away from the city hall. Babygirl just nodded, without even understanding what the driver hollered at the front seat. She just felt grateful that a jeepney finally picked her up. Clearing the highways, tricycle drivers joined the protest-mass at the oval plaza. The demonstration was for the victims of the ongoing war against drugs, they said, of the lawless killings in town by vigilantes and policemen in civilian clothing. How long had it been since Babygirl stood there by the sidewalk—ten minutes? Her veined legs twitched no. It felt like an hour. She wasn’t sure. Babygirl would have joined the protest rally, but they weren’t just the innocent victims. Boomtown was about to be put down too. And her daughters needed her.
Sitting on the rear end of the jeepney, the aging woman looked past the sidewalk where Boomtown club stood. Construction workers and engineers in hard hats walked about Pioneer Avenue, ready to take down any grubby building. The old woman clutched the jeepney railings tighter. From afar, the downtown area was a blur of urban stalls. It took years of being in the city before Babygirl Begonia learned it—the paved Pioneer Avenue made way for the uniformed crooks to mix and compete with the lowly street crooks. Above, the lamp posts on the side of the roads looked like tall lean guards staring down at the people, watching in silence—the bleak city under their constant surveillance.
“Ate Babygirl,” Kemberly, one of the girls, once asked her, “Will the Intsik take our home?” Babygirl used to always assure the girls saying, “Over my dead, sexy, and juicy body.” She’d laugh along with the girls, certain of her own words.
Babygirl wished she could still keep her promise this time.
Comforted by the shade inside the jeepney, Babygirl stretched out and leaned back, letting her eyes wander inside the rusty, sputtering jeep. Colorful tassels, pictures of Jesus and Virgin Mary, words like katas ng dubai, free ride for girls who can ride, beware of pickpockets, and in god we trust graced the interior of the jeepney. She fanned herself, yawned, and squinted at the diabolical sun outside. It relieved her to see that the sun was still at its peak. Babygirl only had until the afternoon to cover the lease, or make the mayor postpone the date of demolition at least.
Then it crossed her mind again. She pressed her temples, furious in remembering Chisska’s maddening recklessness that put the family into ruins. Chisska was this new girl in Boomtown—a wife of nineteen battered out of jealousy by her thirty-year-old husband.
“It’s not my fault I still have suitors even with a baby bump,” Chisska complained. “I never even cheat like he does.” When Chisska first came to Boomtown, Babygirl had to stay awake all night, guarding her and placing an ice bag against her bruised rib cage. Poor girl. But if it wasn’t for Chisska’s stupid decision not to open the eviction letter (thinking it was one of her suitors’ or husband’s letters again), the matriarch would have attended the tax evasion trial against them. Babygirl would have hired an attorney to explain why they were years late in paying the property tax.
Babygirl was sure the judge would have pitied them and understood the girls’ needs especially if that famous Judge Jamora were to work on her case. That woman fully understood how much nine women spent monthly on sanitary napkins alone—the mammogram tests too, Kemberly’s caesarian section, contraceptives, and the vaccines that kept the girls safe—everything. But no, Chisska, the brightest of them all, just had to throw the letters away before Babygirl had the chance to open them.
“What did I tell you, Inday Chisska!” cried Babygirl as she shook the young lady when they faced the final demolition notice.
“That tax collectors are pigs, that they take people’s properties, their hands only dirty at work when they wipe their ass and mouth full of shit,” said Chisska in all seriousness that struck everyone in horror. The men in polo shirts who handed the demolition notice sucked their cheek in contempt. The old woman Babygirl apologetically flushed in disgrace.
“No! Not that, amaw!” Babygirl bonked the beauty’s head with a backscratcher.
“I meant the part where you have to watch out for the tax collectors’ letters, you idiot!”
A bump on the road shook the old woman awake, taking her out from her reverie. She was about to ask the jeepney driver to drop her at the nearest police station by the city hall when she noticed that everyone in the jeep was staring at her. The passengers inside were old women in black, their gold rosaries gleaming as the sunlight hit them at the right angle. The jeepney was already off the road.
“Where are we heading?” whispered Babygirl to the old woman sitting next to her.
“To Uhaw public cemetery. Didn’t you know?” squeaked the woman in front of her. “Are you the mistress of Leopoldo?” she added. “The tokhang victim we will be burying?”
Babygirl shook her head no, heavily tapped the metal jeepney outside, and screamed, “Lugar lang,” to which the vehicle stopped and lurched forward like it was taking its last dying heave. She peered outside and it was confirmed. A funeral car was up ahead. Inside the decrepit jeepney were old mourning ladies paid to pray the rosary for the untimely death of Leopoldo. Babygirl Begonia’s red tight-fitting duster looked sacrilegious next to their black veiled dresses. Babygirl bit her lip as she realized she was now even farther from the city hall. She left, ran in her wooden wedged slippers, and hailed an empty tricycle.
“City hall, fifty pesos, please take me there,” she said, still catching her breath.
“Make it one hundred, since you’re alone,” the driver replied.
“Rip-off!” barked Babygirl, her mouth almost frothing. “I’m from Gensan too! Don’t fool me! I’m just as poor as you are. Why are you taking advantage of me? We both know it only costs ten pesos if I take a multicab!”
“Do you see any multicabs?” said the gaunt driver. “They’re out on a strike. You’re even lucky you have me. And fine, fifty. But we’ll take more passengers on the way.”
The summer sun already simmered down when Babygirl reached the stair steps of the city hall. A long line of people greeted her. She stood on her toes and realized that the line reached the parking lot. These were the people trying to talk to the mayor and to the public lawyers for free legal advice. Babygirl was given the priority number 86, to which she protested.
“But I’m old and sickly.” Babygirl faked coughs, cowered, and convulsed with half-closed eyes, looking as if she was in pain. The young assistant who received her hissed, shook her head, and led her to the senior citizen priority lane. There she thirstily gulped down three glasses—free samplings of the powdered guyabano juice advertised at the city hall. Babygirl burped and wiped off her mouth with the back of her hand after the promo boy refused to refill her cup.
She looked at the people beside her. Everyone was murmuring, looking miserable and sick—cheeks hollow and the corner of their dry mouths caked with faint traces of guyabano juice. Most of them seemed to have come from the poorer neighborhoods of the town. Faded hats, crummy slippers, tattered shirt, ripped shorts. Babygirl felt that, just like her, they were aching to be heard. She craned her neck and saw the wall clock strike three. She furiously fanned herself, vexed by the unmoving line.
“Where are the government officials, their workers when we need them! I need to talk to the mayor! My house—”
“They’re on a lunch break,” an old lady in rain boots said to Babygirl as she tugged her dress to make her sit down. “Mareng, here, have some of my biscuit.”
“Thanks, but I’m not hungry.” Babygirl fumed in exasperation. “And what lunch! It’s way past their lunch break! Three PM! I need to talk to the mayor. I know him!”
“Ma’am, stay in your place.” The guard’s deep voice startled her. He blocked her way with his humungous body.
“No, I just need to see Mayor Biboy, and he will make time just to talk to me. I’m important to him, I promise.” A slight push from the guard’s hand made her falter and feel dizzy. Babygirl backed off. She had not eaten yet. A young female assistant led her back to her chair as she tried to regain her balance.
“It would be unfair if you would just barge in while these people before you waited,” she finally spoke. Babygirl shut her eyes tight, necessitating the immediate need of guardian angels to stop the desperate tears from brimming in her eyes. What she missed to see was how the younger women got past the glass door, into the mayor’s office, unhindered.
“I just wanted to see the mayor,” she whined. “He would love to see me and help me. He would love to do anything for me.” No one listened to her. Babygirl poked the leg of her seatmate sleepily waiting for her turn.
“You know, the mayor and his father loved me before,” Babygirl whispered to her, loud enough that the man in front of them turned his head to gossip. “Yes, both of them, they loved me, their housemaid,” continued Babygirl. “Ever heard of a woman ligated for her employer’s convenience?” She threw her head back, wiped the tears at the corner of her eyes, and laughed. “Silly, I couldn’t take it. I left him and his father.”
The people within earshot around Babygirl eyed her from head to toe. In response, she curled her feet to hide her dead toenail. They were trying not to look and listen to her, but Babygirl helped them by talking a little louder this time. “You know Mayor Biboy’s father loved me still even after. He bribed the barangay captain to side with me against the Intsik’s complaint about my business.” Babygirl’s seatmate leaned back and looked at her incredulously. Babygirl nodded and continued pouring out her troubles. “That Intsik got mad I sold women. I didn’t even get mad he sold expired food in his mall. Did I use the diarrhea I suffered from his noodles against him? No! I never badmouthed him, yet he used my girls and customers against me. And we only sold beer and karaoke songs!”
“Yeah, but it’s a nightclub,” replied the woman with a straight face. “And I’ve seen kids playing there outside in the morning.”
Babygirl’s face sank. “It’s only a nightclub at night,” she whispered to herself. “It’s a house in the morning.” After a beat, her voice sounded serious and faint. “God knows I never let the men touch, let alone see, the children. Never.”
The old and tired Babygirl raised her eyes and stared blankly at the mayor’s frosted glass door. Babygirl was afraid it was only she who knew the truth behind Boomtown. It was a place of refuge for men and women after a long day of labor. “Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings” she called that promo.
“Silly Intsik. I will never give up my girls’ home for him.”
The thought of her girls alone kept Babygirl going. She talked to the other people in line and learned that they camped out to meet the mayor, that seemingly higher being behind the giant frosted door. Babygirl learned that most of the people outside had lost their homes in the Build Build Project of the mayor. And suspiciously, fire broke out in many slum areas all at once. The burnt houses had to be ripped out from the ground, cleared immediately. It was not just Boomtown after all. The old woman felt her chest tighten, as if someone was wringing her heart from the inside.
“It does not matter,” Babygirl assured herself. “I just have to talk to him.”
Yet Babygirl could not deny the pounding in her chest as the line grew shorter and shorter, with every second of the clock ticking by.
Babygirl reached the end of the line in front of the frosted door by 6 PM. At the same moment, the mayor in his polo shirt and black slacks walked out of his office, as if in a hurry.
“Sirboy, it’s me! Ate Babygirl!” the old woman jumped out of her chair and grinned upon seeing her now grown charge. She wanted to kiss and hug him just like the old times, but he turned away and walked back to his office upon seeing Babygirl. She followed him. Inside, she saw two young women on the couch sleeping. They looked comfortable disheveled and covered in sheets. With the cold temperature of the room, Babygirl would have mistaken the room for a motel too.
“And your problem, ’Te Babygirl?” the mayor asked with his arms crossed.
Babygirl was about to say something rude, but she held back her tongue. She stiffened her wobbly knees and softened her voice instead. “Sirboy, the Intsik is back at it again. He will destroy my house this time. Please help me, Mayor, please. My girls are in danger.”
The thirty-year-old mayor, with his fly down, simply stared at her.
“You know it’s mine, Sirboy. It’s your father’s payment to me. You just never signed the legal paperwork that says I already paid the land title, like your father would have wanted you to.”
The mayor was not listening—his eyes were fixated on the sweaty shoulders of her ex-housemaid. At forty, Babygirl’s voluptuous curves spilled over her tight duster. Growing up with her, the mayor could still clearly remember the contours of her body.
“Hoy, Sirboy! Mayor Biboy!” the old woman called out to him. “What are you doing to Boomtown? Do I have to beg to keep my own house? My own house?”
“On your knees?” snapped Mayor Biboy with a sidelong grin.
It took every ounce of control for Babygirl not to hurl the couch toward the mayor. He was not taking her seriously. “On my knees!” Babygirl seethed. “As every woman who needed your help here must—beg on her knees.”
The mayor rushed to the door and double-checked the lock.
“And what would the people say, Mayor Biboy? That every woman here that is not your mother must beg on your knees?” exclaimed Babygirl.
“’Te Begurl, calm down! The Ling Xi Corporation has already paid me plenty to have a place in my city. Go somewhere. You’ll find a new home, trust me.”
Trust you. Babygirl clenched her fist, wanting to swing it across his face. “You can’t do this. That was your father’s payment to me. Your payment to me.”
Babygirl’s wild auburn hair made her look like a lioness about to pounce on the mayor. Mayor Biboy felt this, carefully flinching away from the furious Babygirl. He hurriedly fished out the paper bills from his pocket and asked, “How much do you need?”
“Nothing! I want my home! Boomtown!”
“Really, ’Te Babygirl. How much do you need? So you won’t have to sell your body anymore.”
The old woman looked stupefied. It took a beat before she responded. “I did not raise you that way, Biboy. Now call that Intsik and tell them to pull away the crane.”
“Will twenty thousand pesos be OK?”
“Biboy, what has gotten into you?” Babygirl clasped her chest in disbelief.
The young mayor was testing her patience. Around this time, the girls on the couch woke up. They recognized the renowned matron in town. They scampered toward the bathroom door behind them.
“Come on, ’Te Babygirl,” the mayor said. “Name your price.” He was flicking through the wads of paper bills in his wallet. “Don’t tell me you’re too expensive to buy.”
And that was it. Babygirl grabbed his collar and spat. “Talk like that to your Ate Babygirl again and I will make an earring out of your balls, Mayor Biboy.”
The mayor blinked fast in fearful surprise. He cleared his throat and fixed his polo. “I was just joking, ’Te Babygirl. How much do you need?”
“Just Boomtown, Biboy. My house!”
The mayor swallowed hard. “Boomtown has been already been taken down, ’Te Babygirl. I’m sorry, but it was not your land.”
“And neither was it yours! Or the Intsik’s!” Babygirl breathed through her noise in sheer fury. She felt like tearing the room apart.
Silence. Much to her shame, her stomach growled in full volume.
The mayor stared and shook his head. He fished for his wallet, handed Babygirl half of the thick wad of the paper bills. “I’m sorry, ’Te Babygirl. I lost a bet to the Ling Xi man. This time he wanted Boomtown.”
A tear trickled down Babygirl’s cheek. She wiped it dry, wasted no time, and grabbed the money. The mayor stopped her. He pulled her arm to see her face one more time. After his father’s death, living alone in his house, Mayor Biboy always sought her Ate Babygirl’s company at night. Yet she always refused.
Babygirl knew he still wanted her. She reached out to him and clung to him. A sigh escaped from the mayor’s lips. She hugged him, and then drew back. With no signs of protest, she slowly felt him all over. Mayor Biboy simply stood in gratitude. She rubbed her left palm against his crotch, eyes locked with his. It was easy. The mayor immediately grew in size under her caresses. He could not take his eyes off her low-hanging duster. It squeezed her ample breasts. Sensing he was in a daze, Babygirl took the chance. She fished out the rest of the bundle of money behind the Mayor’s back. The bathroom door then swung open. The two girls now fully dressed scampered toward the door. Babygirl followed them, leaving Sir Biboy alone. She did not look back.
Her lips trembled.
Boomtown has been already been taken down, ’Te Babygirl.
The old woman wept on her way home. Back in the city’s downtown area, what once stood as Boomtown club had become a pile of debris. The young group of boys in the demolition team pulled scrap metals and wood, their brown bodies bent and flexed in unison under the faint orange glow of the lamp posts. One of them said sorry to Babygirl for her loss, saying the demolition workers had no choice. They were just doing their job. But they were sorry.
From the sidewalk, Babygirl saw Chisska brandishing aggressively an umbrella and a backscratcher. She ran after the construction workers, swatting them like flies. “I’m going to demolish your houses too! I will follow you home, all of you!!”
Kemberly, too, threw sandals and slippers at a plump policeman outside. “I will tell your wife you spent so much money on Happy Endings last night, you traitor! I will tell your wife you overtime here in Boomtown, tambukikoy!”
Will they leave her? Will her girls leave her? The old woman picked up the Christmas balls that rolled off from the heap of their properties.
They lost Boomtown. But it wasn’t the wreck that anguished her. What wounded Babygirl was seeing her daughters outside pick fights with every guy who looked like a construction worker. Under the pale lamps posts, the furious girls looked like street fighters. Each one of them had backpacks on, filled with their personal things, as though they were about to go. Babygirl wiped her face and cleared her throat, the paper bills still clenched tight inside her bra.
“Auntie Begurl, sorry.” Chisska dropped her bag and first ran to her weeping. “It’s all my fault, isn’t it?”
“It is,” said Babygirl with a straight face. Chisska shamefully laughed and hugged the old woman. Babygirl squinted and then smiled, which sent the family sighing and laughing at their misery.
Carefully laid on top of a fading tarpaulin were the family’s belongings—their decors, kitchenware, chamber pots, beddings, figurines, and furniture. All the clothes the girls owned piled up into one giant heap, as tall as the low roof of their first floor.
Nightfall. The Boomtowm became nothing but a dark mess between a Chinese mall and a bank. Curious passers-by and drivers surrounded them. Onlookers also eyed their belongings and asked how much the furniture were and the beer cans altogether. What were they going to do with their clothes? The karaoke set? Were their ladders, tables, and chairs sturdy? Was their sewing machine still working? With this, they decided to keep a few appliance and personal things to start afresh. The old woman rummaged through the rubble, and grabbed a bucket, dipper, pillow, DVD, mugs, clothing, decors, and started selling their things.
At the top of her lungs, she cried out, “Tag-dyes, tag-dyes na lang”—ten pesos, the selling price of their belongings. As if something was breaking inside of her, the old woman’s voice first faltered when she screamed. “Tag-dyes, tag-dyes na lang,” she cried out further. Her cries cut through the bustling city noise at dusk. Almost wailing, she screamed, “Tag-dyes, tag-singko na lang.” Tears welled up around Babygirl Begonia’s eyes. More people came when she slipped and said “tag-singko.”
“Just for one night, we will sleep at the barangay hall,” said Babygirl to the girls. “We will sell, eat, and sleep tonight. But tomorrow we will fight. Okay?” The girls nodded and huddled closer. They still had a chance with Judge Jamora tomorrow. That attorney never turned down a case that concerned women.
The warm Sarangani Bay breeze gushed from the east of Boomtown, hushing the old woman’s howl. The girls busily picked up items and sold them. With the girls beside her, Babygirl did not falter standing this time. She stood on her ground, bracing herself as the warm summer wind blew her varnish-colored hair.
By Allana Joy V. Boncavil
In the solace of a narrow, cramped, and dark space, a kid holds a well-taken-care-of Barbie doll in his hand. He holds it near and dear to him as if someone was going to grab it away from him all of a sudden. He hugs his knees tighter as he rocks himself to and fro with a distant look in his eyes. The sudden slamming of a door in the distance makes him flinch.
* * *
Case No. 0985
1 of ?
Josefina Cruz, aunt of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Q: How long have you known Mr. José Alfonso?
A: Ever since he started courting my sister, which dated back from 1990—no, 2000, I think. I don’t remember clearly.
Q: When was the last time you were in contact with Ms. Alfonso? Specific year please, if possible.
A: Around 2014. She called me after her water broke and she couldn’t get hold of that [redacted] José.
Q: Please refrain from cursing, Ms. Josefina.
A: Ah—I’m sorry. I just can’t believe he could do such a thing! And for what? Over a damn toy? He should’ve let his son play whatever he wanted to play with! I—
* * *
The loud ringing of the telephone wakes up a huge, bulky man from his slumber in the living room couch. He groggily stumbles over to the kitchen counter where the telephone is located, knocking over several bottles of Heineken as he does. A loud sound echoes throughout the house, and as he walks back to the couch, he leaves a broken and unusable telephone behind.
* * *
Case No. 0985
2 of ?
Maria Santos, friend of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Q: So you’re a close friend of Ms. Alfonso?
A: Well . . . I was.
Q: Was? Please elaborate on that.
A: Teresa and I had been the closest of friends for years, until three or four years back. We drifted apart. She stopped answering my texts, and calls, and voicemails. Nothing. She just went completely off the radar. Just silence.
Q: Have you observed anything strange with Ms. Alfonso weeks or months before she cut off communication with you?
A: I really don’t know—but I’m sure her shady husband has something to do with it. I don’t know—he just sets off many red flags with the way he was acting when Teresa first introduced him to me.
* * *
It’s 3 AM. There are voices speaking in an almost inaudible volume. The boy didn’t mean to eavesdrop on his mom talking with someone over the phone, but the thin walls and his curiosity have pushed him to do so.
“Please help us, Tina. Please. We can’t do this anymore. He might really do it next time. I’m begging you. We—”
The door opens.
* * *
Case No. 0985
3 of ?
Kristina Baliente, friend of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Q: When did the call take place?
A: It was literally just a few hours ago!
Q: What took place in your conversation with Ms. Alfonso?
A: I . . . it was all so sudden. She called me asking to save her from her husband, but I didn’t have enough context to go with!
Q: And what did you do after that?
A: Well, you know, I was busy with my laundry during that time, and I wasn’t being ignorant. I was just really busy because—
* * *
Ten years has passed. Yellow tapes stretch from tree to tree, and a crowd of students stand behind them.
“What happened?” someone asks.
“Some kid jumped,” comes the reply from a fellow stranger on school grounds, surrounding the grotesque scene.
Another stranger comes running through the crowd and slides right past the yellow tape. The police in the area stops him and asks him what his business is.
“That’s my friend!” he screams. He curses, resentfully so.
* * *
Case No. 8325
1 of 1
Rommel Corazon, friend of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Q: What were the last things Mr. Alfonso had said?
A: A lot. I just . . . didn’t expect him to do this. He was doing very well yesterday. He . . . he . . .
Q: Concentrate, Rommel. What did he say that could be ruled out as the cause of the jump?
A: . . .
A: A [redacted] ton. If only someone listened. If only someone had the guts to speak up.
A: . . .
A: He just wanted to be with his mum a little longer.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Corazon. That would be all.
* * *
Two officers at the scene carefully carry the body on a stretcher, heading to the ambulance. Both of them can’t afford to look at the corpse, even if a white sheet has been placed over it.
“Such a young life lost,” one finally breaks the silence. The other nods in dismay and answers, “Heard it’s another case of passed-on family baggage.”
The officer shoots a look to his co-worker.
“These things are becoming awfully prevalent around.”
Silence ensues between the two officers as they shut the ambulance door behind them.
Ni Rossel Audencial
Ginagutom na ko. Niuli ko dayon gikan eskwelahan para makakaon, kaso pag-abot nako diri, wala man tawo ug walay pagkaon bilin.
Wala koy ikapalit og maski unsa nga pagkaon. Nahurot na akong baon nga baynte pesos para sa isa ka adlaw. Gipalit nako og saging ganihang recess ang dyes, giamot kay teacher ang singko kay gamiton daw para sa among room, ug gipalit nako og bolpen ang nabilin nga singko.
“Ate, naay kan-on?” ingon pud ni Bert nga nagahangos pa gikan sa gawas. Iyang nawong puno og singot nga gatulo-tulo pa.
“Wala man unod ang kaldero,” tubag nako.
“Ay, abi nako naglung-ag usab si Mama. Nahurot man namo ang kan-on ganihang paniudto.” Nisulod si Bert sa kwarto. Paggawas niya usab, nakailis na siya og T-shirt.
“Asa diay niadto si Mama?” pangutana nako.
“Wala pa diay siya kauli?” tubag ni Bert. “Ingon niya ganiha, adto daw siya ila Ante Minda kadali.” Amiga ni Mama si Ante Minda, ug sa pikas purok kini gapuyo.
Niduol si Bert sa dako nga lata sa bugas ug giablihan kini. “Wala pud ta bugas nga lung-agon.”
“Wala man tawo dinhi pag-abot nako,” ingon nako. Nilingkod ko sa usa ka bangko atubang sa among lamesa. Gisundan nakog tan-aw si Bert nga nilakaw padulong sa pultahan. “Asa ka?”
“Didto lang ko sa pikas,” ingon niya bag-o nigawas.
Adto na pud siya tingali ila Ante Sally, magulang ni Papa nga pinakaduol ang balay sa amoa. Didto lang sa pikas nga kanto. Maayo didto kay naa sila tindahan. Ganahan motambay si Bert didto kay magdula sila sa among pinsan nga si Allen. Naa computer si Allen. Nagatrabaho ang bana ni Ante Sally sa canning og dako daw sweldo.
Gabii na pud guro to mahuman sila Papa. Maayo na lang nakasulod siya sa Dole nga pinyahan. Maski gamay ang sweldo, sige lang, ana siya, basta naa lang trabaho ug duol sa amoa. Wala man gud kahuman si Papa og high school maong dili daw siya makakuha og nindot nga trabaho. Ana siya nga maningkamot daw mi nga moeskwela ug makahuman para makapangita mi og trabaho nga dako ang sweldo. Sige lang, makahuman lang lagi ko. Maski layo, baktason lang nako among eskwelahan adlaw-adlaw. Mahal man gud ang pamasahe ba. Ikaon na lang nako og saging nga prito akong ipamasahe. Maayo pa ang elementary naay feeding. Kami sa high school wala kay dako na daw mi. Pero wala lang sila kabalo nga gaadto pud mi sa eskwelahan nga walay kaon. Kanindot mobalik og elementary. Pero dili, mas maayo nga makahuman na ko og junior high school. Ingon nila libre man daw ang senior high school. Asa kaya ko ani moeskwela? Gusto nako cooking para magtukod ko og karinderya diri sa amoa. Ana pud akong klasmeyt, hairdressing daw para magparlor mi.
Murag naay tawo sa gawas. Pag-abri sa pultahan, akong duha ka manghod diay. Ngitngit na sa gawas.
“Asa mo gikan?” pangutana nako kay Ella, manghod nako nga sunod kay Bert. Naa sa edad diyes si Ella. Gunit niya ang kamot ni Jun, among kinamanghuran nga lalaki nga lima ka tuig.
“Ila Lola,” tubag ni Ella. “Gidala mi niya sa ilang balay ganiha.”
“Wala lagi siya nisulod?
“Adtoan daw niya si Ante Sally. Wala pa kauli si Mama?”
“Wala pa. Unsa diay oras nilakaw si Mama?”
“Human paniudto. Lakaw daw usa siya kadali. Katong nadugay nga wala pa siya kauli, nilakaw si Kuya. Nabilin lang mi diri sulod. Taodtaod, naghilakhilak na man ni si Jun kay gusto mogawas, maong nigawas mi. Nagtambay mi didto sa may tindahan sa tumoy. Naabtan mi ni Lola didto, ug ana siya nga uban daw mi sa iya.”
“Sige, ilisi usa si Jun.” Nisulod silang duha sa kwarto.
Wala pa lagi si Mama? Ganiha pa man diay siya nilakaw. Nag-unsa kaha siya didto ila Ante Minda. Mga pila na pud ka semana nga sige siya adto didto, ug pagnagaadto siya didto, dugay jud na siya mouli. Katong niaging semana gani, suko kayo si Papa kay pag-abot niya wala pay nilung-ag nga gabii na. Pag-abot ni Mama, nag-away sila. Kusog kaayo ang tingog ni Papa. Madunggan jud sa tibuok purok. Hadlok kaayo mi kay hapit na sumbagon ni Papa si Mama. Nakit-an jud nako iyang kinumo. Nisinggit kog, “Ayaw!” Naundang si Papa ug nigawas sa balay maski gabii na. Wala siya niuli katong gabiuna.
Sunod adlaw ato, wala pa gihapon kauli si Papa pag-uli nako sa hapon. Nilakaw si Mama, ug pagbalik niya, uban na niya si Papa. Hilom kaayo sila pagsulod sa balay. Wala sila tingganay hangtod sa nahuman mig panihapon. Mga pila pa kaadlaw bag-o nitingog si Papa paghawa niya balay para magtrabaho. Niingon ra pud si Mama nga, “Sige.” Hinay iyang tingog. Ambot lang kung nadunggan to ni Papa.
Sukad ato, naa na si Mama pag-abot nakog balay. Ganahan kaayo ko kanang pag-uli nako naay saging nga nilaga sa kaldero. Kung wala pud, sayo galung-ag si Mama ug sayo mi mangaon. Lami gud ang sardinas nga butangan rag papaya ug malunggay. Lami among higop-higop sa sabaw. Mokaon na lang si Papa pag-uli niya.
Karon na pud nadugayan og uli si Mama. Sigurado masuko na pud to si Papa ba. Moutang na lang guro kog bugas sa tindahan sa tumoy. Murag layo na man i-adto ila Ante Sally. Ulaw na pud kaayo moadto didto. Murag gaadto lang mi didto para makikaon. Uban pa jud mi sa akong mga manghod. Buotan man si Ante. Ginapakaon mi niya pag mag-adto mi sa ilaha. Pero ana si Papa, dili daw mi sigeg adto didto kay ulaw sa iyang bana. Wala man ang bana ni Ante sa ilaha kung mag-adto mi kay panggabii daw iyang duty. Maski na, ana si Papa, ulaw daw sigeg adto ila Ante para mokaon. Mao nang talagsa na lang ko gaadto ila Ante. Kanang pag gutom na kaayo, moagi ko sa ila. Maayo na lang pakaonon pud ko niya. Ginapadal-an pa gani ko niya og sud-an pag-uli nako para daw sa akong mga manghod. Pasalamat kaayo kog dako.
Nag-ingon ko kay Ella nga mogawas ko kadali.
“Pagbalik dayon ha,” ingon niya nga nitutok sa akong mata. Pagawas na silag kwarto ni Jun nga bitbit ang coloring book nga regalo ni Ante Sally sa amoa katong niaging December.
“Dira ra ko sa tindahan sa tumoy.”
Amoa lang tarangkahan ang ngitngit paggawas nako. Naa man suga ang mga balay-balay nga akong maagian padulong sa tindahan. Wala nay tawo sa gawas nga nagalakaw kay naa tanan sa sulod nagtan-aw og TV. Kami ra jud ang walay TV sa balay. Wala pay ikapalit, ingon ni Papa. Sa sunod lang daw. Mangutang lang kog isa ka kilo nga bugas para lung-agon karong gabii ug ugma sa buntag. Bayran lang ni Mama pag-uli niya. Naa naman pud guro siya dala sud-anon. Basta makalung-ag lang ko una bag-o moabot si Papa. Mas maayo unta naa na si Mama sa tindahan pag-abot nako para dili na ko mangutang. First time nako ni. Ulaw man pero bahala na.
Mga pito ka balay akong giagian hangtod nakaabot sa tungod sa tindahan nga tumoy sa among kanto. Dinhi nagaagi sila Papa ug Mama pagpauli sa balay. Dinhi pud ko gaagi padulong sa eskwelahan. Gamay ra ang tindahan. Naa kini semento nga lingkoranan sa matag gilid. Diri halos gatambay ang mga drayber sa habal-habal kung mahapon na. Maayo na lang walay tawo karon. Niayo ko kaisa ug nitubag dayon si Ante Linda. Naa ra diay siya sa sulod. Dili nako siya makit-an dayon kay puno og biskit ug sudlanan sa kendi ang iyang tindahan. Naa pud kaha sa sigarilyo sa may wala nako.
“Maayong gabii, Ante. Mingaw lagi ron?”
“Ay, nanguli silag sayo kay naay ordinansa si Kap nga dakpon ang mga tambay lalo na ang gasugal.
“Tong niaging semana ra pud. Ganina gani naa daw gipangsikop didto sa pikas purok kay nadakpan gasugal. Naa guro nisumbong.”
“Hala, kahadlok pud.” Unsa na lang kaha kung madakpan ko sa pulis. Ikulong jud ko nila uban sa mga preso. Sa mga nakita nako nga palabas ila Ante Sally, hadlok baya mga nawong sa tawo sa sulod sa presohan.
Pagpangutana ni Ante Linda kung unsa akong paliton, ana ko nga moutang usa kog isa ka kilo nga bugas. Bayran lang ni Mama pag-uli niya. Natingala si Ante kay wala pa kauli si Mama nga gaina pa man tong tunga sa adlaw niagi sa iyang tindahan. “Gani, Te,” ana pud ko. Nisugot si Ante. Gihatagan ko niya og isa ka kilo nga bugas. Niana pa siya nga gabayad man si Papa basta gautang sa iya. Nagpasalamat ko dayon nibaktas pauli. Mingaw na jud ang dalan kay wala na galakaw-lakaw dili pareho tong mga niaging gabii. Pag kanang manugo si Mama palit og mantika, daghan pa na tawo katikaw-tikaw sa dalan. Daghan pa na bata magdagan-dagan sa gawas. Kamingaw sa dalan karon. Murag ako ra ang tawo sa kalibutan. Maski naay suga sa mga balay, ngitngit ra gihapon akong ginaagian. Nibati na ko og kalamig sa dapyo sa hangin sa kagab-ihon pati pud ang kabug-aton sa isa ka kilo nga bugas. Ako jud kini gigunitan sa duha nako ka kamot, ang isa sa taas sa silopin ug ang isa sa ilalom. Basig magisi pa lang ang silopin ug mayabo ang bugas.
Sa kahilom sa dalan, daghan nuon ko mahimunduman. Unsa gani tong ingon ni Lola ah, kanang—nikalit nga naay nipagaspas. Walay suga ang balay nga pawod nila Ante Neneng. Karon lang pud nako napansin. Naay usa ka dakong puno sa mangga sa kiliran niini. Nagahilay na ang uban nga dahon sa ilang atop. Sa kangingit, mura kinig dakong tawo nga gabantay sa gamay nga balay . . . nga nagatan-aw sa akoa. Nanlimbawot akong balahibo sa kalit. Nihinay-hinay kapaspas og lakaw akong mga tiil ug nidagan.
Gipaspasan nako og abri sa among tarangkahan ug nisulod. Niundang ra ko sa sulod sa pultahan nga gahangos-hangos. Nangutana si Ella kung naunsa ko. Nagapungko sila ni Jun sa lamesa. “Wala,” tubag nako. Mura kog buang nga nidagan. Nikatawa kog kusog sa akong gibuhat. Natingala akong mga manghod nga nitan-aw nako. Gibutang nako ang isa ka kilo nga bugas sa lamesa ug nideretso sa dapugan. Maayo na lang naa pa gamay uling nabilin. Makaluto pa jud ko ani og kan-on.
Asa na man to si Mama? Mag-alas otso na pagtan-aw nako sa among gamay nga relo sa bungbong. Naluto na ang kan-on ug nabahaw na gani kini. Wala pa pud si Papa. Gigutom na kog pag-ayo. Pagpangutana nako sa akong mga manghod, wala pa sila gibati og gutom kay gipakaon man sila ni Lola ganiha bag-o sila niuli.
Nitingog ang pultahan.
“Papa!” singgit ni Jun. Nitindog ko sa kalit. Nisulod si Papa ug hinay-hinay nga gipinid ang pultahan.
“Asa si Bert?” pangutana ni Papa. Gibutang niya sa lamesa iyang dala nga silopin ug gisabit niya iyang bag sa bungbong.
“Niadto ila Ante Sally,” tubag nako sa hinay nga tingog. Nihulat ko nga masuko na pud siya.
“Adtoan ko lang siya. Manghulam na lang pud ko kung naa pa sila nabilin kan-on.”
“Nakalung-ag na man ko, Pa,” ana ko. Nihulat ko nga mangutana siya kung asa ko nagkuha og bugas.
“Sige, pangaon na mo una. Naa man ko dala nga sardinas dira.” Nisulod siya sa kwarto.
Gipahipos nako ang coloring book ni Jun. Naghukad ko og kan-on. Gibuksan pud nako ang lata sa sardinas ug gibubo ang sulod niini sa yahong. Dili na jud matabang ang akong kagutom. Human pangamuyo, nisugod na mi kaon. Kalami sa kan-on ug sardinas! Lami jud mokaon nga gakinamot. Nanghugas na bitaw ko. Ana man si Titser nga manghugas daw bag-o mokaon. Human sa pipila ka hungit, nibati na ko og kabusog. Pagtan-aw nako sa akong mga manghod, hinay lang ilang kaon. Sabaw lang ang gusto ni Jun. Gamay na lang nabilin sa sardinas. Wala pa diay kakaon si Papa. Ug si Mama diay! Karon lang nako mahinumduman. Wala lagi nangita si Papa kay Mama?
“Kaon na, Pa,” ingon nako paggawas usab ni Papa sa kwarto. Nakailis na siya og T-shirt pambalay.
“Unya lang ko,” ana siya. “Sundoon pa nako imong manghod.” Hinay iyahang lakaw padulong sa pultahan. Nabati nako ang kahilom sa balay. Ang gabitay nga pangutana sa akong huna-huna: Wala pa lagi si Mama?
“Wala pa kauli si Mama.” Nigawas lamang kini sa akong baba nga wala nako gihunahuna. Wala ko kasabot kung nganong giingon nako kini.
Niatubang usab si Papa kanamo. Nitan-aw ko sa iya nga gahulat. Dugay siya nitingog.
“Dili mouli si Mama ninyo karong gabii. Naa siya sa prisohan karon. Nadakpan siya nga gasugal ila Minda gaina.” Nigawas si Papa sa pultahan.
Wala ko kasabot sa akong gibati samtang gatulo akong luha.
Ni Doren John Bernasol
OMAR 1 – Omar sa entablado. Ang Omar isang taon na ang nakaraan. May katamtamang taas, makisig ang postura, nakasalamin, at may balabal sa leeg. May kasungitan, malalim ang boses, at may hinhin ang kilos.
OMAR 2 – Omar sa restawran. Ang kasalukuyang Omar. Nakasalamin pa rin at may balabal sa leeg. May maliit na pilat sa kaliwang pisngi, nagkabalbas nang kaunti pagkalipas ng isang taon. Mahinahon ang dating pero bigay todo kung tumula.
MACMAC – Mahusay na aktor na matalik na kaibigan ni Omar. Masayahing tao. May pagtingin kay Jane.
JANE – Isa ring baguhang artista na nakatuluyan ni Macmac. Naging malapit sa dalawang magkaibigan. Mahinhing dalaga.
SOL – Sekretarya ni Omar. May pagtingin sa direktor at medyo maharot ang kilos kapag kasama si Omar.
Restawran – Dito kasalukuyang nagpe-perform ng spoken poetry si Omar
Entabladong panteatro – Pinapasukan ng tatlong tauhan bilang manunulat at mga artista
Blangkong silid – Ganapan ng monologo
Hiwalay sa entabladong may tabing ang isang maliit na entabladong may mikropono. Ito ang restawrang tanghalan ng spoken poetry. Ang tagapanood ay tila mga tao sa loob ng restawran na naghihintay ng pagtatanghal. Tahimik at madilim ang silid. Sarado ang tabing. Aakyat si Omar 2 sa de-mikroponong entablado. Tututukan siya ng medyo maparam na ilaw, at ite-test niya ang mikropono.
OMAR 2: Magtatalumpati ho ako’t hindi tutula. (Ngingiti.) Di tulad ng dati, di tulad noon. Magtatalumpati ako kahit na alam kong giliw na giliw ka sa mga taludtod na hinango mula pa rito. (Ilalagay ang kamay sa dibdib.) Pero lahat ay wala na. Ayaw ko nang tumula. Ayaw ko nang lumuha. Ayaw ko nang maniwala. (Yuyuko.)
Paglalahuan ng ilaw si Omar 2.
Bubukas ang tabing sa mas malawak na entablado, kung saan nagsasanay si Omar 1 at Macmac para sa isang dulang itatanghal. May hawak na iskrip si Omar 1 at tinuturuan si Macmac kung paano ito iarte.
MACMAC: Kailan ba makakamtan ang pangako mong payapang bayan, Jose?
OMAR 1: Konting emosyon pa, ’tol. (Aakbayan si Macmac.) Siguro pagod lang ’yan. Inaantok ka ba? (Sisigaw sa mga staff) Water break muna!
Aabutan ng tubig ang dalawa. Tatalakayin nila ang tungkol sa audition ng kukuning leading lady ni Macmac.
OMAR 1: Sasama ka ba sa pagpili ng kapareha mo?
MACMAC: Hindi na siguro. Kailangan ko pang kabisaduhin itong iskrip mo eh. Tiwala naman ako sa ’yo pagdating sa mga chick, p’re.
OMAR 1: Huwag mo nga akong igaya sa ’yo. Porke gwapo mabilis magpalit. Di tulad ko. Banayad magmahal.
Aakmang nabulunan sa iniinom na tubig si Macmac.
MACMAC: Bakit, nagkajowa ka na? Sus, sayang ang tamis ng dila mo sa pambobola dahil hanggang iskrip ka lang. Tatalab pa rin kaya ’yan sa babae?
Hindi papansinin ang sinabi ni Macmac at aalis ng entablado si Omar 1.
MACMAC: Kaya hindi ka magkajowa kasi ang suplado mo. Bitter!
Lalabas si Macmac sa salungat na direksyon.
Magdidilim. Magsasara ang tabing. Mahinang sisingit ang isang tugtog at mawawala rin agad. Iilaw sa entablado ng restawran.
OMAR 2: Haram. Ito ay salitang Muslim na ang ibig sabihin ay bawal. Pero ang iyong puso ba ay tatagal? Sa dinami-raming bawal, hangal, puso mo ba ay susugal?
Bawal ang titigan ka lang dahil maraming mga mata.
Bawal ang magtapat dahil alam kong ako’y idudura, ipagwawalang-bahala.
Bawal magmahal, bawal kang akapin, lalong bawal kang isiping.
O para lang itong baso na nakatikim ng halik ng nalasing ay nabuwal. Tulad ng puso ko na nabasag, naging bubog. Sinubukan kong pulutin. Ako’y nasusog. Ako’y wasak.
Sabay ng paglaho ng ilaw kay Omar 2 ay dagling sisingit ang tugtog. Pagbukas ng tabing ay titigil rin ito agad.
May isang audition na nagaganap. Si Omar 1 ay makikitang nakadekuwatro at may hawak na iskrip. Sa gilid niya ay sekretaryang nagbibigay ng panuto sa lahat ng auditionee.
Tatlong babae ang dadaan at wala siyang mapili.
Mapapagod si Omar 1 at hihingi ng break.
SOL: Sir, ano po ba talaga ang hinahanap mo? ’Yong tatlo maganda, matalino, at may talento pa!
OMAR 1: Pero kasi parang kulang sila eh.
Tutugtog ang isang instrumental na love song.
OMAR 1: Hindi lang maganda, matalino, o talentado. Naghahanap ako ng hinhin, ng hiya, ng may malakas na dating. ’Yong sa mata pa lang, mala-anghel na. Tipong kakikiligan ang kaniyang mga ngiti.
Magpapa-cute si Sol habang iniisa-isa ni Omar 1 ang katangian ng hinahanap niyang leading lady.
OMAR 1: Sol? Sige na. Resume na tayo.
Papasok si Jane na tila nahihiya.
Magaganap ang audition. Papalakpak si Omar 1 pagkatapos.
OMAR 1: Tapos na! Sol, pauwiin mo na ang iba. May napili na tayo.
Lalabas si Sol at maiiwan si Omar 1 at Jane. Magkakamay sila at maginoong babatiin ni Omar 1 si Jane.
OMAR 1: Sa totoo lang, itong audition namin ay hindi paghahanap ng perpektong babae para sa bakanteng role. Kasi . . . naghintay ako ng tamang babae. Naghintay ako na dumating ka.
Biglang tutugtog at biglang titigil din.
OMAR 1: Ako nga pala si Omar, ang direktor at writer na rin.
Mamatay ang ilaw.
Pagbalik ng ilaw, nasa entablado pa rin sina Omar 1 at Jane, masayang nagkukuwentuhan.
OMAR 1: Ang gagampanang mong papel ay si Clara. Siya ay kasintahan ng bidang si Andoy. Ang eksena mo ay magsisimula sa kalagitnaan ng kuwento. Sila pala ang ibang bumubuo sa cast. (Ituturo ang iba pang kasamahan.) Ito pala ang magiging kapares mo, ang— (Matitigilan.)
Makikipagkamay si Macmac kay Jane na tila nabibighani.
MACMAC: Ako nga pala si Macmac, o Andoy sa mga karakter. (Bibitiw sa pakikipagkamay.) Ako ang kasintahan mo rito—magiging kasintahan mo. (Ngingiti nang malandi.)
JANE: Ha? Kasintahan?
MACMAC: Sa iskrip siyempre. Pero . . . ikaw. He-he.
JANE: Ahh . . . Marunong ka ha. (Matatawa.)
Lalapit si Omar 1 na suplado ang mukha. Aabutan ng iskrip si Jane.
OMAR 1: Oh, ito ’yong papel mo. Madaliin mong kabisaduhin ’yan ha?
JANE: Ikaw ba talaga ang sumulat nito? (Sinusuri ang iskrip)
OMAR 1: Oo. Bakit?
JANE: Ang galing mo naman.
OMAR 1: Di naman masyado. Ako na rin ang direktor nito kasi mahirap nang maghanap pa. Makakasundo sa una, mag-aaway rin kalaunan. Tapos maghihiwalay. (Bubuntong-hininga.) Kaya nga nasanay na ako ritong mamahala nang mag-isa. Pero nice working with you.
JANE: Ako rin. Willing ako ng kahit na ano basta ikasasaya mo, boss. (May inihabol na malagkit na tingin kay Omar 1.)
OMAR 1: Talaga? Kahit na ano?
JANE: Oo naman. Kahit na ano basta ikagaganda ng play.
OMAR 1: Ahhh, OK.
JANE: Bakit pala?
OMAR 1: Wala. Basahin mo na lang ’yan.
JANE: Pero hanga ako sa ’yo, boss, kasi mahilig din ako sa mga tula. Nagsusulat ka rin ba no’n?
Sisingit si Macmac sa usapan.
MACMAC: Ahhm, Jane, gusto mo ipraktis na agad natin ’yan?
JANE: O sige. ’Yong may drama agad.
Lalabas ng entablado si Omar 1. Magsasanay ang dalawang artista. Konting lapat ng musika. Magtatawanan at maghaharutan sila. Maglalaho ang ilaw, at magsasara ang kurtina. Patuloy lang sa pagtugtog ang musika.
Matutuon ang ilaw sa restawran. Hihinto ang musika.
OMAR 2: Pero pinulot ko pa rin kasi umaasa ako na puwede pang ayusin. Ibalik sana sa dati. Dating halik, dating tamis, dating lambing, himbing, at dating akin. Pero sa halip na maayos, napuwing pa ako. Kahit na masakit, nakalimutan kong pumikit. Naluha ako hindi sa sakit ng mata, kirot ng daliri, kundi sa hapdi ng puso. Nang napuwing ako, nakalimutan kong pumikit.
Babalik ang ilaw sa malapad na entablado. May marahang tugtog ng musika. Pagbukas ng tabing, makikita sa gitna si Jane na nakaluhod at mahigpit na yakap ang binti ni Macmac. Ilang sandali pa ay binitawan nila ang yapos na iyon. Magkahawak-kamay silang mag-uusap.
JANE: Andoy, ipangako mong babalik ka.
MACMAC: (Hahawiin ang buhok sa mukha ni Jane patungo sa tainga.) Pangako ’yan, Clara. Babalik ako rito nang buo. Mahintay mo sana ako.
JANE: Oo. At walang sandali ng buhay ko na hindi ka iisipin, Andoy.
Yayakapin ni Macmac si Jane at magpapatuloy pagkatapos.
MACMAC: Pakakasalan kita pagbalik ko.
JANE: Kahit saang simbahan, Andoy.
Hahawakan ni Macmac ang pisngi ni Jane at mag-iiyakan sila. Dahan-dahang maglalapit ang labi ng dalawa. Padabog na lalapit si Omar 1.
OMAR 1: Ano ba! Ginagalang ko ang ad lib ninyo, pero pwede bang igalang ni’yo rin ang iskrip ko? An’daming walang nabigkas na linya oh. Nagmamadali ba kayong maghalikan? Magsabi lang kayo.
Hihilingin ni Macmac kay Jane na umalis muna ito. Lalabas si Jane.
MACMAC: ’Tol, sorry naman oh. Medyo nadala lang ako. Binuhos ko kasi ang emosyon ko para do’n. Ang . . . ang totoo kasi, ’tol, gusto ko na agad si Jane. OK lang ba sa ’yo?
OMAR 1: (May pagkailang) Oo. Wala namang problema do’n. Una pa lang, halata na kita. Ang akin lang sana, propesyunal lang tayo rito sa stage.
MACMAC: Alam mo na pala. Kung ligawan ko kaya siya, ’tol? Kaya lang . . . Wala ka bang gusto kay Jane?
OMAR 1: Sus! Wala, ’tol. Alam mo naman priorities ko, di ba? Saka na lang ang lovelife lovelife na ’yan. Bawal sa amin sa Islam, ’tol, na mag-asawa ng hindi namin karelihiyon. Haram ang tawag diyan, kaya ’wag ka nang magtaka kung pihikan ako.
MACMAC: So tutulungan mo akong manligaw? Sige na. Sumuporta ka naman sa best friend mo.
OMAR 1: Bakit? Sigurado ka na ba talaga sa kanya? Baka iiwan mo rin lang.
MACMAC: Ngayon lang ako nagkandarapa sa babae nang ganito, iiwanan ko pa?
OMAR 1: Sige. Galingan mo riyan sa eksena ni’yo. Tuturuan kitang tumula. Alam ko mga hilig niya.
Tuwang-tuwa si Macmac. Sabay silang lalabas sa entablado. Magsasara ang tabing at didilim.
Bibigkas ng tula si Omar 2, at unti-unti siyang iilawan.
OMAR 2: Nakalimutan kong pumikit nang magkakilala tayo. Ni kisapmata ay kinalimutan ko.
Nakalimutan kong pumikit nang ako’y unang kinausap mo. Ngingiti-ngiti ako sa pagkukuwento kahit ano. Kahit magulo.
Nakalimutan kong pumikit nang nagkasundo tayo. Lunok ako nang lunok ng laway para tumino.
Nakalimutan kong pumikit nang isang beses nagtagpo ang ating mga mata na tila nagpapaliwanag ng ano’ng mayroon ka.
Nakalimutan kong pumikit nang tuluyan akong nahulog sa iyo, nang inakala kong buo itong puso.
Pero bago pa man nahugot ang puso rito sa dibdib, inunahan na ako ng lungkot, at lahat ay pumait . . .
Biglang dilim. May nangingibabaw na boses na tumutula. Makikita mula sa dahan-dahang pagbukas ng kurtina si Omar 1 na nagtuturo ng pagbigkas ng tula kay Macmac para ipagmayabang kay Jane.
May mahinang tugtog at maliwanag na ilaw kay Macmac.
MACMAC: Paraluman, sa aking paggising
Ngiti mo’y ibinabalik ako sa paghimbing.
Batid mo kaya aking daing?
Habambuhay nawa ika’y kapiling.
OMAR 1: Basta damhin mo lang na parang ang bawat salita ay sa ’yo. Tapos konting pikit. Lasapin mo ito nang dahan-dahan.
Itutuon ang ilaw kay Omar 1. Didilim ang paligid, at tutula siya nang malakas. May kasabay pang hampas ng kamay at kaunting kumpas na rin.
Habang binibigkas ni Omar 1 ang tula, nili-lip sync ito ni Macmac sa harap ni Jane sa kabilang sulok ng entablado.
OMAR 1: Paraluman, sa aking paggising
Ngiti mo’y ibinabalik ako sa paghimbing.
Batid mo kaya aking daing?
Habambuhay nawa ika’y kapiling.
Kinikilig na papalakpak si Jane. Maiiwang mag-isa at nakatunganga si Omar 1, tinititigan ang dalawa. Iiling-iling si Omar 1 at lalabas sa eksena. Pupunta sa gitna ang dalawa.
MACMAC: Una pa lang tayong nagkita, Jane, naging magaan na agad ang loob ko sa ’yo. Minsan lang naman akong dapuan ng ganitong damdamin, kaya sasagarin ko na. Jane, aking Clara, mahal kita. (Hahawakan ang kamay ni Jane.)
JANE: Alam ko. At naghihintay lang naman talaga ako. Oo, Macmac, aking Andoy, mahal din kita.
Matutuwa si Macmac at yayakapin nang mahigpit ang kapareha. Magsasara ang tabing at magbubukas.
Magkayakap pa rin ang dalawa subalit iba na ang suot. Nagtatanghal na sila ng dula.
MACMAC: Mahal kita, Clara.
JANE: Mahal din kita, Andoy.
Magpapalakpakan. Tatawagin ang iba pang cast ng dula. Huling tatawagin si Omar 1. Papagitnaan ng dalawang lalaki si Jane.
Pahihintuan ni Macmac ang lahat at kukunin ang kanilang ng atensiyon.
MACMAC: Nais ko pong ipaalam sa lahat na ako at ang leading lady kong si Jane ay ikakasal na. Totoo ito at hindi arte lang. Sabik na akong makapiling at maging katuwang siya habambuhay. Imbitado ho ang lahat. Direk, ’tol, best man ka ha?
Tatango lamang si Omar 1 at babatiin ang kaibigan. Kinikilig na mag-uusap ang iba pang tao. Isa-isa silang lalabas hanggang si Omar 1 na lang ang matitira.
OMAR 1: Nang malaman kong mayroon ka nang iba, na kayo na, nakalimutan kong pumikit.
Nakalimutan kong pumikit, maging ang huminga, nang sinabi mong, “Best, kami na.”
Nakalimutan kong pumikit, maging ang lamig at tigas ng sahig, ang alak, ang pait. Bakit?
Lalabas si Omar 1 na umiiyak, at papasok ulit siya na may bote ng alak sa kaliwang kamay, paluray-luray hanggang sa gitna. Sasandal siya sa pader. Tutugtog ang kantang “Ikakasal Ka Na.”
Lalabas sa projector ang mga larawang kuha nina Macmac at Jane bilang magkasintahan. Sasayaw ang isang pares ng contemporary dance na naaayon sa tugtog habang sawing-sawi si Omar 1.
Isasara ang tabing. Balik ang tagpuan sa restawran. Magpapatuloy sa pagtula si Omar 2.
OMAR 2: Tulad ng mga bote ng alak na katabi ko noong gabing ikinakasal kayo—nagkita sa altar, nagbanggit ng pangako at dasal. An’saya. Parang fairy tale na meant to be. Best wishes.
Walang mag-aakala, walang mag-iisip na may taong sawi, pusong sira. Buti pa nga rito sa entablado, malaya akong magsabi nito . . .
Mahal kita. Mahal kita . . . Mahal kita, putang ina! Paano ako? Mahal kita, paano ako? Mahal kita, pero nakikita kong kayo. Mahal kita, pero haram na maging tayo.
Didilim. Tutugtog ang isang recording.
Kriiiing . . . kriiiing . . .
OMAR 1: Hello? Jane? Si Omar ito.
JANE: Oh, Omar, kumusta ka na? An’tagal nang hindi ka nagparamdam ah? Nagtaka nga rin si Macmac eh.
OMAR 1: Mangingibang-bansa na ako, Jane. Sa huling beses sana, puwede ba tayong magkita? May ipagtatapat lang ako.
JANE: (Pabulong) Ha? Sige, pero i-text mo na lang saan at kailan. Baka marinig tayo ng asawa ko.
Bubukas ang tabing. Makikita si Jane hawak ang shoulder bag at nagmamadali. Tatawid siya sa kabilang dulo ng entablado. Nakasunod si Macmac sa kaniya na tila nagdurusa.
Didilim at babalik ang ilaw.
Makikita si Omar 1 na naghihintay kay Jane. Sabik na magyayakapan ang dalawa. Tatanungin ni Jane si Omar 1 kung bakit matagal itong hindi nagpapakita. Biglang susulpot si Macmac at susuntukin nang dalawang beses si Omar 1.
Dudugo ang ilong ni Omar 1. Maglalabas ng kutsilyo si Macmac at sasaksakin si Omar 1 sa mukha, ngunit iilag ito. Madadaplisan sa kaliwang pisngi si Omar 1.
MACMAC: ’Tang ina ka! Kaya pala wala ang best man sa kasal namin. Hudas ka, ’pre. Kasal na kami sisingit ka pa. Sabi mo haram. Sabi mo masaya ka para sa akin. Ba’t ka nagtaksil?
Aakma si Macmac na susuntukin muli si Omar 1, ngunit papagitnaan ni Jane ang dalawa.
OMAR 1: Oo, ’tol. Masaya ako para sa ’yo. Ang suwerte mo kay Jane. Pero mali ka, ’tol. Mali ang akala ni’yong lahat. Oo, haram. Bawal. Bawal ang magkagusto sa hindi namin karelihiyon. Bawal din magmahal ng pareho naming kasarian.
’Tol, gago ka. Minahal kita! Kaya ako lumayo, nagparaya. Mahal kita, ’tol. Maliwanag na? Ipagtatapat ko sana ito kay Jane bago ako umalis. Mahal kita!
Mahinang tugtog. Babalik ang tagpo sa entablado ng restawran.
OMAR 2: Haram. Ito ay salitang Muslim na ang ibig sabihin ay bawal. Pero ang iyong puso ba ay tatagal? Sa dinami-raming bawal, hangal, puso mo ba ay susugal? O para lang itong baso na nakatikim ng halik ng nalasing ay nabuwal? Tulad ng puso ko na nabasag, naging bubog. Sinubukan kong pulutin. Ako’y nasusog, Ako’y wasak.
Nakalimutan ko mang pumikit, naalala kong ngumiti. Ngumiti akong sa loob ko’y mga bubog na naging susog na nagpapuwing, nagpaluha.
Pero oo, ang tulang ito ay pagtatapat. Sinadya kong huwag pumikit at maging dilat. Dilat sa katotohanang pangarapin ka lang ay sapat. Katotohanang ang pagmamahal minsan talaga ay sukat. Ito ay totoo. Aminin nating lahat.