Introduction by Jude Ortega
Lababo by Alvin Pomperada
Two Travel Essays by Apolinario B. Villalobos
For this issue, we have another strong line-up of works from both veteran and budding writers in the region. We’re presenting first the bleakest in the bunch and then the lighter ones as we move along. Make no mistake, however. Their tones may be different, but each work is finely crafted and helps us examine the human condition.
Angelo Serrano’s “It Comes at Night” is a short story about a kid and the “monsters” that enter his family’s home whenever his father goes away and leaves him and his mother alone. In a simple and clear language, Serrano captures the innocence of a child to reveal the cruelty of adults.
In the flash fiction “A Tale of Two Candles,” Jed Reston uses a fleeting moment to juxtapose the lives of two women. He also toys with time to further show what the moment means. The story tells us how uncertain life is and how prayer gives us a (false) sense of certainty.
Gwyneth Joy Prado’s “Bagyo,” another flash fiction, is about a girl’s reaction to a coming typhoon. She frantically prepares, while other people her age look forward to the suspension of classes, a shallow benefit. We eventually learn the reason for her actions, and we are left to question the way we view disasters. More often than not, we only care when we’re bound to lose—or we’ve lost—something or someone.
Alvin Pomperada’s “Lababo” deals with family and loneliness and is a remarkable example of how wordplay can add a deeper layer to a poem. Instead of making light of the narrator’s situation, the humor makes it even more poignant.
In his two succinct essays, Apolinario B. Villalobos shows us how travel can give us fresh insights on people and places. “The Petrified Woman of Capiz,” despite the macabre subject, is a heartwarming look at Filipinos’ strange religiosity, and “Spelunking, Anyone?” tells us that each place has its own story and travelers have their own stories to make in each place.
This is the journal’s thirtieth issue. We thank the benefactors, editors, contributors, and readers who have been with us for the past thirty months. So far, more than two hundred well-written pieces from local writers have appeared here. There will be more.
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat
By Angelo Serrano
Daddy had to go out for the evening. I did not know where he was going, but I knew that Mommy was upset about it. She handled the dishes with little care, and I was worried they might break. The clinking of plates was just as loud as the gushing of water. She didn’t want him to go out again.
I was seven at the time.
Before he left, Daddy gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Be good to your mommy, OK?” he said. He tried giving Mommy a kiss as well, but she jerked her head away. Daddy closed the door behind him, and then it was quiet in our small house. Mommy placed a red kettle on the stove.
I spent the evening playing. Cheap plastic Power Rangers were fighting against Batman. Batman was winning because Batman always won. Daddy told me it was because he was brave. “We are both brave,” he would say. I admired Batman for that, and as a kid, I wanted to be just like him.
Just when Batman was about to beat the last Power Ranger, the pink one, Mommy told me it was time for my half bath. I resisted for a while because what child would let a bath get in the way of play? Mommy, however, asserted her authority. “One . . . two . . .”
She poured the steaming water from the red kettle into the pail and turned the tap on to mix it with cold water. She undressed me, then left me alone in the bath. I was old enough to bathe myself, and I was proud of it.
The water was at just the right temperature. It didn’t sear my skin and didn’t give me chills either. It was comforting and warmed me to my core. Mommy always knew how to find that balance. I scrubbed away the afternoon’s dirt while playing with the water and swirling it around with a dipper. Mid-bath, I panicked because of a cockroach. Mommy slapped it down with her slipper and took it away by its antenna. I did not enjoy the remainder of the bath, afraid that there might be more of them.
Once I was finished, Mommy patted me dry with a soft towel, and made me wear my pajamas. She made me a glass of warm milk, and I chugged it down. Mommy gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek for drinking it so quickly, and I felt proud of myself. Soon we were off to bed, and the lights were turned off.
At the time, my parents and I had to sleep in a mattress on the floor because we didn’t have a bedframe yet. I didn’t mind, really. All that was important to me was that it was comfortable. The mattress was soft, and I had my favorite pillow, so everything was fine. The only complain I had was that you could sometimes hear the monsters lurking outside. Whenever we heard them, Mommy would hold me close, and I would feel much safer and loved.
Sometimes, the monsters would be able to enter the house, but never our room.
That evening, another monster got inside. I did not know what time it was, but I woke up to the front door opening and slamming shut. Then I heard it taking a glass and turning on the tap. I heard its heavy and irregular footsteps, just outside our bedroom. It was singing to itself, terribly. I did not understand what it was saying, or what it was singing, but I was scared. The darkness in our room did not help, but Mommy held me tight, as if to say she wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
A few minutes of more singing and bellowing from the monster passed. Without warning, it uttered Mommy’s name, and it sent shivers down my spine. The voice, deep and wobbly, was right outside our bedroom door. How did it know Mommy’s name? I wondered. Does it know my name? Will it get into the bedroom?
Mommy ignored it. She tried sleeping through it, but the monster kept calling her name. It wanted her to join him outside. I was afraid that she would. What if she did? Will she leave me here alone? I was glad that Mommy made no sign of wanting to leave, but I was still afraid.
I couldn’t imagine what the creature must’ve been like. I was afraid that it was hulking. I was afraid that it was covered in thick black hair. I was afraid it had sharp teeth and red eyes.
For the briefest moment, it stopped calling Mommy’s name. I was glad. And then I wasn’t.
It was calling my name. It was telling me that since Mommy wouldn’t go out, I should be the one to do so. I was terrified. Why does it want me to go out? Is it going to eat me? Why would it eat me? I haven’t been naughty. I do what my parents ask me to do, and I don’t complain about whatever on my plate is. Why does it want me?
I embraced Mommy tighter, and she did the same. She kissed my forehead, told me to stay in the room, and then left. Part of me wanted to go out with her, if only to not be alone, but I knew she was going to face the monster, and that scared me more than being alone.
She opened the door, letting the light from outside leak in, then closed the door. It was dark again.
Minutes passed, and I heard a plate breaking. I heard shouting. I heard something hit the wall. I was alone in the dark room, holding my pillow ever tighter, afraid of the monster Mommy had to face. I had to stop myself from crying because the monster might hear me. I did not know when I fell asleep.
When I opened my eyes, it was morning. Soft sunlight was shining down on me from the window, and I could hear a boy yelling, “Pandesal!” I rubbed the eye boogers away, and was still too sleepy to remember anything from the previous night.
When I opened the door and stepped out, Mommy was facing the stove. I could hear sizzling and smell the Spam. Rice and scrambled eggs were already on the table, still warm. Daddy was snoring like a beast in the sofa. He smelled like beer, and Mommy always told me I wasn’t allowed to drink beer because I was too young. I was curious, and I partially resented that.
Mommy turned to serve the Spam on the table. I was already seated for breakfast. I noticed Mommy had a black eye, like those boxers on TV. Her neck was red, too. She smiled at me. “Good morning.”
I suddenly remembered the previous evening. How a monster got in. I remembered something broke, and something hit the wall. Yet the house was clean and orderly. I remembered shouting. I guessed that Mommy had to fight off the monster while Daddy was gone. I opened my arms wide to give her a hug, and she knelt down to hug me back. It was warm and loving.
I was hesitant to do so, but I asked her anyway, “Why don’t we leave so that the monsters can’t find us?”
She gave me a cup of rice, an egg, and two slices of Spam. She didn’t say anything. I felt how bad of a question that was, but did not know why.
I was halfway through my breakfast when Mommy placed a mug of warm Milo on the table for me. “We don’t have to leave,” she said. “If your father stopped leaving at night, the monsters wouldn’t come anymore.”
I guessed that the monsters were too scared of Daddy. He was brave, after all. Like Batman. He said so. I wanted to be just like him.
By Jed Reston
They stand less than a foot apart, unmindful of each other’s presence.
In that exact moment, no one and no other thing exists in the whole world for both of them except for the deepest desire of their respective hearts.
They know what they want, and they are beseeching the heavens to grant them their wishes.
They are from the opposite poles of life but had enough things in common between them that they could have been good friends had they met under different circumstances.
One is a forty-two-year-old successful businesswoman. The other a sixteen-year-old student. Both of them are madly in love.
The businesswoman has companies based abroad. She has always dreamt of having a family, but she has been too busy making money. She has finally made enough money and can now afford to fall in love, but she still cannot afford a man’s fidelity.
She will suffer her biggest heartbreak in a couple of years. She just doesn’t know it yet.
The student also mostly gets her money abroad, from her father who is a truck driver in the Middle East.
Her mom has cancer and will die in a couple of years. She just doesn’t know it yet.
She’s just found out that she qualified for a scholarship that she had applied for. Her boyfriend saw her name online and texted her this morning.
They stand less than a foot apart, unmindful of each other’s presence.
The candles they’ve lit are inches away from each other, dancing to the same wind and burning for the same reasons.
Both of their candles are lit not for their loves but for their lives.
One of them is praying for a baby, the other praying that she is not pregnant.
In the next couple of years, one of them will come back, pray, and light a candle in the exact same spot where they now stand. We just do not know why yet.
Ni Gwyneth Joy Prado
Isang bagyo na naman ang namataan sa loob ng Philippine Area of Responsibility. Inaasahan na tatama ang bagyo sa ating bansa sa darating na Biyernes, Setyembre 14, 2018. Maging handa at alisto tayong lahat.
“Ale, heto po ang bayad ko para sa biskwit,” ang sabi ko sa nagtitinda, sabay abot sa kaniya ng sampung pisong barya mula sa bulsa ng luma kong paldang pang-eskwela.
“Ineng, kulang ka ng dalawang piso,” sabi ng Ale.
“Babalikan ko na lang ho mamaya,” tugon ko.
Tumalikod ako at sinimulang kainin ang binili kong biskwit. May paparating na namang bagyo. Mag e-evacuate na naman kami ni Tatay neto. Binilisan ko ang lakad upang sabihin sa kaniya ang narinig kong balita.
“May bagong bagyo. Sana malakas para masuspende na naman ang klase natin. Hahaha!”
“Oo nga. Nakakatamad mag-aral. Sana nga wala tayong pasok.”
Dinig ko ang pag-uusap ng dalawang dalagang nakasalubong ko sa daan. Imbes na magalit, ipinagwalang-bahala ko na lamang ito at ipinagpatuloy ang aking paglalakad hanggang marating ang munti at tagpi-tagping barong-barong na tinitirhan namin.
Binuksan ko ang pinto. Sa lakas, muntik ko pa itong masira. Agad akong humalik sa pisngi ni Tatay. Ibinahagi ko sa kaniya ang masamang balita na aking narinig kanina. Nag-impake na rin ako kaagad upang maging handa sa parating na sakuna.
Binasag ko ang alkansiyang kawayan na limang buwan ko ring pinag-ipunan. Binilang ko ang laman at umabot ito ng P583. Bumalik ako sa tindahan. Binayaran ko ang kulang ko kanina at bumili ng mga pagkain.
Kinabukasan, pumasok pa rin ako ng paaralan kahit basang-basa ang sapatos ko. Umulan kasi ng nakaraang gabi, at may butas pa ang bubong namin. Bawat sulok ng paaralan, bukambibig ang paparating na bagyo.
“Umulan nang malakas kagabi. Sana hindi na lang tumigil nang sa gayo’y wala tayong pasok.”
“Sana bumaha hanggang bewang para masuspende ang klase.”
“Sana umabot ng isang linggo ang bagyo para isang linggo ring walang pasok.”
Kahit punong-puno na ako, ipinagwalang bahala ko na lang ang ulit ang mga naririnig ko. Hindi kasi nila naiintindihan ang kalagayan ng isang tulad ko.
Bumuhos na naman ang malakas na ulan, at heto na naman ako, tinatakpan ang mga butas ng aming bubong. Dahil sa lakas ng ulan, umidlip lang ako sandali. Malamig kasi at napakasarap matulog. ’Yon nga lang, maingay dahil sa mga kulog at patak ng ulan sa yero.
Nagising ako sa ingay na nanggagaling sa labas ng aming barong-barong. Bumaba ako ng kama at nagulat dahil lagpas beywang na pala ang tubig sa loob ng aming bahay. Napasigaw ako sa gulat. Agad ko namang hinablot ang aking bag at tumungo sa pinto ng aming barong-barong.
Pupunta na sana ako sa evacuation center nang maalala ko si Tatay. Kinuha ko ang kaniyang litrato sa itaas ng aking kabinet. Niyapos ko ito at hinalikan.
“Hinding-hindi na ulit kita bibitawan sa mga ganitong sakuna, Tay,” bulong ko sa litrato, at sabay naming sinuong ang malakas na hampas ng ulan, ihip ng hangin, at lagpas beywang na baha sa gitna ng gabi.
Ni Alvin Pomperada
Mahirap maghugas ng pinggan. Sa pagkuskos ng espongha paikot sa plato’y nakakatha ng orasyong napapasailalim sa gunita ng isang salusalo ng pamilya: nalito ang ilong sa kakalanghap sa sarap ng putahe. Hindi pa dumampi sa dila ang pagkain, nabusog na ang mga tenga sa nakahaing kuwentuhan. Natakam ang lahat nang sinimulang halukayin ng ate ang asin sa kape. Sinamantala nila ang aking pagkabalat-sibuyas. Nakisawsaw muna ako sa toyo ng utak ni kuya bago kagatin ang malutong na biro ni mama. Naging lantang gulay ako sa panggigisa ng tatay kung ilan na ba ang natikmang talaba. Sagot ko, “Wala kapag ang dagat ay mapula.”
Hindi pa nakakalayo sa bunganga ng kaldero ang ulam, umusling parang kawali na ang mga tiyan namin. Kay dami pang nilulutong kuwento ngunit ayaw paawat sa pagkagat ng sandali ang orasan.
Binanlawan ko na ng mga luha ang mamantika kong damdamin. Kay tagal ko sa lababo. Isang plato lang naman ang hinugasan ko.
Kay hirap ngang maghugas ng pinggan.
By Apolinario B. Villalobos
(Published in Beyond the Horizons, the author’s collection of poems and essays)
The Petrified Woman of Capiz
From history books, I came to know of mummies in Egypt. Then I learned of the mummies of Kabayan, even saw them at close range during one of my trips to Benguet. All of them were cured with specially prepared concoctions to enable them to withstand the decaying process of nature. But not the one I saw in Casanayan, a barrio in Pilar, Capiz.
Casanayan is two hours away from Roxas City, the capital of Capiz Province. I hied off there one day after overhearing at the city’s public market about a preserved body of a woman in the said barrio. I hired a car and a driver. Thelma, the great-granddaughter, was very hospitable. She even offered me something to eat before we proceeded to the “chapel,” a few steps from the house. It was a box-type concrete structure with a glass-covered chamber inside where stood the dried-up remains of Maria Basanes.
Thelma prayed. I prayed too. Then she lit a candle. I noticed thick candle drippings on one of the railings.
Thelma told me that people would pray in front of the encased remains of her great-grandmother to ask her soul’s intercession for favors. In doing this, a candle is lighted and a donation is left afterwards. The proceeds are used in buying the candles and whatever maintenance the “chapel” may need. I was so engrossed with Thelma’s narrative that I did not notice it was almost noontime. I asked Thelma if the body could be taken out of the cubicle so that I could take photographs of it. I thought of asking for help from the driver, who had opted to keep watch of the car. Thelma told me, however, that the body was not that heavy and she could carry it herself.
Indeed, the body weighed less than ten kilograms. Thelma and I positioned it facing the door, and she obliged to pose beside the body, holding a candle with one hand and holding an image of the Virgin Mary with the other hand.
After the photo session, I closely examined the remains and could hardly believe that the skin had remained preserved after such a long time. There was not any sign of ant bite, as should be the case. The hair was still intact, although stringy. All of these despite the fact that her body was not embalmed when Maria died on March 12, 1929. Thelma told me that her grandmother was buried immediately when she died, as was the practice that time.
Thelma also told me that her grandmother had been very religious and had devoted most of her time in prayers and helping others. She was looked up to as someone whom neighbors would approach in times of needs. It was because of these that they believed that finding Maria’s body well preserved after so many years was a miracle.
Word about the “miracle” spread fast. In no time at all, opportunistic and superstitious fishermen in the community took turns in desecrating the grave and stealing strips of skin from the dead woman’s forehead. The family was aghast to find this out, and in order to protect the body from further mutilation, they transferred it to their house and later on built a “chapel” for it.
All Souls’ Day, Thelma said, would find their yard teeming with people. They come either to pray or just see for themselves the much-talked-about “mummy.” The family would welcome them as long as they behaved accordingly. On my way back to Roxas City, I asked the driver why he did not join us. He told me that he was not used to looking at the remains of the dead. I said it was just the remains of a woman who died years ago. He did not seem to hear me. He was driving at top speed, obviously to get out of the barrio as fast as he could. It was to my advantage as I got to the airport just in time for my flight back to Manila.
The name of the sport sounds strange as a French dish. In fact, many local adventurers may not even have heard of the term, although it simply means “cave exploration.”
Unlike any other sports, spelunking is relatively inexpensive. All you squander is time, effort, and courage.
I have been exploring caves since I was in high school. We used to hike to the hinterlands in the barrios in our town searching for waterfalls. Most of the time, we would find caves behind waterfalls or sometimes at the foot of hills, reeking with guano. When we were lucky, we would chance upon real fascinating ones—small openings leading to cathedral-like chambers illuminated by sunrays coming from cracks and holes.
After a long respite from cave explorations, my interest was revived when I discovered this small cave in a remote barrio in . . .
There’s also this cave in Calbayog with neck-deep water that I explored with a guide whom I found out later to be an ex-convict. I was able to convince him that going inside would not do us harm since the water was clear. The instant camaraderie must have established confidence prompting him to confess he was once a thrill killer and a highway robber in his hometown. But it was his first time to get inside a cave.
Unknown to many, Aklan is not only popular for its Ati-Atihan Festival. It’s also a province of caves. One time, a friend and I were brought by our hosts to a town near Kalibo whose hills are pockmarked with caves. The cave system, which covers a wide area, is called Tigayon. In some of its chambers, Tigayon challenges the spelunker with its deep pools.
In Capiz, there’s a cave whose bowels spew cool spring water. Located at Dumalag, it is not too far from the capital town of Roxas. Inside, there’s a waist-deep pool and stalactites near the exit.
The cave in Dauis, Bohol, is an intriguing one. It is called Hinagdanan because, to get inside, you have to climb down a ladder through a small opening. This underground cave is illuminated by a big hole above the crystal-clear pool. It has just one chamber, and when your eyes become used to the dark, you’ll find that it is not eerie at all inside. Initially, the setting will make you imagine dancing fairies and elves.
The Callao Cave of Tuguegarao is so enormous that spelunkers who have been there use it as a gauge in sizing up other caves. It has a chapel in which Mass is held during the fiesta in honor of the town’s patron saint. It is on top of a limestone hill and could be reached after negotiating several hundred steps leading to the entrance.
In Basey, Samar, a town accessible from Tacloban by jeepney, is one of the most beautiful caves in the country. The locals call it Sohoton. It has a fantastic setting of lush vegetation teeming with birdlife. Multi-chambered, it is full of sparkling stalactites and stalagmites. On holy days, the old folk would venture inside to look for amulets.
Not to be outdone is Albay’s Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave. It has four entrances and four chambers interconnected by slippery trails. The cave was used as a sanctuary of the locals during the Second World War. It also became a venue of “benefit dances” during the early days of Martial Law when curfew was strictly observed.
Agusan del Norte has its Diwata Caves, so called because it is believed to be inhabited by fairies. As the chambers could be reached by the seawater during high tide, I presumed that the splashing water inside the caverns could have produced the frightening sounds that the locals associated with supernatural beings.
For a really thrilling cave exploration, I tried the Bathala Caves of Marinduque on a Holy Week. Bathala has several chambers, one of which is Python—my favorite. At the entrance are real pythons, coiled and unmindful of our intrusion. It is said that they are harmless, but woe to those who would hurt them. I was told that a drunk penitent who killed one python just for fun fell dead on his way back to the barrio. It was a heart attack. I do not know if his heart faltered due to remorse or he simply got the curse of the pythons.
There are caves near Manila that are just waiting to be explored. All that one has to do is take a jeepney to a barrio and presto, you have a cave gaping at you!
We did just that one leisurely weekend. There were twenty-three of us in the group, four of whom were girls. We went out of dusty Manila to explore a cave in Wawa, Montalban.
We were told that the cave was once used by retreating Japanese soldiers during the later part of the Second World War. To get there, we had to go up a hill. We were hoping at least to find some samurais and Japanese caps. But it was the stench of the guano that greeted us. As we stepped inside, we found our shoes submerged in bat waste about eight inches deep. Overhead, the disturbed bats screeched at us. Amid the dim, we made our way gingerly. A slip would mean a disastrous fall on the thick layer of guano.
Crawling through a three-foot tunnel that led to another chamber, some of us got scraped by stalactites. We were aiming for the “window” through which we could have a fantastic view of the river below.
After a dizzying stay of about an hour inside the cave, plus bruises on our knees and back and some badly smelling behind, we went down the mountain through a drenching rain. But we were all satisfied and were looking forward to more adventurous spelunking somewhere else, especially the mummy caves of the mountain provinces.
Cave exploration could be dangerous to the careless. The sport, therefore, teaches you to be careful. It develops your instincts and senses. Although the claustrophobic feeling inside caves tends to make you helplessly alone, it affords you the chance to exercise patience and determination.
Because of the challenges which the sport poses, I don’t think I’ll ever stop exploring caves. It is a good alternative to mountain climbing on rainy days. If it has a good therapeutic effect on me, why can’t it be for you? Caves, anyone?