Day of Mourning

By Jude Ortega

(An earlier version of this story received honorable mention at the 2015 F. Sionil José Young Writers Awards.)

Gayang wakes to the howling of dogs at one or two in the morning. She gets down the bed, moving slowly so as not to disturb her sleeping grandson, and goes to the kitchen, where she drinks a glass of water. The dogs out on the street keep howling. She’s certain that the noise also bothers her neighbors, but while she wants to throw stones at the animals to quiet them, her neighbors wouldn’t. They would not step into the darkness outside. They’re Ilonggos, and as such, most of them believe that there’s an aswang around whenever dogs howl.

She doesn’t find the belief of her neighbors strange or laughable. In fact, she wishes right now that she belonged to their tribe, for if she were to interpret the noise based on the beliefs of her own tribe, she would have a greater cause for worry—something much more common and real than aswangs. As a Maguindanaon, she grew up believing that whenever dogs howl, they’re telling human beings that someone close to them has just passed away.

She puts the empty glass on the sink. The water hasn’t helped at all. Her heart is still racing. She thinks of her son in Mamasapano. He’s the only person whom she might have lost. He’s the last person who could be taken away from her. Her husband and her other sons have been taken away before.

The noise outside dies down. She goes back to the only bedroom of the small house and lies beside her eight-year-old grandson. She holds him close to her, still thinking of her son, the boy’s father. The howling of the dogs has not been the first indication of what might have happened to her son. The dogs have only reinforced the fear that has been gnawing her since the other day, when the news came out that government forces had an “encounter” with separatist rebels in a town in Maguindanao. The news shocked the nation, and continues to shock as more information about the incident is revealed. More than forty have been killed on the government’s side, allegedly outnumbered and ambushed by the rebels, and this happened at a time when the peace talks are coming to what most Filipinos thought a successful conclusion.

The news has not mentioned how many have been killed, if any, on the side of the Muslim rebels. It seems to Gayang that the rebels are being portrayed as cold-blooded killers who pounced on innocent prey. One part of her wishes it were true so that she wouldn’t have to worry about her son. But she knows better. The government forces have not been sleeping or eating supper in their headquarters when they were killed. They were in the rebel’s territory on a mission. They were armed, and they most likely attacked with speed, without any warning. She knows how these things go, even if she’s just an ordinary civilian who sells homemade sweets in the public market of Tacurong. She knows because her family was living in Pikit when the Estrada administration declared an all-out war against Muslim rebels, fifteen years ago. She lived close to the heart of the battlefield.

At the earliest sign of light, she wakes up her grandson to take a bath.

“It’s too early, Grandma,” Amil complains, not rising from the bed, his eyes half-closed. “I still have enough time to sleep. I won’t be late.”

“You’re not going to school today,” says Gayang. “We’re going somewhere.”

Amil’s eyes open wide. He grins. She knows why he’s delighted. He doesn’t like going to school. He doesn’t like his classmates, who are mostly Ilonggos, who are mostly Christians. They’re not nice to him. He sometimes comes home red-faced in frustration or self-pity and with his uniform disheveled in some parts. She would always ask him what happened, and he would always answer, “Nothing.”

However, as suddenly as it came, the delight in the boy’s face disappears, replaced by a pall of suspicion. She also knows why. She can read his mind: Grandmother nags me every morning to wake up and move faster so that I won’t be late for school. There’s nothing else she wants me to do but go to school every day and learn to read fast and do numbers quick. There’s nothing special to this day. There’s something wrong.

Amil sits up and asks her, “Where are we going, Grandma?”

“To Mamasapano,” answers Gayang, pulling the boy’s shirt over his head.

“To Father?” he says, excited again.

“Stop asking so many questions.”

“Grandma,” he complains, “answer me.”

“I have something else to do there. I’m not sure if we can visit your father. Mamasapano is a big place, you know.”

“Oh why, Grandma?”

She doesn’t want the boy to expect anything because he might just be disappointed. However, neither has she the heart to deprive him of a little something to hope for. She sighs. “All right. I’ll see. If we have enough time, we’ll go visit your father.”

“Yes!” Amil exclaims, raising his arms in the air.

“Hurry now. It’s going to be a long trip. We have to ride a multicab to Isulan, a Town Ace to Maganoy, and a Honda to Mamasapano. We have to start early.”

Amil takes off his shorts and, with just his underpants on, runs to the pump at the back of the house.

At the terminal to Isulan, Gayang and Amil find the first multicab in the queue almost full already. The national highway between Tacurong and Isulan is the busiest in Sultan Kudarat, so early passengers are not an unusual sight at the terminal. “Go to the front,” Gayang tells Amil at the door, at the rear of the vehicle; she spoke in Tagalog, not in Maguindanaon, as she always does whenever she’s out of the house.

Amil and Gayang inch their way between the rows of knees. Passengers of multicabs usually stay as close as possible to the door so that they can conveniently get out of the cramped vehicle, which means that if you’re among the last ones to get in, you have to stoop through the narrow path to the front. Gayang doesn’t mind the inconvenience this time. She’s taking the farthest seat anyway because it’s where she can have her grandson sit on her lap without disturbing the other passengers and without having to pay for him.

In less than five minutes, the multicab is full. The underage barker has cramped sixteen adults in it, fourteen in the two long seats at the back and two beside the driver at the front. As the vehicle rolls off the parking area, Amil falls asleep, his butt slumped on Gayang’s leg, his head leaning on her shoulder.

Gayang isn’t sure how exactly her fellow passengers came to talk about “what happened in Mamasapano.” She just noticed them exchanging information and opinions as though they’re longtime neighbors or friends. A middle-aged couple on the other seat must have been talking about it first, and then the woman beside Gayang chimed in. Soon, five or six of the passengers, speaking in Hiligaynon, are having a spirited conversation, fully aware that the rest can hear them.

“It’s a massacre,” the woman beside Gayang declares, as if she witnessed the incident herself. When the woman got into the multicab earlier, she was struggling with a large reed basket, which she put upright on the floor, between her legs. She gestures as she talks, letting go of the handles of the basket that she’s been clasping together. The mouth of the basket gapes wider, revealing more clearly the contents. Gayang finds out that the woman beside her is her Ilonggo counterpart. They have the same occupation. The basket contains the Ilonggo dessert suman, and the slices have the same size and are wrapped individually in a transparent plastic sheet, an obvious indication that they’re for sale. Instead of suman, though, Gayang makes the specialty of her own tribe, tinagtag. “It’s not an encounter,” the suman vendor adds. “It’s a massacre. The rebels killed the soldiers without mercy.”

“They’re not really soldiers,” says the man who has his wife with him. “They’re SAF—Special Action Forces. They’re part of the Philippine National Police. But yes, they’re not much different from military men.”

His wife beams with pride as she stares at her husband’s face, as if the information he knows makes him a cut above ordinary rumormongers. Her hand is clasped with his. Gayang finds their display of affection inappropriate, especially for their age. They appear to be in their forties, yet they’re acting as though they’re teenagers who have just started dating. “Pitiful men,” says the wife, running her fingers along her husband’s forearm. “Killed like their lives meant nothing. The rebels are just making a fool of the government, and the government doesn’t know any better. They should know that Muslims cannot be trusted.”

Gayang freezes on her seat. Obviously, her fellow passengers don’t have the slightest suspicion that she’s a Muslim. Not that they have a reason to. She looks just like them. Her blouse, the best that she has, worn just two or three times before, was from the bargain section of a local department store, and her secondhand yet brand-new-looking skirt was from an ukay-ukay stall in the public market. She has also decided not to wear a tandong today; she only covers her head when selling her product, as a protection from the sun and because customers seem to want it that way—they want their tinagtag authentic, cooked and sold by an obviously Maguindanaon woman. Moreover, Gayang has spoken to her grandson in Tagalog instead of Maguindanaon.

“They’ll never stop causing conflicts,” says the husband. “First, there was the MNLF. When the government signed an agreement with them, some of their members broke away and formed the MILF. Now that the government is having a peace talk with the MILF, another group has emerged, calling themselves BIFF. It will never end.”

Many of the other passengers murmur approval.

“That’s why to this day I remain loyal to Erap,” says the suman vendor. “Only he succeeded in making Mindanao peaceful.”

Gayang shudders. How dare this woman beside her proclaim her loyalty to the deposed president. What’s to admire in the former actor and his all-out war against the Moro separatists? Gayang lost a husband, two sons, and dozens of relatives in that war. She was there in the killing fields, going through the horror of it all, while the president was sitting in his palace in Manila or in bed with one of his mistresses, thinking the lives lost were just characters in the action movies he used to star in, and this suman vendor was in her house in Tacurong or Isulan watching everything unfold on her television, grieving for the handful of Christian soldiers who were killed and rejoicing about the hundreds of Muslim rebels who met the same fate.

“Noynoy is really abnoy,” says the wife, calling the current president feeble-minded. “He lets the Moros have things their way. Peace talks won’t get us anywhere. All-out war is the best solution to the problem here in Mindanao.”

“Yes, there should be an all-out war again,” says a male voice from the rear of the multicab. Gayang can’t see who it is because there are three or four persons between them. More disembodied voices agree. Soon, almost everyone seems to have joined the conversation, each one speaking loudly. Gayang can no longer distinguish if they’re simply trying to be heard over the rumbling of the engine or they’re carried away. She has not seen such a thing happen in a public transport before. Though it’s not unusual for a group of teenagers to be raucous, strangers normally don’t exchange more than a line or two. These people seem to be getting mad. Gayang suddenly fears for his grandson. They might hurt her and the boy if they find out they’re Muslims. She holds Amil closer to her. He has remained asleep despite the noise.

Gayang can’t wait to get out of the multicab, but she knows she has to endure the company of the Ilonggos for some ten minutes more. They’re milking the subject dry, but they show no sign of losing fervor. At some points, whenever it’s difficult to get the attention of the whole group, seatmates have their own one-on-one conversations. Their points are repetitive: The president is stupid. The troopers are pitiful. The rebels are evil. The Moro savages deserve nothing less than death. All the Ilonggos seem to share the same conviction, except for the girl of thirteen or fourteen sitting opposite Gayang. The girl, in jeans and a pink shirt, looks like she has not washed her face and combed her hair since she woke up that morning; she must have spent the night in someone else’s house. Inside the multicab, she’s lost in her own world. Her eyes are glued to her pink cellphone, her fingers moving furiously on the keypad. Every message she receives and composes seems to make her giggle. Every now and then, though, probably while waiting for a reply, she would look up from her cellphone and listen to the conversation of the other passengers, but before could be affected in any way by the passionate exchange of opinions, her phone would vibrate and she would withdraw again from the world around her.

Gayang is relieved a little that the unconcerned girl is seated in front of her. No one would wonder why she has not joined the conversation and expressed her own sentiments against Muslims. She’s fully relieved when she notices from the landscape that the multicab is already near Isulan and the trip will be over soon. The terminal of Town Aces bound for Maguindanao is near the traffic circle, and multicabs from Tacurong pass by the traffic circle before the public market, so Gayang and Amil will be getting off the vehicle ahead of the other passengers. Gayang lightly shakes the boy. “Wake up,” she whispers to him in Tagalog. He stirs.

When the multicab is near the traffic circle, Gayang knocks on the thick glass behind the driver. The vehicle pulls to the side and stops. Gayang shakes Amil more strongly. He opens his eyes and asks her in Maguindanaon, “Are we there yet, Grandma?”

The multicab is filled with silence, and the other passengers stare in surprise at Gayang and Amil. When the vehicle has been slowing down, the volume of the voices has also lowered, so many of the passengers heard Amil speak.

“No,” Gayang answers Amil, also in Maguindanaon since there’s no point now in keeping her ethnicity from the others. “We’re still in Isulan. Go down now.”

Amil obeys and walks between the queues of knees. The other passengers seem ashamed of the words that they uttered earlier. The wife buries her face behind the shoulder of her husband. The suman vendor pulls her large basket closer to her so that the boy can pass more easily. Indeed, how could they forget that there’s a good chance that at least one of their fellow passengers is a Muslim? Maguindanaons constitute a considerable portion of the population.

Gayang feels a little better upon sensing the remorse of the Christians. They’re not completely callous, after all. However, when Gayang looks at the teenage girl in front of her, she’s stumped to find the girl glaring at her. The girl stares at Gayang from head to toe and then up again. Gayang stands up and follows Amil out of the vehicle. She holds her grandson by the hand and walks to the front of the multicab to pay for her twenty-peso fare. It’s a relief for her that this is how passengers pay the driver in Isulan and Tacurong. She heard that in busier towns and cities, passengers pay while the vehicle is running and the passengers at the back have to hand their money to the passengers near the front. It would have required her to interact more with her fellow passengers.

Even when the multicab has left her and Amil, Gayang can still feel the stare of the teenage girl—she who has been busy texting all the time and who has seemed to not know or care enough about the issue. Why is the most ignorant the quickest to judge?

Gayang leads Amil to a Town Ace parked at the side of the road. Town Aces, which look like multicabs, only bigger, travels all the way to Cotabato City, but Gayang and Amil will ride only for the first half of the trip. They will get off in Sharif Aguak, and from there, Gayang and Amil will finally go to Mamasapano by riding a public utility motorcycle, called Honda by the locals regardless of the brand.

While the grandmother and grandson are waiting for the Town Ace to be filled, a female passenger remarks in Tagalog to no one in particular, “So it is true. They wrapped the round ball with a black cloth.”

Gayang and the other passengers look at the direction of the traffic circle. She can’t see what the woman is referring to. The very tall pedestal, made of intersecting arches, and the large statue of Sultan Kudarat on top are not covered in a black cloth. It takes a while for Gayang to notice the one-meter-high cloth wrapped around the base of the monument.

“It’s for PO2 Gregorio, one of the Fallen Forty-Four,” says a male passenger, also in Tagalog. “He’s from here.”

“It’s so sad,” says another female passenger. “They say he was supposed to marry his girlfriend this year. He was just twenty-three or twenty-four.”

Gayang feels uneasy. What happened in the multicab has been unpleasant, to say the least. She doesn’t want to go through it again, especially since the trip will be much longer now. It will take the Town Ace about an hour to reach Sharif Aguak. To Gayang’s relief, none of the other passengers seems keen on talking about the issue further. They probably don’t want to take the risk of offending anyone, for normally, those who are traveling to Cotabato City belong to different tribes and Muslims outnumber Christians.

At nine in the morning, Gayang and Amil are already in Barangay Tukalinapao in Mamasapano, standing in front of a hut beside the muddy road. A woman comes out of the hut. “Come in,” she says, staring at Gayang with anxiety and then at Amil with pity.

As soon as they’re inside the hut, Gayang says, “Do you know what happened, Warda?” Gayang feels that she doesn’t need to specify what she wants to know.

Warda shakes her head. “No. I can’t tell you anything, Gayang. You have to ask Rakman about that.” Rakman is Warda’s husband and Gayang’s cousin. He’s a local commander of the Moro rebels.

“Where is he?” Gayang asks.

“I’ll send for him.” Warda calls one of her children and gives him instructions. The child leaves running through the backdoor. “He won’t be back right away,” Warda tells Gayang. “Let’s have coffee first.”

The two women have coffee while watching the children play. Warda is much younger than Gayang and Rakman, and her children are still kids. That’s because she’s Rakman’s third wife. She points at Amil and tells Gayang, “Is that your grandson? He’s so big now.”

“Yes,” says Gayang. “He’s already in grade two.”

“Any news from his mother?”

“No. She left the boy to me when he wasn’t even a year old. She said she was just going to Gensan to look for work. I haven’t heard from her since. Someone told me last year, though, that she’s in Manila.”

Warda shakes her head. “Young Muslims nowadays,” she says, though she’s only a few years older than Gayang’s son. “They live together and part ways without any formal marriage and divorce. They’ve been influenced by Christians.”

It occurs to Gayang that Warda herself has been influenced by Christians. Warda did not marry Rakman until he built her a hut of her own beside the road, away from the first two wives, who live in the same hut in the hills. She’s more like a mistress than a third wife. Gayang, however, doesn’t say anything about this to Warda. “I can’t blame the girl, Warda,” she says instead. “She wanted to be married to my son, but we couldn’t give her family any dowry, and after she gave birth to my grandson, my son left her and decided to stay here in Mamasapano. Anyway, I don’t think much about it now. I’m just happy that I have a grandson to keep me company.”

The two women sip their coffee in silence. There isn’t really anything much that they can talk about. They barely know each other. Gayang seldom comes here in Mamasapano. It’s her son who visits her and Amil in Tacurong every two or three months.

When their mugs have been emptied, Warda excuses herself to prepare for lunch. After putting on the fire a pot that contains rice and water, she returns to Gayang. It has been an hour since Gayang and Amil arrived, and there’s still no sign of Rakman. The young messenger hasn’t come back also. “Rakman must be attending to something,” says Warda. “But he’ll be here for sure. He’ll find time for you.”

“Is he in your farm?” Gayang asks.

“No. With what happened, none of the people here will be doing what they ordinarily do. No one will be looking after their farms for days and even weeks. Rakman must be in his other house, where his first and second wives live. I told my son to look for his father there. My husband has been going there frequently since the other day, and of course, it’s not to sleep with those two hags. He meets his fellow commanders there. They’re probably planning what to do next. I heard the Justice secretary is coming over to investigate.”

“What about my son? Where is he? You must know something, Warda.”

“I can’t tell you what I don’t know for sure, Gayang. Your son has his own hut in our farm, and I heard he stays often in a camp or something. I don’t get to monitor his whereabouts. Only my husband can answer your questions.”

“You must have heard the shots.”

“I did. It went on the whole day, although not constantly. There would be silence for a few hours, and whenever I thought it had ended, it would start again. I even packed some of our stuff, in case we had to evacuate. I really wish I could tell you if your son was there or not, Gayang. But I know nothing much. In a place like this, it’s better to know nothing than to be good at keeping secrets. I avoid getting involved in Rakman’s activities as much as I can. I focus on raising the children properly, on making sure that they get at least a semblance of a normal family life.”

Gayang nods. “I understand. That’s what I also tried to do when we were still in Pikit, though my husband was not really actively involved in the insurgency.” She steals a glance at Warda’s children. Their clothes are gray with dirt. Snot drips from their noses. She wonders how much attention Warda is really giving them. “Aren’t they supposed to be in school today?” she asks.

Warda shifts a little on her seat. “Oh. I’ve been allowing them to miss school. It’s dangerous for them to go anywhere. After the incident a few days ago, who knows what the crazy soldiers would do?”

Gayang has a feeling that Warda has been allowing her children to miss school even before the incident. Warda’s words often exceed her actions. But Gayang doesn’t take it against her. Gayang feels that a woman with such a personality is in a way good for Rakman, who treats women, especially his first two wives, like servants.

Rakman doesn’t appear until one in the afternoon, after the women and children have taken their lunch. Like most of the rebels, the commander is wearing a T-shirt, fatigue pants, and rubber shoes, and a long gun is slung on his shoulder. He was also wearing sunglasses, and wound around his neck is a gray scarf printed with tiny black squares. Perhaps the only indication that he’s a high-ranking official is his potbelly and the overbearing way he carries himself. “Where’s my son, Rakman?” Gayang asks him right away. “Take me to him.”

“You can’t see him,” says Rakman. “You wouldn’t like what you would see.”

“I’ve seen everything. I’ve lost a lot of loved ones, some of them right before my eyes. Don’t be protective of me. It’s too late for that. If you care for what I feel, you shouldn’t have persuaded my son to come here and fight with you.”

“Your son needed no persuasion. He came here of his own accord.”

This always happens whenever Gayang sees her cousin. She believes that Rakman brainwashed her son. The young man originally came here in Mamasapano to work a small piece of land owned by Rakman. Months later, she found out that he was spending more time with a gun than with a plow. Rakman claims that the young man approached him, not the other way around, about fighting for the separatist movement. Gayang takes a deep breath. She doesn’t want to argue with Rakman right now. Blaming him has caused a rift between them, but it did nothing to change her son’s mind. “Just take me to him please,” she says.

Rakman shrugs. He let Gayang and Amil ride with him in his motorcycle. They cross cornfields, rice fields, coconut farms, banana plantations, and fallow lands. They stop in a small clearing in a wooded and weedy area. They got off the motorcycle.

“Why are we here, Grandma?” Amil asks. “I thought we’re going to see Father.”

Gayang doesn’t answer the boy. Her eyes are fixed on the clearing. The topsoil is upturned, which means that the ground has been dug up and refilled recently. She knows now what happened to her son. The howling dogs were indeed giving her a message.

She has felt that this is what she would find out, but the intuition, the premonition, and her experiences have not been enough to prepare her. The pain that engulfs her is rather physical. It doesn’t just wrench her heart. She feels as though she has been punched in the gut. She’s dizzy and weak. She falls to her knees and wails.

“Stop that, Gayang,” says Rakman. “There is nothing to grieve. Your son died an honorable death.”

Amil suddenly understands what’s going on. “Father!” he says, tears welling from his eyes.

“Be quiet, the two of you!” Rakman orders. “The men in this grave gave their lives for the nation—our nation. They gave their lives so that our people can be free. They did what they wanted to do. Don’t be like the Christians. They’re crying murder, massacre even, for the deaths of the policemen, but aren’t those policemen just doing their job? Isn’t dying a risk that goes with their duty?”

“Don’t tell me not to grieve, Rakman,” says Gayang. “You didn’t lose a son.”

“I treated your son like he was mine.”

“You didn’t give birth to him. You didn’t raise him. He is mine alone, and no one has the right to take him away from me.”

Rakman walks away, cursing under his breath. Gayang takes Amil into her arms. They cry the name of the person they have lost. They weep without restraint. Rakman squats in front of his motorcycle and tinkers with the engine, though there’s really nothing to check or fix. He only walks back to Gayang and Amil when the weeping subsides a little. He wipes the tears off the boy’s face. “I was there with your father,” he tells Amil. “You should be proud of him. He did not shout or cry. The pain was nothing to him. He was very brave. You should also be brave.”

Amil says nothing, but his sobs become more controlled.

“We are a family of brave men,” Rakman continues. “We’re not like those Christian soldiers. They wept like girls, calling for their mothers, as we—”

“Leave the kid alone!” Gayang shouts. She pulls Amil away from Rakman. “Don’t poison my grandson’s mind. I’ve had enough. I’ve lost so many. He’s the only one I’ve got left.”

“We will never stop until we get what is rightfully ours,” says Rakman. “The deaths of your husband and your sons will be for nothing if we stop now.”

“You were not trying to get what is rightfully ours. They say you were coddling a terrorist.”

“Who’s a terrorist in this war, Gayang? You and your family were innocent civilians in Pikit, but what did the government soldiers do to you? Weren’t they terrorists too? Who’s the terrorist and who’s the hero? It’s not for the government, for the Christians, to decide!”

Gayang closes her eyes and breathes deeply. When she opens her eyes, she says, “I just lost a son. I just lost yet another loved one. I don’t want to talk about peace and honor and love for one’s people.” She wants to stay by the grave for as long as she can, but she knows that Rakman won’t stop blabbering against the government and the Christians. He will keep on dictating her how to take the death of her son. She tells him, “Please take us back to your house. I want to go home.”

“What home? Are you referring to the Christian-dominated city where you peddle tinagtag like a beggar? That’s not your home. It will never be your home—you will never have a home—until we get back all the land that the Christians have stolen from us.”

“Please. Just take me and my grandson now on your motorcycle.”

Gayang feels as though Rakman wants to crush her with his stare, but without any additional word, he walks to his motorcycle. It’s around two in the afternoon. Gayang and Amil have enough time to travel. They’ll be back in Tacurong before sunset. She stares at the grave for the last time.

Her memory takes her to a similar grave fifteen years ago, in the wake of the all-out war. One of those who had been buried in the grave was one of her loved ones, either her husband or her eldest son. No one could tell her for sure. The bodies had been hurled into the pit without being properly identified, for the diggers had been working in a hurry. They had been afraid of the gunfire ringing out in the background, and they had been racing against the setting sun, for it’s the custom of Muslims to bury the dead on the day of death. Gayang had only learned of the burial days after it happened. When she visited the grave, she did not know whom to cry for. She cried for everyone, for no one.

The uncertain details of her loss made the scene indelible in her mind. Gayang can clearly remember until now that she had a child with her that day. The child was already heavy, but she carried him in her arms so that she could whisper to him that she would never allow the same thing to happen to him. They would leave Pikit and live in Tacurong, where her family had a tiny home lot, where she believed they could live peacefully, far enough from the armed conflicts between the government forces and the separatist rebels. That child was now a dead man, buried in an unmarked grave in Mamasapano, along with probably a dozen of his brothers in arms, judging by the size of the clearing.

Gayang stares at Amil. She wants to pull him up and tell him that his will be a different life, that he will be spared from the decades-old violence that plagues Mindanao. But he’s much too heavy for her. Her bones are no longer as strong as they have once been. Her thighs are now aching merely from letting him sit on her lap on the trip earlier. More importantly, she no longer has the heart to make promises.

Gayang and Amil ride Rakman’s motorcycle. They once again travel along farmlands and fallow areas. Rakman’s gun is slung on his back, the long barrel pointed above, and Gayang notices that her grandson is staring at the gun. She wraps an arm around the boy, and he leans back on her and touches her arm. “Don’t make me mourn for you,” she whispers. “Wait for me to die.” The boy stares up at her, clueless of what she’s talking about, and when she doesn’t say another word, he returns his gaze to the gun. They ride in silence the rest of the way.

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