The Smell of the After Storm

By Kwesi M. Junsan
One-act Play

(This play was staged at the 5th Drama Fesival of Apat sa Taglamig, a theater group based in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, in 2017.)

CHARACTERS
ROSA—Early 50s. Widow.
SITOY —Late 20s. Fisherman.
TOTO—Late teens. Student.

SETTING
In a small cottage made of bamboo by the seaside lives a family of three: Rosa, Sitoy, and Toto. A figurine of the Virgin Mary is in the family’s sala with the husband’s portrait. A thunderstorm is brewing in the small village.

Amber light flickers like lightning. ROSA, SITOY, and TOTO are praying “Hail Mary” in English and Hiligaynon together. The thunder keeps on getting louder. ROSA, SITOY, and TOTO are blocked separately instead of kneeling side-by-side. Blacks out. Light fades on. ROSA prepares coffee and packs bulad, while TOTO hurries out of the bedroom and searches for something in the sala.

ROSA: Maayong aga, To! Aren’t you late for class?

TOTO: Uhm, Nay, have you seen my box?

ROSA: (Ignoring the question) I don’t want to see Sir Rafael again diri sa balay complaining of your laziness and tardiness. Bal-an mo nga he can’t stand the smell of our livelihood: (With the palm up, moves her hand from one side to the other) Osang’s special ginamos kag bulad. He would play his panyo like . . . (Covers her nose with her shawl) It is decent, Toto.

TOTO: Nay . . .

ROSA: O, ano nga box?

TOTO: The box I keep under my bed with my old notebooks.

ROSA: Have you asked your Manong?

TOTO: Si Manong?

ROSA: But if Sir Rafael comes here again, I will spill a bottle of ginamos sa iyang polo kag slap his face with my special bulad. How’s that?

TOTO: (Whispering) If you had sold it, you could have paid for my tuition fee by now.

ROSA: Ano? May ginahambal ka?

TOTO: Wala.

TOTO finds his box, opens it, takes out his umbrella inside his bag, and hides the gun in his bag. ROSA, curious, walks toward TOTO.

ROSA: Oh, you’ve found it, finally. I asked your Manong to move your— Why in a hurry suddenly? (ROSA’s presence startles TOTO so much, he almost hits the statuette of the Virgin Mary.) Ang birhen! If your tatay was still alive, he would swat you. Pasaway ni nga bata. How many times do I have to tell—

TOTO: Tatay, Tatay! Pirmi na lang! (Walks away from his mother and sits on the bamboo chair) Haven’t you and Manong buried him deep?

ROSA: (Points to her son) Don’t swear at your Tatay’s grave!

TOTO: Why are we always talking about the dead, Nay?

ROSA: How dare you!

TOTO: Why do you keep on reminding me of the past, the past that dulls all the time?

ROSA: Toto . . .

ROSA walks back to her chore.

TOTO: Yudiputa! You always remind me—

ROSA: (Slams the table) Your mouth!

TOTO: That I am never there, that I am not part of the family.

ROSA: (Speaking calmly) It’s not like that, Toto.

TOTO: What? What is it that I have not understood from your ramblings?

ROSA: (Breathing deeply and wiping her tears) Soon, langga. Soon, it will make sense. (Pauses) Oh, aren’t you late? Bring this pack of bulad and give it to Sir Rafael (chuckles) and he might understand your absence. Bati ko, his rich boyfriend is having an affair with one of the fishermen. Agi gid!

TOTO: Tsismis!

ROSA: Tood! It was Tina who told me.

TOTO: Tina? Tina Lakingbaba? Ang buang? Even the fishes you dry wouldn’t believe her words. That big-mouthed sirena! Tira—

TOTO did not finish his word tirahon midway. TOTO points his finger like a gun to ROSA.

ROSA: (Laughs) Buangit ka gid, Toto, like your father. (TOTO prepares and walks to the right exit.) To, ang bulad!

TOTO: (Jokingly) Nay, soon it will make sense.

ROSA laughs and prepares the pack of dried fishes.

TOTO: (Whispering) Nay, ang tuod, Sir Rafael doesn’t like your gifts.

ROSA: Ano?

TOTO: Never mind.

ROSA: (Sniffs) Ang hangin. The storm. I hope Sitoy—

TOTO: Manong is fine. He is a big man, Nay. Soon, I will be like him.

ROSA: But first, go to school and study your lessons. Kag, To, bring your—

TOTO: Asus, dako na ko! Ang akon?

ROSA hands the pack of bulad and allowance. TOTO grabs them, kisses his mother, and exits fast.

TOTO: (Shouting happily) Thank you, Nay!

ROSA: To, that’s for Sir Rafael! (Finds TOTO’s umbrella) To, ang imo payong! Ambot nga bata. Paghalong! (Turns on the radio and goes back to work. Suddenly, she reminisces. She takes Jun’s framed picture from the foot of the Virgin Mary figurine.) Jun, if you were still alive, it wouldn’t be this hard for me to raise two boys. It wouldn’t be this hard for Toto to know you. Si Sitoy, he wouldn’t exchange the land for the sea. I wouldn’t have to argue with Toto every morning or worry about Sitoy’s safety. Kung namati ka lang sa akon, things would have been different. They need you. Remember what Tatay Lucio told us? Remember how he died of anger? (Laughs) Pero you were very persistent. Ako nga bruha, I believed the things you said. Bata pa ta, attracted to love. “Rosa, ginahigugma ko ikaw.” Jun, I love you too. I am still ashamed to admit that I was caught off-guard when you shouted it in front of Tatay. After that, he would always exclaim Barbaro! Bandido! every time I mentioned your name. Kung kis-a, he would chase me with his prized paha. I always laughed. But now, I understand what Tatay meant. Hindi lang gugma ang rason para mabuhi. You failed me! (Pauses. Laughs for a moment.) Mali si Tatay no? Sa tuod lang, Jun . . . you were right. You gave me reasons to survive. Even though you left, you gave me Sitoy and Toto. They are now taller. Life isn’t that hard. Sa akon lang, life would have been harder if you had not fought for the things that you believed were right. I am still happy maskin way ka dun. Look after us, Mahal. (The radio distracts Rosa: news on extrajudicial killings and a possible storm surge. She puts back the framed picture and pays respect to the Virgin Mary’s statuette. She laughs.) Ambot na lang gid! The storm is turning me into Amor Powers. Ano na kaya natabo kay Eduardo? I hope the electricity won’t be cut off tonight. Bwisit nga SOCOTECO! Puro pangako! Maayo pa Pangako Sa ’Yo. Pwe!

SITOY enters from the right exit. ROSA helps SITOY take off his raincoat and prepares coffee. SITOY smokes.

ROSA: Nak, how was it?

SITOY: Not good. Short.

ROSA: (Teasing) Tsekwa?

SITOY: Gahaman! They won’t leave their post. They barricaded us. Linti nga mga Intsik! They almost killed Ado! Ado only wanted to talk to them, to at least fish for a night.

ROSA: And Ado?

SITOY: He is fine. A few bruises and nearly drowned. Salamat, I saw him first. I wish I had killed that Chinese.

SITOY punches in the air. ROSA offers him coffee.

ROSA: Drink this, langga. It will soothe you. Don’t let the storm eat you.

SITOY: Nay, are you OK?

ROSA: Ha?

SITOY: Your smell . . .

ROSA: Baho? Ay, this is the smell of Osang’s special ginamos kag bulad.

SITOY: No, Nay.

ROSA: Sitoy, you are just being too sensitive again. It has been years. We are far. Isolated. Nobody can find us here.

SITOY: Nay, what if we had not left that land?

ROSA: Ang duta?

SITOY: Righteously ours.

ROSA: Nak, we promised. We promised to look forward. To build a new life and not look back. Your tatay would have agreed.

SITOY: There is nothing new, Nay. Everything is the same. Can’t you see? Even the sea is now owned by the Chinese, like the land that our katigulangan cultivated. Where are the promises? These people who speak of themselves as gods. Promises broken, yet tolerated by the poor. Nay, ang kagagmayan ang kaluluoy. Kita. Even the fishes can’t keep us alive.

ROSA: May mahimo kita, nak?

SITOY: Kung waay lang ta nagpabulag. Kung waay lang ta namati sa butig sing mga di matuod nga makaako. If we had listened to our problems instead, would we be like this?

ROSA: We cannot undo our actions.

SITOY: Yet we repeat our mistakes.

ROSA: It is not a repetition, nak. It is the chance for us to survive.

SITOY: Survive? We are more at risk.

ROSA: Peligro? Amo na ini ang peligroang kabuhi. What we can do is to stay neutral. I don’t have anything to risk again, Sitoy. Not with your tatay gone.

SITOY: Nay, if we could start the change—

ROSA: Change? Isn’t that what your tatay had always shouted? Ano natabo? He left us with broken promises like the gods you are speaking of. It is for us to pray for grace. The son of Mary will help us. He is the true God.

SITOY: Religion is the addiction of the poor.

ROSA: (Laughs) Aren’t we poor?

SITOY: Fake beliefs, Nay.

ROSA: It gives us hope.

SITOY: Hope for what? Even hope has left my spirit.

ROSA: I cannot help you anymore, Sitoy. It is you who decide your fate.

SITOY: If you had not accepted the money from—

ROSA: You don’t know what you are saying.

SITOY: I saw it with my own eyes.

ROSA: Hindi na matuod.

SITOY: Ano ang matuod? Silence? Tatay was right, and I know you agree, Nay. We saw it. We saw how they butchered him. Do not deny it. Look at me, Nay. Am I telling lies? They are the one who lied! Sin-o? The people who took our lands. Tatay only wanted what we owned, to start anew.

ROSA: You are too young to understand the situation.

SITOY: Kagulangon? Numbers. Hindi na tuod. (Pauses) Nakita ko ang pusil nga gingamit. This was how they pointed the gun, Nay. (Points his finger at his mother) What could tatay do? He was facing dogs—dogs that live on garbage. Mga bayaran! Tatay never owned a gun. Nobody in this family did. Tatay had been fighting for our rights and his people. We—he—only wanted the land ning mga balangitaw had taken from us. Mga buwaya! What did they do? They wanted blood—a sacrificial pig for their stolen lands. “We are not rebels. He gave us hope. He made us believe that we could dream and get the land we are seeking peacefully.” Till now, mabatian ko pa ang mga hibi nila. Our neighbors who are also seeking justice, ano na natabo sa ila? Sa aton? Will Toto know about this?

ROSA: Not Toto.

SITOY: San-o pa?

ROSA: We are just victims of the situation, Sitoy. Why are we talking about this?

SITOY: Nay, did you accept Mayor’s money?

ROSA: (Fidgeting) Oo. (Pauses) Look! (Points at her fish products with her open hand) Now, I can help you raise money for Toto’s tuition.

SITOY: Nay!

ROSA: Sitoy, it is not what you think it is. This is for your own safety and Toto’s.

SITOY: Safety? I saw men engulfed by the sea, never to be found again. A small sacrifice for the fishes we’ve caught. Nakita ko ang Intsik kung paano nila gusto patyon si Ado. Ado would be another sacrifice. Who to fear, Nay? The sea? The illegal Chinese fishermen? The storm? Or the corrupt? Their bullets? None. You are the one who is always right no? It was you who said God should be feared most. But what do you call those hypocrites, ha? The one who doesn’t fear God? The one who dresses and preaches like God?

ROSA: Pamati ka! You will never understand me. I am a mother. Gusto ko lang

SITOY: Ano, Nay? Look at them—the fishermen. Ado’s wife is pregnant again. Diin mangita si Ado sing kwarta? Borrow from Mayor? Isn’t his money our money? Isn’t his protection ours in the first place? Diin si Ado mangita kwarta para sa pagkaon nila? Ado can’t even open his eyes, or walk. Mayor’s money can’t buy us safety. It can’t make the Chinese go away from our sea. It can’t pay for the damage. It can’t pay for the past.

ROSA: You are always trying to be righteous.

SITOY: Isn’t that what Tatay taught us? Ha? Wake up, Nay. Bugtaw na. We can’t erase it. We can’t be apologists all the time.

ROSA: (Pauses) Nothing, Sitoy. Soon it will make sense.

SITOY: Why are we always trapped in the eye of the storm?

ROSA: The storm will end, like the storm ten years ago.

SITOY: The smell . . .

ROSA: It won’t let go.

SITOY: Nay, sorry.

ROSA: There is nothing to be sorry about, Sitoy.

SITOY: (Pauses) Si Toto?

ROSA: He went to school late today.

SITOY: (Laughs) San-o pa siya magbag-o?

ROSA: You know your brother, as stubborn as you are.

SITOY: Nay, naman. Bal-an niya?

ROSA: Know what?

SITOY: About Toto’s— (SITOY worries that someone might hear him. He changes his answer to ROSA’s question.) The money.

ROSA: Anak, try this cardillo. Namit?

TOTO enters wet.

ROSA: Toto, this is what I’ve been telling you!

ROSA rubs TOTO, while SITOY prepares coffee.

SITOY: The storm is getting stronger.

ROSA: Hurry, Sitoy.

SITOY exits to the left.

ROSA: Canceled classes, Toto? You should have stayed at school.

TOTO: Nay . . .

ROSA: Dungol nga bata! Sitoy!

SITOY enters with towel from the left.

SITOY: Ikaw gid, Toto. (Laughs) Look! Nanay looks like a hungry pig.

TOTO: Nay . . .

ROSA: Langga, next time di pagkalimti.

SITOY: How’s school?

TOTO: Same.

SITOY: Same what, Toto? Bad grades again? (Laughs)

SITOY grabs TOTO’s bag. TOTO hesitates, but gives the bag to SITOY. SITOY puts it on the bamboo chair.

ROSA: Ambot na lang gid! I told you to go home early and study, but you prefer going out late at night, and what?

TOTO: My grades aren’t that bad, Nay.

SITOY: (Teasing) Then what, Toto?

TOTO: It’s just that Sir Rafael gave us tons of projects, and it is eating my time. (Coughs)

ROSA: Langga, your final exams are coming next week.

SITOY: I’ll guess—tuition?

ROSA: Shhh . . . Sitoy.

SITOY: Why do we have to pay for his tuition? Abi ko iskolar si Toto? (Smirks) Abi nyo di ko bal-an? I’ve heard the two of you talking about you (points at Toto) dropping out last week.

ROSA: Tama na, Sitoy.

SITOY: Ngaa abi? Bad grades? Ay, mali, mali. I guess you stole money from your teacher no? Or someone saw you kissing a girl again? Ikaw, Toto, you are a silent manyak. Way mo ginahambal may chicks ka na naman nga bag-o.

TOTO: Manong!

SITOY: Bal-an ko na! You punched Diego again no?

TOTO: Dugay na na nga isyu.

SITOY: Then what? Ngaa pa ta magbayad tuition mo? They can’t even afford to build new classrooms. Or even renovate the old ones. How many students are there in your classroom, Toto? And you need to divide your classroom to accommodate another section. I don’t see why we people who wake up early and struggle to survive have to pay for education that isn’t meant for us?

TOTO: Sir Rafael promised free education.

SITOY: Free of what, Toto? Gago ka ba? The educational system has enslaved us. Haven’t you heard the news?

TOTO: Why are you asking so many questions, Manong? Could we just live peacefully? Bear it?

SITOY: Gadaman ka? Where is that place, Toto?

ROSA: Here we go again. Tilawi nyo ning luto ko.

TOTO: It’s Sitoy, Nay.

SITOY: Ako na naman?

ROSA: Ikaw, Sitoy, you are too old for that childish argument. Waay ka na gid nagtigulang tarong. What would have Jun tell me?

SITOY: (Laughs) I just, well, don’t see why people are so enamored with Rafael’s words. Isn’t it devious, Nay?

ROSA: You are overthinking again, Sitoy. Could you just open your mouth and eat my special cardillo before the storm eats you?

TOTO: Nay, namit.

SITOY: (Teasing TOTO) Nay, namit. (Laughs)

ROSA: What’s funny, Sitoy?

SITOY: Oh! Why doesn’t Rafael give us a treat tonight? Toto, ask him.

ROSA: Sitoy, sobrahan ka na. When are you going to stop that?

TOTO: Manong is right. Where is Tatay whenever I need him? While Sir Rafael is always there looking out for me. Who are you (points his finger at SITOY) to judge me for having poor grades when I sleep late to help Nanay finish her chores while you’re out in the sea, for punching Diego because he insulted me for wearing the same uniform every day? I didn’t kiss Anna. A jerk pushed me to her. Oh, am I not so lucky? Did it matter when I tell them the truth? No. Stealing money from a teacher—what’s new? What happened, Sitoy, when I told them that I needed that money to pay my school bills? Did Nanay and you believe me? No. It was Sir Rafael—no, Mayor—who believed me, who believes the ability to change within us. We, the lost causes. Where is father? Tay, diin ka? Under our feet! Can’t you see? He’s been eaten by worms. I’m sure by now he is bare bones, kalansay. Only dogs eat rubbish. And who is next? You, Sitoy? (Laughs. Pauses.) No. Sorry. I was wrong. I don’t have a father in the first place. Didn’t you know?

ROSA: Toto, what are you saying?

TOTO: Wow! Can you believe it, Sitoy?

SITOY: Believe what?

TOTO: You are blind.

SITOY: Shut up, Toto!

TOTO: Nay, tell him! Tell us the truth!

ROSA: Toto, Sitoy . . .

SITOY: Nay . . .

ROSA: Don’t get angry, Sitoy, but Toto is right. Jun and I couldn’t bear children. Baog ako.

TOTO: See! I am not the only one who’s blind here. Sitoy, we are the same. We are sons of miscarriages of the past.

SITOY: Nay, ngaa?

ROSA: I promised your Tatay I wouldn’t tell you anything, that we would live another life away from his burden. He insisted! But loved both of you like our real children.

TOTO: So, Sitoy, it wasn’t that hard to know the truth. Mayor told me everything. Isn’t he great, Sitoy? It is the truth that will set us free.

SITOY: You are wrong, Toto. You are following a blind leader—a heretic.

TOTO: Don’t talk like you know everything.

ROSA: Langga . . .

TOTO: Langga?

ROSA: Adopting you and Sitoy has never been a mistake. Palangga ko kamo. It was love that made Jun and I take the two of you from the slums of war.

SITOY: I saw our house with my parents and siblings burned by the armies. Because they accused my parents as sympathizers. How dare they!

ROSA: Toto, I found your tiny body in a basket floating in the river, cold from the hissing wind. The next day, I heard that Sitio Hagonoy had been raided. I never doubted my love for you. We fed you. We dressed you. We acted as real parents.

SITOY: Nay, ngaa?

ROSA: I was framed up by Sir Rafael.

TOTO: A lie!

ROSA: What lie? I know what you are doing at night, Toto. I saw it with my own eyes. All I want is—

TOTO: You are disturbing the peace of the sea, Sitoy!

SITOY: Diin siya? In Peru, Cambodia, Singapore, China? How I wish the ocean would send me to other countries and live another life. Yes, life—lives—here are rotten like the smelly ginamos of yours, Nay.

TOTO: It is in exchange of peace. Peace talk, Sitoy. Haven’t you heard of that? Tatay spoiled you with peace. You are a son of an uneducated farmer!

SITOY: A proud farmer!

ROSA: Toto, he is still your father!

TOTO: He is long forgotten, Nay. What is important to me is the promise of the new system.

SITOY: New system. The Mayor? Yes, you are right, they will send away the Chinese, but one day, you’ll wake up and realize it’s the new system who will throw us back to the land. (Laughs) Making the sea reservoir? Sure, sounds good, Toto. But when you see the Chinese stealing our precious taklobo, our island’s remaining treasure, you think we, the fishermen, would love to give it away? No, we want blood for blood. This is our sea. Only for Filipinos.

TOTO: Tikal, Sitoy!

SITOY: And what do you call Ado? Collateral damage? Damage for change, you call it.

TOTO: You should be the one going to school rather than me. Isn’t that what you want, know-it-all?

SITOY: Tama ka. After all, the price of the island has been paid by the Tsekwa in full cash. Who would refuse that sum? Your godly new father, Sir Rafael? The mayor, your highness? (Laughs)

TOTO: Be careful with your words, Manong.

SITOY: Manong!

ROSA: Sitoy, calm down.

SITOY: Sin-o ang ginatawag mo nga manong? You don’t have a family to come back to, Toto. Let your putang inang diyos mag-jetski sa dagat! You fucking sold your shit to a devil.

TOTO: I don’t have a choice, Sitoy. (Takes out the gun from his bag)

ROSA: Toto, don’t!

SITOY: Where did you get that?

ROSA: It was my fault!

SITOY hugs ROSA.

SITOY: (Hugging Rosa) No, Nay. No.

ROSA: I knew, I knew this would happen. I followed you one night, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. You shot Tina’s son! Nakibot ako. Before I could shout your name, Mayor saw me.

SITOY: Why didn’t you tell me, Nay?

ROSA: I was scared, langga. I was scared that Rafael would kill both of you. I can’t live without my sons. In exchange, I had to tell him our past. My only valuable to sell. Sorry, Sitoy! Sorry, Toto!

SITOY: What have you done! (To TOTO) Toto, look what you have become!

TOTO: I needed money to pay the school bills, and Sir Rafael lent me money. I told him I’d pay him later. But I couldn’t, Sitoy. So I worked for Mayor. I would come home late because I was working for Mayor. Sa una, galimpyo lang ako office. But he later gave me this. (Lifts the gun) Do you know what it felt the first time, Sitoy?

SITOY: Toto . . .

TOTO: Disgusting. It disgusted me. Everything was pitch dark. Nobody knew. Nobody saw except me and Mayor. It took many storms before it cleansed me. Now, whenever I hold this gun, I feel a desire to kill someone. I am nobody’s son anymore, Sitoy. I live for change, and you are the corrupt. (Points the gun to SITOY)

ROSA: Toto, do not let your anger blind you.

TOTO: Mayor gave me a new meaning, Nay. Now, my Manong Sitoy, whom I once loved, should end his life with this gun. You have been disobeying him for years, Nong. But Nanay made me promise to spare your life, but now I have no reason to keep that promise.

Amber light flickers. A sound of thunder erupts.

ROSA: Toto, stop!

Sound of two gun shots. Light fades on.

SITOY & TOTO: Nay!

ROSA’s body lies on the floor, blood gushing from her bullet wounds. SITOY hugs ROSA.

SITOY: Toto, can you smell the after storm?

TOTO: Dugo!

Toto runs to right exit. Sitoy wails. Light fades off.

CURTAIN

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