Editors and Contributors

GUEST EDITOR

Tarie Sabido is the chair of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) and a reviewer of books for children and young adults. She has been a judge for the PBBY Salanga Writer’s Prize, Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, National Children’s Book Awards, and Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards. She is from General Santos City.

REGULAR EDITOR

Jude Ortega is a short story writer from Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat Province. He has been a fellow in two regional and four national writers workshops. In 2015, he received honorable mention at the inaugural F. Sionil José Young Writers Awards. He is the author of the short story collection Seekers of Spirits published in 2018 by the University of the Philippines Press.

CONTRIBUTORS

Marianne Hazzale J. Bullos is from General Santos City and a scholar of Philippine Science High School-SOCCSKSARGEN Region Campus. She is a student during weekdays, a master crammer on weekends, and an eagle for lifetime.

Boon Kristoffer Lauw is a chemical engineer turned entrepreneur from General Santos City and is currently based in Quezon City. During his practice of profession at a beer-manufacturing plant last 2013, he began to pass graveyard shifts with random musings that eventually took form in writing—and, inevitably, stories.

Andrea D. Lim is from General Santos City, and she is currently working as an editor for a publishing company in Cebu City while taking her master’s degree in literature at the University of San Carlos. She was a fellow for poetry in the 24th Iligan National Writers Workshop (2017). She is also the former editor-in-chief of the Weekly Sillimanian, the official student publication of Silliman University, Dumaguete City.

Mary Ann Ordinario is a multi-awarded author of books for children from Kidapawan City, Cotabato Province. She owns ABC Educational Development Center, the oldest publishing house of children’s books outside of Metro Manila.

Alvin Pomperada of General Santos City is a management accounting graduate of Notre Dame of Dadiangas University. He is a member of Pangandungan, the association of writers in General Santos City.

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June 2018 (Issue 22)

Introduction by Paul Randy P. Gumanao

FICTION
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Erwin Cabucos
Manika by Mubarak Tahir

POETRY
Layers by Christine Joy G. Aban
To recreate that which I had seen in a dream 
by Almira Caryl Jane A. Calvo
Astral Demise 
by Florence Dianne D. Samson
Antler Series 
by Julius Marc Taborete
Makeup Kit 
by Mubarak Tahir

PLAY
Liar Goes to Hell by Allan Ace Dignadice

Editors and Contributors

Introduction

Perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes in life is the limitedness of freedom. We are free, but we are limitedly free.

To some extent, we are free to choose but only from a limited set of options that had already been laid before us. At some point, however, we can transcend the boundaries of our un-freedom by choosing not to choose at all.

Whether we are truly free or not is still a subject of an ongoing philosophical debate. The world is divided between whether our existence is deterministic or probabilistic; whether it is the subatomic particles that shaped our consciousness, or it is consciousness that designed the atom.

But, whichever side we are on, we would all agree that what is inherent to all of us is our ability to choose, regardless of the nature and the consequence of our choices.

In this issue, we feature works that either seek or celebrate freedom.

As a kickoff, we have Almira Caryl Jane A. Calvo’s winning poem for the Balakbayi Poetry Writing Contest, “To recreate that which I had seen in a dream.” Calvo’s piece is reminiscent of a childhood arts class where one enjoys playing with colors, tracing images, and cutting and pasting pictures. But behind the verses is a resonating declaration of the freedom of the persona’s imagination to recreate into a new form an idea from a dream. Calvo skillfully expounded this theme with transforming imageries that progress from something as humanly perceptible as paint[ing] the skies,” “canvas[ing] the seas,” and “fold[ing] flowers from thin sheets of rain” to something extraterrestrial like “weigh[ing] the Sun and Moon” and “count[ing] the number of stars through a cup.” The poem, however, does not pretend to demonstrate imagination’s ascendancy over human limitations. The last stanza wrapped up the poem with a sentient return to physical reality through the “clattering of labeled buttons,” perhaps of a computer keyboard, to bring to a swift completion the recreation of a dream before it fades in the memory like “a star gone nova.”

“Layers,” the runner-up-poem in Balakbayi by author Christine Joy G. Aban reminds us of the dichotomous nature of freedom, that liberation is oftentimes a grueling dissociation of the freed from its restrainer. The poem, which takes the form of a dialogue between a woman and a man, appeals to the socially-constructed precepts of many men for them to look past the physical layers of a woman’s body in order to see “the beautiful things she has inside—/ Inside, where soul and real beauty do reside.” Interestingly, the female persona is portrayed as someone who is still seeking affirmation from the male persona who is depicted as liberal and relatively enlightened, someone who seems to have already been freed from the conventional, regressive perception of a woman in this male-dominated world. Indeed, the poem delivers what the title promises—layers of womanhood, layers of perspectives, and layers of struggle for freedom from objectification.

This issue also features a one-act play set in the gateway of hell. Allan Ace Dignadice’s “Liar Goes to Hell” is a comic portrayal of the cunning character of Lucipher, and the vulnerability of human. Christian, the main character of the story repeatedly lied when Lucipher, who disguised himself as a good, old man, interrogated him. After a thorough questioning, Christian found himself lured into believing that he was about to enter heaven, when in fact he was already at the doorstep of hell. One of the play’s strengths is the wit of the conversations, which is hilariously entertaining and thought-provoking. The protagonist finds it absurd to be punished for acting on one’s will, and that even heeding the advice of religious people does not guarantee salvation. The lines, “No’ng lumapit sa bahay namin ang mga katekista, sinabi nilang gawin ko ito, gawin ko iyan upang masalba . . . Tapos sa huli, wala namang nangyari. Impiyerno pa rin ang bagsak ko!” imply a fundamental contradiction between the concepts of free will and punishment.

Freedom, however, is not always a consequence of the will. Sometimes, it is the will itself. It is not always a triumphant battle against facticity. Sometimes, it is the process of humbly accepting the natural order of things. Such is the nuance of the poem “Astral Demise” by Florence Diane D. Samson. The poem has a tone of certainty, which is consistent throughout, and parallels the human existence with the lifecycle of a star. It begins with a bold declaration that “We are all specks of light/ Flickering in the night sky,” and continues by reminding us of the reality that we are “Gradually deteriorating, burning out/ Slowly fading out of sight.” The last two lines, “Deadstars—/ We are all going to be,” solidify the poem’s tone by presenting to us both a figurative and literal reality of the stellar origin of the chemical elements that compose the physical human body.

There is, indeed, freedom in knowing one’s origin. It gives one a sense of wholeness. It is, however, not the case with the persona in the poem “It is the Call” by Julius Marc Taborete. The poem describes the experience of being deprived of the full encounter with one’s cultural identity to the point of being condescending to it. Having been “swept away in/ [his/her] Father’s proud façade,” the persona expressed resentment and said, “they have locked me in my own freedom,/ in the delusion I dwell.” The poem underscores the struggle of the persona with interracial roots, but has not experienced the peculiarities of both ancestries because of growing in a distant land.

Indeed, absence in one’s birthland leaves a void in one’s existence. Such is the essence of the short story “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” from Erwin Cabucos’s book The Beach Spirit and Other Stories. The longing for home is an emotion powerful enough to transport us freely into the memory lane, and powerful enough to keep us hopeful. In one of the narrator’s last lines, he said, “I wished I could gather Gideon and the guys again to go caroling. We would sing enthusiastically once more but, this time, I would not be asking for people’s money.” Such words are a testament that despite the significant change in geography, or in time, or even in social status, the home retains its warmth and spirit.

Another set of works, a poem and a short story, by Mubarak Tahir discusses a common, poignant issue of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Central to both works is the determination of the protagonist to free himself from the shackles of society’s prejudice. In the symbol-laden poem “Makeup Kit,” the omniscient narrator recounts in a figurative manner the brutal persecution of a third-person character by someone the narrator interchangeably calls “Diyablo” or “Demonyo.” The use of metaphors eased the reading experience of a supposed morbid scene with Tahir’s creative juxtaposition of facial cosmetics, and blood and bruises: “Napalitan ang maitim na lipstick/ Ng pulang lip balm/ Na pumapatak sa labi . . ./ Kulay itim ang luhang dumadaloy;/ Natunaw ang mascara ng pilikmata . . .

What seems to be a prequel to the poem is Tahir’s short story “Manika.” The story opens with an image of a young boy trying to tie around his waist a ribbon out of his blanket one early morning. Together with the image of a doll (manika), the ribbon (laso) is a recurring symbol that is also present in Tahir’s poem, making the two works complementary. Although both works have different intensities of conflict, both have redemptive resolutions: the story ended with the protagonist’s acceptance of oneself; and the poem, by the protagonist’s undaunted will to fight for the life he has so liberated.

In all of the featured works, we will see that in the midst of the multifaceted essence of freedom in the different aspects of human life, what matters is most is on how we harness the good in freedom.

 

Paul Randy P. Gumanao
Glan, Sarangani Province

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

By Erwin Cabucos
Fiction

This short story first appeared in Bayanihan News and was included in the author’s out-of-print book The Beach Spirit and Other Stories.

“Renato,” Rebecca whispered, tapping me on my shoulder.

“Yeah.” Half asleep, I opened my eyes slowly, squinting. “What?”

“Look.” She was pointing out the window of our taxi.

“Look what?” My brows knitted together. I shook my head a little, trying to figure out where we were. We were on our way to the hotel we had booked for a night before travelling on to my parents’ place in the province. I looked around at the queues of cabs, buses, and jeepneys waiting for the traffic to move. The clock in the taxi said six o’clock.

“There’s a child outside, singing. He’s been there for a while. He seems to be waiting for something. He’s following us. I thought you heard him.”

“No, I was half asleep.”

“What are those things clipped to the tip of his thumbs and fingers? Castanets, that’s it! He’s hitting them as he sings.” Rebecca turned to the boy. “Look at him. I don’t think he’s going to stop.”

“He wants some money for his Christmas carols.”

She dug into her jeans’ pocket. “I have a peso here. This’ll do, won’t it?”

“One peso?” I snorted. “You have to give him more than that. Don’t you feel sorry for him?”

“How much, then?”

“Give him a hundred-peso note.”

“What!” Her eyes popped. “That’s too much!”

“Why is it too much? It’s what you’d pay for a junior burger in McDonalds in Sydney.”

“But compared to the cost of living here, it’s a lot, isn’t it? You told me a meal here might only cost fifteen pesos.”

“It’s all right.” I bent my head towards her and smiled.

She took out the hundred-peso bill from her wallet, wound the window down, and handed the note over to the boy. The child ran to the woman selling cigarettes and candies further along the street and passed the note to her. She waved at us, smiled, and caressed the little boy’s head.

The taxi slowly crawled along with the other vehicles. The traffic cleared gradually and we crept towards the open wide road. We heard the car accelerate and saw the child leaning on the lady, who was sitting on a stool beside the road. As we drove further, their image blurred and was slowly replaced by the blinking lights of billboard ads. The car stereo was on, tuned in to Cebu Mellow Station playing Jose Marie Chan’s “Christmas in our Hearts.”

I broke the silence. “I used to do that when I was young.”

“Really.” She faced me. “Did you get lots of money?”

*

We had agreed to meet at the front of Mrs. Villegas’ general store. We thought it was the perfect rendezvous because the light there was bright thanks to the fluorescent tube that hung on the top of the post. The light was a public display of Mr. Villegas’ ingenuity. He had climbed the post the previous week, spliced the live electrical wire that ran through our whole street, attached the thin wire of the fluorescent tube, and his store’s front yard became what looked like the center of our little community. He was a hero to us for bringing us light after the town’s only power company rejected our request.

The fluorescent light attracted a lot of mosquitoes, and several kinds of moths were hovering around it. The light lifted the energy of young men in our street in the afternoon, as they played basketball into the iron ring attached to the trunk of the dying santol tree. The crowd, composed of younger women, mothers with their toddlers, and grandparents minding their young grandchildren, settled around the playing teams, cheering.

Mrs. Villegas was inside her little shop, picking off tiny horseradish leaves for her fish soup dinner while keeping abreast with the competing scores of both teams. Her eyes moved between the leaves on the plate, the sweaty basketball players a few meters away, and me, her customer, muttering that I would like a pack of Marie biscuits. It cost me twenty-five centavos. I liked the nutty taste of the Marie biscuits. They would tide me over at night if we did not have anything for dinner, or if we only had rice, water, and salt.

I was waiting for Gideon, Ricky, and Darwin to arrive. They knew they had to come early so that we could cover a lot of houses that night.

The santol tree trunk was just about to collapse but no one seemed to worry about it. As long as it could still support the thuds of the ball, why worry? Poor tree. I used to climb it when it was still full of fruit. It was a nice variety of santol—a Bangkok one, they said. The fruit had had thicker flesh, thinner seeds, and was more flavorsome. Although we were told not to swallow the seeds, I did anyhow. It was the last school vacation, after we finished third grade. We climbed the trees in the school orchard. The seeds had slipped smoothly down my throat.

“What, you swallowed the seeds of Bangkok santol?” Gideon’s eyes had nearly popped.

“Yes. Why?”

“Renato, you can’t do that. They could grow inside you and you would die, you know,” he said warily.

“That sounds like Jack and the Beanstalk.” I simply lifted my eyebrows. “I’m still alive, though.”

“I’m serious,” he said.

The guys were still not here. They might still be having their dinner. I went back to Mrs. Villegas and spent another twenty-five centavos on some cold water. I tore the plastic with my front teeth and sucked the icy cold water from it. I could be luckier tonight if we came home with lots of coins. Then I could buy boiled eggs from the sidewalk vendors and munch them with rice on my way home. I wished my father earned lots of money again and was able to buy us nice food every night. I wished I had some toys like those of the kids in the movies. I wished that the santol tree would bear fruit again. I wished we also had a glittering and singing Christmas tree. I wished the airport would change its decision to remove all the porters from inside the building.

My four brothers, three sisters, and I used to know that my father had had a good day if he came home with boiled eggs or barbecued chicken. Usually, it was because lots of Filipino overseas contract workers had arrived in the airport that day. In ten years of lifting suitcases for these highly paid domestic helpers, seamen, and bar entertainers from abroad, my father, to attract tips, had mastered eye to eye contact, suitable gestures, and well-chosen words.

He had been doing it for so many years that it was a big shock when, one afternoon, he was told that he was no longer allowed to work inside the airport building. Only selected porters, the ones who knew someone in management, were allowed to work inside. My father did not know anyone in the office so he was stationed outside the gate, asking passengers if they needed cabs to go around Manila. He was disappointed, because the money was not as good. Everyone thought he was a con man. I did not know how to help my father. I wished I could. I now wore some of his porter work shirts, as he did not need them anymore. My two younger brothers wore them to school, too.

“Where is everyone?” Gideon asked as he came out of his mom’s shop, holding his ukulele in his right hand and a flashlight in his left.

“I’m the only one here,” I said.

He handed the flashlight over to me as he tried a few strums. I envied his ability to play an expensive instrument like that. I placed the flashlight under my arm and shook a piece of wood with flattened Coca Cola caps nailed in it as I tried to do a little jam with him. We saw Ricky coming with two spoons. Darwin was coming in the opposite direction with a triangle and a money tin.

We did not waste a moment. Our first house was the Santos’, who we knew had lots of money because they ran the only newspaper shop in town. We positioned ourselves on the leaning trunk of a jackfruit tree from where we could see Mr. and Mrs. Santos’ silhouettes behind their windowpanes, as he read and she knitted. The jackfruit tree was actually bearing fruit underground. We could see one fruit breaking the ground and smelling like heaven.

Before we started, we looked around to make sure that their dogs were not off the leash. It looked like everything was safe.

“Gregorio,” said the wife, “I think there are people outside. Can you check who it is?”

“It could just be kids from our block, caroling.”

“Just give them some money now so they can leave early. After all, that’s the only thing they want.”

“No, let them sing.”

“As if you really want to listen to them.”

“Let them sing, anyway.”

“But they’re just going to make a noise.”

“OK, give me the coin and I’ll give it to them later.”

We were happy when we heard the word “coin,” a guarantee that we would be getting something in the end. Gideon strummed the ukulele, Ricky banged the back of the spoons together, I shook the Coca Cola caps, we looked at each other, and together we sang, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King.” We looked at Darwin and his triangle and wondered why he was not hitting the instrument. He smiled, because he had forgotten the rod which he used to hit the triangle. We continued singing while he bent down, looking for a stone to use instead. Towards the middle of the song, we heard his triangle and we sang louder.

Suddenly, we were surprised to see two Dobermans racing towards us. The dogs must have broken loose from their leashes. The other three ran as quick as a flash. I was behind them, catching up. I had only one slipper on. For a moment, I thought I might leave it behind so that I could run as fast as possible, but I remembered it was the only one I would have until my mother could buy me another pair in a few days’ time. I was limping, when I saw the two vicious dogs right behind me. I still tried my best to push myself forward and I could feel my heart pounding hard. The dogs howled behind me. I closed my eyes and ran as fast as I could.

We reached the bright front yard of Villegas’ store, puffing. Gideon, Ricky, and Darwin were laughing at my pants nearly dropping, the elastic busted. My Coca Cola caps were no longer in my hands and my slipper had also disappeared from my foot. Oh well, at least I was safe.

We rested for a while until we were ready to go on to the next house.

We got to the Tolentinos’ front yard; it was covered with young guava trees. They were the new variety of guavas called guapple, a blend of the guava’s citric taste and the apple’s succulence. We knew the Tolentinos had lots of money, because he was a high school teacher and she was a midwife. We always saw their daughters at school eating delicious sandwiches at recess. Most of the time I had nothing. To pretend I wasn’t hungry, I used to play marbles and holes while my friends were munching banana cue and cheese snacks. When I got home, I used to get angry at my mother. Why did she not give me any money to buy food?

The Tolentinos’ living room was brightly lit. It had a nice maroon couch which blended with their exquisite hardwood furniture. In the corner stood a tall, fully decorated Christmas tree with statues of Jesus in the stable and Mary and Joseph and the Kings and the shepherds. The Tolentinos were having dinner. The strong aroma of chicken, soy sauce, and coconut vinegar made me hungrier.

Gideon started to play his ukulele. We all went, “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” Because I no longer had my Coca Cola caps, I picked up two small rocks from the ground and hit them together in time with the melody. We finished the song energetically and then we started another one. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child.” We sang and sang until we were tired but no one came out to give us anything.

Suddenly, Mrs. Tolentino’s head poked out of their screen door: “Hoy, here’s a peso. Now go home and stop disturbing us. You were here last night, weren’t you?”

“No, that was a different group,” Darwin answered, stepping closer to her.

“Anyway, here’s your money,” she said quickly.

“It’s not enough, Mrs. Tolentino,” Darwin protested.

“You should be grateful that I’ve given you something.”

“OK, then,” Darwin conceded, scraping the two fifty-centavo coins off her palm.

She quickly turned her back and slammed the door.

We then sang the Merry Christmas tune with revised lyrics: “Thank you, thank you, tight-ass people are you, are you? Thank you, thank you, thrifty clan in hell will land.”

Darwin dropped the coins into our money tin; I heard them hitting the bottom. It would have been nicer to hear some jingling of pennies inside. We left that hideous family and continued walking towards the next house. We heard dogs barking—the Santos’ two Dobermans were still wandering free in our street. We screamed and ran back to the lit electrical post again, yelling, “Mr. Santos, your vicious dogs are out in our street. Mr. Santos!”

*

I stared at the decorated pine trees in the middle of the road and my mind returned to the face of that little boy, how his lips stretched and his cheeks lifted when he felt the paper money in his palm. I wished I had experienced the same feeling twenty years ago. I wished I could gather Gideon and the guys again to go caroling. We would sing enthusiastically once more but, this time, I would not be asking for people’s money.

“So, did you get lots of money?” She leaned her head over my shoulder.

“Sometimes.”

“How cute.”  She spoke softly. “We don’t have that in Sydney.”

“No, we don’t,” I sighed.

Manika

By Mubarak Tahir
Fiction

Marahang iniangat ni Niño ang kaniyang maninipis na braso saka kinapa-kapa ang kaniyang kumot. Nang makita niya ang dulo ng kumot, dahan-dahan niya itong itinali sa kaniyang payat na balakang. Humarap siya sa salamin. Napansin niyang hindi maayos ang pagkakatali sa kumot kaya inulit niya hanggang sa isang malaking laso ang kaniyang nabuo. Ngumiti-ngiti siya habang nakapamewang ang dalawang kamay. Yumuko siya. Hinila ang laylayan ng kumot. Umatras nang kaunti. Humakbang paharap nang marahan. Mabilis na umikot. Huminto, kumaway-kaway, at ngumiting halos abot-tainga. Nakatayo siya ngayon sa harap ng salamin na para bang nasa entabladong puno ng maraming ilaw na iba’t iba ang kulay.

Ganito ang mga eksena sa loob ng kuwarto ni Niño tuwing umaga. Hindi pa man sumisikat ang araw, maaga na siyang gumigising. Bukod sa pagrampa sa harap ng salamin, kinakailangan niyang gumising nang maaga upang maghanda sa mga gagawin sa maisan.

Nang makapag-agahan, nagmadaling isinuot ni Niño ang kaniyang lumang damit na isinusuot lamang niya kapag nagtatrabaho sa maisan. Halos hindi na malaman ang kulay ng damit dahil sa mga mantsa ng putik. Bitbit ang isang lumang galon ng tubig at isang supot ng nilagang saging, binagtas niya nang walang sapin sa mga paa ang mabatong daan kasama ng iba pang magsasakang patungo sa maisan. Yumuyugyog ang bolong nakatali sa kaniyang tagiliran. Bakas naman ngayon sa kaniyang mukha ang kasiyahan dahil sa nakikitang makukulay na paruparo, ngunit minsan ay mahigpit na nakatikom ang mga tuyo niyang labi dahil sa pagkabagot. Sa bandang huli, napabuntonghininga siya saka iniangat ang nakayukong ulo—isang araw na naman ng pakikipagbuno sa maisan.

“Paano ‘yan, hanggang dito lang kami,” pagpapaalam ng isang matandang lalaki habang humihithit ng tabako.

“Sige po, Mang Agkog,” ang malumanay na tugon ng Niño na pawisan ang noo.

Tuluyang naghiwalay ng landas sina Mang Agkog at Niño. Tinungo ng bawat isa ang kani-kaniyang maisang pagtatrabahuan.

Huminga muna nang malalim si Niño bago dahan-dahang iniangat ang mga balikat habang mahigpit na hinawakan ang bolo. Yumuko siya at marahang isinubsob ang dulo ng bolo sa lupa. Humihinto siya minsan, lalo na pag nagsimula nang uminit ang araw. Ramdam na rin niya ang pag-init ng singaw ng lupang kaniyang binubungkal. Napalunok siya sa pagkauhaw. Agad niyang kinuha sa tabi ng mayayabong na damo ang kaniyang baong tubig. Tumingala siya kasabay nang pag-angat ng galon. Ibinuhos niya nang marahan ang tubig sa kaniyang tuyong mga labi. Nagpatuloy sa pagbubunot ng damo at pagbubungkal ng lupa ang batang lalaki. Wala siyang inaksayang sandali.

Hapon na nang umuwi si Niño kaya naman laking saya niya kapag natatanaw na sa di kalayuan ang kanilang bahay. Isa itong barong-barong na tila matagal nang inabandona, yari sa nilalang dahon ng niyog ang bubong, at pinagtagpi-tagping luma at buluking mga tabla ang dingding. Naglaho ang kanyang ngiti nang may sumigaw sa kaniyang likuran.

“Hoy! Baklang Mais!” sigaw ng isang lalaki na sakay ng bisikleta.

Hindi kumibo si Niño. Nagpatuloy lamang siya sa paglalakad ngunit hindi siya nito tinatantanan hanggang sa hinarangan siya nito ng bisikleta. Hindi alam ni Niño kung ano ang kaniyang magiging hakbang. Namumutla na rin ang kaniyang nanginginig na tuyong mga labi. Biglang pumasok sa kaniyang isipan na kumaripas ng takbo papalayo sa batang lalaki. Habang matulin na tumatakbo, hindi niya namamalayang pumapatak na rin ang kaniyang mga luha.

“Anak! Ano’ng nangyari sa ‘yo?” gulat na tanong ni Aling Mila na abala sa pagsasaing ng hilaw na saging.

Agad na pinaupo ni Aling Mila ang pawisan at namumutlang anak. Binigyan niya ito ng tubig. Halos ilang patak lamang ng tubig ang kumapit sa mga labi nito dahil sa matinding pagkatakot. Niyakap na lamang nito ang nanginginig nitong mga tuhod.

Kinaumagahan, balisa si Niño dahil sa sinapit. Habang nakaupo sa tarangkahan ng kanilang bahay at nakatulala, nilapitan siya ng kaniyang ina.

“Niño, anak. Bakit ka tulala?” mahinahong tanong ni Aling Mila kahit nababahala.

Alam ni Aling Mila ang kalagayan ni Niño. Hindi ito ang unang beses na nakita niya ang anak na umuwing takot na takot at umiiyak. Minsan na ring naikuwento sa kaniya ng mga kumare sa bayan ang panunukso at pananakot ng ibang tao kay Niño dahil sa kilos nito.

“Nay, pag bakla po ba, walang karapatan maging masaya? Na maging normal?” pagaralgal na tanong ni Niño sa ina.

Hindi nakakibo si Aling Mila sa tanong ng anak. Napabuntonghininga na lamang siya habang hinahaplos ang likod ng anak at magkatinginan silang dalawa. Naisin mang sagutin ni Aling Mila ang tanong ng anak, hindi niya alam kung papaano ito sasabihin. Siya mismo ay hindi alam ang wastong sagot.

Bago pa man magtanghali, naisipan ni Niño na muling tumungo sa maisan upang tapusin ang kaniyang paglilinis. Matamlay niyang binagtas ang daan patungo sa maisan. Habang naglalakad sa mabatong daan, may biglang naalala siya.

Hapon noong pauwi na siya galing sa bahay ni Mang Agkog, namangha siya sa kaniyang natagpuan—isang babaeng manika na halos lasog-lasog na ang katawan. Balot ito ng putik. Buhol-buhol ang buhok. Gula-gulanit ang damit na kulay rosas. May sugat din ang magkabilang mukha at may hiwa sa bandang noo. Nilapitan ito ni Niño at marahang hinaplos-haplos ang pisngi.

“Ang ganda mo siguro noon. Kawawa ka naman,” pabulong na sabi ni Niño habang hawak-hawak niya ito. “Dadalhin kita sa bahay, papaliguan, at papalitan natin ang gusgusin mong damit,” dugtong pa niya habang nakangiti.

Masayang naglalakad si Niño habang hawak-hawak ang napulot na manika. Minsan napapaindak ito sa tuwa at napapaugong. Hindi namamalayan ni Niño na may sumusunod sa kaniyang ilang batang lalaki na kasing-edad lamang niya. Napalingon lamang siya nang tinamaan ang kaniyang batok ng maliit na batong itinapon ng mga ito. Napapikit siya sa sakit.

“Bakit may manika ka?” tanong ng isang batang lalaki na sadyang pinalaki ang mga mata para manakot.

“Bakla ka ‘yan, tol!” tugon ng isa pang bata.

Nilapitan ng tatlong batang lalaki ang hindi makakibong si Niño at tinangkang hilahin ang manika. Nagpumiglas si Niño. Mahigpit niyang hinawakan ang nag-aagaw-buhay niyang manika.

Boog!

Isang malakas na suntok sa sikmura ang nagpabitaw sa kaniyang mahigpit na pagkakahawak sa manika.

“Aray ko!” sigaw ni Niño nang matisod pa siya sa matulis na bato habang naglalakad. Bumalik siya sa kaniyang ulirat.

Napansin niyang nasugatan ang maputik na kuko ng kaniyang daliri sa paa. Tanging kaliwang kamay na lamang ng manika ang naiwan sa kaniyang nanginginig na kamay sa panahong iyon.

Nagpatuloy sa paglalakad si Niño hanggang marating niya ang maisan. Inilagay niya ang kaniyang baong tubig sa gilid ng pilapil at sinimulan na niyang maglinis ng mga ligaw na damo. Ilang oras din ang kaniyang inilaan sa paglilinis nang mapansin niyang malawak na rin ang nalinisan. Huminto siya at naupo sa tuyong pilapil. Habang namamaypay gamit ang kaniyang lumang salakot, may biglang sumagi sa kaniyang isip. Agad niyang iniligpit ang mga gamit niya sa paglilinis. Isinuot niya ang salakot at kumaripas ng takbo bitbit ang bolo at lalagyan ng tubig. Mangiti-ngiti siya.

Narating ni Niño ang batis. Mula nang magtrabaho siya sa maisan, hindi na rin siya nakakapaglibang dito upang maligo. Natatakpan ang batis ng mayayabong na dahon ng mga halaman at punongkahoy na nakapalibot dito. Hindi siya nagdalawang-isip na hubarin ang kaniyang lumang damit. Tumalon at nagtampisaw siya sa batis na tila isang bibe na ilang linggong hindi nakakapagtampisaw sa tubig. Napapahalakhak siya minsan. Nalilibang din siyang manghuli ng maliliit na hipon. Pinaglalaruan niya ang mga suso at kuhol. Nang maramdaman niya na ang pagod, nagpahinga siya sa paanan ng malaking puno na sumasadsad ang malaking ugat sa batis.

Habang masayang ibinababad ang mga paa sa daloy ng tubig, naalala niya ang kauna-unahan niyang manika. May namuo sa kaniyang puso. Gusto niyang magkaroon muli ng manika. Kumuha siya sa tabi ng mamasa-masang putik. Dahan-dahan niya itong inilapat sa kaniyang magagaspang na palad, pinisil-pisil, at idiniin nang marahan. Gumawa siya ng isang maliit na bilog. Kumuha siya ng matulis na sanga at ipinang-ukit niya ito sa bilog na putik. May dalawang mata, isang ilong at labi, dalawang guhit at may kilay na. Humulma rin siya ng dalawang paa at dalawang kamay at ikinabit niya ito sa parihabang anyo na gawa sa putik. Ipinagpatuloy niya ito hanggang makabuo siya ng isang babae. Ibinilad niya ito. Mangiti-ngiting niyang pinagmamasdan ito habang hinihintay na matuyo. Nang matuyo na ay marahan niya itong inilagay sa isang dahon, itinabi, at tinakpan ng salakot.

“May kulang pa ata,” sambit pa niya.

Pumitas siya ng iba’t ibang uri ng dahon at pinagtagpi-tagpi. Bumunot din siya ng matitibay na damo. Nang mapansin niyang kumpleto na ang kaniyang kinakailangan, muli niyang kinuha nang buong ingat ang imaheng kaniyang itinago. Mula bewang, dinikitan niya ito ng mga dahon na kulay-pula at dahan-dahan niyang pinaikutan ng damo bilang panali rito. Ang itaas na bahagi ay nilagyan naman niya ng manilaw-nilaw na dahon na nagsilbing damit ng imahen.

“May naisip akong ipapangalan sa ‘yo. Nina! Tama, Nina,” buong galak na wika ni Niño habang nakahimlay sa kaniyang putikang palad ang imaheng itinuturing niya ngayong isang manika.

Magdadapithapon na nang makauwi si Niño sa kanila. Laking gulat ng kaniyang ina nang makita niyang masaya ang kaniyang anak.

“Anak, masaya tayo ngayon, a,” puna ni Aling Mila sa anak na mangiti-ngiti habang naghuhugas ng kamay sa banggerahan.

Ngiti ang naging tugon lamang ni Niño.

Araw ng Sabado. Walang mga gawain sa maisan kaya nagpaalam si Niño sa kanyang ina na pupunta sa bayan. Dala niya ang kaunting halaga ng perang kaniyang naipon buhat nang magtrabaho sa maisan. May kalayuan din ang bayan sa kanilang bahay ngunit mas pinili niyang maglakad na lamang. Kinakapa niya minsan sa bulsa ang imaheng kaniyang hinulma at biglang mangingiti. Hindi rin niya alinta ang mainit na sikat ng araw. Mag-iisang oras bago niya narating ang bayan. Wala siyang inaksayang oras. Lumingon-lingon siya. Nilibot niya ang mga kalye at nang mapansin niyang hindi niya mahanap ang kaniyang hinahanap ay nagtanong-tanong ito.

“Ginoo, saan po ba rito ang bentahan ng mga manika?” magalang na tanong ni Niño sa isang lalaking nasa gilid ng daan na naninigarilyo.

“Nanakawan mo? Pero lalaki ka naman. Baka naman bakla ka,” malakas na tugon ng lalaki habang nakatutok ang dalawang mamula-mulang mga mata nito kay Niño.

Natakot si Niño kaya agad niyang nilisan ang lalaki. Sa kaniyang paglalakad, napatingin siya sa isang gusali. Agad niya itong tinungo. Laking gulat niya nang makitang puno ito ng mga laruan. Iba’t ibang uri ng laruan. May panlalaki at pambabae. May nakakatawag-pansing mga kulay. May maliliit at malalaking hugis. Halos hindi siya mapakali sa galak dahil sa mga nakikita niya. Palingon-lingon siya. Taas-baba ang pagtingin. Sabik na sabik siyang pumasok dito.

Akmang papasok na siya nang bigla siyang hinarang ng guwardiya.

“Hoy! Bawal dito ang batang lansangan,” pambungad ng guwardiya.

“Kuya, may titingnan lang po sa loob,” pagsusumamo niya.

“Bakit? May pambili ka?” pasubali ng guwardiya habang itinutok ang batuta sa ulo ni Niño. “Alis! Alis!”

Hindi na nagpumilit pa si Niño. Inikot na lamang niya ang buong labas ng tindahan. Mabuti na lang gawa sa salamin ang dingding nito kaya kita pa rin ang loob nito. Sa loob ay may mga batang masayang naglalaro at namimili ng mga laruan kasama ang kanilang magulang. Maluha-luha niyang pinagmamasdan ang mga ito. Hanggang tingin na lamang siya mula sa labas.

Sa kaniyang patuloy na pagmamasid sa loob, may umagaw sa kaniyang pansin. Tinutukan niya ito na halos hindi na siya kumukurap. Nanlaki talaga ang kaniyang mga mata. Ang kanyang hinahanap at hinahangad ay natagpuan niya. Nakabitin ito. Kulay pula at kaakit-akit ang makukulay nitong palamuti sa damit. Kulay ginto ang buhok. Pula ang mga labi at makakapal ang pilikmata. Kay gandang manika na para bang kinakawayan siya nito. Marahan niyang inilapat ang kanyang magagaspang na palad sa salamin ng tindahan, na kung hindi lamang matibay ay nasira na dahil sa pagkakadiin ng kaniyang kamay.

Hindi niya namalayang papalapit na sa kaniyang likuran ang guwardiyang nanlilisik ang mga mata habang mahigpit na hawak ang batuta. Hinawakan ng guwardiya ang likod ng damit ni Niño. Nagulat at maluha-luha si Niño. Nagpumiglas siya ngunit mas lalong hinigpitan ng guwardiya ang pagkakahawak sa kaniya. Nasasakal na siya ng kaniyang damit. Pinagpapawisan na siya.

Muli nagpumiglas si Niño ngunit malakas ang guwardiya. Malakas ang pagkakasipa at pagkakatapon nito sa kaniya papalayo sa kaniyang kinatatayuan. Humampas sa magaspang at mabatong daan ang kaniyang mukha. Tuluyang siyang napaluha at namilipit sa sakit. Marahan siyang tumayo dahil sa sakit na tinamo. Nang makatayo, pinagpag niya ang lumang damit na nabalot ng alikabok at tuyong putik. Paika-ika siyang pumunta sa tabi habang nakatitig sa guwardiyang nangingiti-ngiti pa dahil sa nangyari.

Muli niyang ibinaling ang kaniyang paningin sa tindahan. Napabuntonghininga na lamang siya habang nanginginig ang buong katawan. Napansin niyang pumapatak na pala ang butil ng mga luha sa kaniyang hawak-hawak na imahen ng manika.

Hindi man niya nahawakan at nakuha ang minimithi ay sapat na sa kaniyang nasilayan ito. Iiwan niya ang bagay na iyon na umaasang maaangkin ito sa kaniyang pagsisikap at pagsasakripisyo.

Habang naglalakad nang paika-ika, mas lalong lumakas ang paniniwala ni Niño na hindi magtatapos ang kaniyang mga ninanais sa buhay sa isang lipunang malupit at mapanghusga. Na kinakailangan niyang itayo at iangat ang kanyang sarili sa pinakamabuting paraan. Na igagalang din ang kaniyang pagkatao. Na wala siyang sakit na dapat kamuhian at pandirian ng lahat.

Layers

By Christine Joy G. Aban
Poetry

Woman: Take the coat, what’s left behind?
Take the dress, what’s there inside?
Take my breast, can you still see
a girl’s inner beauty?

Man: Leave your coat, and your dress on.
Blind my eyes, in my mind will spawn
images and sounds, music and laughter,
lovely memories, friendly banter.

Woman: If vital parts of me are gone,
can I still be one?
If the core to be a woman is taken,
can I still be a woman again?

Man: That depends partly on where you stand.
In some cultures men do understand
that womanhood is a state of mind
and that selves should not by society be defined.

Woman: What does it take to be a lady?
What is a woman’s fragility?
What role a girl can achieve
so that respect she can fully achieve?

Man: I think one should not try to achieve
respect. In doing so, a woman’s senses take leave
of the beautiful things she has inside;
inside, where soul and real beauty do reside.

To recreate that which I had seen in a dream

By Almira Caryl Jane A. Calvo
Poetry

To recreate that which I had seen in a dream,
I’m going to paint the skies with a stroke of my pen,
Write trees and line them with thoughts from my brush,
Canvas the seas with iridescent hues of sand,
And fold flowers from thin sheets of rain.

Cut the stars with mud and clay,
Shape and mold the mountains with scissors,
Pry the light from day—I’ll use my fingers
And stick the warmth to cold with glue.

I will

Weigh the Sun and Moon,
Measure the vastness of the universe,
I’ll trace the air we breathe,
And count the number of stars through a cup.

I will do it all in one sitting,
Filing all in the clattering of labelled buttons,
In one millionth speed it shall end,
And, like a star gone nova, I’ll realize.