Water and Glass

By Johanna Michelle Lim
Essay

Labindalawang kabayo,” my skylab driver assesses.

This was the value in livestock, the Tboli’s accepted currency, if he bought me as wife. I would be his sixth, the latest in a collection that he hopes will equal that of his father’s, who had thirty-nine.

As a joke, I demand the herd to be all white—pure, ethereal bodies that cross between dream and wake, the line of which dims with the fog surrounding Sbu, where a man could accumulate six life partners in the same time frame that I have accumulated none.

Walang problema!” he replies, and proceeds to tally every white stallion we pass in the next days.

Mark nudges to a concrete house where several studs are grazing in overgrown grass. A sign. The more horses a man has in his front yard, the more wives.

Pero sa linya ko, una ka na hindi tagadito,” he says in seriousness. A foreigner, and college graduate at that. More expensive than his other wives, whom he bought for only six horses, but well worth it.

Stumped, I ask him why.

Kasi puwede mo ako dalhin sa labas.”

*

A week ago, I choose Mark from the mass of motorcycle drivers in Seloton’s market. He boasts he is the favorite among foreigners.

Mark talks about the “outside” as if it might as well have been an alternate universe, a glass house to be broken into, even while it is a mere ride away.

All of what I describe to him of my every-days in Cebu—the coffee shops, grocery shopping, yoga sessions—seem like a drunkard’s rant. And whatever details that support them—the traffic, the lack of time, of sleep—I find myself exaggerating, describing a world bolder, or more chaotic, than what it actually is.

In the end, he clarifies, did everyone look like the characters from On The Wings of Love like you described, or prettier?

For him, the outside meant he didn’t have the load of fifteen mouths to feed. No sacks of rice to portion. No wives to rotate his weekends around. No squabbles to moderate among his constituents in Sitio Laodanay, Bakdulong.

Like his fellow skylab drivers, Mark entertains the notion of a foreigner whisking him away to the better side.

*

Mark has hazel brown eyes speckled with gold, and framed with the blackest of lashes that stand out from his bearded face. Between us, he looks like the foreign one. A full Tboli.

I make the mistake of telling him how striking they are. Deep-set and defined. Enough to draw a woman’s envy. It was a flippant comment. An accidental flirtation.

“Alam n’yo ba ano’ng ibig sabihin ng skylab?” Mark asks with a voice that has teased and taunted since then.

What?I answer as we approach a waterfront bungalow in wooden stilts. The element in the lake, the same Dwata that shows herself in a weaver’s dream, has already taken me.

I cup a water lily in my palm, purposely detaching, half listening. But Mark insists on delivering the punchline.

Skylab. Short for sakay na, lab.”

*

The motorcycle is Mark’s steed, and stage.

He sings every chance he gets, timing the highs and lows of his lines to match the Cotabato landscape. He sings to congratulate himself for conquering an incline in Traan Kini Springs. He sings when we pass through the rice fields of Hasiman, his baritone cutting through the strain of cicadas carried by wind.

Iyan, Tboli ‘yan.” Mark points a man going out of a general merchandise store. And him, and him.

The full breeds, and half-breeds. The ones from datu ancestry, and the nouveau riche. He lets go of the accelerator in order to point out to them.

He corrects my pronunciation of his tribe’s name as if to not know is a rub on their status as minority. Tboli, he repeats, is said with a soft roll on the second syllable.

How powerful it would be, I prod, to have his voice as medium for a chant, an oral story of mountain and light. Sometimes I catch myself wanting Mark to fulfill the caricature of the Tboli in my mind. The one I came to South Cotabato for, to find whatever answer lies in their simplicity.

Is that what he is afraid of? His Tboli identity oversimplified, or used as entertainment? My inquiries to him come out as judgment. He lets it go by singing the first lines of Journey’s “Faithfully.”

*

We make a game out of spotting full-blooded Tboli, his guesses strategic, mine trivial, relying on the color of skin, the only common denominator I spot in all his targets.

Iyan Ilonggo.” He points to a chink-eyed, fair man just off the sidewalk.

The Ilonggos are overtaking Sbu, he says with a grimace. The population is now seventy residents for every thirty immigrants. The rich Ilonggos open stores, and buy land in Poblacion. They bring with them skinny jeans, batchoy, and a dangerous dilution to a people that have too many issues with modernization as is. Adding a different culture, religion, and language to the mix seems like a step closer to extinction.

Mark shrugs it off though. They have also brought with them his prized videoke set. P5 a song. P5 for temporary release.

His magnum opus, “Kahit Isang Saglit,” becomes the soundtrack to tilapia and Tanduay meals. It will be his winning number in Tawag ng Tanghalan, the record of his escape, one that will take him out of this place if his wheels cannot.

Tagalog, a language we both do not own, is the language we slip into as common ground to each other’s novelty. It is new land. With it, we are both outsiders.

“Kahit sandali/Kahit isang saglit/Mayakap ka . . .” he sings at Aguilar’s, a restaurant specializing in—what else—tilapia, for what seemed like the twentieth time. The owner lets him be. He is good for business.

He takes my hand as he holds on to the last line. I don’t have the heart to tell him his masterpiece reminds me not of romance but of funerals.

*

What I want to tell Mark is that I understand his urgency, the need to be anywhere other than there. Away. Away from the pressures of carrying a whole people’s identity. It is this sentiment that landed me in Sbu in the first place.

There is a certain kind of tourist that comes to these parts. They thrive on the underdeveloped, hoping the place remains in a standstill like carefully preserved specimen.

This is the part of the narrative I guiltily leave out. Whereas Mark longs for escape, his cage is built by the economic enablement of tourists like myself who push him back, and make him stay.

Ancestry. Lineage. Obligation. Such impediments. He seems to hate it all.

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Ang Lihim ng Nakasimangot na Maskara

By Rogelio Braga
Novel Excerpt

Bahagi ang sumusunod ng unang kabanata ng nobelang pangkabataang Si Betchay at ang Sacred Circle: Ang Lihim ng Nakasimangot na Maskara, na inilabas ng Balangiga Press noong 2017.

Madaling araw ng Lunes nang ipinatawag ni Ma’am Soraida ang barkadang Sacred Circle sa McDonald’s. Halos hindi pa lumalabas ang araw nang unang dumating, tulad ng inaasahan, si Baloy, na siyang pinakamatanda sa anim. Napansin kaagad ni Ma’am Soraida ang itim na kotse na naghatid kay Baloy sa harap ng McDonald’s sa kanto ng Tandang Sora at Commonwealth Avenue. Nakasuot pa ng sunglasses si Baloy nang pumasok sa McDo.

“Good morning, Ma’am Soraida,” ang bati ni Baloy. Hinubad nito ang sunglasses at napansin kaagad ni Ma’am Soraida sa mga mata ni Baloy na tila nahirapan itong gumising sa madaling araw para sa ipinatawag niyang pulong ng Sacred Circle. “I can sense the urgency. I wonder ano na naman ang case na ito, Ma’am Soraida.”

Magkasabay na dumating sina Anna at Azalea. Mabilis silang naupo sa harapan ni Ma’am Soraida. Binati kaagad ni Azalea ang belo na suot ni Ma’am Soraida. “Blue,” panimula ni Azalea. “I think this is going to be a very serious discussion.” Tumayo si Anna at lumapit sa counter para bumili ng kape para sa kanilang apat.

Sumunod na dumating si Hamida. Sukbit nito ang malaking bag na gawa sa katsa, naka-jeans, rubber shoes, at dilaw na belo. Bumati ito ng assalamu alaykum kay Ma’am Soraida at sa grupo.

“Girl, bakit yellow ang hijab mo?” bati kaagad ni Azalea. “I thought Monday is green day?”

“Hindi natuyo kahapon ang iba kong mga kumbong. Bad trip nga, e. So, ano ang meron sa atin?”

“Meeting,” sagot ni Azalea, nakatingin siya sa labas sa mga dumaraang tao. “I hate yellow in Monday mornings.”

Bumalik na si Anna sa mesa. Naglabas ng lipgloss at nagpahid sa mga labi. Naglabas din siya ng foundation at naglagay sa magkabilang pisngi. Nagsimula na ang kanyang araw.

“Girls, we have to wait for Betchay and Jason,” panimula ni Ma’am Soraida sabay higop ng kape. “This is going to be a serious discussion. Ayaw ko nang ulitin pa ang details matapos kong ipaliwanag. Baloy, can you check nasaan ang dalawa?”

Naglabas ng cellphone si Baloy at tinawagan si Jason. Walang cellphone si Betchay. Wala rin siyang Facebook, Twitter, at Instagram. Email lang ang mayroon si Betchay at telepono sa bahay nila.

“Girl, where are you, kasi ten centuries na ang lumipas?” banas na tanong ni Baloy. “As usual, late na naman kayong dalawa ni Betchay. Bilisan ninyo. This is serious daw.”

Kalahating oras pa ang dumaan bago dumating sina Jason at Betchay. Tumayo muli si Anna para umorder ng kape para sa mga bagong dating. Magpinsan sina Jason at Betchay at nakikitira si Jason sa pamilya ni Betchay.

“Nakakaloka naman ito, Ma’am Soraida,” bungad ni Jason. Nakasuot siya ng green na polo shirt at kahel na pantalon. “Bakit kailangang alas-sais ng umaga ang meeting na ito? Tingnan po ninyo, wala pang masyadong jeep na bumibiyahe sa Tandang Sora.” At humikab si Jason na sa sobrang lakas ay nakaagaw siya ng pansin ng mga tao sa kabilang mesa.

“Betchay,” panimula ni Ma’am Soraida. “Ikaw na ang magpaliwanag sa kanila.”

Tumindig si Betchay pero nanatili sa tabi ni Ma’am Soraida. Hawak niya sa kanang kamay ang kapeng nag-aasó pa. Huminga muna siya nang malalim bago nagsimulang magsalita.

Nanatiling nakatingin sa labas si Azalea.

“Nagkausap na kami ni Ma’am Soraida kagabi sa telepono,” panimula ni Betchay. “Sacred Circle, prepare yourselves, we are leaving for Negros this afternoon.”

Napanganga sa gulat ang Sacred Circle. “Well… Negros! Bongga! Bongga, di ba?” si Jason lang ang tumugon sa grupo matapos ang halos isang minutong katahimikan.

“For me, this is going to be a vacation,” si Baloy ang unang nagpahayag ng pananabik. “I’ve never been to Negros.”

“I’m always ready,” sabad naman ni Hamida. “I am always ready.”

Napatingin ang lahat kina Azalea at Anna, naghihintay ng kahit anong tugon mula sa kanila. Nagkatinginan ang kambal at sabay na napaoo, “Sige, game kaming dalawa.” Mahahalatang hindi na naman nagpaalam sa mga magulang nila ang dalawa. Sila ang pinakabata sa grupo, halos labing-anim na taong gulang lamang. Pero nahinuha kaagad ni Ma’am Soraida na wala na naman ang mga magulang nila dahil malaya silang nakalabas ng bahay sa madaling araw. Smuggler ang nanay nila na palaging nasa labas ng Maynila at tanyag namang computer hacker ang tatay nila na marahil nagtatago na naman sa batas o nasa labas ng bansa.

“Actually, Sacred Circle, you have no other options but to go. I have your tickets na,” paniniguro ni Ma’am Soraida na may ngiti na sa mga labi. “Consider this as your vacation. Na-aarange ko na lahat pati ang titirhan ninyo roon. May kaibigan ako sa Negros and she will accommodate you. She is our client. Medyo weird ang gig na ito pero alam kong masasakyan ninyo. Aren’t you all excited?”

“We are excited, Ma’am Soraida,” diin ni Betchay na siyang lider ng Sacred Circle. “We’ll accomplish everything at hindi kami babalik dito hangga’t hindi nabibigyan ng kasagutan si Mrs. Weil.”

Ibinaling ni Azalea ang tingin niya kay Betchay. Nang nagtama ang kanilang mga mata, inirapan niya si Betchay.

Si Betchay ang unang kasapi ng Sacred Circle. Labingwalong taong gulang siya at siya ang kanang kamay ni Ma’am Soraida. Makulay ang kabataan ni Betchay na siyang dahilan kung bakit ganoon na lamang ang pagtitiwala sa kanya ni Ma’am Soraida. Napulot ni Ma’am Soraida si Betchay sa isang liblib na komunidad ng mga Blaan sa Sarangani. Napadaan doon ang grupo nina Ma’am Soraida nang tinatakasan nila ang isang platoon ng mga sundalong Filipino na humahabol sa kanila. Sunog ang lahat ng bahay sa komunidad at ang tantiya nina Ma’am Soraida at ng mga kasama niya, kagagawan ito ng mga sundalo. Madalas kasing pagkamalan ng mga sundalo ang mga lumad na umaanib sa New People’s Army. Freedom fighter pa noon ng MNLF si Ma’am Soraida at estudyante sa kolehiyo sa Cotabato City kung nasa siyudad naman siya. Narinig niya ang iyak ng isang bata mula sa isang sunog na dampa. Sinundan nila ang uha at natagpuan ang isang sanggol sa sunog na dampa. Wala itong kasama. Marahil isa sa mga bangkay na nakahandusay sa lupa ang ina nito, pero maraming patay, hindi bababa sa singkuwenta.

“Alhamdullilah!” Napasigaw si Ma’am Soraida. “Buhay pa ang bata! Buhay pa ang bata!”

Ibinaba ni Ma’am Soraida ang sukbit niyang AK-47 at nilapitan ang sanggol. Nandilat siya nang mahawakan ang sanggol. Malagkit itong tila nababalutan ng madulas at kumikintab na balat—kaliskis. Dali-dali niyang dinampot ang kanyang armas na nasa lupa.

“Bakit Soraida?” ang tanong ng isa niyang kasama.

“Jinn…” ang naisagot lamang ni Soraida. Nanghihilakbot na itinuro niya ang sanggol. “Anak iyan ng mga tonong.”

Lumapit ang mga kasama sa sanggol, nakatutok ang kanilang mga baril. Biglang tumawa nang malakas ang sanggol. Tumawa nang tumawa na parang may kalaro. Nang lapitan pa nila ang sanggol, nahinuha nilang kaliskis ng ahas ang nakabalot sa katawan nito. Anak ng dambuhalang ahas ang sanggol na Blaan. Dinampot ni Soraida ang sanggol, inalis ang mga kaliskis na hindi naman pala bahagi ng kanyang balat, at kinarga niya sa dibdib na parang sariling anak. Dinala ni Soraida ang bata pababa sa Gensan. Dinala niya hanggang lumuwas siya ng Maynila para ipagpatuloy ang pag-aaral ng kolehiyo sa Philippine Normal University para maging isang guro. Ipinaampon niya ang sanggol sa kanyang kababata at matalik na kaibigan na noo’y may asawa nang doktor pero walang anak. Itinuring nilang anak si Betchay pero hindi nila itinago sa bata ang katotohanan tungkol sa pagkatao nito. Itinuturing ni Betchay na ina niya rin si Ma’am Soraida. Madalas din siya sa bahay ng guro at palagi siya nitong isinasama sa Lanao kung bumabalik si Ma’am Soraida sa kanila sa Marawi. Tulad ng lahat ng kasapi ng Sacred Circle, marunong din si Betchay ng basic combat at sa paghawak at pagpapaputok ng iba’t ibang uri ng baril.

“Mrs. Weil?” Si Anna, habang hawak ang eyeliner. “Who is she?”

“Kaibigan ko. She will accommodate you sa Silay City,” sagot ni Ma’am Soraida. “Tulad ng nasabi ko kanina, siya rin ang client namin. Nagbigay na siya ng advance payment, at kung maresolba natin ang kaso—malaki ang makukuha nating bayad and we can go on vacation.”

“Kakaiba ang pangalan niya. Imported?” Palagi, si Hamida ang mausisa sa mga pangalan ng mga lugar, tao, at pangyayaring bago sa kanyang pandinig.

“No. Filipino si Mrs. Weil,” pagpapaliwanag ni Betchay. “She is from Negros.”

“She has a weird name. I do not trust people with weird names,” salo ni Baloy habang patuloy sa pagte-text. Ipinahahanda na niya ang mga gamit na dadalhin sa biyaheng patungo sa Negros.

“Yes—and she has a weird problem, too.” Malayo ang tingin ni Betchay. Alam niyang isa na naman itong mahirap ngunit kapana-panabik na kasong reresolbahin ng Sacred Circle. “I’m sure magugustuhan siya ni Azalea,” biro ni Betchay.

“Shet! Bakit mo naman nasabi iyan? Is she a lesbo, too?”

“No, Baloy. She is a Marcos loyalist!” sagot ni Betchay.

“My God!” bulalas ni Jason. “Punyeta! Naaalibadbaran ako sa mga loyalist ng mga Marcos, Ma’am Soraida. Hindi pa ba sapat na may kasama tayong lesbiyanang apologist ni Marcos? I can’t!” Si Azalea ang tinutukoy niya.

“Putang ina mong bakla ka. You should know your history—”

“Excuse me, iha, you should know your history!” Hindi pa man natatapos si Azalea, sinagot na siya ni Jason.

“Palibhasa, maka-Aquinong dilawan ka!” Ibinagsak ni Azalea ang baso niya ng kape.

Tahimik lang ang grupo. Ayaw na nilang makisalo sa pagtatalo ng dalawa. Minsan na nilang pinagtulungan si Azalea at nauwi lang sa pagdadabog at hindi pagpaparamdam ng ilang linggo ng kaibigan. Ayaw na ring makisalo ni Anna dahil halos araw-araw na silang nagtatalo ni Azalea tungkol kay Marcos.

Itinaas ni Ma’am Soraida ang baso niya ng kape bilang pag-anyaya ng toast sa grupo. Ito na rin ang paraan niya upang basagin ang namumuong tensiyon kina Azalea at Jason. Itinaas ng anim ang kanilang mga baso at sabay-sabay na nagsabing, “Cheers sa Sacred Circle!”

“Never again!” habol ni Jason. “Never forget, mga bakla!”

Hindi na nakasagot si Azalea habang nakataas ang kanyang kamay.

Migo

By Bernadette V. Neri
Short Story for Children

Assalam mu alaykum! Ako si Migo Dagbusan, Tausug mula sa Cotabato,” bati niya sa sarili habang nananalamin. Unang araw niya ngayon sa Paaralang Elementarya ng Barangay Sentral kaya hindi siya mapakali sa pag-eensayo ng pagpapakilala. Bukod sa sabik siyang makabalik sa pag-aaral, sabik din si Migo na magkaroon ng mga bagong kaibigan.

“Aba! Handa na ang utoh ko,” nakangiting sabi ng kaniyang ina.

Biglang nag-alala ang mukha ng bata, “May makipaglaro po kaya sa akin?”

Marahang yumuko ang nanay upang suotan siya ng kupya, “Tiyak akong marami kang makikilala.”

Magdadalawang buwan pa lang sina Migo sa nirerentahan nilang kuwarto sa Maynila. Noong una, ayaw niya sa bago nilang tirahan. Masikip ang kalye papasok sa looban. Dikit-dikit ang mga bahay kaya napakaalinsangan. Ibang-iba sa kinalakhan niyang lugar.

Maliit lang naman ang kubo nina Migo sa probinsiya. Pero di niya ito dama dahil buong baryo ang kaniyang palaruan.

Manggahan nina Mang Turing ang paborito niyang tambayan kasama ang mga kaibigan. Madalas silang maghabulan sa mga pilapil ng bukiring sinasaka ng kanilang mga magulang. Nagpupunta rin sila sa ilog para lumangoy o kaya’y mamingwit. At tuwing nais niyang magpahinga, nahihiga siya sa duyang nakasabit sa punong bayabas sa harap ng kanilang tahanan.

Malawak at maaliwalas ang pinagmulang bayan ni Migo sa Cotabato. Gayon man, hindi ito nakaligtas sa nagpapatuloy na digmaan sa Mindanao.

Hindi makapagsaka at makapangisda ang mga nakatatanda. Nahinto sa pag-aaral ang mga bata. Ginawang kampo ng militar ang mga eskuwelahan. Nababalot ng takot ang buong pamayanan. Kaya tulad ng iba pa nilang kababayan, napilitang lumikas ang pamilya ni Migo.

Gustong-gustong makabalik sa pag-aaral si Migo. Nais niya muling magbuklat ng mga libro, gumuhit ng mga larawan, at magsulat ng kaniyang pangalan. Kaya kahit masikip at mainit, ang lagi niyang iniisip, “Dito, walang putukan.”

Kabadong tumayo si Migo sa harapan ng kanilang silid-aralan. Wala siyang nakita ni isang naka-kupya at turung kaya inayos niya ang abaya at huminga nang malalim. Pagkatapos ay ngumiti siya at nagpakilala.

Pagdating ng rises, pinili ni Migong umupo sa lilim ng punong malapit sa palaruan. Tumunog ang kaniyang tiyan kaya inilabas niya ang baong dalawang piraso ng pandesal.

“Naaamoy ninyo ba ‘yon?”

Napalingon si Migo sa boses na mula sa likuran. Nginitian niya ang tatlong batang nakatingin sa kaniya. “Nakagugutom talaga ang amoy nitong pandesal,” sabi niya. “Gusto ninyong tikman?”

Biglang inagaw ng kaklase niyang si Dana ang mga tinapay. “Masarap nga!” sabi nito matapos kumagat. “Pero,” kumunot ang kaniyang ilong, “may naaamoy pa rin akong hindi maganda.”

Sininghot-singhot ni Dana ang bagong kamag-aral, “Naligo ka ba, Migo?”

Gitlang sinundan ng tingin ni Migo ang mga bata. Nagtatawanan ang mga ito habang lumalakad palayo kain-kain ang kaniyang baon. Hindi niya maipaliwanag kung bakit pero magkahalong takot at hiya ang naramdaman niya.

Kinabukasan, nakita ni Migo si Dana na nag-aabang sa tarangkahan ng paaralan. Iiwas sana siya pero agad siyang nasundan.

“Pakopya ng assignment,” utos ni Dana.

“Wala ka bang nagawa?” pag-aalangan ni Migo.

Nanlisik ang mga mata ng batang maton, “Kokopya ba ako kung meron?”

Biglang naalala ni Migo ang mga mata ng mga unipormadong nagkampo sa kanilang paaralan. Nag-umpugan ang kaniyang mga tuhod. Hindi makagalaw ang kaniyang mga paa. Napilitan si Migong iabot ang kuwaderno na agad namang kinopya ni Dana.

“Lagot ka sa akin kapag nagsumbong ka,” banta ni Dana bago nagmadaling pumasok sa kanilang klase.

Nagpatuloy ang gayong gawi ni Dana kay Migo. Araw-araw siya nitong inaabangan para tuksuhin, utusan, o kaya ay agawan ng baon.

Minsan, hinablot ni Dana ang kupya ni Migo. Araw iyon ng pagsamba kaya naka-kupya at abaya siya.

“Hindi bagay sa iyo!” pangungutya ni Dana.

Iba ang nadama ni Migo sa pagkakataong ito. May kuryenteng gumapang sa kaniyang mga paa paakyat sa kaniyang ulo. Hindi siya nakapagpigil.

“Ibalik mo ‘yan,” madiin niyang sabi.

Nagbago ang mukha ng galit na si Dana. Nagmistula siyang tangkeng malapit nang sumabog. “Kunin mo kung kaya mo!”

Hindi natinag si Migo sa kabila ng kaniyang takot. Pinilit niyang abutin ang kupya. Dahil mas malaki si Dana, kahit anong lundag ay hindi niya ito maagaw.

Buong-lakas na itinapon ni Dana ang kupya sa lupa. Tinapakan niya ito nang pupulutin na Migo at sinipa palayo. “Huwag mo na ulit akong sisigawan!”

Naluluhang pinulot ni Migo ang kaniyang kupya. Pero kahit anong gawin niyang pagpag at punas, naroon pa rin ang bakas ng sapatos ni Dana.

Mabibigat ang bawat hakbang ni Migo pauwi. Hindi maalis sa kaniyang isip ang mga panunuya ni Dana.

“Bakit ba ako palaging tinutukso?” tanong niya sa sarili.

Naalala ni Migo ang kaniyang mga kaibigan. Ang bahaginan nila ng baon tuwing rises, pagtutulungan sa paggawa ng asignatura, at ang paglalaro o kaya’y paghuhuntahan kapag uwian. Pero tulad niya, nagsilikas din ang mga ito dahil sa giyera.

“Kamusta na kaya sila?” bulong ng bata.

Napansin ng nanay ni Migo na wala siyang ganang maghapunan. Sinubukan siya nitong pasayahin, “Sa susunod kong sahod, anak, ang paborito mong pianggang ang iluluto ko.”

Inah,” mahinang sabi ng bata habang tinitingnan ang dumi sa hawak na kupya, “Wala pa rin po akong kaibigan.”

Sa pagitan ng mga hikbi, ikinuwento ni Migo ang mga panunuyang nararanasan niya sa eskuwela.

“Gusto ko na pong umuwi, Inah,” bulong ni Migo. “Kailan po ba matatapos ang giyera?”

Tinabihan si Migo ng kaniyang nanay at marahang niyakap. “Hindi ko alam, utoh,” buntonghininga nito. “Nagpapatuloy ang digmaan dahil may mga nais mang-agaw sa ating mga lupang ninuno, at dahil may mga matatapang na nagtatanggol para sa karapatan nating mga katutubo ng Mindanao.”

Nanatiling tahimik si Migo.

“Mahirap pa itong unawain sa ngayon, utoh, pero pakatandaan mong walang mali o kulang sa atin. Mabubuti at mararangal tayong tao,” paliwanag pa ng nanay. “Kailangan lang tayong makilala upang maunawaang lahat tayo’y magkakapantay.”

Inabot ng ina ang kupya sa kamay ni Migo at marahan itong nilinis gamit ang laylayan ng kaniyang saya. Pagkatapos ay isinuot niya ito sa ulo ng anak, “Utoh, huwag mong kalilimutan kung sino at saan ka nagmula.”

Naging resolbado si Migo na magpakilala kay Dana. Kinabukasan, inabangan niya ito sa bungad ng kanilang paaralan.

“Magandang umaga, Dana!” bati niya. “May assignment ka na?”

“Nasa iyo, di ba?” sutil na sagot ng bata.

Lumapit si Migo dala ang dalawang kopya ng asignatura para sa araw na iyon. Iniabot niya sa kaklase ang isa.

Agad nabura ang ngiti sa mukha ni Dana dahil listahan lang ng mga tanong ang nakasulat sa papel. Pagagalitan dapat niya si Migo pero bago pa man siya makapagsalita ay nauna na ito.

“Madali lang ito,” bungad ng bata. Ipinaliwanag niya sa harap ni Dana ang mga sagot na kaniyang isinusulat.

Nagtaka si Dana sa asal ni Migo. Hindi na rin niya mabakas ang takot sa mukha nito. Gayon man, sinimulan na rin niya ang pagkopya. Pero sa pagkakataong ito, nauunawaan na niya kung bakit gayon ang mga sagot.

Kinahapunan, sinamahan si Migo ng kaniyang Inah kay Teacher Mira, ang guidance counselor ng paaralan. Naniniwala kasi siya na tungkulin din ang eskuwelahang pangalagaan ang mga mag-aaral. Hindi sila nabigo. Ipinangako ni Teacher Mira na kakausapin si Dana at ang mga magulang nito upang maunawaang mali ang pangungutya.

“Huwag kang mag-alala, Migo,” sabi ng tagapayo. “Sabay namin kayong gagabayan ni Dana para hindi na ito maulit.”

Kinahapunan, pinanood ni Migo sina Dana habang nagpapatintero. Matatapos na sana ang laro nang magpaalam ang isang bata. Agad lumapit si Migo at nagboluntaryo.

“Bawal ang lampa rito,” ismid ni Dana.

Ngumiti si Migo. “Subukan ninyo ako,” hamon niya.

Dahil ayaw pang mag-uwian, isinali siya sa grupo nina Dana. Hindi nahirapan si Migo. Sa kanilang baryo sa Cotabato, siya ang pinakamaliksi at matulin sa pagtakbo.

“Ang galing mong umilag sa patotot, Migo!” bilib na sabi ng isang kalaro.

“Maliit pero mabilis!” hiyaw ng isa pa.

Tiningnan ni Dana ang batang Tausug. “Bukas ulit, ha?” sabi nito.

Lalong naging masigasig si Migo sa mga sumunod pang araw. Tinuruan niya si Dana sa paggawa ng mga asignatura sa matematika. Tinulungan naman siya nito sa mga proyekto nila sa agham.

Unti-unting nagdagdagan ang mga kasama nilang nag-aaral bago mag-uwian. Kapag walang asignatura, sama-sama rin silang naglalaro ng patintero, taguan, o kaya’y habulan.

Minsan, habang nagririses, sinubok ni Migo ang memorya ni Dana. Tinuturuan kasi niya ito ng ilang salita at pahayag na Tausug.

Maunu unu ra kaw?” pangungumusta niya.

Marayaw da,” sabi ni Dana habang iniaalok kay Migo ang nilagang saging na saba. “Ikaw, maunu unu ra kaw?”

Marayaw da,” masaya at puno ng pag-asang sagot ni Migo habang inaayos ang kaniyang kupya. Naisip niyang hindi lang pagkakaroon ng kaibigan ang natupad sa araw na iyon. Nakilala at naipakilala rin niya ang sarili bilang kapantay ng iba.

 

Sa Likod ng Ngiti ni Joy

By Ralph Jake T. Wabingga
Flash Fiction

pagkatapos ng isang guhit ng isang nakangiting batang babaeng Tboli

Mataas na ang sikat ng araw ngunit hindi pa nakaalis ng bahay si Aleng Lolita dahil tulog pa rin ang anak niyang si Joy. Espesyal ang araw na ito dahil isang malaking kasiyahan ang idaraos sa bayan at maraming dayuhang turista ang pupunta upang makita silang mga katutubong Tboli.

Sa isip ni Aleng Lolita ay dapat maganda ang kaniyang anak sa pagdiriwang na ito. Kaya kagabi, inilabas niya mula sa maingat na pagkakatago ang isang kasuotang Tboli na isinusuot lamang tuwing may mahahalagang okasyon. Espesyal na hinabi ang kasuotang ito para lamang kay Aleng Lolita noong dalagita pa siya. Ngayon, maisusuot na rin ito ng kaniyang anak sa kauna-unahang pagkakataon.

Ginising ni Aleng Lolita si Joy, na bumangon at naghanda na sa pagkakataong ito. Napansin ng ina na nakasimangot ang kaniyang anak at alam niya bakit. Ayaw ni Joy na pinagpipiyestahan siya dahil sa kaniyang suot at ayos. Hindi ito pinansin ni Aleng Lolita at nagpatuloy sa pag-aayos sa anak.

Ipinasuot ni Aleng Lolita ang isang blusang may magagarang palamuti at makukulay na burda. Makikita rito ang maliliit at kumikinang na tatsulok na ibinurda sa harap ng blusa. Sa mga manggas naman ay may mga hugis-tatsulok ding may iba’t ibang kulay—pula, bughaw, at dilaw.

Ipinasuot pagkatapos kay Joy ang palda na gawa sa hinabing tnalak at inilagay ang makulay na sinturon paikot sa baywang niya. Ipinasuot din sa dalagita ang dalawang malalaking kuwintas at isinabit sa kaniyang tainga ang dalawang mahahabang hikaw. At upang makompleto ang kasuotang Tboli ni Joy, inilagay ni Aleng Lolita ang salakot na binalot ng pulang tela at may makukulay na dekorasyon. Sa wakas, handa na si Joy para sa kasiyahan!

Nang marating na ng mag-ina ang bayan, nakita nila na hindi mahulugang karayom ang plasa sa dami ng tao. Sa gitna ng plasa, may entabladong kinauupuan ang iba pang dalagang Tboli na nakasuot din ng kanilang katutubong kasuotan. Pinagkakaguluhan sila ng mga turistang kinukunan sila ng mga larawan.

Pinaupo na rin ni Aleng Lolita si Joy sa entablado at sinabihang ngumiti sa mga kamera. Hindi ngumiti ni Joy at tiningnan niya sa halip ang iba pang mga dalagang nasa entablado—masaya silang nagpapakuha ng larawan sa mga turista.

Sinenyasan ulit ni Aleng Lolita si Joy na ngumiti ngunit umiling ang dalagita. Pinagtitinginan na sila ng mga turista kaya inirapan na ni Aleng Lolita ang kaniyang anak. Dahil sa halong takot at inis, walang magawa si Joy kundi sundin ang kaniyang ina. Dahan-dahang pilit na ngumiti si Joy sa harap ng mga turista.

Editors and Contributors

GUEST EDITOR

Jade Mark B. Capiñanes earned his bachelor’s degree in English at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He has been a fellow for essay at the 2016 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2017 University of Santo Tomas National Writers Workshop. His “A Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak” won third prize at the Essay Category of the 2017 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

REGULAR EDITORS

Jude Ortega is a short story writer from Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat. 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. His short story collection Seekers of Spirits is forthcoming from the University of the Philippines Press.

M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac is a writer for children and reading advocate.

CONTRIBUTORS

Rio Alma is the pen name of National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario. He is a poet, critic, translator, editor, teacher, and cultural manager. He is currently the chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Mark Angeles was a writer-in-residence of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in the United States in 2013. He is the author of the children’s books Si Znork, Ang Kabayong Mahilig Matulog and Si Andoy, Batang Tondo, the short story collection Gagambeks at mga Kuwentong Waratpad, and the poetry books Emotero, Patikim, and Threesome. He received awards for his works from Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation for Literature, and Philippine Board on Books for Young People.

Rogelio Braga is a playwright, fictionist, and essayist born and raised in Manila. Among his notable works on theater are “Ang Mga Mananahi,” “Ang Bayot, Ang Meranao, at ang Habal-Habal sa Isang Nakababagot na Paghihintay sa Kanto ng Lanao del Norte,” “So Sanggibo a Ranon na Piyatay o Satiman a Tadman,” and “Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan.” His short stories appeared in various publications such as TOMAS and Ani. He was a fellow for fiction at the UST, Ateneo, and UP national writers workshops and for Art Criticism at J. Elizalde Navarro National Writers Workshop for Criticism in the Arts and Humanities.

Reparado B. Galos III is a poet and lawyer. He was a fellow at the Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo’s poetry clinic in 2006 and became a member of the group in 2007. His poetry collection in Filipino won first prize at the Maningning Miclat Poetry Awards in 2015.

Jeric F. Jimenez is a graduate of AB Filipinolohiya at Polytechnic University of the Philippines–Sta. Mesa in Manila. He has taught in elementary, junior high school, senior high school, and college. His short stories are included in the anthologies Piglas: Antolohiya ng mga Kuwentong Pambata and Saanman: Mga Kuwento sa Biyahe, Bagahe, at Balikbayan Box.

Johanna Michelle Lim is a brand strategist, creative director, and travel writer based in Cebu City. She was a fellow at the 54th Silliman University National Writers Workshop and is the author of What Distance Tells Us, a collection of travel essays.

Bernadette V. Neri writes fiction and plays and teaches creative writing at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, University of the Philippines–Diliman. She is the author of the children’s book Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin. She is originally from Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.

Jose Victor Peñaranda was a poet and community development practitioner. He was the author of the poetry collections Voyage in Dry Season (Sipat Publishing), Pilgrim in Transit (Anvil Publishing), and Lucid Lightning (UST Publishing). He received awards for his poetry from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation for Literature, Manila Critics Circle, Philippines Free Press Award, Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas, and Philippines Graphic’s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. He was born in Manila in 1953 and passed away in 2017.

Ralph Jake T. Wabingga is a college instructor and used to be a writer and producer for television. He was a fellow for fiction at the Davao Writers Workshop in 2017. He is from Sulop, Davao del Sur.

April 2018 (Issue 20)

Introduction by Eric Gerard H. Nebran

ESSAY
The Border Express by Mikhael M. Labrador
Riding a Tricycle by Noel Pingoy

POETRY
Su mga Ngiyawa kanu Inged by Mubarak Tahir
Internal Change by Lance Isidore Catedral
Skysea by Saquina Karla C. Guiam
adobo is my favorite dish by Benj Marlowe Cordero
An Open Letter to J. Catolico Street
by Marc Jeff Lañada
Survived a Bullet by Claire Monreal
Superficial Swim by Joan Victoria Cañete
The Ascension
by Patrick Jayson Ralla
Duha ka Balak by Paul Randy Gumanao

FICTION
Black and White by Mariz Leona
Something Sad by Boon Kristoffer Lauw
Lights of Different Colors by Erwin Cabucos

Editors and Contributors

Introduction

The overwhelming force that is globalization has long since made its presence felt in the southern shores of the Philippines. Bringing with it a contract of modernity, globalization was quickly embraced and celebrated by the peoples of our region. We continue to witness the transformations of rural landscapes into commercial and residential complexes, the exportation of laborers and materials overseas, and the imposition of a consumerist attitude onto people from various layers of the social strata. Because we usually consider everything advanced and sophisticated to be progressive and beneficial, we nurture an obsession with development. We willingly submit ourselves to cultural globalization. The internet, in particular, changes lifestyles, allows for the vast consumption of cultural products, and promotes interconnectedness of people from diverse backgrounds.

However, globalization’s promise of progress is a homogenizing force that dissolves familiar structures and relations. Like a weight dropped into still waters, the ripples of this unprecedented phenomenon spread outwards and continue to swallow everything in their path. We have started to become assimilated into a unitary global culture.

In this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, literary productions from the region become the means of recovering what has been devoured and drowned. I borrow the imagery from Saquina Karla C. Guiam’s poem “Moon Eater” to suggest literature as an emetic for the mythical bakunawa’s voracious appetite. The threatened dissolution of the diversity that has come to characterize our region can be recuperated through creativity: a poeisis of worlds via literary expression—similar to the collective “aria” created as a form of resistance to the celestial eater. Through writing, poets, essayists, and fictionists are able to participate in a project that allows for the exercise of agency and assertion of identities.

April is also National Literature Month in the Philippines, and for this issue of the journal, we recognize literature both as a force of creation and resistance. This month’s harvest features fourteen writers in active mediation of their present conditions and whose eventual recourse is to bring forth worlds and realities through writing. I suggest that this literary reclamation is the manner by which resistance can be expressed against the unifying and violent potency of planetary globalization.

Changing Land/Sea/Cityscapes

“The Border Express” and “Riding a Tricycle” are essays that grapple with lifestyle changes accompanying the narrowing class divide. The former is by Mikhael M. Labrador and the latter is by Noel Pingoy. As seen in their experiences, the upsurge in the traffic of people and commodities is initially disorienting, but the same increase in the mobility of people and the gradual obliteration of familiar borders rather hint at the equalizing yet insidious forces caused by the frenetic spilling-over of human connections. People’s swift initiation to other cultures encourages exploration and identification, so it would seem that everything and everyone is destined to settle, as Pingoy calls it, “in the safe comfortable middle.”

While that state of stillness is yet to come, delirious investments to infrastructure and transportation are made. The massive transit of bodies persists. Lines of travel and access continue to be established with the continued industrialization of the region. Two poems pay tribute to these: Marc Jeff Lañada’s “An Open Letter to J. Catolico Street” and Joan Victoria Cañete’s “Superficial Swim.” In their imageries, the roads and waterways that facilitate fluid movement are targets of interruptions and are thus bound to settle in serene disharmony. Lañada describes this oxymoronic nature of roads by describing a known thoroughfare in General Santos City as “assembling into a state of discord.” Reading into these “lines of flight” allows for the hope that diversity can thrive in a seemingly ordered state of flux.

Objects of Trade and Fractured Identities

Alongside the changes in the environment is the transformation of people into objects of trade. Since the Philippine government’s institutionalization of overseas employment in the ’70s, Filipinos have been unceasingly dispersed to the world as providers of cheap labor. A work of fiction that is sure to resonate with many people is “Lights of Different Colors” by Erwin Cabucos. The story suggests various shades of alienation in the exportation of Filipinas—our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters as domestic helpers and caregivers in other countries. Touted as an act of heroism, the government’s move to increase earnings by encouraging its citizens to secure overseas employment is in fact a capitalistic venture that aligns with imperatives to integrate into the global economy. Etched in Filipino’s minds now is the idea that a better life can be had by working and, possibly, immigrating abroad. Patrick Jayson Ralla’s poem “The Ascension” captures this yearning for escape by transforming the tools of manual labor—one’s limbs—into wings capable of flying into the sun, and “abandoning/ a vessel below the ground.”

While most Filipinos are complicit in the practice of overseas employment, they renounce another form of human exploitation: the grim business of war. Inherent in capitalism, conflict fuels good business. Claire Monreal, Paul Randy P. Gumanao, and Mubarak M. Tahir lament the destructive warfare that divides and exploits people and their lands. In “Survived a Bullet,” Monreal references the profiteering in arms manufacture and distribution: “guns being sold to enemies.” In “Ping-it nga Pagdapit,” Gumanao shares his pride for the bounty of his hometown and his disdain for the violence that causes the rain of bullets and blood: “unta wala sabwagi/ Og bala ug wala bisbisi og dugo ang kayutaan.” In “Su mga Ngiyawa kanu Inged,” Tahir fears the effacement of his people—“Bangsa nami a malagan den madadag kanu mapa” (Liping malapit nang maglaho sa mapa)—because of the armed conflict in Maguindanao. The violence that denies them of their basic rights is compounded by the dominant culture’s erasure of their history.

To combat exploitations and erasures caused by endless production and the cycle of grand narratives, we look to works containing subjects having the most potential for emancipation: In this collection, two offer a take on retrieving one’s agency. First, there is “Black and White” by Mariz Leona. In her story, fractured identities arise out of the failed pursuit of dreams and succumbs to schizophrenia—a state of self-reality fueled by desire. Then, there is the erasure poetry “Internal Change” by Lance Isidore Catedral. Sculpted from Tinsley Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, the redaction asserts a body’s autonomy. A body takes its cue from interior adjustments as a response to, or as an initiative of “change.” Leona’s fiction offers a compelling model for liberation but may prove to be too extreme. It is Catedral’s choice of form and self-assured proclamation that offers a sensible opportunity for subversion during these times of bodily commodification.

The Phenomenon of Consumerism

Aligned with industrialization are the tendencies to accumulate and consume. The encroachment of globalization has normalized the consumption of goods and services—it has been thoroughly integrated in our consciousness that we have become our own voracious bakunawas, swallowing whole worlds with our unbridled cravings. “Something Sad” by Boon Kristoffer Lauw tests the borders of desire and loyalty. A revelation towards the end of his fiction makes the reader examine where perversion lies—is it in the unconventional relationship of the characters, or is it the betrayal resulting from people’s insatiable appetites? Also operating within the act of consuming, “adobo is my favorite dish” by Benj Marlowe Cordero is an erotic expression of desire told through the preparation of the popular dish that has numerous variations in our multicultural society.  

Globalization makes us think that we are given agency because of the freedom to make choices in terms of materials and services to consume, but since identities have been packaged and served to us, then the freedom we experience is only artificial. There is no agency if it is forced. Shouldn’t we break away from this confinement?   

*

The common thread that runs through the works featured this month is the violence that comes with change—a violence of unification. The poems, stories, and essays show the diversity of the literary harvest in the region—hopefully, in time, they would remain resiliently that way, too. I would like to think of the region’s writers as people who are constantly mediating the polarities of the past and the present while examining the impasses of the globalized world in their creative outputs.

While it is paradoxical to offer a totalizing framework for reading literary productions in the regions, it seems only logical that we deploy literature and its multicultural nature to resist the threat of erasure brought about by the violence of globalizing uniformity.

I must also include a disclaimer that the works featured in this issue go beyond the project being furthered. The selection is not preconstituted, as I only offer a reading inspired by essays in globalization.

Also, I have always been for literary productions celebrating the diversity of mother tongues. Pushing for literary production in one language is another form of dominance, not far from colonization and globalization. I look forward to more submissions in the journal. I am hopeful and excited for more people to be involved in the production, dissemination, and consideration of literature—the recovery project is protracted. The recognition of loss and the decision to look for it begin with self-examination and recollection, as what Narcissus and Tala in Guiam’s poems convey. It is in literary poeisis that we are able to exercise a reflexive interrogation of our lives, and in the process, invites our collective minds to question ideas of stasis, liminality, and progress.

 

Eric Gerard H. Nebran
Quezon City