Riding a Tricycle

By Noel Pingoy

Ten years ago

Sometimes the very things that we loathe strengthen the life in us. As with most of my patients, loss, crisis, and even conflict goad the will to live in ways that are previously deemed unthinkable. People who used to think they aren’t good enough may even astonish themselves with random acts of benevolence and audacity. When it happens, people grow bigger than the impediments that box them, surprisingly too large enough to liberate them from issues that constantly nag and haunt, and consequently live beyond these limitations.

I learned a lot of lessons when I decided to become a commuter six months ago as part of austere lifestyle changes that I believed would define a simple life. In May I gave up my cable TV subscription. A few weeks later I had my DSL disconnected after reaching the minimum period of subscription. Would I say that my life had been more difficult, less exciting, even boring? Au contraire il est difficile de concevoir quelque chose de plus satisfaisant. Instead of spending countless hours in front of the idiot box munching insalubrious junk that augments avoirdupois as much as it encourages ennui, I buried myself in pages of printed wisdom, sweated a little of the excess pounds in the gym, or simply allowed my OC self more hours of sleep and rest that I initially thought were outrageous. I also brushed up on my French, which I had forgotten while attempting to build up the fortitude to remember that the u in gozaimasu and desu is usually not voiced (rather unsuccessfully but I ain’t giving up anyway). The amount that I used to spend for cable TV and internet surfing are instead diverted to the funds of the family council, thus giving some measure to the things that could be easily given up in favor of certain meaningful pursuits that shape and strengthen relationships.

But nothing has taught me more about the wholeness of life than taking the public transport daily to and from work. I am probably the only doctor in General Santos City who is fully dependent on tricycles and habal-habal (motorcycles that ply certain routes in the city, often using the back roads to elude the LTO cops) as I move from one hospital to another. When my driver left without notice at the start of the year, I relied on my brother who lives just a few meters away for my daily rounds until he had to beg off to attend to more pressing concerns. However things are perceived now, I will always remember with deep appreciation and fondness the times together. Since I don’t drive a car, I planned of getting a motorcycle myself to which most of the family and friends disapproved considering the incidence of accidents involving two-wheels in the city. Too unsafe, some said.

It was difficult at first, but in time I discovered what matters and the value of a spartan life. In due time the daily tricycle rides to work became my prayer-in-motion, even a sanctuary from everything that is not genuine in me and in the culture that I grew up to. Where was it written that doctors should drive the latest car models? That doctors who take public transport are kawawa or katawa-tawa? But some people I know believe that to be so. Sitting in a cramped sidecar, stooping so low that I fear my chin would brush my knees anytime the tricycle navigates a hump, I was simply Noel, neither the hematologist nor the medical oncologist, far from the image I have learned to imagine about myself. Inside that vehicle, I often start my day taking my masks off and let go of my self-expectations (even self-importance). Some people I know have dismissed this as something that I don’t have another choice anyway, and it’s true initially. But later I realized that however one goes to work does not really matter at all. I grew up in a society where image and extensions of it in the form of material possessions are valued highly. Sometimes over relationships. People struggle for self-sufficiency, abundance, or mastery and, in holding close these qualities, become blinkered to deeper human truths like humility, respect, and compassion, even contemptuous of anything in themselves and in other people.

This capacity to suffer and accept weakness is a virtue that I have long struggled to overcome. Acknowledging my vulnerability allowed me to connect to other people who too embrace their own vulnerabilities. When I stop pretending to be strong and independent, I draw out the instinctive kindness in other people. By showing this soft side, people tend to be more helpful, more generous, and even more appreciative of what they have. Simple endorphin rush! They feel good about themselves in a noble, unselfish way just being able to hold on a door for someone to pass through it. I live in a village that’s a bit far from the city, so I try to avoid staying out late. Looking back at those six months, I realized how dear friends are, colleagues who are otherwise tired from their busy practice but take the extra pains to bring me home and see me step into the gate safely. In medicine, it is often taught that part of being a professional is to allow for some space, even distance, to be objective. I learned from my colleagues one truth: to truly serve others, one must do it not only with the hands and eyes but with the heart and soul as well.

There is more to learn from life’s precarious edges than being in the safe comfortable middle. Taking the public transport for the past six months has definitely shuffled my belief systems like a deck of cards. While others might see this as something sad or pathetic, there is much wisdom about a card that had been at the bottom of the deck for most of my conscious adult life suddenly turning up the top card, the one that really mattered at the end of the day. My patients with cancer, and now the tricycle and habal-habal drivers, have enriched my life with their example: that no matter how carefully they sort their cards and repeatedly shift through their hands in the presence of death or material inadequacies, the top card is rarely possession or superiority or control. Some people call it respect or goodwill. Doctors who honor the Hippocratic Oath call it harmlessness. Others view theirs as integrity. I call mine love.


First Aid

By Mariz Leona

I woke up early. “Wow, himala!” one of my friends said. “Aga pa nagbugtaw ang iban dira.” My friends knew how late I usually woke up. I didn’t say a word and headed to the shore. As I watched the sun rose to its glorious throne, I could still hear the laughter of my friends, but my whole being was soon absorbed in the magnificent view in front of me, blended with the sea breeze and the sounds of calming waves. What a wonderful way to start a day, I thought. The past few days, I’d been broke—financially, mentally, and spiritually. That’s why I decided to spend a night with my friends in a beach in General Santos City, just twenty-five pesos away from our boarding house. I inhaled deeply, calming myself. After about ten seconds, I exhaled. I exhaled all my frustrations and despairs.

I looked at my toenails, and I felt like crying again because I had broken one of them the night before. The nail was separated from the flesh. We had been happily playing in the water when I stubbed my foot on a rock. At first I didn’t feel anything, but when we decided to return to our rented cottage, there I immediately felt something weird. When I looked at my feet, I burst out crying. One of my toenails was bleeding. My friends gathered around me, and when they found out why I was crying, they all laughed. I was dismayed by their reactions. My toe seriously hurt. They helped me nevertheless. They asked me to sit down and gave me a nail cutter to remove the nail, but I couldn’t do it myself. I was scared. So one of them did the job while I was whimpering like a pig being killed, and I cried aloud when someone poured alcohol on my toe. I thanked God for giving me friends who knew what to do in that kind of situation, even if they laughed at me.

“Mars, puli na ta,” one of my friends shouted at me. I blew a heavy sigh and said, “So this is the end of happy hour. Back to reality na naman.

“Asa mo, ga?” asked a tricycle driver outside the resort. “Uhaw mi, ’ya,” we answered, referring to the village where our boarding houses were located. My friends negotiated the fare with the driver. I didn’t join the discussion. I sat on the front seat of the tricycle. I liked it there. Every one of us liked it there because it was the most comfortable seat. That’s why I went in first and secured the spot for myself. When my friends and the driver had agreed on the fare, we started the journey.

Yes, it was a journey for me. Somehow I regretted sitting at the front because of the cold wind, but I was consoled by the nice view of the road. Watching the road was relaxing, until we came upon a vehicular accident. “Sus, kaaga pa disgrasya na,” the driver said as he slowed down. My friends made comments on the scene before us. I couldn’t understand them clearly because my heart was beating so hard. I didn’t like that kind of situation, especially in front of my eyes. The bus, probably owned by a private company, was in the inner lane of its opposite direction; the accident must have been its fault. The motorcycle that collided with it was outside the cemented part of the road.

I saw the conductor rush out of the bus, followed by a lady, maybe to check what had happened. The tricycle we were riding stopped beside the driver of the motorcycle. He was prone on the ground. We got out of the tricycle immediately. “Kuya, dal-on ta sa ospital,” I told our driver. He seemed oblivious of what I said, so I said it again to my friends. “Gasyung,” one of them answered me. “Indi na pwede tandugon sa amo na nga posisyon.”

I looked at the driver of the motorcycle, which I immediately regretted. He was catching his breath. He inhaled, and it took about thirty seconds before he exhaled. “Oh, Jesus!” was the only thing I said.

I stepped away from the scene as more people gathered around. They were from their vehicles too and happened to see the commotion. There were no houses in the area. I silently prayed for the safety of the injured man. I was trembling. I felt like crying. “Tabangi ninyo!” a woman shouted. “Nagtawag na kog ambulance,” answered the woman who had come out of the bus earlier. I could tell from her clothes that she was working for a canning company nearby, so I was confused why she couldn’t give the man first aid. I had read that companies required their employees to be trained in first aid. It occurred to me that maybe the training wasn’t required in her company, but I thought her co-workers and she needed the training more than most employees because they were working in a high-risk environment.

Nobody was touching the body. No one was knowledgeable of first aid.

“Sakay na mo, ga,” I heard our driver say. With a heavy heart, I rode the tricycle again. “Pag di pa mag-abot ang ambulance in twenty minutes, mapatay to ba,” one of my friends said. “Ginalagas na gud niya iyang ginhawa.” The driver joined the conversation: “Dili man gud to pwede isakay sa tricycle kay nakahapa. Basi ako pay makasala ato.” One of my friends at the back said, “If ako maging presidente, himuon ko jud batas na dapat tanang tao sa Pilipinas kabalo og first aid.” I thought so too.

I remembered that I had once attended a first-aid seminar organized by Philippine Red Cross. I was still in high school then. Many of the participants were not interested, including me. The only lesson that I could remember was that you had to put pressure on the wound if there was a lot of bleeding. The driver of the motorcycle was bleeding on the head earlier, and I knew I should have put pressure on his wound. But I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it because I forgot.

The driver of the tricycle drove slower. He must have been shaken by the accident too. “Wala pa lagi may nag-agi na ambulance?” I asked my friends. They were talking about other things, and nobody seemed to hear me. I watched every vehicle on the other side of the road, hoping to see an ambulance. We reached the part where the tricycle had to leave the national highway to proceed to Ohaw. “Wala pa jud ambulance na nag-agi ba,” I commented again. “Basi city pa to gikan,” one of my friends answered me. “Wala ba diay ambulance ang mga barangay na lapit diri?” I asked. “Wala siguro e,” was the answer.

That night in my boarding house, I remembered when I accidently poured boiling water on my legs at home. I shouted for help, and my mother came to the rescue. But she didn’t know what to do, so she shouted for help to no one in particular. Some of our neighbors came, and each of them had an idea what should be done. “May petroleum jelly kamo?” “Butangi sang langgaw!” “Kamatis. Effective ang kamatis.” Though I was hurt and crying, I couldn’t help but note that some of the suggestions were ridiculous. Were they planning to cook adobo or paksiw? Who in her right mind would put vinegar on her burnt flesh? If everyone around had known how to give first aid, the suggestions would have been the same and logical.

Lying in bed, I kept on thinking about the bleeding man on the road. I was still disturbed that I had not seen an ambulance or even just heard a siren. Maybe no rescue arrived. “Pag ako naging presidente, tanang tao dapat hawod sa first aid,” I found myself blurting out.

Ice Candy

By Jhessa Gales

When I was younger, my mother used to sell ice candy in our sari-sari store. She personally made it in chocolate, milk with peanut, and buko flavors. My brother and I used to help her, without her knowing that we took it like coffee when freshly boiled and like ice cream when frozen. Unfortunately, no secrets can be kept for a long time; we were caught and never allowed to help again.

Ice candy became one of my favorite food, even until I reached high school. My friends and I would walk home almost every day just so we could buy some ice candy in a store. The store’s ice candy was different from my mother’s. It was just strawberry-flavored powdered juice. But it still gave me the same feeling. It was still soft like ice cream when it melted in my mouth.

One morning, the sun was bright and the sky was bluish. If I remember it right, it was Friday. I didn’t wake up late owing to my beloved mother’s voice. Like every other morning, Mama gave my brother and me a lecture on how hard her life had been and how easy our lives were. She asked us again and again why it was so hard for us to wake up early. “Leave me alone, Ma! I slept very late last night because I had to finish that book.” I said it in my head, but I pointed the book: Leave Me Alone, Ma.

When I left for school, Mama reminded me that I had been given enough money and I should not walk. I waited for a tricycle. “Malas!” I uttered when the tricycle that picked me up was driven by Boy Kamang. I wished it had been Boy Untol. In those days, my friends and I liked giving tricycle drivers nicknames based on how slow or fast they drove. I was OK with moderate speed, but Boy Kamang was just annoyingly different.

Our school was not far, but neither was it near. When we passed the bridge, I observed that the river was so clear, unlike the other day, when it looked like a chocolate drink.

Our classroom was not a normal room. We were using the science laboratory due to insufficiency of classrooms. We had long rectangular tables surrounded by tall stools. I was friends with my seatmates, and just like other students, we spent most of the day talking. When our classes ended, we decided to walk home, despite what my mother told me. We wanted to stop by the store where we often bought ice candy.

We walked on the national highway until we reached a large bridge. Under the bridge was the start of the shortcut to our village. We had to cross the river and then walk up a rocky hill with tall grass, which I found insulting, for they were as tall as I was or higher.

Thereafter, I felt surreal. It was so wonderful walking on the riprap. The water was clear.  Jean, my cousin, was cracking jokes, and the rest of us laughed aloud. Our loud voices rang above the silent river and in the gigantic trees waving at us.

I looked at the sky. It was clear. I looked at the river. It was clear—a while ago!

I called my friends and shouted, “Baha!”

We became frantic. The chocolate-colored water was getting nearer. It wasn’t raining, and the weather was good, so the flood must be from the mountains. We decided to walk barefoot, not minding the sharp stones and other objects that we stepped on. What I had in mind was that I should live! I should survive! There was no time to entertain any physical pain.

Every second became harder for us to move, for the riprap was cut in the middle of the river and we had to wade through the water. The risk was at its maximum level. But there was no turning back. Going back was as dangerous as moving forward. So we decided to continue walking toward the opposite riverbank.

The riverbank was about twelve inches wide only, and some part of it was falling. We then climbed the hill up to the peak, and only up there were we able to breathe and thank heavens for not letting the mad river take us.

When we reached our favorite store, we bought ice candy from it. Each of us had saved six pesos for walking home instead of riding a tricycle, so each of us bought six pieces, or six pesos worth, of ice candy. Our lives could have ended due to our desire to eat ice candy. I wondered if I should have listened that morning to my mother, an ice candy maker.


By Kurt Joshua Comendador
Essay and Short Story

It’s a cold night. I’m left alone as my family has gone for a visit to a relative’s house. With nothing to do, I rummage through the pieces strewn all over the face of the piano: Scott Joplin, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Clementi, and many others. Deep into the layers of printed pieces, I come across Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, op. 9, no. 2. I pull it out and try sight-reading it. Many wrong notes later, I decide to stop and listen to it. Again. After so many times listening to it, I still don’t get tired of the music. Easy to the ears and easy to the mind, the music perfectly matches the ambience of the night. Before I know it, I drift to sleep, and then I’m awakened by an entirely new music.

The music begins to flow like honey: slow, fluidic, and tantalizing. A gentle cascade of poetically beautiful passages, as if performed by cherubs on their harps. It doesn’t take long for me to identify it: Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante in E-flat Major, op. 22. The music engulfs me, making me feel as though I’m floating on a clear lake, its glassy surface reflecting the serene light of the full moon on a cloudless night.

A nocturne. A lullaby. A blanket, soft as velvet, wrapping my very soul. Slowly, all my troubles, all my worries and anxieties, lightened. It is just me and the music, dancing and playing to the extremes of reality and imagination. It takes me to the time when innocence, hope, and dreams are synonymous to your very existence. Yes, like a baby in a cradle being rocked softly by the benevolent waves of the ocean we call life.

* * *

“Frédéric,” Nicholas muttered as he received the child from his wife.

“I did not quite hear you, Nick,” Justyna said as she propped herself up in the bed. Do you mind repeating what you’ve just said?”

“We’ll call him Frédéric,” Nicholas said in a more audible and distinct voice.

“Frédéric,” Justyna reiterated with an agreeing smile. “Frédéric Chopin.”

“Can I see him father?” said a young girl, tugging gently at Nicholas’s jacket.

“Definitely, Ludwika,” Nicholas said.

Ludwika slightly backed away as Nicholas lowered himself, carefully so as not to shake the infant. Ludwika tiptoed towards her now-crouching father and peeked sheepishly at Frédéric.

“You’re going to be a good sister to him, wouldn’t you, Ludwika?” Nicholas said, never taking his gaze off his newborn son. His face, as if painted by happiness himself, grinned from ear to ear.

“Yes!” Ludwika cried. “I will be a good sister to him, Father!”

Frédéric twitched.

“Now don’t speak too loudly or he might cry!” Nicholas said with a laugh.

Ludwika, as if instinctively, covered her mouth with both hands, putting them down immediately to resume talking: “I will take good care of him, Father! I will teach him how to write or maybe teach him how to play the piano. I will definitely be a good sister to him, Father!”

“Now that’s enough, you two,” Justyna interrupted. “Return him here. Frédéric and I could use some rest.”

Nicholas returned Frédéric to his wife and stepped back. “We’ll be back before dinner.” He kissed Justyna on the forehead and proceeded to exit the room with Ludwika skipping behind him. Nicholas opened the door and waved goodbye to Justyna.

“Goodbye, Mother! Goodbye, Frédéric!” bade Ludwika

* * *

The music flows continuously, like rain in a gentle torrent on a cold November morning. A kindle of curiosity arouses within me. A longing to know something, to discover something new. The music, like a hand, leads me on. The essence of curiosity prominent in the tranquility and warmth of the piece.  Curiosity—discoverer of gifts, revealer of talents, and leader of all willing to learn.

Like how the hammer inside the piano strikes the strings to produce sound, man and idea must collide in order to create a work of art. A child’s curiosity, coupled by the nurturing guidance of the parents, will create an entirely new individual: a child prodigy. The perpetual flow of gracious notes seems like a portal to the mind of a piano prodigy, enchanted to play his wildest fantasy and imagination, improvising and playing by feel. My mind is enveloped in a blissful feeling, swept by the cold serene river that is the music.

* * *

Frédéric watched as his mother played the piano. The way Justyna caressed the keys of the piano enthralled the one-year-old.

“Handsome boy!” said Justyna. “What’s the problem? Don’t you like the music?”

Frédéric let out a laugh and extended both of his hands in the air, begging to be picked up, giggling, cooing, and smiling.

“Oh, you want to sit with me? Is that it?” Justyna asked. She picked up her son and put him on her lap. “Now you behave, Frédéric, else you’re going to fall.”

Frédéric’s eyes lit up when his mother began playing, his head turning eagerly from side to side, following the hands of his mother. Frédéric clapped and giggled, as if he appreciated the music being played for him, to the delight of his mother. “Why do I have this feeling that you would be a great pianist someday, my little Frédéric?” she whispered to him.

And after three years . . .

“Justyna! Ludwika!” Nicholas called out. “To the music room! Hasten!”

“Is something the matter, Father?” Ludwika asked, Justyna just behind her, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Behold this!” Nicholas said. “Frédéric will perform Bach’s first minuet. I taught it to him just this afternoon, and now prepare to be amazed by the progress he has made.”

Frédéric sat on the piano and proceeded to play the heralded piece. He pressed the keys intently. His movement appeared to be effortless, with no wasted motion and unnecessary movements, his arms apart to the side of his body. Frédéric produced rich and elegant tones as though he had practiced the piano far longer than his age. His legs hung lazily on the bench as his legs were still too short to reach the floor. On and on he went. One-two-three, one-two-three, went the beat on Frédéric’s mind, careful not to disrupt the timing. The littleness of his hands made the last few measure difficult to execute. Nevertheless, he finished the piece, and it was a job well done, worthy of the applause of his family.

“Bravo!” said his mother. “Bravo, Frédéric!”

“Thank you, Mama!” Frédéric blushed.

“Well done, little brother!” Ludwika said. “Sooner or later, you’ll be even better than me.”

“Thank you, Ludwika,” Frédéric said. “I’m sorry, but I am certain that something smells burning in here!”

“I think it comes from the kitchen,” Nicholas said, sniffing the air.

Justyna stood still, her eyes wide open. “Oh no! My pies!” she exclaimed with a gasp and then promptly scampered to the kitchen. The rest of the family burst out in laughter. The newest member of the family, Emilia, watched from her crib, sucking nonchalantly on her pacifier.

* * *

The relaxing cascade of music comes to a temporary halt: no crash, no violent impact, and no sudden collision that perturbs the earnest meditation I’ve been thrown into. The music smoothly transitions—like a seasoned driver flawlessly shifting gears—into an entirely new character: a simple formal march with a distinct beat. The music carries a soothing air that further emolliates my mind and soul, taking me to a whole new scene.

The music carries nostalgia unto me, as it reminds me the very first time I played in public: the uncomplicated sound resembles an easy piece that new students learn for their first recital. There is something magical in it—something powerful, something sentimental, something appealing. Then again, who forgets their first? I close my eyes and imagine the first public recital of Frédéric when he was eight years old.

* * *

“How are you feeling, son?” Nicholas asked Frédéric backstage.

“I feel excellent, a little excited perhaps,” Frédéric replied.

“God bless you! I wish I had your confidence!”

The host ended his introduction and presented Frédéric to the crowd that had gathered to witness his first public recital. On the front row sat Frédéric’s mother and two sisters, Ludwika and Emilia. Nicholas scurried to his seat, bent as low as possible.

Frédéric walked to the center of the stage where the piano was placed. He stood still for a moment, briefly scanned his audience, took a bow, and then took his position on the piano. Frédéric’s professionalism and stately manners endeared him to the crowd, prompting an applause.

The clapping stopped, and the performance started. Here was the boy who had grown up in a musical family. Here was a boy proclaimed as musical genius by his first teachers. Here was the boy who, at seven, had published his first musical composition. This was his first public recital. Waltzes, marches, mazurkas—these were some of the music he played that day. The stage was his, and the crowd offered him their time and attention. Each minute increased the amazement of the crowd that, in the end, the place was about to crumble to the thunderous standing ovation the crowed bestowed on him. The cheers, however, were no greater than that of Frédéric’s family: “Bravo, Frédéric! Bravo!” they exclaimed in unison.

* * *

Tears begin to form on the corner of my eyes as the emotions begin to swell. There is sadness in its beauty, like a desperate plea for solace. It has a character of a swan song: a longing and questioning aura, a final offering before moving on to the next stage, a request for consolation. The music is a plea for a return to the past, to cherish loving memories once again, to be with loved ones again for even just a single day, to return to the place of origin, the place we call home. The music merely shows that life is indeed a fleeting moment.

The featherlike music wafts into my ears and directly goes into my heart. The piece’s subtlety carries overwhelming woes that pierce the soul, a proof that music is indeed a powerful being, able to carry happiness, relief, sadness, and pleasure through its nuances.

* * *

“It is time for you to leave, Frédéric,” Nicholas said. Justyna was standing beside her husband, sobbing silently, wiping her tears with a white handkerchief.

Frédéric stood up from squatting beside Emilia’s grave. “I just want to make sure I have spent some time with Emilia, Father,” Frédéric said with a sigh. He wiped the headstone, revealing the transcription:

She disappeared at fourteen
the spring of life
like a flower
in which beauty
the fruit flourished
April 10, 1827

“I am sure that Emilia would be happy for you, Frédéric,” Nicholas said. “I am certain she will watch over you.”

“I still have doubts whether I can endure being away from here, Father.”

“Nineteen years is enough, Frédéric. Poland is too small for you. We must go now. Everyone is waiting for you.”

Teachers, friends, and family had gathered at the toll gate to bid Frédéric adieu and wish him good luck.

“Oh, Frédéric!” cried Constance, Frédéric’s sweetheart. “You must remember us. Many others may better praise you and adore you, but none would love you stronger than we!”

“I will never forget you, my love!” Frédéric answered. “Nor I will forget anyone of you. For my heart will forever remain in here and my loyalty forever reside in this country. Farewell, Mother and Father! Farewell, Constance! Farewell, Ludwika! Farewell, Poland!”

As the coach carrying Frédéric started rolling down the road, the people behind started singing a song composed by Professor Elsner, Frédéric’s headmaster in the conservatory of music. Such a touching act caused Frédéric to weep bitterly.

* * *

The melancholic music fades away, just like the screams of an airplane taking off: before you know it, there is nothing you could hear. I want to chase after it, as though it’s a runaway kite, with the thread glancing off your fingers, but there’s nothing I can do but to long after it, wishing it would come back. What’s left is an obscure mixture of feelings.

All of a sudden, like a pre-invasion salvo of artillery nobody expects, the music comes alive. Like a team of stallions thrown into a gallant gallop by the crack of a whip by the coachman. Formal, noble, and energetic. A brilliant and majestic processional tune fitting to announce the arrival of a king. The music is so enthralling, it throws me into a fervor, making me move my head and hands unconsciously, mimicking the actions of a conductor as he directs an orchestra, feeling the music at the same time. It is magical, and from it I have no escape.

The opening barrage finished, the landing party follows. The music turns into a radiant and lively dance theme. It’s like watching an old master fill the canvas with colors, watching his paintbrush trail behind colors from his mystical pallet to create a masterpiece. I see a man dancing with Destiny in the form of a beautiful woman. The woman dances coyly, being elusive and playful as can be. Oftentimes, it appears the man has finally caught the woman, but every time, he lets her get away. The man knows enough that it has only begun—the night is young and so are they—and the music is far from over. He keeps on dancing. Just he and the woman. Alone in the cosmic parquet of life, sooner or later, he shall triumph.

* * *

Frédéric arrived in Vienna and immediately resumed his familiar life, taking no time to acclimatize to his current repertoire—playing in theatres and grand saloons, displaying his elegant techniques and expressive renditions of his pieces that were absolutely new to the people of Austria. Frédéric jumped from one saloon to another, from theatre to theatre, from one aristocrat’s lavish home to another. Chopin was leading a musician’s dream of fame and fortune, but it didn’t stop him from writing home as much as possible.

 . . . Luxembourg and Berlin. It is still not confirmed, but I might go to London one of these days. P.S. Send my regards to Mother and Father. Love, Frédéric

 Ludwika lowered the letter that she had read aloud.

“Good Lord!” Justyna said. “Frédéric must be really absorbed with all these travels!”

“It is no question, Justyna,” Nicholas said. “It has always been like that and always will be. Where were you when Frédéric played at almost every grand saloon in the country when he was young? Not to mention the times when he played for the royal families of Poland and Germany. The world is ready for our Frédéric!”

“I absolutely have that on my mind, but it just never fails to amaze me,” Justyna said.

“Don’t quarrel now, you two,” Ludwika teased her parents. “It would be better if you just pray for Brother while I write an answer to him. We must keep him updated of what is happening here.”

* * *

The music is a stark contrast to the youthful and lyrical character of the spianato. Highly dramatic, more technical and much grander in style. The entirely new music is a sound that comes from heartfelt rendering from the keyboard: feeling of despair, confusion, and self-doubt mixed into the fury of regal music. It is filled with angst and rage, with passages similar to asking questions. It is filled with rising and falling intonations, with masterful variation of volume and tones. It is indeed emotionally evoking. Such is the power of music when manipulated by a virtuoso.

* * *

“What am I going to, Tytus?” Frédéric asked as he shuffled across the room in his apartment.

“You must steady yourself, Mr. Chopin,” replied Tytus in a consoling tone. Tytus is a fellow student of Chopin, as what Frédéric is now referred to, at the Warsaw Lyceum.

“I want to return to Poland and fight with our brothers, Tytus!”

“You must remain here, Mr. Chopin. You are much too valuable to lose.”

“I am just a pianist, Tytus. I am no more special than the man feeding the dogs when it comes to serving the country.”

“You are not merely a pianist, Mr. Chopin. You are Poland’s future! The very embodiment of Poland’s spirit! You will support our cause through your music!”

Chopin sat on the divan, and not a moment passed when someone knocked on the door. “Do me a favor, Tytus. Answer the door for me, will you?” Chopin scowled, pressing his forehead with his fingers.

After a while, Tytus said, “It is a letter, Mr. Chopin.”

“From whom is it this time?” Chopin said, clearly distressed.

“It came from Poland. It’s from Constance. Constance wrote you a letter, Mr. Chopin!”

“Constance! I haven’t heard from her for a year. Quick! Give me that letter!”

Chopin’s enlivened mood didn’t last long. His body slouched as he read the letter.  “Oh God! No!” cried Chopin, bursting in tears. The outpouring sorrow could no longer be suppressed. Like a dam crumbling from the surmounting water, Chopin cried his heart out. “Why do these have to happen to me?” yelled Chopin bitterly.

“What is the matter, Mr. Chopin?” asked Tytus.

“Co-co-Constance will be married to someone else, Tytus!” Chopin replied, barely getting the words out of his mouth.

“Mr. Chopin, I feel terrible for you, but it would be her loss, not yours.”

“What have I done to deserve this, Tytus?”

“Mr. Chopin—”

“I shouldn’t have left! I shouldn’t have left! I shouldn’t—” Chopin paused midsentence, his mouth gasping for air, his movements erratic. He grasped his chest.

“Mr. Chopin!” exclaimed Tytus, rushing to assist the musician. “What happened? Good Lord!”

Chopin had dropped on the floor, moving spasmodically, mouth gaping, eyes wide open. Tytus was horrified.

Hours later, the doctor told Tytus, “He has gone weak. He needs to rest as much as possible to fully recover. I strongly advise him to refrain from long travels. As for now, he will be all right. Just don’t let him do anything that might agitate him.”

“What about concerts, Doctor?” Tytus asked.

“If he wants to be better, he must avoid it. He can still teach and play, but performing in a concert would be too exhausting for him.”

Chopin did exactly as what the doctor had advised. Secluded in his room, with his diminished health and with no other outlet to pour his grief, Chopin’s talents ripened. As Tytus returned to Poland to fight, Chopin emptied his sentiments on the piano, never once playing in public in his time of recuperation. On a warm day eight months later, he received a letter from François-Antoine Habeneck, inviting him to play in the Paris Conservatory.

“I must go,” Chopin told himself. “I am ready. I will go to Paris. I must perform even if it costs me my life.”

Chopin set out into his journey to France, together with his new companion, Simon.

“I really think I’m quite ready for this, Simon,” Chopin said, as their stagecoach rolled steadily to Paris. “But still I’m feeling uneasy”

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Chopin,” Simon said. “I think you will do just fine.”

The day came for the concert. Chopin paced back and forth in the backstage of the theatre.

“What is the matter, Monsieur Chopin?” asked Habeneck, the mastermind of the event.

“I am excited, Monsieur Habeneck!”

“Oh, I thought it was something else,” Habeneck said. “You better steady yourself now, Monsieur Chopin. You’re going to be called out any minute now.”

The female host announced, “Mesdames et Messieurs, vous présentant l’immortel, Monsieur Chopin!”

“There’s your cue now, Monsieur!” exclaimed Habeneck. “Show them what music is all about!”

Chopin strutted to the center of the stage, gave the host a peck on each cheek, and assumed his position on the piano bench.

Chopin hovered his arms above the keyboard, like a heron’s wings preparing for flight. With a controlled drop, Chopin struck the first key perfectly, twitching his head as his ears registered the sound of perfection. All his pent-up emotions were relieved, all his experiences were incorporated into his music, and all his misery was exhausted on that concert. Chopin’s body language clearly signified his joy and displayed his ecstasy. Chopin took flight with the polonaise, like a stallion, running wild and free in the plains of the west. It was a majestic performance, evident in the thunderous applause of his audience.

“Fantastique! Excellent! Bravo!” the French shouted. Chopin basked in the glory of musicianship. Soon enough, flowers were delivered to Chopin by bouquets. It was a magnificent concert indeed, one which immortalized him to those who witnessed his greatness. It was the last grand concert Chopin would offer as he would never enter the concert platform again. Chopin fully reached his peak of his fully mature style—a style in which pianistic virtuosity was placed at the service of expression.

* * *

It has taken me a few seconds to realize that I’m clapping with the audience. Such is the power of Frédéric Chopin’s music, able to garner appreciation and acclamation almost two hundred years later. At the conclusion of the piece, the music is thrown into a frolic frenzy, a music of great gaiety, a music for the man who has finally captivated Destiny, the beautiful woman who initially eluded him.

The music ends, and so does my imagination. The music of Chopin has invigorated my spirit and my musical self. From a very somber beginning to a splendid ending, it has taken me into a journey of what may have been the musician’s life. With renewed hope and confidence, I return to the piano and attempted to play another one of his pieces.

A Dream in a Minor Key

By Kurt Joshua O. Comendador

It was the summer at the end of fifth grade. My brother, after seeing a violin ensemble perform at our church, managed to convince my parents to enroll him in music lessons. He wanted to play the violin, but my parents believed that he should start with the piano in order to establish a solid musical foundation.

Ubani lang imong manghod, Kuy. Pa-lesson lang sad ka’g apil.”

I agreed to go. After all, what was I to lose? Never did I know that it would be one of the most important decisions in my life.

Learning the piano is roughly the same as going to school: you start in Kindergarten (Kinder A and B), and then Grade 1 until Grade 8. I finished the Kinder B book in a month, skipping the entire Kinder A book. Maybe because of my age, I quickly understood what was being taught to me. I was promoted to Grade 1 right after. The pieces got more complex, so I needed to practice more often to keep up. As I learned and mastered one piece after another, I got this satisfaction I couldn’t describe. The joy of playing the pieces was very pleasurable sensation. The gliding of the fingers through the black and white keys of the keyboard had a very intimate feeling to it. Playing the right keys, hearing the right notes, magnified these feelings a hundred times over. I played the piano with vigor. I was young then, very passionate.

An obstacle appeared when I was in Grade 6: I got busier and lost my time for piano lessons. I spent my time practicing and learning alone. By this time, I had improved a bit and started playing church hymns, most of which were arranged with four voices. Meaning, I had to read and play multiple notes at a time. It was a hard and taxing effort, one which required multitasking: identify the notes, find the right keys, position the fingers, to name a few. It also required patience and dedication.

Pag makahuman ka og isa ka piyesa, Kuy, hatagan tika’g dyis,” my father would tell me.

I got more motivated than ever. Getting 10 pesos was a good reward for me back then, coupled with the happiness of playing a piece. Whenever I mastered a piece, I couldn’t wait to play it during our evening family worships, always gleaming with pride and pleasure.

The piano, for me, was a way of life. I needed to practice every single day. A day without practice was a wasted day. There was one time when my little 54-key electric keyboard, bought from a surplus store, got broken and was not repaired for three months. Missing three months of practice was a very big deal for me, especially that I’d already claimed to be a pianist. So, like a good musician, I practiced without sounds. It was boring and dull, but I needed to keep my senses sharp and keep myself from, so to speak, accumulating rusts.

The year 2013 was one of the best years of my life. I started following the Boston Red Sox and watched them become the world champions in October, in that year. I also bought the very first book in my collection. It was also in that year that my parents finally managed to buy a real piano: a Trebel Vertigrand. I was also starting to play at our church as a substitute pianist. I’d always give the song leader, however, a list of the songs I could play.

It was all the same throughout the year: lessons, practice, play. I was always craving for more. I had the thirst for learning and playing the most difficult pieces. I wanted to be a concert pianist. I wanted people to see me at my best in a concert hall, just me and my piano up the stage. When I was in high school, if anyone asked me what I wanted to be, I would almost always answer, “Concert pianist.” Although I also wanted to be a pilot, I thought that it was too ambitious.


At the end of high school, like almost everyone, I had to pick a course for college. That was the moment my dream took a huge detour. My song changed from a major key to a minor key.

Gusto nako mag-music school, My,” I opened up to my mom.

Dili man na puwede kay dapat mag-professional jud ka,” my mom replied.

I couldn’t understand. Why couldn’t I follow my dream? Was it about the money? The nature of work? I couldn’t understand. Wasn’t music a profession?

My parents and I fought over it for some time. These fights were sometimes so bitter it could leave my mother crying.

Gusto ko ninyo mag-abogado kay gusto ninyo modato. Tanan wala ninyo nabuhat, ipabuhat ninyo sa ako,” I would blurt out sometimes.

My parents are both professionals. My mom is a registered pharmacist, and my dad is an engineer. I couldn’t understand them at all. Why didn’t they want me to become a professional pianist? Why couldn’t they let me chase after my dream?

Bitter and rejected, I followed them. I enrolled in the English program of Mindanao State University in our city. But still I continued my piano-playing. When I reached college, it all became too much. I knew I was running out of time.


I’d gone through many music teachers, but the last teachers I had were by far the most influential, as they were the ones I ran to when I was already mature enough to understand things.

The words of Ma’am Malou seemed like a distant echo: “Talented kaayo ka, Kurt, ba. Pag-apas sa akoa sa Cavite ha? Didto ka mag-school sa CUP.

Ma’am Marian introduced me to technical playing, improving my touch to the keys. She always emphasized that I should play with emotions, to harness them to enhance my performance. Our lessons were always filled with her friendly, albeit sometimes fierce, reminder to “keep it soft, don’t band the keyboard.” She pledged to help me enter a music school, even offering to give lessons for free.

Then came Ma’am Dianne, my last teacher, but the first one who encouraged me to finish my current degree first. “Tapusin mo na lang muna ‘yung degree mo. Tapos tutulungan kitang makarating sa Maynila.” She refined my skills and helped me in interpreting pieces according to the period they were composed and who composed them. She would help me with a condition: I must return to GenSan to help other aspiring musicians.

To each of them, I only had the same reply: “Sige, ma’am, apas ra ko sa inyo puhon.” I always said that with a reassuring smile.


I’ve always believed that I can do it and catch up with my former music teachers. But deep inside, downcast feelings engulf me. My mentors always support me, confident that I will follow their words. But at this rate, I know I’m already letting them down. I’m losing hope. I no longer have the fire that fueled me before. I remember my friends: Ate Jasmin and Kuya Sid. They want me to be music majors like them. I always thought that I could be like them. But that was before.

I can only hope that I could meet them someday, not as their student, but as their equal. I believe that no matter how skilled he/she is, an amateur pianist can never equal a professional one, except perhaps the gifted ones. But what a truly great day that would be: when my dream finally becomes a reality, when it’s time that my life transposed into a major key.

Sitting by the piano tonight, I remember the musical pieces I used to play. The night is young and quiet, a good time to play music. A sonatina by Clementi is a good piece to start. The first few notes are heavenly. Full of emotions, I close my eyes and play it by memory. Years of practice has imprinted that piece into my mind and body. It all feels like a blur, a glitch, a painful memory. I’ve lost my tempo, I’ve lost my tension. But still, with my eyes closed, fingers bumping each other every once in a while, I tap away on the piano keys.

Aden Bon Besen Uyag-uyag

By Mubarak M. Tahir

(This essay won the third prize at the 2017 Palanca Awards.)

Kilala ang bayan ng Maguindanao bilang isa sa mga tampulan ng gulo, tulad ng Maguindanao Massacre. Ito ang pagkakakilala at naging tatak ng hindi man lahat ngunit ng karamihang tao, lalo na ang mga hindi naman bahagi ng kuwento ng bawat may buhay sa Maguindanao. Mga kuwentong maaari sanang maunawaan ngunit marami ang hindi nakakaunawa dahil sa kawalan ng kamalayan at kaalaman. Hindi maiintindihan dahil sa hindi pagkakapantay-pantay ng kinalalagyan sa lipunan. Hindi mauunawaan dahil sa hindi magkaparehong pananaw sa pananampalataya.

Isa sa mga barangay ng Maguindanao ang ang Kitango, Datu Piang. Ito ang bayang kinamulatan ko. Ang bayang humulma sa aking pagkatao. Ang bayang humubog sa aking prinsipyo, pananaw, at paniniwala sa buhay. Ang bayang nagbuklod sa aking kinalakhang pamilya. Ang bayang namuhay sa katotohanang sa kabila ng lahat, maaari akong mamuhay at magpatuloy sa buhay.

Pitong taong gulang ako nang magsimulang mahubog ang aking pananaw at pagmamahal sa bayang kinalakhan. Wala mang kamuwang-muwang sa tunay na imahen ng buhay, patuloy namang naglalayag ang aking kamalayan sa aking kapaligiran, sa aking bayan.

Malaking bahagi ng populasyong bumubuo sa Maguindanao ay mga Muslim na Maguindanaoan. Kaya naman, ang kultura, tradisyon, at paniniwala ng lahat ay nakabatay sa Islam. Isa sa mga pinakamahalagang araw sa buhay ng bawat nananampalatayang Muslim ang pag-aayuno na tinatawag na Saw’m, dahil kabilang ito sa limang haligi ng Islam. Hindi ganap ang pagka-Muslim ng sinumang nag-aangking Muslim kung hindi isasagawa ito. Ang dakilang buwang isinasagawa ito ay tinatawag na Ramadhan — buwan ng pag-aayuno, buwan ng pagsasakripisyo, buwan ng paghingi ng kapatawaran, at buwan ng paggunita sa Allah. Ang lahat ng mamamayan sa Kitango, Maguindanao, bata at matanda, ay naghahanda at sabik sa unang araw ng pag-aayuno. Inaasahang mag-aayuno ang lahat, maliban sa mga batang hindi pa umabot ang edad sa pitong taong gulang, matatandang wala ng kakayahan o mahina na ang pangangatawan, mga nagdadalantao at nagpapasuso ng sanggol, mga babaeng may regla, mga nagbibiyahe ng malayo, at siyempre ang mga hindi naman Muslim.

Dahil bata pa noong nangyari ang karanasang aking ibabahagi, hindi ako obligadong mag-ayuno, ngunit bilang paghahanda ay sinanay na ako nina A’ma at I’na kahit hindi ko man maisagawa sa buong araw. Dahil sa pagkasabik ko sa unang araw, isinama ako ni A’ma sa padiyan upang mamili ng kakailanganin sa unang araw ng pag-aayuno. Habang sakay ng bisikleta si A’ma at nasa kaniyang likuran ako, masaya kong pinagmasdan ang kabuuan ng aking bayang sinilangan. Napalibutan na ng makukulay na bandila o pandi ang bawat kalye na tila kumakaway ang matitingkad nitong kulay na pula, dilaw, at berde habang hinahampas ng hangin. Hindi rin nakatakas sa aking munting pandinig ang tugtog ng kulintang at agong na mas lalong nagpapasigla sa lahat. Paminsan-minsan ko lang din marinig ang mga instrumentong ito dahil pinapatugtog lamang ito kapag may mahahalagang pagdiriwang, gaya ng kasal. Kasabay ng bawat ritmo ng tugtog ay ang kagalakan ng bawat isa sa bayan. Kapansin-pansin na halos lahat ay abala, ngunit mas nangingibabaw ang ngiti o tawa ng bawat isa. Ngiti ng kapayapaang namumutawi sa puso ng bawat Maguindanaoan.

Nang makarating kami ni A’ma sa padiyan, abalang-abala ang halos lahat ng may paninda sa pagsasaayos, pagpapanday, at pagpapatayo ng barong-barong na paglalagyan ng paninda. Habang hawak-hawak ni A’ma ang aking kanang kamay, hindi maalis sa aking paningin ang ilang batang kasing-edad ko na tumutulong sa kanilang magulang sa paghahanda. Lalo akong nabuhayan dahil ramdam ko ang katiwasayan ng pamumuhay naming lahat.

Magdadapithapon na nang makauwi kami ni A’ma mula sa pamamalengke. Hindi pa man nakaakyat sa hagdan ng bahay, dumating ang panawagan sa pagdarasal na tinatawag na bang o adzan. Nang mailagay sa hapag ang mga pinamili, agad naming tinungo ni A’ma ang balon na pagkukunan ng tubig na panghugas ng katawan bago magdasal. Habang nagdarasal, abala naman si I’na sa paghahanda ng hapunan. Ginisang sariwang kangkong na nangingibabaw ang amoy ng tanglad at pritong galunggong ang inihanda ni I’na. Tanging ilaw ng lampara ang nagpapaliwanag sa aming hapag habang kumakain. Habang ninanamnam ang pagkain, hindi ko naiwasang titigan ang mga mukha ng aking mga magulang. Bakas ang katandaan sa kanilang mga noo. Ang mga mata nila ay tila kasasalaminan ng katiwasayan ngunit nangingibabaw ang pagkabahala at takot. Hindi ko man lubos maunawaan ang mga ito, naniniwala akong may kapayapaan sa bawat ngiti nina A’ma at I’na. Pagkatapos maghapunan, muli kaming nagdasal para sa I’sa, ang dasal sa gabi. Nakaugalian na sa aming nayon na hindi pa man kalaliman ng gabi ay nasa loob na kami ng aming mga kulambo bilang paghahanda na rin sa unang araw ng pag-aayuno. Ako’y masaya sa ganitong mga oras dahil alam kong ako’y ligtas at panatag dahil napapagitnaan ako ng pagmamahal nina A’ma at I’na.

Nagising na lamang ako sa mainit na dampi ng kamay ni I’na bilang hudyat na ng pagkain. Kahit hirap at pilit na iminulat ang mga mata ay masigla akong bumangon. Agad kong tinungo ang bangang may tubig at naghilamos. Habang kumakain, pilit na hinihila ng antok ang aking gising na balintataw sa aking bawat mabilis na pagsubo. Kinakailangang bago pa man sumapit ang adzan sa pagdarasal sa Sub’h, dasal sa madaling araw, ay tapos na kaming kumain. Hindi na kami maaari pang kumain o uminom ng anuman hanggang hindi sumasapit ang adzan sa pagdarasal sa Maghrib, ang pagdarasal sa gabi. Pagkatapos kumain, hindi na muna kami natulog upang magdasal sa umaga. Muli kaming bumalik sa aming higaan at natulog.

Sa buong araw ng pag-aayuno, maliban sa pagdarasal sa Duh’r, ang dasal sa tanghali, at ang As’r, ang dasal sa hapon, ay kinakailangang lagi nang gunitain ang Allah gaya ng paulit-ulit na pagsambit sa Allahuakbar (dakila ang Allah), Subhanallah (sambahin ang Allah), Alhamdulillah (ang pasasalamat ay sa Allah), at La Ilaha Illa Allah (walang ibang Diyos na dapat sambahin maliban sa Allah). Hindi rin dapat kaligtaan ang pagbabasa ng banal na kasulatan ng Allah na ang Qur’an, dahil ang banal na kasulatang ito ay ibinaba sa pamamagitan ni Anghel Gabriel sa sugo na si Propeta Muhammad (sumakaniya nawa ang kapayapaan). Naniniwala kami na ang bawat titik na nababasa sa aklat ay katumbas ng sampung mabuting gantimpala. Maliban sa hindi maaaring pagkain at pag-inom ng anuman ay hindi rin ipinapahintulutang magtalik ang mag-asawa. Ang mga maliit na kasalanan gaya ng pagsisinungaling ay pinupuna rin.

Dinadalaw man ng pagkagutom at pagkauhaw, pilit ko itong nilalabanan. Minsan, hinahayaan ko na lamang ang aking sarili na dalawin ng antok upang hindi mabatid ang pagsasakripisyong dinaranas sa buong maghapon. Ramdam ko ang katahimikang bumabalot sa buong pamayanan dahil sa panatang ginagawa. Walang ingay. Tanging langitngit lamang ng kawayan at lagaslas ng tubig ang aking naririnig, senyales ng katahimikan at kapayapaang namumutawi sa aming bayan.

Pagkatapos magdasal ng As’r ay inanyaya ako ni A’ma na sumama sa padiyan. May kahinaan mang dinanas, sumama pa rin ako. Muli ko na namang naulinigan ang bawat ritmo ng kulintang at agong habang papunta sa padiyan. Nadatnan namin ni A’ma ang padiyan na hindi mahulugan ng karayom. Bata at matanda, babae at lalaki ay abala sa pamimili ng mga ihahanda para sa buka o iftar. Nakipagsiksikan si A’ma na bumili ng mga sariwang isda gaya ng tilapya, hito, at iba pang uri ng isda na karaniwang matatagpuan sa ilog ng Maguindanao. Hindi rin nakawala sa aking paningin ang pangkat ng matatandang lalaki na abala rin sa pamimili ng tabako. Nakita ko si A’ma na nakisali na rin at marahang itinaas ang isang hibla ng tabako. Mababakas sa mukha niya ang pagkasabik sa paghithit ng tabako. Pag-angat niya ng tabako ay akmang lalanghapin na sana niya ang halimuyak ng tabako ngunit agad rin niya itong nailayo sa kaniyang ilong dahil bawal ang kusang pag-amoy sa anumang bagay na makakapaghatid ng tintasyon na maaaring maging dahilan ng pagkawala ng bisa ng pag-aayuno. Binigyan naman ako ni A’ma ng limang piso upang bumili ng bloke ng yelo. Kung may mabenta man sa lahat sa padiyan, iyon ang yelo na halos pag-agawan ng lahat. Ilang minuto rin akong nakipagsiksikan makakuha lang ng yelo, pampawala ng tigang na lalamunan. Nang pauwi, huminto kami upang bumili ng mga kakanin. Hindi kompleto ang handaan kapag walang kakanin ng Maguindanoan gaya ng dudol (gawa sa katas ng niyog at pulang bigas), inti (gawa sa katas ng niyog at bigas na kulay dalandan), plil (hinulma galing sa dinurog na hinog na saging), at tinadtag (gawa sa harina na hinulma na parang bihon). Magdadapithapon na nang makauwi kami ni A’ma sa bahay.

Bang! Bang! Boooom! Bang! Ang mga tunog na nagpagising sa amin nang madaling araw bago pa man sumapit ang Saw’m. Mga tunog na kailanman ay hindi ko pa narinig. Mga tunog na gumimbal sa katahimikan ng buong bayan. Napatakbo si A’ma sa labas ng bahay at tinawag ang aming kapitbahay. Ilang beses ding tumawag si A’ma ngunit mga putok lamang ng nagsasalubungang bala ang bumalot sa aming pandinig. Mas lalo pang lumakas ang putukan. Napagapang na lamang si A’ma palapit sa amin ni I’na na nagyakapan sa isang sulok ng bahay, na niyuyugyog naman ng malakas na ingay ng putukan. Gumagapang kami nang biglang mabuwal ang haligi na aming kinalagyan. Natagpuan namin ang aming mga nagimbal na kaluluwa sa banggerahan. Nakita ko si I’na, namumutawi sa kaniyang mga mata ang pagkabahala at takot habang mahigpit akong yakap ng kaniyang mga bisig. Tanging Allahuakbar, Subhanallah, at Astaghfirullah ang mga katagang naibubulalas ni I’na. Niyugyog ng ingay ng malalaking sasakyan na may lulang mga sundalo ang kinatatayuan ng aming bahay. Balot na rin ng alikabok ang labas ng aming bahay. Bilang ko na rin ang mga butas sa bawat bubong at haligi ng bahay na gawa ng nagsisulputang mga bala. Sa mga butas ko na rin naaninag ang bawat silahis ng araw, ngunit mahapdi sa paningin. Umaga na pala…

La Ilaha Illa Allah! Alhamdulillah! Dalawang salita na nakapagpanatag sa aming kalooban nang sambitin ni A’ma. Narinig namin ang sigaw ng isang lalaki na, “Ceasefire!” Hudyat ito na panandaliang titigil ang putukan. Nagmadali kaming lumisan sa bahay sa takot na maabutan ng kasunod na bakbakan. Tinunton naming tatlo ang mabato at maalikabok na daan patungong bayan. Habang naglalakad, napagtanto ko ang malaking pagbabago sa kapaligiran. Kay tahimik. Wala na ang tugtog ng kulintang at agong. Tanging alingawngaw na lamang ng putukan sa may di kalayuan ang nakikisabay sa pagpintig ng aking puso. Doon ko rin lamang napagtanto, na ang tanging dala ko ay ang  sambayangan na karpet na ginagamit sa pagdarasal bukod sa suot kong luma at punit-punit na damit. Magkakahawak-kamay naming tinunton ang daan patungo sa padiyan.

Pagdating namin sa padiyan, akala ko ay araw ng pamamalengke. Doon pala nagtipon-tipon ang mga taong apektado ng bakbakan. Isa sa ipinagtataka ko ay tila walang naganap na kaguluhan sa bawat reaksiyon ng bawat isa.

Ilang oras lang mula nang lisanin namin ang bahay, muling sumiklab ang bakbakan sa pagitan ng mga Moro Islamic Liberation Front o MILF laban sa mga sundalo ng pamahalaan. Hindi ko man maintindihan ang dahilan ng hidwaan ng dalawang grupong iyon, alam kong marami ang apektadong mamamayan. Sa araw na iyon, hindi ako nakapag-ayuno ngunit isinagawa pa rin ito nina A’ma at I’na. Ipinagpatuloy nila ang pag-aayuno kahit hindi sila kumain sa madaling araw.

Pinagpahinga ako nina A’ma at I’na sa isang barong-barong sa padiyan. Ilang araw din ang aming pananatili sa padiyan. Minsan, natutulog kami sa mga paaralang nagsisilbing kanlungan namin. Kapag ceasefire naman, paisa-isang kinukuha ni A’ma ang gamit naming naiwan sa bahay. Minsan pa, naisipan kong maglakad-lakad sa padiyan. Pinagmasdan ko ang kapaligiran ng aking kinagisnang bayan. Tanging buntonghininga ko na lamang ang aking naririnig habang bumubulong ang mga putok sa kabilang bayan. Tanging alikabok na amoy pulbura ang aking nalalanghap at hindi na ang iba’t ibang amoy ng mga kakanin. Wala na rin ang mga nakikipagsiksikang mamimili. Tanging nakaharang na lamang na mga sasakyang pandigma ang nakatambay sa bawat kanto.  Tanging wasak na mga kawayan na lamang din ang kumakaway at hindi na ang makukulay na mga bandila. Mga anino at imahen na lamang ng kahapong matiwasay ang nanatili sa aking isipan. Ngunit mas takot ako sa kaisipang ang imaheng iyon ay mananatiling imahen na lamang at hindi na magiging realidad.

Kasabay nang putukang nagaganap sa may di kalayuan, naikintal sa aking murang isipan ang pangyayaring iyon. Isa lamang ang aking napagtanto sa pagkakataong iyon, maaari pala kaming mamuhay sa bayang binabalot ng gulo. Nabubuhay sa musika ng mga bala. Humihinga sa usok ng pulbura. Patuloy na mamamayagpag ang katiwasayan ng buhay sa kabila ng suliraning kinakaharap ng aming bayan. Patuloy sa paglalayag ang bawat mumunting pangarap ng mga Maguindanaoan sa kabila ng katotohanang kay hirap abutin, tulad ng paghahangad namin ng kapayapaan.

Wala mang kamuwang-muwang sa lahat ng nangyari, batid kong hindi ito tama, na hindi ito ang hinahangad ng bawat isa. Ang pangyayaring ito ang tunay na magpapatibay at huhubog ng aking pagkatao. Ang pangyayari sa aking bayang sinilangan ang huhulma sa aking kinabukasan. Ang bawat putok ng bala ang tutugtog habang tutuntunin ang daan tungo sa hinaharap. Ang simoy at hamog ng pulbura ang magbibigay ng anyo sa aking mga pangarap. Ang kislap at tilamsik ng bawat bala ang iilaw sa aking landas, sa aming bayan.

Simula pa lamang ang lahat ng masalimuot na pangyayari tungo sa pagbuo ng sampung titik ng salitang kapayapaan. Umaasang sa bawat titik ng salitang ito ay hindi tunog ng baril ang maririnig kundi ang ritmo ng kulintang at agong. Darating ang panahon na ang bawat mamamayan ng Maguindanao ay magtitipon-tipon sa padiyan hindi dahil kami ay nagsilikas kundi dahil ipagdiriwang namin ang salitang kapayapaan. Umaasa akong ang bawat bandila na nasa gilid ng daan ay patuloy na itataas, maiwawagayway, at kailanman ay hindi kukupas ang matitingkad nitong kulay.

Ang bayang aking kinalakhan at kinamulatan ay hindi naghihingalo. Ang bayan ko ay dinapuan lamang ng matinding sakit na hanggang ngayon ay hinahanapan ng lunas. Hanggang tumitibok ang puso ng mga mamamayan ng aking bayan, patuloy itong hihinga at hindi hahayaang tuluyang malason ng pulbura ng digmaan. Hanggang umuusbong ang mapa ng Maguindanao sa rehiyon ng ARMM, magpapatuloy na makikilala at tatatak ang pangalan nito dahil may buhay at mabubuhay kami sa kabila ng suliraning kinakaharap.

Mother and Son

by Lance Isidore Catedral

(This piece first appeared in the anthology Through the Eyes of a Healer.)

He cried like a baby, and maybe that was what he was in his mother’s eyes.

With her eyes closed, she looked like she was sleeping. On her arms and limbs were multiple bruises; they started appearing just six months ago, like random pencil blots on a skin canvas. Then came the pallor, unexplained weakness, and a feeling that something wrong was going on. She couldn’t put a name into it until months after her descent into being bedridden, just around the time when her doctor, after seeing her lab tests, to her she had leukemia.

The boy was fourteen, but he had the eyes of an old man who has been through a lot. He cared for her mother, brought her to the hospital for intermittent sessions of blood transfusions, put up with the long queues at the Blood Bank, and even pleaded with the Social Services staff to give her free antibiotics.

On Mother’s Day, he was still a boy — soft wisps of hair just starting to grow on his armpits, his voice barely beginning to crack — but already mother-less. Her mother’s blood infection was so profound that even the strongest antibiotics were rendered powerless. Her platelet count was too low as to graciously permit spontaneous bleeding to happen anywhere in her body: her eyes, her lungs, her brain. That was what killed her: a ruptured vessel, perhaps, that decided to snap in her cerebrum. She was gone in minutes.

As he grieved and sobbed and wished that this was all but a dream, IV lines were still attached to her mother’s veins made fragile by many pressure to the bare acceptable minimum were dripping in futility.

It was just another day at the hospital. They boy had to bring his mother’s body home. He had been through a lot, surely he could handle her mother’s funeral too.

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