Memories of Compound

By Estrella Taño Golingay
Essay

Compound was a popular name given to Surallah by its residents in its early days. The place was probably called such because it was the location of the motor pool for a government agency that functioned as authority in land appropriation and mapping in these areas. I grew up with that name, until such time that it became Libertad, the official name for the Poblacion. In those times, Compound was just a part of Banga, by then already a thriving town where people gathered during fiesta and school activities or watched a movie and purchased family stuff in its market.

My memories of Compound consisted of a clutter of huge farm machinery and equipment scattered all over the vacant area where the gym, municipal hall, and barangay buildings for health center and other social services now stand. It was covered with tall tigbao weed, cogon, and plants that creeped up the canopies of the giant graders, backhoes, harvesters, glides for children, and other steel structures. In the afternoons, after school dismissal, some of us living along the highway in the Allah Valley area would drop our cellophane or buri bags and climb the tall slides and other structures left to the elements. Somehow, our frolic helped preserve the equipment, with our nimble hands and legs getting rid of the unwanted weeds and polishing off the dust. A large warehouse contained the more gigantic equipment at the back of the property of the Habaluyas family, a block away from the highway. Later, scrap business surfaced as businessmen grabbed the opportunity, and soon those scrawny structures were gone.

At the middle of that wide junkyard were footways made by elementary pupils from the adjacent Libertad Central School in their effort to make shortcuts so as not to be late or caught while cutting classes. I was one of them, having started my elementary education in the same school. It was a massive two-story wooden building in U shape, housing the six classrooms and offices. The most remembered part of my elementary was the feeding program—the convenience food or Nutribun, the porridge, and sometimes the non-fat dried milk that we loved to pour into a cone-shaped piece of paper from which we could sip the milk as we walked home.

A community clinic and hospital was said to have existed on our lot along the highway at the Allah Valley area in the ’50s. When we came, some debris of the old structure were still visible, and remnants of medical essentials like tubes and small bottles with white tablets were scattered all over the place, stretching several lots behind. The abandoned place gave out an uncanny ambiance, and as pioneers claimed, that spot had become a haven of creepy sounds and sights, and true, I became an unwilling witness to a few eerie experiences.

Our old house was located a block away from the Alah Valley school, the first high school put up in the early ’60s, which my elder siblings attended and where an elder sister later taught. The school activities became the town entertainment since there were nothing else aside from the annual town fiestas. Hordes of people would flock at the low fence even for the simplest Philippine Military Training drills in the afternoons. It later expanded to college department since the faculty were from the University of the Philippines and proven to be experts in the field. I remember them when walking by the main cobbled road. We would literally drop whatever we were doing to watch them walking closely by, trying to name them and what they taught. For us kids and adults, they looked like gods and goddesses from the sky, with their tall height, fair skin, pretty faces, smart getup, and beautiful shoes. They were everyone’s idea of celebrities, and they inspired the parents to send their children to school. Add to that their Tagalog tongue that we could only hear on radio drama. Later, with winds of progress, a sectarian school, Notre Dame, was founded by the Passionist congregation in 1967 led by Fr. Paschal Smith, CP, who was also the first parish priest. It has been managed by St. Paul Sisters of Chartres. Rooting for sectarian system and exposure, the clientele, including myself, flocked to its door.

The first municipal office was a building at the right side of the Catholic church just before the hardware store. It was a bungalow-type structure raised some four feet high up so that the ground floor served as store room of boxes and pieces of wood and logs. All the main offices were there, including the post office, where we went for the mails. Along that street, opposite the massive house of the Habaluyas family, where Holy Child school now stands, was the largest store in town owned by the Tan family before they transferred to their present location. It was a huge wooden building with four steps up and around, the source of all that the community seemed to need, including rice, dried fish, over-the-counter medicine, nails, needles, large bread, and even dresses. Our Store—managed by the late Mr. Tan himself, or Intsik, as we fondly called him—was our little market because it seemed to have everything that we needed.

The original parish church was a smaller one on the same lot provided by the government but was later extended when the adjacent lot was bought through the effort of Fr. Hilarion Walters. I remember Fr. Smith, the first parish priest, a saintly, chubby, and jolly old man. He was so close to us children that he’d lift us and sometimes hoist the boys on his shoulders while trying to speak to us in Hiligaynon. Wherever he went, he was followed by kids. But before the building of the Catholic church, we would troop to the first Baptist church located in front of the health center when we were kids to watch biblical films on weekends and savor some candies given out.

Before it became Maharlika Highway, the main road was actually just a rough road, and my older siblings and other students who went to high school in Notre Dame of Banga either hiked or rode a cart pulled by a carabao passing it. I remember that our area was a hilly terrain. That was all leveled to the ground when construction equipment came to build better roads as the place was getting developed. By then, the first mode of transportation was the remnant of the U.S. open weapon carrier types: the open gray-colored four-wheeled vehicles and the covered one that rumbled along the rough road. When riding them, you had to be tough too, for it could toss you around when it swayed sideways and forward for every bump on the gravel road. Later, big buses of the Cotabato Bus company plied the highway from Dadiangas (now General Santos City) to Cotabato City and on to Davao City, which took a day and a half to travel.

Since there was no electricity, there were no television sets and other gadgets, and the only form of entertainment available was soap operas on the radio. The most popular drama series was Duelo sa Sapang Bato aired by DZXL every 6:30 PM. Since only my uncle Teoy had a radio set in the family, their yard would be full of friends and relatives every night without fail. Occasionally, a free movie would be shown in the plaza, sponsored by the soft drinks and soap companies as a form of advertisement. The type of films shown in the plaza was usually the Western cowboy movies of old. On this much-awaited nocturnal gatherings, the whole population of Compound would be at the plaza, leaving their houses with no one behind, to gather for the English movie, after which the walk back home would be abuzz with retelling of highlights that sometimes led to arguments on some misinterpretations. The following day, the movie would still be the topic among groups of people and children in the school until another event came to replace it. Another entertainment was the annual circus that offered a variety of shows, including drama, apart from the gymnastics, Ferris wheel, and the main attraction, which was the flying trapeze. It didn’t take long for the players to be the celebrity idols of the residents. In addition, people read novels and short stories found in Liwayway and Hiligaynon magazines and in the comics, such as Aliwan, Hiwaga, Tagalog Klasiks, and Pilipino Komiks, featuring the best artists and authors like Mars Ravelo.

Marketing in the early ’60s was something to relish especially if you had a little left to spend from the annual harvest of rice. A kilogram of palay was pegged by traders at 10 centavos, but the exchange rate was 3 Philippine pesos per 1 U.S. dollar, which made our currency very strong then. Early on, my mother had a small store on the ground floor of our house, so I was able to remember prices of commodities, such as soft drinks for only 15 centavos per bottle, rice for 20 to 30 centavos per ganta, and candies for 1 centavo each. In the market, fish could be bought from 50 to 80 centavos per kilogram and a meter of cloth from 50 centavos to 1.50 pesos depending on the kind. The first market area was composed of makeshift stalls on the same current spot. Later, when the market was modernized, it was transferred to the area where Libertad National High School now stands. It was an old rice field tilled by residents but was acquired by the government. My mother owned a stall in that market selling grocery items, and it was there where I was exposed to business.

In the early ’60s, with the progressive leadership of the first mayor, Jose T. Sison, Surallah was opened to the outside world with the opening of the first and only airport in the province and nearby places. The airstrip is a stone’s throw away from the market and still operates for smaller aircrafts nowadays, and its operation and location have spawned controversies. Having that airport in its early operations was a different experience for us kids, as it enabled us to have glimpses of very important personalities and events that the airplanes brought. We became accidental part of the welcoming party to big people like Pres. Diosdado Macapagal or the movie stars Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa, Liberty Ilagan, and others as we breached security and scrambled to reach for their hands for a touch or a handshake, which they gladly obliged. We relished telling others how beautiful and fragrant they were as we sniffed the air for a whiff of perfume they were wearing. It was easier for our leaders to regale us, the residents, with visitors during the inaugural fiestas with faces we only saw on Liwayway and Hiligaynon. For us, they were all “artistas” and they were an excellent complement to our local beauty queens coming from the Camachos of early ’60s, the Sisons, the Galangs, and other early queens we saw only during the parade and the coronation night during the anniversary fiestas.

The culture of beauty pageant was through popularity contest, requiring the highest monetary values for the queen and lesser for members of the royal court. The fiesta would usually end with a bang with the parade of winners, followed by the coronation night wherein celebrity guests were invited and important political figures crowned the queen and her court. They would then deliver their long speeches, making us yawn to our hearts’ content. But before that, the VIP couples, composed of the mayor and the councilors and their spouses and guests, were given the chance to dance the night away, giving the townspeople the thrill of the evening. Those evening revelries opened for us the Pandora’s box of fun and excitement while watching the public ballroom dance as the couples whirled their evening gowns to the beat of tango, cha-cha, and waltz for the adult and twist, limbo rock, and more for the younger ones. Those were the nights the people never missed so they could assert who the best dancer was or who wore the best gown as they reminisced the experience in their dining tables or with neighbors and friends at the corner store and marketplace. For days, the townspeople had the coronation night as their staple food. Who would have thought that in this southern part of Mindanao lay a young town where people of different regional background co-existed peacefully and so cosmopolitan in their outlook in life, warding off the so-called internal threats of extremists that had plagued other parts of the island.

The early days of Compound resonated with the more popular family names in the recesses of my mind, such as Sison, Habaluyas, Eleazar, Molina, Haguisan, Bendita, Camacho, Galang; the teachers Eslaban, Sagra, Sustento, Sta. Maria, Dogoldogol, Aguil, Dolar, Bayoguing, Pangilinan, and Dr. Velasquez; and the foreign religious Fr. Paschal, Fr. Raymond Pulvino, and Fr. Hilarion, among many others.

Living in Compound then was like living in a paradise, deserving a tribute all its own.

Editors and Contributors

CONTRIBUTORS

Midpantao Midrah G. Adil II is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato Province, but is currently on leave from his studies and working as a content writer for a digital marketing agency in Davao City. He served as an editor in chief of his alma mater’s official student publication and was born in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.

Glenn M. Arimas is from Midasayap, Cotabato Province, and a first year student at Southern Christian College, where he writes for the official student publication. He also likes mobile photography and making videos for YouTube.

Gerald Galindez teaches language and literature at the senior high school department of Notre Dame of Tacurong College in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat. He was a fellow for poetry at the 2018 Davao Writers Workshop and the 26th Iligan National Writers Workshop (2019), where he won a Jimmy Y. Balacuit Literary Award. He is also the winner of the national poetry contest of the Pananaw magazine of the United Methodist Church in 2008 and of the 2017 Cotabato Province Poetry Contest. As a zinester, he wrote I, Alone and Ginapasaya Mo Ako and co-edited Kalimudan: Literary Works from Sultan Kudarat and The Best of Sulat SOX. He earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education (major in English) from the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato Province. He also writes Christian songs.

Estrella Taño Golingay, of Surallah, South Cotabato, has a PhD in language education and is a retired professor of Notre Dame of Marbel University. In 1994, her poem “Si Nene at Ako sa Pagitan ng Gabi” won the first prize in the poetry contest of Home Life magazine.

Norsalim S. Haron is from Pikit, Cotabato Province, and teaches at Rajah Muda National High School in the same town. He is a graduate of Bachelor in Secondary Education (major in Filipino) at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato Province.

Alvin Larida teaches physics and chemistry at Dole Philippines School in Polomolok, South Cotabato. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and is currently finishing his master’s degree at Mindanao State University in General Santos City.

Ma. Isabelle Alessandra M. Mirabueno is currently a grade 12 (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics strand) student at the Quantum Academy in General Santos City, where she serves as the managing editor and editorial writer of the school publication.

Mubarak M. Tahir is a pure-blooded Maguindanao–Moro from Datu Piang, Maguindanao. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Filipino Language cum laude at Mindanao State University in Marawi City. He won the third prize for Filipino Essay at the 2017 Palanca Awards, and his work has been published in journals, newspapers, and anthologies. Currently, he is a Filipino instructor at Mindanao State University in General Santos City.

EDITORS

Jude Ortega (Editor in Chief) is the author of the short story collection Seekers of Spirits (UP Press, 2018). He was a fellow for fiction in six writers workshops, including the 55th University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop (2016) and the 53rd Silliman University National Writers Workshop (2014). In 2015, he received honorable mention at the inaugural F. Sionil José Young Writers Awards and at the Philippines Graphic Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. He studied political science at Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and currently stays most of the time in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat.

David Jayson Oquendo (Editor for Fiction) is from Polomolok, South Cotabato, and works in Davao City as an electrical engineer. He was a fellow for fiction at the 2018 Davao Writers Workshop and is a former editor in chief of the official student publication of Mindanao State University in General Santos City.

Andrea D. Lim (Editor for Poetry) is working as an editor for a publishing company in Cebu City while taking her master’s degree in literature at the University of San Carlos. She was a fellow at the 24th Iligan National Writers Workshop (2017) and is a former editor in chief of the official student publication of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. Her family lives in General Santos City.

Paul Randy P. Gumanao (Editor for Poetry) hails from Kidapawan City, Cotabato Province, and teaches chemistry at Philippine Science High School–SOCCSKSARGEN Region Campus in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. He was a fellow for poetry at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2010 IYAS National Writers Workshop. He is a former editor in chief of the official student publication of Ateneo de Davao University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and is finishing his master’s degree in chemistry.

Hazel-Gin Lorenzo Aspera (Editor for Nonfiction) is a registered nurse, artist, and writer. She spent her childhood in Cotabato City and is now based in Cagayan de Oro City. A fellow for literary essay at the 1st Cagayan de Oro Writers Workshop, some of her feature stories appear in the book Peace Journeys: A Collection of Peacebuilding Stories in Mindanao. Currently, she is Associate Director for Communications and Junior Fellow for Literary Essay of Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro (NAGMAC).

Jennie P. Arado (Editor for Nonfiction) is from Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and currently works for a newspaper in Davao City as editor of the lifestyle section. She earned her BA in English (major in creative writing) from the University of the Philippines–Mindanao and was a fellow for creative nonfiction at the 2016 University of Santo Tomas National Writers Workshop. Her story “Ang Dako nga Yahong sang Batchoy” won the South Cotabato Children’s Story Writing Contest in 2018.

Norman Ralph Isla (Editor for Play) is from Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, and a department head at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He was a fellow for drama at the 2015 Davao Writers Workshop and at the 4th Amelia Lapeña–Bonifacio Writers Workshop (2019). Several of his plays have been staged in General Santos City and South Cotabato.

Jose Comes Home

By Estrella Taño Golingay
Poetry

Tonight, he prays for the blessings
of the gods. As he clutches his M16
rifle, he gazes at the sky and searches
for a miracle. He sees no stray
meteor shooting by. No star.

Only a blinding light quickly searing
the night sky, at times, a deaf drum
falling into pieces and sharp knocks
loud enough to reiterate stories told.
He bounces back in full gear.

Wish! His heart racing under
his shirt. There is no one
to witness the last fray except
the classic fall of his only star
and the volley of lead.

There were more he remembers
As he’d dodge them hurtling by.
Run! his comrades urged him
and his falling into a deep sleep.

His family gathers for him
tonight, gnashing their teeth
on questions floating over
the draping of the flag.

Stoked: Sixteen Works from Young Writers

It’s a rich harvest for Cotabato Literary Journal’s second anniversary issue. The pieces I’ve chosen from writers who are eighteen years old or below are mostly characteristic of the Gen Zers—fast, inclusive, and more competitive in substance. Clearly, the young writers have leveled up in their craft.

The fast pace is shown by the single-page flash fiction and the creative non-fiction the writers have chosen to embody their creative gems. The first group of fiction centers on varied social issues and how the main characters react to them: “The World Keeps Spinning” by John Gied Calpotura is about the critical issue of suicide and how the younger sibling, the main character, counteracts depression on realizing why everything is the same despite her loss of a sister. In “Sa Kaunting Panahon,” Gerard F. Distor, the author, tackles the sensitive issue of abortion using the first person point of view of the main character who happens to be the unborn itself, while “Thorn” by Irish Petipit plays with irony of situation over a wrong choice and how this has left him in the cold.

The young writers also venture into the realm of queer literature, a unique concept with “Bahaghari” by Bryant Lee Niervo Morales, where the gay character poses spiritual questions until he discovers the gender of his mother on her grave. He was gay all along. Then there is “Just Me, You, and the Moon” by Edzelyn Oñate, a heartwarming story about the coming-of-age of two young male friends starting to discover each other.

The two creative nonfiction pieces discuss the nuances, the simple joys, and sorrows of ordinary life. “A Walk on the Ramp” by Mark Vincent M. Lao describes the amusing journey of pageant winnings and the subsequent life lessons learned in the language the writer is apparently comfortable with. “Ukay-ukay” by Angelo Serrano is an honestly down-to-earth narrative of disappointment and regret over a wrong decision.

Although the pieces explore both ordinary and extraordinary adolescent experiences, the depth of emotions felt are raw and personally intense for each individual writer who is trying to find his or her niche in life as each is initiated into the many facets of adolescence and the subsequent reactions.

The poems in the free verse tradition come as a surprise. For eighteen years old and below, the poets have armed themselves with craftsmanship ready to be recognized. The following poems likewise echo the same ramifications of experiences and their attendant emotions as their prose counterpart: “My Shadow” by Erron Marc A. Hallarsis and “Dark Adaptations” by Mary Antonette P. Fuentes are both rich in the dichotomy of the opposites as both walk through the valley of uncertainty illumined by darkness with a dash of accommodation thereafter. What a play on irony in Antonette’s rain falls, stacking in the gutter and silence resonates and Erron’s I don’t want to be alone, yet I want this out of my life.

“Halimaw sa Dilim” by Adrian Arendon, like Erron’s, speaks of the fears he harbors inside, something he can’t get away from, for who can run away from oneself? “Monsters” by Xaña Angel Eve M. Apolinar echoes similar thoughts she writes in a letter form.  Yumi Ilagan’s “Mother Kept Me Awake,” one of the best in the bunch, uses the power of metaphor as she successfully personifies darkness that entraps her as in dark consumes my mind, I loved the dark too much, dark would take me away. Yumi aptly uses tension and has control over it.

Good metaphor is the key to a clever imagery and, therefore, a successful poem. “The Rose” by Reylan Gyll J. Padernilla is such. The whole poem is a pervading metaphor of a rose to a relationship. Then here comes “si yolanda” by Marianne Hazzle J. Bullos in her attempt at form and meaning. She has crafted her poem in the form of a tornado and succeeded in bringing out the experience.

Lastly, not every writer is comfortable writing on the subtleties of sexuality, but Jo-ed B. Evangelista does it in a quatrain entitled “Lust,” written to tease like a bait dangling before the reader’s eyes. Most of all, there’s “Ritwal at Dalangin ng Hamog” by Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir. His use of sexual act to personify a ritual to induce rain is so clever. Perhaps because he uses Filipino, Adrian comes out most adept in putting more substance between the lines, such as Magiging tubig sa palay ang pawis, na malalaglag mula sa mga bisig, pagsapit ng ikasiyam na buwan, aanihin ang gintong lupain.

Nice one, Gen Zers!

 

Estrella Taño Golingay
Surallah, South Cotabato

Heneral

By Estrella Taño Golingay
Fiction

The neighborhood would usually start to stir up to the insistent crowing of the roosters. As clumps of leaves gradually appeared against the sky, household sounds would signal the daily routine of chores. Then the lowing of herds would enliven the farm road, creating an urgency for those who had different deadlines to meet.

“Get up, Budz!” Nanay called from the kitchen where she was preparing breakfast. “Gather taro or Tope would get them first!” I could almost see her puttering around, her voice rising above the early morning din as she requested Tatay to fetch some water. “After that, dry again the rice you just harvested, so you can have it milled after.” Tatay was feeding the fowls outside, and maybe he could hear my mother, but I didn’t hear him reply.

The noise in the kitchen and the fowls dominated the early morning scene. Those sounds had filled my mornings since I was a little boy, and I had grown accustomed to that kind of music. Outside the half-opened window, I could still make out the silhouettes of the durian and mango trees as the sun was about to come out of Roxas Mountains. Still I sat there on the mat, my back against the hardness of the kalakat wall, trying to ward off sleep. I stretched out and shifted my legs to stand up reluctantly, and the bamboo floor creaked as I wobbled on my feet. I headed slowly to the kitchen, fearing the chronic morning speeches.

Then I thought of Heneral and remembered clearly how he got that name. It had been four months since we had him, and being the only male and the eldest in a brood of three, I felt I was the instant owner. It was the same feeling when we got Pia as a birthday gift from a cousin last year.

“He’s mine, and I’ll call him Heneral!” I had proudly declared, to which no one had objected.

“We can’t afford hog feeds,” Nanay reminded me. “You know that. So as usual, we have to make do with wild veggies, kitchen leftovers, and refined chaff from the nearby rice mill.” That meant I’d look for taro leaves along the irrigation canals and swampy nooks, and then cook the leaves in a large vat so that the hog could be fed in the mornings and in the afternoons when I arrived home from school.

“Been doing that, Nay,” I jestingly added.

Abaw! hambog ba,” she jokingly said. “In exchange for what, may I know?”

“He-he-he, you know what I mean, Nay!” Then I remembered that for a month or two more, Heneral would have to go.

That morning was unusually arid, and the fields were dry and cracked like old skin with open sores. The feeder canal, too, had been almost empty for a month now. There were still clumps around, but the leaves had shrunk because of lack of rain. However, there was a large variety of taro grown domestically in backyards with large leaves and edible roots they called palawan, but those, too, had been reduced to stumps. Fortunately, with Pia to accompany me, I was able to gather some for Heneral’s fodder by taking the extra kilometer walk towards Kusan, sauntering along the irrigation canal with the hope of finding some of those much-coveted leaves.

But the best part of the hunt was to stand with my cousin on the highest hump by the canal. We’d squawk our hearts out at the feeding egrets, and they would scamper away to the sky and back while the sun slowly claimed the landscape. I had always loved the sight of those great white birds with their wide wings spread over the fields. That early morning ritual would usually end with a waft of breeze carrying the scents of young rice plants and loamy mud ready for planting. I recalled having done this with my cousins since I was little, as I used to accompany Nanay when she joined rice planters at the onset of rainy season. Just standing there, I felt the sky wasn’t so far then.

I found the chopping board hewn from an old kamatsili tree and started to cut the taro stems into two-inch or three-inch pieces and the leaves into shreds. The pieces fell unto an old sack that I had put under the chopping board. I was able to finish a sackful, which already filled the old lead vat my mother had received from my lola as an heirloom. That vat had been a constant fixture in the backyard as Mother never ran out of hogs to feed to make ends meet. Seeing it meant there was something to expect. In my mind, taking care of Heneral might give me what I’d been asking for: a new basketball to replace the lost one and a used cell phone maybe, which she had promised lately if I got better grades. But as usual Tatay wouldn’t budge.

He said, “We need a new scythe this weekend and a new bicycle tire to replace the broken one.” His words sounded final and curt, so I just sat there not saying anything, feeling the hardness of the bamboo bench secured under a guava tree. I always took Father’s words like they’re spoken by a chief, but in the end, he gave in a little as he quipped, “Join me in harvesting rice at your Uncle Umeng’s, and you’ll get what you’re asking for.”

His pacifying tone somehow made me relax.

“We have to join more harvests as those maybe our last.” Tatay’s voice quivered a little, and I saw him looking sad when I turned to look at him.

“Besides, there’s no more ulon-ulon to gather,” Nanay suddenly butted in as she folded our newly laundered clothing. “The huge harvesters have taken over the rice farms and everything goes in.”

Then I remembered the rice field my father had maintained in Dajay. He’d usually get several sacks from there, and that had been a great help for our consumption. But the previous July, it was infested by black bugs and rats, and there was the perennial maya bungol, always ready to swoop down on the yellowing fields and beat the farmers to the grains. I still laughed at why they were called such. Father had said that no matter how hard they were driven away, they would always come back.

Those mornings and weekends last July were the most memorable ones as we shooed the birds away with used cassette tapes tied at different directions of the field. The lines emitted blinding light when the sun rays struck the strips, and scared birds off. Sometimes, we would string empty tin cans across the field and shake the strings to create a resounding noise as I booed the loudest, driving them away. After that, I would let out a hearty laugh, but then, they’d come back, and I’d get tired doing that again and again, and it wasn’t fun anymore.

“I don’t think there’s much to expect from the coming harvest in Dajay, either,” Tatay said. “You saw what happened there.” He had a faraway look.

“Yes, Tatay,” I said softly, trying hard not to appear sad knowing it was something that happened to all rice planters as my mother said.

Hay, the Lord knows what we need,” Nanay said, sighing. “Let’s just be thankful for what we are given.” She would usually seal our fate with that mantra every time the harvest season failed.

But I got my red basketball nevertheless, after a day and a half of absence from school. The cell phone had to wait until next harvest time or when the hog was traded. So that day, I saw to it that fire was enough for the forage before I left, and with one last glimpse, I was off to school at the poblacion, almost four kilometers away from our village. But before I could even get out of the door, Father called my attention again and warned me earnestly. “Salvador, remember what we talked about.” Father’s index finger was pointing at me. “No late-night basketball games, especially with that cousin of yours!”

I could only nod in solemn reply while recalling the incident over a year ago. For two days, I was grounded for failing to be home after a basketball tournament at the poblacion. I never saw my father that angry before, and for the first time, I recoiled with fear at the fierceness of his eyes. I almost got a punch on my stomach had it not been for my mother coming between me and that fist of fury.

“That good-for-nothing son of yours,” Tatay said. “Look who was with him! You don’t even care whom he goes out with!”

Instantly, I felt brave for my mother, afraid he would hit her, and he wasn’t even tipsy, so I shielded her with my frail body, but he shoved me to the wall, so hard that I suffered some bruises. I didn’t see what happened next, but I heard her shouting, “Tama na!” which brought my two siblings to the scene, their cries adding to the commotion.

I learned my lesson the hard way. Looking back, I felt there was more shame than fear. But then eventually, Nanay knew about the online games and how I actually lost my money on betting. For that, I had to pay the price. But she didn’t know about the girl with curly hair and dimpled smile in the section next to ours and how I bought her stuffed toy at the ukay-ukay last fiesta.

That afternoon, after our dismissal at Libertad National High School, Tope came running to where I stood waiting for my siblings and whispered, “Come, it won’t take us long, just a game or two.”

“Computer shops are full by now,” I replied. “Besides, got no money.”

“It won’t take long, Budz,” Tope insisted. “I’ll pay for you. Just pay me back later.”

“How about Mira and Bebing?”

“You can just tell them you need a little time for your homework. And do you know that Odet now stays with her aunt?” Tope whispered something close to my ear and winked at me teasingly with a grin.

“Oh no, Topz. Not again. You’re always putting me in trouble.” I faked anger, shoving him off. I wasn’t sure, but I felt my whole body smiling on hearing that name.

“Hoy, Tope! Aren’t you coming home with us?” Mira shouted at Tope as she arrived with Bebing almost stooping with her backpack on. “Let’s go home, kuya. Stay away from that bum!”

“I’m hungry, kuya!” whined the little one as she darted to the nearest stall of native delicacies.

“Some other time maybe, Topz,” I finally decided. “Here comes the tricycle,” I said more to myself than to Tope as I assisted my siblings inside while I took the back ride.

Talawit!” Tope taunted me. “I’ll tell it all! Talawit! Talawit!” Tope sneered at me repeatedly at the top of his voice as we drove away. “Bring it on, Topz!” I laughingly shouted back, feeling braver this time to face any form of bullying. Soon the tricycle was struggling on the potholes towards home with twelve young passengers, four of which were enthroned on the rooftop.

Heneral stayed with us for two months more, and that meant same routine of gathering and preparing taro fodder. His squeaking may be earsplitting, but in time I had become accustomed to it and learned to like it being part of the usual sounds of home. Then I had that feeling my father liked me taking care of Heneral because I had something to do for the family.

My sisters and I enjoyed bathing Heneral when Nanay was too busy to do it. He liked being stroked at his underbelly and the gush of water on his back. Mira enjoyed the splash of water all over the pen, but one time, she tossed water nonchalantly upwards, and we got the share of the bath, so I complained loudly amidst her giggles and the snorting of the hog. “Mira, stop wasting water and help me clean the pen instead!” We had kept clean the hog’s pen, which was an open four-square-meter structure with four-foot buffer of split bamboo wall around. Any foul smell emanating from it would invite trouble from the neighboring households and a report to the barangay officials meant a warning. Keeping hogs for market somehow made us feel secure with the source of income just on hand.

“Next year, you’ll be in grade seven, and there’ll be more expenses to meet,” Nanay said seriously. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing school again, so I’d been trying to be good with my grades. I would also help my father as I promised especially during off-harvest season, which had usually been a lean season. Like these months, she had already spent the 4Ps allotment on food and other immediate needs. But one time, after claiming her share from Landbank, she surprised us with a fried chicken, and how we cheered her for that.

The impending sale of Heneral made us kids sad. My aunt was suddenly brought to the hospital the night before, and Nanay had to borrow money again for her. That meant she had another debt to pay, so she promised the hog as payment. But I thought that was better than betting the money again on number 88 that she had been maintaining. She said the number was given to her by a Chinese merchant, and it had always been a lucky number. But the last time she placed a bet and lost, my father was so mad, their argument ended with a broken window.

“We’ll get another one to replace him when he goes, don’t you worry,” she assured me, sensing my unusual silence. I remembered that it had happened before, so I just had to let go and wait.

“But how about the cell phone you promised, Nanay?” I asked softly. “Maybe we can get one from the store, just like Jopet’s.”

She didn’t answer.

“Go ask your auntie Rosie if she’s still selling her old one,” she said suddenly, surprising me a bit.

On second thought she quipped, “Oh, let me do that. It’s Sunday tomorrow, right? Rose usually reads at the Bible service.”

So one Saturday morning, the buyer arrived, riding an open motorbike-driven cart. In it were two helpers and an old weighing scale used for hogs.  Nong Domi, as they called him, had dark shades on, so I couldn’t make out what he really looked like. He entered the house premises towards the pig pen without the usual amenities. That surprised me because Nanay always told us never to enter people’s yards without greeting the owners first. The elders said that it’s like theft.

From the side window, I watched the old man instruct his helpers to tie the hog and snag it on the weighing scale, squinting as he arranged the lead weight. Soon after, he counted some money before giving it to my mother, who was quick to note the weight of her hog beforehand. Then quickly, he directed his helpers to load the shrieking animal on the cart. Seeing the squealing Heneral hogtied, I felt anger or sadness maybe, and I thought he must be asking for help. To my surprise, Nanay didn’t accept the money.

“Will you please count it on the table first before I take it?” she demanded, and this made the old man uncomfortable.

“What’s the point?” he asked. “Here’s the money in full. Don’t you want it?” He was resentful. Nevertheless, he counted the money again while my mother watched contemptuously.

“We agreed on ninety pesos per kilo before you came, and my hog weighs eighty-six!” she explained. “How come you counted five thousand less? Is there a mistake somewhere?” I almost forgot that my mother finished second year high school and was best in Mathematics in her class.

“But it’s already loaded!” Nong Domi defiantly declared as he tapped hard on the table in front of him, causing Pia to start barking. Soon, our street was a long blast of canine protest.

“Then put my hog back down!” Nanay suddenly raised her voice, stunning us all.

“I’m not selling it anymore, and there’s your money!” she added in a loud voice almost equal to his booming one. “I haven’t touched it!” she continued, her voice surprisingly clear and strong.

“It’s not good for business to take back a merchandise already loaded!” he yelled back, and the old man’s impatience started to attract attention from the neighbors. Anxiously then, I went out hurriedly on my mother’s side with my siblings tugging at my T-shirt.

“Kuya, kuya, wait!” Bebing fearfully pleaded as she and Mira held on to me.

“Stay away from him,” she murmured nervously while shaking my arm. But I just walked on, emboldened by a newly acquired courage thrust on eldest sons when placed on the spot, but stopped when I noticed something unusual. Nanay just stood there confidently commanding everyone’s attention. She looked calm but surprisingly fierce. That was a difficult spot for all of us, for I’d known my mother when she was sure and angry.

Suddenly, more people popped out of their doors, spilling into the street, and for the first time, I was extremely glad to have them as my neighbors. Then some male harvesters belonging to Father’s harvest group had come hoping for a glass of tuba. Times like those, they would usually talk about pressing  matters while waiting for their share, but at that time, Tatay hadn’t returned yet from Uncle Umeng’s store where he sold their harvested palay. Unexpectedly then, they became an audience to the farce thrust into them.

“I’m glad he isn’t here,” I whispered to myself, feeling relieved he wasn’t around to witness all those. Knowing Father, I was sure he wouldn’t take such an affront lightly. In that uneasy silence, everybody just gazed at the scene and waited for the next move of the old man as he fumbled for words to say. Finding none, he grudgingly completed the amount and threw the additional money on the table, cursing under his breath.

“There, you can have all of that and you can be rich!” He stomped out of the yard while my mother kept her composure with a glare she couldn’t hide. He then hurriedly mounted his motorbike, and off they went with a kick, a dark swirl of dust trailing behind as he dodged the street mongrels barking fiercely after them. Instinctively, everyone on the street just stood and insolently eyed the speeding vehicle. Then, as we were about to go back to the house, there was a heavy thud and the dust cleared.

Early Morning in Surallah

By Estrella Taño Golingay (Poetry)

We skip the puddles,
walk briskly the still lighted streets,
past the landmarks and school edifice
jogging memories of my youth,
flitting, fretting round
the arch growing noses
the road breeding ears
We keep away from what they whisper
but they climb over the walls
to catch up with us.
Stunned.
We pretend it’s just
an ordinary affair and hurry
back to the archetypes
my climbing up and down
the view deck like scaling
life’s ladder, in sync
with the early morning hues:
muted tales lacing the sleek walls
of the town hall and the early
newscast made of brewed coffee,
zooming in steadfast sprinters
on fish-eyed chronicles
Here against the light, my significant other
and I bend the haze and carve the air
smoke grows on our limbs,
wings on our heels.

Trail

By Estrella Taño Golingay (Poetry)

Where the river was
is a trail built for the
gods. I can tell them by

the way they point their
fingers, leaves fleeing
down in fear. I hide

behind bars of fallen twigs
like a fugitive, my limbs
like pillars of vines. Things

solid get even here, curt
and clever in one sweep
of steel and teeth.

I must get back to where
Ye Famben toils on the
heels of Mt. Matutum

tell her how I miss her and
the songs of the woods she
used to sing for me, tell her

how scared I am of these
persistent stories slowly
claiming our hills and trees.

So I trace the footsteps home.
There were thousands on the
path back to Lamfitak.

Now there are only pebbles
and new sand that keep on
getting between my toes.