Lights of Different Colors

By Erwin Cabucos

This piece first appeared on FourW28 Anthology.

Christy dabs her eyes to dry her tears with the flannelette sheet as she pulls it up to her neck, tucking herself in tightly against the creeping chill of Hong Kong’s winter. From her space under the laundry bench, between the washing machine and the refrigerator, she can see the kaleidoscopic glow reflected on Kowloon Bay, especially if she tilts her head up from her pillow. She inhales the peace of the moment, disturbed only by the intermittent whirring of the refrigerator motor, but she has learned to love the noise as a symbol of where she is and what she is doing for her family.

When she started work five years ago as a maid for the Chen family, on the twenty-ninth floor of a building in Admiralty, the refrigerator noise used to rob her of sleep. But it’s become a symbol of the importance of her job, of her ability to feed her family back in the Philippines, to send her daughter to study nursing at the Davao Doctors College and to save money so she can send her son to a university soon. She has learned to accept the things she used to hate.

She yawns and rubs her feet together for warmth as she does every night before she falls asleep. Then she makes the sign of the cross—something she’s done all her life—as she thinks of the people she loves and prays for their safety.

Finally, she looks at the picture of her family on her phone. It is the last image she wants imprinted on her mind as she closes her eyes. As she outlines the faces of her loved ones with a finger, the latest FaceTime messages from her daughter Melody pop up: I love you, Mang. Indi lang magkabalaka sa amon diri kay okay lang kami. Don’t worry about us, for we are fine here. Mag-capping na ako sa sunod bulan. We’ll our capping ceremony next month. Love you man daw siling ni Papang kag ni Jun-Jun. Didto ko kaina sa Carmen. Papang and Jun-Jun also send their love. I was at home with them earlier today.

“I love you too, Melody,” Christy whispers. She feels her eyes start to water again. But before the flood of tears can come, she stands to get some cold water from the fridge and gulps the liquid down, staring at the shimmering lights that filter between the buildings and the bay. The colors that pierce the darkness give her a sense of triumph, knowing that, despite their poverty and her having to work as a domestic helper far from home, she is able to pay the expensive tuition fees and textbooks needed for her daughter’s education, which only the well-to-do can afford in her hometown. Holding the glass, Christy leans on the washing machine and stares at the city, hoping that one day her hard work will pay off and Melody will be the one to send her brother to college. Then, at last, she and her husband will be able to retire with a little help from their two children.

She sighs at the thought that beyond the array of buildings, a two-hour flight from this island-city, her family is also going to sleep. She wishes she were there now to advise Jun-Jun, her sixteen-year-old son, to stay away from bad influences, especially drugs.

The knock on the door jolts her. Christy puts on her slippers and slides her jumper over her shoulders as she walks through the kitchen and lounge room to get to the front door. She thinks it must be Kwok Wei, Chen’s only child, who always ignores his parents’ instruction to study hard and to come home on time. He’s always been a concern for Mr. and Mrs. Chen and was even suspected of having been involved in illegal drugs last year, at the age of only fifteen.

The teenager’s body rolls on the floor as Christy swings the door open. “Kwok Wei, are you okay?”

His eyes are half-open. He struggles to stand, and then he braces himself with one hand as he sits on the floor.

Before Christy finishes her sentence, a pinkish goo escapes from his mouth, spilling on his shirt and onto the carpet. Christy’s eyes go wide. “Ay, yudiputa nga bata ni a, pakuskusun pa gid ko sang carpet,” she curses at the prospect of de-staining and deodorizing the carpet, one of many things she hates about this job.

“Sorry, Auntie Christy.” He grabs the side of the door to pull himself upright and wobbles towards his bedroom.

Mrs. Chen appears, trembling in anger. “Could you be any more stupid? Drinking at fifteen is not only illegal but extremely dangerous. You could have died!” Her high-pitched voice pierces Christy’s ears. Mrs. Chen’s hand flies onto her son’s head; his face twists from the impact. “Clean yourself. You are grounded! No more internet. No more games. No more pocket money . . .”

Christy starts to sweep up the slime, trying not to gag from the smell.

“M-ma, it was only because of my friend’s request. I couldn’t reject him. He only turns eighteen once,” the teen mumbles. He slips to the floor, leaning on the side of his bed.

Mr. Chen comes out in his boxer shorts. “All right, listen,” he says, pointing at his son. “This should be the last time I see you drunk. None of this stupid thing from now on, do you understand?”

Kwok Wei nods while looking down.

Mr. Chen shakes his head. “It’s probably bad influences from those friends of yours. Stop hanging out with them kids. They don’t do you any good.”

“It’s not about his friends, lóuhgùng. I know their families.” Mrs. Chen scuttles towards the teenager, avoiding the spot Christy is trying to clean. She stabs his head with her forefinger. “It’s his stupid head!” She crosses her arms and breathes rapidly. “Christy, can you also help him clean himself? She asks in a way that makes it an order. “He’s a mess!” Mrs. Chen hurries back to their bedroom, muttering and cursing at why, despite the other things she has to worry about, what with the budgeting and forecasting she has to submit to her company tomorrow, the heavens also saw fit to give her a child that brings hell into her life.

“Get your act together, son!” Mr. Chen says as he follows his wife to their bedroom.

After drying the floor, Christy now sprays the spot with a carpet deodorizer. She hurries to the bathroom and turns on the water before going to the teenager’s bedroom to undress him. She pinches the hem of his shirt, pulls it up, and throws it in the washing basket. Kwok Wei stands up, holding on to the side of his bedroom door, and pushes his jeans and underpants down. She hasn’t helped him undress or change for years, but tonight is different, confirming the fact that parenting teenagers do bring unpleasant surprises at times. She cannot help but notice his uncircumcised penis on the patch of black pubic hair he has grown since she last saw him naked, and she hands him a towel to cover himself. When he was young, she would wrap him in the towel, but now the teenager snatches it from her fingers, realizing the awkwardness of exposing himself to her. As she follows him to the bath, Christy recalls her son and the time she has lost in not being there to care for him, and perhaps to get angry with him when she needs to, like most parents do when their children misbehave. Why, she asks herself, does she have to lease her love to others to show its genuineness?

Kwok Wei hands the towel to her and dunks himself in the bath. He stretches his legs while resting his head on the tiles, letting out a groan as the warm water soothes him. He closes his eyes and cups some water in his hands to pour on himself. Steam bellows to the ceiling. Christy lets some air in, conscious not to open the window widely. She squirts liquid soap onto a sponge and hands it to the boy. He simply dangles it, dripping soap over the edge of the bath. She takes it and rubs it on his chest, neck, and face. He closes his eyes and moves his chin as she scrubs his skin.

“Thank you, Auntie Christy.” Kwok Wei’s voice is still slurred. He lifts his hands and wraps them around Christy’s shoulders, wetting her blouse as he pulls her close. “Thank you very much. You’re always here for me, more so than my mother.”

Christy sees the redness and the brimming with tears in his half-closed eyes. She is touched by the words of her employers’ son who she feels could easily be her own over the years she has spent helping bring him up. “Don’t cry, Kwok Wei. That’s what I’m here for. Your parents pay me to do this. Wipe your tears.” She stands up to get his toothbrush and squirts some toothpaste on it before handing it to him. C’mon, brush your teeth before going to bed.”

“You may just be doing your job here for money, but what you do goes far beyond what Ma’s and Pa’s money could buy.” He pours some more water on his chest. “You’re more than that. A-and, thanks for being here.”

“That’s okay, Kwok Wei. I guess your parents are right. Don’t drink. You’re too young for that.”

“You know my friends didn’t really force me to drink. You have no idea how much I hate my stupid life! I don’t think there is any purpose to it.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I left the party and walked and walked, feeling sorry for myself and thinking about ending everything. You know . . .”

“Oh, Kwok Wei.”

“I called my friends, but they were busy.” He splashes some water on his face and sweeps it down with his palm. “I didn’t realize I was walking along the busway at Harcourt Road. I was beeped at. I thought I was going to get run over.”


“I was pulled over by the police near Admiralty. Luckily, they didn’t arrest me. Then I paid someone to buy me some beer, and I sculled a few more bottles of San Miguel on my way home.”

“You know my son is roughly the same age as you. He wants to be a police officer after hearing that our new president will increase the salaries of the police.” She wipes the boy’s feet but looks at his face. “If you want, you can come with me to the Philippines during my next holiday. But it’s very hot there.”

“I like being in warm places.”

“Not only that, we are also poor. Our house is very poor. You know—no flush toilets, no hot water. We only have hard beds made of bamboo.”

“My teacher said it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor. What matters is you’re happy. Are you happy, Auntie Christy?”

“Yes, Kwok Wei, I’m generally happy. I feel sad too, but more happy than sad. I’m happy because I can support my family in the Philippines out of poverty. At least they have something to eat.”

“That’s really good. I’m sure your kids are really proud of you, and your husband, too.”


“And you shouldn’t worry about being poor then. You know what you ought to do in your life. You make others happy. Really, you are doing things that make you happy.”

“I guess so. I guess that’s life.” Christy smiles and breathes in deeply.

“I don’t know what I want, Auntie Christy. What do you think I should do? I am pretty good at math.”

“You have plenty of opportunities, Kwok Wei. Your parents have money, your country is rich, and you have access to good education. Use these things to your advantage, to make good future. Stop thinking of negative, nonsense things.”

Christy mentions about possible courses he should consider, and she makes him agree to see his school counselor the following day. Eventually, she tucks him into bed and turns the lights off before walking back to her narrow mattress.

She hears the tell-tale moans of pleasure from Mr. and Mrs. Chen’s room at the far end of the apartment and thinks about her husband, and how she wishes she could be with him right now. She wraps herself once more with the flannelette sheet before spreading the quilt on top of her and ducks her head under the covers before checking the photograph of her family one last time on her phone. It’s 1:50 AM. In four hours she has to get up again to make her employers breakfast before they go to work. She thinks about what she will wear to take Kwok Wei to the school counselor. Perhaps she shouldn’t go for a motherly look, just jeans and a white top—the one with undefeated printed on it that Melody sent her last Christmas. Kwok Wei’s words to her tonight are like a balm that massages her aching back and feet, giving her warmth and strength in the isolation from those she loves.

Unexpectedly her phone vibrates softly and a text comes up. It is her husband, Lando: I miss you, Chris. I love you, palangga.

She presses the auto response button that returns her usual message to him—her love. She hugs the phone to her chest and closes her eyes.

She is already asleep as the image of her family fades from the screen. Streaks of Kowloon light reflect on her face from the side of the fridge as its motor runs once more, unnoticed in the night.


The Road

By Rossel Audencial

There is a checkpoint ahead.

“Expired akong lisensiya,” mutters the driver before he swerves the tricycle to the right, away from the waiting men in uniform along FilAm Avenue of Brgy. Fatima. The passengers are silent. It has been raining hard since that early afternoon and most of us are drenched from the trip downtown. Good thing, I brought a jacket with me.

Even before the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, checkpoints already scattered in relative areas along the major roads in General Santos City. Blue or Yellow Boys wave at tricycle or single motorcycle drivers to stop at the roadside and examine faces, licenses, and vehicles.

I am sitting at the two-person back seat to the right. In front of me is a woman in her late twenties who keeps on swiping and tapping her cell phone. Beside the driver are two teenagers my age, male and female, their hands intertwined.

The tricycle continues to a two-lane cemented street with residential houses along the way. This street leads to the former public cemetery which has been privatized. Light posts stand in a distance from each other. The lights only cover a little area around their posts. The houses are cast into shadows.

After continuing on a straight road for a while, the driver takes a turn to the left. A woman stands alone beside a light post, its light only a faint glow above us. The driver stops for her. She whispers something before embarking at the back and sitting opposite me. We leave the cemented street and move on to a narrow dirt road. At first, the way is illuminated by the bulbs of the houses we pass by; fences enclose us on both sides. I feel the tricycle strain as the driver navigates it through mud holes, moving to the left or to the right as the road allows, the tires squirting mud. Single motorcycles overtake us and speed away. Another tricycle tails us for a while but it turns to a lone street. Gradually, the houses thin as we go on until we arrive at a crossroad. All we can see are tall grasses on both sides of the two roads. The driver takes the one on the right, and if it wasn’t for the headlight of the tricycle, we would have been plunged into complete darkness. I also notice that we are going uphill as the engine seems to roar louder.

And we turn to the left. We reach level ground and we are now travelling on sand. The tricycle seems heavier. There are no more houses in this part of the road, just more grasses and darkness. I have never been in this area before. I never knew that there are still unoccupied lands within the barangay where I live. The drone of the tricycle echoes through the night, blending with the constant chattering of the crickets.

Another turn to the right. The beam of the tricycle’s headlight only reaches to a few meters of the way. No other vehicle is following us at the back. It’s like we are alone in the vast darkness. We follow the curve of the road as it comes to us through the light, not really knowing where it leads.

We turn to the right again. I feel like an hour has already passed without sign of a house or the highway. I’m starting to feel uneasy. I should have not listened to my friends. They said we won’t stay long when they invited me to have dinner with them after we roamed around the malls the whole afternoon to try dresses for our upcoming Junior’s Prom. Mom will surely get angry at me again. For a week now, I have been going home at almost midnight.

“Katuod ka asa na ni, Kuy? Mura’g kaganiha pa man ta galibot-libot.” utters the woman who is directly behind the driver, her cell phone in her hand.

“Gasunod ra pod ko sa dalan, ‘day,” the driver answers with his eyes locked on the road. We hit another curve. Only tall grasses are visible.

To the right again. The road continues on straight then curves to another crossroad. It is pitch black all around us except the front. The woman behind the driver has her head turned towards the front, too. The woman beside her has her head bowed, perhaps sleeping.

The driver turns to the right. Again. I do not know where the crisscrossing roads lead to. And it hit me, the idea that we are lost. Lost inside a dark maze with no way out. But mazes have traps. What if?

“Balik na lang ta?” the same woman asks, her voice on edge. We all look at the driver.

“Dili na makaya sa akong gasolina. Duol naman ‘guro ta sa highway.” he mumbles in a low voice. The rest of us remain silent, but a palpable tension is starting to build inside the tricycle. The lovers in the front seat huddle closer to each other.

The tricycle follows another curve and – a loud bump. The engine sputters and stops. The front light snuffs out. A surge of blackness envelops us all of a sudden that no one reacts except the driver who pushes the starter as swiftly as he can. One. Two. The engine comes to life again together with the front light. We catch our breath in unison. And we move on through the night.

The driver takes on a narrow pathway and is too late to realize that the puddle ahead is deep. We are stuck. The tricycle can’t move forward, its wheels grinding and splashing mud all over. The driver tells us all to step out. He and the male teenager shove the vehicle away from the watery mush.

“Gabii na gyod,” says the woman who was the last one to ride with us. She is standing a little farther from me. Her voice is clear enough for me to hear despite the loud whine of the tricycle. Her face is turned towards the darkness behind us.

“Lagi, kasab-an na gyod ko ni Mama ani,” I say, looking at her. Whoosh. A chilly wind sweeps through us. I feel it creep through my bones although I’m wearing my jacket. She seems not to notice the cold and continues peering at the dark void.

“Sayo na lang unta ko niuli, magkauban pa unta mi ni Mama. Kamingaw diri,” she says.

Her words arrest my attention. I’m about to ask her but the driver calls us at the other side of the wide puddle. We tiptoe at the grassy side of the path to avoid the mud and jump across to dry ground. One by one, we return inside the tricycle.

When we are all settled back to our seats, the tricycle begins to move again. I look at the woman but her head is bowed again. I wonder what she means.

The road goes straight this time until we pass along small huts amidst the grasses here and there. Then come walls of concrete at both sides of the way, and out into the familiar highway. A few vehicles parade before us in quick succession before we touch the cemented ground. For the first time, I’m glad to see the four-lane concrete Fil-Am road again. I feel relieved to know that its sure point of destination is the General Santos City International Airport. But Mom will surely castigate me; it’s already 11 pm. I’ll just face her wrath when I arrive home.

The lovers are the first ones to leave. I transfer to the front seat. Next is the woman with her cell phone.

“Pag-renew na sa imong lisensiya, Kuy, ha,” she says as she hands in her fare before stepping out. She stands at my side of the vehicle.

“Oo, ‘day,” he replies as he gives her change in front of me.

We continue through the highway. The whole span of it is bright because of the tall light posts at each side street. The establishments at both roadsides are closed, but their incandescent lights are on. But now I know that the darkness is out there, far beyond the artificial brightness. Always there with the grasses and the crossroads. I shiver at the thought of being there earlier.

“Asa man ka, ‘day?” the driver asks me.

“Didto lang sa may Julie’s bakery.”

“Hay salamat, makauli na gyod ko.” The driver smiles.

“Naa pa man ka pasahero.” I stare at him. He must be joking.

“Ha? Ikaw na lang man nabilin.” He looks at me, questioning.

What about the woman? I turn my head around to look at the back seat.

It’s empty.

Dead Lazy

By Hope Daryl Talib
Short Story

Nineteen-year-old Mitch Cabrera was lying in her bed while waiting for the day to end. It was a beautiful day, she admitted to herself, with bright blue clouds and flowers blooming everywhere on the street, but she was too lazy to go outside, even to move, for that matter. She had even hired a personal assistant to prepare her clothes, comb her hair, and even to brush her teeth.

“Lina!” Mitch shouted. “Turn the TV on!”

Lazy ass! Lina thought as she rushed to Mitch’s room. She can’t even turn the TV on herself. She did what she had been ordered to do and then handed the remote control to Mitch. “Here!” Lina said louder than she had intended.

“Wow,” Mitch said. “I think someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I would’ve slapped you, but it takes too much effort.”

Mitch was unaware that a stranger was watching her closely from a window. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Why are you like that, Mitch? You might regret it someday. Who knows? It might even be today.

Mitch dismissed Lina with a wave of a hand so she could watch TV alone. She turned it to Star Movies and settled in her bed, watching one of her favorite movies, Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Mitch had dropped out of college so she could spend more time watching TV and eating cheese puffs with cold mayonnaise. School was too much work for her. All the writing and moving was too much. Finishing the drink with one loud gulp, she threw the can of soda somewhere, knowing her paid hand would clean after her.

She watched TV and ate cheese puffs for the rest of the day. Not much happened in the house, and she didn’t have to worry about money either, because her parents, who had died a month ago, had been rich enough to provide for her. Now Mitch just had to mooch off her inheritance and never had to lift a finger. Mitch got money, Lina, and the entire house. What more did she need?

To live, thought the stranger watching Mitch. To totally live her life. Not just to exist.

“See you tomorrow!” Lina told Mitch before leaving her. As soon as Lina closed the door, Mitch sighed and continued watching a TV series and feasting on pepperoni pizza that her assistant had ordered for her. The TV later showed a boring documentary about starving children in Africa. Mitch wanted to change the channel, but the remote was too far from her. I’ll get it later, she thought, and she continued to eat. Why is chewing so tiring?

Little did Mitch know that the stranger watching her was already pouring gasoline around her house.

“Hurry up!” Mitch shouted to the TV. “I’m trying to watch my soaps!” The documentary was taking forever, and she didn’t give a rat’s ass about the subject. What am I supposed to feel? Pity?

The stranger lit a match and dropped it into the gasoline. Fire instantly ignited, swallowing Mitch’s house in flames. If she moved, she could live. If not, she would be a human barbecue. Mitch coughed and looked around her house, with red and orange flames surrounding her. The only exit was the window.

But Mitch couldn’t get up. Or she wouldn’t. Whatever her choice was, the stranger left her there to decide.


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.


By Al-faidz Omar

It is dark. And cold. And muddy.

I also smell freaking bad.

Carrying the lotus buds like some trophy, I walk slowly towards the beach to wash myself. You see, after getting nearly drowned at your own family’s fishpond, you wouldn’t mind the thought of drowning in the sea or getting attacked by a shark. Both are unlikely to happen, but what do you expect from an eleven-year-old kid who just watched Jaws the other night? Fear overcomes reality, and in some cases fear becomes reality.

There, full moon is bright, the waves calm. It was as if the sea wasn’t moving at all. Stupid Jason, the sea doesn’t move, it’s gravity that makes tides go high and low.

After a while walking in the knee-deep sea, I decide to lie down instead. The water is warmer than usual, but I don’t mind. Then I notice splashes nearby. Curious, I lift my head a little bit, and I see a sea turtle waddling towards the seashore. Afraid that I might scare it away, I keep still and just observe.

It has taken tremendous time and effort waiting for the turtle to the reach the middle of the seashore. My neck is aching terribly after lifting my head for a very long time, all the while keeping my body laid down. The turtle starts to dig, which is kind of cute considering the flappy arms turtles use. The turtle is going to lay her eggs!

The turtle reminds me of the travel my mother and I took when we returned to the Philippines. I’ve read a few science books at school narrating the journey sea turtles take to lay their eggs. My mom wanted me to grow up with Filipino manners, so she brought me to the Philippines from Europe. Then she left me for her to find a job somewhere else, or as in the turtle’s situation, to live her own life.

My mother, after many years overseas, grew accustomed to the city life. She could never stay long in the province, for she was used to things being fast-paced. Even the Philippines’ largest cities bored her after a long time.

I think I’m like my mother. I can’t wait to grow up and leave this village.

But time moves slowly in the province.

The turtle is done laying (or dumping rather) her eggs in the hole she dug earlier. After covering the hole with sand, she returns to the water, swimming to who-knows-where.

I rinse the lotus buds in the sea water and walk towards the covered hole. I start opening the lotus buds and munch on its seeds. The thought of these seeds running out tempts me to have these turtle eggs for a snack.

Anyway, if the eggs hatch, only a few of the baby turtles will survive. On the crawl towards the sea, many of them will be prey to birds circling nearby. When they reach the sea, they might still be eaten by larger fish. Only a few will survive.

The world is a harsh place for turtles, but not only for turtles.

Troubled thoughts rushing through my mind, I dig for the eggs. I take off my shirt and wrap the eggs with it. I leave a lotus stem at the spot as a marker, so I can return to get the remaining eggs. I wrap my arms around them and carry them home, carefully, away from the sea, away from everything else.


By Krizza Nadine A. Calmerin

June 1, 2017

On December 20, 2015, the trial for the murder of Bryan Mendoza, 20 years of age, senior in St. Thomas University, was dismissed due to lack of evidence for the accused, Laura Santos, his girlfriend. One and a half years later, the prosecution submitted a confession found in Natalie Perez’s diary to prove the innocence of the accused, as well as to demand a retrial for further investigation of the case.


July 10, 2015

Diary, can you keep a secret? 

I smiled at his pathetic body six feet below the ground, right before I grabbed the shovel and covered him with fresh soil. And it felt good. Like ecstasy.

Bryan Mendoza. Beautiful name, perfect face. The impeccable captain of the university’s basketball team. He was my person. The perfect boyfriend everyone dreamed of and yet chose a plain Jane like me. He was the best part of my life. WAS.

Why? Maybe because every fairy tale has to reach its finale, or some bitch disguised as damsel in distress has to interfere and steal away the prince, making him change and forget his happy ending with his little princess. Remember Laura, one of my best friends? It turned out she was smooching with him behind my back! And the worst thing was, he loved it! I hate them both, diary, but I hate Bryan more! He even ruined my reputation in school! All those nude photos of me that he loved to shoot, they all went to the phones of every boy in the campus! I knew that from Archie, my neighbor, when he showed me those on his phone. So, that’s why I felt like everyone’s eyeing me in school! That Bryan, the perv! The three years that we spent together, everything about our promises, he just threw them away like it was all just some sort of a high school fling. Knowing that, in the most humiliating way possible, I broke up with him. It’s a little funny how my one-in-a-million love for him turned into hatred so sudden. I felt so betrayed by the only person I thought wouldn’t! Laura got away with it as she went to Bacolod. But Bryan? No. Settle in, diary, you might wanna grab a popcorn as I tell you the happiest day of my life, in juicy details.

I spend my first week of June planning, and I executed it last 23. It was easy. I texted him to meet up, lying that I’ll accept his apology, and he replied, “Okay.” Psh. What a jerk. I got to our rendezvous 30 minutes earlier than our meet-up time wearing the first gift he gave me before, a knee-length royal blue dress, and paired it up with my favorite black boots and black handbag. A waiter in a maroon shirt and black pants greeted me with a smile and offered me a glass of red wine. I asked for two, saying it was for my boyfriend who was currently in the restroom. He bought it and went straight to the table next to mine. Watching the waiter retreating back, I fished out three benzodiazepine tablets from my purse to make him doze off and emptied its contents to the other glass. It bubbled for a bit and settled. Ten minutes later, he arrived and sat in front of me. He looked dashing, to be honest, wearing that black polo shirt and brown khaki shorts. Black, perfect color. Then he smiled. I suppressed the urge to break the wineglass I was holding to his face, and had a heavy gulp of the wine instead. We had a little chat, he kept blabbering his apologies, and I just kept quiet, bored and annoyed that it took a long time for the drug to work. I played along to his game until seventeen minutes later, when he finally had his precious trip to dreamland.

I asked the same waiter from a while ago to assist Bryan to my car (I made up a story about Bryan being drunk) and gave a little tip for his help. Alone, at last, I reached for my bag and started binding my ex’s hands and feet with tight rope until his skin redden. A smile occurred in my face, I was finally doing it, my little planned revenge. I kept him there on the backseat and started the car. It was already past 11:00 p.m. so the road was already not crowded, and driving with a bound ex-boyfriend in the backseat wouldn’t attract any unwanted attention. We reached my target place, a deserted house which had a little haunted ambiance with its big old trees and wooden structure and which me and my cousin Clyde found when we were 12. I parked the car at the back and dragged him inside with all my strength, cussing all the way. I positioned him on a rustic chair that had been waiting for him and slapped him hard on his left cheek to wake him up. He did, with a little jerk. I can still remember the horrified look in his face when he saw me waving a knife in front of him. Hahahahaha!

He struggled, (of course, who wouldn’t?) but when he realized it was no use, he stopped and begged me to forgive him and to let him go. Forgive him? Let him go? Nah. I’ve been played, cheated, and betrayed, for goodness’ sake! Enjoying my superiority over him, I kissed his cheek and whispered, “Ssshhh. The fun’s haven’t started yet. You’ll enjoy it later, Love. I promise.” And I saw his eyes dilated. By the way, I stuffed his mouth with his black socks. Creative right? After that, I started my little show. I skinned his right cheek with the scraping knife until pink flesh welcomed me. His muffled screams sounded like music to my ears as I got the alcohol from the table on my right and doused his flesh with it. I wasn’t satisfied. I used the same knife to reach his nearest shoulder and carved the letter N on it. Thick red blood oozed and stained the outline of the first letter of my name. Then, I removed his gorgeous shirt and let loose of my little fire ants to his chest and scooped some for his eyes. He screamed even louder and almost knocked over his chair. Enjoying my little show, I got a snake I bought from my uncle out the cage (by the way, I named the snake “Laura”) and placed it round his neck. Was it poisonous? Yeah right it was. I left the room with a smirk, letting the snake have his midnight snack, devouring his magnanimous amount of meat.

All the effort made me tired and sleepy. I had a little nap and woken up at 12:19 a.m. I better hurry before the sun would rise. I went to the locked room, and when I opened the door, Bryan’s face was awesomely unrecognizable! It was swelling, reddening, and was covered in his own blood. I checked his pulse and breathing. So faint I could hardly feel them. I let out a laugh, a loud and long laugh I almost sounded like Satan himself. Of course, I cleaned up my mess, I’m not stupid. I already dug a hole at the back of the house a week ago so I just dropped all evidences of my sweet torture to it. Next, the main course. I dragged Bryan Mendoza’s limp body and let him rest in that hole. I gave him a last smile and got the shovel. Well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

It may sound evil, but yes, Diary, I enjoyed every little bit of it. That act satisfied me more than the years of our relationship or any gift I ever received. I bet he learned his lesson now, well, wherever his soul went.

Your one and only friend,

P.S., I’m burning this diary this weekend, you know, just for safety reasons. Well, I hope you’ll remind me, you know how forgetful I am.


On May 26, 2017, Natalie Perez’s house was reportedly burned down. The following is the list of the recovered possessions:

  1. Metal cage
  2. Silver ring
  3. Electric guitar
  4. Sewing kit
  5. Unlocked diary

No remains of Natalie Perez was found.

Submitted for evidence by:

Nadine A. Cortez
Case Prosecutor


By Jonamari Kristin Ordinario-Floresta

(This short story for children is published as a picture book by ABC Education Development Center.) 

Chatkak is the most talkative frog in the lake. He doesn’t get tired of talking if there is something new about the frogs.

So Smarty, the head of the frogs, named Chatkak to be the news bearer in the lake. Chatkak relayed what happened in the lake to everyone. He kept track of what every frog said and did.

One morning, Chatkak passed by the house of Socia, the social climber. He hid at the side of the house and eavesdropped at the conversation of Socia and Curious.

“Look, Curious, my new pieces of jewelry are beautiful. They glitter differently and look like real diamonds.” said Socia.

“You have so much jewelry! You are the richest frog in the lake. Many will envy you!” answered Curious.

“Anyone who looks at me will be envious! The glitter of my jewelry will blind them!” Socia gleefully said.

“Aha! That’s good news to share!” said Chatkak and left jumping until he saw Jealos.

“Jealos! Socia is flaunting her jewels! She said their glitter will blind you!”

“She said that? I’ll be blinded by the glitter?” Jealos wanted to make sure.

“Yes!” replied Chatkak.

“Hmp!” Jealos smirked. “Those jewels are all fake!”

“Oh, Jealos! Socia even said that you are envious of her wealth!”

“All the while, I thought Socia is my friend,” Jealos was red-faced with anger. “Watch out, Socia!”

One afternoon, Chatkak walked past Smarty’s house. Smarty had a runny nose. He was coughing.

Chatkak immediately spread the news. “Smarty is in a really bad condition. He is very sick.”

“Oh my!” the frogs exclaimed. “Can Smarty still be our leader? We’ll find one to replace him!”

Every day, this was the kind of news all over the lake. Chatkak related everything to all the frogs. He added to what he saw or heard.

As a result, there was misunderstanding in the place. Meanwhile, Chatkak was happy to spread more news.

It did not take long when the frogs gathered themselves to discuss the trouble in their place. They discovered that what really happened was different from what they heard from Chatkak.

“Who is the source of all these gossips?” asked Smarty.

“It was Chatkak who spread all these!” the frogs shouted.

“Is this accusation true, Chatkak?” asked Smarty.

“Yes, I spread the news,” Chatkak tearfully admitted. “I like adding and sometimes not telling the whole truth.”

Everyone was dumbfounded.

“I think you can be a good storyteller, Chatkak,” said Smarty.

“Storyteller?” wondered Chatkak.

“Yes!” said Smarty. “You will be the frog that tells stories to children and adults. You will narrate legends and stories—funny, terrifying, magical, anything! And they don’t have to be true.”

So when a celebration came, Chatkak was the storyteller. He told stories about frogs of older days, of frogs that could fly in the sky or swim in the sea.

Nobody scolded him for not telling the truth. They were even amused! And so was Chatkak!

From that time on, Chatkak became the most famous storyteller in the entire lake! Some frogs even bought his stories!


By Estrella Taño Golingay

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.

Nowhere Room

by Kristine Ong Muslim

(This piece is from the out-of-print book, We Bury the Landscape: An Exhibition-Collection, published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2012.) 

after Mike Worrall‘s The Never Ever Room (1998), oil on panel, 122 × 155 cm

Theophilus is wedged in the wooden floor of his temperature-regulated chamber called Childhood. Drawing moths during the summer, a 50-watt switch bulb dangles from the ceiling.

His mother says: ―You only fill one small room when you die so there’s no sense in occupying more while you are alive.

He nods, never talks back.

―A good parent can either teach you to forage or to be safe. I choose to keep you safe. Then she slams the door only to reappear at the end of the day with food.

Theophilus grows bigger, older. His limbs approximate those of a man’s. His senses of smell and hearing grow acute.

Outside, the schoolchildren taunt him, throw stones at the window, and leer at him—the pale-skinned boy anchored since birth to the floor of his room. Theophilus will not admit it, but he covets the schoolchildren‘s teeth, ruined by too much candy and soda. He admires their unruly hair, which smells of summertime. He loves to hear them call him ―ugly because it makes him feel unique and important.

Each day, the windows and doors shrink a little. In time, even his finger will not fit.


The Crying Walls of San Lorenzo

by Erwin Cabucos

(This piece first appeared in Veranda 32: Literary and Art Journal.)

Sleeping butterflies perch on the dancing frangipani leaves in the early morning as I begin my sacristan career. A slight breeze sweeps the bougainvillea petals on the Bermuda grass of the grounds of the San Lorenzo Church; this may be the last breath of the storm that lashed houses and rice farms along the coast the previous night. The clacking heels of street girls will soon join the revving and honking of jeepneys in the streets, and the drunken patrons, dizzy and slurring their speech have replaced the blasting sound systems of nightclubs. It’s not long now until sunrise will streak through the towering buildings of Manila. The regulars of the early weekday mass will start to fill the pews. I have a few things to organise before Father Augustine comes down from the presbytery to begin the celebration. I pace up towards the sacristy door before a rush of dislodged leaves and flowers hit me.

The door is unlocked. Considering Father Augustine had made sure it was secured last night, the thought that we were broken into frightens me. Being new to the job, having to confront an intruder is the last thing I want.

As soon as I ignite the candle’s wick and move around the sacristy to check every area, profiles of broken, crooked and unused statues dance on the wall like a scene from a horror movie. If someone were to hide behind this, it would be hard to tell. I stop moving and listen intently. If someone lurks beneath the cloak of the Lady of Dolours, I should be able to hear their breathing.

A male voice echoes from the pews, and saying that I have shivers up my spine sounds cliché, but it is happening. Are people are having sex in the church? Possibly. I suppose it is fulfilling God’s will, it’s procreating, and it reverberates through the acoustic design of this nineteenth-century church. But it doesn’t sound like it. It’s sounds like someone is in pain. The compilation of all these: the total black out, an unusual storm in the summer month of April, the sombre-looking butterflies unperturbed in the swaying leaves, the sacristy door left unlocked, dead eyes of lifeless statues staring at me, a moaning man in the pews—all too much for a seventeen year old’s first day as a sacristan.

Will I run to get Father Augustine’s help? He might just dismiss me and say, ‘Rex, you’re dreaming—get back out there!’ The painting of Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help above the candle stand seems to speak to me. I make the sign of the cross. Holding the thick white candle firmly, I walk towards the altar. I remember reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth in our English class—the day King Duncan was murdered, a series of unusual events took place: horses ate each other, birds went berserk and the earth shook. I also read from my father’s old Carlo J Caparas’ comic books that the church can be a repository of unhappy and troubled souls, stuck in the premises, unable to proceed, so they end up hassling the living to ask for prayers, to aid their entrance into heaven.

In front of the statue of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, a thin male teenager grips his bleeding arm. Crimson smears stain his white, body-fit, short-sleeved shirt and his legs, in tight denim, are stretched out near a knife. I don’t know what to do; I’m torn between running to the presbytery to tell Father Augustine and running to the teenager to offer help. I look around but no one else is in the church. His eyes lock on mine.

‘Are you okay? What happened?’

His drooping eyes seem unfazed with the dripping blood when he lifts his arm to reach for me. I step back, deterred by the crimson fluid. The concrete feels cold when I return to kneel by him.

‘What could be so bad? C’mon …’

‘Just help me die, just help me end all this.’ He breaks into sobs. ‘There’s no point in living.’

‘No! I’ll get someone to help you.’ As much as I want to get Father Augustine now, I am pushed towards helping the teenager. I point at his wound. ‘Can I bandage you?’

‘No,’ he persists. ‘Don’t bother.’ He reaches for the knife.

‘No!’ I kick the knife away from him. ‘I’ll get the priest.’

‘Don’t!’ he cries. His voice has a tone of vulnerability and misery. What could have happened to him?

‘What’s your name?’ I ask. He doesn’t respond.

‘What’s your name?’ I insist, resting my hand on his shoulder.

‘It’s Seb. Sebastian.’

‘Sebastian, I have to get you some help.’ Leaving the candle glued by its wax next to him, I sprint up the aisle and the footpath to the presbytery and up to Father Augustine’s door on the second floor. The absence of response from my vigorous pounding and the image of the weakened teenager left in the church have sent me into overdrive. I twist the doorknob, not caring about intruding on our parish priest’s privacy. ‘Father, where are you?’

Ruffled sheets lie on his bed. A framed photo of his twenty-something-year-old, half-naked, buffed body hangs below the crucifix on his wall. He hasn’t aged much compared to my father who works hard on the street, and they were born in the same year. Where is he? My heart continues to drum, like it’s booming from the walls of Intramuros to the streets of Luneta. ‘Where are you, Father?’

There isn’t time to waste looking. I rush down the stairs and return to the teen. His chest heaves as if he is short of breath. I’ll call the ambulance! I hurry to the phone in the sacristy. Shining red fingers land on my hand that is about to punch the dial. How did he get in here so quickly? The smell of blood fills my lungs and I turn my head to the side in shock. I remember mother cooking Dinuguan, a soup made of pig blood jelly mixed with vinegar and green chilli. I don’t think I will want to eat that dish again. ‘Why don’t you want me to call the ambulance? They will help you.’

He slumps on the floor like a flimsy rag doll. Blood smears on the concrete.

‘You don’t understand,’ he cries.

Seeing blood continue to ooze from his arm makes me feel like I am going to pass out, but I shouldn’t let his situation overcome my strength. If I keep talking to him, perhaps I can get him some help. ‘Tell me what happened.’

He sighs.

‘I don’t want you to die, Seb. What has made you so upset?’

He breathes hard, and I can see in his eyes an urge to speak. If he tells me something criminal or illegal, I shouldn’t really get involved. But I want to know. ‘Have you killed someone? Are the police after you? Have you been assaulted? What is it?’

He breathes hard. ‘I’m not a criminal, okay? I’m not in trouble with the police. I hate my fucking life. I’ve just started college and had all these plans for myself, but that’s all gone now. Now I am sick,’ his voice trembles. ‘I just had a test done at Midshift.’

‘The nightclub?’

He nods. ‘You know, with one of those outreach tests?’

‘The HIV testing?’


‘You’re positive?’

He nods.

‘Will you let me bandage your wound?’ I ask.

He nods.

The purificator, which is spread across the altar for the Eucharistic sacrament, makes a soft bandage for his arm. I pull the ends tightly to finish off the bandage.

He raises his voice. ‘This disease is going to kill me.’ Tears flow from his eyes.

‘The World Health has been doing a good job at supporting positive people in the Philippines and I know you’re not the only one with HIV. There’s lots of information and support, we’ll get you some help’

‘I know. The nurses told me the same thing earlier on. They gave me handouts. I threw them away.’

I sigh, sitting next to him. ‘You have to tell your friends or family, someone who will help you.’

‘Are you nuts? No way!’

‘They will support you.’

‘No. They don’t even know I’m gay.’

I don’t know what to say next.

‘They will disown me when they know I
have HIV.’

Silence goes past us like an angel and the quietness seems to have clothed us with fortitude. ‘I’m going to call the ambulance now,’ I tell him. I walk back to the sacristy and dial the number. He lurches towards the door, reducing himself to a pitiful figure at the foot of the frangipani tree, like a gnome waiting to be noticed amongst the plants in the garden. White petals settle on his limbs, one sits on his shoulder.

I watch as Father Augustine appears from nowhere, his Alb hem touches the edge of his sandals. I hang up the phone, when I know help is on the way, and walk outside as Father Augustine asks what has happened.

‘This is Sebastian, Father. He’s wounded. He needs help. I’ve rung the ambulance, they’re on their way.’

‘How? Are you okay, son?’ Father Augustine bends, his eyes fixed on the teenager.

He hugs Sebastian, places his hands under his neck and knees, and carries him to the presbytery. He looks back at me and says, ‘Rex, prepare the church for mass. I’ll be with you, soon.’

My one-day training from Father Augustine the other day turned out to be a highly efficient induction because I manage to prepare the vessels and the vestments in the sanctuary as I wait for the ambulance. I light up the candles and refill the hosts, wine and water. I bring out the pall, purificator, corporal, chalice and the ciborium to the altar server’s table. I mop the blood and spray some antiseptic liquid on the surfaces.

Almost on tip-toes, I walk up to the presbytery through the back door. I hide behind the door, keeping an eye out for the paramedics arrival.

‘You have HIV, you don’t have AIDS.’

The young man coughs.

‘God loves you for who you are, Sebastian.’

‘That’s not true, Father. The Bible says I will go to hell.’

‘There are many interpretations of the Bible.’

‘It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense.’ Sebastian grabs a knife from the sink.

‘No!’ Father Augustine pulls Sebastian’s hand away. ‘Listen to me. If you only knew my story.’

‘What?’ The young man sits on the floor, looking down.

‘I’m positive, too.’

Sebastian is taken aback, just as I am.

‘The medications are very good these days; you can lead a normal life. There are people who will help you. I will help you.’

It is as if another angel has gone past in the moment of silence between the three of us, under the auspices of San Lorenzo Ruiz Presbytery.

‘Really?’ Sebastian’s voice carries a tone of realisation.

‘Yes. Excuse me for a minute, I just need to speak to Rex.’

I scuttle away from the kitchen door and walk away quietly.


‘Yes, Father.’ I look towards the presbytery door where he ducks his head out, and waves at the people who smile at him from behind me.

‘Put up a note that the mass is cancelled. I can’t leave this boy. Is the ambulance here yet?’

‘Sure, Father. Not yet.’

As I am sticking the notice on the bulletin board at the back of the church, a couple arrive with rosaries in their hands. After reading the notice, they turn toward me.

‘Are you sure, no Mass this morning?’

‘Yes,’ I nod.

‘Why?’ asks the lady.

‘Due to an urgent situation.’

They let out a sigh, groan and walk away. ‘How important can it be that he has to cancel the Mass?’ they chatter.

‘Sorry …’ I sigh to the wind, I know that some things don’t need to be elaborated. I just breathe the wind’s encompassing presence.

Everyone makes their way to the car park and to the gates of the church and catches tricycles to go home. I hear sirens approaching, and see lights in the distance.

I remove the notice but retain the posters next to it. One is of a Jesuit priest’s mission showing work amongst the poor and the marginalised of Manila. ‘If you are interested in volunteering, please contact our facilitator, Rev Father Augustine Faustino, San Lorenzo Parish Church on 0918 2467676 and do something meaningful in your life.’

As I step back, the paramedics rush through the gates and I direct them to Sebastian, who is sitting next to Father Augustine. They smile at him in greeting, and tend to his wounds.

Father Augustine and I walk back to the church. Butterflies flutter away from the frangipani tree. The sun sheds light to every dark corner of the church and the garden.