Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings

By Innah Johanee Alaman
Fiction

It was searing hot outside when Babygirl had to go rush to the city hall unkempt, with no eyebrows on, wearing only her fitting red duster that squeezed her forty-year-old curves. Harried and desperate, she had been hailing vehicles for almost half an hour already, and her flailing arms were starting to hurt. Her lower back ached as the heels of her wedges pushed her butt up and outward. The old woman sighed as the tricycles sped past her, past the waiting shed where she stood, and past the concrete road before her that writhed under the lash of the noonday heat.

That sweltering summer noon in May, Babygirl had been massaging a bald man’s head in Boomtown club downtown of General Santos City when her entire place shook as the city’s demolition team dragged their crane and wrecking ball outside her property. A cloud of hot dust wafted through their broken door. Inside, the family’s picture frames, posters, curtains, wall clock, plates, mugs, and figurines trembled and jumped out of their places as the feeble walls quaked along with the floor. Everyone inside Babygirl’s run-down club stood wide-eyed in muted panic. She was about to storm out and bonk the crane driver’s head with a broken china, but an eviction notice held up against her face stopped her.

Department of the City Engineering Office

Dear Ms. Begonia:

In line with the city’s renovation of Pioneer Avenue, you are hereby ordered to terminate your residency at the property owned by the government of General Santos City. Willingly comply on or before the demolition time: 12 noon of May 1.

The reason for this eviction notice is: your failure to pay property tax due in ten years, interest included. A demand for payment was made every six months, in May and December, which you have refused forwarding the necessary amount accumulating to eight hundred thousand pesos (PhP 800,000) with the tax interest worth one hundred and fifty thousand pesos (PhP 150,000).

Signed by the City Mayor

And the Ling Xi Holdings Corporation      

It really had to be her, Babygirl thought. She had to be the one who’d leave their house atop the nightclub lounge at the mercy of heavy machinery downtown on Pioneer Avenue. The lives that depended on Boomtown: from the lives of the stray dogs and cats she took in to the girls she supported, their shelter, sustenance, and safety—all these depended on her. No, not Lolita, Recolita, or the younger girls like Chisska, Klowie, or Chilsea, but it really had to be her. Babygirl, the saucy and bold Boomtown club manager, had just turned forty this year. For years, she enjoyed her certain fame as the single mother who took in troubled women in Gensan.

When situation in their homes became dire or violent, girls fled and sought shelter in Boomtown, as it was never closed for a sister. Like how Virgie, raped by her own father in Barangay Calumpang at sixteen, left her home after her mother sided with her rapist father. Chisska came to Boomtown after being severely beaten by her husband. Recolita, the thirty-year-old woman left by her husband for being barren, also found her way to the club. Klowie, almost choked to death after refusing to kneel and go down on her boss, left her housemaid work in Koronadal. Kemberly stopped going to school when her boyfriend left her pregnant, and Babygirl, the now old matron, helped her raise her son. Their gay sister Milkita left Purok Malakas when the brothers she raised and sent to school stole all her money and ran off to gamble. All these and more were stories Babygirl knew by heart. Twenty years—Boomtown put up and stood against the rages of time, and still the stories were the same.

As a seasoned private entertainer, several men offered to buy Babygirl’s hand in marriage. Even the fairly young city mayor used to call her up at midnight during stressful nights at the office and at home. But for the past five years, Babygirl refused. She had more important things to do than fulfill Mayor Biboy’s desire for a mature woman’s paid service to his manhood. During midnight, Babygirl had to act as her own club’s bouncer to scare off the unruly drunkards. Only this time, Babygirl had to seek the city mayor’s attention again lest her family of girls end up sleeping on the streets by dusk. Worse, without the alluring lights on, no one might even pick her or the girls up.

Out here on the sidewalk, Babygirl raised her head high, sighed, and raked through her greasy hair. She wished her “Sirboy,” her once little boy, still cared for her.

“It doesn’t matter,” muttered Babygirl to herself, “all I need is to talk to Mayor Biboy and it will all be well.”

And it was true; one meeting with the mayor was all Babygirl Begonia needed to keep Boomtown to herself, as it was since the ’90s. The city mayor, yes! Old ties for the old realty blues, she guessed. She was his “’Te Babygirl” after all—the nurse who raised the mayor since he was a boy, the older sisterlike maid who served him well during his teenage years. She looked over her shoulder and stared at Boomtown. At the heart of the city center’s pioneer area, between a bank and a Chinese mall, Boomtown stood on top of a two-million-peso lot.

One meeting with Sirboy, and she could flick the demolition team away—flick their forehead with a wooden sandal or something. Most of these construction workers, along with the cops, were Babygirl’s paying patrons of “Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings” promo, customers of shave, massage, and pedicure. Even that obese crane driver availed himself of her foot spa and nail art services just a week ago. The old woman hissed in contempt. She could not believe them. Someone turned these men against her.

It was the Intsik in suits again, thought Babygirl, and their demolition threat. Their threat came in a graver form this time—with a wrecking ball.

Sure, she abhorred them, but Babygirl could not help but feel fascinated with how these men seized her lifelong property using only ink, paper, and money. Babygirl could not imagine acquiring so much wealth in a foreign country such as China only to kick out a poor family to put up a bodega. Babygirl spat on the concrete road. Out of the many unoccupied lots in the city, the Chinese investors chose her home—chose to develop Boomtown by destroying it. Sleek, shiny, and smooth, these men from the Ling Xi Corporation looked like plastic figures inside a dainty dollhouse, too flawless they almost looked fake. Of what originally used to be a dump site, Babygirl received this property in the ’80s as a gift from the mayor then, the father of current mayor Biboy. When his wife left him for an Afro-American foreigner, Babygirl remained to serve the household in unique ways: as a stay-in housemaid, unofficial wife and mother, and an on-call sex worker to both men. Up to this date, Babygirl never felt ashamed owning up to the arrangement as it earned her a two-hundred-square-meter lot in ten years. Born out of a political dynasty, the mayor’s late father had no problems giving away a parcel of land they controlled for decades.

That Biboy could not kick me out of my house. I campaigned for him at the club, at the market, at the church, at every curb, at every barbershop, and office downtown! So he could win! Even if no one wanted his gambling ass in the office! Babygirl’s nose flared.

People could talk, but Babygirl Begonia knew in her heart Boomtown was the ex-mayor’s payment in gratitude for her unpaid services. And truthfully, if it weren’t for the girls in her parlor who became their wives, the truck drivers and merchants in the ’80s would not have settled down in this sunbaked and barren coastal city. Only the thorny dadiangas tree thrived here, thus the old name of the city. But that was then, and this is General Santos City now. Boomtown became a part of the city’s old memory that the young Mayor Biboy wished to bury. To make way for the high-rise buildings, people, houses, and trees were uprooted like grass roots on a fine summer day. And the folks, not in their duster dress or ukay-ukay shorts, but those in their white-collar tux, those Ling Xi investors rich enough to sit on anyone’s land, owned their houses and properties. With only one hundred pesos in her pocket, Babygirl feared her chances were slim against the Chinese investors. Yet she could not let Boomtown slip away.

Now, Babygirl, standing by the roadside still waiting for a jeepney, worried no one even remembered, much less knew, about her home’s humble beginnings. No one knew how she built it from scratch, how she fought for it for years. Boomtown, the old unpretentious cathouse in the city, was her family of girls’ home since the ’90s.

“Do you even know where your clit is?” Babygirl Begonia used to ask the new applicant in the nightclub. The other listening girls would jeer laughing, hugging their still-shy new sister who would blush, unable to locate her lady parts. “Oh, learn your body first! Your vagina! Learn it! Own it!” She found out that most girls never knew what to find within their womanly flesh. “Locate your clit!” ordered the bodacious matron. “Don’t come here and expect that you can make a man or anyone happy if you don’t even know how to make yourself happy!”

In the morning, while the girls offered manicure and pedicure services, waited tables, tailored clothes, and continued their works as a saleslady, cashier, street food vendor, cook, and laundrywoman, Babygirl knocked on every establishment downtown to sell home-cooked meal during lunch. She also offered back and head massage to office clerks and drivers on their break.

Now if the nightclub was to be demolished, where would they go home at dusk? Where would the girls sleep? Where would they hold their karaoke nights? They couldn’t go back to their old homes. It would be far too dangerous.

“It doesn’t matter,” Babygirl huffed. “I will to talk to Mayor Biboy. He can’t resist me.”

Babygirl pulled up her low-hanging duster. She figured she might have to make a deal with the devil. Babygirl imagined herself casually flirting like in the old times, saying, Yes, still happily single, Sirboy, still taking care of the girls, sending their children to school. Right, she still loved shopping at thrift stores. But it wasn’t like she lost half a million gambling and buying guns for her collection display, like he always did. There was just a lot of stuff the girls needed to buy. Yes, reason why she was a little behind the lease, ten years.

The old woman held her breath and practiced faltering her voice into a sob. But the Chinese mall owner, Sir Biboy? He never stopped threatening the girls into giving up Boomtown. He made up lies about the gas leak, termites, and even child trafficking in the club. He wanted the lot so badly that now mad, the Intsik brought a wrecking ball with him. The old woman could fake a sob, but she could not deny that losing her home crushed her inside.

Who would help her now—Mayor Biboy? Her Sirboy? The old woman worried. Would he still care for his ’Te Babygirl, his old sister and nanny?

Bedraggled, sweating, and distraught, Babygirl got on the first jeepney that stopped in front of her. The driver did warn her, however, that his last stop was still blocks away from the city hall. Babygirl just nodded, without even understanding what the driver hollered at the front seat. She just felt grateful that a jeepney finally picked her up. Clearing the highways, tricycle drivers joined the protest-mass at the oval plaza. The demonstration was for the victims of the ongoing war against drugs, they said, of the lawless killings in town by vigilantes and policemen in civilian clothing. How long had it been since Babygirl stood there by the sidewalk—ten minutes? Her veined legs twitched no. It felt like an hour. She wasn’t sure. Babygirl would have joined the protest rally, but they weren’t just the innocent victims. Boomtown was about to be put down too. And her daughters needed her.

Sitting on the rear end of the jeepney, the aging woman looked past the sidewalk where Boomtown club stood. Construction workers and engineers in hard hats walked about Pioneer Avenue, ready to take down any grubby building. The old woman clutched the jeepney railings tighter. From afar, the downtown area was a blur of urban stalls. It took years of being in the city before Babygirl Begonia learned it—the paved Pioneer Avenue made way for the uniformed crooks to mix and compete with the lowly street crooks. Above, the lamp posts on the side of the roads looked like tall lean guards staring down at the people, watching in silence—the bleak city under their constant surveillance.

Ate Babygirl,” Kemberly, one of the girls, once asked her, “Will the Intsik take our home?” Babygirl used to always assure the girls saying, “Over my dead, sexy, and juicy body.” She’d laugh along with the girls, certain of her own words.

Babygirl wished she could still keep her promise this time.

Comforted by the shade inside the jeepney, Babygirl stretched out and leaned back, letting her eyes wander inside the rusty, sputtering jeep. Colorful tassels, pictures of Jesus and Virgin Mary, words like katas ng dubai, free ride for girls who can ride, beware of pickpockets, and in god we trust graced the interior of the jeepney. She fanned herself, yawned, and squinted at the diabolical sun outside. It relieved her to see that the sun was still at its peak. Babygirl only had until the afternoon to cover the lease, or make the mayor postpone the date of demolition at least.

Then it crossed her mind again. She pressed her temples, furious in remembering Chisska’s maddening recklessness that put the family into ruins. Chisska was this new girl in Boomtown—a wife of nineteen battered out of jealousy by her thirty-year-old husband.

“It’s not my fault I still have suitors even with a baby bump,” Chisska complained. “I never even cheat like he does.” When Chisska first came to Boomtown, Babygirl had to stay awake all night, guarding her and placing an ice bag against her bruised rib cage. Poor girl. But if it wasn’t for Chisska’s stupid decision not to open the eviction letter (thinking it was one of her suitors’ or husband’s letters again), the matriarch would have attended the tax evasion trial against them. Babygirl would have hired an attorney to explain why they were years late in paying the property tax.

Babygirl was sure the judge would have pitied them and understood the girls’ needs especially if that famous Judge Jamora were to work on her case. That woman fully understood how much nine women spent monthly on sanitary napkins alone—the mammogram tests too, Kemberly’s caesarian section, contraceptives, and the vaccines that kept the girls safe—everything. But no, Chisska, the brightest of them all, just had to throw the letters away before Babygirl had the chance to open them.

“What did I tell you, Inday Chisska!” cried Babygirl as she shook the young lady when they faced the final demolition notice.

“That tax collectors are pigs, that they take people’s properties, their hands only dirty at work when they wipe their ass and mouth full of shit,” said Chisska in all seriousness that struck everyone in horror. The men in polo shirts who handed the demolition notice sucked their cheek in contempt. The old woman Babygirl apologetically flushed in disgrace.

“No! Not that, amaw!” Babygirl bonked the beauty’s head with a backscratcher.

“I meant the part where you have to watch out for the tax collectors’ letters, you idiot!”

A bump on the road shook the old woman awake, taking her out from her reverie. She was about to ask the jeepney driver to drop her at the nearest police station by the city hall when she noticed that everyone in the jeep was staring at her. The passengers inside were old women in black, their gold rosaries gleaming as the sunlight hit them at the right angle. The jeepney was already off the road.

“Where are we heading?” whispered Babygirl to the old woman sitting next to her.

“To Uhaw public cemetery. Didn’t you know?” squeaked the woman in front of her. “Are you the mistress of Leopoldo?” she added. “The tokhang victim we will be burying?”

Babygirl shook her head no, heavily tapped the metal jeepney outside, and screamed, “Lugar lang,” to which the vehicle stopped and lurched forward like it was taking its last dying heave. She peered outside and it was confirmed. A funeral car was up ahead. Inside the decrepit jeepney were old mourning ladies paid to pray the rosary for the untimely death of Leopoldo. Babygirl Begonia’s red tight-fitting duster looked sacrilegious next to their black veiled dresses. Babygirl bit her lip as she realized she was now even farther from the city hall. She left, ran in her wooden wedged slippers, and hailed an empty tricycle.

“City hall, fifty pesos, please take me there,” she said, still catching her breath.

“Make it one hundred, since you’re alone,” the driver replied.

“Rip-off!” barked Babygirl, her mouth almost frothing. “I’m from Gensan too! Don’t fool me! I’m just as poor as you are. Why are you taking advantage of me? We both know it only costs ten pesos if I take a multicab!”

“Do you see any multicabs?” said the gaunt driver. “They’re out on a strike. You’re even lucky you have me. And fine, fifty. But we’ll take more passengers on the way.”

The summer sun already simmered down when Babygirl reached the stair steps of the city hall. A long line of people greeted her. She stood on her toes and realized that the line reached the parking lot. These were the people trying to talk to the mayor and to the public lawyers for free legal advice. Babygirl was given the priority number 86, to which she protested.

“But I’m old and sickly.” Babygirl faked coughs, cowered, and convulsed with half-closed eyes, looking as if she was in pain. The young assistant who received her hissed, shook her head, and led her to the senior citizen priority lane. There she thirstily gulped down three glasses—free samplings of the powdered guyabano juice advertised at the city hall. Babygirl burped and wiped off her mouth with the back of her hand after the promo boy refused to refill her cup.

She looked at the people beside her. Everyone was murmuring, looking miserable and sick—cheeks hollow and the corner of their dry mouths caked with faint traces of guyabano juice. Most of them seemed to have come from the poorer neighborhoods of the town. Faded hats, crummy slippers, tattered shirt, ripped shorts. Babygirl felt that, just like her, they were aching to be heard. She craned her neck and saw the wall clock strike three. She furiously fanned herself, vexed by the unmoving line.

“Where are the government officials, their workers when we need them! I need to talk to the mayor! My house—”

“They’re on a lunch break,” an old lady in rain boots said to Babygirl as she tugged her dress to make her sit down. “Mareng, here, have some of my biscuit.”

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry.” Babygirl fumed in exasperation. “And what lunch! It’s way past their lunch break! Three PM! I need to talk to the mayor. I know him!”

“Ma’am, stay in your place.” The guard’s deep voice startled her. He blocked her way with his humungous body.

“No, I just need to see Mayor Biboy, and he will make time just to talk to me. I’m important to him, I promise.” A slight push from the guard’s hand made her falter and feel dizzy. Babygirl backed off. She had not eaten yet. A young female assistant led her back to her chair as she tried to regain her balance.

“It would be unfair if you would just barge in while these people before you waited,” she finally spoke. Babygirl shut her eyes tight, necessitating the immediate need of guardian angels to stop the desperate tears from brimming in her eyes. What she missed to see was how the younger women got past the glass door, into the mayor’s office, unhindered.

“I just wanted to see the mayor,” she whined. “He would love to see me and help me. He would love to do anything for me.” No one listened to her. Babygirl poked the leg of her seatmate sleepily waiting for her turn.

“You know, the mayor and his father loved me before,” Babygirl whispered to her, loud enough that the man in front of them turned his head to gossip. “Yes, both of them, they loved me, their housemaid,” continued Babygirl. “Ever heard of a woman ligated for her employer’s convenience?” She threw her head back, wiped the tears at the corner of her eyes, and laughed. “Silly, I couldn’t take it. I left him and his father.”

The people within earshot around Babygirl eyed her from head to toe. In response, she curled her feet to hide her dead toenail. They were trying not to look and listen to her, but Babygirl helped them by talking a little louder this time. “You know Mayor Biboy’s father loved me still even after. He bribed the barangay captain to side with me against the Intsik’s complaint about my business.” Babygirl’s seatmate leaned back and looked at her incredulously. Babygirl nodded and continued pouring out her troubles. “That Intsik got mad I sold women. I didn’t even get mad he sold expired food in his mall. Did I use the diarrhea I suffered from his noodles against him? No! I never badmouthed him, yet he used my girls and customers against me. And we only sold beer and karaoke songs!”

“Yeah, but it’s a nightclub,” replied the woman with a straight face. “And I’ve seen kids playing there outside in the morning.”

Babygirl’s face sank. “It’s only a nightclub at night,” she whispered to herself. “It’s a house in the morning.” After a beat, her voice sounded serious and faint. “God knows I never let the men touch, let alone see, the children. Never.”

The old and tired Babygirl raised her eyes and stared blankly at the mayor’s frosted glass door. Babygirl was afraid it was only she who knew the truth behind Boomtown. It was a place of refuge for men and women after a long day of labor. “Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings” she called that promo.

“Silly Intsik. I will never give up my girls’ home for him.”

The thought of her girls alone kept Babygirl going. She talked to the other people in line and learned that they camped out to meet the mayor, that seemingly higher being behind the giant frosted door. Babygirl learned that most of the people outside had lost their homes in the Build Build Project of the mayor. And suspiciously, fire broke out in many slum areas all at once. The burnt houses had to be ripped out from the ground, cleared immediately. It was not just Boomtown after all. The old woman felt her chest tighten, as if someone was wringing her heart from the inside.

“It does not matter,” Babygirl assured herself. “I just have to talk to him.”

Yet Babygirl could not deny the pounding in her chest as the line grew shorter and shorter, with every second of the clock ticking by.

Babygirl reached the end of the line in front of the frosted door by 6 PM. At the same moment, the mayor in his polo shirt and black slacks walked out of his office, as if in a hurry.

“Sirboy, it’s me! Ate Babygirl!” the old woman jumped out of her chair and grinned upon seeing her now grown charge. She wanted to kiss and hug him just like the old times, but he turned away and walked back to his office upon seeing Babygirl. She followed him. Inside, she saw two young women on the couch sleeping. They looked comfortable disheveled and covered in sheets. With the cold temperature of the room, Babygirl would have mistaken the room for a motel too.

“And your problem, ’Te Babygirl?” the mayor asked with his arms crossed.

Babygirl was about to say something rude, but she held back her tongue. She stiffened her wobbly knees and softened her voice instead. “Sirboy, the Intsik is back at it again. He will destroy my house this time. Please help me, Mayor, please. My girls are in danger.”

The thirty-year-old mayor, with his fly down, simply stared at her.

“You know it’s mine, Sirboy. It’s your father’s payment to me. You just never signed the legal paperwork that says I already paid the land title, like your father would have wanted you to.”

The mayor was not listening—his eyes were fixated on the sweaty shoulders of her ex-housemaid. At forty, Babygirl’s voluptuous curves spilled over her tight duster. Growing up with her, the mayor could still clearly remember the contours of her body.

Hoy, Sirboy! Mayor Biboy!” the old woman called out to him. “What are you doing to Boomtown? Do I have to beg to keep my own house? My own house?”

“On your knees?” snapped Mayor Biboy with a sidelong grin.

It took every ounce of control for Babygirl not to hurl the couch toward the mayor. He was not taking her seriously. “On my knees!” Babygirl seethed. “As every woman who needed your help here must—beg on her knees.”

The mayor rushed to the door and double-checked the lock.

“And what would the people say, Mayor Biboy? That every woman here that is not your mother must beg on your knees?” exclaimed Babygirl.

“’Te Begurl, calm down! The Ling Xi Corporation has already paid me plenty to have a place in my city. Go somewhere. You’ll find a new home, trust me.”

Trust you. Babygirl clenched her fist, wanting to swing it across his face. “You can’t do this. That was your father’s payment to me. Your payment to me.”

Babygirl’s wild auburn hair made her look like a lioness about to pounce on the mayor. Mayor Biboy felt this, carefully flinching away from the furious Babygirl. He hurriedly fished out the paper bills from his pocket and asked, “How much do you need?”

“Nothing! I want my home! Boomtown!”

“Really, ’Te Babygirl. How much do you need? So you won’t have to sell your body anymore.”

The old woman looked stupefied. It took a beat before she responded. “I did not raise you that way, Biboy. Now call that Intsik and tell them to pull away the crane.”

“Will twenty thousand pesos be OK?”

“Biboy, what has gotten into you?” Babygirl clasped her chest in disbelief.

The young mayor was testing her patience. Around this time, the girls on the couch woke up. They recognized the renowned matron in town. They scampered toward the bathroom door behind them.

“Come on, ’Te Babygirl,” the mayor said. “Name your price.” He was flicking through the wads of paper bills in his wallet. “Don’t tell me you’re too expensive to buy.”

And that was it. Babygirl grabbed his collar and spat. “Talk like that to your Ate Babygirl again and I will make an earring out of your balls, Mayor Biboy.”

The mayor blinked fast in fearful surprise. He cleared his throat and fixed his polo. “I was just joking, ’Te Babygirl. How much do you need?”

“Just Boomtown, Biboy. My house!”

The mayor swallowed hard. “Boomtown has been already been taken down, ’Te Babygirl. I’m sorry, but it was not your land.”

“And neither was it yours! Or the Intsik’s!” Babygirl breathed through her noise in sheer fury. She felt like tearing the room apart.

Silence. Much to her shame, her stomach growled in full volume.

The mayor stared and shook his head. He fished for his wallet, handed Babygirl half of the thick wad of the paper bills. “I’m sorry, ’Te Babygirl. I lost a bet to the Ling Xi man. This time he wanted Boomtown.”

A tear trickled down Babygirl’s cheek. She wiped it dry, wasted no time, and grabbed the money. The mayor stopped her. He pulled her arm to see her face one more time. After his father’s death, living alone in his house, Mayor Biboy always sought her Ate Babygirl’s company at night. Yet she always refused.

Babygirl knew he still wanted her. She reached out to him and clung to him. A sigh escaped from the mayor’s lips. She hugged him, and then drew back. With no signs of protest, she slowly felt him all over. Mayor Biboy simply stood in gratitude. She rubbed her left palm against his crotch, eyes locked with his. It was easy. The mayor immediately grew in size under her caresses. He could not take his eyes off her low-hanging duster. It squeezed her ample breasts. Sensing he was in a daze, Babygirl took the chance. She fished out the rest of the bundle of money behind the Mayor’s back. The bathroom door then swung open. The two girls now fully dressed scampered toward the door. Babygirl followed them, leaving Sir Biboy alone. She did not look back.

Her lips trembled.

Boomtown has been already been taken down, ’Te Babygirl.

The old woman wept on her way home. Back in the city’s downtown area, what once stood as Boomtown club had become a pile of debris. The young group of boys in the demolition team pulled scrap metals and wood, their brown bodies bent and flexed in unison under the faint orange glow of the lamp posts. One of them said sorry to Babygirl for her loss, saying the demolition workers had no choice. They were just doing their job. But they were sorry.

From the sidewalk, Babygirl saw Chisska brandishing aggressively an umbrella and a backscratcher. She ran after the construction workers, swatting them like flies. “I’m going to demolish your houses too! I will follow you home, all of you!!”

Kemberly, too, threw sandals and slippers at a plump policeman outside. “I will tell your wife you spent so much money on Happy Endings last night, you traitor! I will tell your wife you overtime here in Boomtown, tambukikoy!”

Will they leave her? Will her girls leave her? The old woman picked up the Christmas balls that rolled off from the heap of their properties.

They lost Boomtown. But it wasn’t the wreck that anguished her. What wounded Babygirl was seeing her daughters outside pick fights with every guy who looked like a construction worker. Under the pale lamps posts, the furious girls looked like street fighters. Each one of them had backpacks on, filled with their personal things, as though they were about to go. Babygirl wiped her face and cleared her throat, the paper bills still clenched tight inside her bra.

“Auntie Begurl, sorry.” Chisska dropped her bag and first ran to her weeping. “It’s all my fault, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Babygirl with a straight face. Chisska shamefully laughed and hugged the old woman. Babygirl squinted and then smiled, which sent the family sighing and laughing at their misery.

Carefully laid on top of a fading tarpaulin were the family’s belongings—their decors, kitchenware, chamber pots, beddings, figurines, and furniture. All the clothes the girls owned piled up into one giant heap, as tall as the low roof of their first floor.

Nightfall. The Boomtowm became nothing but a dark mess between a Chinese mall and a bank. Curious passers-by and drivers surrounded them. Onlookers also eyed their belongings and asked how much the furniture were and the beer cans altogether. What were they going to do with their clothes? The karaoke set? Were their ladders, tables, and chairs sturdy? Was their sewing machine still working? With this, they decided to keep a few appliance and personal things to start afresh. The old woman rummaged through the rubble, and grabbed a bucket, dipper, pillow, DVD, mugs, clothing, decors, and started selling their things.

At the top of her lungs, she cried out, “Tag-dyes, tag-dyes na lang”—ten pesos, the selling price of their belongings. As if something was breaking inside of her, the old woman’s voice first faltered when she screamed. “Tag-dyes, tag-dyes na lang,” she cried out further. Her cries cut through the bustling city noise at dusk. Almost wailing, she screamed, “Tag-dyes, tag-singko na lang.” Tears welled up around Babygirl Begonia’s eyes. More people came when she slipped and said “tag-singko.”

“Just for one night, we will sleep at the barangay hall,” said Babygirl to the girls. “We will sell, eat, and sleep tonight. But tomorrow we will fight. Okay?” The girls nodded and huddled closer. They still had a chance with Judge Jamora tomorrow. That attorney never turned down a case that concerned women.

The warm Sarangani Bay breeze gushed from the east of Boomtown, hushing the old woman’s howl. The girls busily picked up items and sold them. With the girls beside her, Babygirl did not falter standing this time. She stood on her ground, bracing herself as the warm summer wind blew her varnish-colored hair.

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By Allana Joy V. Boncavil 
Fiction

 In the solace of a narrow, cramped, and dark space, a kid holds a well-taken-care-of Barbie doll in his hand. He holds it near and dear to him as if someone was going to grab it away from him all of a sudden. He hugs his knees tighter as he rocks himself to and fro with a distant look in his eyes. The sudden slamming of a door in the distance makes him flinch.

* * *

101418
Case No. 0985
1 of ?

Josefina Cruz, aunt of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:

Q: How long have you known Mr. José Alfonso?

A: Ever since he started courting my sister, which dated back from 1990—no, 2000, I think. I don’t remember clearly.

Q: When was the last time you were in contact with Ms. Alfonso? Specific year please, if possible.

A: Around 2014. She called me after her water broke and she couldn’t get hold of that [redacted] José.

Q: Please refrain from cursing, Ms. Josefina.

A: Ah—I’m sorry. I just can’t believe he could do such a thing! And for what? Over a damn toy? He should’ve let his son play whatever he wanted to play with! I—

* * *

The loud ringing of the telephone wakes up a huge, bulky man from his slumber in the living room couch. He groggily stumbles over to the kitchen counter where the telephone is located, knocking over several bottles of Heineken as he does. A loud sound echoes throughout the house, and as he walks back to the couch, he leaves a broken and unusable telephone behind.

* * *

101418
Case No. 0985
2 of ?

Maria Santos, friend of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:

Q: So you’re a close friend of Ms. Alfonso?

A: Well . . . I was.

Q: Was? Please elaborate on that.

A: Teresa and I had been the closest of friends for years, until three or four years back. We drifted apart. She stopped answering my texts, and calls, and voicemails. Nothing. She just went completely off the radar. Just silence.

Q: Have you observed anything strange with Ms. Alfonso weeks or months before she cut off communication with you?

A: I really don’t know—but I’m sure her shady husband has something to do with it. I don’t know—he just sets off many red flags with the way he was acting when Teresa first introduced him to me.

* * *

It’s 3 AM. There are voices speaking in an almost inaudible volume. The boy didn’t mean to eavesdrop on his mom talking with someone over the phone, but the thin walls and his curiosity have pushed him to do so.

“Please help us, Tina. Please. We can’t do this anymore. He might really do it next time. I’m begging you. We—”

The door opens.

* * *

101418
Case No. 0985
3 of ?

 Kristina Baliente, friend of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:

Q: When did the call take place?

A: It was literally just a few hours ago!

Q: What took place in your conversation with Ms. Alfonso?

A: I . . . it was all so sudden. She called me asking to save her from her husband, but I didn’t have enough context to go with!

Q: And what did you do after that?

A: Well, you know, I was busy with my laundry during that time, and I wasn’t being ignorant. I was just really busy because—

* * *

Ten years has passed. Yellow tapes stretch from tree to tree, and a crowd of students stand behind them.

“What happened?” someone asks.

“Some kid jumped,” comes the reply from a fellow stranger on school grounds, surrounding the grotesque scene.

Another stranger comes running through the crowd and slides right past the yellow tape. The police in the area stops him and asks him what his business is.

“That’s my friend!” he screams. He curses, resentfully so.

* * *

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Case No. 8325
1 of 1

 Rommel Corazon, friend of the victim, called in for a short interrogation. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:

Q: What were the last things Mr. Alfonso had said?

A: A lot. I just . . . didn’t expect him to do this. He was doing very well yesterday. He . . . he . . .

Q: Concentrate, Rommel. What did he say that could be ruled out as the cause of the jump?

A: . . .

A: A [redacted] ton. If only someone listened. If only someone had the guts to speak up.

A: . . .

A: He just wanted to be with his mum a little longer.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Corazon. That would be all.

* * *

Two officers at the scene carefully carry the body on a stretcher, heading to the ambulance. Both of them can’t afford to look at the corpse, even if a white sheet has been placed over it.

“Such a young life lost,” one finally breaks the silence. The other nods in dismay and answers, “Heard it’s another case of passed-on family baggage.”

The officer shoots a look to his co-worker.

“These things are becoming awfully prevalent around.”

Silence ensues between the two officers as they shut the ambulance door behind them.

Bugas

Ni Rossel Audencial
Sugilanon

Ginagutom na ko. Niuli ko dayon gikan eskwelahan para makakaon, kaso pag-abot nako diri, wala man tawo ug walay pagkaon bilin.

Wala koy ikapalit og maski unsa nga pagkaon. Nahurot na akong baon nga baynte pesos para sa isa ka adlaw. Gipalit nako og saging ganihang recess ang dyes,  giamot kay teacher ang singko kay gamiton daw para sa among room, ug gipalit nako og bolpen ang nabilin nga singko.

“Ate, naay kan-on?” ingon pud ni Bert nga nagahangos pa gikan sa gawas. Iyang nawong puno og singot nga gatulo-tulo pa.

“Wala man unod ang kaldero,” tubag nako.

“Ay, abi nako naglung-ag usab si Mama. Nahurot man namo ang kan-on ganihang paniudto.” Nisulod si Bert sa kwarto. Paggawas niya usab, nakailis na siya og T-shirt.

“Asa diay niadto si Mama?” pangutana nako.

“Wala pa diay siya kauli?” tubag ni Bert. “Ingon niya ganiha, adto daw siya ila Ante Minda kadali.” Amiga ni Mama si Ante Minda, ug sa pikas purok kini gapuyo.

Niduol si Bert sa dako nga lata sa bugas ug giablihan kini. “Wala pud ta bugas nga lung-agon.”

“Wala man tawo dinhi pag-abot nako,” ingon nako. Nilingkod ko sa usa ka bangko atubang sa among lamesa. Gisundan nakog tan-aw si Bert nga nilakaw padulong sa pultahan. “Asa ka?”

“Didto lang ko sa pikas,” ingon niya bag-o nigawas.

Adto na pud siya tingali ila Ante Sally, magulang ni Papa nga pinakaduol ang balay sa amoa. Didto lang sa pikas nga kanto. Maayo didto kay naa sila tindahan. Ganahan motambay si Bert didto kay magdula sila sa among pinsan nga si Allen. Naa computer si Allen. Nagatrabaho ang bana ni Ante Sally sa canning og dako daw sweldo.

Gabii na pud guro to mahuman sila Papa. Maayo na lang nakasulod siya sa Dole nga pinyahan. Maski gamay ang sweldo, sige lang, ana siya, basta naa lang trabaho ug duol sa amoa. Wala man gud kahuman si Papa og high school maong dili daw siya makakuha og nindot nga trabaho. Ana siya nga maningkamot daw mi nga moeskwela ug makahuman para makapangita mi og trabaho nga dako ang sweldo. Sige lang, makahuman lang lagi ko. Maski layo, baktason lang nako among eskwelahan adlaw-adlaw. Mahal man gud ang pamasahe ba. Ikaon na lang nako og saging nga prito akong ipamasahe. Maayo pa ang elementary naay feeding. Kami sa high school wala kay dako na daw mi. Pero wala lang sila kabalo nga gaadto pud mi sa eskwelahan nga walay kaon. Kanindot mobalik og elementary. Pero dili, mas maayo nga makahuman na ko og junior high school. Ingon nila libre man daw ang senior high school. Asa kaya ko ani moeskwela? Gusto nako cooking para magtukod ko og karinderya diri sa amoa. Ana pud akong klasmeyt, hairdressing daw para magparlor mi.

Murag naay tawo sa gawas. Pag-abri sa pultahan, akong duha ka manghod diay. Ngitngit na sa gawas.

“Asa mo gikan?” pangutana nako kay Ella, manghod nako nga sunod kay Bert. Naa sa edad diyes si Ella. Gunit niya ang kamot ni Jun, among kinamanghuran nga lalaki nga lima ka tuig.

“Ila Lola,” tubag ni Ella. “Gidala mi niya sa ilang balay ganiha.”

“Wala lagi siya nisulod?

“Adtoan daw niya si Ante Sally. Wala pa kauli si Mama?”

“Wala pa. Unsa diay oras nilakaw si Mama?”

“Human paniudto. Lakaw daw usa siya kadali. Katong nadugay nga wala pa siya kauli, nilakaw si Kuya. Nabilin lang mi diri sulod. Taodtaod, naghilakhilak na man ni si Jun kay gusto mogawas, maong nigawas mi. Nagtambay mi didto sa may tindahan sa tumoy. Naabtan mi ni Lola didto, ug ana siya nga uban daw mi sa iya.”

“Sige, ilisi usa si Jun.” Nisulod silang duha sa kwarto.

Wala pa lagi si Mama? Ganiha pa man diay siya nilakaw. Nag-unsa kaha siya didto ila Ante Minda. Mga pila na pud ka semana nga sige siya adto didto, ug pagnagaadto siya didto, dugay jud na siya mouli. Katong niaging semana gani, suko kayo si Papa kay pag-abot niya wala pay nilung-ag nga gabii na. Pag-abot ni Mama, nag-away sila. Kusog kaayo ang tingog ni Papa. Madunggan jud sa tibuok purok. Hadlok kaayo mi kay hapit na sumbagon ni Papa si Mama. Nakit-an jud nako iyang kinumo. Nisinggit kog, “Ayaw!” Naundang si Papa ug nigawas sa balay maski gabii na. Wala siya niuli katong gabiuna.

Sunod adlaw ato, wala pa gihapon kauli si Papa pag-uli nako sa hapon. Nilakaw si Mama, ug pagbalik niya, uban na niya si Papa. Hilom kaayo sila pagsulod sa balay. Wala sila tingganay hangtod sa nahuman mig panihapon. Mga pila pa kaadlaw bag-o nitingog si Papa paghawa niya balay para magtrabaho. Niingon ra pud si Mama nga, “Sige.” Hinay iyang tingog. Ambot lang kung nadunggan to ni Papa.

Sukad ato, naa na si Mama pag-abot nakog balay. Ganahan kaayo ko kanang pag-uli nako naay saging nga nilaga sa kaldero. Kung wala pud, sayo galung-ag si Mama ug sayo mi mangaon. Lami gud ang sardinas nga butangan rag papaya ug malunggay. Lami among higop-higop sa sabaw. Mokaon na lang si Papa pag-uli niya.

Karon na pud nadugayan og uli si Mama. Sigurado masuko na pud to si Papa ba. Moutang na lang guro kog bugas sa tindahan sa tumoy. Murag layo na man i-adto ila Ante Sally. Ulaw na pud kaayo moadto didto. Murag gaadto lang mi didto para makikaon. Uban pa jud mi sa akong mga manghod. Buotan man si Ante. Ginapakaon mi niya pag mag-adto mi sa ilaha. Pero ana si Papa, dili daw mi sigeg adto didto kay ulaw sa iyang bana. Wala man ang bana ni Ante sa ilaha kung mag-adto mi kay panggabii daw iyang duty. Maski na, ana si Papa, ulaw daw sigeg adto ila Ante para mokaon. Mao nang talagsa na lang ko gaadto ila Ante. Kanang pag gutom na kaayo, moagi ko sa ila. Maayo na lang pakaonon pud ko niya. Ginapadal-an pa gani ko niya og sud-an pag-uli nako para daw sa akong mga manghod. Pasalamat kaayo kog dako.

Nag-ingon ko kay Ella nga mogawas ko kadali.

“Pagbalik dayon ha,” ingon niya nga nitutok sa akong mata. Pagawas na silag kwarto ni Jun nga bitbit ang coloring book nga regalo ni Ante Sally sa amoa katong niaging December.

“Dira ra ko sa tindahan sa tumoy.”

Amoa lang tarangkahan ang ngitngit paggawas nako. Naa man suga ang mga balay-balay nga akong maagian padulong sa tindahan. Wala nay tawo sa gawas nga nagalakaw kay naa tanan sa sulod nagtan-aw og TV. Kami ra jud ang walay TV sa balay. Wala pay ikapalit, ingon ni Papa. Sa sunod lang daw. Mangutang lang kog isa ka kilo nga bugas para lung-agon karong gabii ug ugma sa buntag. Bayran lang ni Mama pag-uli niya. Naa naman pud guro siya dala sud-anon. Basta makalung-ag lang ko una bag-o moabot si Papa. Mas maayo unta naa na si Mama sa tindahan pag-abot nako para dili na ko mangutang. First time nako ni. Ulaw man pero bahala na.

Mga pito ka balay akong giagian hangtod nakaabot sa tungod sa tindahan nga tumoy sa among kanto. Dinhi nagaagi sila Papa ug Mama pagpauli sa balay. Dinhi pud ko gaagi padulong sa eskwelahan. Gamay ra ang tindahan. Naa kini semento nga lingkoranan sa matag gilid. Diri halos gatambay ang mga drayber sa habal-habal kung mahapon na. Maayo na lang walay tawo karon. Niayo ko kaisa ug nitubag dayon si Ante Linda. Naa ra diay siya sa sulod. Dili nako siya makit-an dayon kay puno og biskit ug sudlanan sa kendi ang iyang tindahan. Naa pud kaha sa sigarilyo sa may wala nako.

“Maayong gabii, Ante. Mingaw lagi ron?”

“Ay, nanguli silag sayo kay naay ordinansa si Kap nga dakpon ang mga tambay lalo na ang gasugal.

“Kanus-a lang?”

“Tong niaging semana ra pud. Ganina gani naa daw gipangsikop didto sa pikas purok kay nadakpan gasugal. Naa guro nisumbong.”

“Hala, kahadlok pud.” Unsa na lang kaha kung madakpan ko sa pulis. Ikulong jud ko nila uban sa mga preso. Sa mga nakita nako nga palabas ila Ante Sally, hadlok baya mga nawong sa tawo sa sulod sa presohan.

Pagpangutana ni Ante Linda kung unsa akong paliton, ana ko nga moutang usa kog isa ka kilo nga bugas. Bayran lang ni Mama pag-uli niya. Natingala si Ante kay wala pa kauli si Mama nga gaina pa man tong tunga sa adlaw niagi sa iyang tindahan. “Gani, Te,” ana pud ko. Nisugot si Ante. Gihatagan ko niya og isa ka kilo nga bugas. Niana pa siya nga gabayad man si Papa basta gautang sa iya. Nagpasalamat ko dayon nibaktas pauli. Mingaw na jud ang dalan kay wala na galakaw-lakaw dili pareho tong mga niaging gabii. Pag kanang manugo si Mama palit og mantika, daghan pa na tawo katikaw-tikaw sa dalan. Daghan pa na bata magdagan-dagan sa gawas. Kamingaw sa dalan karon. Murag ako ra ang tawo sa kalibutan. Maski naay suga sa mga balay, ngitngit ra gihapon akong ginaagian. Nibati na ko og kalamig sa dapyo sa hangin sa kagab-ihon pati pud ang kabug-aton sa isa ka kilo nga bugas. Ako jud kini gigunitan sa duha nako ka kamot, ang isa sa taas sa silopin ug ang isa sa ilalom. Basig magisi pa lang ang silopin ug mayabo ang bugas.

Sa kahilom sa dalan, daghan nuon ko mahimunduman. Unsa gani tong ingon ni Lola ah, kanang—nikalit nga naay nipagaspas. Walay suga ang balay nga pawod nila Ante Neneng. Karon lang pud nako napansin. Naay usa ka dakong puno sa mangga sa kiliran niini. Nagahilay na ang uban nga dahon sa ilang atop. Sa kangingit, mura kinig dakong tawo nga gabantay sa gamay nga balay . . . nga nagatan-aw sa akoa. Nanlimbawot akong balahibo sa kalit. Nihinay-hinay kapaspas og lakaw akong mga tiil ug nidagan.

Gipaspasan nako og abri sa among tarangkahan ug nisulod. Niundang ra ko sa sulod sa pultahan nga gahangos-hangos. Nangutana si Ella kung naunsa ko. Nagapungko sila ni Jun sa lamesa. “Wala,” tubag nako. Mura kog buang nga nidagan. Nikatawa kog kusog sa akong gibuhat. Natingala akong mga manghod nga nitan-aw nako. Gibutang nako ang isa ka kilo nga bugas sa lamesa ug nideretso sa dapugan. Maayo na lang naa pa gamay uling nabilin. Makaluto pa jud ko ani og kan-on.

Asa na man to si Mama? Mag-alas otso na pagtan-aw nako sa among gamay nga relo sa bungbong. Naluto na ang kan-on ug nabahaw na gani kini. Wala pa pud si Papa. Gigutom na kog pag-ayo. Pagpangutana nako sa akong mga manghod, wala pa sila gibati og gutom kay gipakaon man sila ni Lola ganiha bag-o sila niuli.

Nitingog ang pultahan.

“Papa!” singgit ni Jun. Nitindog ko sa kalit. Nisulod si Papa ug hinay-hinay nga gipinid ang pultahan.

“Asa si Bert?” pangutana ni Papa. Gibutang niya sa lamesa iyang dala nga silopin ug gisabit niya iyang bag sa bungbong.

“Niadto ila Ante Sally,” tubag nako sa hinay nga tingog. Nihulat ko nga masuko na pud siya.

“Adtoan ko lang siya. Manghulam na lang pud ko kung naa pa sila nabilin kan-on.”

“Nakalung-ag na man ko, Pa,” ana ko. Nihulat ko nga mangutana siya kung asa ko nagkuha og bugas.

“Sige, pangaon na mo una. Naa man ko dala nga sardinas dira.” Nisulod siya sa kwarto.

Gipahipos nako ang coloring book ni Jun. Naghukad ko og kan-on. Gibuksan pud nako ang lata sa sardinas ug gibubo ang sulod niini sa yahong. Dili na jud matabang ang akong kagutom. Human pangamuyo, nisugod na mi kaon. Kalami sa kan-on ug sardinas! Lami jud mokaon nga gakinamot. Nanghugas na bitaw ko. Ana man si Titser nga manghugas daw bag-o mokaon. Human sa pipila ka hungit, nibati na ko og kabusog. Pagtan-aw nako sa akong mga manghod, hinay lang ilang kaon. Sabaw lang ang gusto ni Jun. Gamay na lang nabilin sa sardinas. Wala pa diay kakaon si Papa. Ug si Mama diay! Karon lang nako mahinumduman. Wala lagi nangita si Papa kay Mama?

“Kaon na, Pa,” ingon nako paggawas usab ni Papa sa kwarto. Nakailis na siya og T-shirt pambalay.

“Unya lang ko,” ana siya. “Sundoon pa nako imong manghod.” Hinay iyahang lakaw padulong sa pultahan. Nabati nako ang kahilom sa balay. Ang gabitay nga pangutana sa akong huna-huna: Wala pa lagi si Mama?

“Wala pa kauli si Mama.” Nigawas lamang kini sa akong baba nga wala nako gihunahuna. Wala ko kasabot kung nganong giingon nako kini.

Niatubang usab si Papa kanamo. Nitan-aw ko sa iya nga gahulat. Dugay siya nitingog.

“Dili mouli si Mama ninyo karong gabii. Naa siya sa prisohan karon. Nadakpan siya nga gasugal ila Minda gaina.” Nigawas si Papa sa pultahan.

Wala ko kasabot sa akong gibati samtang gatulo akong luha.

Santelmo

Ni Hannah Adtoon Leceña 
Sugilanon

(Winner of the special award for fiction at the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Literary Awards, given to the fellows of the recently concluded 26th Iligan National Writers Workshop)

Nangurog ang tuhod ni Isloy samtang nagkabad kinig dagan paingon sa tindahan sa giilang Balong kon asa siya mamalit og tuba. Gisugo kini sa iyahang amahan nga si Timoy. Gabii na kadto, ug dugyom na ang palibot. Siya ra man isa naglakaw kay tungod lagi walay mouban niya kay nahadlok makakita og santelmo sa may kawayanan. Ang santelmo, ingun sa katigulangan, hilabi na sa lolo ni Isloy nga maoy nakakita niini, usa daw ka kalayo nga nagdilaab ug ginatuohan sa uban nga maoy kalag sa mga tao nga gipatay nianang lugara. Nagkundinar daw kini. Kini nga kalayo maglukso-lukso kuno susama sa usa ka bola ug usahay manggukod sa mga moagi. Mao nang ingon sa mga iyo ni Isloy, kon aduna gani mamatay sa usa ka lugar, kinahanglan sunugon dayun ang dugo niini arun dili magsantelmo. Ang uban naandan na nga dagkutan og kandila unya pangadyean.

Nahinumdom si Isloy sa giasuy kaniya sa iyahang anhing Lolo Tonyo: “Ang mga santelmo, Dong, makita sab na sa dagat, kintahay naay malumos ug mamatay nga wala pa sa panahon.”

Wala siya kabalo kon panghadlok lang ba kini sa iyahang apuhan o tingali tinuod gyod kini. Apan dugay na gyod nga lumulupyo iyahang lolo dinhi sa Kiamba, probinsiya sa Sarangani. Ug kini usa ka manambalan. Mao nang wala gyod rason nga dili siya mutuo niini.

“Dili pud ka mahadlok sa santelmo, Lo?” pangutana ni Isloy kaniya samtang seryoso kaayo nga nag-atubang sa apuhang laki.

“Aw, dili,” tubag sa tiguwang, “kay kon dili gani ka mahadlok sa iyaha, dili sab kini mupasiaw nimu.”

Sa pagkahinumdom aning tanan, nibalik ang nerbyus ni Isloy. Kahilakon siya, apan wala gyod siyay mahimo. Nahurot na ang usa ka galon nga tuba sa iyahang amahan, ug gusto pa kini moinum kauban ang mga maguwang laki. Naabot man gud ang iyahang Iyo Bador ug Iyo Dandan gikan og Samar maong nagkamatay gyod sila og tagay sa gamay nilang payag.

“Kon dili gani ka molakaw karon, makatilaw gyod ka!” segun sa iyahang amahan nga nahubog na intawon.

“Mahadlok lagi ko, Tay!” tubag ni Isloy.

“Hain ka man mas nahadlok?” singhag sa iyahang amahan. “Sa ilaha o sa akoang kumo? Pili lang!” Mao nang giantos na lang gyod ni Isloy ang iyahang kahadlok. Iya nang gitindugan ug gisugdan ang paglakaw nga pinasaguyod. Apan nipaspas iyahang nilakwan sa dapit hain wala nay mga balay.

Atoa na siya sa kawayanan nga gikahadlokan sa tanan. Ninimbawot ang iyang balahibo sa tingkoy. Mituhop sa iyang kaunuran ang bugnawng hangin. Mipiyong siya, ug susama sa usa ka kabayo, nikaratil siya og dagan paingun sa dapit nga gibarugan og suga. Maayo na lang kay wala siya madagma. Naghingos-hingos siya. Gamay na lang gyod ang kulang, masapit na niya ang balay niadtong Balong nga mamaligyaay og tuba. Mas nikusog pa ang iyahang dagan ug ang pagpangurog sa iyahang kaunuran.

Gipaghot siya sa mga iro.

“Ayo!” sangpit niya sa tag-iya sa tindahan samtang gidukdok ang kahoy nga bintana niini. “Kol! Kol!”

“Oh, dong,” tubag sa lalaki sa iyaha. “Unsay maayong hangin nga nagdala nimu dinhi? Naghinagudlos man lagi ka?”

“Kol, mamalit daw silang Tatay og tuba,” segun ni Isloy sa walay pagduha-duha. “Isa ka galon lang.”

“Sus, dong! Nganong karun ka lang man? Nahurot na ang tuba ganinang hapon. Unsaon man gud, naay mga tambay diri nga nag-inom ganina gikan pa sa Barangay Datu Dani.”

“Hala! Gusto pa gyod baya ni Tatay mag-inom.” Nanghupaw si Isloy.

“Ang maayo pa ani, dalha ning galon nako,” segun sa lalaki. “Adto didto kay Lolo Alex nimo. Dira dapit sa centro bitaw. Naa namaligya og tuba dira.”

“Mao ba, Kol?” Natagaan og paglaum si Isloy. “Sige, salamat kaayo!”

Nagdali-dali siya og lakaw padulong sa centro sa ilahang baryo. Maayo na lang aduna nay daghang suga didtong dapita. Pag-abot niya didto, nakita niya ang mga tambay nga nakahukas og sinina. Ang uban kanila nanigarilyo. Nailhan niya ang isa sa ilaha—si Biyad nga iskulmeyt niya. Daku kini og lawas kon itandi sa edad niini nga dise-sais. Si Biyad maoy gibaniug nga kawatan sa ilahang lugar. “Yawa” gani usahay ang tawag sa mga tao sa iyaha ilabi na kadtong tag-iya sa mga tindahan sa palengke nga iyaha nang naransak.

Sa dili pa kaayo siya duol sa tindahan, nadungog ni Isloy nga dagko kaayo kinig mga tingug. Kauban ni Biyad ang uban pang mga lalaki nga nagtagay didto sa daplin sa kalsada atbang sa tindahan sa kadtong Lolo Alex. Mutipas siya og agianan kay naglikay siya sa gubot nga mahitabo kon naa man. Kaila niya si Biyad. Maoy kini kon mahubog. Bisan kinsa lang ang sumbagun niini. Niadtong niaging bulan, hapit kini pahawaun sa eskuylahan tungod sa daghan na kaayo kinig gipanghulga. Apan nahuna-hunaan sab niya nga dili kadto ang panahun arun ipasulabi niya ang pagkatalawan. Kinahanglan sab niya magdali ug makadala og tuba sa balay arun dili siya mabunalan sa iyahang amahan.

Nidayon siya og panuktok sa tindahan sa giilang Lolo Alex. “Ayo, Lo, naa moy baligya tuba?”

“Oh, Dong?” tubag sa tiguwang.

“Lo, mamalit kog tuba kay nahutdan silang Angkol Balong.” Gidunol ni Isloy ang galon sa tiguwang.

“Mao ba? Huwat sa ha kay kuhaon nako ang kontiner.” Nangadto kini sa kusina.

Tungod sab sa kahayag sa tindahan sa tiguwang maong makita ni Isloy nga daghan kaayo og istak sa tuba didtoa. Adunay kulay puti nga matud pa sa uban tam-is ang lasa. Adunay kulay pula tungod sa gibutang nga tungog. Mao daw kini ang makahubog. Mas kusog daw kini kaysa sa puti nga tuba.

Samtang nag-ipis og tuba ang tiguwang laki, milingi si Isloy ug namatikdan niya ang kinatibuk-ang palibot. Karun lang pud siya nakaadto sa centro aning orasa tungod kay layo ang ilahang balay sa mismong barangay hall, mga duha ka kilometro. Nibati siya og kalipay. Nakaingun siya sa kaugalingun nga ingun ani diay ang dagway sa centro matag gabii—daghan suga, daghan palalitun, daghan sab mga tawo nga naa sa gawas, alibugyaw ang dalan. Dili parehas sa ilahang lugar nga suok kaayo, mga kikik ug kabog lang ang nagsaba-saba sa taas sa lubi matag gabii. Nahunahunaan sab niya ang iyang anhing Lolo Tonyo. Nimingaw hinuon siya niini. Kon buhi pa kini, tingali mubirada kini og kanta, unya siya ang tiggitara matag kumbira sa ilaha.

Nibalik sa hustong paminsar si Isloy sa pagkakita nga nibalik na kadtong Lolo Alex dala ang usa ka galon nga tuba.

“Salamat, Lo,” ingon ni Isloy dala kuot sa kwarta nga nagkantidad og singkwenta pesos sa iyahang bulsa.

“Way sapayan, Dong,” tubag sa tiguwang laki. “Amping sa paglakaw.”

Sa pagpauli ni Isloy, nakita niya pag-usab ang mga takoy nga nag-alirung duol sa kurbada nga likuanan paingun sa ilaha. Gisitsitan siya sa iyahang klasmeyt nga si Biyad. “Uy, shat sa!” matud pa sa iyaha.

“Gisugo kong Tatay!” balibad ni Isloy.

“Respeto lang ba!” pamugos sa ulitawo.

Walay nahimu si Isloy. Nisugot na lang sad siya. Gibutang niya ang galon sa kilid ug gidawat ang gidunol nga baso sa Tanduay. Nahadlok sab siya nga tingali birahan siya sa kuto-kuto o atangan didto sa dulom unya kon mudili siya. Isa lang ka lad-ok sa Tanduay ang kinahanglan arun nga makahawa.

Giinum niya kini kauban ang ubang mga takoy. Nilingkod siya. Nakita niya nga nanigarilyo ang uban. Gitagaan siya og usa ka stick nga Fortune apan nagdumili siya kay wala gyod siya makasulay og tustos ani.

Una niyang syat, nikulismaot gyod iyahang nawong kay nalasahan niya ang kapait sa ilimnun. Ug gipaspasan siya og tagay sa mga kauban ni Biyad. Naabtan siyag pila ka minuto.

“Uy, Isloy, uban sad sa amoa usahay uy, sa amoang mga lakaw!” segun ni Biyad.

“Ugma muadto mis Wakap,” dugang istorya sa kauban ni Biyad nga adunay aritos sa dila. “Sa Datu Dani ba. Sa may baybay. Mangita mig lingaw. Uban ha!”

Mitando lamang si Isloy. Taod-taod nananghid na siya nga muhawa tungod kay nibati na gyod siya og tumang kalabad sa ulo.

“Uy, Isloy, tingalig gusto ka nga ibilin nang tuba sa amoa,” komedya ni Biyad.

Gibati siyag kabalaka tingali pugngan siyang Biyad ug kuhaon pati iyahang tuba. “Kasuk-an kong Tatay!” tubag ni Isloy.

“Bayuta bataa uy!” segun sa usa ka kauban ni Biyad, ug nangatawa sila.

Nibatig kalain si Isloy apan wala niya kini panumbalinga.

“Good boy man gud na siya, bay,” tubag ni Biyad sa mga barkada. “Ha-ha! Pasagdii na lang na.”

“Sige, diri sa ko,” pananghid ni Isloy. Mura siyag naibtan og tunok.

Mihawa na siya sa pundok sa mga takoy. Paspas kaayo ang iyahang lakaw dala ang tuba nga ginapaabot sa iyahang amahan. Layo-layo pa baya ang ilaha. Nagpanglingi siya sa iyang likod. Maayo na lang wala siya gisunod-sunod nilang Biyad. Naagian na sab niya ang tindahan niadtong Balong. Sirado na kini, ug patay na ang suga. Nipaspas iyahang dagan. Nakahunahuna siyag maayo pa nga wala siya niinum kauban silang Biyad.

Sa dili pa madugay, nisapit na niya ang kawayanan kon asa ginatuohan nga naay gapakita nga mga santelmo. Nagyamar siya. “Santelmo, santelmo,” segun niya sa kaugalingun. “Sus, panghadlok ra na.”

Nagpadayon siya sa paglakaw hangtod sa nakadungog siya og hinagudlos sa mga tiil paingun niya. Didto na nagsugod og panimbawot iyahang balahibo sa tibuok lawas. “Dili ni maayo,” segun niya sa kaugalingun. Paglingi niya, nakita niya nga naay nagsininggitay sa iyahang likod. Silang Biyad nga nagdagan paingun niya!

Nahadlok siya kay tingali tabangan siya nilang Biyad didto sa ngitngit tungod sa nahitabo ganiha. Apan nadungog niya ang singgit ni Biyad, “Bay, dagan! Dagan!”

Naapsan siya nilang Biyad, apan wala makalihok si Isloy sa iyahang pwesto. Nalisang siya apan murag gilansangan ang iyahang mga tiil. Gikaon sa kangitngit silang Biyad. Anha pa siya nakahunahuna sa pagtago sa pagkadungog nga adunay naghinagudlos na sab sa iyahang likod. Sa hilabihang kahadlok, nisum-ok si Isloy sa kasagbutan, sa may kawayanan. Gikulbaan pag-ayo si Isloy. Wala siya makabalo kon unsay buhaton.

“Asa naman tong mga buanga to!” nadungog niya nga gisulti sa usa ka tingog. “Pangitaa ninyo!” Wala siya makabalo kon asa kadto gikan tungod kay ngitngit kaayo ang palibot. Nisamot ang pagpangurog sa tuhod ni Isloy.

Nilabay ang pipila ka minuto, nakakita siya og suga nga nagdilaab. Nihayag ang dalan, apan wala kini niya maklaro. Kalit nga nakapangurus si Isloy. Mao ba ni ang santelmo? Kon mao man, makakita na gyod siya og santelmo! Ug kon tinuod kini, tingali gukudon siya niini kon makakita kini kaniya. Apan ingun sa iyahang Lolo Tonyo, kon dili gani siya magpalupig sa iyahang kahadlok, dali gyod kini mugara. Apan wala gyod siya makabalo kon asa siya nahadlok, sa bunal ba sa iyahang papa, sa mga lalaki nga naggukod ila Biyad, o sa santelmo nga kintahay magbugal-bugal sa iyaha. Niginhawa siya og lalum. Wala siya kasabot sa iyahang gibati. Namugnaw ang iyahang nanginit nga panit.

Gihawing niya ang mga dunot ug sagbot nga nagtago niya sa ngitngit. Kinahanglan niya makabalo kon unsa na ang nahitabo sa dalan. Nilili siya. Apan sukwahi sa gikahadlukan niya, dili kini santelmo. Suga kini nga gihawiran sa mga lalaki nga wala niya nailhan. Mga sulo diay kadtong nakita niya nga nagdilaab ganiha. Nakaginhawa og tarung si Isloy.

Apan nakita niya nga murag adunay ginapangita kining mga tawhana.

Wala siya makabalo kon magpakita ba siya o dili. Nahadlok siya nga maapil sa kagubot kon tinuod man galing nga silang Biyad gyod ang tuyo niadtong mga tawhana. Tingalig nakasala na sab silang Biyad. Dili niya gusto mag-apil-apil.

“Murag wala na sila diri,” segun sa usa ka tingog sa lalaki. Gisugaan niini ang palibot, ug sa dihang wala kini makita, gipatay na niini ang suga.

“Tara na,” segun sa usa ka tingog.

Nakadungog si Isloy og mga tingog sa tiil nga palayo gikan sa iyahang gikabutangan. Dayun namingaw ang palibot.

Naghinay-hinay og gawas si Isloy gikan sa kawayanan. Gipagpagan niya ang iyahang buhok og iyang sinina. Bahalag wala siyay suga basta muhawa na gyod siya kay gusto na niya muuli. Gikuha dayun niya ang tuba nga gipapalit sa iyaha. Bahala na og makulatahan siya pag-abot. Isulti na lang niya ang tanan nga nahitabo nganong nalangan siya.

“Makauli na gyod kog balay,” miingun siya sa kaugalingun.

Paggawas niya sa may kawayanan, dali siya nga gigunitan sa usa ka tawo sa iyahang abaga ug giliug siya. “Naa siya dinhi!” segun sa lalaki nga naggunit kaniya. “Dali!”

Nigawas ang mga kauban niini nga nagpahipi lang diay didto sa daplin ug gibantayan nga mugawas si Isloy. Gibati niya nga aduna kini mga hait nga hinagiban tungod talinis ang gitiun sa iyaha ug nidulot kini sa iyahang panit.

Nakahilak si Isloy ug nagkisi-kisi susama sa usa ka manok nga hapit na sumbaliun.

Nagsugod siya og tawag sa ngalan sa iyahang inahan nga namiya kanila, sa dihang nadungog niya ang pagkasa sa usa ka pusil niadtong lalaki nga maoy murag lider nila.

“Mamang!” singgaak ni Isloy, apan abtik nga gibakhan siya sa lalaki. Nagsunggo siya. “Wala koy sala,” segun niya bisag nagkalisod na sa paglitok. “Wala!”

“Asa sila?” pangutana sa usa ka lalaki sa iyaha. “Asa imuhang mga kauban?”

Wala makatubag si Isloy.

“Sampulan nato ni,” matud pa sa usa ka kauban niini.

“Ayaw, kuy,” pangamuyo ni Isloy. “Gisugo lang ko og tuba sakong tatay.”

“Panuway. Mao dayun nang palusot ninyo. Pwe!”

“Wala gyod koy sala. Maluoy tawun mu. Paulia nako ninyo, sir.” Niluhod na gyod si Isloy sa tiilan sa mga ningdakop niya.

Apan gidunggab siya dayun sa wala mailhi nga mga lalaki. Paminaw niya murag tulo o lima ang nagtabang kaniya. “Kinsa ang imuhang giilad? Buanga ka. Dugay na mi nagabantay sa inyuha. Kamo tong nangawat sa tariunon ni Mang Tiburcio sa pikas barangay.” Gipatid-patiran siya sa niingon.

“Buang mo,” segun sa usa pa. “Nagpabuyag lang mo aning katilingban.”

Nibati ni Isloy ang kangul-ngol sa sakit sa tibuok niyang kalawasan. Nakapiyong na lang siya tungod sa tumang kasakit. Nawad-an siya og kusog ug nahagba.

Dili gyod niya malihok ang tibuok niyang lawas.

Dayon nawad-an siya og panimuot.

Sa iyahang pagmata, nakita niya ang daghang mga tawo nga nagtapok kaniya. Ang uban nga mangagi manghunong gyod arun susihun kon naunsa siya.

“Uy, kinsa man ning bataa ni?” pangutana sa usa ka inahan nga adunay gikugos nga bata.

“Kaluoy gyod niya,” segun sab sa mga babaye nga gikan sa baybay.

Apan ang uban gisampungan ang ilahang mga ilong inig makakita niya. Ang uban kay nangahadlok.

“Murag gimino man siguro na kagabii, Doy,” giasuy sa usa ka tiguwang baye. “Murag nakainum ning bataa ni ba.”

“Giatangan siguro ni og dili ingon ato, te. Giwakwak man siguro ni.” Pamilyar kato nga tingog. Iya kadto ni Balong nga gabaligya og tuba.

“Kinsa kahay naghimu ani?” segun sa kadtong giilang Lolo Alex nga miduol sa pundok sa mga tawo.

“Gidunggab ni kagabii,” dugang pas usa kalaki. “Hubo man oh.”

“Nakabalo na kaha ang amahan ani?” pangutana ni Lolo Alex.

“Gitawag na, Kol,” segun ni Balong.

“Aduna may nag-inum diri kagabii nga mga takoy,” matud sa tiguwang. “Silang Biyad.”

“Gahapon, nong,” tubag ni Balong, “naay mga lalaki dinhi gikan Datu Dani. Mga batos ni Don Tiburcio daw kadto, naay ginapangita.”

“Wala may nagkagubot kagabii sa centro,” tubag ni Lolo Alex. “Namalit pa gani nig tuba gabii. Nagdali man ni og uli.” Nagpanglingo ang tiguwang.

Nahikurat si Isloy sa iyahang nadungog ug nakita. Nibangon siya ug giduol isa-isa ang mga tawo, apan walay makakita kaniya. Gilingi niya ang iyahang gitindugan, ug nahikurat siya sa pagkakita sa iyahang kaugalingong lawas nga napuno sa mga dinunggaban ug namala nga dugo.

Nalisang siya sa nasaksi. Nagpanglingo ug nagpalingi siya sa iyahang palibot.

Mas nahibuwong siya pag-ayo tungod sa iyahang nakita. Taliwala sa iyahang atubangan, atoa ang mga kalag nga murag naglutaw lang sa hangin. Nailhan niya ang mga nawong niini tungod kay niuban siya sa iyahang lolo arun managkot alang niining mga tawhana sauna.

Ug sa iyahang paglingi, nakita niya ang iyahang amahan nga naghinagudlos paadto sa iyahang patayng lawas. Naguol si Isloy. Karun siya na sab ang sunod nga pangadyean sa mga tawo ug sa iyahang amahan.

Nangitag kahayag si Isloy diha sa mga kandila nga gitugsok ibabaw sa iyahang namala nga dugo, tapad sa usa ka galon nga tuba nga ihatag unta niya sa iyahang tatay, nga karun nagtiyabaw samtang gigakos ang iyahang lawas.

Hamyang

Ni Alvin Q. Larida
Sugilanon

Sang nag-umpisa ang amon pag-imaway ni Nato, ginpaningkamotan gid namon magtiayon magpatindog sang amon puloy-an malayo sa poder ni Tatay, ang akon ugangan, agud mahibaloan man namon ang insakto nga pagbahinbahin sang amon nga budget. Agot si Nato sa lima nga magbulugto. Galagmay pa lang sila sang mailo sa ila iloy. Gani si Tatay Pedring lang ang nagbuhi kag nagpaeskwela sa ila tanan paagi sa ila gamay nga duta sa Barangay Canahay.

Sa tatlo ka tuig namon nga paglumon kay Tatay, indi maayo ang amon nangin relasyon. Ini man ang rason kung ngaa masami ang amon away ni Nato. Makita ko man nga palangga gid ni Tatay si Nato kag ang amon tatlo ka kabataan. Amo gid ini sang una ang nagapugong sa kaawot sang amon paghalin sa poder sang akon ugangan.

Sang mahuman ang amon ginapatindog nga balay sa Poblacion, nag-asiasi ako higayon nga magbalhin. Nangin mayad man ang amon pangabuhi. Taga Sabado, galagaw ang kabataan didto sa uma tungod mahilig sila maligo sa suba kag maningit sang kamunsil sa pangpang. Didto sila gapaamulya sa ila mga pakaisa. Taga uli nila kung hapon, madamo ang ila bitbit nga kamunsil. Gakaramungi pa gani ang tabungos.

Nagdugay kami sa Poblacion, apang taga fiesta lang ako makalagaw didto sa Canahay. Maayo na kung makaduwa ka bes ako makapalapit didto sa balay ni Tatay sa isa ka tuig. Wala man kami nagsabtanay ni Tatay sang naghalin kami sa iya poder, apang indi gid makabungat ang akon baba sa pagpanambit sa iya. Indi ko gid mapanalawsawan ang akon ginabatyag nahanungod sa iya.

Apang uyon gid sang kadamuan si Tatay. Nangin kapitan pa gani ini sang tatlo ka termino sa Canahay. Ginapalapitan ini sang mga kubos kag mga abyan niya. Taga hapon, samtang pula pa ang adlaw sa galawahan, ginapreparar na ni Tatay ang iya tuba nga ginbudburan sang balok kag padeharyo nga maskadahon, kumpleto sa buyo kag apog. May manamit pa ini nga sumsuman nga adobo nga bakbak ukon sinanlag nga apan. Kung makadawadawa kag dako ang patubas, shoktong ukon lapad man ang ginarolyo ni Tatay sa lamesa. Ini tanan para sa iya mga abyan kag kumpare. Pirti gid sila ka malipayon sa hinali nga maigo na sila sang ila tuba. Nagakisikisi gid si Tiyoy Nardo kag Tiyoy Dido sa ambahanon nga ginatira ni Tatay sa iya gitara.

Udto ato sang Marso kag nagapamaypay ako sa kagin-ot sa amon balkon sang nakabaton ako sang text halin kay Nato nga sa ospital kuno si Tatay diri sa Poblacion. Nagpin-ot kuno ang iya dughan kag nasapwan siya sa kusina nga nakahapa sa kilid sang buka nga baso. Gani nanghimos ako dayon para magkadto sa ospital.

Pag-abot ko sa ospital, daw gindapyahan ako sang mayami nga hangin. Paggawa ko sa ICU, sa nahamtangan ni Tatay, nakita ko nga mahuyang na siya kag nagapiyong na lang. Nabuta ang iya lawas sang aparato nga nagasuporta sa iya paginhawa. Naganguyngoy sa iya kilid si Manang Cecil, subang sa babaye kag ikaduwa niya nga bata. Daw indi ko makaya magsulod sa kwarto, gani gintext ko anay ang akon bana kung makapalapit siya higayon sa ospital para upod kami.

Sa kadugay ni Nato, ginpugos ko ang akon kaugalingon nga magsulod sa ICU. Nagtulukay lang kami ni Manang Cecil, kag ginkaptan ko ang kamot kag dapadapa ni Tatay nga tuman ka yami. Wala gid may naggwa biskan isa ka tinaga sa akon baba, biskan pag-agda na lang kay Manang. Daw ginsalapid ang akon dila sang tion nga ato. Hinayhinay ako dayon nga naggwa sa kwarto.

Sang nakauli na ako sa balay, nagtawag dayon si Nato nga wala na si Tatay—patay na si Tatay. Ginpahimos ako ni Nato para mag-uli sa uma. Kinanglan namon iplastar ang puloy-an ni Tatay para sa iya hamyang. Nag-una ako sa Canahay upod ang mga bata.

Sang ginahimos ko ang hiligdaan ni Tatay, nadiparahan ko ang nakatangkas nga mga album sa iya uluhan. Didto pa ang mga kodak sa kasal namon ni Nato. May mga nakapiod man nga mga relip nga bayo kag bistida nga sa akon tan-aw ginbakal niya para sa iya mga apo. Pagpalapit ko sa kusina, may nakita ko nga mga nakatangkas nga tabungos sa banggirahan. May mga pangalan nga nakasulat sa mga ini. Una ko nasid-ingan ang akon ngalan—Veronica. Abi ko anay si Nato ang nagapangpupu kag nagapangkutol sang mga gulay nga ginadala niya sa balay.

Nagtulo ang luha halin sa akon mata. Nangluya ako angay sang mga dahon sang alugbati nga nagaloyloy sa tabungos. Nakibot ako sang may naghaplas sa akon likod—si Manang Sylvia, asawa ni Manong Lando, subang nanday Nato. “Kaina pa kamo, Veron?” bungat niya sa akon.

“Mga duwa pa lang ka oras, Manay,” sabat ko.

Nangin masako kami sa pagpanghimos. Pag-abot sang mag-ululutod, nagtilipon dayon sila para pagaistoryahan ang mga plano. Isa lang ka semana ang hamyang ni Tatay, tutal wala man sang ginapaabot nga paryente halin sa malayo nga lugar kag ini man ang gintulin niya sang buhi pa siya.

Madamo nga abyan ang nag-abot para itukod ang palaypay sa atubang sang balay. Madamo man ang nagpahulam sang lamesa kag mga bangko para gamiton sa hamyang. Tuman kasako nga kalisod apang masadya nga hilikoton sang pamilya.

Daw fiesta sang Canahay taga gab-i sa balay ni Tatay. Ang mga may edad nagahampang sang tong-its, pyatpyat, kag Lucky 9, samtang ang mga kabataan naga-lukoluko kabayo, one-two-three-four-pass, ukon amo-amo. Amo man kami kasako para magsukad sang meryenda nga nilaga nga saging kag kamote para ipares sa kape. Ang mga nanay nagalutik sa bomba sa pagpanghugas sang mga dalagko nga kaldero, kawa, kag pipila nga mga pinggan kag tasa. Biskan sin-o na lang ang nagapalapit sa balay para maghatag kag magdaguro, halin sa gubernador sang probinsya padalom sa mayor sang banwa. Gani daw napigaran gawa ang kalisod kag kasubo nga naagum sang bug-os nga pamilya.

Pagkatapos sang lubong ni Tatay, samtang sabak ko ang amon agot nga si Loloy, nga wala gahalin ang mga kamot sa akon soso sa pagpangayutong, may nagpalapit nga mal-am nga babaye sa lamesa. Nanghugas ini sa kawa nga may nilaga nga dahon sang kabugaw. Dayon nagkuha ini sang paper plate kag naggalo sang kan-on kag lauya kag afritada. Ayawan man kapugong ang paper plate sa iya ginbutang. Nagaudauda nga nagpungko ang mal-am sa uway nga bangko sa akon tupad.

“Uy, Veron, kumusta na ikaw?” ang muno niya sa akon

“Mayad man, Tiyay, ah,” sabat ko. Gindaho ko ang kamot sang bata sa iya. “Oh, amin na kay Lola.”

“Ay abaw, amo na ning agot mo?” ang dugang niya. “Amo gid ini ang pirmi ginabungat ni Pare Pedring sa balay sang buhi pa siya. Tuman daw kabus-ok sang agot niyo ni Nato.”

Ginahunahuna ko kung sin-o ang mal-am.

“Abi mo lang, Veron,” padayon niya, “sang nagabusong pa ikaw sang una sang subang mo, mapisan gid maningit sang paho si Pare sa amon kay ihatag niya kuno sa iya umagadon nga nagapanamkon sang maaslum nga paho nga ginpaligid sa ginamos.”

Gaalalapok ang kan-on sa baba sang mal-am samtang nagalitanya sa akon, kag ang kaina nga nagaingos nga si Loloy, nalingaw nga nagapamati sa iya.

“Palangga niya gid kamo sato kay kamo gid daw ang makaatipan sa iya kay agot niya si Nato kag giunungan ninyo siya.”

Nangin hipus ako sa pipila ka minuto. Natunaw ang mga tinaga sa akon dila. Nanindog ang akon mga bulbul sa mga matuod nga sugilanon sang mal-am sa akon. Basta si Nato na gani ang manginahanglan kag maghulam, wala gid nagabalibad si Tatay. Mangita ini paagi mahatagan lang ang iya bata.

Mga pila man ka gab-i nga wala ako mayad nga tinulugan, sige ka paminsar kay Tatay. Maluya ako ka tuman. Napuno ako sang kapung-aw, kag daw ginayaguta ako sang paghinulsol sa akon nahibaloan. Wala man lang ako kapangayo pasaylo sa iya.

Samtang nagapungko ako, may lalaki ako nga nasanaaw sa indi malayo, nagapanglakaton sa kahon. May bitbit ini nga tabungos nga buta sang kamunsil kag paho. Nagtangis ako, kag hinali ako ginpukaw ni Nato. “Nagaugayong ka, ga!”

Ginhakus ko ang akon bana. “Ga, updi ko magkadto kay Tatay buwas sa patyo,” siling ko sa iya. Ginhugot niya ang hakus niya sa akon kag gintrapohan sang iya palad ang akon mga luha.

Dust and Drizzle

By Gian Carlo Licanda
Fiction

Something I can never understand whenever my mind wanders back to Marco is why he left the way he did. I often imagined that when whatever that we had was going to end, there would be lots of crying, of explaining why it hadn’t worked out, of whispering assurances between sobs that everything was going to be okay. But when he left, no words were spoken. I just woke up one morning alone in the bed that still bore the creases of his shape—arms spread as if they were welcoming my arrival, as if letting myself fall on the bed meant that he would hold me and never let go.

But in my unguarded moments, when my mind takes me back to him, I often wonder: Why did he leave me?

It might have begun on the morning of Marco’s thirty-second birthday. I woke up half an hour before he did that day, remembering that his wife and children was arriving from Davao to celebrate with him. If he had told me this the other night, I wouldn’t have come over. I didn’t want Agnes to find me in bed with her ex-husband. It was doubtful if this would matter to her, who would probably just think that I was just hanging out with Marco at a bar downtown last night and was just too wasted to go home. But it did matter to me.

Marco and Agnes had separated a year before. I didn’t exactly know the reason behind, but I knew that it had something to do with Marco’s proclivity for gambling. When he called me on the day Agnes and he separated and she brought the children to Davao with her, he was crying. I didn’t think twice about coming over to keep him company. He was my best friend since high school. And more than that, I had always loved him. It pained me so much to see him devastated over his family—and the life he always dreamed of having—crumbling right under his feet. That night, we drank bottle after bottle of beer until we winded up kissing and undressing each other in bed. And that unexpected turn of events spiraled out of hand and brought me to that day a year later, on the same bed with him, in the same room that smelled of cigarettes, beer, and after-sex musk.

When I woke up that morning, I did not spring up at once. I lay on the edge of the bed in the wash of morning sunlight that was coming in to the room in a slant through the glass window. My mind went over the ingredients I was going to buy at the grocery store on the way home from work. I was going to cook his favorite Mexican casserole for dinner. We planned on heading out to the beach on the night Agnes and the kids had gone back home.

I should be moving, but instead, I stared at the tiny flecks of dust in the ray of light and thought about how they had always been there in the room with us just floating about—unseen, silent, and in secret. Then my eyes darted onto Marco, and I thought about how we were just like the dust. But I didn’t mind. If this was the only way to be with him.

When I was done getting dressed, I bent toward his sleeping figure and kissed him on the cheek.

“Happy birthday, love,” I whispered.

He stirred but didn’t wake up.

* * *

Maybe it began when Marco arrived at my apartment a little after six that day. I had just finished cooking and had not taken a shower yet when he announced his arrival with a honk of his car. I went to the gate still wearing an apron. I thought that that might have infuriated him. He always hated it when I became unconscious with the time. Sitting next to him in his car on the way to the beach, he was very silent, and was monosyllabic and noncommittal when answering questions.

“How was the day with the kids?”

“Fine.”

“Where did you take them today?”

“Just around.”

“Did Agnes come with you?”

“Yeah.”

The conversation went on and on that way. I kept on talking to lighten up the mood, to lighten him up.

“This is going to be a perfect night. Have you read the papers? There’s going to be a meteor shower tonight. And what better place to watch it than at the beach? Plus it’s your birthday!”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, are you okay?” I reached out and squeezed him on his shoulder. “You seem . . . off.”

“Sorry. It’s just . . . ” He hesitated. “I’m just tired.”

“From last night?” I said. That made him chuckle, and I was glad it did.

I looked out ahead of us and noticed the fine drizzle through the beam of the headlights, and the glowing insects flying along the road, probably looking for some bush for cover from the rain. My heart sank. I really wanted us to watch the meteor shower and hoped that the drizzle wouldn’t turn into rain.

The rest of the ride I spent contemplating about how our relationship were like the dust and drizzle. We were unseen unless exposed in a certain slant of light in the bedroom, or a passing car’s headlight shining on the road. I wondered what was going to happen if one day we woke up and what we had was exposed in the light. The thought didn’t help, not with Marco’s dismissive attitude at the moment. So I cleared my mind and tried my best to fall asleep in the midst of the engines revving.

Had I known that it was going to be the last time I would be with him, I would have held his hand in the car throughout the ride. But we were just humans, with no knowledge of what tomorrow held. I was just living in that moment with him, oblivious that in Marco’s mind, he was thinking of ways to leave me without hurting me. Of words to say so that the ending wouldn’t hurt me. That much. But being left behind is always going to be painful. And of all people, Marco should know that.

On that last night we spent at the beach, I was sure it was a prelude to something so great to have in this lifetime—to have someone, to love someone, and be loved in return. I was certain he loved me. Of course, he loved me. Although he hadn’t told me so yet, I was so sure of it. I believed that what we had went beyond the affirmation needed through words, that what mattered were the actions. I felt it with the way he looked at me, with the way he kissed me, and most especially when we kept each other warm in bed at night.

Thinking about it now, maybe that was just all I was to him—someone to keep him warm whenever he got lonely at night.

Over dinner that night at the beach, Marco was still strangely silent, and it was making me uncomfortable.

“How was the food?” I asked him, beaming.

“It’s delicious,” he said without even looking at me.

“What is it, really?” I asked. I was beginning to lose my temper. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I just . . .” His voice trailed off. “I told you, I’m just tired.”

I didn’t know why, but it scared me. I couldn’t even bring myself to ask him what he was tired of. I was afraid that if I pressed on, he would say that he was tired of me. Of us. So instead, I told him that I wanted to watch the meteor shower that would begin in a few moments.

And tonight, I thought, tonight I am going to tell you I love and that I want us to be together. Out in the open.

* * *

I didn’t actually quite get what Marco meant when he said one time that some words were so hard to speak out, they tangled themselves in your throat in an almost choking manner. It was probably him exaggerating things again as he often did, I thought. He loved taking things up a few notches than what they actually were. Like how one time, when we were huddled in our favorite spot in a corner table at Starbucks, he insisted that it was my new hair color, ash gray, that was giving him a headache. I thought he meant it figuratively. But he then proceeded to explain how the color hurt his eyes, that the pain traveled through some nerves and manifested in his head. I mean, how can a mere hair color give someone a headache? How can words choke you?

But that time, I understood what he was saying as the words got caught up inside my throat.

We dressed up and went outside to the fishnet hammock underneath the coconut trees where we could get the best view of the night sky. Before midnight, the meteors began to appear. Our conversation was continually broken by exclamations of “There’s one!” and pointless attempts to point the meteor as the other tried to find the fleeting flash amid the myriad of silver dots of light. Then I took his hand in mine. He darted his gaze away from the sky to me, smiling, and at the same time arching his eyebrow in wonder.

I looked at him in the eye and opened my mouth to speak. I wanted to ask him what we were. I wanted to ask him if he really loved me. But the words wouldn’t come out. I felt my chest tighten, and unconsciously, I was holding my breath. I closed my mouth and opened it again, but still, the words wouldn’t come out. I was suddenly not sure of everything that was happening between us. The words were held back by uncertainties and fears of rejection. The act was painful, as if my words had suddenly took a physical form and they laid there unmoving inside my throat, blocking my airways, choking me to death.

We never saw the stars the other people in the beach saw, focused as we were in our own patch of sky. After a while, I just kept my sightings to myself, making each meteor mine, while he kept his, too, both pretending the shooting stars had simply stopped.

I was happy with what we had, so I told myself that whether I told him I love him or not didn’t matter. What mattered that moment was we were together.

* * *

There are so many moments in this lifetime that I wish I could relive. But one thing that haunted me the most is the sight of him lying beside me in the hammock, smiling and running his fingers on my cheeks. In that moment, basking in the glow of his eyes, I felt one with the shooting stars.

I regret not taking the chance in that moment. Many years later, whenever I try to relive that moment, I like to imagine that this is what happened: When he looked at me when the stars rained down from the heavens, I told him I love him, and he said it back to me. Then he took me in his arms, and we went back to the room and made love once again. When I woke up that morning, he was there beside me sleeping, not just his shape imprinted on the bed that had gone cold in his absence.

* * *

The weeks that came after that event were torture. I came to his apartment only to find him gone, along with his possessions. I tried to reach him in every way imaginable, to no avail. At last, when I had mustered enough courage to call Agnes, pretending to check on the kids, I found out that they had gotten back together. It turned out that on his birthday, they had a talk. Agnes was thinking that it was best for the kids that they got back together and urged Marco to come live with them in Davao.

“I’m glad you’re back together,” I told her over the phone. I was glad I didn’t cry. I was glad my voice wasn’t breaking at the news. But my heart did. “I really am.”

“Me, too. I thought a year away with him would do the trick. But turns out the heart wants who it wants.” I could almost see her smile in her voice. “So I’m giving him another chance. I just wish this time it would work out. You know. For the kids. For us.”

“Of course it will.”

“Hey, thanks for looking out for him when we were away.”

“Anything for my best man.” I laughed a little, which sounded awkward, so I punctuated it with clearing my throat.

“He’s here. Wait, I’m giving him the phone.”

“No, it’s okay.” But it was too late. Marco was already on the other end of the line.

“Hey,” he said in an almost broken whisper.

I did not say anything. I hung up.

* * *

Years later, when the wounds had healed and our paths crossed once again, I could still feel regret that I didn’t tell him that night at the beach what I had always wanted to tell him. I don’t know if it would have changed anything. The feeling of regret jolted out from me when I saw him in a fast food restaurant. But time had dulled the feeling.

I couldn’t sleep that night, so I had decided to go out and read the night away at McDonald’s. My eyes kept on darting from the pages of the book to the glass doors whenever someone came in. For some reason, I was suddenly thinking about Marco. It was almost like before, when we would hang out here until dawn to read or talk or both, over cheeseburgers and fries. I remembered in particular the way we shared fries. Although we were not saying it, we were making sure that we got one alternately. And one time, when there was only one left of the fries, he picked it up, dipped it in the catsup, and darted it towards my mouth. I bit the half, my lips barely touching his fingers. And he said, laughing, “Fair is fair.” And then I laughed along with him because I was happy, too.

And as if the universe felt my internal recollection and wanted to mock me, I saw Marco coming in through the doors. He passed by me and took a table right in front of me. All of a sudden, more memories that I had buried deep down came rushing to the surface. And the surge of emotion was so overwhelming that I couldn’t even begin to single out one. I watched him through the corners of my eyes. Through the blur, I made out his familiar contour and self-possession—the way he sat, like he was leaning in to listen. It was him. It was both overwhelmingly sad and relieving. After a long time, finally, I saw him.

I found myself arguing if I should stay inside the restaurant or just go, but then decided that this night had to happen, so I stayed. I calmed myself.

When he turned, he saw me. I watched him from the corner of my eyes watching me, and I knew I had to turn. When I did, we stared at each other for a moment. He was surprised and was obviously uncomfortable. I gave him a weak smile and looked away. I gathered the books I had laid on the table, and stood up to leave.

He followed me outside, and I let him walk with me on the street. We were silent for a time, feeling the awkward air hanging around us. I hugged the books on my chest, for the night had gone quite cold.

“It’s getting cold.” He finally broke the silence.

“Well, it’s almost Christmas again.” I took the opportunity for a closer look. His jet-black hair was now dyed a dark brown, though still tousled as if it had been caught by a wind. He had a pimple or two on his cheek, and dark circles around his eyes, probably because of spending too many nights playing his online game, again. Or gambling?

As we walked, I began to feel more at ease, and I just kept myself from saying that this was the first time we had seen each other after many years.

We walked a few more steps in a companionable silence. Then in a self-conscious voice, he began to tell me about Agnes and the kids, his life in Davao, and about how he was so thankful he got his family back together. I also decided to tell him about my life—about leaving the city and living in the country, about my work in a public high school, and about the book I was working on. Often, he gave me that inquiring, childlike look of his that I so loved.

After close to half an hour, when I was well aware that we had already walked more than halfway to where I was staying the night, I told him I had to go.

While hailing a tricycle, he said, “I think of you often.” Amid the drones of the vehicles that were passing by, I could hear the loneliness in his voice. And although I had wanted it for so long, I never asked the reason for his leaving me. For some reason, I felt that I did not need an answer anymore, but a closure. I needed us an ending.

There was a question in his eyes. He wasn’t asking for forgiveness but something more—something, maybe, to gauge the extent of his own delusion. Forgiveness, I had given him months before. But his look, his lingering, angered me as silent expectations often did. I managed to hide this with a smile, and to assure him, I held his hand, and squeezed it, just like the old days.

“I loved you, you know.” I told him.

This had the most unbelievable effect.

Standing there on the sidewalk among the passers-by, he gave a sudden cry, and he covered his mouth. His chest shuddered, and his eyes filled with tears. He was aware of the looks the people were giving us.

I took his hand again and said, “I’m sorry.” I didn’t know why I said that.

He kept on shaking his head. He looked ready to speak but said nothing.

“It’s okay,” I said. “You don’t have to answer me. You know, some words are so hard to speak, they choke you.”

I offered to walk him back to McDonald’s, but he refused. When he felt better, he raised his gaze to look at me with that same unaskable question. Then he leaned and kissed me fully on the cheek. His lips were cold, and somehow they suggested the ending I needed, that we both needed.

“I loved you, too, Miguel,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you. But you knew that, didn’t you? I loved you, too.”

I stared at him. If you had loved me, I wanted to say, and if what you are saying were true, then before you leave right now, look at me and tell me why you left me that way. Tell me how a person can love someone and at the same time see him unworthy of explanations why he was left behind. Tell me all the ways and words for goodbye until my ears tire of hearing them, until there’s nothing left to say in this lifetime, which would have been everything that mattered to me when we were still together though breaking apart. Tell me.

But instead, I just nodded and smiled.

Then he walked away. But before he disappeared around the corner, he turned to look at me one last time. I couldn’t remember how long it was. But this time, it seemed to me like he took all the time in the world to leave me.

Amay, Anak, kag Tiyay Magda

Ni Alvin Q. Larida 
Sugilanon

 

Ginaganahan ako kaupod siya, ang nagatudlo sa amon sang maayo nga  tinuohan kag nagpakilala sa tatlo ka persona nga amon dalangpan—ang Amay, ang Anak, kag si Tiyay Magda.

Sa Sitio San Joaquin, sa pagluad sang dulom, nagatililipon kami sa Payag Dalangpan, kung sa diin ang mga babaye nagasuksok sang bandana nga puti nga may marka sang trayanggulo nga mata—simbolo sang tatlo ka persona—samtang ang mga lalaki nagasuksok sang itom nga balabal nga ginburambod sa ulo.

Ako subong ang natulinan ni Tiyay Magda nga magpreparar sa Dalangpan. Sa sulod sang tatlo ka bulan, kinahanglan nga diri ako magtinir sa payag kaupod niya. Ang pag-atipan kag pagbantay sa amon manunudlo isa sa dose ka kasuguan. Palangga namon si Tiyay labaw pa sa pagpalangga niya sa amon.

Sa pagkagat sang dulom, samtang sanaaw pa ang planeta Venus, nagahalok kami tanan kay Tiyay bilang amon balaan nga pagrespeto sa tinuohan. Magaumpisa ang amon pamulong-pulong sa tinaga nga Nilatin: Concupitio mala, dilige Christum, daemona secteris, salvifcum. Nagaararapok ang lana halin sa baba ni Tiyay samtang ginamitlang ini. Ginatim-id gid sang tagsa ka myembro ang mga tinaga nga ginaluad ni Tiyay. Para sa amon, bulawan ang mga tinaga, gani amon ini ginausang sang taman-taman, kag magagurumo ang amon kasingkasing sang tampad nga pag-ulikid sa balaan nga persona.

Pagkatapos sang hulubaton, ang tagsa ka myembro kinahanglan nga magapamanyos kag magainom sang lana, nga naghalin sa binalhasan ni Tiyay kag dinuplaan sang tatlo ka bes. Diri namon maagom ang kapawa kag kahilwayan halin sa tatlo ka persona.

Nagparauli na ang mga myembro sang mag-urangol ang ido sa Dalangpan. Malamig na ang dapya sang hangin, kag matingil na ang inukay nga kawayan sa sobra kabaskog sang amihan. Init gid lamang halin sa pugon ang nagapusnga sa amon malamig nga panit.

Nagsukad ko sang kan-on, kag ginbutang sa lamesa ang amon sud-an nga bulad. Ginsugba ko na ini kagaina bag-o mag-umpisa ang pamulong-pulong. Nanamitan si Tiyay sa kaparat sang bulad, gani tatlo gid ka luwag nga kan-on ang ginbutang niya sa iya plato kag ginpugaan ini sang tatlo ka kihad nga kamatis. Madasig niya nga ginmoal ang amon nga panyapon sa iya maligwa nga ngislo.

Mal-am na si Tiyay. Nag-saysyentay singko anyos na siya sang nagligad semana. Apang makita mo pa ang kabakod sang iya lawas, kahimsog sang iya mga titi, kag kahamis sang iya panit biskan kurinot na ini. Ako baynte-uno anyos pa lang, apang sa akon butkon nakapas-an ang kaluwasan sang amon myembro.

Sa amon pagpahuway ni Tiyay, ginhumlad ko ang banig sa amon katre kag ginplastaran ini sang tatlo ka ulunan. Gintabunan ko ang mata ni Tiyay sang bandana nga puti, tapos gin-amat-amat ko uba ang akon T-shirt kag shorts. Naghigda ako nga nakahublas sa katre. Gin-alsa ko ang akon butkon kag ginpaubaya ang kaugalingon sa ikatatlo nga persona.

Nag-ugayong si Tiyay, tanda sang iya pagbasbas sang ikaduwa nga pamulong-pulong. Hinay-hinay niya gin-uba ang iya bestida, kag hinali nga nagsaka sa akon. Indi ko pwede tandugon si Tiyay sa iya pagduruwadi, nga iya gin-ubra samtang gapaspas nga gapaspas ang pagpanakayon sa akon. Raginit sang katre kag ingos lamang ni Tiyay ang mabatian sa sulod sang Dalangpan.

Nakibot ako sang gindilapan ni Tiyay ang akon dughan, kag nagtinir ang hampang sang iya dila sa akon pusod. Kag higayon niya ako gin-ulaan sang lana—ginbubuan sang balaan nga likido. Kag hinali niya ini ginlumoy nga daw uhaw sa ilig sang akon pagpautwas.

Natapos kami ni Tiyay nga nagakabatyag sang kahilwayan kag kaluwasan.

Amo ini ang samyaw sang akon kabuhi sa poder ni Tiyay. Amo ini ang akon nga sugo—ang pagaupdan ang ikatatlo nga persona.

Sa sunod nga sinemana, ang akon naman pakaisa nga si Nonoy ang magaupod kay Tiyay para siya pagaalagaran kag palanggaon labaw pa sa pagpalangga niya sa amon. Kay ini isa lamang sa dose ka kasuguan nga ginbantala sa amon sang tatlo ka persona—ang Amay, ang Anak, kag si Tiyay Magda.