Ang Pagkatuyo ng Lupa at Puso

Ni Mubarak Tahir
Maikling Kuwento

Unti-unti kong pinagmasdan ang sakahan. Nalungkot ako sa aking nakita. Sa kabila no’n ay nagpatuloy ako sa pagtalunton ng pilapil ng sakahan ni A’mâ habang hila-hila ko ang tali ng aming kalabaw na si Masbod. Nang mapadaan ako sa isang batis, napansin kong unti-unti nang nabibiyak ang tuyong putik nito. Ang mga damo, kangkong, at iba pang pananim ay unti-unti na ring nalalanta. Napailing ako at napabuntonghininga. Nagpatuloy ako sa paglalakad hanggang narating ko ang isang malaking puno na unti-unti na ring nalalagas ang mga dahon. Sa lilim ng puno ay iniwan ko si Masbod na paikot-ikot na naghahanap ng mga damong makakain niya. Bahagya kong niluwangan at hinabaan ang tali niya nang marating niya ang ilang damo na papalanta na rin.

Iniwan ko si Masbod at tinungo ko ang sakahan ni A’mâ. Ang dating malaginto at luntiang palayan ay napalitan ng tuyong lupain. Wala na rin ang mga lawin sa sakahan upang manghuli ng mga dagambukid. Ang mga susô sa gilid ng pilapil ay pawang bahay na lamang ang makikita. Nang marating ko ang bakanteng sakahan, pinagmasdan ko ito. Napaupo ako sa tuyong pilapil. Napatingala ako at napaluha na lamang. Bumigat ang aking pakiramdam na hindi ko maipaliwanag. Naalala ko si A’ma.

* * *

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar!

Isang malakas na boses ang gumising sa akin. Tinig iyon ni A’ma na hudyat para magsambayang sa umaga. Inaantok at mabigat man ang buong katawan, pinilit kong bumangon, kung hindi ay isang tábô ng malamig na tubig ang tatanggapin ko mula kay A’ma. Umupo muna ako.

Alhamdulillahi ahyana ba’da ma amatana wa ilayhin nushur, bulong ko sa sarili, isang pasasalamat sa Allah para sa panibagong umaga.

Dahan-dahan kong itinali sa beywang ko ang inaul na malong upang hindi mabasa sa pag-aabdas. Gamit ang lumang bao ng niyog, sinalok ko ang tubig na mula sa lumang banga. Nang ilublob ko ang kanang kamay ko sa bao ay naramdaman ko ang lamig ng tubig. Bigla akong nahimasmasan sa pagkakaantok. Pagkatapos kong hugasan ang dalawa kong kamay ay kumuha ako ulit ng tubig. Nilanghap ko ang amoy ng tubig. Amoy malinis at preskong tubig ng balon. Nagmumog ako nang tatlong beses. Panghuli kong hinugasan ang dalawa kong paa. Nang makabalik ako sa kama kong gawa sa kawayan ay agad kong hinanap ang sajadah upang magsambayang ng sub’h.

Mababanaag na ang sikat ng araw. Dumungaw ako sa bintana, at bumungad sa akin ang silahis ng araw. Napatingala ako habang nakapikit. Marahang huminga. Pumasok sa ilong ko patungong lalamunan ang malamig na simoy ng hangin kasama ng mabangong simoy ng gintong palay na nagmumula sa sakahan.

Wata mama, ikëta ka i kabaw a, paalala ni A’ma na noo’y naglilinis ng kaniyang mga kagamitan sa pagsasaka gaya ng araro.

Uway, sagot ko.

Pumanaog ako, at pagbaba ko ay napuno ng amoy ng sibuyas at bawang na ginigisa sa lanâ a tidtô ang buong bahay. Hinanap ko si I’nâ. Abala siya sa pagsi-sinakô ng malamig na kanin.

I’nâ, masu masarap ang niluluto mo, paglalambing ko.

Napangiti si I’nâ.

Pamagayas ka den san, Wata. Sundin mo na ang utos ni A’mâ mo, ani I’nâ. Makadtanay, pag-uwi mo handa na ang tilagaran natin, dugtong pa niya.

Nagmadali akong lumabas upang dalhin sa bakanteng sakahan si Masbod upang makapanginain ito sa mayayabong na damo. Sumakay ako kay Masbod na hawak-hawak ang kaniyang tali.

Hing! Hing! Pamagayas ka, sabi ko habang ikinikiskis ko ang mga paa sa tagiliran ni Masbod upang magmadali ito. Dali na, Masbod! Uuwi pa ako para mag-almusal.

Gustuhin ko mang latiguhin si Masbod dahil sa inis sa kaniya, mas pinili kong pabayaan ito habang sumasabsab ito ng masasaganang damo sa gilid ng daan.

Nang maitali ko na ang tali ni Masbod sa isang puno, kumaripas ako ng takbo pauwi. Ilang metro na lamang ay mararating ko na ang aming bahay. Mas lalo akong nagmadali nang maamoy ko ang pinipritong tamban ni I’nâ. Halos matisod ako sa pilapil.

N’ya ako den! nakangisi kong bungad kina I’nâ at A’mâ.

Hindi pa man ako nakakaupo ay bigla akong sinita ni A’mâ. Nginan, Wata? Hindi ka ba marunong magsalam kapag papasok sa walay?

Napalunok na lamang ako at tinabihan si A’mâ. A’mâ, gusto mo gawan kita ng kape a netib? paglalambing ko sa kaniya.

Napansin kong nakatingin sa akin si I’nâ at nakangiti. Alam na alam niya kung papaano ko hulihin ang kiliti ni A’mâ.

Uway, ’wag masyadong matamis a, sagot ni A’mâ. Mas masarap pa rin ang kape a netib na medyo mapait.

Sa isang tasa na yari sa lata ay ibinuhos ko ang mainit na tubig na nasa takure na nasa abuhan. Sa isang lumang garapon, kumuha ako ng isang kutsara ng netib na kape. Nilagyan ko rin ng kalahating kutsara ng pulang asukal at saka hinalo. Binalot ng bango ng kape ang buong banggerahan. Ganito ang tamang pagtitimpla ng kape ni A’mâ. Mangiti-ngiti kong inihatid at inilagay sa kaniyang harap ang umuusok na kape. Nakita kong ngumiti siya nang masamyo ang bango ng kape. Sa wakas, napasaya ko siya sa pinakasimpleng paraan.

Nang matapos mag-almusal, kinuha ni A’mâ ang kaniyang lumang salakot na nakasabit sa dingding ng bahay. Naghanda siya upang tingnan ang kaniyang sakahan. Nalalapit na rin ang anihan.

Wata, ihanda mo ang kubong at ’yong inihanda ni I’nâ mo na nilëpët na babaon natin, utos ni A’mâ habang nirorolyo niya ang kaniyang tabako.

Mabilis kong hinanap ang kubòng. Inilagay ko na rin sa lumang supot ang nilëpët na gawa ni I’nâ.

Dinaanan namin ni A’mâ si Masbod na nagtatampisaw sa batis. Sumakay kaming dalawa kay Masbod patungong sakahan.

Wata, kapët ka, sabi ni A’mâ nang may pag-aalala.

Mahigpit akong kumapit sa beywang ni A’mâ. Nakaramdam ako ng kapanatagan at kaligtasan. Napangiti ako. Minsan pa’y inilapat ko ang aking mukha sa likod niya. Naamoy ko ang katandaan niya. Hindi amoy ng pawis kundi amoy ng sakripisyo at pagsisikap. Pagsasaka na ang kinamulatang trabaho ni A’mâ. Ito rin ang ikinabubuhay namin. Parang gulong ang pagsasaka—minsan masagana at kung minsan naman ay hindi sinisuwerte. Gayon pa man, nagpapatuloy si A’mâ. Hindi siya nagpadaig sa hamon ng buhay ng magsasaka gaya ng mga sakuna dulot ng bagyo. Kaya ganoon na lamang ang hanga ko sa kaniya.

Narating namin ang sakahan. Nadatnan din namin si Bapa Dima na nagbubungkal ng pilapil upang dumaloy ang tubig patungo sa kabilang palayan na dahan-dahan nang nawawalan ng tubig.

Kanakan den pala ang wata mo Kagi Tasil, ani ni Bapa Dima kay A’mâ.

Benal ba nagbibinata na, kaya sinasanay ko na sa mga gawain dito sa sakahan. Mabilis ang panahon ngayon. Di natin alam kung kailan natin iiwan ’tong sinasaka natin, paliwanag ni A’mâ habang nakatanaw sa kaniyang malawak na sakahan.

Nang marinig ko ang mga sinabi niya ay nakaramdam ako ng pagkalungkot sa mga oras na iyon. Hindi ko maipaliwanag, ngunit biglang sumikip ang dibdib ko. Gusto kong hawakan nang mahigpit ang mga kamay ni A’mâ.

Damangiyas ka mambu, Kagi. Huwag ka nga magbiro ng ganiyan. Syempre matagal pa ’yon, sa lakas mong ’yan, nakangiting sabi ni Bapa Dima.

Sa mga sinabi ni Bapa Dima ay nagkaroon ako ng lakas ng loob kahit papaano. Sa kabila noon ay hindi ko maiwasang hindi itago sa isipan ko ang mga binitawang salita ni A’mâ.

Iniwan namin si Bapa Dima sa kaniyang gawain. Pinuntahan at inikot namin ni A’mâ ang kaniyang sinasakang palayan. Tila inilatag na ginto ang mga butil ng palay. Ilang araw na lamang marahil ay aanihin na ito. Hinahawakan at pinagmamasdan ni A’mâ ang mga butil na aming nadaraanan. Napapangiti siya dahil masagana ang kaniyang sinasaka, hindi tulad noong nagdaang taon na hindi umabot sa tatlong sako ng palay ang kaniyang naaani dahil sa matinding insekto na sumalanta sa palayan.

Nagulat ako nang bigla akong akbayan ni A’mâ. Wata, tadëmi ka. Kahit anong yaman mo sa mundo, kung hindi ka kusang magsisikap ay mawawalan ito ng saysay. Kaya ikaw, habang bata ka pa, magsimula ka nang abutin ang mga pangarap mo. Pahalagahan mo ang bawat oras dahil ang bawat segundo, kapag dumaan, hindi mo na ito maibabalik pa, malumanay na sabi ni A’mâ habang nakatanaw sa malayo. Maliban sa pagsasaka, gusto kong makapagtapos ka ng pag-aaral mo. Mas magiging masaya kami ni I’nâ mo kung may makikita kaming nakasabit na diploma at hindi lamang mga salakot sa dingding ng bahay natin, dugtong pa niya habang nakatingin sa akin nang nakangiti.

Hindi ko alam kung papaano ko sasagutin si A’mâ. Nawalan ng lakas ang aking dila upang sabihin kung ano ang nararamdaman ko habang binibitawan niya ang mga salitang ’yon. Napakabigat. Napaiwas ako ng tingin. Huminga nang malalim at pilit na itinago sa kaniya ang pagpatak ng aking mga luha. Ayaw kong makita niya kung gaano ako kahina. Gusto kong malaman niya na nagiging matatag at malakas lamang ako kapag nandiyan siya. Inalis niya ang pagkakalapat ng kaniyang kamay sa aking balikat. Agad ko itong sinalo at mahigpit na hinawakan. Ayaw kong bumitaw sa mga kamay niya. Ilang saglit pa ay bumitaw siya sa aking mga kamay at humakbang. Hindi ko alam, ngunit nakaramdam ako ng pangungulila sa kaniya habang pinagmamasdan siyang humahakbang palayo sa akin.

* * *

Pauwi na ako. Katatapos lamang ng aking klase. Bago pa man tuluyang magdapit-hapon ay sinisikap kong makadaan sa sakahan upang tingnan ang kalagayan ng palayan ni A’mâ. Maayos naman ang palayan, kaya agad din akong umalis. Sakay ng biniling bisikleta ni A’ma, mabilis akong pumadyak lalo’t natatanaw ko na ang aming bahay, na tanging liwanag lamang ng lampara ang bumubuhay.

Habang nasa harap ako ng hagdan, bigla akong napatingala. Nakarinig ako ng mahihinang pag-iyak. Napansin ko rin ang iilang tsinelas na nasa kinatatayuan ko. Umakyat ako. Bumungad sa akin ang isang puting tela na dahan-dahang ginugupit nina Babo Taya at Babo Samira. Nakaramdam ako ng kabang hindi maipaliwanag. Sa isang silid ay nakita ko sina Bapa Dima at ilan pang tao. Hindi malinaw sa akin kung bakit wala silang imik at nakatalikod silang lahat.

Assalamu alaykom! Babo, ano’ng nangyari? tanong ko.

Napalingon sina Babo Taya, at nagkatitigan sila ng kaniyang kasama. Hindi sila makakibo. Tanging malungkot na mga titig ang kanilang tugon sa akin. Pumasok ako sa silid. Nakita ko sa isang sulok si I’nâ, humahagulgol nang patago. Agad ko siyang nilapitan at hinawakan ang magkabilang balikat. Naramdaman ko ang bigat. I’nâ? Nginan? Ano’ng nangyari?

Isang mahigpit na yakap ang itinugon ni I’nâ sa akin habang humagulgol siya. Hindi ko maintindihan ang lahat ng nangyayari. Naguluhan ako.

Minunot dën sa limo no Allah si A’mâ nëngka, mahinang sabi ni I’nâ. Kaninang tanghali, pagkatapos niyang magsambayang ng dhuh’r, bigla siyang inatake ng hayblad habang nananabako, dagdag ni I’nâ na hirap na rin sa paghinga.

Hindi ako nakapagsalita. Nanghina ako sa narinig ko. Agad kong pinuntahan ang nahihimlay na bangkay ni A’mâ. Pinagmasdan ko ang kaniyang mukha. Ngayon ko lang nakita ang maaliwalas at masaya niyang mukha. Napahagulgol na lamang ako habang yakap-yakap siya. Gusto kong sumigaw upang mailabas ang sakit na nararamdaman ko, ngunit hindi ko magawa dahil isa itong kasalanan sa Allah, kaya nauunawaan ko kung bakit walang imik ang lahat sa loob ng bahay.

Nang mapaliguan si A’mâ, muli ko siyang hinagkan at niyakap sa huling pagkakataon. Nang balutin na siya ng puting tela ay wala akong nagawa kundi maupo sa tarangkahan at di namamalayan ang pagdaloy ng aking mga luha. Dumating na ang araw na kinatatakutan ko. Ganitong-ganito ang naramdaman ko nang bitawan ni A’mâ ang aking kamay habang humahakbang siya papalayo sa akin sa sakahan. Wala na si A’mâ na nagpapalakas sa akin.

* * *

Ilang araw na lamang ay anihan na sa aming lugar. Halos lahat ay naghahanda na ng kani-kanilang kagamitan sa pag-aani. Si Bapa Dima ay nagpakanduli pa para sa masaganang ani bilang pasasalamat isang araw bago ang anihan. Hindi namin magawa ni I’nâ na magsaya sa mga panahong yaon lalo’t hindi pa umaabot ang ikaapatnapu’t araw ng pagkamatay ni A’mâ. Ngunit sinikap ko pa rin paghandaan ang pagdating ng araw ng anihan.

Madilim pa man ay nakarinig na ako ng pagragasa ng mga karosa at yapak ng mga kalabaw. Maagang pumunta sa kani-kanilang sakahan ang mga magsasaka. Kaya bumangon na lang din ako upang makapagsambayang at makapaghanda. Nang papunta ako sa banggerahan upang mag-abdas, nakita ko si I’nâ na naghahanda ng tilagaran. Hindi na siya kasinsigla noong nabubuhay pa si A’mâ. Mula nang mawala si A’mâ ay wala nang lamang kape na netib ang garapon namin. Hindi na rin siya naghahanda ng linëpët. Maraming nagbago nang maiwan kami.

Kinuha ko ang salakot na dating si A’mâ ang gumagamit. Isinakay ko na rin kay Masbod ang kagamitan sa pag-aani. Nang paalis na ako sa bahay, napansin kong may paparating sa may di kalayuan. Tumatakbo. Nang malapit na ay bumungad si Bapa Dima sa akin na hinihingal. Kamar! Kamar! Nasayang lahat, sabi nito na halos mapaluhod.

Bapa? Ano’ng ibig ni’yong sabihin? tanong ko sa kaniya.

Inatake ng mga insekto ang palayan natin! Halos wala nang natira para anihin, sagot niya.

Mabilis kong nilatigo ng tali si Masbod, at kumaripas ito ng takbo. Hindi ako makapaniwala sa ibinalita sa akin ni Bapa Dima. Habang mabilis na tumatakbo si Masbod ay naisip ko si A’mâ.

Di mapakay! Hindi maaaring masira lamang ang huling pananim ni A’mâ, bulong ko sa sarili.

Narating ko ang palayan. Nababalot ng pagkadismaya at lungkot ang kapaligiran ng mga magsasaka. Amoy na amoy ko rin ang mga insektong nanalasa sa palayan. Pinuntahan ko ang palayan ni A’mâ. Ang mga gintong butil ng palay ay nabalot ng maiitim na insekto. Naninilaw na rin ang mga berdeng dahon ng mga palay. Napaluhod na lamang ako sa aking nakita.

Ampon, A’mâ ko! Hindi ko naisalba ang inyong palayan, tanging nasabi ko habang pinagmasdan ang buong palayan.

Bago pa man magtanghali ay nagsiuwiang dismayado ang halos lahat ng magsasaka maliban kay Bapa Dima na nakatulalang nakaharap sa kaniyang palayan na maluha-luha. Bumaba ako sa pagkakasakay kay Masbod.

Matagal-tagal na naman bago tayo makakabangon nito, malungkot niyang sabi. Hindi na ’to bago sa amin. Sabi nga ni Kagi Tasil, pagsubok lamang ito sa ating mga magsasaka. Ang susuko sa hamon ay laging talo. Ang kaibahan lamang ngayon ay wala na akong karamay sa mga ganitong panahon.

Nilapitan ko si Bapa Dima. Hinawakan ko ang kaniyang balikat.

Bapa, simula ngayon ako na ang makakaramay ninyo dito sa sakahan. Ipagpapatuloy ko ang nasimulan ni A’ma habang nag-aaral, malakas na loob kong sabi kay Bapa Dima.

* * *

Bumalik lamang ang ulirat ko nang makaramdam ako ng pagpatak ng tubig sa tuyo kong balat. Napatingala ako. Isa-isang pumapatak ang ulan.

Masbod! Masbod! Bagulan! Bagulan, Masbod! masaya kong sigaw habang tumatakbo patungo kay Masbod.

Labis-labis ang saya ko sa araw na iyon. Matagal na rin naming hinihintay ang pagbagsak ng malakas na ulan sa aming sakahan. Ang mga tuyong lupain at pananim ay muling makakatikim ng tubig. Magkakaroon na rin kaming mga magsasaka ng bagong pagkakataon upang magsimulang magtanim. Ang naghihingalong mga sakahan ay muling mabubuhay, tulad ng mga puso naming tuyo na dahan-dahang mababasa ng paghilom.

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Lanahan

Ni Alvin Larida

(Ang una nga bersyon sang sugilanon nga ini nangin finalist sa isa ka short story contest nga ginhiwat sang writers’ organization sa South Cotabato sang 2019 T’nalak Festival.)

Gapalamalhas nga nagatiyabaw si Emilda bitbit ang duha ka bulan nga lapsag samtang ginalagas siya sang wasay sang iya bana, nga nagabaga ang mata sa kaakig. “Malooy ka, Lando,” hambal ni Emilda. “Indi pag-umida ang aton anak!”

Sang maabot siya sang iya bana, hinali siya sini gingan-it kag ginhan-usan sang wasay ang iya tuo nga kamot. Nagsulumpit ang dugo. Nagligid ang bata kag napaligoan sang dugo sang iya iloy. Nakahapa si Emilda sa kangotngot nga iya naagum. Diri nakatiempo si Lando sang han-us sang wasay sa likod sang asawa sini.

Wala na gid nakapalagyo si Emilda. Wala nag-untat sa pagbunal si Lando sa likod kag ulo sang asawa. Nagasagol ang dugo kag balhas ni Lando sa tion nga ibakol niya ang wasay sa mabaskog kag nagalagamak nga tul-an. Naumpawan lang siya sang maghibi ang lapsag. Sa kahadlok, nagdalagan siya palayo sa gintaboan sang krimen.

Sa indi madugay, nanawag si Pasing, iloy ni Lando, sa diutay nga puloy-an sang pamilya. Nagtalamos sang laway kag luha ang mal-am sang makita niya nga nagapaligo sa dugo kag may dalagko nga pilas ang iya umagad. “Emilda, sin-o ang nagbuhat sini sa imo?” matagsing nga tiyabaw sang mal-am, kag nagsungaw ang pagpanangis sa iya baba.

Ginkuha ni Pasing ang lapsag nga nagahibi kag nagalutik sa dugo sang iya iloy. May nabatian siya nga nagakumod sa puno sang paho sa bangi sang dalapugan. “Ano ayhan ato?” Nagsulod siya sa banggirahan kag nagsid-ing sa siklat sang dalapugan. Nakasiyagit siya sa iya nakita. “Lando!”

Nagakudog kag nagapaligo sa dugo si Lando samtang may bitbit nga wasay. “Nay, malooy ka,” hambal sini kay Pasing. “Indi ko hungod nga patyon ang akon asawa. Palangga ko si Emilda, Nay!”

Nagpalapit si Lando sa iloy. “Nay, batona ini.” Gindaho sini ang lanahan nga may nakapiod nga libreta. “Patya na lang ko, Nay. Indi na ko kasarang.”

Nagdalagan palayo si Pasing sang tuman ka paspas samtang bitbit ang lapsag. “Tabang! Tabang! Tabang!”

Nagkurog liwat si Lando kag nagbaga ang mata. Ginsunod niya si Pasing. Nagdalagan siya kag ginpungkoy ini sang wasay. Naigo sang pakol sang wasay ang likod sang mal-am, kag nadasma ini, parehas sang natabo kay Emilda kagaina, pero wala sini nabuy-an o naipit ang lapsag.

Ginpulot ni Lando ang wasay kag ginhan-us ini sa iloy, apan bag-o ini magtupa, naunahan ini sang sunod-sunod nga lupok sang pusil. Natumba si Lando.

“Ne Pasing, dalagan na!” singgit ni Mandoy, manghod ni Pasing.

Nagbangon si Pasing nga ginasipit gihapon ang lapsag kag nagdalagan nga wala balibalikid. Nanago siya sa idalom sang punoan sang saging. Nagwawaw ang lapsag, kag nakabati liwat si Pasing sang duwa ka lupok.

Sa ginahigdaan ni Lando, nagtulo ang luha sini kag naghambal, “Human na ang lanahan.”

Ginhunos ni Pasing ang lampin sang bata para ikudong sa iya ulo. Nakibot siya sang makapkapan niya ang lanahan kag libreta nga ginduhol sa iya ni Lando. “Ginoo ko, ano ining gindaho sa akon ni Lando?” Nagakudog nga naglakat siya pakadto sa iya puluy-an.

Pagligad sang pipila ka minutos, nagpalapit si Mandoy sa balay ni Pasing, bitbit ang wasay nga gingamit ni Lando. “Ne Pasing, si Mandoy ini,” tugda ni Mandoy nga nagahapohapo. “Palihog abrihi ang puertahan!” Gin-abrihan man dayon sang mal-am ang puertahan, kag namangkot ini kung kumusta na ang kahimtangan ni Lando kag ni Emilda. “Wala na sila, Ne!” nagamihamiha nga tugda ni Lando.

Nagtiyabaw si Pasing. Daw indi siya makakuha sang hangin sa iya pagwawaw. “Mandoy, buligi ako. Ngaa may lanahan kag libreta si Lando nga gindaho sa akon? Diin ini ginkuha sang imo hinablos?”

Diri nagluhod na si Mandoy sa atubang sang iya magulang. “Patawara ako, Ne. Ako ang nagkumbinsi kay Lando nga magtuon sang nasambit nga lanahan. Wala ako kabalo nga mali gali ang paggamit niya sa sagrado nga palangadion.”

“Kasan-o ini natabo? Ngaa?”

“Sang nagligad semana, nagpalapit si Lando sa akon. Luyag niya daw mahibaloan ang sekreto nga ginatago ni Emilda sa iya.”

“Ha? Sekreto? Galibog ang ulo ko, Mandoy.”

“Namuno sa akon ni Lando, Ne, nga pirmi kuno gab-i mag-uli si Emilda, kag may ginalikom ini sa iya. Gani, gintagaan ko siya sang lanahan—atong akon bulong sang una.”

“Ginoo ko, kabuot sang akon nga agot. Wala man gani ini kamuno sang problema niya sa akon. Ngaa gintago niya ang kasubo kag problema?”

Diri ginpalapitan ni Mandoy ang nagatangso nga magulang. Gin-uloulohan niya ini kag ginpainom sang tubig.

Sang maramasmasan, ginhambal ni Pasing, “Kinahanglan naton mahimos si Lando kag si Emilda, Mandoy.”

“Oo, Ne. Mahalin ako dayon para magtawag sang salakyan para madala sila sa morge.”

Nagtangdo na lamang si Pasing sa tuman ka kasubo. Naglakat dayon sang madasig si Mandoy.

Bitbit ang lapsag, ginbalikan ni Pasing ang patay nga lawas sang iya anak kag umagad. Ginbutang niya sa duyan ang lapsag. Ginpuno niya dayon sang tubig ang isa ka palanggana kag ginsawsaw diri ang isa ka tuwalya. Una niya ginpalapitan si Lando. Gintrapohan niya ang mga dugo nga nagmala na sa guya kag lawas sini.

Ginplastar niya si Lando malapit sa patay nga lawas ni Emilda. Ginlimpyohan niya man si Emilda. Gintrapohan niya ang ulo kag likod sini nga may nakaliswi pa nga mga tul-an. Padayon gihapon sa pagtulo ang iya luha. Naurongan siya sang makita niya nga sul-ob ni Emilda ang tsinelas ni Mandoy.

Natingala siya kung paano nakaabot ang bitas nga tsinelas sang iya manghod sa tiil sang iya umagad. Nasugpon niya sa iya hunahuna ang mga panghitabo. Nagsiyagit siya sang tuman kabaskog. “Mga sapat kamo!” Nagdungan sa iya tingog ang urangol sang mga ido.

Mga Sitsit ug Panaghoy

Ni John Efrael Igot

(Kini nga sugilanon ang nidaog sa short story writing contest nga giorganisar sa grupo sa mga magsusulat sa South Cotabato atol sa 2019 T’nalak Festival.)

Nangimbawt ang akoang mga balahibo tungod sa mga sitsit ug panaghoy nga akong nadungog sa nagkadaiyang parte sa palibot. Sitsit sa mga tawng wala ginapaminaw, panaghoy sa mga tawng nag-antos sa kasakit, kalisod—nag-antos sa mapait nga kahimtang sa kinabuhi.

“Dong, naunsa ka?” pangutana sa akoang amahan sa dihang iyahang namatikdan nga nagtabon ko sa akoang mga dalunggan. “Nganong gitabunan man nimu imuhang dalunggan?”

“Banha kaayo sila, Pa,” tubag nako sa iyaha. Nitindog ako ug nagalingilingi sa palibot, nagapanghinaot nga makakita akog malinawon nga dapit. “Molakaw hiuna ko, Pa.”

“Ug asa man ka moadto?” pangutana pa niya bag-o siya mitando. “Pag-amping. Daghan bayag mga daotang binuhat karung mga taknaa.”

“Diha ra ko sa unahan, mangitag kahilom.” Gikuha ko ang kalo nga nakasab-it sa pultahan ug gisuot kini. “Mobalik ra ko unya, kung dili na nako sila madunggan.”

Sa akoang paglakaw, mas nikusog man hinuon ang mga sitsit ug panaghoy nga nagabagting sa akong mga dalunggan. Dili kini maayo. Gipaspasan nako ang akoang paglakaw hangtod sa midagan na gayod ako ug wala na ko nakahibaw kung asa ko gidala sa akong mga tiil. Sa kahanawan, nakita ko ang mga tawo—mga tawng nagahilak, nagasinggit og panabang, pero wala gayoy mitabang ug miduol kanila.

Nagaduko ako nga milakaw padulong sa ilahang ginabarogan samtang naghinayhinay sa pag-agas ang akoang mga luha. Sila diay to. Sila diay kadtong nagasitsit ug nagapanaghoy nga pirmi nakong madungog. Dugay nga panahon na ang nilabay pero nagpatuyang kog panabon sa akong mga dalunggan. Nagpabungolbungol ko.

Wala ko nagdahom tungod kay abi man gud nakog naa koy sakit sa pangutok nga ginabatyag. Sayop ko kini. Wala gayod akoy tul-id nga mga lakang nga gihimo kaniadtong una kong nadungog ang ilang mga sitsit ug panaghoy. Gipasagdan ko lamang kini.

“N-n-naunsa mo?” pangutana nako sa ilaha sa nabuak nga tingog tungod kay dili ko na gayod mapugngan ang akong paghilak. “Unsa’y nahitabo sa inyoha?”

“Mali ang imohang pangutana, dong!” Nitindog ang usa ka babaye ug miduol siya kanako. “Dili kana ang angay nimong ipangutana.”

“Ha?” Gitan-aw nako ang mga mata sa babaye. “Unsa ang buot nimong ipasabot?”

“Unsa ang nahitabo kanato?” Gitan-aw pud ko niya sa maguol nga hulagway. “Mao kana ang angay nimong ipangutana.”

Himanhiman, nahayagan pagkalit ang akoang panghunahuna. Tama sila.

Unsa ang nahitabo kanamo?

Kanus-a mahilom ang mga sitsit sa katilingban—ang mga kasakit ug kaguol sa matag usa kanamo?

Kanus-a madungog ang mga panaghoy sa kinabuhi niining kalibotana?

Kanus-a?

 

 

Wakwak

Ni Martsu Ressan M. Ladia 

(Kini nga sugilanon nahimong finalist sa short story writing contest nga giorganisar sa grupo sa mga magsusulat sa South Cotabato atol sa 2019 T’nalak Festival.)

3:00 AM, May 10, 2019

Gibuhat ko na ang tanan, ang tanang pagpangandam aron malupigan ang mga pagpangwakwak sa among siyudad—alang sa akoang mga silingan, mga amigo, ug hilabi na sa akong pamilya nga nabiktima sa wakwak. Buot kong makabalos aron mahatagan og hustisya ang ilang mga dungog, pero ania ako, gahigda karon nianing salog nga puno sa abog, ug ang wakwak anaa gapaibabaw kanako, gipunggan pag-ayo ako, ug gihigtan pag-ayo ang akong mga kamot, ug sa akong pagpahuway, buot kong mangayo og pasaylo sa akong mga kasilinganan, mga amigo, ug labaw sa tanan, sa akong pinalanggang asawa ug anak.

7:00 PM, May 9, 2019

Nahibalo ako nga sa pagkatinood, ako na lang ang nag-inusarang gapabiling wala pa nabiktima sa wakwak dinhi sa among siyudad. Dili nako mahikalimtan ang gibuhat sa wakwak ngadto sa akong mga minahal sa kinabuhi. Ang akong asawa, gitak-ang sa wakwak ang iyahang mga tinai ug atay sa abohan. Ang akong anak, gitadtad niyag tinagodtagod sa akoang atubangan. Ang akoang mga silingan ug amigo, gipangsupsop niya ang dugo. Andam na ako, karon nga kagabhion, mobalos sa wakwak.

Giprepara ko na ang mga toneladang asin, ang pipila ka hait nga kutsilyo, ang akong pusil ug mga bala niini. Andam na tanan. Naabot na ang wakwak, nagdala kini ug mga kaubanan.

2:45 AM, May 10, 2019

Balig pito ka wakwak ang ning-atake sa akoang panimalay. Kada usa nila ako nang napanimaslan. Ang usa, gihan-ok nako sa asin ug gitil-obtil-ob ang nawong niini sa kaasinan usa gigulgol ang liog. Aduna sad koy baleg upat nga gipamusil sa dughan. Ang kinaulahiang duha, pirting pagpangsukol. Nabawi nila sa akoa ang akong pusil ug kutsilyo maong ako na lang silang gibalian og liog, pero wala nahimong sayon ang tanan. Samdan pud ako ug wala nay saktong kusog. Abi ko human na ang tanan ug sadihang paglabay sa pipila ka minuto, ning-abot ang uban pang kaubanan sa wakwak. Dili maihap nga kaubanan. Gipalibutan nila ako, ug dinhi na natapos ang akong kinabuhi.

5:00 AM, May 10, 2019

Nananawkanaw na ang tingog sa klase-klaseng reporter sa karadyohan. Aduna poy mga journalist. Nagpanggikan man sa nagkalain-laing istasyon, usa ra ka balita ang ginabutyag sa kanianhing puntoha.

Headline:

Patay ang usa ka serial killer nga drug addict kaganihang alas-tres sa kadlawon sa engkwentro batok sa kapulisan!

Detalye:

Patay si Carlos Corvera, alyas “Zenzen,” sa engkwentro batok sa kapulisan kaganihang alas-tres sa kadlawon. Giila si alyas Zenzen nga maong suspek sa mga pipila ka pagpatay dinhi sa dakbayan hilabi na sa mga pagpatay diin gisuyop niini ang dugo sa mga biktima.

Matud sa kapulisan, gipatay pod ni alyas Zenzen ang iyahang pamilya, lakip niini ang iyahang asawa ug anak pinaagi sa karumaldumal nga pagpatay.

Gibutyag sa pulis nga ang naingong suspek usa ka drug addict, ug nasikop usab sa panimalay niini ang pipila ka gramo sa shabu. Sa engkwentro, pito sa kabahin sa kapulisan ang naangin.

Kini si Mars Ladia, ang inyong tigbalita!

Matam-is nga Handurawan

Ni Nilyn Gamuza Pacariem 

(Ang sugilanon nga ini nakadaog sang una nga puwesto sa 2016 Peter’s Prize.)

“Nagagal-um na naman, maulan siguro,” nagaisahanon nga mitlang ni Ellen sa iya kaugalingon. Dali-dali siya nga nanghimos sang iya mga hinalay.

Samtang nagapulupungko sa kawayan nga bangko sa idalum sang langka, iya ginpangtipig ang mga panapton.

“Boommmm!” ang hinali nga pagpanaguob dungan ang pagbusbos sang makusog nga ulan.

Dayon halin ni Ellen sa sulod sang ila balay, apang naabutan gid siya sang ulan, butang nga nagpabatyag sa iya sang katugnaw.

Sa pag-isahanon, nagahampang sa iya hunahuna ang mga matam-is nga handurawan sang ila pag-updanay ni Dennis sang wala pa ini naglakat sa Dubai. Ginakalangkagan niya ang pagbusbos sang ulan nga kon ano kalamig, amo man ang pag-indakal sini sang iya dugo kag nagapadabdab sang iya balatyagon.

Ang mga pagsapding-sapding sang kamot ni Dennis sa nagaumbok nga bahin sang iya dughan daw kuryente nga nagalatay sa bug-os nga kaugatan kag nagapauy-uy sang iya kalawasan. Butang nga indi niya mapunggan ang boltahe nga amat-amat nagakamang sa iya mga kaundan  kag dayon nagadala sang iya panghunahuna sa mataas nga duog sang kalipay.

Ang mga paglambudanay sang ila mga dila nakapasilabo sang ila pareho nga mga balatyagon. Tubtob nga nagpadapat sang ila mga likod sa malum-uk nga hiligdaan. Kag nagdungan sa paghabyog-habyog ang mga walay panapton nga kalawasan. Nagpaugayong kag nagpasinggit sang ginahuptan nga balatyagon.

Kag dungan sa pagbusbos sang ulan ang pagtagas sang dugos sang kalipay.

Sa madason nga bulan, Marso. Si Dennis magaabot liwat halin sa Dubai. Kag si Ellen liwat nga gintangla ang kalangitan. May kapawa, kag paglaum. Liwat nga nagyuhum sa mga matam-is nila nga handurawan ni Dennis.

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.

Barbie

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.

* * *

032128
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.