The Creature That Devoured the Sun and the Moon

By John Mark G. Parlingayan

Goyo took his chosen stone and immediately put it in his slingshot. He held the Y-shaped frame in his nondominant hand with two rubber strips attached to the prongs. The end of the strips tended to hold the projectile, which at the moment was the stone that he was holding. His dominant hand held the rubber and drew it back, ready to hit the target. Amid the bloody-orange sky due to sunset, heading for the night, the bird, his target, fell immediately to the ground.

“Bull’s eye!” Goyo uttered to his friend Endong while checking the bird, which had a short neck and a short slender bill with a fleshy cere drenched in blood.

“You’re really good,” Endong said.

“Of course,” Goyo said. “Tatay was a good hunter back in old days, and he taught me so well.”

Solomon, a farmer, once told his son Goyo about his fondness of hunting birds when he was a child. He and his friends would even take the act of hunting into gambling. The person with the most number of birds killed would eventually win. Bragging, he always told his son that he always won, and bird hunting was the only game he knew he was good at. Fascinated, Goyo asked him for a slingshot, and Solomon gave it to the boy as a gift when the boy turned ten.

When Goyo reached home, he was greeted by his mother’s usual displeased tone because he came late again. “Are you not afraid of the spirits in the forest?” Lena said.

He did not answer his mother. He kept eating the sweet potato cooked over an open fire in their home. They mostly consumed root crops, corn, and rice, sometimes anything caught in the forest, such as birds, rodents, snakes, or even lizards when there was no more to eat. While he was staring blankly at his plate on their wooden table, with light from the fire tainting his innocent face, his mother talked continuously.

The elders in their village believed that hunting animals was dangerous. They believed that there were spirits or guardians who were assigned in protecting forests, valleys, and hills, and a class of spirits was vicious especially to people who had hurt something under their protection. Goyo’s parents believed such stories and beliefs.

Goyo would be irritated every time his Nay Lena blustered about the danger of hunting in the forest. Then that would lead to her ranting about how she really hated her husband for coming home drunk with his favorite coconut wine and how she really felt the burden of the kind of life she had. She believed that their family was cursed for disobeying and disrespecting the sacred spirits. That big belief, out of frustration about what kind of life they’d been living. He couldn’t blame his mother. He saw how she suffered from the insecurities of his father. How his Tay Solomon would accuse his Nay Lena of an affair with another man. How his feelings of being small and not enough were being displaced toward his mother and how both of his parents would wind up fighting furiously when the crops in their little land were destroyed by pests or a natural disaster. These became more complicated when his father would do nothing except drink for he could no longer hunt birds because of cataract.

After finishing his food, Goyo said politely, “I’ll go to sleep Nay.”

“All right,” his mother replied. “Prepare our banig already. Your father is coming home drunk for sure. I’ll wait for him.”

Before Goyo closed his eyes, he noticed the appearance of his mother. Her pale face painted a portrait of a tired woman at the edge of the pitfall, floating in darkness like the moon as sun left the night. He felt bad for her whenever his father hurt her. But he also felt bad for his father whenever he diminished gradually in size and strength every time she talked. As perfectly guessed by his Nay Lena, his Tay Solomon arrived drunk. She was right, but not all the time, he thought.

Goyo felt a light peck by a hard object on his head. He was awakened by it and was welcomed by strong winds from an unknown source. He found himself in a shore where the crystals of water were produced by the lights of adlaw and bulan, finally finding each other. The strange place was painted with flesh to red hues. Gloomy atmosphere along with the giant dragon-like bird were hovering in the sky. The creature was bigger than an island; it could devour the sun and moon. Goyo immediately grabbed his slingshot as it came to devour him. Its beak opened widely as beam of lights stricken him straight in the face.

He woke up from his dream with direct sunlight given by the morning outside their window. It’s weekend, so he didn’t need to worry about waking up early and walking to school for hours. He found his mother eating alone at their table. She prepared his favorite dried fish and boiled egg. His father had probably left the house to farm early in the morning.

“Let’s eat. I cooked your favorite food.”

Goyo joined his mother at the table.

He noticed some bruises on his mother’s arm. He wanted to ask his mother if his father had hurt her again but decided not to. He continued eating silently. He just already knew that they had brought pain to each other again as usual. She had talked, and he had hit her, leaving marks on her body.

He could no longer take the silence. Goyo immediately went outside with his slingshot to hunt birds again. He went to his friend’s house, but Endong was not there. His mom told Goyo that he went fishing with his father in the creek. Alone, Goyo walked rapidly until he reached the place where he and Endong used to hunt birds.  Surrounded by big trees and clear skies, the dancers of the air performed a simulation of graceful movements, flying and transferring from one tree to another, mating, laying eggs, which would eventually turn to chicks. He then started aiming at his target.

He walked home late noon, satisfied, for he was able to shot three fowl. He had felt the hunger before taking his last and most difficult shot. The bird had flown higher, and he aimed for it with much effort, maintaining his stable hands and his sharp eyes. At last, Goyo was able to hit his target and was victorious before he went for late lunch.

He ran home expecting a great meal to be prepared by his mother from the three dead birds in his right hand. On the way, he noticed the color of violent clouds slowly covering the sky. He felt strange, as though something macabre had happened. He was near their house when he saw a giant creature perching on the roof of their hut. It was the bird, with its wildly moving corneas, sharp claws, feet hard as steel, and large span of wings. The light atmosphere of the supposedly bright late noon turned heavy. The heaviness of the unknown crawled to his shoulder, breaking him into pieces.

Goyo opened the door. The screeching sound it produced led him to the prone body of his Tay Solomon, drenched in blood as if he was a bird hunted by a child—hunted by him.  Goyo’s body was frozen by the gust of wind from the continuously flapping wings of the unknown, flying away. His father’s body had been pecked by a hard object, in his upper torso, lying in dirt, as if wounded by a knife in a cockfight. His mother was nowhere to be found. Maybe the creature devoured her before it escaped, before it flew as high as it could until it was gone. Goyo screamed, but no sound came out of his throat.

“This is just a dream like last night,” he said in a flustered voice. “Please!”

The large creature did devour the sun and the moon and eventually did the same with the earth.


The Balut Vendor

By John Mark G. Parlingayan

The customer cracked the balut with her fork and peeled the top of it. She was then welcomed by the broth. The sun had set, and Maharlika Street was filled with the songs of cicadas in the trees and darkness. A few motorcycles sharply passed the dirt road that was slippery when wet and sandy and baked hard when dry. The houses and the irrigation that the street was known for lay close to the narrow road. Neighbors bumped into one another. People crossed a few steps when buying from the sari-sari store opposite their house or when eating under the colorful umbrellas of the waiting balut vendors with their just-cooked delicacy. One of the vendors was Tiyo Tatang, my grandparents’ closest friend.

In our compound, where concrete fences separated the houses, yellow lights flashed from the gates. A lot of people visited our house, comforting themselves with caffeine and board games. Relatives from far places also arrived to share their condolences and join the cortege during the wake. It was already the third night. Lolo Etot and Lola Emily were each placed in a casket, with bright gold tapestry on the background and fresh flowers beside the bier. In silence, in front of our small wooden bridge to cross the irrigation, I saw Tiyo Tatang’s weather-beaten figure. He had a chiseled, grubby face and fine complexion. He was in his seventies, beaten by time as it continued to pass by like transportations taking the rough street in front of his balut place. Tiyo continued to work even at this time.

Names of their loved ones were written on purple ribbons, reminding the family of Lolo Etot and Lola Emily’s favorite ube halaya, which was sweet, unlike the bitter situation of losing someone. I could still remember the first time I’d seen Lolo’s and Lola’s bodies in the morgue. I was engrossed with the sad portrait of two lovers facing death together. Tears fell from my eyes. The sound of grief from my family struck me. It was like the cry of gypsies, the sad melody that was always playing on my head.

Much of what surprised me was the extreme weeping of Tiyo Tatang beside the body of Lola Emily. He was like that probably because of the pain of losing a friend, especially a friend who was considered a part of the family. I stared a bit longer at Tiyo before being approached by the mortician.

Balut is also considered an aphrodisiac, yet ironically, Tiyo Tatang never had a child. When I was seven, out of curiosity, I asked my mom how Tiyo Tatang is related to our family. My mom told me that Tiyo had been a third wheel to Lolo Etot and Lola Emily back when they were in high school in South Cotabato. Later on, the couple decided to settle in Kabacan in North Cotabato, just across Tiyo Tatang’s house, where he had been living alone since his mother passed away. Lola Emily, if still alive, would probably able to remember the soul of Tiyo drowning in felicity when he found out that his best of friends would be his neighbors. From that day on, Tiyo Tatang had been a part of the Catalina family. He was able to witness the ups and downs of raising a family, children playing back and forth like there was no tomorrow until time made them grow. He was there when the once little kids asking him for free food became adults and built their own family.

Lolo Etot would tell Tiyo to start building his own family, but he would just hear it like a hum in the wind. Tiyo Tatang did have past relationships. He had girlfriends, but he shared with Lolo Etot that all those women were not on a par with the woman whom he regarded as his one true love. But Lolo Etot, even until his death, wasn’t able to know who the woman was or what happened between Tiyo Tatang and her. If Lolo Etot were still living, he would probably state the same advice, and Tiyo Tatang would still probably ignore it, left to exist as though not existing.

The mortician told me that he had removed the moisture and sealed the caskets. He then went out as he had finished his work. Everyone would definitely not stay when they had finished their work and mission in life, like Lolo Etot and Lola Emily.

* * *

My sister Tentay arrived at 8:45 in the evening. She came from a writing workshop in Davao. At first, she did not want to attend the workshop because it meant leaving our grandparents’ wake, but I convinced her to go, telling her that Lolo and Lola would also want her to make something out of her passion in creative writing. Tentay loved our grandparents so much because they raised us for almost two years when our father had to stay in Davao to be treated for brain tumor. Our mother, the third child of Lolo and Lola, joined our father in taking the somber days of their lives, making them sturdy for what more the life had to give. They did feel the pungent side of life, but they were guided by Lolo Etot and Lola Emily and were definitely prayed for by Tiyo Tatang.

I remembered when Tentay got bitten by a dog while eating balut. Lolo Etot had given her a treat. She ate three baluts and even got another one to take home. As she was crossing the road past the gate, while enchanted with the moon in the night sky, sipping on the balut, she was unaware of the sprawled canine on the ground and stepped on it. Our parents spent a big amount of money for her vaccination. She wasn’t able to play outside for some time. My childish anger toward Lolo Etot and Tiyo Tatang lasted for about the same time. I blamed them for giving Tentay the balut that caused the accident. The two old men blamed themselves as well, mugged by their conscience, but people reminded them that the whole thing was an accident. In time the feelings disappeared, and in time they reached their destination, at least for Lolo Etot and Lola Emily. Tiyo remained on the alley.

On the day of my grandparents’ burial, I reminded Tiyo that it would start at one in the afternoon. Tiyo Tatang stood still with his lanky physique, replying with a dull nod. He stammered. Then his sobs thudded, like heavy objects falling to the ground, as heavy as his feeling at the moment, as heavy as the two caskets that the staff of the funeral home carried out of the house. The cemetery was five kilometers away from Maharlika Street.

The vehicles lined up as they ushered two good souls to heaven. Playing on a stereo was the song “Awit ng Anak sa Magulang.” As the car moved, the view outside started to blur. Amid the heat of sunlight and the warm breeze of July, everything started to move fast until it became almost invisible to the naked eye. The clinks and clanks of the engine, the weary heads of toy dogs on the dashboard, the croon of people close to heart as they sobbed—together they made harmonious the procession for Lola Emily and Lolo Etot, who had both suffered from illnesses, the former from pneumonia and the latter from complications of his kidney disease.

We arrived at the open white-painted gate of the cemetery. The landscape was designed with artistry, with healthy green grass planted on a hectare of land. Some families had built mausoleums. At the edge of the plain where the sun would likely set, a tent of white and purple colors was standing, and under was a hole surrounded by plastic chairs. Four metal bars were placed on the sides of the rectangular hole as part of the machinery that the staff would use to lower the caskets in a fluid manner.

We lined up to have our final glance. First were the families, and the other relatives were next. Tiyo Tatang had his final look just as the grandchildren bid their final goodbyes. Sadness was painted on his face. His relationship with Lolo and Lola had been broken, like a bird’s egg. The shell had cracked, and there was nothing to protect the embryo inside. As the the caskets were lowered, I noticed Tiyo Tatang walking away, his steps long and decisive in an unspecified direction. He disappeared just as his friends were being buried, just as the sun set, beautiful and calming.

* * *

“Tiyo, penge pong suka!”

I asked Tiyo Tatang for a vinegar the night after the burial. I then added a little salt and drained it to the soup before proceeding. I peeled off most of the shell and ate the balut in two to three bites to avoid seeing the embryo. I was afraid of the feeling of chewing on a duckling, but I couldn’t stop eating balut, for it was my favorite snack. And the balut vendor already lost two good friends. Like me, he was just afraid—fearful and uncertain of living a life without Lolo Etot and Lola Emily, of continuing his life alone as though enclosed in a shell.