By: Totomel Hayahay
“They said we learned from books, most of our knowledge came from that lifeless text yet deadly enough to animate the mind. We munched the ideas to imbibe its significance for the trail of understanding our existence . The texts – which carried neither constructive nor destructive ideas – became the ultimate tabula of our learning – this was what I believe long ago until doubts overwhelmed my being after hearing the voices which had popped in my mind wrought by corrosion of alcohol in my brain. Was it really the tuba or the undying desire of my loin that took control of me since I took a dose of immorality? I didn’t know. I was not sure for reason had failed me in times when I needed it most. Instead, it was obscurity that clothed me and resulted to a teetering whether to believe or not that logic was reliable point of judgment; I say, it was very hard to think without having direction as if you were no longer driven by reason but by the superficial senses of brutality: a curse of the flesh as fanatic cult assumed. Its urge reverberated in my flesh and it singed my heart with passion, not to rip off my clothes but to dampen my body with purification.”
“And now, for sure, if Satan is imminent, it is initiated by female flesh. He uses female body as a manuscript, perhaps a masterpiece that contains a cunning notion which could be very enticing to human desire. It has been good alright; its constancy though is another side of the story. I wish I could face up with the woman I desire to which the wantonness became a grotesque channel of my senses. Her face, oh I remember with her eyes that lurked with concupiscence. It was the very eyes that seeped into my being, stripping my guts to perdition. I wished I never live at all.”
“Is there any way I could end my life without staining my hands? Does the Book of Life-its text in particular- could give me a lucid answer in illuminating the idea of guilt? And why does man, in the process of adaptation, has never learned that most of the falls of civilizations were caused by women? If human is made up of desire, why does our mind – our sense of morality – wants to conquer it?”
I always love to hear to the melodious sound of nature especially in the daybreak when crowing of roosters and the rhythmical sound of tagatiyot enlivened the day with usual excitement. It was exactly six in the clock. I rubbed my eyes to check the clock again and yawn. I flexed my muscles and got out of bed. I stood near the altar and placed my hand on the picture of the Blessed Virgin and made the sign of the cross. It was always good to see your living another day to get up and move on with your life but a single day of living was also distressing in coherence with your nearing death. I peeped out to the yard from my wooden window which I always left ajar during the humid nights. The green grasses outside always greet you with shimmer of dews reflecting the effulgence of the sun and signifying that it would be a hot day ahead. In the backyard, my mother who was feeding the chicken started to pick up some stones to shoo stray ones usually owned by Nong Piling. She hurled a stone to the rooster that started to intrude the flock. Our rooster that stood as the haribon of the flock and was much older than the rest, started to coo a fight with Nong Piling’s had not my mother swung a stone that fortuitously hit its head.
My mother had grown old so fast now that my father departed in tragic death four years ago. Her wrinkles have started to show up and her skin had become coarse under the heat of the sun. Her graying hair, a sign of aging, clad her as a strong willed woman who had journeyed a laborious life to raise her children; but even if she started to transfigure in age, she would always remain pretty to me.
In the case of my father’s demise, I didn’t know the exact cause of it had I not eavesdropped in one of the conversations on his wake. I was informed that he was caught by the husband of the married woman he was having sex with and was stabbed to death at once. To much disgrace he cut off my father’s penis and stuck it inside his mouth. The woman however managed to escape his fury and ran away naked in perdition. People thought she has gone loco, some said that they merely saw a ghost. One thing I was sure about that woman, spotting her from a corner in a vacant lot near the church where I and mother used to disposed our products, she indeed had gone crazy.
My brother and I never wept nor did my mother on his funeral. We had so much pain to think of shedding a tear for him. I thought this was a good karma and after a series of litanies to the saints, my prayer was finally answered; I felt relieved from the angst. The freedom to be finally free was overwhelming that I deemed the funeral to be more of a jubilation rather than mourning. At last we were free from his rudeness and ribald disposition. Whatever the reaction of my father’s kin was no longer necessary for us for we were much fed up to think of commiserating with this cadaver. My heart was full of gladness although I couldn’t deny the urge to continue my malediction over his grave. If there was an authentic emotional ambivalence, it was at that moment that best described it.
My mother didn’t bother to sue the man who stabbed her husband because she knew it would only exacerbate the feud and healing would be a perpetual quest for both families. Aside from the fact that we didn’t have the money to afford a lawyer, my mother never wanted his death to strip us our only livelihood – selling vegetables. When I asked her what was her reason, she told me, “My children are more important than a dead man.”
I went to greet her good morning and she responded by smiling. She put down the bowl she used to feed the fowl on the bench between two trunks of mahogany.
“Toto, are you not going to fix yourself? It’s already 6 am and the well will soon be crowded with bathers. It would be hard for you to fetch water especially that it is the first day of class,” she said while patting me at the back.
“Yes, Nay. I’ll just get the containers from Kaloy. He borrowed them yesterday to fill his basin in his pig pen,” I said obediently.
She told me to hurry up and the sun would be soon scorching hot. Her eyes always possessed that jolliness to insinuate things she liked us to do freeing her to some emphatic commands. In the corner of my eyes, I could see her following my gait to make sure that I got what she told me. She never wanted me to be lazing for bagatelles but instead to focus on the pragmatic aspect of what she asked of us.
I went right away to Kaloy at the ridge approximately 50 meters from our abode. He was planting cassava when I got there. He was hoisting some of the stem which he cut in equal sizes to be planted in a small ground he cleared two days past. I approached him skipping the boulders that stood between the paths and asked for the container. He pointed me to his pantaw, a lavatory made of bamboo that looked very shoddy and bleak. I got the two black containers placed on top of the ledge near his door. I remembered how my elder brother, who was now living with my aunt in the city, labored for a day just to procure this from a gasoline station in the town. Because pail in the town were sold triple the price higher than its original tag in the city, people in the barrio settled for a greasy and cheap containers sold at gasoline stations. I put the two containers on my tuwang-tuwang and balanced them on my shoulder. I ushered directly down the ridge to the well. The path to it swirled around the woods down to the steep narrow path near Lola’s house. I usually enjoy trekking this path because, down below, I could see the roofs of different colors that resembled a mosaic which I had done long ago in our art class; but aside from that, the rest were painful experience. I was once beaten here by my classmates on my way home when one of them suspected me of stealing his pencil. All of them were bigger and stronger than I was and were known to be notorious in our campus. They wanted me confess everything and to give the pencil back by wringing my hands and beat me on the head; I wailed like crazy swearing to God that it was not I but Marlon, who was a buddy in their group, who got the pencil and gave it to his sister. This ceased the momentum of beating and turned their gaze to Marlon – which of course was an invention, a fib, out of my instinct. I wailed as loud as I could until my brother came to rescue me. The truth to that incident, I did steal his pencil which until now lies in my locket. Of course, I could not use the pencil because on its handle, the name of Philip was etched; using it would mean a suicide.
But, this route, despite its dark patina, has never ceased to give me hope – someday, I would be able to leave this land and live in a great plain of Barotac Nuevo. There, life was easy and very much near to the urban center. I always loved places where I could go around running without the threat of rocky contours that could be a very potent factor to lead you to death. Then I could look at grandiose houses and would figure the differences of architectural designs. Most of all, I would get access to the library – a desire that had taunted me knowing that the town had a local library maintained by two balikbayans spinsters who value reading the primary knack of knowledge . Books were always my desire as I have been enamored by fables and stories about boys who dreamt and etched their name in the promontory of success. I envied my brother because he was fortunate enough to be admitted in the University of the Philippines and would have endless access to the library. Since he was taking in comparative literature, minor in history, I remembered him once said, reading an interesting article in Yuhum-a local Hiligaynon print- that our place was once an active ground of guerilla during the World War II. Although most of guerilla units burrowed in the mountains of Leon, the guerrillas in Bagombong were clever enough to camouflage with the people. Instead of engaging in skirmishes, they served as conduits of underground information to other guerilla units in Anilao, Pototan, Dingle except Dumangas which served as the docking port of Japanese fleet. Barotac Nuevo consisting of its diversion roads to other towns in the north becomes strategic point for disseminating information apropos to the approaching Japanese renegade. I loved this story and asked my brother to tell me more. He promised to photocopy the page and bring it home next semestral break. He also promised to buy me a book when he gets the job as student assistant in the library. Although the pay would be small, he assured that books could always be a great reward and possession.
I trudged the trail down passing the garden plot of Nang Ulyan where alogbate and okra are inviting for a hungry pauper. The stock of hay which I gathered for Lola to feed her pregnant goats was still piled on that same spot. When I reached the bottom, Goyo, who was a good friend of mine back in elementary days but remained in grade six till now, was running to tell me the news he had heard from the hordes of tsismosa at the well. Had it not for the mercy of the teachers to let him pass one grade after another, he would have remained in grade three all his life. What I liked about him was his uncontrollable tongue to squeal any tsismis he groped. He never lied because he relayed precisely what he heard. I knew this because he had no aptitude to thwart stories with imagination to his liking and his obtuseness had been very helpful sometimes.
“What is that you want to tell me?”
Goyo gasping to breathe replied with drones but just enough for me to single out his sentence. “You will have a mestiza teacher in English.”
And when I asked him what her name was, he answered Rosa, without bothering to finish my inquiry.
Room 12 was new to me. I have been to every room, from Room 1 to 11, and now in my final year, I hope that I could get to experience all the room up to Room 14. All my years here in highschool, I could always associate each room with a memorable experience – some of them were good, others were meant to be abhorred. In room 3, in particular, I was horrified to see silhouettes moving in constant rhythm, when I managed to pass to get the scythe I borrowed from my classmate. It was 6 pm and all the students had gone home except for the guard who was posting at the left gate. I thought, after all, the rumored that ingkanto was true especially with this ivy covered room. I was about to run when the sounds became clear to me and I was sure it wasn’t so strange to be other than human; and swept by curiosity I peeped through a small chink in the window where the sound was coming. To my surprise, I saw our principal writhing behind Ms. Biñas in a fashion that dogs instinctually do. His hand cupped her breast alternately while the other held her waist pulling her harder to meet his thrusting. It was a vivid sight, and I could perfectly recall how the beautiful Ms. Biñas wince in pleasure.
The room was already filled with students when I entered its premise. Some were tall, others were tout and small but all of them are older than me. Just like my elder brother, my mother thought of me as an intelligent boy so enrolled me a year earlier than the rest of these students. I never objected her desire to send us to school because I trusted her wisdom. My mother knew very well the function of education as a social ladder even she hadn’t finished her education and was forced to work in the farm with my lolo to help send her younger sister to school. Fortunately, thoughtful of how her family is lobbying in sweat and blood to send her to school, my aunt was able to finish his secretarial course and was now living in the city. She did not get married because she loathed the presence of a man, but with the exemption of her male kin. I could sense she was once a victim of unrequited love and that she had no desire to indulge in another relationship. Maybe this was the reason why she always scolded my elder brother in lieu of infatuation and flattery.
Having no more seats in the back, I had no choice but to sit on the front to where I would definitely catch the saliva of the teacher spilling from their frontal orifice. However, this would serve me best because I would be obliged to listen carefully without being worried of temptation to chat with my seatmates. I looked at the vacant seat on my left side and trothed to myself that whoever would be sitting next to me, would surely reap my answers in every assignment. My classmates at the back were giddy to start the class especially we were informed that our adviser would be our beloved English teacher early before we had our summer break.
When the bell rang at 7:30, we moved out to the ground for our flag ceremony. My friend Evelyn was catching behind me and I greeted her jovially. She was almost late in time had not she walked together with her aunt, Mrs. Talento who was also very kind to me.
She stood pleasantly in her new blue uniform. Her white blouse made me condescend in humility, because mine looks to be a jaundice of a sort for the reason we couldn’t afford to buy a new one. She trimmed her hair to a shoulder length which I thought she would never do but she looked prettier. Her figure which has never crossed my mind before had shown a great shift from puberty. Her breasts which protruded inside her uniform were firm and alluring at sight. If I have to choose who I will be going to marry at that very moment, I would pick her up shut from any other alternative, not because of her beauty which has made her the desire of men but because of her good heart. She was angel reincarnated; if there was a reason why I believe in God, it was her being that molded it.
“Hello Rik, it’s been two months now. I think I miss you,” she said while chuckling like a child.
“Why did you not come on my birthday last week, Omar and Ana were there. My mother cooked a simple merienda for us and she herself expected for you. It could have been happier if you came.”
“I am sorry Evz, my mother won’t let me because we had so much work to be done. Our buyers in the town were demanding to increase our products to be transported to other markets. You perfectly know that we could never let this kind of opportunity to slip away. Everything today must be attended well or else we’ll have nothing for our table. I hope you understand,” I replied with sullenness.
“It’s ok. I know your reason well enough and I understand. I need your company well to get angry with you,” she jocularly teased me.
The second bell rang and we were instructed to fall into line according to our year level and section to sing national anthem and recite the panatang makabayan. Since I was shorter than the rest of my male classmates, I went to the front line. This minutiae of height had proven to be advantageous for me because I was always ahead to know the important announcement during the daily ritual in our school. Since I was the youngest in the class, I was always been tasked to listen carefully to announcements. Again, this proved to be advantageous to me because I served as indispensable source of knowledge among our classmates. Without their awareness, I sometimes kept important details of information that would give me an edge over them. This was the reason why my name never left the list of top 3 in the class.
Sir, Glen, our balding principal, who looks like resembled a bull frog with his zit infested face started to paced toward the stage and enumerate the new programs in our school. I deemed he was just trying to impress Ms. Biñas that stood straight in her right side wrought by a great smile on her face. She must have been transported to a fairyland by the paean of this ugly man. I sometimes thought what has gone into Ms. Biñas that she suddenly felt enamored over him. Was its purely itching or a need for sustenance? I heard that Ms. Biñas’ mother was diagnosed of cervical cancer. Some said that it would take an ample amount to purchase her mother’s medication; this might be the reason why she held unto this bald pimpled brute. But the expression on her face told something different for she was jovial and euphoric every time she looked up to him.
I couldn’t decipher how women behaved. They were full of complexities. On one of my readings, a note that a woman was made up of contradictions caught my attention. Looking at Ms. Biñas, the notion was indeed true although I had qualms if it applied to the rest of female pacts. The ironies that surrounded the entity of a woman sometimes transcended usual logic and had caused eternal disputes throughout the history. Remember, Helen of Troy and Delilah? They were all proofs to this. What about Cleopatra and Eve? Yes Eve in particular. Women can be very illusive and there was nothing could rival the poison of a woman.
In due time, it would not Ms. Biñas who would want Sir Glen, but the complete opposite. My aunt used to tell me that the fall of women were caused by men but ruminating on what I have been reading based on shallow novels that laid idle in our school library, it was always the woman who had a greater composure to doom man to his fall.
Sir Glen, continued his sermon with much annoyance but we were all delighted to hear that there would be a reshuffling of teachers except the sad news of Mrs. Villanueva was hospitalized due to her ulcer; this would simply means that we would have a surrogate teacher which Sir Glen didn’t dared to tell. However, the reshuffling would free us from the very stringent rule of Mrs. Pacheco who taught not with his subject but pure babbling about her experiences. She spent most of her classes in bickering school policies and as much to her delight, the idiosyncrasies of her colleagues. One more thing I really dislike about her was her ostentatious way of boasting her knowledge which I believed has sprouted from her pride of finishing her M.Ed in UPV. She was simply a blabber for me and I didn’t look her up as an authority in English instruction. Although some of classmates liked her, I personally abhorred her. When other teachers were dedicated to let their students learn she was as dedicated to imprint her mediocrity in my mind. The only thing that I liked about her was the chance to have a son who was very generous enough to lend me books no matter how trite the subjects were. One of the books he lent me was Mitch Albom’s Tuesday with Morrie. As far as I knew, it was the shallowest book that made it to the international market. I wondered why Evelyn herself loved the book which for me was a mere fabrication of superficiality of human thought. I surmised that there never was a Morrie existing and all his aphorisms were all done by Albom’s himself.
When the don had finally stopped speaking, we walked to our classroom excited for our class, like a child gets excited whenever there is a surprise. Evelyn walked beside me and handed me a piece of paper. Written on it were three vocabularies: cohort, juxtapose and visage. I gave her these vocabularies before we had our summer break and I was sure she had acquired these terms as part of her system. She always loved it when I gave her something to work on weekends or class break. I told her the secret on how to imbibe these terms and possess it as her own- “You just have to use the word three times a day in three consecutive days and you will own it for life.”
I seated directly to the seat were I left my back. I put my bag on the arm desk. Evelyn walked towards me. Since there was no seat at the back left for her, she was amused to sit beside me. She took the seat as she pocketed the piece of paper which I gave her. I was not just happy to be seated with her because, unlike other students who indulged in petty conversations, she shared sensible ideas. Although this would have me committed to share my assignments for the rest of the year, I was very happy to have a sort of intellectual confrere.
When everything else settled, in less than five minutes, our teacher came in. She greeted us a pleasant morning and introduced herself.
Pahinungod: I heard my brother mentioned it sometime.
In the late 80’s, after the dictatorship of Marcos was ousted by EDSA Revolution, Philippines became an eye of hope among its neighboring countries and a surreal example of changes. Proving that non-violent ways could triumph over the brashness of military bulwark, Filipinos were on the quest again of proving their race as heroic people. Foreign aids poured into the domain for establishing the lost morale of the Filipino by means of restoration and development. NGOs swarmed the communities with the endeavor to bring back the spirit of union and brotherhood and to recuperate for the loss of knowledge of history and nationalism. And when Cory Administration, which I deemed to be run by maudlin fanaticism of patriotic concepts, has declared Revolutionary Government to wipe out the debacle that the former administration has plagued the country with malady, the Filipinos were very hopeful of the outcome of its changes. All were eager to work on the eradication of malfeasances in the government; however, the length of this passion – the drive to reorganize everything from the ground up to give birth to a new government – could only be tested when their cause was anchored in truth. But was there truth in Cory’s government? There was none, what was running the system were buzzers of Cory advisers who, with their Anti-American stance, never liked progress. What can you expect from a president who neither knew politics nor management? In fact she was hailed out of sentiment, partly commiseration from the death of his husband, and not on the basis of rightful procedure of national election. It was a cameo of the whole scenario and not a total embodiment of the people call. The actual prognosis: a fiasco in our national economy. Even the long battled resolution on agrarian reforms was not settled for the simple reason that Madam Cory herself owned haciendas that worth so much just to give it away to the people; and what can you expect more other than preserving her interest. There were no remarkable reforms in her reign and the same people from the Marcos administration were the one’s elected again. Cory was more of concoction rather a germ for clearing and straightening; the result: withdrawal of funds from foreign donors especially from the European Union. This abject incident had a gloomy effect on the functioning NGOs especially those who work under foreign aids. Some of them closed, others remained but relied solely on their personal treasury. Since then, the demand for social services and outreach programs rose especially in the communities which had been shut off from further development during the past administration. Apropos to this, State Universities started to put up programs that may address this by concretizing the spirit of volunteerism among their graduates. It was through this noble dream that the UP-Pahinungod was wrought.
“I am your new surrogate teacher for this year in behalf of Mrs. Villanueva. I was sent here as a volunteer teacher by the UP-Pahinungod to teach English and literature for this class and I hope we will get along well together.”
“I graduated with the degree of Sociology minor in Psychology and directly applied to this program. You might think that my course has no relation to what I am going to teach you, but I assure you that I have loved this literature subject very well that I have read a wide array of books from Flaubert to Wilde. Trust me, if only you would cooperate, I promise that this class would perform well.”
The class looked at her filled with awe not because of her stature but because of her fascinating accent and extemporaneous delivery. Talking about Flaubert was a big puzzle to us. What can expect from the barrio that got nothing except few old books of no importance. Flaubert? Who the hell was that? Even my brother hadn’t mention anything about him. It was in this case that our new teacher would be of great help for me to know litterateurs that are alien to my knowledge.
“Of course, it would be very difficult to teach English without mentioning the personas that popularized it. This means that we have to tackle writers that have etched their names in the renaissance of ideas. To name few: Shakespeare, Blake and Camus. I know that these names are not familiar to you except for the few who have come across them in your personal readings. Then we will be moving on with their influences in the world of writing. The only problem we will have is the fact that I have only few copies of the book which would be very hard to proportion with the number of students; but since you all belong to the star section, I think it would be very easy for you to divide it by yourselves. However, I will be asking some of my friends to send me their personal copies for our class to jump off from topic to topic.”
“I would like our class to be different from the hackneyed class of some teachers. Let our experience be our guide to our topic to make it interesting. We will not delve more on the literary structure but on its application on our lives. Who among you heard of Leo Deriada? He was my teacher in humanities way back in college. Not just an instructor but a writer by heart. As part of this program I will let your read some of his works especially his ‘The Week of the Wales.’ I like him very much because he encourages us to dwell on the ideas and not by the structure; to use our own understanding of the world to create conflicts in our composition. Although the style and artistry are important, it is the experience that fires the heart to write.
“Of course we will never forget our literary artists. Nick Joaquin, Stevan Javellana, Gregorio Brillantes, NVM Gonzales, F. Sionil Jose, Manuel Arguila; we will all discuss them here. Although I wouldn’t be able to supply you of their works, we will at least know a little about them. When you reach college especially for those who will make to the Universities, these literati will be of pillars in your class discussions. I want you all to remember them in college and to look for their works to enrich your knowledge about them. Can you promise me that?
“As for the requirement for this class, you will have to write a simple story at the end of every month and be sure that you have to include your experiences with it. This will not just train you how to write but will also make you conceptualize the memories that need to be written down. Your grades will all depend on it so you better think wise in drafting your stories.”
“Do I make sense? In any case I would be very available to answer your queries and when you need assistance, I would be staying in the house of Mrs. Talento. You could visit me there whenever I am free. I would be willing to explore the mountain of Bagombong with you all.”
“Listen to me; it’s a misconception that whatever necessary can be suspended for college. When we have the chance to learn it now, why wait college? That is why I want to let you learn in the most unconventional way because I don’t want you to be scrambling in college.”
“The need of reading of literature especially for the students must be of great importance. Although there are various ways to learn, reading stands as the most important. Without reading, there will never be flow of knowledge and there will never be exploration of the other world. If we shut our eyes from the books, we will all be confined in this narrow room forever. Reading is exploration and you must remember that. Can you imagine yourself solving mathematical problems without reading the instruction of a given problem? It is like looking at the mirror with close eyes. Thus, in this class, everybody must read. I’ll pose no other slogan here but ‘Read..Read..and Read.'”
“Id like everyone to make this our motto: ‘If you want to travel the world, read to the point of overflow.'”
I know what she meant when she said that because from my experience, I felt like transported to other places when reading – as if you are part of the story itself. But taking through her accounts, I knew she meant more than that. If it was the psychological impact of reading that gives an inspiration, I exactly did not know. What I knew was the fact that reading precedes more reading and it would be of great addiction to those who thirst to know.
She finally took her seat on the front and cross her legs. She wore a faded jeans and a floral blouse with buttons on the front. Her hair was wavy up to her shoulders which covered her nape. She toyed the chalk with her fingers and looked at her watch. Then she put her bag, which was nesting beside her on the chair, on the desk and pulled her record-book; on it was our attendance sheet. When she had all of us called, she stood up once again and wrote her name on the board.
Ms. Rosa Magalona Ty.
To be continued….