The place was called Barrio Baboy. I wondered how the place got its name which I did not like. Baboy literally means Pig. The place is known today as Barangay San Jose in Bayawan , Negros Oriental, just across its border with Negros Occidental.
The year was 1974. How I came to be in the place was a long story. I was staying with one family that lived at the village’s outskirt. Like everyone else in the village, Joaquin the man of the family was a farmer for a sideline. I mean, unlike most farmers, it seemed he spent most of his time where there was fiesta and cockfighting. You see, he was a professional gambler. He was good at playing cards and at fitting knives in cockfights.
Joaquin was also a well known merko, or a surhuano that we would call witchdoctor. He used to invite me along whenever he was asked by folks to do some work. Work was driving away evil spirits and or to appease some unseen tagalugar or resident deities. I am not superstitious but I must admit that sometimes I got carried away. Like when I felt my hairs standing while observing his rituals. I liked the times. No, not the dancing nor the chanting, or the rituals that he performed while everybody solemnly observed but I mean the part that came after. You see a chicken, or a goat, or a pig was needed and slaughtered each time. Cooked foods [and sometimes animal blood] were offered to spirits. It also meant a hearty meal after everything.
I used to be with another family when I first came to the place. I stayed under the roof of a man named Carlos. Carlos belonged to a clan that dominated politics in the locality. There were his cousins Kulafo and his brother Hector who both served in the Barrio council. The Barrio Kapitan or village chief was Kulafo’s father-in-law of course. I was known in the village as one of their relatives who had come to stay for the upcoming harvest season. But I never was related to them, which again was another long story.
Kulafo reminded me of movies about pirates. He had one eye blind and patched. Kulafu and I acted like real cousins. He made me sort of his personal clerk and secretary, or an official sidekick, which I did not really mind. I enjoyed the times actually. He was barely literate but surely it was not problem with his constituents. You see, most of the villagers happened to be no-read-no-write. I knew nothing about legal phrases but Kulafu did. He could not scrawl as well as me, he explained. So, I did the writings for him while he dictated. Like when people wanted to swap say cow for clearing, or horse for cow, and they demanded that the transaction be put in writing. Ah, spoken words with or without witnesses used to be honorable if not solemn but I guess time was changing. Anyway, there was always a par – a small bottle of cheap rum paired with cola – and nothing else for fee after each transaction. And everybody always parted happy at what they’ve got.
Day in Barrio Baboy started about four early in the morning. People did not have time pieces nor looked at them. But as if by precise clockwork the place just stirred to life at the start of day. There could be occasional clinking of something like a sound from a kettle or a plow being fixed, or a dog barking, a baby or a toddler crying for attention, a transistor radio coming to life; anything by man, near or far. You see, in the serene countryside, a twig broken or even the wind can be heard. Farmers stirred very early for work. Carabaos can be stubborn when the sun is up and they’d better be in their mud pools, cooling it off when the sun has become hot.Anyway, that’s how I knew it was around 4:00 AM. Bedtime usually came early as there was no electricity. No wonder country folks produced so many babies!
I always started my day by rolling a cigarette and a good smoke. Next, would be going to the kapehan of an old woman called Charing who brewed delicious coffee. Most farmers had something hot in their kitchen, brewed burnt rice if there was no coffee, but I guess people just loved to socialize and to gossip. There would be Kulafu and Hector among the patrons. There would be Marcial, the ambitious farmer, who acted as pastor for the local Iglesia Ni Kristo since their sect did not have one in the place. But religion was never coffee shop topic. You see, Kulafu was Seventh Day Adventist but as far as I knew, not even his father-in-law who was their pastor had discussed religion with him outside their place of worship.
There was George, brother-in-law of Joaquin, who lived with the couple. George and I were in the same age bracket, and both single, we easily became friends. And then there would be the two public school teachers after they must have jumped out of their pajamas. [Filipino farmers usually slept in their day’s attires.] The one with a wider forehead was rumored to be lesbian. I felt some dislike for her. Maybe it was the hostile look that I sometimes caught in her face.Or maybe it was because the other one looked good and she has a nice smile. They were living together in one small hut, all for themselves, and… maybe… umm, naughty me. Or maybe this other one was not at all beautiful but maidens in the place usually marry by fifteen or sixteen. You’ve got to spot a wife when she was ten or twelve in such a place, or you won’t catch any. Maidens were rare and maybe I was just lonely. But I learned that this other teacher was married so, although everyone became familiar with everybody else, we never introduced. Anyway, at the end of coffee Charing was always there with her tattered notebook since it was mostly IOUs to be paid in grains at harvest time.
George’s older sister Maria, the wife of Joaquin, was pregnant. There must have been five children in the family; the eldest was barely in her teen. Maria was not fine. I mean, it was gossiped in the village that she occasionally bled. And everybody blamed it to her konsumesyon and frequent quarrels with Joaquin who was not a violent person at all. And George was not really well, or should I say was hostile, to Joaquin. Maybe it was because George did most farming while Joaquin was always gambling. One time Maria confided to me that her greatest worry was if violence erupted between the two men. She invited me to stay with them always because she saw George was somehow close to me and I could be of help between the two men. I was good with both men. I guess I had appeared a drifter, that I was in fact, who was living with any of my “relatives” in the village. Anyway, before I knew it I was already living with Joaquin as part of his family. All went well in the family.
Harvest season came and went by, and Maria was expecting a baby. Joaquin’s elder sister, a hilot or traditional midwife-abortionist, came to live with them. One day, probably feeling heavy moving around, Maria requested me for a glass of water. The house was on stilt that took a few treads down to the dirty kitchen where water was kept. Casually I got what she asked.
I won’t forget the exact moment her fingers touched the glass that I handed. It felt to me like the glass exploded! The glass’ bottom with all its content suddenly fell away. It felt to me like somebody had shot at it. I have experience with bullets. They snapped or whined first before you heard them fired. [That’s when you knew it was meant your way but just missed.] Maria’s face was pale when I looked at her. We were both speechless for a moment. It was bad omen she finally muttered that she kept repeating. I tried to reassure her that it was nothing. Like, maybe the glass was used with hot water before and that it had probably developed a crack unnoticed.
Alone by myself, I was thinking maybe the glass indeed had a crack but why at the exact moment? I was never superstitious like I said. The old saying that a glass that breaks by itself is a bad omen, is a trash. There must be some scientific explanation to it. Like, maybe [the body’s] electrical charges had something to do with it? Or, it must have been pure coincidence and nothing else. The thoughts of it kept nagging me for a while but I came to shake them off in the end. Not for Maria it seemed. I never saw her with a happy face again after that incident.
When Maria’s time to deliver came, I talked George into sleeping somewhere else so we did not bother people in the house. We were with neighbors when we were awakened by wails and cries coming from the house. We rushed over to find Maria lifeless. The baby was there alright, but seemed forgotten. People were grieving over Maria. I noticed the baby did not even have its umbilical cord cut yet. I called everyone’s attention to it. I talked George into taking a little walk and for some fresh air outside. I thought his eyes looked a bit sharp. Outside the house the memory about the glass haunted me again.
Funeral and wake had passed. One day men came to see me. It was nice to shake hands with old comrades again. I must return to my unit. I was in the army. I had been on leave. My leave turned into Awol. I was becoming regarded a renegade. I remember very well the day was December 31. We brought George along with us. [So he and Joaquin did not possibly kill each other…And for Maria, so she rest in peace.]
It was exactly 12:00 midnight, New Year’s Eve, as we reached Hagnaya, Lucotan. Ah, like a fish back in its old familiar sea, it really felt nice. Besides, maybe I needed to refresh myself. And, even in the most far flung Barangays, Filipinos welcome the coming of another year to their life.