Visita Iglesia (with family!)

I thought I and my grandmother wouldn’t be able to perform the Visita Iglesia this Holy Week. But not only were we able to do so, we were even able to do it with the whole Galay family! This has not happened in almost a decade.

And this year we went to churches in Davao I’ve never been to, or at least haven’t been to for so long I can’t remember them anymore.

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Otherwise known as the Pink Sisters, it’s famous for the contemplative nuns who run it. It’s Davao tradition to give eggs to them to pray for something – from having children to getting good scores in an exam. The church is found uphill in the Skyline Area near Diversion Road

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The Holy Spirit Adoration Convent’s Bell tower

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I love how they shaped the plants – they’re hanging so improbably along that mould!

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The altar of the church is distinct for being separated from the public by grills – to represent and maintain, I speculate, the reculsion of the Pink sisters

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Outside the church the Station of the Cross is lined in open air and culminates with a crucifix.

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We also got to enter the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Obrero – last year it was under renovation. Now the interior of the lower level is dim, with an altar of wood gorgeously guilded.

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The Sacred Heard parish also got these cute stained glass windows!

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The last of our nine churches today was Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Lanang. It was a swanky building built uphill, complete with its own port cochere!

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The interior of the church was relatively simple, but the aspersoria were made of glass on steel tripod stands, a bit like the Bagobo tambara!

 

 


Galay Recipes: Daing na Bangus

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One of our most simple but delicious recipes is Daing na bangus.

Going back all the way to at least my great-grandmother, this way of cooking milk fish is a very familiar and nostalgic taste for us Galays.

Daing‘ usually refers to dried fish split in half along the back in a ‘butterfly’ cut (‘pinikas nga bulad‘ or ‘halved dried’ in Cebuano). But for us the term refers instead to this marinated deep-fried fish. While many kinds of fish are made into daing bulad, our daing is only traditionally made using bangus (although my mother has innovated with Tilapia).

The marinade used for daing is versatile – we call it ‘daing marinade’ because it was originally for bangus, but it has since been used for other dishes. It can be used for chicken, pork chops, or other fish.

It is so tasty one whole bangus usually takes over a week to finish – a little bit can be eaten with so much rice. For milk fish one often thinks it is the fatty stomach part which tastes best, but this isn’t necessarily the case for daing: the stomach area is buttery, but the head is chewy, and the extremities are crispy, and the meat itself is silky and tasty – this is making me hungry.

Here’s the recipe!

Ingredients

  • 1 whole bangus (milk fish)
  • Vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Kalamansi
  • Crushed black pepper
  • 1/2 clove crushed garlic
  • Salt
  • Seasoning
  • Flour

(Quantity of some ingredients is estimated and depends on the size of bangus)

 

Procedure

  1. Gut the bangus and split open along the stomach. Make sure the scales are not removed.
  2. Make the daing marinade: mix vinegar, soy sauce, kalamansi extract, crushed pepper, crushed garlic, salt, and seasoning in a plastic container big and wide enough to fit the whole butterflied bangus.
  3. It is traditional to leave the crushed garlic unpeeled, with the skin mixed in.
  4. Marinade bangus in the mixture. The duration depends on taste – from overnight to up to one week (traditionally it is only marinated overnight, marinating it for longer is an innovation of my mother). The longer it is marinated, the more flavourful – but also the sourer and ‘itchier’ – it will be. It will also be softer (and will fall apart easier), and the bones will be easier to eat.
  5. After marinating to desired duration, drain and set aside for a while away from marinade. This is to make sure the fish is not too soggy before frying.
  6. Before frying, coat lightly with flour to avoid sticking in the pan. (My mother’s innovation)
  7. Deep fry until golden.
  8. Serve with rice.

Traditional sawsawan and partners:

  • Tomato, water, and salt
  • Ginisang petchay (another recipe!)
  • Sayote ‘fire cubes’ (My mother’s own recipe, only my branch of the family is used to this)
  • Any vegetable dish

It is also not unusual to eat it with rice without any sides.


5 Works of Davao Fiction to Read

It is Araw ng Dabaw! And what better way to celebrate the primate city of Mindanao than to read the works written about it! Fiction is the way by which we write places on the maps of our souls, and it is one way of making a place become part of a people’s cultural consciousness. Reading about a place in fiction gives one’s experience of it a new dimension, a refreshing distance that allows one to experience the familiar all over again – Verfremdung, Brecht calls it.

And Davao has a substantial body of fiction written about it! So this Araw ng Dabaw, put that American teen novel down for now and pick up any of these five quintessential stories:

People on Guerrero Street by Leoncio Deriada: the first novel to be written about Davao, this semi-autobiographical story is set in the eponymous street in the 50s, when Davao still had the feel of a rural town. The story chronicles the coming-of-age of Leo, who grows up in an intimate but very Filipino neighborhood of Guerrero Street in the house of his brother’s family, and the tragedy he suffers with his childhood friend.

The Dog Eaters by Leoncio Deriada: Another story by the Palanca Hall of Famer, this short story is set in Artiaga street when it was still a small neighborhood. It features the struggles of a low-income couple living together in this grimy street, where people are barbaric enough to eat dogs. Now a staple in college Literature classes, the story inspired a poem (I forget by which poet), which was read by the novelist Jessica Hagedorn and which subsequently inspired her novel of the same title.

Nanking Store by Macario Tiu: This short story by the Datu Bago Awardee (another great writer of Davao) gives a rare glimpse into the life of Davao’s reclusive Chinese community. Told inadvertently from the perspective of a little boy, it is about the marriage of an heir to a Chinese family to a Filipina woman, a marriage constantly strained by the demands of the husband’s family and culture.

Sigaboy by Macario Tiu: While technically not set in Davao (Sigaboy is now Governor Generoso, a town in Davao Oriental), this story, another one from Tiu, nevertheless shows the early beginnings of a key player in Davao’s history, the local chieftain Mangulayon. The story is set in the man’s youth, just before he became the brave leader who would eventually kill the American governor of Davao. It depicts Mangulayon’s struggle to get his wife from the domineering chieftain who steals her from him. At times thrilling, heartbreaking, and romantic, this story demonstrates the historian Tiu at his best, breathing life into history by making it fiction.

Love in the Cornhusks by Aida River Ford: the most popular story by the grand dame of Mindanao literature in English, few readers know that the story is actually set in Mintal, once the commercial heart of Davao during its days as a major Abaca producer. The story is about Tinang, erstwhile maid to a landed family, who returns to her former masters for a visit a marriage to a native and a baby later. Her visit makes her relive her past encounters with Amado, the family’s former driver. At some point she is torn between her past and the seemingly hopeless future waiting before her. Oh the melodrama that can happen amidst cornhusks!

There are of course so many stories set in Davao, and this list is far from exhaustive. I have yet to read the fiction of Karl Gaspar (aka Melchor Morante), but considering how enjoyable his drama is, he is bound to be a fun fictionist too (his novel Si Menda ug ang Bagani’ng gitahapan nga maong si Mangulayon also deals with Mangulayon). Other bodies of fiction I have yet to explore too are those by Margarita Marfori and the poet Tita Lacambra Ayala. And of course (because I am a shameless self-promoter),  you can check out my story In the Manner Accustomed too!

Happy Araw ng Dabaw!


Galay Recipes: Batchoy

My mother’s family, the Galays, are one of Kidapawan’s Tagalog families, so we are among the families which give the city the Tagalog component of its diverse domestic culture. But I think what makes us stand apart from the other Tagalog families is our large array of home recipes.

My grandmother, who hails from Pasay, grew up in a house that was constantly cooking, and so her children and grandchildren too have a more than average fascination for food (it is a wonder, really, that none of us are obese). Most of us know how to cook (I’m not included, but I eat a lot so I still count). Galays are gourmands if not gourmets.

This means that a substantial part of what makes us Tagalog is our food. Authentic Tagalog home cooking recipes, most of them unique in Mindanao, and some divergent from the current common recipes in Luzon, fill our daily tables.

I have started gathering all the Galay Recipes before they are lost to oblivion (as is usually the case with anything to do with culture in our country), and my grandmother and mother are both cooperating to even revive some long lost dishes.

And I have decided to share some of them here as I gather them over the years!

For this post, Batchoy!

To most Filipinos, ‘Batchoy’ is a noodle dish, swimming in clear broth, topped with pork shreds, offal, and chicharon pork cracklings, and garnished with leeks and a raw egg. This type of Batchoy is more correctly termed ‘La Paz Batchoy,’ and is originally an Ilonggo recipe.

Batchoy for the Galays, however, is an almost completely different species. It has the comfort of steaming hot soup, yes, but it has no noodles. Instead, what makes it distinct is that it has pig’s blood, coagulated during the cooking process. While La Paz Batchoy can be found in any merienda joint, our Batchoy is served for lunch or dinner and can only be found in homes. The smell of this Batchoy filling the noon air in our ancestral house in baranggay Lanao evokes so much nostalgia for us.

Here is the recipe:

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Ingredients

Minced garlic
Chopped onion
Julienned ginger
Cooking oil
Patis
Diced pork belly (fatty)
Dahon sili (chili pepper leaves)
Kulikot chili peppers
Water
Fresh pig’s blood
(Quantities are estimated)

Recipe
1. Sautee garlic, onion, and ginger in oil.
2. Add patis.
3. Add diced pork. Allow to simmer until juices come out.
4. Add a bit of water. Simmer further until meat is tender.
5. Add pig’s blood, at a ratio in which it will be less than the water.
6. Add salt, MSG, and/or Magic Sarap to taste.
7. When the blood has curdled in the soup, add kulikot and dahon sili. Kulikot can be added earlier to make the dish spicier/give it more fragrance.
8. Turn off fire shortly after to keep the dahon sili fresh.
9. Serve with rice.

A distinct characteristic of our home cooking is how we rarely eat anything alone or with just rice. Almost every dish has its traditional partner on the table, whether it be a simple sawsawan (dip) or another dish. Without this partner(s), the dish feels incomplete. Actual partners may vary among different branches in our family, but some are more established than others.

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Batchoy, with patis and kulikot sawsawan on the side

Recommended sawsawan and partners for Batchoy:

Patis and kulikot (using the kulikot in the dish)
Traditionally served with Dinuguan (another Galay recipe!)
Sinugbang Haluan (grilled mudfish)
Any fried fish

 

 


The Tenor of these Delusions

(A ‘Proclivities’ story)

Dreams hovered like mist after waking for Jess, like a night’s rain lingering as fog in the following break of day. Waken by the flight’s turbulence he opened his eyes, and the half-sleeping recollections of Adriana seemed to linger, seeping from the airplane’s air-conditioning as condensing vapour. It was midnight, and outside his window Singapore was a galaxy of streetlights constellating on the dark earth.
For rubber tappers, he thought as the plane began to touch down, prolonging fog was a simple matter. On an old tin can filled with bits of coal from a fire, one was but to drop some rubber trellis unto the embers. This was how his father drove out the mosquitoes. The smoke that would ensue, pungent yet soft to the nose, enshrouded the memories of his early childhood mornings. It was not as easy, though, to bring memories back. Just impressions, triggered by some stimulus. The actual sensations will be as elusive as the smoke’s corporeality. Like this air-conditioning fog billowing from under the luggage compartments, all one could produce was a faint semblance of the old feelings.
But how persistently do one’s thoughts return to them in moments like this, even after a decade. As he walked out of the plane into the tube, he fixed his coat and smiled ironically. After years since he last saw her, after a lifetime that saw him rise from a tapper’s son in rural Philippines to an executive class passenger on a flight to Singapore, he still thought of Yana.
Changi Airport was a world away from the rubber groves of his childhood in Kidapawan city. And yet the soft green carpet that ubiquitously covered the airport floor reminded him of the undergrowth of covercrop kept neat by regular rolling of steel barrels and goat grazing, and the dim midnight lighting of the hallways reminded him of the shade of the thick rubber trees that canopied over much of Kidapawan’s rural outskirts. He was thousands of miles and a lifetime away, and yet here he was, remembering his childhood again – birds heralding the coming and going of the sun with overwhelming fanfares every day above the canopy.
The portion of the fragmented Jimenez rubber groves in Kidapawan which Jess’s family had tapped for the wealthy Jimenzes for generations sprawled on one side of a national highway. Across the road was a smaller grove, owned by a branch of the Bacchus family of Kidapawan’s old blood. When Adriana Bacchus would come along with her father to this rubber plantation of theirs, he would play with her.
He would take her around the farms and show her all kinds of wild and rural things she would not see in downtown Kidapawan. She had made him realize just how much he knew of the primitive world of the rubber trees, and just how much there was to love. Her sweet, innocent laughter would echo across the grove as he tried to teach her to ride a carabao or climb a tree. They were still young, so her father did not mind his boyish daughter playing with a tapper’s son.
And she in turn, between games of taguanay (hide and seek) and spider fighting, would teach Jess French phrases and tell him the stories of the books her mother bought her. She would hum to him the German and Russian pieces of music she was learning in piano school. She would talk about all the big cities to which her parents had taken her – Davao, Cebu, even Manila. He, who knew no other world at the time but Kidapawan, could only dream of these places. And in all these dreams she was there.
He would imagine the highway between the groves as some great river he had to cross just to see her, the tribulation he had to endure to reach her reward.
For as long as he could remember he has had this proclivity, seeing metaphors everywhere, conjuring up beautiful delusions, products of an overactive rural imagination that made the daily routine of tree wounding more interesting for a child.
Dragonflies were keys to the sky’s unopened doors, he told Yana once. Kuhol eggs on reeds were the little aquatic snails’ attempts to produce raspberries. Butterflies were exiled flowers, hovering from one stalk to another to look for the ones that disowned them. Spiders were fishermen of the air, with the dewdrops as bait. The patch of grass in the undergrowth, downy with spores, was pretending to be mist. The rubber seeds were little worlds, complete with continents in an ocean of brown. When Yana introduced him to poetry, he told her he wanted to be a poet. She would giggle at him.
‘The problem with you, Jess, is that the world is too beautiful to you. If the rain would tell you that it’s not the sky’s tears, you probably wouldn’t believe it.’
But the morning sunlight continued to rain down on them in mottled rays from the clouds of the canopy above, and at seven years old all he could do was fall in love with her.
As he neared the end of a walkalator he closed his eyes and shook his head – no, he is here to forget, he must resist these delusions.
At midnight the airport was still crowded: on one side of the walkalator he saw two young Indian men on their iPads; on another a pretty young Chinese girl was sitting on the floor with a Caucasian young man, she asleep on his lap while he was reading. He was surprised to hear a lot of Tagalog spoken here and there – the uncalled for familiarity disquieted him. As he walked ahead, trolley bag and briefcase in hand, he could imagine the steel barrels his father would roll under the rubber trees to keep this green carpet a neat covercrop. The place was familiar in a removed, deliberate way.
He was amused to see an orchid garden, complete with a little pond with fish, inside the airport. He could not help recalling the brook in the Jimenez grove. As children he and Yana would go there to catch piyo, freshwater crabs, when the day’s tapping was over for him and her father would be in their farm all day.
The immigration officer who checked his passport was a pretty Indian woman. In spite of the late hour she looked fresh and cheerful.
‘From Davao?’ she asked convivially.
‘And now in Singapore.’ And to this she giggled, handing him back his passport.
‘Welcome! Enjoy your stay!’
Yes, he thought as he went to get the rest of his luggage. He was in Singapore. It was not just some quip, it was him telling himself to leave Adriana Bacchus, to leave the very idea of her behind. In this wonderfully strange, new land he will lose what little of her sacredness he had kept inside him.
The organizers of the conference had asked if he needed to be picked up from the airport when he got his invitation. His arrival was at an ungodly hour, he knew the room they got him was already very expensive, and Singaporean cab drivers were a tourist attraction of their own, so he had declined the offer. With nobody meeting him, he called a cab as he emerged from the arrival area.
After the driver (a Chinese man) helped him with his luggage, the driver greeted him a good morning and asked where to.
‘Marina Bay Sands,’ he replied.
The cab took off, and he got his first luxurious glimpse of Singapore. An elephant of a raincloud loomed gray over the night sky, grumbling threats of rain and flashing tusks of lightning here and there.
The clean roads slithered beyond the horizon like giant concrete snakes, winding past groves of skyscraper trees with glowing barks of glass. At certain angles the acacias that lined the road looked as if they bore fruits of street or traffic lights. Ma’am Isabel, the Jimenez estate’s young heiress, must have loved the rows of flowers beneath them. Sir Gaston her husband made a good decision to take her here for their honeymoon. That was his first – and really, his only – idea of Singapore before actually coming here.
‘Here for vacation?’ the cab driver asked.
‘Ah, not entirely,’ he answered, looking up from his papers. He had opened his briefcase to review his schedule. ‘There’s a conference I’m attending.’
‘At Sands?’
‘Yes, that International Rubber Conference. Heard of it?’
‘Oh yeah, yeah! I heard of that. I follow updates on rubber, fuel, and motor manufacturing industries. I need to keep this cab in shape after all. So you from Thailand?’
‘No, the Philippines.’
The Philippine rubber industry had until recently suffered from poor standards – rubber planters would hide stones in their latex blocks or mix bark in cup lumps. This left Philippine rubber the cheapest and least sought after in Asia. But three recent technological advancements by Filipinos brought about a dramatic recovery: the development of a cheaper and odourless acid for setting the sap, the discovery of the pharmaceutical and therapeutic potentials of burnt rubber trellis fumes (which expanded the market to the pharmaceutical industry), and the development of a covercropping scheme that miraculously made the trees produce thirty percent more sap. The inventors, all from the Cotabato area of the Philippines, made significant headlines internationally. Manong Mario, another Jimenez tapper (who had arrived in Singapore a few days ago) developed the covercropping. Jess, at twenty six the youngest among them, led the acid research. He was here to deliver a lecture on his findings.
‘Yes now I recall!’ said the driver after some time. ‘You were that young Filipino on TV. “Genius,” they called you!’
‘Jess Landim,’ he said timidly, extending his hand to the driver.
‘Ivan,’ And the driver shook his hand.
The conversation died comfortably from there, with Ivan quietly content at having someone of a celebrity onboard. He also noticed Jess rubbing his eye ridges and assumed the young man was tired.
In truth, the luxury of the urban scenario was making him wax romantic again – the urban skyline, dominated by the skyscraper trees, windows glowing with lives and loves inside, good looking and fashionable: how great it would be to look down from those hotel heights at them all with Adriana, embracing her from behind as the city’s constellation of streets glowed radiantly on her pristine face – possibilities, ones that will never be. Goodness, he was young in an urban playground, but how old life had made him.
‘Listen, Ivan’ he said suddenly, trying not to think of Yana. The cab was at the corner of Simei and Changi roads. ‘I want to eat. Tell you what, if you pause the meter and take me to a good hawker centre, I’ll treat you.’
Ivan smiled and readily agreed. He turned left into Changi road and went straight ahead.
‘I’ll take you to Lavender Food Court.’
Jess chatted with the driver without saying too much. It was his first time here, and he was staying for four days. He was meeting up with manong Mario tomorrow evening – ma’am Isabel had insisted he spend a day in the city alone first. Ivan recommended places he might want to go to: the Safari Zoo, Sentosa, Bugis and Orchard for shopping. He answered that he also wanted to visit the Botanical Gardens and try the street food.
Ma’am Isabel had almost overloaded him with information about Singapore when she found out he was invited to the conference. Because he was young she was far more excited about his participation than manong Mario’s. She had insisted on paying for everything. Know the world, Jess, she had urged him before he left. You’re still so young, and you’ve more than earned it. He did not know if that was a command or not, but he felt compelled to obey – no, he did not earn it all entirely, much of this was the generosity of the Jimenezes.
‘Your women are beautiful here,’ he said, as thoughts of his humble origins were threatening to touch on Yana again. A young Malay girl on the road had caught his eye. It felt awkward – he was never the type to remark aloud on a woman’s appearance.
‘Oh yes they are. And those that are …available, they’re affordable.’ Ivan laughed affably. ‘If you want, I have contacts…’
Jess laughed and, out of curiosity, asked for some sample pictures. Ivan took out his smart phone and showed him a picture of a very pretty Chinese girl.
‘She’s twenty. Oh I don’t do her of course, don’t worry. Wife will kill me. Just my neighbour.’
‘I’ll think about it.’ He replied, laughing.
They had reached Lavender Food Court, a homely but comfortable collection of hawker food stalls at the juncture of Lavender, Foch, and Jalan Besar roads. Across the street was a row of historic looking buildings with pastel colours. Even at one thirty the food court was still filled with people.
They alighted and began looking around for food to order. After some time choosing, Jess ordered a bowl of Laksa, a plate of carrot cake, some Roti Prata, and a glass of Bandung, while Ivan had a plate of Rojak, some Kaya toast, and a mug of hot Teh-C.
Red floating on opaque white – the bowl of Laksa, with the toppings and noodles submerged, made him remember the time Yana had joined him tapping the rubber trees on their farm and he, not doing anything, decided to teach her. They were eight, a few months before she last visited their farm.
In her excitement she cut her hand with the tapping blade. He rushed to see how bad it was, but she just giggled it off. Her blood trickled on the coconut shell full of still wet sap. He was disturbed not at the sight of blood but at the sight of the pure white sap being stained by the blood’s intense redness.
That was when he first realized that things ought to remain pure, pristine, untouched.
But memories rushed to him with substance as he sipped the broth. After they caught piyo, they would go to his father’s hut, where his mother would boil the crabs in a broth of coconut milk, chilli peppers, and bagoong. In spite of its simplicity Yana loved that broth, and he could remember blushing when she told his mother she wanted to be part of the family.
The Laksa tasted a bit like that broth – even along Lavender Road, Kidapawan would not stop coming back to haunt him.
No, he was doing this deliberately. He must stop it.
‘Though there’s no wedding…’ he said, raising the glass of Bandung.
‘You know a lot.’ Said Ivan, getting some carrot cake. ‘You sure it’s your first time here?’
‘I researched it. Bandung’s a wedding drink right?’ He laughed. ‘And how could I afford to have been here before! Would you believe Ivan, I’m just a rubber tapper’s son.’
‘Tapper?’
‘Labourers in a rubber plantation. We would wound the trees to let them bleed sap, then collect the sap in coconut shells. Definitely not the type of people to wear a coat and tie. My parents could only support my studies until high school, but a few years ago the landowners I work for made me study and get a degree. Now I have a master’s in agricultural management and in Singapore trying Bandung, would you believe.’
Ivan nodded with an impressed look.
Jess took a sip of the pink liquid and was taken aback.
‘Wow,’ and Ivan giggled at his surprise.
Yana, as if afflicted by his beautiful delusions, once said that the roses that grew near her grade four class room in the Notre Dame of Kidapawan College campus had the fragrance of love.
But love when one tasted it will be more intense than one thinks it would be. Overwhelming, like condensed perfume, and too sweet for comfort. And yet there will be something hallow, cold, tasteless at the edge of all the intensity, as if reality has diluted its fragrance.
Was this foreshadowing? He thought as he smiled back at Ivan. Was this telling him that once he got a taste of that which he had always held sacred – and therefore kept a distance from – he will only get perfumed emptiness?
As they set off again after eating, the silence in the cab led his thoughts again to the past, nostalgia loudening to a reprising tenor. He recalled that afternoon when she suddenly told him the Bacchuses have had to sell their farm. When she told him she barely looked at him, her eyes staring into nothingness with a seething wrath that in its silence resembled resignation. And for the first time he had realized that she was a landowner’s daughter and he just a tapper’s son. He felt powerless, and she in her young and quiet tribulation did not even bother seeking comfort in his eyes. Before he could even attempt to answer her, her father came back to the jeep, she went back in, the jeep started, and he would never see her again.
Rumours, too wild to believe, of her later depravity in NDKC would reach National’s Science Curriculum students in his high school years – losing her virginity in a school restroom at first year high school to some jock, five-rounding with college students at second, someone even claimed they saw her coming out from some shady clinic in Kabacan, abortion capital of North Cotabato, when they were in third year. Impossible rumours, really. But since that afternoon not a glimpse, only sympathetic words from his father from time to time of the Bacchuses continued decline – Yana’s father had died, and her once proud mother has had to be a sales lady in a local mall just to pay off their debts. The last thing he heard of her before last week was that she had moved with her mother to faraway Panabo to sell Avon products.
In that long span of time he had kept his memories of her, his soul an altar for the perpetual veneration of that purity of hers with which she shone in his shady world of rubber groves. In National, in the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, even in Davao as he took his Master’s, he continued remembering what she had been, and he denied himself of many possibilities. She after all had been denied her own. He had come to believe that on that anticlimactic good bye that afternoon, she bade not just him but all her chances of living a comfortable life good bye. She had been and continued to be subjected to the defilements of this world, and yet he imagined her as remaining pure. She was purity itself in this defiled world, the victim of its perversions, and he needed no other devotion but the celebration of that –
Delusions, nothing but miserable delusions.
He and a group of high school classmates gathered in Kidapawan a week before he flew to Singapore, and over some bottles of rum two of them ended up realizing that both of them had experienced Yana’s dexterity with her fingers and tongue at different points in time – they had inadvertently shared her. Hungry for men, they had said, as if she was trying to fill an emptiness inside her by literally filling her holes. They did not even know he, Jess, once knew her, so jovially they enjoined him to catch her whenever he was in Davao to get a go at her too. Over there they said she’d take any man if he was from Kidapawan.
These two were not prone to bragging, nor did they have any reason to malign her, and the sharing had the air of almost hushed confessions: he had no choice but to believe it…
‘Listen, Ivan,’ he said on the taxi after some silence, his voice faltering with the sudden rush of emotions born by these thoughts. They were nearing the Esplanade, and he could get a glimpse of beautiful Marina Bay.
‘Yes?’
‘That neighbour of yours…’
Ivan nodded with a smile.
‘Wait for me outside the hotel, I’ll tell you my room number. Tell her to be there at around 3 if she can.’
‘No problem.’
Jess was surprised at how calm he was with this transaction. Had those two school mates – had every single man been this calm when he was about to take her..?
‘Room 305,’ he told Ivan as he returned from the front desk, and he gave him a tip. The bell boy had just taken his bags to the room. Ivan nodded, thanked him for the night, told him to contact him if he needed a cab, and left.
On the elevator, he could do nothing but imagine how it was supposed to be done. With the fingers, with the tongue, with skin touching against skin. He felt a powerfully tickling sensation below his navel – excitement felt very similar to the most intense of miseries.
Thankfully the elevator was empty – at the thought of what he was about to do, of what Yana could have gone around doing in all these years, of how her memories of him must have been so easily washed away by the sweat of all the men whose chests she had pressed against, he could no longer hold back his tears. The elevator lights swam in his eyes as he went up.
Yana, he muttered amidst sniffs.
But he stopped himself, stifling his sobbing. No, he will not be weak anymore.
Purity, innocence, defilement – were they all nothing but delusions one put into this world to fill its emptiness?
The view of the city from the room’s window was spectacular. Marina Bay, and all the dazzling streetlights that constellated by its banks reflected in the water, sparkled like a galaxy studded with earthbound and floating stars. The queen sized bed was soft and pristine, the sheets immaculately folded. There was a faint and pleasant tinge of mint in the room’s air conditioning. He put his briefcase on the desk and untied his necktie.
There was something luxurious about hot showers. It allowed one to sin in sensual calm, as if nothing bad one did could hurt anything. And it allowed one to ruminate in the hovering steam of dreams.
No. He was not going to sin. Tonight he was going to wash himself of the very concepts of sin and goodness. He was going to man up and face the world as it was. He was going to rid himself of seeing his youth in green carpets, love in roses, exiled flowers in butterflies. He was going to liberate himself from the dream of mists, of rubber trellis smoke, and of this shower’s steam. He was going to silence the noise of these dead hopes. He was going to break free from the very tenor of these delusions.
As he finished drying himself the doorbell rang. He wrapped himself in a bathrobe and opened the door. His hands were colder than the aircon could make them.
The young girl on Ivan’s phone was outside, much prettier in person, a sweet, rose-flavoured smile on her beautiful face. He let her into the room.
As she made herself comfortable seated on the bed, he faced the window, started taking off the bathrobe, and naked he faced her. Then, with a faint smile but almost ceremoniously, she began taking off her clothes.
Outside the windows, the urban galaxy of slow moving comets and orange and white stars floating on the Marina and sprawling out into the horizon from its banks was reverting back to neon signs, car lights and streetlamps.


Liminal

Birdsong fills purple skies:
Is it dusk, or is it already
tomorrow?