I am enjoying my Christmas holiday. And I am blessed, not only for having a healthy family and another published book, PRAISING ALL SEASONS LONG: Haiku Verses, but also for having online friends who did not mind spending precious money and time to personally greet me a happy holiday season.
Worth mentioning here are my online friends in England, UKFox and company. They took time to call me at 7:30 on a chilly Christmas morning for personal holiday greetings and inspiring message about my first published book, KOILAWAN: Letters and Poems of a Jungle Dad-Mom. Being a late-bloomer in creative writing, to hear people telling me that they consider KOILAWAN as their #1 Book of the Year, to the extent that 'I am their Idol', is very humbling and encouraging.
I just hope that you all will find "PRAISING ALL SEASONS LONG" a very good inspirational and comforting gift book of verses, especially this time of economic crunch. Price is only $9.99 +s/h and currently available on Comfort Publishing online store. In a few weeks, "Praising..." can be ordered in other online book outlets, and, hopefully, in a bookstore near you.
As a gift to all my online friends, here's the short story that I was working on when I got the call from England. This story is part of my book project, BEDTIME-PASTIME:Collection of Short Stories and Bukidnon Folktales.
The Shotgun Romance of
Agah and the Stranger
Edmund Melig Industan
He heard the roosters crowed twice already and, without looking his alarm clock on the corner table, he knew it was two in the morning. Still, his eyes were wide-opened staring at the ceiling.
He remembered his first night at the log pond a month ago. He was awakened at midnight, because the domesticated roosters in most homes, some of them cared for cockfights every other Sundays, and those in the wilds were crowing like a three-part round sing-song: one group sings first, the other repeats right after the first group was at their very last note. Then, those in the wild create the echo from afar. The crowing takes around a couple of minutes. As a city guy, born and raised in a gated community in Metro Manila, his night was never bothered of crowing roosters, except by vehicle honks and engines from spoiled kids of wealthy families, who sometimes have fun racing in the street. It took him three weeks before the crowing became a melodic symphony that finally can lull him to sleep after a long day under the tropical heat as he checked logs brought in by the trucks from the forest.
That night, though, he was one of those logs rolling to the river. He often times pulled himself up, sometimes pushed himself down, many times covered his ears with his pillows. The crane were his arms; the skids…his hands. The lady he saw at the river during the day: an oblong-shaped face, dewy-eyes with long curly lashes, and a long nose with a thin nostril was disturbing him. He definitely saw in her some spilled over blood from the Spanish Conquistadores. Simultaneously, he had been bothered with the words of Ligut.
“Be tactful when you interact with the villagers, Pare. Your culture is different from theirs,” Ligut, the host, advised his friend, Mario, during his first night at the log pond.
“They are Filipinos like me, aren’t they?” Mario asked.
“Certainly, they are; however, we are thousands and thousand miles away from Manila, separated by the sea and dense forest,” Ligut answered.
“Does it mean I could not speak to them in Tagalog?” Mario continued.
“You could, but the intelligibility, from the scale of 10, would be from 0 to 1. You might as well talk to them in your household tongue. Anyways, besides me, there is this 20-year old beautiful lady. She lives three villages up. She used to be one of those “tribal scholars” who were taken to Manila, housed in a mansion by their multi-millionaire benefactor, and was sent to an exclusive girl’s school as a second grader at the age of fourteen.”
“I remember you telling me that when we were in college. You told me they were bussed to and from the school with an entourage of security officers. Instead of school bags and lunch boxes, they have shoulder purses with make-up kits. And on the first day of school, their 8-year old classmates stood up right away when they entered their respective rooms and greeted them ‘good morning, ma’am’,” Mario said laughing.
“Yeah…funny; but one thing we did not know until this girl was allowed to come home for a one-week summer vacation. While at the mansion, they were treated like girls in a harem. They have classes in social graces and etiquette. Actors and singers were invited to entertain them every weekend. But the sad thing, Pare, each of them had to keep a strict schedule when to see their millionaire patron in his bedroom,” Ligut said shaking his head.
“And I know this man. His wife left him and she now lives in Madrid. I heard my dad mentioning that to my mom. That was before my dad took you to our house as our ‘tribal scholar’.”
“But I was very lucky, Pare. Your family really treated me as a scholar, not a slave or whatever. And I was very lucky to come from the Bukidnon tribe that has valued the importance of education since I can remember. My mom was even sent by an American missionary to Manila for her ETC, elementary teaching certificate, few years after World War II. Anyways, when this girl came home, she was completely changed…very sophisticated…she felt out of place...other village girls disliked her, and men shunned her for that prima-donna attitude, but one slip of her tongue made her parents angry and ended her Manila days,” Ligut shook his head and a chuckle.
“And what’s that…?” The eyes of Mario stared intently at Ligut anxious to hear it.
“As she was proudly “singing” about her life in Manila, she mentioned that, one night, a fellow scholar came out from the benefactor’s bedroom so tired, famished, and disheveled, and she asked others to get her a glass of water to drink and gargle.”
“And…,” Mario raised both of his hands, more intently with a slight smile on her face, his heart teetering with excitement, and mouth salivating to know what happened.
“Well, no one really knew what happened to that “scholar”.
“Wow, Pare, bitin! You cut me off. I am dying here to know the details,” Mario stood up stumping with a grin of frustration. He turned his back away from Ligut and quickly brushed his hair with his bare hand.
“Just run your imagination wild, Pare, just like the villagers did when they heard it. But let’s go back to the language issue. Look, the lingua franca here in Mindanao is Bisaya. Tagalog or Pilipino is taught in school, but how many elementary schools did you passed by this morning, from the last town to this village?”
“Two!” Mario abruptly answered , still not looking at Ligut.
“Yes, and those are the barrios of the lowlanders. Most of the tribes in the Philippines are denied of education and other government programs. Probably, because of the remoteness of the villages, but I believe it is more on culture and language barriers. Teachers fear of not being understood, so nobody dares to teach the villagers. And for this tribe; the story of this pretty “tribal scholar” has derailed their trust with government programs, including education. So, be careful out there,” Ligut advised his friend.
Mario, a 22-year old guy, was the new assistant operation manager of a logging company operating in the jungle of central Mindanao. It’s his first assignment of hard work. Ligut left Mario’s house after he graduated and was already working full-time as a senior clerk of the logging company. Nevertheless, they hang out together, almost regularly, on weekends. Ligut knew his cockiness and weakness on women.
“But you are right, Pare, I saw beautiful girls passing by the office this morning.”
“Wow, Pare, hinayhinay lang! (Just take it slow.) You don’t want to have a shotgun marriage or be killed for not marrying one, do you?”
“Why so?” Mario asked.
“See, unmarried women here are well-protected. They are not allowed to socialize with men. If they have male guest in the house, the girls would have to stay in a room where the male guest could not see or touch them,” Ligut said.
“What if a guy accidentally touches a girl?”
“That guy has devirginized that girl; hence, he has to marry her,” Ligut answered.
Mario realized that he had to contain his libido.
“However, Pare, like any other society, there are single women here, who go against the norm. If they like somebody, they would do something to get him. I cannot reiterate this enough…be very careful out there, Pare.”
Mario cannot take his mind off that girl. He still can see that long neck on that 6-foot slender body. “He could qualify in a “Miss Universe” pageant. And being a virgin is a triple plus,” Mario sighed and closed his eyes. He tried to sleep, but cannot. He remembered that when the young woman got up, she put the washed clothes in an enameled basin, balanced it on her head, and started to catwalk like a fashion model. He was flabbergasted. He cannot believe that this young village woman can walk with finesse. He had stereotyped tribal women as uneducated and unrefined, who walk either like ducklings or with petulant swaying of their behind. Not anymore. This woman has proven him wrong. As she was walking, she dropped a handkerchief. Mario got scared, so he pretended not to see it.
The following day, Mario saw the woman again walked by the office. He immediately called Ligut to ask for her name.
“Her name is Agah, the daughter of a chieftain, three villages up. She is here visiting her brothers.”
“She is so beautiful. I wanna bef…,” Mario did not finish his sentence, because he saw Agah dropped her handkerchief. He wanted to pick it up and hand it to Agah, but Ligut patted his shoulder; then shook his head.
“Ignore it, Pare,” Ligut advised him.
However, to ignore the sweetest and most appealing girl at this isolated log pond was to ignore her favorite crispy fried chicken drumstick. So, he walked right to that handkerchief, picked it up, and followed Agah to give her the hankie. As if betwitched, he handed the handkerchief to Agah staring at the pair of dimples on her check. He was enamored and nervously touched the fingers of Agah. Suddenly, the Agah’s concave lips turned convex. She covered her face with the handkerchief and run back to her brother’s hut. Mario wanted to follow her, but Ligut hollered to come back to their office, instead.
“Well, Mr. Casanova,” Ligut said as he shook his head, “now you are trapped. It’s either you runaway right now or accept the brunt of her brothers.”
Mario opened his mouth, about to say something.
“Uh-oh,” Ligut wagged his index finger at Mario, who was quiet for a few seconds. The whistling interference in the side-band radio was tearing his emotion apart. “Don’t say anything. Accidental or intentional, you have to face the music, otherwise, you will put the company’s operation here in jeopardy,” Ligut said in his harsh bossy voice, which Mario had’nt heard from him before.
Mario was stunned and did not say anything. He sat in his rattan chair, tucked his arms under his head, and shook his head once. He knew that despite Ligut’s willingness to stick his head out to protect him as he did in Manila, while he got caught by his girlfriend making out with another woman, he cannot do it now. He has the entire logging operation in the region to protect.
“Log Pond Mindanao, this is Manila. Log Pond Mindanao…Over!” the single sideband company’s radio interrupted the silence. Ligut looked at Mario. Just as he was about to pick up the microphone, they heard a commotion outside their office.
“Agah’s two brothers are coming with a spear and a rifle,” one logging worker hollered.
“Stand-by Manila. Log Pond-Mindanao has a serious problem to attend to. …Will call in thirty minutes. Over and out,” Ligut hanged up, went outside the office to meet the brothers.
“Where is that maniakis? Bring him out!” the older brother shouted as he clucked the rifle.
“Calm down, Gali`, let us settle this problem peacefully,” Ligut, the pacifier, responded raising both arms forty-five degrees to stop the two brothers.
“That maniakis must marry our sister, or else…,” he pulled the trigger and off went a loud rifle crack.
“Gali`, there’s nothing to worry. He knows the consequence of his action. Blood does not have to flow. Expect us at eight tonight,” Ligut assured the two brothers.
“I’ll take you on that, Sir Ligut. Better be at my house at eight and Mario on a leash that this log pond won’t turn into a mess,” the older brother yelled as he walked away from Ligut’s office.
Ligut peeped in to check on Mario before he went inside the radio room, “Manila, this is Log Pond-Mindanao; over.”
“Log Pond-Mindanao from Manila, update us what’s going on; over,” a lady’s voice came loud and clear.
Ligut knew who was talking. He heard the voice before, even in early mornings. The voice was from the company’s vice president.
“Roger Manila. It’s one of those cultural nuances, ma’am; over.”
“…Copy on that, Log Pond-Mindanao. Hope it’s not a matter over life and death… elaborate; over.”
“Negative…Manila. Our new assistant operation manager here had blundered by picking up a lady’s handkerchief; over,” Ligut tried to make the report as specific as possible.
“Negative copy, Log Pond-Mindanao…seems not a serious matter…elaborate; over.”
“Roger Manila. Mario helped a lady with her handkerchief. He handed it to her and accidentally or nervously touched the lady’s fingers; over.”
“How could that be a serious problem, Log Pond-Mindanao? Over,” a louder lady’s voice showed a sign of a slight annoyance.
“Touching a lady’s body part by a man is big and serious matter here, Manila. Have to settle this ASAP; otherwise, some of our workers would get killed. Over,” Ligut explained.
“Stand by, Log Pond-Mindanao; over and out!” Then, the main office in Manila was in complete silence. The crackling of the radio took control. Instead of sitting idly with the microphone on hand, Ligut went to the other room to talk to Mario, whom, while talking to Manila, he saw, through the glass partition, sometimes staring blankly at the ceiling and sometimes with a trace of smile.
“So, Mr. Casanova, what’s in your mind? I saw your ambivalent spirit through that glass. C’mon, enlighten me,” Ligut said.
“I’m on a roller coaster ride, Pare.”
“And…?” Ligut looked at Mario with a raised eyebrow and wrinkled forehead.
“I still cannot make up my mind, Pare; …still cannot see myself settling down with this woman…but I also feel something very good right here,” Mario hit his left chest with a fist.
“Ah…a sign of a 22-year old Casanova hit by cupid’s arrow. The arrow just missed the core. Here, allow me to push the arrow a little bit to quell the kinks,” Ligut was about to hurl his fist onto Mario's chest when they vice president's voice.
“Manila to Log Pond-Mindanao, can you copy? …Over.”
Ligut went back to the radio room, pressed the red button on the side of the microphone and replied, “Roger, Manila. Go ahead; over.”
“Is your assistant manager there? …Over,” the lady’s voice asked.
“Roger!” Ligut answered as he signaled Mario to come to the radio room.
“Put him on, please; over.”
“Roger, ma’am,” Ligut handed the microphone to Mario.
“M-m-ma-ma-manila…over,” Mario quivered.
“ Hijo mio... que paso? …Over,” the lady’s voice asked gently.
“Lo siento mucho, Mama`, I got very nervous as I handed her the handkerchief; over,” Mario replied.
“Could we not settle this with grease money? Our public relation officer said that we could, over,” the mother asked.
“I don’t think so, Mama. Ligut told me that we could appease the family’s anger with money if I just shamed them, but my action was like raping this beautiful girl. …Over.”
“Que barbaridad…que desgracia! But did you say, “She’s beautiful?” the mom said.
“Si, mama… muy hermosa, mama…beautiful than the current Miss Philippines-Universe; over,” Mario answered with a spark in his eyes.
“Your voice is insinuating that you like her…Over?”
“Would you like to have a daughter-in-law from the jungle, Mama? …Over!”
“Hijo, it is so risky to run away from it, according to our public relations officer. We cannot give up our logging operation there, either. A daughter-in-law who is una Tarzana? Well, as long as you love her…No problem with that, hijo; over.”
“Copy you loud and clear, Mama. But Mama, she does not act like Tarzan; okay? A village wedding will take place tonight; over.”
“Por QUE, hijo…hijo mio… Por QU’E?” Mom’s voice cracked.
“Si, Mama`, I have been given until eight tonight to marry her; …Over.”
Mario heard her mom’s sob, competing with the squeaks of the radio. He knew that his mom was upset. He knew that she has started worrying how to relate with Agah when Mario takes her to Manila, how her friends would take the news, and how to deal with her pride and prejudice. Like him, the mom seemed awakened from a horrible dream and there’s no way out. It was her plan to send him to Mindanao to learn the rope of their family business.
“Hush, Mama; it’s not your fault. I am love-struck. It’s love at first sight. You’d be surprised when you meet Agah. …Over.”
“Okay, then, tell the family tonight, that a formal wedding will take place in a few weeks. I will be sending a priest and a wedding planner down there this weekend. I am waiting for your dad to come home from his business trip in China. Adios, hijo. …te amo, hijo mio. Por favor, hijo mio…take care; over and out.”
“Love you, Mama. Bye… over.”
Mario hanged up and asked Ligut to look for a pig to butcher for his meeting with Agah’s brother later in the day.
“Everything is taken cared of, Pare. And don’t worry with that pig. If your parents are coming for your formal wedding later this month, then, a chicken and some bottle of San Miguel beer would be sufficient for now,” Ligut said.
Sunset came. The stumping pestles on mortars replaced the sounds of incoming and outgoing logging trucks. There were lots of people already sitting outside the yard of Agah’s house. The village chieftain was seen walking fully dressed with his beaded headgear. One truck came studded with people from Agah’s village. Every lowlander at the log pond knows that a simple tribal wedding is to take place: An augury by prying the liver of a black-feathered chicken, and an exchange of fistful of rice with some white meat between the bride and the groom following a nuptial agreement between Agah’s relative and Ligut and Mario in the presence of the village chief. Everybody would soon know that Mario is an heir of the logging company, that Agah would soon be living again in Manila, and an en grande wedding would soon takes place on a sandy bank of Agusan river, where the shotgun romance had started.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, everyone.