Translated from Waray
Paking and his Nanay Sayong were getting ready to pray the Holy Rosary as the dark was gently falling. It was the first Friday of the month, the day of each month when Nanay Sayong vowed to pray novenas for all of her remaining life. At twenty-nine years old, Paking had not once dodged his Nanay’s bidding to say the Holy Rosary with her. He was only twelve years old when his Tatay died, and from that time, his Nanay Sayong never missed a novena on the promised day. Paking was just lighting the candles when he heard loud commotion from the house next door. Something crashing. Voices yelling and screaming.
“Maria Santissima, go and help Taling,” Nay Sayong whispered to him urgently. “I don’t like the noises coming from that house next door.”
The old woman had barely finished talking when they heard bare feet thudding on the ground, heading in their direction, and going up their porch. Their door slammed open. Taling burst in, wearing a torn blouse, hair in disarray, her face distorted with terror.
“Paking, please come to the house.”
They raced each other back to Taling’s house. When they got inside, Paking instantly saw Taling’s husband, Cardo, sprawled by the hearth, just four steps from the door. Cardo had both hands on a fresh wound trying to stop the blood that that was gushing out profusely. He glared at them, fear and anger in his face. The machete with its gleaming blood-stained blade was still lying on the floor beside him near his head.
Paking stopped, temporarily nailed on his feet, he felt the world spinning around him. His head was light and he felt ready to collapse.
Taling went straight left to the alcove, leaving the door leaf hanging open so that Paking saw his two godchildren inside. The three-year old Sara and Junior who just turned two last March, were soundly asleep. They were oblivious to the fact that just a few steps away, their father was lying in a pool of his own blood. Taling stared at the sleeping children for a little while. Then she picked up a t-shirt. She came out of the room and pressed the clothing on the gash on Cardo’s neck.
“’King. Help please. Let’s get him to a hospital.”
Paking broke out of his momentary blankness. Blinking a few times, he heard Taling’s words piercing his senses, and then he rushed out and ran to Apyong’s house. Apyong was a driver of a passenger jeepney in their barangay, paying a boundary fee for his use of the vehicle.
In little time, Apyong’s jeep rumbled into Taling’s front yard. Paking got off, and after him, Apyong’s teenage daughter. Paking put his arms around Cardo and walked him out of his shack, and helped him into the jeep. Apyong’s young daughter stayed behind to mind the ‘sleeping children.
Paking made the borrowed jeep fly on the road. The sarao’s motor roared, choking occasionally when he in his panic made some untimely gear-shifts. Grain-size blobs of sweat flowed down his body. His throat was dry and his heart was drumming in his chest. He kept praying there won’t be any counter-flow, thinking of Apyong’s warning that the brake was rather slow on the uptake. Luck, so far, had been on their side, people were at supper, and the road was clear, traffic was light, not too many vehicles were out. They needed to get to the hospital fast, Cardo was losing a lot of blood.
As he drove, Paking took quick glances on the rearview mirror at his passengers. Cardo was stretched out in the back part of the seat, almost falling out, his legs extended to the bench on the opposite side. His eyes, turned to Taling who was seated to his right, were venomous with hatred. Taling had one hand busy, pressing a piece of cloth against Cardo’s wound trying to stop the bleeding, the other hand holding on for balance to the jeep’s window side. Her head was turned away from Cardo, her eyes focused forward on the windshield. She would look at Cardo now and then, quickly removing her eyes with a look of disgust. Cardo was ranting, heaping threats and curses upon Taling.
“You! Si’a, si’a, how dare you. You wanted me dead so you could run around free with another man.”
Taling pressed the cloth harder against Cardo’s wound.
“Agi ! Agi, nga yawa ka!” Cardo screamed, sitting up with a start and taking hold of Taling’s hand that was pressing the cloth on his wound. She snapped back,
Cardo stared outside of the jeep, turning his head away from Taling grumbling.
“If I survive this–. Just wait. Nga yawa ka, expect more to come your way.”
“Let’s see,” Taling shot back. Cardo glared at Taling. A scowl distorting his face, he spat outside the jeep.
Past the Alajas Machine Shop, Paking heard the bells of the Redemptorist Church. He glanced at his passengers.
“We’re almost there.”
Past El Reposo, Paking saw the crosses and the stone angels showing over the concrete walls of the city’s graveyard. Casting a sideways look them, he knocked on the jeepney seat beside him and mumbled a prayer,
“Tabi la, tabi la, we’re just passing through. Please don’t take any interest now on this other one here.”
Taling returned her attention to Cardo. Moving closer to him, she put her hands under his armpits and pulled him up to sit straighter on the seat and keep him from sprawling.
They were now by the Redemptorist and as Paking maneuvered the vehicle into the Bethany hospital compound, he still managed to make the sign of the Cross with his other hand.
“‘King,” Cardo commented mockingly, “you’ll get beyond heaven, the way you’re carrying on. Please whisper a word to San Pedro for me, will you?”
“‘Im’ iroy, Cardo. Don’t make that kind of joke now.”
The jeep headed straight to the emergency. Paking jumped quickly out of the jeep and went to his passengers at the back. He helped Cardo down, supporting him as he walked him to the emergency room. Taling followed the two men, carrying the blood-steeped cloth. A tall thin nurse met them at the entrance and guided them to a vacant bed. The nurse made Cardo lie down. A doctor came and with him another nurse with yellow-dyed hair. They examined the wound which was beginning to bleed again.
“‘Deep laceration, severed artery. I can see his collar bone. Nurse, do the temp first, and then take him to X-ray. After the X-ray, take him to the O.R.”
“Yes, Doc,” the thin lanky nurse said.
The doctor turned to Paking and asked,
“How did he get this?” turning quickly back to look at Cardo’s wound, putting on his gloves meanwhile.
“That’s how he was, Doc. He came home with that wound,” Taling spoke up. “I’m guessing he got into a fight when he was outside. He’s drunk.”
Cardo turned his head away when he heard Taling’s words. He fixed his angry eyes on the curtains surrounding his bed. Tears were stinging his eyes, but before they could flow out, he quickly wiped them off with the back of his hands.
“What about you, Mrs? What happened to you? Your face is all swollen.”
“Oo, Doc,” Taling replied, quickly running a hand to smoothen her hair and bringing it down to cover the left side of her face which was most battered. “Aw, inin, kuan Doc, it’s nothing. I just happened to fall on my face.”
“Sige, that’s what you’re saying,” the doctor said with a wry smile on his face.
“Ada, this husband of yours, his wound is big, reaching the bone. We have to operate on him.”
The two nurses and the doctor were on either side of Cardo. Taling moved to the foot of the bed so the nurses and the doctor could position themselves properly around him. Taling touched her face gingerly, wincing a little at the pain she felt on the swollen part.
While the medical people were working on Cardo, Paking left the emergency room. His hurried steps took him to the hospital garden. He found a bench and sat down.
Paking and Cardo were the closest of friends since they were children. Their folks were old residents of Manlurip, and the two of them also grew up in the same place. One late afternoon when they were both still unmarried, he found Cardo waiting for him to go out from his job at Washington Trading. He was sitting on the sidewalk.
“Oy , pare, what brings you here? Waiting long?”
“You took a long time, coming out. Aren’t you supposed to be done at six?”
“Five o’clock, actually. But I’m in charge of the warehouse. I can’t leave until the bodega is closed. It’s my responsibility.”
Cardo stood up and lighted a cigarette.
“Nga yawa, P’re, Taling is pregnant,” Cardo said.
Cardo had been after Taling for the longest time, the bedimpled morena, daughter of a snackfood hawker in the market, the one near the meat section. Taling had long hair, a ready smile for everyone, and moved gracefully. Her eyes had long lashes, and when she turned them on you, you would feel as if she saw everything to the very depth of your soul. People also referred to Taling as Alias CocaCola Beauty, because her body, they said, had the symmetry of an eight-ounce Coke bottle–small waist and broad hips.
“The Alias CocaCola girl? Younger sister of Jun Brown, the butcher in the market?”
“Hala ka, nim’ iroy, you’re not telling me you plan on running away from this one too, like you did with that other one in Ormoc. If you try to escape from this one, Padi, you won’t ever be able to return to Tacloban forever.”
“Exactly what I’m afraid of, nga yawa. So I suppose it’s goodbye my happy days for me this time, that’s what I think. Puta, pare, that brother of hers nga yawa, he might cut me up.”
“Well, that’s because you peck anywhere the pecking is good, nga yawa you don’t take care to check who you’re putting on the lurch. Now then, have you paid your respects to Jun?”
“How can I not do it? They went to my work place earlier today, in motorbikes, and there were three of them.”
After a week, Cardo and Taling were married in civil rites. Taling’s mother, a market vendor, cried for her youngest daughter all throughout the wedding ceremony which was presided over by a justice of the peace. Cardo built a little hut across the street from Paking’s house. From his porch, Paking can look down on the yard of Cardo and Taling’s domestic premises.
When their daughter Sara was learning to take her steps on their porch, Taling started selling puto and iraid, snack food that she and her mother used to sell in the market. Then she added dried fish, rice, some canned goods, and tuba to her stocks. Listening from their own house, Paking overheard his Nanay Sayong once, talking to Taling while she was buying tuba.
“’Day Taling, I’m buying tuba again. Half a gallon, make sure it’s bahal, ha?”
“Of course, Nang Sayong. Here’s your special.”
“‘Mamay ano, this small store of yours is becoming bigger.”
“Buyag, Nang. Well, I’m really working hard on this, ’cause if I depended on Cardo, we will all starve. You know about that fellow, when he receives his pay, it goes straight to the galonan. When he comes home, his pocket is drained, he’s drunk, and he’s also angry.”
“Just keep on praying, Taling. Pray to San Antonio de Padua, that he will see the light.”
“Haguy, Nang Sayong, the saints are probably deafened by my prayers already.”
“Don’t be discouraged, Iday.”
“I don’t mind his being jobless every now and then, as long as he doesn’t do the things he does. He comes home drunk and angry, acting like lord and master. If he doesn’t like the food I serve him, he would throw away everything in the yard, claypot and all.”
“Nothing we can do about it. It is what it is. You can’t very well leave your husband, you know. It’s no good to have your children grow up without a father. You’d be no better than any disgraced woman.”
When he was a boy, Paking would often catch his Nanay Sayong standing by the hearth, wiping her tears. He would ask her, “What is it, Nay?” and she would tell him, “Got a mote in my eyes.” He remembered seeing bruises, on her arms, her feet. Several times Apoy Teban, came to give her a massage because she had pulled a muscle, or dislodged a joint which she would say, she got when she stumbled in the river while washing clothes.
He was in Grade 6 when a man came to their house, the foreman of the jobsite where his father was working. When the man left, he went into the house and peaked into his Nanay’s room. She had her back to the door, her hands were raised, she was hitting the air above her head with her fist. Paking saw his Nanay’s face reflected in the mirror, tears streaming from her eyes but her face was beaming with joy, as though some pall has been removed from it. He heard his Nanay sobbing,
“Salamat, Diyos ko, salamat Senyor San Antonio, salamat for listening to my pleadings. I promise to pray the novena as long as the breath is on me.”
The hair on his skin prickled, Paking hurriedly left the house and ran straight to the beach. When he returned in the afternoon, his father’s corpse had been taken home. He had been electrocuted while he was painting the Jansen Building of DWU.
Earlier, as he puttered in the kitchen , preparing the evening meal, Paking heard the quarreling going on in the house across the street. It made him uneasy, sensing a palpable strain of violence in the voices of Cardo and Taling.
“What’s wrong with you, nga birat ka, what devil has got into you!”
“Puta ka, whore, you’ve been crapping on my head all along these many days now. You’re not just selling tuba, you’re selling more. You’re selling bites of pleasure. How long has this been going on?”
Cardo slung abuse after abuse on Taling, his voice raised, as though he wanted the whole barrio to know of their shame.
“Who is the gossip that brought you this story, ha? My little store is feeding you, diputa ka, don’t ever say foul things against it. You don’t even help me run it!”
“Watch out if I catch you. I will surely catch you. Don’t deny it. Someone told me about it. Baa, you will really get it from me, I’ll break that face of yours into many pieces.”
“Just try it, nim’ iroy, just try it. If you do, only one of us will come out alive.”
Paking was about to go down, walk over to the other house and call Cardo to break up the quarrel between the couple. But it was the time for him and his Nanay to say the Rosary. Time did not wait for him, he was unable to help the couple, he was too late. If he only he had known it would go this far…
From where he was sitting, Paking saw a woman enter the main door of the church, face the altar and spread out her arms. Then she knelt and began moving towards the altar on her knees. He could not see her face, but he can imagine it, the eyes closed, the lips moving in whispered prayer. What could she be praying for? Was it for freedom such as his Nanay Sayong prayed for? Or was she praying for forgiveness for a bitter wish perversely granted? This was what his Nanay’s endless novenas were for. Paking shivered.
His Nanay never remarried. When any of their relatives would mention the idea of marriage–she was still young, it would be fine for her to remarry–his Nanay would reply, What for? My heart is finally light and easy. Or she would say, I won’t have myself tricked again, I find no bitterness sleeping all by myself, no not at all.
In a while, Paking saw Taling going out of the emergency room. She went to the sikyu who quickly pointed to her where he was sitting. She walked over to him. When Taling was near, he scooted over to one end of the bench. Taling sat down on the space he had vacated for her. She sat down and began crying. Paking did not know where to look, he shook his head and all he could utter was, “Tsk tsk tsk.”
Taling stood up, removed her wedding ring from her finger. She took hold of Paking’s hand and laid the ring on his palm, closing his fingers around it. She looked at him intensely.
“I’m going home to get the children. You take care of him.”
He took his gaze away from her. He looked away and heaved a deep breath. Paking nodded his head, twice, softly.
Taling stood up and walked away briskly towards the hospital gate, not once turning her head. He followed with his eyes the departing figure of Taling, until she crossed the street and boarded a jeep that was cruising for fares by the entrance of the Redemptorist Church.
Paking lighted a cigarette and looked at his watch. He was calculating the time it would take for Cardo to come out of the operating room.
Firie Jill T. Ramos writes poems (siday), fiction/susumaton, and children’s stories in Waray. She won the 2019 National Commission for Culture and the Arts Writers Prize for the Novel in Waray. Her poems and stories appeared in different anthologies and journals. She has a degree in Communication Arts and Education from the University of the Philippines and has worked as a teacher for two decades. Firie Jill T. Ramos, who lives in Tacloban City, is currently working on her novel.
Merlie M. Alunan was awarded Professor Emeritus upon her retirement from the University of the Philippines Tacloban College in 2008. She lives in Tacloban City and continues to write books that support the work of writers in the Visayan mother tongues. Her poetry has been recognized by the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Her life work has also been honored by UMPIL, the Sunthorn Phu Award by the Kingdom of Thailand, the Ananda Coomaraswamy Fellowship of the Republic of India. Four books, Sa Atong Dila (University of the Philippines Press 2015) and Susumaton Oral Narratives of Leyte (Ateneo de Manila University Press 2016), Tinalunay Anthology of Waray Literature (University of the Philippines Press 2017) and Running with Ghosts and other Poems (Ateneo de Naga University Press 2017) won the National Book Award in 2016 and 2017 and 2018 respectively. Alunan lives in and writes from Tacloban City.