THE CENTIPEDE

When I saw my sister, Delia, beating my dog with a stick, I felt hate heave like a caged, angry beast in my chest. Out in the sun, the hair of my sister glinted like metal and, in her brown dress, she looked like a sheathed dagger. Biryuk hugged the earth and screamed but I could not bound forward nor cry out to my sister. She had a weak heart and she must not be surprised. So I held myself, my throat swelled, and I felt hate rear and plunge in its cage of ribs.

I was thirteen when my father first took me hunting. All through the summer of that year, I had tramped alone and unarmed the fields and forest around our farm. Then one afternoon in late July my father told me I could use his shotgun.

Beyond the ipil grove, in a grass field we spotted a covey of brown pigeons. In the open, they kept springing to the air and gliding away every time we were within range. But finally they dropped to the ground inside a wedge of guava trees. My father pressed my shoulder and I stopped. Then slowly, in a half-crouch, we advanced. The breeze rose lightly; the grass scuffed against my bare legs. My father stopped again. He knelt down and held my hand.

“Wait for the birds to rise and then fire,” he whispered.

I pushed the safety lever of the rifle off and sighted along the barrel. The saddle of the stock felt greasy on my cheek. The gun was heavy and my arm muscles twitched. My mouth was dry; I felt vaguely sick. I wanted to sit down.

“You forgot to spit,” my father said.

Father had told me that hunters always spat for luck before firing. I spat and I saw the breeze bend the ragged, glassy threads of spittle toward the birds.

“That’s good,” Father said.

“Can’t we throw a stone,” I whispered fiercely. “It’s taking them a long time.”

“No, you’ve to wait.”

Suddenly, a small dog yelping shrilly came tearing across the brooding plain of grass and small trees. It raced across the plain in long slewy swoops, on outraged shanks that disappeared and flashed alternately in the light of the cloud-banked sun. One of the birds whistled and the covey dispersed like seeds thrown in the wind. I fired and my body shook with the fierce momentary life of the rifle. I saw three pigeons flutter in a last convulsive effort to stay afloat, then fall to the ground. The shot did not scare the dog. He came to us, sniffing cautiously. He circled around us until I snapped my fingers and then he came me.

“Not bad,” my father said grinning. “Three birds with one tube.” I went to the brush to get the birds. The dog ambled after me. He found the birds for me. The breast of one of the birds was torn. The bird had fallen on a spot where the earth was worn bare, and its blood was spread like a tiny, red rag. The dog scraped the blood with his tongue. I picked up the birds and its warm, mangled flesh clung to the palm of my hand.

“You’re keen,” I said to the dog. “Here. Come here.” I offered him my bloody palm. He came to me and licked my palm clean.

I gave the birds to my father. “May I keep him, Father?” I said pointing to the dog. He put the birds in a leather bag which he carried strapped around his waist.

Father looked at me a minute and then said: “Well, I’m not sure. That dog belongs to somebody.”

“May I keep him until his owner comes for him?” I pursued.

“He’d make a good pointer,” Father remarked. “But I would not like my son to be accused of dog-stealing.”

“Oh, no!” I said quickly. “I shall return him when the owner comes to claim him.”

“All right,” he said, “I hope that dog makes a hunter out of you.”

Biryuk and I became fast friends. Every afternoon after school we went to the field to chase quails or to the bank of the river which was fenced by tall, blade-sharp reeds to flush snipes. Father was away most of the time but when he was home he hunted with us.

Biryuk scampered off and my sister flung the stick at him. Then she turned about and she saw me.

“Eddie, come here,” she commanded. I approached with apprehension. Slowly, almost carefully, she reached over and twisted my ear.

“I don’t want to see that dog again in the house,” she said coldly. “That dog destroyed my slippers again. I’ll tell Berto to kill that dog if I see it around again.” She clutched one side of my face with her hot, moist hand and shoved me, roughly. I tumbled to the ground. But I did not cry or protest. I had passed that phase. Now, every word and gesture she hurled at me I caught and fed to my growing and restless hate.

My sister was the meanest creature I knew. She was eight when I was born, the day my mother died. Although we continued to live in the same house, she had gone, it seemed, to another country from where she looked at me with increasing annoyance and contempt.

One of my first solid memories was of standing before a grass hut. Its dirt floor was covered with white banana stalks, and there was a small box filled with crushed and dismembered flowers in one corner. A doll was cradled in the box. It was my sister’s playhouse and I remembered she told me to keep out of it. She was not around so I went in. The fresh banana hides were cold under my feet. The interior of the hut was rife with the sour smell of damp dead grass. Against the flowers, the doll looked incredibly heavy. I picked it up. It was slight but it had hard, unflexing limbs. I tried to bend one of the legs and it snapped. I stared with horror at the hollow tube that was the leg of the doll. Then I saw my sister coming. I hid the leg under one of the banana pelts. She was running and I knew she was furious. The walls of the hut suddenly constricted me. I felt sick with a nameless pain. My sister snatched the doll from me and when she saw the torn leg she gasped. She pushed me hard and I crashed against the wall of the hut. The flimsy wall collapsed over me. I heard my sister screaming; she denounced me in a high, wild voice and my body ached with fear. She seized one of the saplings that held up the hut and hit me again and again until the flesh of my back and thighs sang with pain. Then suddenly my sister moaned; she stiffened, the sapling fell from her hand and quietly, as though a sling were lowering her, she sank to the ground. Her eyes were wild as scud and on the edges of her lips,. drawn tight over her teeth, quivered a wide lace of froth. I ran to the house yelling for Father.

She came back from the hospital in the city, pale and quiet and mean, drained, it seemed, of all emotions, she moved and acted with the keen, perversity and deceptive dullness of a sheathed knife, concealing in her body that awful power for inspiring fear and pain and hate, not always with its drawn blade but only with its fearful shape, defined by the sheath as her meanness was defined by her body.

Nothing I did ever pleased her. She destroyed willfully anything I liked. At first, I took it as a process of adaptation, a step of adjustment; I snatched and crushed every seed of anger she planted in me, but later on I realized that it had become a habit with her. I did not say anything when she told Berto to kill my monkey because it snickered at her one morning, while she was brushing her teeth. I did not say anything when she told Father that she did not like my pigeon house because it stank and I had to give away my pigeons and Berto had to chop the house into kindling wood. I learned how to hold myself because I knew we had to put up with her whims to keep her calm and quiet. But when she dumped my butterflies into a waste can and burned them in the backyard, I realized that she was spiting me.

My butterflies never snickered at her and they did not smell. I kept them in an unused cabinet in the living room and unless she opened the drawers, they were out of her sight. And she knew too that my butterfly collection had grown with me. But when I arrived home, one afternoon, from school, I found my butterflies in a can, burned in their cotton beds like deckle. I wept and Father had to call my sister for an explanation. She stood straight and calm before Father but my tear-logged eyes saw only her harsh and arrogant silhouette. She looked at me curiously but she did not say anything and Father began gently to question her. She listened politely and when Father had stopped talking, she said without rush, heat or concern: “They were attracting ants.”

I ran after Biryuk. He had fled to the brambles. I ran after him, bugling his name. I found him under a low, shriveled bush. I called him and he only whimpered. Then I saw that one of his eyes was bleeding. I sat on the ground and looked closer. The eye had been pierced. The stick of my sister had stabbed the eye of my dog. I was stunned. ,For a long time I sat motionless, staring at Biryuk. Then I felt hate crouch; its paws dug hard into the floor of its cage; it bunched muscles tensed; it held itself for a minute and then it sprang and the door of the cage crashed open and hate clawed wildly my brain. I screamed. Biryuk, frightened, yelped and fled, rattling the dead bush that sheltered him. I did not run after him.

A large hawk wheeled gracefully above a group of birds. It flew in a tightening spiral above the birds.

On my way back to the house, I passed the woodshed. I saw Berto in the shade of a tree, splitting wood. He was splitting the wood he had stacked last year. A mound of bone-white slats was piled near his chopping block When he saw me, he stopped and called me.

His head was drenched with sweat. He brushed away the sweat and hair from his eyes and said to me: “I’ve got something for you.”

He dropped his ax and walked into the woodshed. I followed him. Berto went to a corner of the shed. I saw a jute sack spread on the ground. Berto stopped and picked up the sack.

“Look,” he said.

I approached. Pinned to the ground by a piece of wood, was a big centipede. Its malignantly red body twitched back and forth.

“It’s large,” I said.

“I found him under the stack I chopped.” Berto smiled happily; he looked at me with his muddy eyes.

“You know,” he said. “That son of a devil nearly frightened me to death”

I stiffened. “Did it, really?” I said trying to control my rising voice. Berto was still grinning and I felt hot all over.

“I didn’t expect to find any centipede here,” he said. “It nearly bit me. Who wouldn’t get shocked?” He bent and picked up a piece of wood.

“This wood was here,” he said and put down the block. “Then I picked it up, like this. And this centipede was coiled here. Right here. I nearly touched it with my hand. What do you think you would feel?”

I did not answer. I squatted to look at the reptile. Its antennae quivered searching the tense afternoon air. I picked up a sliver of wood and prodded the centipede. It uncoiled viciously. Its pinchers slashed at the tiny spear.

“I could carry it dead,” I said half-aloud.

“Yes,” Berto said. “I did not kill him because I knew you would like it.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“That’s bigger than the one you found last year, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s very much bigger.”

I stuck the sliver into the carapace of the centipede. It went through the flesh under the red armor; a whitish liquid oozed out. Then I made sure it was dead by brushing its antennae. The centipede did not move. I wrapped it in a handkerchief.

My sister was enthroned in a large chair in the porch of the house. Her back was turned away from the door; she sat facing the window She was embroidering a strip of white cloth. I went near, I stood behind her chair. She was not aware of my presence. I unwrapped the centipede. I threw it on her lap.

My sister shrieked and the strip of white sheet flew off like an unhanded hawk. She shot up from her chair, turned around and she saw me but she collapsed again to her chair clutching her breast, doubled up with pain The centipede had fallen to the floor.

“You did it,” she gasped. “You tried to kill me. You’ve health… life… you tried…” Her voice dragged off into a pain-stricken moan.

I was engulfed by a sudden feeling of pity and guilt.

“But it’s dead!” I cried kneeling before her. “It’s dead! Look! Look!” I snatched up the centipede and crushed its head between my fingers. “It’s dead!”

My sister did not move. I held the centipede before her like a hunter displaying the tail of a deer, save that the centipede felt thorny in my hand.

THE BUS DRIVER’S DAUGHTER

BY the time I got to Bora Bora I wasn’t shy anymore about asking strangers for favors. I always offered something in return and almost everyone seemed to appreciate that although I knew they mostly didn’t need what I had to offer.

Like yesterday. I spent a wonderful day on Motu Moute as the guest of a couple who tended a small watermelon patch on that barrier island, one of the many motus that surround Bora Bora. When I heard they were going to work on their farm, I offered to help for free. They thought I was nuts—the dry season was over, they said, and there’d be mosquitoes and gnats on the island. They laughed but finally said okay, undoubtedly to humor a fool as much as they needed help.

They weren’t kidding. There were lots of gnats and the mosquitoes were only waiting to take over at night. There wasn’t much work—there wasn’t enough weeds for three people to pull out and the plants were doing well. It was quite an enjoyable day for the island was beautiful and pristine—very few people go there to mess it up. For lunch we ate fish caught on the way over, broiled over charcoal from the coconut leaves I collected. I even managed to do some swimming in the calm lagoon waters.

I was on my third day in Vaitape, the main town in Bora Bora. It had a pier which wasn’t very busy—only little boats and small cruise ships docked there. For the third day in a row, I saw the brown dog that seemed to have made the pier his home. He would meet every ship that came in and look at the faces of everyone who disembarked, as if looking for a long-lost master who had sailed away one day and never came back. I wondered if his master had left his island home for the same reasons I left mine when I was twenty-one. I felt sorry for the dog because I had already learned what “you can never come home again” meant.

I worried about what I was going to do the rest of the day when I saw a le truck that looked like it might be a tour bus. I went to the driver and asked. Her name was Teróo and yes, she was waiting to take tourists from a cruise ship on a circle island tour.

“Can I help? I speak English.”

“What do I need you for, I speak English myself. Everyone in the tour industry does.”

“I don’t want any money—I just want to help you round your passengers up after each stop. Surely, you don’t want to lose any of them.”

She laughed loud in such an infectious manner I thought perhaps I had told a good joke. “I haven’t lost anyone yet. This is a very small island. How can anyone get lost?”

“Oh, come on. I’m sure you can find something for me to do to make your life easier. Besides, how can I get to see this island if you don’t let me help?”

“Where are you from, Chile or Castille?”

“Non, je suis philippin.” I wanted to impress her with my French.

“Well, well—I’ve never met a Filipino before,” she said with that beautiful laughter she had. “You can come with me but promise to tell me about your country.”

A LAUNCH from Wind Song, the high-tech French luxury sailing ship anchored in the bay, arrived at the pier to let passengers off for the tour. There was a dozen of them, mostly old Americans. As soon as they got aboard, we started on our way. There were already people from Club Med in the bus and we stopped at Bloody Mary’s to pick up another couple. Teróo was driving a regular le truck painted light blue and red, with wooden benches and open windows. I sat in the front with her.

We went in a clockwise direction along the road that circled the island. Our first stop was on a relatively high point just a few miles out of Vaitape. To the left we had a good view of the small bay, to the right were concrete bunkers and fortifications. Teróo explained the area used to be a submarine base in World War II. None of the old buildings existed anymore—they had either been torn down or reclaimed by the jungle.

I figured this was where James Michener was stationed during the war—the place where he wrote many of the stories in Tales of the South Pacific as he waited for the enemy that never came. I looked at Teróo, who appropriately looked like a cross between Bloody Mary and Liat in the movie, and pondered the likes of Lt. Joe Cable who saw beauty in Liat but at the same time found her unqualified to be a wife because of her color. By the time Michener’s book became a musical, Lt. Cable had been rehabilitated into one who protested “you have to be taught” to consider other races inferior. White America wasn’t ready then to look in the mirror and see its real self.

None of the passengers got down. I doubt if they knew or cared who James Michener was. Big band music and scenes of sailors and Marines in khaki uniforms scanning the horizon for enemy ships faded from my mind as the bus started moving again and jolted me back to reality.

The circle island tour doesn’t cover many historically important places for there is virtually none in Bora Bora. We stopped at scenic vistas—there was a lot of them—where the tourists got out to take pictures they can show back home. Farther along, Teróo stopped the bus at a secluded place where there were lots of trees and announced that those who wanted to relieve themselves can do so. “Women to the left of the road, men on the right,” she yelled. I told Teróo we did the same thing in the Philippines and drew a laugh from her. However, nobody wanted to go, probably too embarrassed to do even such a natural act outdoors because they had been doing it indoors all their lives.

Somewhere past the halfway point, we stopped at a wooden shack that sold souvenirs, snacks, and soft drinks. Teróo told everyone they were free to browse around for half an hour. As soon as they had gone, Teróo and I went to the back of the bus to chat.

“So how is it you’re here? I have never seen a Filipino here before, honest.”

“Oh, I was let go from my job in Los Angeles because sales was down. I wanted to go on a vacation before I start on a new job.”

“You born in the Philippines?”

“Yes, I went to America because life was hard for me in my country.”

“Isn’t the Philippines like this island?”

“Right, except there’s too many people. Even crowded Papéete seems wide open compared to the Philippines. I don’t know, but everything here seems familiar—not just the climate but the way the language sounds, the words, the way people go about their business. But we’re different, too. Perhaps we’ve changed so much that what we now have isn’t real anymore.”

“We’re changing, too,” she mused, “not always good. I don’t know how we were able to keep much of our customs. Look what happened to the Hawaiians…” She turned pensive for a while. “Anyway, how long are you going to stay here?”

“In French Polynesia? As long as my money holds out—I want to see as much of this area as I can. I’m beginning to think I can get a feel of what the Philippines might have been had things been different.”

“That’s nice.”

“I know I’ll never have another chance like this again. I don’t want to end up like these tourists who wait until it’s almost too late to enjoy travel.”

“I would like to travel myself but I can’t afford to go anywhere.”

“You’re lucky, this is paradise as far as I’m concerned.”

“But it still would be nice to see different places.”

Teróo didn’t want a soda so I got just one for myself at the snack bar. It was expensive as hell­—three bucks—but that’s what they charged everybody everywhere, not just tourists at this tourist stand. Everything was expensive in paradise.

When I returned, I asked Teróo, “So how often does anything exciting come to stir everybody from their romantic attitudes here?”

“Not very often. You know I was in a Hollywood movie once? Mutiny on the Bounty. Those were exciting times.”

“The one with Marlon Brando?”

She laughed hard. “You’re a bad boy. I’m not that old—the one with Mel Gibson.”

“At least I didn’t ask if it was the Charles Laughton movie,” I teased back. “Yeah, I saw the Mel Gibson movie—lots of nude women, beautiful bodies, sexy…”

“I was one of them.” She gave me a big smile.

I didn’t say anything and smiled back. She looked pretty enough but she had gotten a bit heavy just like most Polynesian women tend to do when they reach a certain age.

She sensed my incredulity and laughed again. “I was only eighteen… you wouldn’t believe how beautiful and sexy I looked then.”

“I’m sure you were.”

“No, you don’t—you don’t believe me,” she said, shaking her head.

Our passengers were still milling about the store—a few had gone across the road to check out what was there. I smiled at the idea some of them may finally be relieving themselves after passing on the first scheduled pee stop.

“What islands have you seen?”

“Tahiti and Raiatea before this.”

“Then you should visit Huahine. That’s my island. I have a daughter who lives there in our old house. She looks exactly like I did when I was eighteen. You can stay there for free.”

“You’re very kind but I don’t want to impose on strangers.”

“You don’t know us Polynesians. I like you and you are my friend, and I want you to meet my daughter. You will see how I looked twenty years ago. She will be happy to meet you. School is over and she’s there with her grandfather, my father. My husband works in Papéete, you know.”

TWO days later I was at Farepiti Quay, the pier commercial ships use in Bora Bora, waiting to get on the ferry for the overnight trip to Huahine. Teróo’s daughter, Simone, was going to meet me in Fare when we get there in the morning. She had just finished high school in Tahiti and was on vacation before going off to college.

We slept on the deck of the ferry which also serves as a freighter. Many people had straw mats to lie on—I had none but used my jacket for warmth and my backpack for a pillow. It was getting light when a loud crunch woke me up. I heard voices and I understood enough to know we had hit something.

I was surprised nobody seemed too disturbed. People were calmly looking out over the side. One of them explained we were in one of the channels through the barrier reefs around Huahine. We had hit a sandbar—the captain had misjudged its depth because of the complicated tidal pattern. Happens all the time, he said. The biggest inconvenience was that we’ll be six hours late. We’ll have to wait until the tide gets high enough again for us to clear the sand bar.

I worried Simone might go back home when the ship didn’t arrive on time. I can call her on the phone but my Huahine trip felt like it was starting on the wrong foot—I had already caused her inconvenience.

We eventually got to the Fare pier by mid-afternoon. As our ship was coming in I saw the rickety stores and hotels across the tree-shaded street. Next to the pier was a snack bar. Off to the right was a bridge that two white kids­—teenagers—on bicycles were crossing from wherever they may have gone to. They had white shirts and black pants, and the safety helmets required in America. I knew right away they were eighteen-year-old Mormon missionaries. They looked exactly like the ones we had in L.A. At their age, they probably didn’t realize how lucky they were to be able to spend a year of their lives among people of a different culture.

One young woman stood out from the rest of the people waiting at the pier. She was in a yellow and tangerine pareu, that one-piece wonder women all over French Polynesia used for clothing. She was sitting on that metal thing—I don’t know what it’s called—ships tie up to. She appeared to be scanning the ship for someone she was supposed to meet. When we made eye contact, I knew right away she was Simone. I went straight to her as soon as I got ashore.

“Bonjour, êtes vous Mademoiselle Simone?”

“Oui, vous devez être Antonio, n’est-ce pas?”

“Wow! Vous êtes jolie… Veuillez m’excuser, je ne parle pas bien le français.”

She laughed heartily—she had the same infectious laugh her mother had. “Maybe not, just good enough to flirt, I see.”

“You have to understand I only know a few phrases in French. Luckily, the ones I knew fit the occasion. I really meant what I said.”

“I’m glad to meet you. My mother said to take good care of you.”

“She’s a wonderful woman—as warm and friendly as anybody I’ve ever known.”

“She’s a good mom, too. That’s why I always try to do what she asks of me.”

“Where did you learn to speak excellent English?”

“In school. I chose to study English because I had been aiming for a scholarship in an American university since I started high school. I was lucky enough to get one at U.C. Santa Barbara.”

“That’s only an hour’s drive from where I live.”

“Good. Maybe you can visit me when I get there.”

She was beautiful—full-bodied and full-hipped—attributes which may later work against her but were assets at eighteen. Gentle face, large brown eyes, and long, shiny, dark hair. I saw Teróo in her face and in her genuine warmth and charm.

She had borrowed an Italian scooter from her cousin and asked me to get in the back. She told me to hold on to her so I can lean whichever way she did in a coordinated manner.

I couldn’t believe I had my arms around the warm body of a beautiful woman. I was awkward around women and would normally scheme and plan just to get so far. A friend once said I was too timid with girls I liked, afraid of getting turned down. He was right but my carefully crafted defenses had saved me from much heartache over the years.

I fell for Simone right away but warned myself she was a different kind of girl. She was the daughter of a woman who had befriended me. I had to be very, very careful not to do anything that would break that trust. The thought gave me comfort—I had no pressure to get anywhere with her and had a ready-made excuse should I fail.

She lived in Faie, on the other side of Huahine Nui, or Big Huahine. There was another island called Huahine Iti, or Little Huahine, and the two were connected by a short bridge. She warned me not to get Fare and Faie mixed up since they almost sounded the same.

The roads were good and the terrain was relatively flat—Huahine didn’t have the tall mountain peaks in the middle like most of the other islands of French Polynesia. Houses were well made, many built with concrete blocks and corrugated iron although some were made of wood and raised from the ground. They weren’t clustered together and had lots of space around them.

After a little over half an hour on the road, Simone pulled into a dirt driveway that led to a large wooden house. Trees—jackfruit and mango—shaded the house. Bird chirps punctuated the sound of leaves rustling in the wind.

We walked to the porch where Simone introduced me to her relatives who lived nearby. They were preparing food—peeling, cutting, and chopping vegetables and meat.

We next went to the kitchen where I met her grandfather. He was well-built and looked strong, not old at all. He greeted me in French and I mumbled back an appropriate response. They spoke to each other in Tahitian. Her grandfather laughed, then she came to me and put an arm around my waist and smiled. She laughed, too.

“What’s going on here? Are they having a party tonight?”

“No—well, yes—my extended family has come to welcome you. We’re all eating together tonight.”

“Oh, Simone, this is embarrassing—they’re going to all this trouble for someone they don’t know.”

“Don’t be silly. They all want to eat and have a few drinks, too. It’s a good excuse to get together. Besides, they know you’re my mom’s friend.”

She took my backpack and stored it in one of the rooms. When she returned, one of her cousins handed her a plastic pail and said something in Tahitian.

“We have more than an hour before food is served—they thought it might be a good time for me to show you something. When we come back, we’ll have time to take a quick shower and change before we eat.”

We went out to the highway, turned right, and walked about half a kilometer towards the bridge we had passed earlier. Next to the bridge was a house with dozens of vandas in various colors all around the yard. She exchanged greetings with a boy who was sitting on the front steps. The boy who was perhaps sixteen came running out to join us.

We went down the embankment and walked along the banks of the small river to where it almost met the ocean. Simone and the boy got on their knees at the water’s edge and started slapping on it with their hands. I saw one of the strangest sights I have ever seen. Large eels started wriggling out from their holes along the banks and came to where the splashing was.

When there was a couple of dozen eels around, they gave them food from the plastic pail—bread, rice, vegetables, pieces of raw meat. “They eat anything,” Simone explained.

“Do they bite?”

“They probably do, but not if you don’t do anything stupid. They know we’re here to give them food.” Simone explained that the eels were treated by the local kids as pets, feeding them regularly. “What do you think?”

I laughed. “All I can say is if this was in the Philippines they would all have been eaten long ago.”

WE were ready for dinner. We had showered and changed. Simone was in a new green and purple pareu. She had it tied in another one of the endless number of variations, like a strapless gown this time. A pareu is nothing more than a brightly colored piece of rectangular cloth and I always wondered how they made them stay in place.

Her relatives had set a buffet table and I saw barbecued pork and fish along with poison cru, their version of kilawen, broiled breadfruit, green salad, and steamed rice. Off to the side was a barrel full of Hinano beer on ice. On another small table were several bottles of French wine.

There must have been twenty or thirty people, all nice to me. The food was good, and the beer and wine made conversing in a strange language less stressful for everyone. Simone’s relatives spoke to me in French and bad English. I replied in English and terrible French. Simone hovered close to me all the time, ever ready to rescue or translate for me, whichever seemed to be needed at that moment. It was hard not to get attracted to her—she was extraordinarily kind. However, not only was she the daughter of a friend, she was also embarrassingly ten years younger than I was. It didn’t make it any easier that she was more mature than many of the other women I knew—I was afraid she’d consider me ancient.

After everyone was full, two guys came in with log drums. They started beating out a steady rhythm that got everyone dancing. To me, much of Tahitian dance is erotic and some moves are outright simulations of fornication. They taught me those moves, difficult and tiring for a novice, and made me dance. We had been dancing for over an hour when one of the drummers apparently gave an order because everybody started leaving the dance floor one by one until only Simone and I were left.

The drums beat out more complex patterns while Simone danced around me, brushing me with her arms and legs, and bumping me with her hips and her body. Everyone was yelling, encouraging her on. Simone got closer to me and started swaying her hips faster in a frenzy that was exciting. The drums rose to a final crescendo then everything stopped. The party was over.

Each of the guests offered me another welcome to their island before leaving for the night. Simone’s grandfather had long retired to his room.

Simone was sweating profusely from her dance. She got a couple of Hinanos from the barrel and gave me one. We turned the lights off and went to the front steps where we sat close to each other. There was a solid breeze—it helped make the heat bearable, even nice. The moon was high and lit the landscape with a cold light that turned the bright colors of the trees and the flowers to a dull gray.

We didn’t feel the need to talk. The cold beer tasted great in the sultry night—its bitter aftertaste reminded me of tears and sweat. I wanted to thank Simone with a hug but didn’t want to spoil anything.

After our second beer Simone said, “We better turn in now. We have a lot of places to see tomorrow.”

She led me to the room where she had put my backpack—the same room where I changed after I took a shower. “You’re sleeping in my room,” she said. She unrolled a palm leaf mat on the floor and placed blankets and pillows on it.

“What about you? Where will you sleep?”

“What do you mean? This is my room, too.” She sounded like she was surprised to hear such nonsense from me. She casually pulled out the corner of her pareu that held it in place and let it fall on the floor—she only had a pair of bikini panties underneath. She put on a large Miami Dolphins T-shirt and laid down on one side of the mat. I changed my wet T-shirt into a dry one and took the other half of the mat.

“This really isn’t my room anymore—it was mine until I left to go to high school in Papéete. We students board there during the school year. I get to use this room on my vacations. Two of my cousins who help take care of Grandfather use it when I’m not around.”

She snuggled close to me and I felt her soft breasts touch my arms. She smelled of tiare, the smell reminded me of the gentle fragrance of the sampaguitas of my youth. I turned around and kissed her impulsively—it just felt like the thing to do. Our tongues touched and she was delicious. I groped for her breasts through her T-shirt, then decided I could do better if I put my hand directly under her shirt. Her young breasts were firm but supple—her nipples were small, typical for one who hadn’t nursed a child yet.

I would have stopped right there, content with little victories had she not reached down and touched my cock. We both knew what was coming next and took our clothes off. I wasn’t clumsy anymore but confidently moved like I had been doing it with her for a long time. It felt good when I got inside her. We kept it up for a while, not speaking, and she held me back whenever she felt I was getting frantic. When she finally let me come, she was ready—her body stiffened and shuddered several times before she went limp.

I WOKE up just as the sun had come up. Simone was still sleeping. When I walked out of the room, I saw that her grandfather was already awake and having a cup of coffee. I was embarrassed when he saw me come out.

“Ia orana,” I greeted him warily.

“Bonjour! Comment allez vous? Voullez-vous du café?”

“Oui, si’l vous plait. Noir—sans sucre, sans lait.”

He came back from the kitchen and handed me a cup of coffee. It was strong and it was good. Another legacy from the French I said to myself. We seemed to be the only two people awake in all of Huahine.

We sipped our coffee in silence. I was apprehensive about starting a conversation.

“Simone est séduisante nest-ce pas? Is nice, yes?” he said at long last but didn’t show any indication of what he was really trying to get to.

“Oui, she’s very pretty.” Did I give myself away? I wondered.

“Êtes-vous de Californie?”

“Oui.”

“Simone go school Californie.”

Just then Simone came out from her room to join us. She was wearing the same T-shirt but had put on a pair of tan cargo shorts. Her hair was disheveled but she still looked lovely. Her large brown eyes smiled before her lips did. She put her arms around my shoulders in a gesture as unaffected as it would have been had she been greeting her grandfather. I realized then I had been brought up in an environment very different from hers—mine had been inhibited, hers open. Her touch made me uneasy no more.

Simone went to the kitchen to get herself a cup of coffee. She brought the pot over to refill our cups. She let her grandfather know about our activities for the day. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but they laughed a lot.

LATER that morning, we were back on the road. Simone had me put extra clothes in my backpack in case it got cold or we didn’t get back home before dark. She also made sure we had bathing suits because there would be places where we might be tempted to swim.

It didn’t take long to get to our first stop, Marae Rauhuru. I had been to a few other maraes before but they’re all different—this one was smaller but had larger stones. Like the others, this marae was on a raised rectangular platform built up with rocks, stones, and dirt. Flat, upright slabs of coral stood along its periphery. More slabs were in what seemed to be random places in the middle of the platform.

“These are sacred places our ancient people used for religious ceremonies—exactly what, we’re not sure. They could have been animal or even human sacrifices.”

“Those standing stones—any astronomical features to them?”

“Again, we don’t know although nobody has yet found a connection. There’s a lot of things we still don’t know about our old culture. That’s one reason I want to go to school in the U.S. After my degree, I’d like to go for a doctorate at University of Hawaii and do research on our past.”

“That’s very commendable… I wish you luck.” I knew Simone was kind and responsible but this was the first indication I got that she really had great plans about what she wanted to do with her life.

“I hope you don’t mind, but let’s stay around this marae for a while. Feel the energy from this place. Too many tourists rush from one place to another and never get to know anything real.”

We walked around the marae. Some of the coral slabs were green with lichen, others were smooth and plain.

“How old is this marae?”

“Probably twelve hundred years… Of course, it must have been destroyed by cyclones and rebuilt a few times. Sometimes those waves can get strong even though we’re surrounded by barrier reefs. Inter-island wars could also have destroyed it once or twice.”

“How do you know all these?”

“I’ve been reading a lot. It’s a subject that really inspires me.”

We sat on the edge of the marae, soaking the sun in and gazing at the ocean. After a few minutes, Simone pulled me up and pointed towards a nearby thatch-roofed, oblong-shaped structure built over-water on stilts. It had no windows. It was a replica of a building where the ancient rulers met, she explained.

She asked me to take my shoes off before entering as a sign of respect. I was surprised to see how bright and airy it was inside considering there were no windows. Light came through the gap between the wall and the pitched roof—the gap wasn’t noticeable from the outside. We squatted on a large palm leaf mat that covered the floor. The place was quiet and peaceful.

Presently, about half a dozen people came in. The men were in Hawaiian shirts and the women in colorful muumuus. They walked around and were apparently baffled there was nothing to see inside. I noticed Simone got a bit agitated because they hadn’t removed their shoes. One of them came over and asked what the building was for and Simone told him. The man said it would be a good idea to fill the room with exhibits because there was nothing there for tourists to see. I was astonished at the self-control my young friend showed.

We set out again in the direction of Fare. A couple of kilometers away, Simone stopped on the side of the road and pointed to the ancient rock fish traps in the inner lagoon. Nobody knew how old they were but they had been in constant use for centuries.

“I’ve seen bamboo fish traps in the Philippines with the same pattern.”

“Our ancestors brought with them many cultural traits and traditions from the Philippines and Indonesia. You’ll find a lot here that may have been lost there long ago. I once read an article about your sexual customs in ancient Philippines the friars found sinful. They said the women were too promiscuous. Funny but they didn’t say anything about the men. Doesn’t it take two?” She laughed.

“Is that true… the promiscuity, I mean? You wouldn’t know it the way girls behave there today—it takes a lot of work just to get one to let you hold her hand.”

“That’s the influence of the Church. When the white men first came to our islands they said the same thing about our women. Guess what, I don’t think they know the difference between promiscuity and not hiding your true feelings. In this regard, we probably haven’t changed as much as you Filipinos.”

“Anything we still do you don’t do anymore?”

“Our ancestors brought dogs with them—as pets and as a source of protein. We don’t eat them anymore.”

She turned red and looked anxious. She looked relieved when I laughed.

“Some day I’ll read the original friar manuscripts and write a paper investigating how Christianity changed the culture in the Philippines and how Islam did the same in Indonesia.”

I thought about my high school days when I wanted to be a writer, or maybe a photographer. I gave up those plans because I reckoned the best way to get respect was to have a good-paying, practical job. So I became an engineer, instead. I envied Simone who was going on to do the things she loved.

IT was noon and very hot when we got to Fare. Simone parked the scooter under a wide-spreading monkeypod tree across from the pier. I followed her to a small hotel that had mostly cash-starved surfers as guests. Inside was a restaurant, a typical South Seas restaurant the way I remember from the movies. It’s walls were bare except for an airline calendar. Two slow-rotating fans dominated the ceiling.

The restaurant served Chinese food. We had noodles, cheap but very good, followed by fresh, ripe mangoes for dessert. We talked about our lives, how different California was from Huahine, and promised to see each other in Santa Barbara. We talked about what we were going to do next.

Simone wanted to show me Bali Hai, the four-hundred-dollar-a-night resort hotel just outside of town where they had found ancient artifacts during its construction. “It’s a beautiful place but I had this strange feeling when it was being built we shouldn’t have been putting anything up there.”

She had worked at the archaeological site as a volunteer digger the last two summers. One of the archaeologists from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu was evidently impressed with her enthusiasm and attitude and helped her get a scholarship at U.C. Santa Barbara.

When we left the restaurant, there were three men were waiting for us outside. Simone looked annoyed when she saw them. She spoke with one and led him away from the others. They talked in Tahitian but I could sense the anger between them. He was jabbing at her with his finger and she was gesticulating wildly with her arms.

Unexpectedly, I felt a sharp pain that made me fall to my knees. One of the other guys had sucker punched me on my side. It would have been worse but my backpack had blunted the blow somewhat. The other followed with a fist to my face. More blows followed and I lost my sense of what was up and down. I heard a loud shriek from Simone then felt her arms around me. She shielded me from further blows with her own body.

Other people came, pulled the guys away, and made them leave. The waiter from the restaurant came out and gave me a glass of ice water. I slowly regained my breath as Simone cradled me in her arms. When I was able to stand up, Simone made me walk up and down the sidewalk to make sure I had my balance back. When she was convinced I could hold on to her on the scooter, we drove off.

She drove slowly, often driving with one hand as she used the other to make sure I was holding on tightly to her. She drove to Bali Hai which was close by and made me wait by the scooter while she went to the office.

After ten minutes, she came back with an armful of towels and a bucket of ice. A man who came out with her helped me walk to wherever we were going. He must have been appraised by Simone of what happened for he was apologetic. “I’m sorry this happened. We Tahitians aren’t brutes…”

“Oh, no, don’t worry. I’ve met many nice Tahitians and I’m not going to let some people spoil my visit or change what I think of your people.”

We walked to the lagoon where circular cottages were built on stilts above the clear, turquoise waters. A quiet breeze blew onshore making the humidity less intolerable. We took a raised walkway over the water to one of the cottages.

“My name is Sylvain, I’m the manager of this hotel. Simone asked if you could lie down for an hour in one of the rooms until you get your wind back. I knew she was going to drive you back to Faie so I told her you can stay as long as you need to—overnight, I insist. Don’t worry about the charges—we’re never booked full so it’s no big loss.”

He saw my reluctance and continued, “I owe a lot to Simone—she helped us coordinate with the archaeologists the last few years.”

He gave me a bottle of Côte du Rhone when we got in the room. “I hope you will enjoy this.” He shook my hand again before leaving.

The room was terrific. Over-water. Breezy. Three hundred sixty degrees of view. In the middle of the floor was a large round hole covered with thick glass through which you could see colorful fishes in the water below. Another over-water walkway led to a platform farther out in the lagoon from where you could swim or simply relax. Lots of space separated one cottage from another to ensure privacy.

Simone made me lie on the bed and removed my shirt. She put ice wrapped in towel on my side that hurt. She placed another on my cheek and told me to hold them in place.

She sat next to me and started crying. She had managed to hold everything in until she felt it was okay to let herself go. Between sobs she said one of the guys in town was an old boyfriend who couldn’t accept the fact it was over between them. “He is so jealous and possessive—he thinks he owns me. He’s going to hear from my cousins.”

After she put everything away, we drank the bottle of wine until I felt sleepy enough for a nap.

SIMONE was watching over me when I woke up. I looked at my watch and noted I had slept for a good hour.

“Did you sleep at all?”

“Oh, yes. Fifteen minutes.” She wiped her tears away and smiled.

“Don’t make yourself sad for what happened. Everything’s okay.”

She wanted to say something more but I pulled her down to make her lie beside me. When I tried to hug her to reassure her, I felt a sharp pain at my side that made me flinch. Simone noticed and started crying again.

She nestled close to me—the smell of our sweat mixed with the tiare scent in the coconut oil she used on her hair. She was warm and her touch felt good. She must have noticed my tension for soon she had a mischievous smile on her face. Her smile made me feel better.

“You want to?” I thought she was being a tease.

“Yes, but I can’t.”

“Keep still, I’ll find a way.”

She undressed, then took my pants off. She straddled my hips, made me hard, and took me in, very careful not to put her weight on my body. The limited movement we dared do was a great turn-on—it was like an endless foreplay. She was very gentle, holding back the moves I knew she wanted to do.

After I came, she huddled close to me, uncomplaining, although I knew she was unsatisfied.

I forced myself to get up knowing if I didn’t, my muscles would get sore and stiff. We decided to go for a swim. We went through the walkway to the swimming platform. It had a few plastic chairs and a ladder that went down into the water.

The water was cold and the salt stung my cuts but it felt good where it hurt most. I couldn’t stay long, however, because I couldn’t move about well enough to get warmed up. I got out of the water and wrapped myself in a towel, content to watch Simone from my chair. She looked like a mermaid frolicking among the waves—she was in her perfect environment. I was relieved she wasn’t moping anymore or blaming herself for what happened.

When she came out of the water, I gave her a towel and asked, “Why are you so nice to me?”

“Mother said you were a good man. She’s always right.”

THAT evening, a waiter came to deliver dinner. He raised the tray cover to show us the entrée—filet mignon with tarragon sauce, he said. Sylvain also came by and inquired if I was feeling better. He uncorked a bottle of wine for us—it was a St.-Éstephe.

I knew then he really meant what he had said earlier. He could have brought over a less expensive bottle and saved the good Médoc for a more important paying guest. “Thank you, Sylvain. I’ve never had a good Médoc in my whole life. I only know cheap Bordeaux from that region.”

He smiled. I had a feeling he was happy with the thought his good bottle wasn’t going to waste. He left me wondering if this was all a dream.

Later that evening, a woman came to treat my bruises. She massaged my muscles with an oily mixture that smelled of ginger. It felt warm and soothing. She told me to keep myself warm for the night. Simone put another T-shirt over the one I had on. I slept well that night.

THE next day was my last in Huahine. We were back in Simone’s home in Faie. Everybody knew what had happened—she had told them on the phone the day before. Everybody fussed with me as if I were an invalid, causing me great embarrassment. I said I was sore but was feeling a lot better. I asked Simone’s cousin who promised revenge for the shame to his family not to do anything but he didn’t want to listen.

Simone and I said our long goodbyes that morning on a hill which in the past had been a lookout for enemies coming in from the sea. We didn’t say much, we hardly touched each other. We stared at the ocean, looking for imagined enemies who were coming to get us.

She gave me a necklace made of seashells. “I know other girls must have given you presents like this in the other islands. It is our custom, so I am not jealous. I made this necklace myself. All the shells and coral in it are from my home island of Huahine. The ones you buy in the market use shells from your country—almost all the shells sold here come from the Philippines.”

What she said was true—I had seen hundreds of plastic bags full of seashells marked “Harvested in the Philippines” in the markets of Papéete. I couldn’t tell her why my people harvest and sell all the seashells they can lay their hands on while her people leave them in the ocean and take only what they need. I couldn’t tell her why my people will never have eels in the river as pets, that they will be eaten as food.

But I felt good—Simone loved me and it seemed I had been touched by the ancient Filipino spirit that apparently lives on, though so very far from home. I was king of the hill for a while—then the time came for me to go down and catch the boat that would take me away.

TERÓO was waiting for me at Farepiti Quay when I returned to Bora Bora. She started crying when she saw my bruises that were now purple. “Oh, you poor boy. You look terrible. Simone wasn’t exaggerating.” She wrapped her huge arms around me.

“You should have seen the other guy,” I lied as I hugged her back, feeling safe in her warm and loving embrace.

“Are you okay?”

“I am, I feel fine,” I assured her.

She looked at me again. Then her face lit up and she broke into a big smile. “How was my daughter? I told you she’s great. She was, wasn’t she?”

ALL OVER THE WORLD

One evening in August 1941, I came out of a late movie to a silent, cold night. I shivered a little as I stood for a moment in the narrow street, looking up at the distant sky, alive with stars. I stood there, letting the night wind seep through me, and listening. The street was empty, the houses on the street dim—with the kind of ghostly dimness that seems to embrace sleeping houses. I had always liked empty streets in the night; I had always stopped for a while in these streets listening for something I did not quite know what. Perhaps for low, soft cries that empty streets and sleeping houses seem to share in the night.

I lived in an old, nearly crumbling apartment house just across the street from the moviehouse. From the street, I could see into the open courtyard, around which rooms for the tenants, mostly a whole family to a single room, were ranged. My room, like all the other rooms on the groundfloor, opened on this court. Three other boys, my cousins, shared the room with me. As I turned into the courtyard from the street, I noticed that the light over our study-table, which stood on the corridor outside our room, was still burning. Earlier in the evening after supper, I had taken out my books to study, but I went to a movie instead. I must have forgotten to turn off the light; apparently, the boys had forgotten, too.

I went around the low screen that partitioned off our “study” and there was a girl reading at the table. We looked at each other, startled. I had never seen her before. She was about eleven years old, and she wore a faded blue dress. She had long, straight hair falling to her shoulders. She was reading my copy of Greek Myths.

The eyes she had turned to me were wide, darkened a little by apprehension. For a long time neither of us said anything. She was a delicately pretty girl with a fine, smooth. pale olive skin that shone richly in the yellow light. Her nose was straight, small and finely molded. Her lips, full and red, were fixed and tense. And there was something else about her. Something lonely? something lost?

“I know,” I said, “I like stories, too. I read anything good I find lying around. Have you been reading long?”

“Yes,” she said. not looking at me now. She got up slowly, closing the book. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you want to read anymore? I asked her, trying to smile, trying to make her feel that everything was all right.

“No.” she said, “thank you.”

“Oh, yes,” I said, picking up the book. “It’s late. You ought to be in bed. But, you can take this along.”

She hesitated, hanging back, then shyly she took the book, brought it to her side. She looked down at her feet uncertain as to where to turn.

“You live here?” I asked her.

“Yes.”

“What room?”

She turned her face and nodded towards the far corner, across the courtyard, to a little room near the communal kitchen. It was the room occupied by the janitor: a small square room with no windows except for a transom above the door.

“You live with Mang Lucio?”

“He’s my uncle.”

“How long have you been here? I haven’t seen you before, have I?”

“I’ve always been here. I’ve seen you.”

“Oh. Well, good night—your name?”

“Maria.”

“Good night, Maria.”

She turned quickly, ran across the courtyard, straight to her room, and closed the door without looking back.

I undressed, turned off the light and lay in bed dreaming of far-away things. I was twenty-one and had a job for the first time. The salary was not much and I lived in a house that was slowly coming apart, but life seemed good. And in the evening when the noise of living had died down and you lay safe in bed, you could dream of better times, look back and ahead, and find that life could be gentle—even with the hardness. And afterwards, when the night had grown colder, and suddenly you felt alone in the world, adrift, caught in a current of mystery that came in the hour between sleep and waking, the vaguely frightening loneliness only brought you closer to everything, to the walls and the shadows on the walls, to the other sleeping people in the room, to everything within and beyond this house, this street, this city, everywhere.

I met Maria again one early evening, a week later, as I was coming home from the office. I saw her walking ahead of me, slowly, as if she could not be too careful, and with a kind of grownup poise that was somehow touching. But I did not know it was Maria until she stopped and I overtook her.

She was wearing a white dress that had been old many months ago. She wore a pair of brown sneakers that had been white once. She had stopped to look at the posters of pictures advertised as “Coming” to our neighborhood theater.

“Hello,” I said, trying to sound casual.

She smiled at me and looked away quickly. She did not say anything nor did she step away. I felt her shyness, but there was no self-consciousness, none of the tenseness and restraint of the night we first met. I stood beside her, looked at the pictures tacked to a tilted board, and tried whistling a tune.

She turned to go, hesitated, and looked at me full in the eyes. There was again that wide-eyed—and sad? —stare. I smiled, feeling a remote desire to comfort her, as if it would do any good, as if it was comfort she needed.

“I’ll return your book now,” she said.

“You’ve finished it?”

“Yes.”

We walked down the shadowed street. Magallanes Street in Intramuros, like all the other streets there, was not wide enough, hemmed in by old, mostly unpainted houses, clumsy and unlovely, even in the darkening light of the fading day.

We went into the apartment house and I followed her across the court. I stood outside the door which she closed carefully after her. She came out almost immediately and put in my hands the book of Greek myths. She did not look at me as she stood straight and remote.

“My name is Felix,” I said.

She smiled suddenly. It was a little smile, almost an unfinished smile. But, somehow, it felt special, something given from way deep inside in sincere friendship.

I walked away whistling. At the door of my room, I stopped and looked back. Maria was not in sight. Her door was firmly closed.

August, 1941, was a warm month. The hangover of summer still permeated the air, specially in Intramuros. But, like some of the days of late summer, there were afternoons when the weather was soft and clear, the sky a watery green, with a shell-like quality to it that almost made you see through and beyond, so that, watching it made you lightheaded.

I walked out of the office one day into just such an afternoon. The day had been full of grinding work—like all the other days past. I was tired. I walked slowly, towards the far side of the old city, where traffic was not heavy. On the street there were old trees, as old as the walls that enclosed the city. Half-way towards school, I changed my mind and headed for the gate that led out to Bonifacio Drive. I needed stiffer winds, wider skies. I needed all of the afternoon to myself.

Maria was sitting on the first bench, as you went up the sloping drive that curved away from the western gate. She saw me before I saw her. When I looked her way, she was already smiling that half-smile of hers, which even so told you all the truth she knew, without your asking.

“Hello,” I said. “It’s a small world.”

“What?”

“I said it’s nice running into you. Do you always come here?”

“As often as I can. I go to many places.”

“Doesn’t your uncle disapprove?”

“No. He’s never around. Besides, he doesn’t mind anything.”

“Where do you go?”

“Oh, up on the walls. In the gardens up there, near Victoria gate. D’you know?”

“I think so. What do you do up there?”

“Sit down and—”

“And what?”

“Nothing. Just sit down.”

She fell silent. Something seemed to come between us. She was suddenly far-away. It was like the first night again. I decided to change the subject.

“Look,” I said, carefully, “where are your folks?”

“You mean, my mother and father?”

“Yes. And your brothers and sisters, if any.”

“My mother and father are dead. My elder sister is married. She’s in the province. There isn’t anybody else.”

“Did you grow up with your uncle?”

“I think so.”

We were silent again. Maria had answered my questions without embarrassment. almost without emotion, in a cool light voice that had no tone.

“Are you in school, Maria?”

“Yes.”

“What grade?”

“Six.”

“How d’you like it?”

“Oh, I like it.”

“I know you like reading.”

She had no comment. The afternoon had waned. The breeze from the sea had died down. The last lingering warmth of the sun was now edged with cold. The trees and buildings in the distance seemed to flounder in a red-gold mist. It was a time of day that never failed to carry an enchantment for me. Maria and I sat still together, caught in some spell that made the silence between us right, that made our being together on a bench in the boulevard, man and girl, stranger and stranger, a thing not to be wondered at, as natural and inevitable as the lengthening shadows before the setting sun.

Other days came, and soon it was the season of the rain. The city grew dim and gray at the first onslaught of the monsoon. There were no more walks in the sun. I caught a cold.

Maria and I had become friends now, though we saw each other infrequently. I became engrossed in my studies. You could not do anything else in a city caught in the rains. September came and went.

In November, the sun broke through the now ever present clouds, and for three or four days we had bright clear weather. Then, my mind once again began flitting from my desk, to the walls outside the office, to the gardens on the walls and the benches under the trees in the boulevards. Once, while working on a particularly bad copy on the news desk, my mind scattered, the way it sometimes does and, coming together again, went back to that first meeting with Maria. And the remembrance came clear, coming into sharper focus—the electric light, the shadows around us, the stillness. And Maria, with her wide-eyed stare, the lost look in her eyes…

IN December, I had a little fever. On sick leave, I went home to the province. I stayed three days. I felt restless, as if I had strayed and lost contact with myself. I suppose you got that way from being sick,

A pouring rain followed our train all the way back to Manila. Outside my window, the landscape was a series of dissolved hills and fields. What is it in the click of the wheels of a train that makes you feel gray inside? What is it in being sick, in lying abed that makes you feel you are awake in a dream, and that you are just an occurrence in the crying grief of streets and houses and people?

In December, we had our first air-raid practice.

I came home one night through darkened streets, peopled by shadows. There was a ragged look to everything, as if no one and nothing cared any more for appearances.

I reached my room just as the siren shrilled. I undressed and got into my old clothes. It was dark, darker than the moment after moon-set. I went out on the corridor and sat in a chair. All around me were movements and voices. anonymous and hushed, even when they laughed.

I sat still, afraid and cold.

“Is that you. Felix?”

“Yes. Maria.”

She was standing beside my chair, close to the wall. Her voice was small and disembodied in the darkness. A chill went through me, She said nothing more for a long time.

“I don’t like the darkness,” she said.

“Oh, come now. When you sleep, you turn the lights off, don’t you?”

“It’s not like this darkness,” she said, softly. “It’s all over the world.”

We did not speak again until the lights went on. Then she was gone.

The war happened not long after.

At first, everything was unreal. It was like living on a motion picture screen, with yourself as actor and audience. But the sounds of bombs exploding were real enough, thudding dully against the unready ear.

In Intramuros, the people left their homes the first night of the war. Many of them slept in the niches of the old walls the first time they heard the sirens scream in earnest. That evening, I returned home to find the apartment house empty. The janitor was there. My cousin who worked in the army was there. But the rest of the tenants were gone.

I asked Mang Lucio, “Maria?”

“She’s gone with your aunt to the walls.” he told me. “They will sleep there tonight.”

My cousin told me that in the morning we would transfer to Singalong. There was a house available. The only reason he was staying, he said, was because they were unable to move our things. Tomorrow that would be taken care of immediately.

“And you, Mang Lucio?”

“I don’t know where I could go.”

We ate canned pork and beans and bread. We slept on the floor, with the lights swathed in black cloth. The house creaked in the night and sent off hollow echoes. We slept uneasily.

I woke up early. It was disquieting to wake up to stillness in that house which rang with children’s voices and laughter the whole day everyday. In the kitchen, there were sounds and smells of cooking.

“Hello,” I said.

It was Maria, frying rice. She turned from the stove and looked at me for a long time. Then, without a word, she turned back to her cooking.

“Are you and your uncle going away?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Did he not tell you?”

“No.”

“We’re moving to Singalong.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Well, anyway, I’ll come back tonight. Maybe this afternoon. We’ll not have to say goodbye till then.”

She did not say anything. I finished washing and went back to my room. I dressed and went out.

At noon, I went to Singalong to eat. All our things were there already, and the folks were busy putting the house in order. As soon as I finished lunch, I went back to the office. There were few vehicles about. Air-raid alerts were frequent. The brightness of the day seemed glaring. The faces of people were all pale and drawn.

In the evening, I went back down the familiar street. I was stopped many times by air-raid volunteers. The house was dark. I walked back to the street. I stood for a long time before the house. Something did not want me to go away just yet. A light burst in my face. It was a volunteer.

“Do you live here?”

“I used to. Up to yesterday. I’m looking for the janitor.”

“Why, did you leave something behind?”

“Yes, I did. But I think I’ve lost it now.”

“Well, you better get along, son. This place, the whole area. has been ordered evacuated. Nobody lives here anymore.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “Nobody.”

The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay

The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay

Maragtas

The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay is a history of rulers of the island from the time of the Ten Malay Datus (rulers) that settled from Borneo.

Legend of the Ten Datus

The “Legend of the Ten Datus (chieftains)” narrates about the forefathers of the Filipinos and the story of ten Bornean chieftains who escaped the cruel regime of Sultan Makatunaw. Datu Puti along with other nine chieftains plans to leave Borneo. Riding their native boats, they ventured into the night and across the wide ocean. At first, the ten rulers and their families were afraid that they might perish in the middle of the sea. Soon, they have reached the islands of Panay and befriended with the natives called Aetas. The Aetas are quite friendly and decides to sell a piece of their land to the ten chieftains. The chieftains gave the Aetas leader, Marikudo a golden Salakot (Native head piece) After this; the chieftains and Aetas lived in peace and harmony.

Haraya

The Haraya is another epic poem from Panay. It is a collection of rules of conduct told in the form of heroic tales. The “Hari sa Bukit” of Negros island is a mythical epic of Kanlaon (Kan comes from a Persian word “Khan” meaning “King” and “Laon” from a Malay word meaning “Ancient.”) and “Hinilawod” an epic poem made by the early inhabitants of Ilo-Ilo, Aklan and Antique also from Panay.

Hinilawod

The hero of Hinilawod, “Humadapnon” was of divine ancestry. He had super natural powers and guardian spirits to protect him. His most exciting adventure was his search for Nagmalitong Yawa: A beautiful maiden whom he saw in his dream. He boarded his golden boat, sailed amidst dangerous seas, and was captured by an enchantress. Finally, he found and won the love of Nagmalitong Yawa.

IBALON

Ayon sa salaysay ni Padre Jose Castaño, batay sa narinig niyang kuwento ng isang manlalakbay na mang-aawit na si Cadugnong, ang epikong Ibalon ay tungkol sa kabayanihan ng tatlong magigiting na lalaki ng Ibalon na sina Baltog, Handiong, at Bantong. Ibalon ang matandang pangalan ng Bikol.

Si Baltog ay nakarating sa lupain ng Ibalon dahil sa pagtugis niya sa isang malaking baboy-ramo. Siya’y nanggaling pa sa lupain ng Batawara. Mayaman ang lupain ng Ibalon at doon na siya nanirahan. Siya ang kinilalang hari ng Ibalon. Naging maunlad ang pamumuhay ng mga tao. Subalit may muling kinatakutan ang mga tao, isang malaki at mapaminsalang baboy-ramo na tuwing sumasapit ang gabi ay namiminsala ng mga pananim. Si Baltog ay matanda na upang makilaban. Tinulungan siya ng kanyang kaibigang si Handiong.

Pinamunuan ni Handiong ang mga lalaki ng Ibalon upang kanilang lipulin ang mga dambuhalang buwaya, mababangis na tamaraw at lumilipad na mga pating at mga halimaw na kumakain ng tao. Napatay nila ang mga ito maliban sa isang engkantadang nakapag-aanyong magandang dalaga na may matamis na tinig. Ito ay si Oriol. Tumulong si Oriol sa paglipol ng iba pang mga masasamang hayop sa Ibalon.

Naging payapa ang Ibalon. Ang mga tao ay umunlad. Tinuruan niya ang mga tao ng maayos na pagsasaka. Ang mga piling tauhan ni Handiong ay tumulong sa kanyang pamamahala at pagtuturo sa mga tao ng maraming bagay.

Ang sistema ng pagsulat ay itinuro ni Sural. Itinuro ni Dinahong Pandak ang paggawa ng palayok na Iluad at ng iba pang kagamitan sa pagluluto.

Si Hablon naman ay nagturo sa mga tao ng paghabi ng tela. Si Ginantong ay gumawa ng kauna-unahang bangka, ng araro, itak at iba pang kasangkapan sa bahay.

Naging lalong maunlad at masagana ang Ibalon. Subalit may isang halimaw na namang sumipot. Ito ay kalahating tao at kalahating hayop. Siya si Rabut. Nagagawa niyang bato ang mga tao o hayop na kanyang maengkanto. May nagtangkang pumatay sa kanya subalit sinamang palad na naging bato. Nabalitaan ito ni Bantong at inihandog niya ang sarili kay Handiong upang siyang pumatay kay Rabut.

Nalaman ni Bantong na sa araw ay tulog na tulog si Rabut. Kaniya itong pinatay habang natutulog.

Nagalit ang Diyos sa ginawang pataksil na pagpatay kay Rabut. Diumano, masama man si Rabut, dapat ay binigyan ng pagkakataong magtanggol sa sarili nito. Pinarusahan ng Diyos ang Ibalon sa pamamagitan ng isang napakalaking baha.

Nasira ang mga bahay at pananim. Nalunod ang maraming tao. Nakaligtas lamang ang ilang nakaakyat sa taluktok ng matataas na bundok. Nang kumati ang tubig, iba na ang anyo ng Ibalon. Nagpanibagong buhay ang mga tao ngayon ay sa pamumuno ni Bantong.

Matandang kasaysayan ng Ibalon:

 Ang panahong nasasaklaw ng matandang kasaysayan ng Kabikulan ay nagsimula noong sinauna hanggang sa pagdating ng mga Kastila sa pangunguna ni Juan Salcedo noong 1573. Ibalon o Ibalnon ang naging tawag ng mga Kastila sa pook na ito at sa pangalang ito naunang nakilala ang lupain ng mga sinaunang bikolano. Ang naging batayan nito ay ang ibal o ibay na siyang kauna-unahang pangalan ng tangway ng Bikol. Ang ibal ay salitang pinaikli na ang Ibalyo (Bikol) o Ibaylo (Bisaya) na nangangahulugang maging tawiran mula sa Bisaya patungo sa kabilang ibayo sa dakong timog Luzon.

Katangian ng Epikong Ibalon:

 Ito ay binubuo ng animnapung saknong na may apat na taludtod ang bawat saknong. Ang sukat ay labindalawang pantig ang bawat taludtod. Ito ay isinalin ni Fr. Jose Castaño sa Kastila. Ang kayarian ng epikong Ibalon ay nahahati sa dalawang bahagi. Ang unang bahagi ay ang kahilingan ni Iling kay Kadugnung na awitin nito ng huli ang mga pangyayaring nagpapakilala sa kabayanihan ng bayaning si Handyong. Ito ang nilalaman ng unang bahagi na may anim na saknong.

Ang ikalawang bahagi naman ay ang awit ni Kadugnung na naglalaman at naglalahad ng mga pangyayaring naganap noong matagal na panahon.

ILING – isang ibon na laganap sa Kabikulan at kung inaalagaan ay maaaring turuang bumigkas ng ilang salita.

KADUGNUNG – mang-aawit at matalinong makata at sa kahilingan ni Iling ay inawit niya ang epiko. Siya ang nagsalaysay ng epiko kay Fr. Jose Castaño.

(Batay sa pagsasaliksik ni Ester E. Tuy)

Epic Stories

Epic Stories

Introduction

Centuries before the first Spanish ship set sail on Philippine shores, the country was already steeped in cultural traditions, folklore, myths and epic stories. Usually in the form of poetry, these pre-colonial Philippine epic stories were tales of adventure, love, heroism, magic and origin passed on through story-telling.

Early Spanish records from historians like Antonio Pigafetta record the existence of the incredibly imaginative, vivid and colorful stories from the natives. In fact, it is said that when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in Philippine shores in 1565, the natives performed a dramatic play for him.

These Philippine epic stories, which were usually named after the hero of the story, were usually performed on special occasions and events like feasts or rituals. They were usually about the life of a native hero, his relationship with the native gods, battles and victories, feats of bravery and adventures.

A lot of people think that the arrival of the Spaniards and their successful propagation of their faith and culture erased all traces of the epic stories that told so much of pre-colonial culture, beliefs and traditions of the Filipinos. In fact, the common story is that the Spaniards destroyed all old records of the natives in an effort to fully colonize them.

Fortunately, however, this is not fully true. Though perhaps the colonizers did destroy some of the records of the natives upon their arrival, we still have records of Philippine epic stories to give us a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors and how they lived.

The Importance of Philippine Epic Stories

Why must we read the epic stories of our ancestors? What significance can they have in our modern and increasingly global world?

It was Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero and one of the nation’s greatest writers who said that the person who is incapable of looking back at his past will never reach his future (“Kung sino ang hindi marunong tumingin sa pinanggagalingan ay hindi makararating sa pinaroroonan.”).

The Philippine epic stories allow us to get to know we came from, what we were like, before the colonizers. In order to understand the Filipino identity, we must look back at the musty pages of the past and see who we were, before we can find out who we are.

And what better way to do so than through literature? Literature for every culture and civilization, first and foremost, is a record of the times, the eras in which the writers lived in. The reason why we pass on stories to each other is so that we can somehow chronicle the culture, society, beliefs, plights and victories of an era – so the future generations can remember and learn from it.

Reading Filipino epic stories enables the reader to discover a lost culture rich in splendor, magnificence, magic and bravery.

Examples of Philippine Epic Stories

Bicol Epic Poetry: The Ibalon – An origin tale, the Ibalon tries to explain how man came to be. Much like the story of Adam and Eve; it follows the tale of the first man and woman in the regions Aslon and Ibalon (now Camarines, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Albay).

It also narrates the adventures of the heroes of Ibalon and how they fought against monsters before establishing their own village and learning to farm. The Ibalon also has an account reminiscent of the flood story, where rains poured for days and almost destroyed the whole land.

Visayan Epic Poetry: The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay – This epic attempts to explain the origins of the Filipinos and tells the story of 10 Datus or chieftains from Borneo that sail across the oceans to escape the cruel reign of the Sultan Makatunaw. Upon arrival on Panay islands, the datus meet a tribe of natives called the Aetas. The Aetas eventually sell a piece of their land to the datus and they live side by side in harmony.

Old rules of conduct are also sometimes told in epic poetry form. The Haraya, also from the Visayas, is a collection of moral conduct stories told in the form of heroic tales.

Mindanao Epic Poetry – Epic stories from Mindanao were only very recently put into writing. Known locally as “Darangan”, these poems are very much like Greek mythology. The Darangan tells the romantic adventures of noble warriors from Mindanao. A lot of the stories focus on one warrior-prince, Bantugan, who owned magic shield and was protected by divine spirits.

A lot of the stories revolved around war and love, much like Homer’s Trojan War. But what makes the Darangan extra special is that it is sung, instead of just said, in twenty-five beautiful chapters.

Igorot Epic Poetry: Aliguyon – The Aliguyon follows the life of the hero after which the story is named, who is gifted with great powers (he can travel to far places without resting or eating and has never been beaten in a battle). He embarks on a series of fights with his arch-rival, Pumbakhayon, the only warrior with skills that match his.

The duel lasts 3 years without anyone winning. So, in order to end things, Aliguyon decides to marry Pumbakhayon’s sister, thus unifying their tribes.

Ilokano Epic Poetry: Lam-ang – This tale follows the unusual life of a boy who could talk and right after he was born. At nine months old, he embarked on a journey to avenge his father’s death, accompanied by his pets, a rooster and a dog. In one of his adventures, he is eaten by a sea monster but comes back to life.

He then goes on a quest to win the heart of the famed beauty, Ines Kannoyan. When he arrives, Ines’ house is filled with suitors. But with the help of his pet rooster who knocks the whole house down and builds it up again with a flap of his wings, he eventually wins her heart.

The Tilapia Story

Tilapia

The National Fisheries Biological Center in Butong, Taal, Batangas, raises a variety of commercial and aquarium fishes such as tinfoil, kitang, bagaong, bangus, hammerhead goldfish, koi, red paco, guppy, and the Siamese fighting fish.

A cousin of mine, Felicisimo Mercene, an aquaculturist, was responsible for the spread of the “pla-pla” (Tilapia Nilotica) in the country, which he started in a fishpond in Calamba, Laguna in 1972.

From a batch of 48 fingerlings from Thailand brought to the country by then the National Fisheries Research Development Institute, Mercene, with the assistance of Dr. Jack Dendy, an American limnologist, was able to raise 12 tilapia to maturity; the rest were lost to the flood that overflowed his pond following a strong typhoon.

Those that got away started the wild tilapia in the lake.

Out of these even dozen tilapia breeders, Mercene was able to raise thousands of fingerlings. These were given away to some local government units and to the residents of barangay Kabaritan, Calamba.

Pla-pla is the ideal fish to breed, either commercially or as a hobby. Grown in fish cages or aquarium, it multiplies like crazy, eats vegetable matter and insects, grows to as much as five kilograms, and has high tolerance for high-stocking density and poor water quality.

Lakeshore dwellers were the first to raise tilapia in fish cages and in a few years their shanties became concrete structures with tiled floors and TV antennas sprouting from their roofs, proof of the profitability of their early ventures in tilapia aquaculture.

Tilapia aquaculture has grown into a multi-million-peso industry. It is now the fifth most important fish in fish farming worldwide. Locally, tilapia has practically overtaken the bangus industry as the Filipino’s affordable and tasty table fish.

Another species of tilapia, the Mozambica, was brought here by Deogracias Villadolid, director of fisheries in the 1950s, but this were small varieties that failed to catch the attention of breeders.

By: FLORO L. MERCENE
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