THE TALE OF TONYO THE BRAVE
by Maria Aleah G. Taboclaon
COME here, mga apo. You want me to tell you a story? Then you must come nearer, and sit at my feet. Don’t interrupt me, as my memory is as fleeting as the summer breeze, and you may find that an interrupted story is worse than no story at all. I had been telling you war stories before, of things that happened to your father and to your father’s father, who was my brother. Now, what I am going to tell you is a little different, but something that you will hopefully remember when you find the need for this memory.
I WAS the third son of Francisco, a town hall clerk, and Carmencita, a housewife, in a small town called Canda, somewhere south in Bukidnon. It is far from here, very far. To go there, you have to travel by ship or airplane, and by bus for more than twelve hours. We lived in a small house, made smaller by the fact that there were three sons, all not far apart in age. Fernando was the oldest, Alejandro, your grandfather, followed after a year, then, me, barely a year later as well. After that, Nanay just declared she would not get pregnant again, and indeed she didn’t. We were boisterous as all boys are, and it was all that Nanay could do to keep us in place. We had no household help, and aside from our three cats, five kittens, two dogs, a flock of chickens and two pigs, we only had Apo, Nanay’s father. Apo was eighty-four, but he was still spry and lively. He would wake up early every morning, rouse us out of bed, nag us to do our chores—scrubbing the floor, watering the plants, feeding the animals, among other things—and would then sit in the verandah the whole day, puffing on a rolled betel leaf, spitting out the red goo into a small can beside him. Often, I would sit with Apo and he would tell me stuff about the war and the times that his family had to leave their home in the middle of the night, as the shelling and the bombing started in their town. There were times, as well, when Apo talked about the “not-like-ours,” his term for the supernatural. He had seen a kapre, he said, he had also been friendly with a dwende, and had witnessed a manananggal flapping its wings. I spent so much time with Apo that my brothers picked on me constantly, calling me a sissy. That was their favorite taunt, for they knew I hated to be called that. Was it my fault then that sometimes I liked Apo’s company better than theirs? I was no wimp—I played their games and excelled at some. I was the best when it came to playing with marbles and nobody could catch me when we were playing tag, but I did not like hunting which was one of their favorite pastimes. I loved birds, and I hated to see them hurt. I cried once when I saw Fernando hit a maya in the chest, the poor bird falling from a branch—merely stunned or dead, I didn’t know. I ran away before they could see my tears. But—I let them be. I worried that they would tease me even more if I chided them about hurting birds. I refused to go hunting with them—after all, I was still the undisputed champion and had the biggest marble collection in town. One day, when Fernando was fourteen, Alejandro thirteen, and I, twelve, Tatay came home with bad news. The body of Budok, a farmer from another barangay, was found that morning. It was mangled beyond recognition, and only the guitar embossed with his name, lying just a few feet away, and his clothes, identified him. A young boy who was looking for his dog found the animal sniffing the body behind a bamboo clump not far from town. According to Tatay, it was the second such murder in two months, but they had not worried before because the first victim was a stranger and the murder had taken place in Antil, a town a day’s walk away. What was queer, Tatay said, was that someone pulled out Budok’s (and the stranger’s) internal organs. According to the doctor, neither a bolo nor a knife was used for the crime, which didn’t make sense at all...
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