Arturo B. Rotor
The big ax sang its way through the large arc and then came down on the block of wood with a mighty crash. It neatly cleaved in two formidable mass, the pieces flying for along distance in opposite directions. Surveying his feat with glowing pride, Sebio felt a ripple run down the muscles of his arms, forearms, shoulders. He dropped the heavy ax and wiped the perspiration from his brows, from his bare brown arms, letting his fingers rest caressing lyon each muscle. Small were his muscles and flat and flabby when relaxed. But how hard and powerful they became when he tensed them! As hard as seasoned, knotted yantok! Triumphantly he raised his arms above his head and, facing the afternoon sun, he thrust out his chest and made every muscle of his body tense. He was quite tall, above the height of the ordinary native, but he had paid for this increased height in diminished breadth. His chest was flat, his neck long, and his legs thin. He was one of those boys who, the village people said “ grew too fast.”“He will become bigger and stouter when he reaches his twenty-fifth year,” his mother had always told solicitous friends and relatives. How deceptive his figure was, Sebio thought! No wonder those who knew him called him Sebiong Pasmado (Sebio the weakling) because of his slight figure, his spindle-shanks, his timidity. None of them would believe that he could lift two Socony cans full of water with either hand and raise them shoulder-high, or that he could carry three sacks of rice on those narrow shoulders. As he thought of them he snorted scornfully. The snake is the most slender, the most timid creature of the field, and yet people are afraid of it. “Sebio, what are you staring at?” a querulous voice came from the nipa hut. “Nothing, Nanay. I was just stretching my cramped arms,” came the sheepish answer. “Well, it is growing late. How do you expect me to cook rice without firewood?” “Yes, yes, Nanay.”
With renewed vigor he seized the ax and hewed away. The thick blade fairly sang as it swung back and forth over his shoulder. He paused and, for a while, was lost in thought. If he could only summon such strength in those foolish games of strength and skill! He had always failed there, miserably. Somehow his courage always ran out before a noisy, bantering crowd. “What strength can there be in those puny arms, in that flat chest?” He would hear people say around him. And, most unbearable of all, his friends pitied him. The men said, “You have no strength.”
The women, “You have no fighting heart.”
“Thunder and lightning Name of Satan. . . !” he muttered. Those memories angered him .Once more he savagely attacked the wood before him. Perspiration blinded his eyes; his unruly hair got into them every time he bent down; but he minded not. In a last tremendous swing he put every ounce of energy in his arms and brought down the ax. The eager blade passed through the entire thickness of the block, through the stone prop, and sank into the soft earth beneath. For a moment he regarded the result with a feeling of satisfaction; than gathering together the chips, he went into the house. That evening, as his mother sat in front of him at their humble table, he was strangely silent. “Are you thinking of going to Nanay.”
He didn’t add that he had been thinking of almost nothing else all day. “When you go, take with you our whetstone. One of her workers came over and told me she wanted to borrow it. Tell her also that the herbs she used for her uncle’s rheumatism did me good too, and thank her for me, Sebio.” The way to Tia Binay’s led through recently harvested rice fields. A few weeks before, the grain had lain mellow and golden in the all-enveloping light of the full moon. Now only short, thick stubble, wisps of straw and traces of the delicate, elusive fragrance of the ripe palay remains to remind one of the hectares of slender, heavy laden stalks of grain that had once rippled in graceful...