The following article was published in the Features section of The Chain, official student publication of Iloilo Central Commercial High School, third issue for school year 2008-2009, covering November 2008 - March 2009 and released on March 2009, with the theme 'Carpe Diem'. The piece was written by the blog moderator, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Mother died during the war. But that was pretty crazy for the Japanese guy to stick a bayonet through her chest in front of me. I was fifteen then, lying on the grimy, muddy ground. He thought his blow had knocked me out; he didn’t see me coming. I took the gun and shot him at the face.”
If I tell you a little something about my life, you would think I’m exaggerating things. But if you know what life’s like – how cruel, how vindictive – and every crack and trench in between, I’m sure you’ll understand.
I’m the usual rags-to-riches guy, but my story has not been one with the fairytale happy ending – well, not yet. As far as I can say, these past eighty-two years have sure been a roller coaster vortex for me. Pretty, I know.
My father was the clear-cut, no-luxury-whatsoever farmer you’d usually see on television. He owned a piece of land in a relatively flat area somewhere in the quaint settlement of Leon. My grandparents had died due to some tropical disease a few months before my parents tied the knot, so Father was left with the lot. All day long, he would nurture the land, plant all sorts of crops and vegetables he could lay his marble hands on, and make the earth gulp down water as long as the heat wasn’t too strong yet to evaporate it all.
It was in the middle of that land where I grew up. We lived in a small hut made of bamboo and wood. It was in that hut that Mother spent most of her time caring for her children – my sisters and I, born one year after another. As far as I’m concerned, she cooked the best breakfasts ever, as well as the most grandiose lunches and dinners (read: tomatoes, dried fish, rice, potatoes, and many more). At night, her lullabies would have us asleep on the wooden bed a few moments after the melody struck the air.
Anyway, the peasants that we were, my parents still managed to send all their children to school. Everyday, we’d walk with our slippers (or barefoot, as we often felt like it) to the lone wooden building across the river and sit on shaky wooden chairs inside a room that had the sun for light. Stormy days usually meant parents-sisters-brother bonding time at the hut.
I can still vividly remember the day my father left us. It was fiesta season. My father and I had been up early before the sunrise to get some coconuts for cooking, and by dawn, some of the other men had joined us atop the coconut trees by the road. I don’t exactly know how it happened, as my father was a pretty good tree-climber himself. I just heard a low fleeting scream – the next thing I knew, Father was already sprawled on the ground, face down. Then, a coconut fell and landed on the back of his head with a thud. I was thirteen.
The year passed us by in a breeze. Before I knew it, the war had arrived. In our almost inexistent barrio, however, life went on. That’s until one day, a group of Japanese soldiers showed up at our village, banging on every household for food or whatever “mahn-neh” we supposedly had. Things didn’t go quite well with these guys, and soon, quite a number among the villagers had retreated to the mountains to plan an offensive.
One night, I woke up to piercing screaming and a faint orange glow that illuminated the window. The offensive had started without me, it seemed. Almost screaming at the three sleeping women, I half-ran towards the cabinet where, I secretly knew, Father kept his gun. The women were barely awake and I had just stuffed the gun in my trousers’ back pocket, when the door fell with a bang.
We soon found ourselves being dragged by the wrist towards the road by three soldiers, ignorant to my sisters’ screaming and my mother’s pleading. I just bore with them, but behind my frail facade, a plan was in the making. The soldier handling my sisters blatantly hurled them towards the edge of the muddy rice field, where they wept silently. My captor did the same with me. Then, my mother’s captor must have been possessed by the devil. He hit me on the left cheek with the butt of his bayonet. As I fell, he grabbed Mother by the wrist and started groping for…
Mother died during the war. But that was pretty crazy for the Japanese guy to stick a bayonet through her chest in front of me. I was fifteen then, lying on the grimy, muddy ground. He thought his blow had knocked me out; he didn’t see me coming. I took the gun and shot him at the face.
Well, essentially, that’s the story of my younger years. They say that when life hurls a stone at you, throw back a piece of paper. I lost both my parents even before I finished high school, but I did eventually finish high school. After the war, a neighbor who had survived took me and my sisters in. we attended the local high school (reconstructed after the war) and then, stopped.
We were raised with old-fashioned beliefs, but I never gave much space for them in my head. The neighbor, whom we eventually called Tiyang or Auntie, turned out to be a real old hag. She sent my elder sister to Brunei to work as a maid just a week after her graduation. My younger sister ended up as a waitress somewhere in Cebu (I think).
But me… I still think up to this day that Tiyang should thank me for boring holes through her eyes so that she could finally see. It was nightlong shouting. I rebelled, just as she was about to send me to work in the city pier (send my earnings back to her as ‘payment’). Well, I did end up at the pier, but the money that I earned ended up in my pockets.
So fine, rags-to-riches isn’t really the apt description for my life. It’s more of orphan-to-not-so-orphan. In the years that followed, I became a waiter in Cebu, came back to Iloilo and morphed into a small-time carinderia cook, got hired by an affluent family in the city’s Jaro district, found a goddess on a Christmas Eve, married, had a couple of kids, and returned to Leon to reopen and expand my carinderia business.
Life isn’t fair. That’s what many of us have been told. But somehow, the unfairness does make sense. My sisters and I have retired in the province; my children are all in the city leading their own lives. In the most unrelated manner, at least to satisfy your thirst for what has happened, our house stands on the very same piece of land my childhood once lived on. Only this time, it’s no longer just a hut. And there are more people within.
I’ve told you a little something about my life, but I’m sure you do know what life’s like – how cruel, how vindictive – and every crack and trench in between. I’m sure you understand.