THE ROAD WAS STILL UNPAVED, pockmarked with an infinity of potholes. Around the bend, or kurbaan as his people called it, the same plaza stood with its crude and improvised basketball court. Except for the wooden planks and beams which had grayed with years of stolid existence and now played host to varied species of fungi, everything was the same in Almaguer as he left it ten years ago.
The tricycle stopped in front of a pan-aw thatched sawali hut enclosed in a wide array of greenery. Before it, the banauang flowed placidly around a bunch of aba. Yes, there were some changes. From a crystal-clear creek that was once a haven for tilapia and ar-aro, it now reflected the polluted hue of metallic green.
“So, technology has caught up here,” he muttered as he crossed the creaking bamboo bridge. Soap suds floated lazily, indicating a laundry in progress. “There are really some changes,” he mused. “The tricycle fare is now five pesos. It was only a peso then, from pobalcion to the barrio. Ten years ago”.
A dog greeted him as he treaded the grassy pathway.
“Inang, Inang! Come quick! Manong is here!”, an excited cry emanated from the hut followed by an equally excited scampering of feet. It was Etet, his younger sister. “She must be a full bloomed woman now,” he sighed.
Commotion followed. A frantic, gaunt old woman in kamison brandishing a tin ladle in one hand and a rag in another barged from the house. Following her was a tall, homely lass and an old man with dried mud flakes clinging to his sun burnt ankles. They all dashed at him and choked him with hugs, mangled his hair, wetted his checks with tears and simultaneously asked him a thousand questions.
Lunch followed, with bowls of inabraw and adobong manok and large slices of papaya. The family resumed their bombardment, giving him hard time to enjoy the sumptuous meal.
“Why only now, Guilleng? We waited for so long.”
“I was transferred to
“But you should have written us.”
“I’ve been too busy, Tatang. Besides, our detachment is isolated, too far away from civilization.”
“Have you fought some Muslims, Manong? I’ve hear they are cruel and ferocious.”
“Almost everyday, Etet. The place swarms with them.”
After lunch, he walked to their small bangkag to find respite from the ceaseless questions. The perantes he planted long ago were now heavily laden with yellow fruits, big as baseballs. Beside the rusting cyclone wire, the imposing old mango tree still stood. He and his brother used to rest beneath its cool shade. They would talk the afternoon away sharing their plans.
“I want to be a soldier, Manong.”
“You’re still too young, Nonong.”
“I’d like to be one someday.”
Nonong did. Both of them did. Unfortunately, Nonong was killed during the Jolo campaign. His remains were severely mutilated by the rebels. The picture of his grieving father and mother flashed in his mind, and he felt sick. Reluctantly, he turned away from the memory, his heart bursting with emotion.
“How’s Iyyang, Tatang?”, he casually asked his father after returning from the backyard.
“Oh, she married Ukong five years ago. They now have five children.” His father looked at him calculatingly while rolling a cigarette.
He said nothing. He gazed at a distant hut near the kurbaan. It hurt. Iyyang promised to wait for him. Under that same old mango tree. But she married somebody else, his best friend.
A screech followed by swirling dusts caught his attention. A rundown jeep stopped in front of their hut and a muscular potbellied man in his late 20s got off. The man was waving four bottles of bilog. Its Tok.
“Soldado, you finally remembered your roots!”, Tok shouted as he dashed to meet his old buddy. It was a heart warming reunion of two long-parted friends.
“Where are the rest?”, he asked.
“Roy, Ruben and Joni have joined the CAFGU. But they’ve promised they will come when they heard of your arrival. Ninoy went to the cabizera but he’ll be back tonight. And Ukong,” Tok let out a stifled laugh, “he’s really scared. Especially now that you are a soldado. He thinks he’s double-crossed you.” They both laughed aloud.
THE PLUCKING OF A GUITAR and a rich baritone voice filled the night. Bottles of bilog and cigarette butts littered the ground. Everybody was there. After these years their friendship had remained intact.
They talked about their youthful exploits, their mischief and delinquencies, their reckless adventures. They laughed when Ninoy told of Tata Tansyo’s expression after learning that they raided a portion of his rice crop the night before, or when they harvested Tata Goying’s mango fruits during a storm. And they kidded him about his record-breaking run when Iyyang’s father chased him with a bolo after catching them in a malicious act.
Then somebody stepped on a dry twig in the dark. He instinctively drew and cocked and imaginary pistol. His muscles were taut, his mind alert. Impulsively, he reached for a grenade that wasn’t there. Then he began to tremble. He waited for the unseen enemy to cut him down but it never came. His friends were shocked, their mouths agape and quizzically stared at him. And he remembered, let out a sheepish smile and continued with the jovial mood they had earlier.
He was home.
(This short story was written by someone from the past who called himself Kimat T. Amianan, and was published by the CLSU Collegian in its September-October 1991 issue. It was based on the coming home of his uncle soldier after 10 years of nothing. The accompanying illustration was drawn by Angelito Saliganan who was the publication’s artist at that time.)