Monday, November 10, 2008

BEAT THE STORM, SON...

(NOTE: The following short story appeared in the January-February 1991 issue of the CLSU Collegian. It was the first ever published work of a trying hard fictionist who went by the name of Kimat T. Amianan. The accompanying illustration above was by [now Dr.] Angelito Saliganan.)

He stood transfixed --- hypnotized by the vast green and golden patches of ripening palay, the leaves shivering with every gust of the cool northern breeze creating an emerald sea with waves rippling systematically. Morning dews tenaciously cling to the sheaths, to the intricately woven spider webs, fiercely resisting the radiating heat of the sun, sparkling and dazzling like priceless diamonds.

A colossal figure, he stands five feet and eight inches of solid bone and muscle. The squared jaw and prominent nose added an aura of mystery to his unfathomable expression, the sunken eyes fixed steadily forward. His rich tan complexion contrasted strikingly with a mass of thinning gray hair. He has the looks of a sage and probably, he is.

I call him Amang Lakay. It was more of a name than a reverence for when I was unraveling the mysteries of life, I failed to understand its true context. It’s more of a habit and I got used to it. In fact, I grew up with it.

It was during my sixth year in grade school, I was twelve years old then, when I attempted to probe deeper into that expressionless mask he wore. With childish fervor, I invaded him with questions, some logical, some of plain interest, and other things with stupidity or innocence. He would narrate a tale or two plucked from the history of his rich and colorful life. It may be about his brother Agapito who helped him harvest guavas one summer afternoon… an ordinary story except that his brother was dead three years earlier. Or his experience as the leader of a group of guerillas during the war, exchanging lethal bullets, ambushing the enemy and everything to give the invaders hard life and the worst accommodation they’d ever had.

Nostalgia and emotion overcomes me whenever I reminisce those wonderful evenings we had, together with some cousins, huddled in a dark room illuminated by a solitary lamp, totally absorbed as Amang Lakay took us to another world in a different time.

He brought us to pre-war Philippines --- on what it was long before our fathers were born; of the forest covered mountains, deer hunts, battles, politics, the bizarre world of the supernatural --- of kapres, tikbalangs and aswangs; of elfins, fairies and gremlins. He told us what it was when life was life and man was man.

That was ninen years ago. He was seventy-one then. We were an odd pair --- dusk and dawn. He having spent the best years of his life, while I was still trying to understand what it was. He was rich with experience, brimming with knowledge. I was just beginning to feel what it was like to live, to appreciate and understand the complicated process of life.

It was he who taught me the value of diligence and discipline. “The sweetest reward for a good work is the work itself,” he used to say. He was my first teacher --- teaching me a deeper perception of the world, how to live on what you have, how to be human. It took years but I became the man he wanted me to be.

He had great plans for me. “You’re going to be a good soldier son,” he said one sleepy afternoon. We had just finished eating our lunch of broiled dalag with sliced tomatoes and bagoong, pinakbet the way Inang Baket cooked it, a bunch of yellow bananas. “The art of arms is for real men, for those who feel at ease in the face of danger and peril, for those who feel they are man enough to meet every challenge, for those who know how to apply their principles.”

I can never forget that wrinkled face when, during the crux of my life, he visited me in prison. I cannot endure to stare into his pained expression. He looked so gloomy, so disappointed, so discouraged.

Suddenly, he looked older. He is no longer the strong and determined man I leaned upon whenever I needed support. He is no longer the sage who have an answer to every query. Tears trickled in my cheeks not in self pity but for the man I caused so much pain. He spoke slowly, releasing a charge that pierced the innermost shell of my life.

“I taught you how to become a man. I taught him how to vanquish a foe. But I also taught you how to conquer yourself.”

There was no reproach. What persisted was the mutual feeling we had for both.

And he left, leaving me with his parting words. “Beat the storm, son…” I did.

He died four days before my twentieth birthday. He was eighty. On his death bed, Inang Baket casually asked him, “Are you leaving?” He nodded weakly, flashed a faint smile, and was gone.

When we placed his coffin to its final resting place, I didn’t shed a tear. He hates it. I tried hard to conceal my emotions. I wanted to please him even if he was gone.

He should have been proud of me. Not only that I conquered myself, I also beat the storm. It was for him that I wrote this story, as a tribute to a man who taught me to love life and live with it.

Amang Lakay, eighty years old. War veteran, a hardy pioneer, teacher, adviser, father and friend. He was also my grandfather.

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