Junie had a restless and sleepless night. He turned ten almost 3 months ago and at that age, he must participate in Almaguer’s annual summer ritual of the kugit. And summer started 3 weeks ago.
“Get up now and eat. You should have a full stomach today so you can endure the kugit”.
That was his mother doing her 5 am ritual of banging the pots and plates while preparing breakfast, calling the chickens to eat and at the same time sweeping the yard. Junie pulled himself up reluctantly, squatted on the papag, and nursed a scalding inky cup of coffee made from boiled toasted rice that tasted like pulitipot with the generous amount of brown sugar his mother stirred in. He tried to eat but the reheated rice from yesterday’s supper and the tough broiled tinapa felt like a lump of pulped cardboard in his dry mouth.
The familiar welcome yelp of their dog Salaki announced his father’s arrival from the taltalon. A muffled conversation between his mother and father, and the sound of the panabas being tucked in the sawali wall completed this everyday habit that always culminated in his father sitting down the papag. They ate in silence.
“Go now. Wrap this around after the kugit”.
He was handed by his mother a strip of newly washed white cotton cloth with a 50 centavo hole in the middle that was torn out from what used to be his father’s old working shirt.
“Take this and give it to Lakay Carling”.
His father handed him 4 sticks of Peak menthol cigarette wrapped in plastic. Then he was off to the karayan.
Junie found 9 boys already soaking and softening their skin in the cold waters of the karayan. He nodded to his friend Abet whom he thought looked so cold and so scared. They were assigned their sequences. He was last and number 10 but Abet who was number 9 pleaded to switch places with him.
After 8 calls followed by the sound of a pukpok, it is Junie’s turn. He started chewing on the mouthful of young guava leaves he picked along the way. The unspeaking and swarthy Lakay Carling commanded him to kneel and close his eyes. He felt the foreskin of his suddenly terrified penis being positioned in a piece of wood, a thumbnail tracing the skin, then pok!.
“Spit it out!”.
But he can only manage a dribble of what remained of the chewed young guava leaves he swallowed after the pok! and the hot searing pain that followed. The first thing he saw after opening his eyes was blood soaking up the white cotton cloth and Abet running away.
Two weeks later, he learned that Abet was bodily carried by his father to the district hospital who was holding a free pakugit spree in commemoration of its anniversary, and that Abet was finally circumcised while bawling out a long playing version of “You Are My Sunshine”.
PHOTO EXPLAINED: Bulan held my hands tight while his Nanay soothed him with words of comfort only a mother could give as our oldest son goes through a symbolic rite of passage from childhood to manhood.