Monday, 6 February 2012

Slow backward by AP HERNANDEZ

1.. Kapre sa sawmill yard … During the 50s, there was lumber company operating at the mouth of the mangrove “river” separating Mambulao and Parang. The company was the Mambulao Lumber Co. People going to and coming from, Parang used a narrow walkway along the perimeter fence of the lumberyard which was just on the edge of the bay water toward the footbridge built from round bamboo that crossed over the river to the other side, which was Parang. In the middle of this narrow path was a bushy tree known as “malibago” which was not tall at all but whose trunk was so big five arms’ length was needed to go around it. This tree was home to a special resident - a kapre – who had been seen by passersby at times in the deep of the night smoking a giant “abano” (tobacco roll). As for myself, I dreaded this spot and never came near to it once the night fell. But when I began selling pan de sal in Parang at dawn, I and my friends were forced to pass this area every early morning – say at 4am -- on our way to the town “panaderia” owned by Chinese men from Macao. So far, in my six summers of selling pandesal during the wee hours of the morning till I finished elementary school, I had not encountered with this “kapre” myself. Many older people swore they were chased by it while walking along this narrow walk way.

2. Pandesal kayo diyan … When I was a kid in the 50s, selling pandesal at dawn was very popular. My older cousin Kuya Cesar and a group of his friends sold the stuff every morning and they did it till they finished elementary schooling. It was a tradition in our neighborhood that boys who would be going Grade 1 would have to sell pan de sal during summer prior to the school opening. I was one of them. So with some guidance from my Kuya Cesar, I did the trade and did it every school break till I finished my elementary education. As soon as we came back to Parang with our “balde” of pan de sal from the town panaderia, our group of six would break up, and went on our way around the neighborhood, seeing to it that we don’t cross our paths, to avoid competition. It was a convenient arrangement between us. We usually finished the day at 6-7am. Now, whenever I passed by our place, I would drop by in our house to leave 10 centavo-worth of pandesal at the little altar of Mother Mary at the porch so that when my young siblings woke up, they would find the bread immediately. During my first summer of selling pandesal, I carried a “balde” enough to contain two peso worth of pandesal. I also hand-carried bread such as pan de-monay, enseimada and pan de coco – all worth two pesos. That’s all my mother would allow me to sell. For every one-peso worth of pan de sal I sold, I made 20-centavo profit. Pan de sal sold at 5 centavos for two pieces, which, during those days, were big, light and crispy. Of course, one interesting scene every morning was that kids would be seen by the gates of their compounds sitting on a chair or something while eating pan de sal!

3. Aswang na baboy part 1 … Workers from Parang who came home from the Larap mines before midnight (second shift) had told of a giant, white pig that had accosted them on their way home after they alighted from the Alatco bus. My father was one of them. One night, while my mother was still up doing some sewing for a new dress, she heard some sounds which she thought was caused by the clanging of some mechanical tools like what my father used to carry to work. This bunch of “llave” hung from his waist belt. And true to her amazement, it was my father who had sprinted home from the bus stop, as if he was fleeing from something. He told my mom that shortly after he and his compadre got off the bus, and they were crossing the rough road to Larap, they happened to noticed in the dark an outline of something that looked like a white pig. But not just an ordinary pig – it was tall up to their waists! It was positioned as if it was raring to attack them, with its eyes glowing and mouth making a frothing sound. The sight was enough for them to scamper for dear life, while they shouted “aswang … aswang na baboy…!

4. Aswang na baboy part 2 … Selling pan de sal one early dawn, I decided to take the path that bisected the coconut plantation on my way to a cluster of houses where I used to ply my trade. It was pitch-dark and could only see my path with my torch (flashlight). Too bad, I stepped on something that hurt my left foot, which turned out to be a piece of scrap wood with a nail stuck on it. I checked my foot for some cut caused by the nail, pressing it to squeeze out some blood. While at it, I suddenly heard some grunting noise just a few feet away to my front. Training the beam of my flashlight towards it, I was horrified to see a tall, white pig, its eyes glowing and mouth frothing with whitish slime; it had a long-curve tusk! With its two front limbs spread out and its head lowered, it was ready to attack. I did not think twice. I picked up my gear and withdrew slowly and sprang as fast as I could. I told the story to my fellow pan de sal vendors when we happened to meet at the main road. They said they heard about it from the other kids. From that moment, we decided to stick together till we sold our bread that morning.

5. Aswang na baboy part 3 … By about midnight, my mother had just settled to sleep after finishing the dresses that she had been sewing since that afternoon. Those days, we did not have bed and we just slept together on the “banig” laid out on the floor made of bamboo slats. The rest of my three siblings and me were past asleep. Father worked the third shift in the mines at Larap, which is from 10pm to 6am. While mother was trying to get her zzzzz’s, she could feel some scraping noise against a wood beam under the floor. And little by little the noise got louder until our house began to sway. Wondering about it, she got on with her slumber. The next morning, she noticed several pig-hoof marks right under the spot where the noise came from. Those days, we raised pigs but kept them all the time in a pen. And the hoof-marks were quite larger than that of the usual boar’s hoofs. Mother told our “tiyuhin” – an “albularyo” who just lived next to our house about what she saw. Our tiyuhin said:”Naggagala na naman ang baboy na aswang!” Mother’s felt goose bumps crawled all over her. She could just imagine how tall this “aswang na baboy” was, with the top of its back reaching the beams under our floors.

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