Friday, June 01, 2007

Two Tales

Here are "raw" excerpts from The Adventures of the Dragonfly- Eaters.

Spirit of the Glass

The death of Tay Isko one lonely April night heralds the ascension of Romeda to fame, fortune and notoriety.

Tay Isko was the lone Albularyo* in the barrio: He was a real healer, fortune teller and a natural leader rolled into one. He was a respected man of many talents and a genuine Basagan*

He walks with a swagger of a proud man while at the same time spewing healing words, chewing on his toothless cud and spiting the juice of his favorite Nganga* to the ground.

He can see the future in your palms and tell the significance of every mole in your body at a glance. His eyes is a mirror of your soul and in his hands lie the best cure for every curse imaginable but a day after he healed the cross-eyed Antonio, he was found naked and dead in his bed.

Rumors had it that he died of the dreaded Bangungot* after eating a full meal of Adobong Manok and chasing them with several bottles of Lambanog the night before that was brought to him by a grateful Antonio.

There were also rumors that he died while making love to one of his countless paramours.

But many people believe that he was a victim of a counter- curse that was unleashed by a more powerful shaman that he offended in the course of his work.

A power vacuum soon ensued and the barrio was left without a trusty healer and a dependable leader in times of peace and calamity.

Romeda, the fast-talking, denture- wearing lucky- nine card player immediately grabbed the chance to step into the shoes of the departed Tay Isko as she hurriedly assembled a core group composed of her card-playing buddies to run the barrio’s affairs as she began to show her newly- found magical prowess and crowned herself as the High Priestess of the Spirits of the Glass.

Three days after the funeral of Tay Isko, she began her nightly ritual by claiming that the spirit of the old man is guiding her to heal whatever illness and curse by way of the glass.

Night in and night out the residents of Basag*, curious at what she can really do, would gather at the dilapidated Nipa Hut of Romeda and watch her do her thing at the stroke of midnight.

She performed her new role with gusto and basked in the spotlight. Soon enough, people from other barrios would drop by and watch her perform the "sacred" rituals. They were amazed on how the glass moved as if it has a mind of its own and would go to the letters for the answers to anyone’s query.

Romeda would usually start her ritual with the recitation of three Our Fathers and five Hail Marys followed by incantations punctuated by made- up Latin- laced words that she learned from her late Grandmother.

Her sudden rise to fame was soon followed by good fortune as people from all over the place began to flock to her house and give her support in whatever form; donations poured in like rain-- fruits, chickens, eggs and even money.

Romeda had it all and she became so popular that they elected her to become the first woman Purok President, a position meted on only to the person with whom the residents have a complete trust. Their belief in her was so strong that they were soon egging her to run for a seat in the Barangay Council.

The Dragonfly Eaters were curious by the sudden turn of events and on what’s happening at night in the barrio but could only listen to the news and hearsays from the early morning tsismisans* of elderly women washing dirty linens at the barrio's lone faucet under the shade of the old Tamarind tree.

Being children, they were not allowed to venture out of the house after 10 o’clock in the evening. So, they contented themselves to whatever bits and pieces of tales that would come their way. But their curiosity only heightened as the days went by, what with all the people flocking to Romeda’s place in daytime and the hordes of believers keeping vigil at night.

They soon devised a plan that will outwit their parents so that they could see for themselves the phenomenon that was Romeda and the Spirits in her Glass.

That night, they pretended that they were soundly sleeping in their Banigs* when their parents went out for their nightly session with Romeda.

And as soon as their parents were gone they all jumped out of bed, climbed down from the open bamboo windows and gathered themselves near the wooden bridge by the shallow river to devise their plan of action.

They decided to blend in with the crowds from the other barrios and slowly worked their way inside the house of Romeda and squeezed their small frames into the human barriers milling around a small table wherein a lone candle was propped- up on an empty Milk Maid tin can emitting the only source of light in the house.

They saw Romeda and the three other women whom they recognized to be her buddies during her card-playing days seated around the square wooden table with their forefingers and middle fingers on top of the bottom of the upside-down Nescafe coffee glass as if in a trance.

Then the spectacle began…

“Tonight, we will ask the spirit of our hero, Andres Bonifacio to be our guest”, Romeda began.

“Spirrrrit of the glass, are you in?” chorused her card-playing buddies.

“Spirit of the glasssssssss, are you in?” echoed Romeda as anxious and eager faces watched them in anticipation on what was about to happen.

Then all of a sudden the glass began to move and went to the letter Y, then to letter E and lastly to the letter S!

The barriofolks were watching the dark phenomenon in stunned silence...

“Yes, spirit of the glass would you like to identify yourself?”
asked Romeda in her mumbling raspy voice.

The glass moved again as the barrio folks watched with bated breath…

This time it began to spell the name of the hero--A-N-D-R-E-S followed by the letters B-O-N-

Then the glass hesitated for a while before it went straight into the letter E, then to the letters F-A-C-E-O in rapid succession!

Palert, one of the original Dragonfly- Eaters with a keen eye for details and an honor student in his third grade class at the Central School knew from the heart that the National Hero’s surname should have been spelled with I’s and not E’s suddenly interrupted the otherwise solemn ritual---

“That’s it, Gat Andres Bonifacio; you can’t even spell your name correctly how can we believe that it’s you who’s inside that glass and not the forces of the hands that rocks the Lucky Nine Cards!”

The weak foundation of the house shook due to the thunderous laughter that followed as Palert found himself being led away by his red-faced father home.

He was not spared the rod that night for his nerve in exposing the shenanigans of Romeda in front of so many people and in her own house at that.

It’s not polite and proper, his father reasoned out even if what he pointed out was the obvious truth.

What happened that fateful night was no big deal for Palert but the news spread like wildfire on how the spirit of Andres Bonifacio got the spelling of his name wrong?

The tale of the spirit of the glass went pfft and vanished like mist into the thin night air and in the next few days it was forgotten, buried into the deep recesses of the barrios memory by the people too embarassed to admit that they were taken for a ride by a bunch of wisecraking un-educated card players.

And just like that, Romeda and her gang went back to their old card-playing selves again this time with plenty of money to spare and a lot of tales to tell that would last a lifetime.

The Music of the Dead

Narciso is the sole proprietor and manager of the only funeral parlor in the town.

His motto in life is to serve the dead in the town with dignity and charity.

He treated the dead equally, whether the one is a rich man or a jobless Istambay* the relatives can rest in peace that he would give his darned best in doing the funeral service.

He was one man, proud of his job and accomplishments although people would cringe when they think about the way he earns for a living. In local parlance we call that as “hanap- patay!”

Nevertheless, he would dish out his customary service with fervor in his funeral parlor that’s why the people of the town love him dearly for it.

Yet many really dread his "welcome" visits for it is always believed that once he knocks on your door, you’re dead meat. But you can bet your last centavo that he is the best when it comes to catering for the dead.

He literally made his bones by providing the dead person’s so- called “last trip” the ultimate and best service that his simple mind could think of- aside from the usual pampering that the dead gets in the embalming table, he would also search his vast-- mostly bootleg cassette tapes-- collections of the music that is apt and appropriate for the occasion that he would play in the long procession that suits the personality of the dearly departed.

This he deemed important so as to give relatives of the dead person the emotional comfort that they need as they made their loneliest and longest walk of their lives.

So, what a better way to help them ease the burden of the loss of a love one but through music!

One day, Kalasyo, always the keen observer that he was, had already memorized the entire catalog of music that Narciso would play for the solemn procession from the church all the way to the municipal public cemetery.

He could also now guess and point to the Dragonfly Eaters and to whoever interested whether Narciso was already paid by the relatives of the dead for the funeral service or not. These he said he mastered after keenly observing the man’s rituals before, on and after the funeral service for about a year.

And just before he told us his observations, he made it a point that he meant no disrespect to those who departed early but rather he wants to tell his observations in the spirit of fun that the people of the town is best known for.

He began to tell us that for example during the funeral of the late Barangay Kapitan Trinidad he pointed out that when the coffin was being carried away and moved out from the huge mahogany gates of the local 18th- Century Church of San Lorenzo the Martyr and into the comforts of the vintage black Cadillac by his friends and relatives, Narciso played in the car’s stereo Gordon Lightfoot’s “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother” that was followed by Matt Munro’s classic ditty, “Walk Away” as the hearse rolled out of the churchyard and into the street on the way to the cemetery.

Along the way, he played the Godfather’s Theme sung by Andy Williams with utmost emotion as well as Ol’ Blue Eyes‘ My Way.

Kalasyo even went on to the extent of hollering praises for Narciso’s vast repertoire and claimed that he heard “Cha- cha” was played in a ballroom dancer’s funeral a few years back.

He further added that when the hearse reached the huge cemented arch gates of the municipal cemetery, he noticed that there were only two songs that Narciso deemed as the most requested and most appropriate for the occasion--

If the deceased is a male, the stereo would loudly play the immortal “Oh My Papa” while if it’s a female, he would certainly let another Matt Monro classic “For Mama” soar through the subdued air.

These haunting songs serve as a fitting finale for the long march that would make even the hardest member of the bereaved family to break down into a cacophony of sobs, howls and cries that were louder than the usual customary tears in their last effort to show to the whole town their love and respect for the dead person: feelings that were obviously bouyed by the music of the funeral car’s stereo and the louder you roar, the greater your love for the dear departed or so it was believed by most people.

These observations made by Kalasyo would always elicit laughter to anybody that would bother to hear him in his funny- way of delivering his story.

Just as most of us thought that he was through with his tales…

Narciso, on board his black Cadillac suddenly blitzed by while a loud ABBA ditty was blaring from its stereo for the entire world to hear!

As Narciso waved at us with his silly grin, Kalasyo blurted out, “And that folks, is a sign of a very happy man!”

And added with a casual but somber look on his face, “Obviously paid in whole rather than on an installment basis otherwise the music that would be playing in his car would be Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely.”



snglguy said...

Just curious, are these stories from your childhood years in Albay? If they are, then that must have been one interesting town you grew up in.:-)

T'was a great read, man.

PS: I never knew Lightfoot had a version of the song. I always thought "He Ain't Heavy..." was by the Hollies.

Princess of CJ said...

interesting stories, mitz!

minsan ka na lang makakarinig ng mga ganitong stories sa mga baryo. i miss those days! :(

annamanila said...

Were you a member of the dragonflies? Ikaw ba si Palert? Splendid tales of life in the barrios from the eyes of the curious, daring child you were, Bill.

You write very well! Type.

Dutched Pinay on Expatriation said...

Hi, thanks for reading my blog.

I did this "spirit of the glass" game before when I was young with friends too. We Filipinos are very superstitious and religious, something that I have outgrown a long time ago though.

Nice read ;-)

mitsuru said...


I know the hollies as the orig artist but i always thought that it was neil diamond's. but they say it's gordon's. so be it.:)

princess of cj,

yes, onli in da pilipins, sabi nga nila. :)


tnx a lot. yes i am one of the original dragonfly- eaters:) ha-ha

dutched pinay,

tnx for dropping by.

we are a religious and superstitious lot indeed. those were the old days though. like you i have outgrown them 2.

Gina said...

Back in college, I lived in a boarding house and there was a time when my boardmates & I were into spirit of the glass. I was in one particular hair raising seance when we communicated with a number of restless spirits and the glass moved without anybody even touching it. Kind of scary really. Never will I do it again.One friend of ours who was of Muslim faith and didn't believe in anything of that sort ended up believing because a spirit that he knew back when he was in grade school came- it was the mother of his classmate who died in a car accident. He was at first just observing and listening, then he just quietly asked us to ask the spirit if she knew him. The spirit said yes. Very eerie.Anyway, we all ended up sleeping in one room that night,all 12 of us!
One spirit by the way didn't know how to spell a word right. We asked him how he died. He started with the letter F. We guessed it was probably Fire. He said F-O-I-S-O-N.

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