Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Two Stories by Merlie M. Alunan



Maybe we'll never see each other again, she says.

She fiddles with her bonny fingers. Her knuckles are swollen but her hands have a nervous energy of their own, plucking at the fabric of her dress, the little hand towel she keeps to wipe her mouth with every mouthful of food she takes to her mouth, she is that fastidious, even at this impossible age of ninety seven.

I'll be back before you know it, she tells the old woman.

She herself is no longer young. Her own hair has turned an uneven shade of gray with patches of black just around the neck. Her right shoulder aches and going up and down stairs is almost agony--her knees ache when she bends them suddenly, and times she feels her thigh muscles are dangerously unhinged and would one day refuse to bear her weight entirely. Still she travels around, alone most of the time, willing herself to walk the short distances that would bring her from airport terminals to taxi stands, going with the lightest hand luggage, neglecting to bring the obligatory pasalubong to relatives and friends and family, arriving with just herself, carrying her ebullience like a delicate flame for the welcomes and departures entailed by these journeys. This house in San Isidro's Street in the coastal town of Baclayon in Bohol is one of her obligatory stops. She comes here once or twice a year to see her aunt, Remedios, living in splendid isolation and solitude with one serving woman.

I'm tired, the older woman says and breathes in deeply. I'm not good for anything now. Useless. Can't do anything.

Her breathing is labored, like short shallow labored panting, especially when she tries to walk, one short step after another, from bedroom to table to kitchen to bathroom and back to the easy chair beside her bed in which she spends long quiet hours, sometimes in a drowse, between breakfast and lunch, and then in the afternoon, between siesta and the dinner hour. There is no one to talk to her because the hired woman who takes care of her finds it more amusing to work in the wide grounds downstairs, minding the turkeys, the ducks, the chickens and the goat, and any number of dogs that her son's family, who live downstairs, keep but are too lazy to take care of themselves.

You've worked hard all your life. You've served others well. Time people get to serve you back, tells her gently. She ran the Tagbilaran Medical Center's kitchen for almost all of her professional life, feeding patients, staff, doctors, nurses, three meals a day on a meagre government budget. She ruled the suppliers firmly, true to her own unbending principles of honesty. Widowed early, she sent her six children through college, three through nursing school, two through the seaman's course, and one through a degree in criminology.




They’re like bats, he’d always thought, the words holed in his skullcave, never still, hissing, shouting, whispering, laughing their wild laughter as they flutter about, flocking at the slightest quiver of leaves, the flick of a fishtail in a quiet pool, water in the stream stirred by a buck’s feet crossing. How they’d come rushing, closing in on the news, raising a tumult in his head, making the hair on his scalp rise, his armpits to reek with excitement. His senses come alive then, and seeds of poetry sprout at the tip of his tongue.

One morning in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town, Magindanao, in the year of our Lord 2010, fifty-seven died. Massacred, the news said.

Gunned down, stabbed, hacked, smashed, their bones broken, the torn flesh flung among the thorns—men women children old people husband wife with children waiting for their return, the youth the maiden with her empty womb—none of the party spared. News swirled to the main like an evil wind from Ampatuan town. Even he in his neat and peaceful home, hundreds of miles away from Sitio Masalay, heard. Not the shrieks of pain, the cries for mercy, the dying rasp. He was spared that.

Blood flooded the road to Masalay, but the stench never stained the air around him. He skipped neither lunch nor dinner that day, slept well as usual—except for the words in his head that had fled, the bats in his skullcave turning wild, smoked out, it would seem, by the noxious wind, not even a whisper of wings to announce their departure. A great silence now hunkered inside him. He had turned dumb. Did the words scare at the moan of the dying? Felled in their flight as the killers laughed over the bodies of the slain? A venomous wind whirling to the main from Ampatuan town, Magindanao. Such a wind to shake the very pillars of the Law. The halls of Justice shuddered. The edifice of Government quaked. Fork-tongued big-bellied bosses and their thieving minions glutted the streets with alibis—the killers, they said, were not known to anyone.

Only the fly-specked dead could not lie.

Neither could the earth deny the blood it had drunk, the holes clawed on it by iron hands of machines for the graves. Deceit teemed the streets as the guilty and the innocent, both, feared for their lives, they thought lies could hide them. Could it be the peddled lie then that crushed the words and killed them with its weight? Now they were just dust in his mind, dust caking dry in his mouth, clogging up his voice. Or fear, could it be fear? That, too, could have forced the words to fly. Now his tongue lay stiff inside his head. No protest issued from his mouth. What would a beast in heat feel, glimpsing its mate—a great urge balling inside, but its limbs are weak. Voodoo man without his centipedes and snakes, shaman whose oils have run dry, both helpless against the demons they must fight. The poet without words to his aid, is a knife that had lost its edge.

How to lure back the words he had kept so well until this time in his skull cave? Would whistling bring them back? Would they ever yieldto his will again? This is what he had come to decide: to walk every day in his mind the road to Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town. He would go alone. He would take no arms but the silence in his mind. He would graze among the grass,lick the salt of blood in the soil, grope the rocks where pieces of flesh had clung, listen to the wakeful voiceless leaves, the only true witnesses to the murder. What did he need? A name—all he wanted to know: Who ordered the killing? Whose hands acted out the deed? If this is found, surely the words would fly back to him. Scrabbling among the grasses there, who knows what he would find?


An eye, an ear, a mouth, a tongue,

a piece of skull bone, a smidgen of brain.

A soul so rudely unhoused, torn from love

so suddenly, uneasy at the new order

of loneliness it now has to bear, angry,

despairing, lost, cursing the one name

that had brought him to this—the name,

the name he was looking for, the word

of power to bring back truth, and to restore

all the words he had lost. Then on his tongue

might sprout once more the seeds of poetry.

This name then he will proclaim to the seven hills, call out loud to the sky that girdles the earth. This name he would tell to the children of the fifty-seven, those that are born and those yet to come, and thus with his words, evil will have a face, a name, never to be forgotten.

Who ordered the killing? Whose hands acted the deed— he will make that name known with his words. Let shame and dishonor fall upon that name, and follow him to his grave. To him and his kind who continue to live and breathe on this world, let rice turn to sand in their mouth, water into bile. Let the tears of widows and orphans, lovers and friends, drench their sleeping mats every night. May their dreams swarm with the cries of the murdered. Let the fifty-seven cram their sleep with nightmares. No mercy. Wherever they go, blood will trail them forever with its stench—

March 19, 2010






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