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Manuel Arguilla

 

Ipinanganak sa Nagrebcan, Bauang, La Union noong Hunyo 17, 1911
Nagsulat sa La Union Tab at nagtapos bilang class Salutatorian sa La Union High School, 1929
Nagtapos ng Bachelor of Science in Education sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, 1932
Mahusay na manunulat sa Ingles
Naging kilala sa kanyang likhang “How my Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” at marami pang mga malikhaing maikling kwento
Nagwagi sa Paligsahan Pampanitikan ng Komonwelt, 1940
Makabayang Pilipino
Isang martir, pinatay ng mga Hapones dahil sa kanyang pagtulong sa mga gerilyang Pilipino, 1944

 

 
 
HIS SHORTSTORIES
5. Rice
 
How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife
(American Colonial Literature)
 
She stepped down from the carretela of Ca Celin with a quick, delicate grace. She was lovely. She was tall. She looked up to my brother with a smile, and her forehead was on a level with his mouth.
 
"You are Baldo," she said and placed her hand lightly on my shoulder. Her nails were long, but they were not painted. She was fragrant like a morning when papayas are in bloom. And a small dimple appeared momently high on her right cheek. "And this is Labang of whom I have heard so much." She held the wrist of one hand with the other and looked at Labang, and Labang never stopped chewing his cud. He swallowed and brought up to his mouth more cud and the sound of his insides was like a drum.
I laid a hand on Labang's massive neck and said to her: "You may scratch his forehead now."
 
She hesitated and I saw that her eyes were on the long, curving horns. But she came and touched Labang's forehead with her long fingers, and Labang never stopped chewing his cud except that his big eyes half closed. And by and by she was scratching his forehead very daintily.
 
My brother Leon put down the two trunks on the grassy side of the road. He paid Ca Celin twice the usual fare from the station to the edge of Nagrebcan. Then he was standing beside us, and she turned to him eagerly. I watched Ca Celin, where he stood in front of his horse, and he ran his fingers through its forelock and could not keep his eyes away from her.
"Maria---" my brother Leon said.

He did not say Maring. He did not say Mayang. I knew then that he had always called her Maria and that to us all she would be Maria; and in my mind I said 'Maria' and it was a beautiful name.
"Yes, Noel."
Now where did she get that name? I pondered the matter quietly to myself, thinking Father might not like it. But it was only the name of my brother Leon said backward and it sounded much better that way.
"There is Nagrebcan, Maria," my brother Leon said, gesturing widely toward the west.

She moved close to him and slipped her arm through his. And after a while she said quietly.
"You love Nagrebcan, don't you, Noel?"
 
Ca Celin drove away hi-yi-ing to his horse loudly. At the bend of the camino real where the big duhat tree grew, he rattled the handle of his braided rattan whip against the spokes of the wheel.
 
We stood alone on the roadside.
The sun was in our eyes, for it was dipping into the bright sea. The sky was wide and deep and very blue above us: but along the saw-tooth rim of the Katayaghan hills to the southwest flamed huge masses of clouds. Before us the fields swam in a golden haze through which floated big purple and red and yellow bubbles when I looked at the sinking sun. Labang's white coat, which I had wshed and brushed that morning with coconut husk, glistened like beaten cotton under the lamplight and his horns appeared tipped with fire.
 
He faced the sun and from his mouth came a call so loud and vibrant that the earth seemed to tremble underfoot. And far away in the middle of the field a cow lowed softly in answer.
 
"Hitch him to the cart, Baldo," my brother Leon said, laughing, and she laughed with him a big uncertainly, and I saw that he had put his arm around her shoulders.
"Why does he make that sound?" she asked. "I have never heard the like of it."
 
"There is not another like it," my brother Leon said. "I have yet to hear another bull call like Labang. In all the world there is no other bull like him."
 
She was smiling at him, and I stopped in the act of tying the sinta across Labang's neck to the opposite end of the yoke, because her teeth were very white, her eyes were so full of laughter, and there was the small dimple high up on her right cheek.
 
"If you continue to talk about him like that, either I shall fall in love with him or become greatly jealous."
 
My brother Leon laughed and she laughed and they looked at each other and it seemed to me there was a world of laughter between them and in them.
I climbed into the cart over the wheel and Labang would have bolted, for he was always like that, but I kept a firm hold on his rope. He was restless and would not stand still, so that my brother Leon had to say "Labang" several times. When he was quiet again, my brother Leon lifted the trunks into the cart, placing the smaller on top.
She looked down once at her high-heeled shoes, then she gave her left hand to my brother Leon, placed a foot on the hub of the wheel, and in one breath she had swung up into the cart. Oh, the fragrance of her. But Labang was fairly dancing with impatience and it was all I could do to keep him from running away.
"Give me the rope, Baldo," my brother Leon said. "Maria, sit down on the hay and hold on to anything." Then he put a foot on the left shaft and that instand labang leaped forward. My brother Leon laughed as he drew himself up to the top of the side of the cart and made the slack of the rope hiss above the back of labang. The wind whistled against my cheeks and the rattling of the wheels on the pebbly road echoed in my ears.
 
She sat up straight on the bottom of the cart, legs bent togther to one side, her skirts spread over them so that only the toes and heels of her shoes were visible. her eyes were on my brother Leon's back; I saw the wind on her hair. When Labang slowed down, my brother Leon handed to me the rope. I knelt on the straw inside the cart and pulled on the rope until Labang was merely shuffling along, then I made him turn around.
"What is it you have forgotten now, Baldo?" my brother Leon said.
 
I did not say anything but tickled with my fingers the rump of Labang; and away we went---back to where I had unhitched and waited for them. The sun had sunk and down from the wooded sides of the Katayaghan hills shadows were stealing into the fields. High up overhead the sky burned with many slow fires.
When I sent Labang down the deep cut that would take us to the dry bed of the Waig which could be used as a path to our place during the dry season, my brother Leon laid a hand on my shoulder and said sternly:
 
"Who told you to drive through the fields tonight?"
 
His hand was heavy on my shoulder, but I did not look at him or utter a word until we were on the rocky bottom of the Waig.
 
"Baldo, you fool, answer me before I lay the rope of Labang on you. Why do you follow the Wait instead of the camino real?"
 
His fingers bit into my shoulder.
 
"Father, he told me to follow the Waig tonight, Manong."
 
Swiftly, his hand fell away from my shoulder and he reached for the rope of Labang. Then my brother Leon laughed, and he sat back, and laughing still, he said:
"And I suppose Father also told you to hitch Labang to the cart and meet us with him instead of with Castano and the calesa."
 
Without waiting for me to answer, he turned to her and said, "Maria, why do you think Father should do that, now?" He laughed and added, "Have you ever seen so many stars before?"
 
I looked back and they were sitting side by side, leaning against the trunks, hands clasped across knees. Seemingly, but a man's height above the tops of the steep banks of the Wait, hung the stars. But in the deep gorge the shadows had fallen heavily, and even the white of Labang's coat was merely a dim, grayish blur. Crickets chirped from their homes in the cracks in the banks. The thick, unpleasant smell of dangla bushes and cooling sun-heated earth mingled with the clean, sharp scent of arrais roots exposed to the night air and of the hay inside the cart.
 
"Look, Noel, yonder is our star!" Deep surprise and gladness were in her voice. Very low in the west, almost touching the ragged edge of the bank, was the star, the biggest and brightest in the sky.
 
"I have been looking at it," my brother Leon said. "Do you remember how I would tell you that when you want to see stars you must come to Nagrebcan?"
 
"Yes, Noel," she said. "Look at it," she murmured, half to herself. "It is so many times bigger and brighter than it was at Ermita beach."
 
"The air here is clean, free of dust and smoke."
 
"So it is, Noel," she said, drawing a long breath.
 
"Making fun of me, Maria?"
 
She laughed then and they laughed together and she took my brother Leon's hand and put it against her face.
I stopped Labang, climbed down, and lighted the lantern that hung from the cart between the wheels.
 
"Good boy, Baldo," my brother Leon said as I climbed back into the cart, and my heart sant.
 
Now the shadows took fright and did not crowd so near. Clumps of andadasi and arrais flashed into view and quickly disappeared as we passed by. Ahead, the elongated shadow of Labang bobbled up and down and swayed drunkenly from side to side, for the lantern rocked jerkily with the cart.
"Have we far to go yet, Noel?" she asked.
 
"Ask Baldo," my brother Leon said, "we have been neglecting him."
 
"I am asking you, Baldo," she said.
 
Without looking back, I answered, picking my words slowly:
 
"Soon we will get out of the Wait and pass into the fields. After the fields is home---Manong."
 
"So near already."
I did not say anything more because I did not know what to make of the tone of her voice as she said her last words. All the laughter seemed to have gone out of her. I waited for my brother Leon to say something, but he was not saying anything. Suddenly he broke out into song and the song was 'Sky Sown with Stars'---the same that he and Father sang when we cut hay in the fields at night before he went away to study. He must have taught her the song because she joined him, and her voice flowed into his like a gentle stream meeting a stronger one. And each time the wheels encountered a big rock, her voice would catch in her throat, but my brother Leon would sing on, until, laughing softly, she would join him again.
 
Then we were climbing out into the fields, and through the spokes of the wheels the light of the lantern mocked the shadows. Labang quickened his steps. The jolting became more frequent and painful as we crossed the low dikes.
 
"But it is so very wide here," she said. The light of the stars broke and scattered the darkness so that one could see far on every side, though indistinctly.
"You miss the houses, and the cars, and the people and the noise, don't you?" My brother Leon stopped singing.
"Yes, but in a different way. I am glad they are not here."
 
With difficulty I turned Labang to the left, for he wanted to go straight on. He was breathing hard, but I knew he was more thirsty than tired. In a little while we drope up the grassy side onto the camino real.
 
"---you see," my brother Leon was explaining, "the camino real curves around the foot of the Katayaghan hills and passes by our house. We drove through the fields because---but I'll be asking Father as soon as we get home."
 
"Noel," she said.
"Yes, Maria."
"I am afraid. He may not like me."
 
"Does that worry you still, Maria?" my brother Leon said. "From the way you talk, he might be an ogre, for all the world. Except when his leg that was wounded in the Revolution is troubling him, Father is the mildest-tempered, gentlest man I know."
 
We came to the house of Lacay Julian and I spoke to Labang loudly, but Moning did not come to the window, so I surmised she must be eating with the rest of her family. And I thought of the food being made ready at home and my mouth watered. We met the twins, Urong and Celin, and I said "Hoy!" calling them by name. And they shouted back and asked if my brother Leon and his wife were with me. And my brother Leon shouted to them and then told me to make Labang run; their answers were lost in the noise of the wheels.
 
I stopped labang on the road before our house and would have gotten down but my brother Leon took the rope and told me to stay in the cart. He turned Labang into the open gate and we dashed into our yard. I thought we would crash into the camachile tree, but my brother Leon reined in Labang in time. There was light downstairs in the kitchen, and Mother stood in the doorway, and I could see her smiling shyly. My brother Leon was helping Maria over the wheel. The first words that fell from his lips after he had kissed Mother's hand were:
 
"Father... where is he?"
 
"He is in his room upstairs," Mother said, her face becoming serious. "His leg is bothering him again."
 
I did not hear anything more because I had to go back to the cart to unhitch Labang. But I hardly tied him under the barn when I heard Father calling me. I met my brother Leon going to bring up the trunks. As I passed through the kitchen, there were Mother and my sister Aurelia and Maria and it seemed to me they were crying, all of them.
There was no light in Father's room. There was no movement. He sat in the big armchair by the western window, and a star shone directly through it. He was smoking, but he removed the roll of tobacco from his mouth when he saw me. He laid it carefully on the windowsill before speaking.
"Did you meet anybody on the way?" he asked.
 
"No, Father," I said. "Nobody passes through the Waig at night."
 
He reached for his roll of tobacco and hithced himself up in the chair.
 
"She is very beautiful, Father."
 
"Was she afraid of Labang?" My father had not raised his voice, but the room seemed to resound with it. And again I saw her eyes on the long curving horns and the arm of my brother Leon around her shoulders.
"No, Father, she was not afraid."
 
"On the way---"
 
"She looked at the stars, Father. And Manong Leon sang."
"What did he sing?"
 
"---Sky Sown with Stars... She sang with him."
 
He was silent again. I could hear the low voices of Mother and my sister Aurelia downstairs. There was also the voice of my brother Leon, and I thought that Father's voice must have been like it when Father was young. He had laid the roll of tobacco on the windowsill once more. I watched the smoke waver faintly upward from the lighted end and vanish slowly into the night outside.
 
The door opened and my brother Leon and Maria came in.
 
"Have you watered Labang?" Father spoke to me.
 
I told him that Labang was resting yet under the barn.
 
"It is time you watered him, my son," my father said.
 
I looked at Maria and she was lovely. She was tall. Beside my brother Leon, she was tall and very still. Then I went out, and in the darkened hall the fragrance of her was like a morning when papayas are in bloom.
 
 
 
 
 
IMPERFECT FAREWELL
 
Barefoot, she stood five feet one and she stood straight as a javelin. And shaped like a javelin was she, rounded and firm, and keen and swift. She did not have a beautiful face, she didn't even have a pretty face. She had a strong, dependable, friendly face. She looked you in the eye (her eyes had short thick lashes with a fine upward curve) and laughed with you in all friendliness.

And a pleasantness as of intoxication from finest wine spread through your being. You looked into her eyes (her eyes were liquid with pure merriment), and you knew that life was simple and beautiful and held not the dark and giddy terror of death.

Those were the days of magic when you first knew her. Days when the sunlight made bright the ground you walked on, filled the whole world with airy gold and your heart with song. Then was enchantment that rushed the days together like wind driving with furious breath silver clouds before it.

The meaning of life lay revealed before you and it was all so simple and so beautiful. You talked of death, yes, (as who is young and full of life does not) but death was a cordial rare and sweet. And once in all happy seriousness you told her, If you die before I die I shall think of you and every time I do I shall die, too.
You felt pleased with yourself for the apt paraphrase of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and though you noted how suddenly stilled was the bright liveliness of her face, it was as nothing, it was as the nothingness that bridges the interval from laughter to laughter, for there was laughter then, effortless and inexhaustible as the jets of sunlight that poured out of a smiling sky.

It was a matter of sky and wind and the sun at first, your knowing her. What was Mariveles where you were together at an excursion, but a memory of sunlight, a dazzling inundation upon a green-blue sea, cresting each wavelet with an instant of brittle glory?

It was really very simple, While the rest danced in one of the houses, you helped her across the bamboo rafts that lay piled on the sands until you came to the water's edge. Noon lay before you, white like a clamshell long washed by the sea. And the sea itself reached to the far horizon in a gentle tumult of blue and green.
Two brown urchins put you out to sea in an outrigger for fifty centavos, you remember.

And remembering, you know now that it was also very beautiful. You sat with you back to the brown lad at the stern and she sat with her back to the other brown fellow at the prow. So facing each other you looked at each other; there wasn't much to say.

Once when the houses on the shore began to grow hazy with distance you asked simply, Afraid?
No, she said, quite as simply.

And all around you was a downpour of that white perfect light which has the sun for its only source.
She loved the light of the sun (she was brown and unashamed), the free winds of the world, the waters and the sky.
A shining interval of blue sky and radiant light at Sunset Beach you will never forget. It was the first time that you saw her in a bathing suit.
You are lovely, you said. And she was.

Barefoot, she stood on the firm wet sand, facing you. Cool winds blew, and the long beautiful light of the day rained down upon her from an incredible sky! In the finder of the camera that you held, you saw all that five one of loveliness reduced in all its perfection to the size of a thumbnail. Swiftly you raised your eyes for a last glimpse or her (where is the camera that can rival the eye?), and she smiled at you.
She smiled at you, you remember, and brightness fell upon the sunlit air.

It was a perfect day. You swam out to sea so far (farther out than all the rest), that the icy cold of deep water clutched at your body. When you returned, she was walking along the shore looking for shells and you thought (crestfallen) that she hadn't watched you swim out so far.

You walked with her. You left the noisy crowd of bathers and soon were quite alone by yourselves except for a silent old man up to his waist in the water, fishing with rod and line.

She turned to you then and said, What made you swim out so far? I wanted to shout to you to turn back. Anything might have happened to you. Cramps-anything-a shark-it is so easy to die.

It is so easy to die, she said, and you laughed because you were so happy. It took so little to make you happy in those days (how the hours, the golden hours did fly!). The possibility that you might have met with accident was as nothing to the knowledge that she watched you as you swam out to sea, watched you and brooded over you.
The love that you bore her was like a tree inside you, and as you walked along the shore that day, it seemed to give forth burst after burst of luminous white flowers.
I am glad you came back safe and sound, she said. But don't do it again, she said, laughing quickly.

You scanned her face for a sign (what sign of love's flowering was there?) but she was looking at you and laughing in all friendliness.
It was the perfect friendliness of her smile that held you tongue chained. There was nothing that you could do but laugh with her.
And if I had not come back? You said laughing still. If parts of me were now decorating the inside of a shark?

Poor shark! She said.
Ah, there was laughter then, effortless, inexhaustible as the sunlit air.

THEN came a time that you sat on the warm sand that smelled sweetly of sea-weed and escaping heat of the sun. It was late afternoon. You had been out to Sunset Beach once again.

The sun stood on the farthest edge of the sea and laid out across the shining waters a carpet of gold, straight and dazzling. You were at one end of that carpet as you sat there hugging you knees, a little shivery, for the wind had grown cold.

Silently you waited for the sun to sink. And, sinking, it drew with it slowly the shining carpet of golden light laid on the graying surface of the sea. You held your breath as all the light of the world seemed drawn and concentrated in one sparkling drop of red poised on the sea's farthest edge. It vanished. For a moment all living voices were stilled. And suddenly night was there, soft and dark like a shroud. 

She scooped a handful of sand as you rose to your feet and strewed it around with a gesture of loving tenderness.
What are you doing? You asked, mystified.
Day is dead. I am burying day, she said.
A feeling of gloom invaded your spirit and less from mirth than from a need to shake off the unwelcome mood, you laughed. But in the middle or your laughter it seemed that all around you sounded Death's dark footfalls, softer than the falling grains of sand.
You could not repress a shiver of nameless fear.
Cold? She asked.
No, you answered.
You stood perfectly still.

Then you turned to her and slowly, your lips forming the words automatically (so often had you said the words to yourself), you told her of your love.
She listened standing there beside you in the dusk on the warm sand, straight and lovely and very still.
And when you were through she did not speak but covered her face with her hands as though bewildered, you did not take her in your arms. You did not touch her.
Her hands came down and in the dusk you faced each other. In the way she stood (straight and true as a javelin), in the way she offered you her face to read, you found your answer and a bitter disappointment came upon you.
Don't say it, you begged. I shouldn't have spoken.

I am sorry, she said. Truly I am sorry. She gave you both her hands. Some other time let's talk about it again. Who knows? I like you very much. Truly I do.
She stood very close to you, all you had to do was draw her into your arms, but you did not, for even the dusk could not hide the look of perfect friendliness on her eager young face. And looking at that face (it was not a beautiful face, not a pretty face), your disappointment became as nothing, the old intoxication came upon you once more, and love for her blossomed inside you like a tree with white luminous flowers. Some other time, who knows? Some other time.
BUT there was no other time.

She fell ill, and the next thing you knew she was dead. Swiftly inexplicably, she sickened and died.
She was gone. And she was wrong and all the poets were wrong. It is not easy to die. You think of her and it is not easy to die.

 
 
 
 
 
MIDSUMMER
He pulled down his hat until the wide brim touched his shoulders. He crouched lower under the cover of his cart and peered ahead. The road seemed to writhe under the lash of the noon-day heat; it swum from side to side, humped and bent itself like a feeling serpent, and disappeared behind the spur of a low hill on which grew a scrawny thicket of bamboo.
 
There was not a house in sight. Along the left side of the road ran the deep, dry gorge of a stream, the banks sparsely covered by sun-burned cogon grass. In places, the rocky, waterless bed showed aridly. Farther, beyond the shimmer of quivering heat waves rose ancient hills not less blue than the cloud-palisaded sky. On the right stretched a land waste of low rolling dunes. Scattered clumps of hardy ledda relieved the otherwise barren monotony of the landscape. Far away he could discern a thin indigo line that was the sea.
 
The grating of the cartwheels on the pebbles of the road and the almost soundless shuffle of the weary bull but emphasized the stillness. Now and then came the dry rustling of falling earth as lumps from the cracked sides of the gorge fell down to the bottom.
 
He struck at the bull with the slack of the rope. The animal broke into a heavy trot. The dust stirred slumbrously. The bull slowed down, threw up his head, and a glistening thread of saliva spun out into the dry air. The dying rays of the sun were reflected in points of light on the wet, heaving flanks.
The man in the cart did not notice the woman until she had rounded the spur of land and stood unmoving beside the road, watching the cart and its occupant come toward her. She was young, surprisingly sweet and fresh amidst her parched surroundings. A gaily stripped kerchief covered her head, the ends tied at the nape of her neck. She wore a homespun bodice of light red cloth with small white checks. Her skirt was also homespun and showed a pattern of white checks with narrow stripes of yellow and red. With both hands she held by the mouth a large, apparently empty, water jug, the cool red of which blended well with her dress. She was barefoot.
She stood straight and still beside the road and regarded him with frank curiosity. Suddenly she turned and disappeared into the dry gorge. Coming to where she had stood a few moments before, he pulled up the bull and got out of the cart. He saw where a narrow path had been cut into the bank and stood a while lost in thought, absently wiping the perspiration from his face. Then he unhitched his bull and for a few moments, with strong brown fingers, kneaded the hot neck of the beast. Driving the animal before him, he followed the path. It led up the dry bed of the stream; the sharp fragments of sun-heated rocks were like burning coals under his feet. There was no sign of the young woman.
 
He came upon her beyond a bed in the gorge, where a big mango tree, which had partly fallen from the side of the ravine, cast its cool shade over a well.
She had filled her jar and was rolling the kerchief around her hand into a flat coil which she placed on her head. Without glancing at him, where he had stopped some distance off, she sat down of her heels, gathering the fold of her skirt between her wide-spread knees. She tilted the brimful jar to remove part of the water. One hand on the rim, the other supporting the bottom, she began to raise it to her head. She knelt on one kneeresting, for a moment, the jar onto her head, getting to her feet at the same time. But she staggered a little and water splashed down on her breast. The single bodice instantly clung to her bosom molding the twin hillocks of her breasts warmly brown through the wet cloth. One arm remained uplifted, holding the jar, while the other shook the clinging cloth free of her drenched flesh. Then not once having raised her eyes, she passed by the young man, who stood mutely gazing beside his bull. The animal had found some grass along the path and was industriously grazing.
He turned to watch the graceful figure beneath the jar until it vanished around a bend in the path leading to the road. Then he led the bull to the well, and tethered it to a root of the mango tree.
 
"The underpart of her arm is white and smooth," he said to his blurred image on the water of the well, as he leaned over before lowering the bucket made of half a petroleum can. "And her hair is thick and black." The bucket struck with a rattling impact. It filled with one long gurgle. He threw his hat on the grass and pulled the bucket up with both hands.
 
The twisted bamboo rope bit into his hardened palms, and he thought how... the same rope must hurt her.
 
He placed the dripping bucket on a flat stone, and the bull drank. "Son of lightning!" he said, thumping the side of the bull after it had drunk the third bucketful, "you drink like the great Kuantitao!" A low, rich rumbling rolled through the cavernous body of the beast. He tied it again to the root, and the animal idly rubbed its horns against the wood. The sun had fallen from the perpendicular, and noticing that the bull stood partly exposed to the sun, he pushed it farther into shade. He fanned himself with his hat. He whistled to entice the wind from the sea, but not a breeze stirred.
 
After a while he put on his hat and hurriedly walked the short distance through the gorge up to the road where his cart stood. From inside he took a jute sack which he slung over one shoulder. With the other arm, he gathered part of the hay at the bottom of the cart. He returned to the well, slips of straw falling behind him as he picked his way from one tuft of grass to another, for the broken rocks of the path has grown exceedingly hot.
 
He gave the hay to the bull, Its rump was again in the sun, and he had to push it back. "Fool, do you want to broil yourself alive?" he said good-humoredly, slapping the thick haunches. It switched its long-haired tail and fell to eating. The dry, sweet-smelling hay made harsh gritting sounds in the mouth of the hungry animal. Saliva rolled out from the corners, clung to the stiff hairs that fringed the thick lower lip, fell and gleamed and evaporated in the heated air.
He took out of the jute sack a polished coconut shell. The top had been sawed off and holes bored at opposite sides, through which a string tied to the lower part of the shell passed in a loop. The smaller piece could thus be slipped up and down as a cover. The coconut shell contained cooked rice still a little warm. Buried on the top was an egg now boiled hard. He next brought out a bamboo tube of salt, a cake of brown sugar wrapped in banana leaf, and some dried shrimps. Then he spread the sack in what remained of the shade, placed his simple meal thereon, and prepared to eat his dinner. But first he drew a bucketful of water from the well, setting the bucket on a rock. He seated himself on another rock and ate with his fingers. From time to time he drank from the bucket.
He was half through with his meal when the girl came down the path once more. She had changed the wetted bodice. He watched her with lowered head as she approached, and felt a difficulty in continuing to eat, but went through the motions of filling his mouth nevertheless. He strained his eyes looking at the girl from beneath his eyebrows. How graceful she was! Her hips tapered smoothly down to round thighs and supple legs, showing against her skirt and moving straight and free. Her shoulders, small but firm, bore her shapely neck and head with shy pride.
 
When she was very near, he ate more hurriedly, so that he almost choked. He did not look at her. She placed the jar between three stones. When she picked up the rope of the bucket, he came to himself. He looked up--straight into her face. He saw her eyes. They were brown and were regarding him gravely, without embarrassment; he forget his own timidity.
 
"Won't you join me, Ading?" he said simply. He remained seated.
 
Her lips parted in a half smile and a little dimple appeared high upon her right cheek. She shook her head and said: "God reward you, Manong."
 
"Perhaps the poor food I have is not fit for you?"
 
"No, no. It isn't that. How can you think of it? I should be ashamed. It is that I have must eaten myself. That is why I came to get water in the middle of the day--we ran out of it. I see you have eggs and shrimps and sugar. Why, be had nothing but rice and salt."
 
"Salt? Surely you joke."
 
"I would be ashamed..."
 
"But what is the matter with salt?"
 
"Salt...salt...Makes baby stout," he intoned. "My grandmother used to sing that to me when I complained of our food."
They laughed and felt more at ease and regarded each other more openly. He took a long time fingering his rice before raising it to his mouth, the while he gazed up at her and smiled for no reason. She smile back in turn and gave the rope which she held an absent-minded tug. The bucket came down from its perch of rock in a miniature flood. He leaped to his feet with a surprised yell, and the next instant the jute sack on which he lay his meal was drenched. Only the rice inside the coconut shell and the bamboo of tube of salt were saved from the water.
 
She was distressed, but he only laughed.
 
"It is nothing," he said. "It was time I stopped eating. I have filled up to my neck."
"Forgive me, Manong," she insisted. "It was all my fault. Such a clumsy creature I am."
"It was not your fault," she assured him. "I am to blame for placing the bucket of water where I did."
"I will draw you another bucketful," he said. "I am stronger than you."
"No, you must let me do it."
 
But when he caught hold of the bucket and stretched forth a brawny arm for the coil of rope in her hands, she surrendered both to him quickly and drew back a step as though shy of his touch. He lowered the bucket with his back to her, and she had time to take in the tallness of him, the breadth of his shoulders, the sinewy strength of his legs. Down below in the small of his back, two parallel ridges of rope-like muscle stuck out against the wet shirt. As he hauled up the bucket, muscles rippled all over his body. His hair, which was wavy, cut short behind but long in fronts fell in a cluster over his forehead.
"Let me hold the bucket while you drink," she offered.
 
He flashed her a smile over his shoulders as he poured the water into her jar, and again lowered the bucket.
"No, no, you must not do that." She hurried to his side and held one of his arms. "I couldn't let you, a stranger..."
"Why not?" He smiled down at her, and noticed a slight film of moisture clinging to the down on her upper lip and experienced a sudden desire to wipe it away with his forefinger. He continued to lower the bucket while she had to stand by.
 
"Hadn't you better move over to the shade?" he suggested, as the bucket struck the water.
"What shall I do there?" she asked sharply, as though the idea of seeking protection from the heat were contemptible to her.
"You will get roasted standing here in the sun," he said, and began to haul up the bucket.
 
But she remained beside him, catching the rope as it feel from his hands, coiling it carefully. The jar was filled, with plenty to drink as she tilted the half-filled can until the water lapped the rim. He gulped a mouthful, gargled noisily, spewed it out, then commenced to drink in earnest. He took long, deep droughts of the sweetish water, for he was more thirsty than he had thought. A chuckling sound persisted in forming inside his throat at every swallow. It made him self-conscious. He was breathless when through, and red in the face.
 
"I don't know why it makes that sound," he said, fingering his throat and laughing shamefacedly.
"Father also makes that sound when he drinks, and mother always laughs at him," she said. She untied the headkerchief over her hair and started to roll it.
Then sun had descended considerably and there was now hardly any shade under the tree. The bull was gathering with its tongue stray slips of straw. He untied the animal to lead it to the other side of the girl who spoke; "Manong, why don't you come to our house and bring your animal with you? There is shade and you can sleep, though our house is very poor."
 
She had already placed the jar on her head and stood, half-turned to him, waiting for his answer.
"I would be troubling you, Ading."
 
"No. You come. I have told mother about you." She turned and went down the path.
He sent the bull after her with smart slap on its side. Then he quickly gathered the remains of his meal, put them inside the jute sack which had almost dried, and himself followed. Then seeing that the bull had stopped to nibble the tufts of grass that dotted the bottom of the gorge, he picked up the dragging rope and urged the animal on into a trot. They caught up with the girl near the cart. She stopped to wait.
 
He did not volunteer a word. He walked a step behind, the bull lumbering in front. More than ever he was conscious of her person. She carried the jar on her head without holding it. Her hands swung to her even steps. He drew back his square shoulders, lifted his chin, and sniffed the motionless air. There was a flourish in the way he flicked the rump of the bull with the rope in his hand. He felt strong. He felt very strong. He felt that he could follow the slender, lithe figure to the end of the world.
 
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MORNINGS IN NAGREBCAN
 
It was sunrise at Nagrebcan. The fine, bluish mist, low over the tobacco fields, was lifting and thinning moment by moment. A ragged strip of mist, pulled away by the morning breeze, had caught on the clumps of bamboo along the banks of the stream that flowed to one side of the barrio. Before long the sun would top the Katayaghan hills, but as yet no people were around. In the grey shadow of the hills, the barrio was gradually awaking. Roosters crowed and strutted on the ground while hens hesitated on their perches among the branches of the camanchile trees. Stray goats nibbled the weeds on the sides of the road, and the bull carabaos tugged restively against their stakes.

In the early morning the puppies lay curled up together between their mother’s paws under the ladder of the house. Four puppies were all white like the mother. They had pink noses and pink eyelids and pink mouths. The skin between their toes and on the inside of their large, limp ears was pink. They had short sleek hair, for the mother licked them often. The fifth puppy lay across the mother’s neck. On the puppy’s back was a big black spot like a saddle. The tips of its ears were black and so was a patch of hair on its chest.

The opening of the sawali door, its uneven bottom dragging noisily against the bamboo flooring, aroused the mother dog and she got up and stretched and shook herself, scattering dust and loose white hair. A rank doggy smell rose in the cool morning air. She took a quick leap forward, clearing the puppies which had begun to whine about her, wanting to suckle. She trotted away and disappeared beyond the house of a neighbor.

The puppies sat back on their rumps, whining. After a little while they lay down and went back to sleep, the black-spotted puppy on top.
Baldo stood at the threshold and rubbed his sleep-heavy eyes with his fists. He must have been about ten years old, small for his age, but compactly built, and he stood straight on his bony legs. He wore one of his father’s discarded cotton undershirts.

The boy descended the ladder, leaning heavily on the single bamboo railing that served as a banister. He sat on the lowest step of the ladder, yawning and rubbing his eyes one after the other. Bending down, he reached between his legs for the black-spotted puppy. He held it to him, stroking its soft, warm body. He blew on its nose. The puppy stuck out a small red tongue, lapping the air. It whined eagerly. Baldo laughed – a low gurgle.
He rubbed his face against that of the dog. He said softly, “My puppy. My puppy.” He said it many times. The puppy licked his ears, his cheeks. When it licked his mouth, Baldo straightened up, raised the puppy on a level with his eyes. “You are a foolish puppy,” he said, laughing. “Foolish, foolish, foolish,” he said, rolling the puppy on his lap so that it howled.
The four other puppies awoke and came scrambling about Baldo’s legs. He put down the black-spotted puppy and ran to the narrow foot bridge of woven split-bamboo spanning the roadside ditch. When it rained, water from the roadway flowed under the makeshift bridge, but it had not rained for a long time and the ground was dry and sandy. Baldo sat on the bridge, digging his bare feet into the sand, feeling the cool particles escaping between his toes. He whistled, a toneless whistle with a curious trilling to it produced by placing the tongue against the lower teeth and then curving it up and down.

The whistle excited the puppies; they ran to the boy as fast as their unsteady legs could carry them, barking choppy little barks.
Nana Elang, the mother of Baldo, now appeared in the doorway with handful of rice straw. She called Baldo and told him to get some live coals from their neighbor.
“Get two or three burning coals and bring them home on the rice straw,” she said. “Do not wave the straw in the wind. If you do, it will catch fire before you get home.” She watched him run toward KaIkao’s house where already smoke was rising through the nipa roofing into the misty air. One or two empty carromatas drawn by sleepy little ponies rattled along the pebbly street, bound for the railroad station.

Nana Elang must have been thirty, but she looked at least fifty. She was a thin, wispy woman, with bony hands and arms. She had scanty, straight, graying hair which she gathered behind her head in a small, tight knot. It made her look thinner than ever. Her cheekbones seemed on the point of bursting through the dry, yellowish-brown skin. Above a gray-checkered skirt, she wore a single wide-sleeved cotton blouse that ended below her flat breasts. Sometimes when she stooped or reached up for anything, a glimpse of the flesh at her waist showed in a dark, purplish band where the skirt had been tied so often.

She turned from the doorway into the small, untidy kitchen. She washed the rice and put it in a pot which she placed on the cold stove. She made ready the other pot for the mess of vegetables and dried fish. When Baldo came back with the rice straw and burning coals, she told him to start a fire in the stove, while she cut the ampalaya tendrils and sliced the eggplants. When the fire finally flamed inside the clay stove, Baldo’s eyes were smarting from the smoke of the rice straw.

“There is the fire, mother,” he said. “Is father awake already?”
Nana Elang shook her head. Baldo went out slowly on tiptoe.

There were already many people going out. Several fishermen wearing coffee-colored shirts and trousers and hats made from the shell of white pumpkins passed by. The smoke of their home-made cigars floated behind them like shreds of the morning mist. Women carrying big empty baskets were going to the tobacco fields. They walked fast, talking among themselves. Each woman had gathered the loose folds of her skirt in front and, twisting the end two or three times, passed it between her legs, pulling it up at the back, and slipping it inside her waist. The women seemed to be wearing trousers that reached only to their knees and flared at the thighs.

Day was quickly growing older. The east flamed redly and Baldo called to his mother, “Look, mother, God also cooks his breakfast.”

He went to play with the puppies. He sat on the bridge and took them on his lap one by one. He searched for fleas which he crushed between his thumbnails. “You, puppy. You, puppy,” he murmured softly. When he held the black-spotted puppy, he said, “My puppy. My puppy.”

Ambo, his seven-year old brother, awoke crying. Nana Elang could be heard patiently calling him to the kitchen. Later he came down with a ripe banana in his hand. Ambo was almost as tall as his older brother and he had stout husky legs. Baldo often called him the son of an Igorot. The home-made cotton shirt he wore was variously stained. The pocket was torn, and it flipped down. He ate the banana without peeling it.

“You foolish boy, remove the skin,” Baldo said.
 
“I will not,” Ambo said. “It is not your banana.” He took a big bite and swallowed it with exaggerated relish.
“But the skin is tart. It tastes bad.”

“You are not eating it,” Ambo said. The rest of the banana vanished in his mouth.

He sat beside Baldo and both played with the puppies. The mother dog had not yet returned and the puppies were becoming hungry and restless. They sniffed the hands of Ambo, licked his fingers. They tried to scramble up his breast to lick his mouth, but he brushed them down. Baldo laughed. He held the black-spotted puppy closely, fondled it lovingly. “My puppy,” he said. “My puppy.”

Ambo played with the other puppies, but he soon grew tired of them. He wanted the black-spotted one. He sidled close to Baldo and put out a hand to caress the puppy nestling contentedly in the crook of his brother’s arm. But Baldo struck the hand away. “Don’t touch my puppy,” he said. “My puppy.”

Ambo begged to be allowed to hold the black-spotted puppy. But Baldo said he would not let him hold the black-spotted puppy because he would not peel the banana. Ambo then said that he would obey his older brother next time, for all time. Baldo would not believe him; he refused to let him touch the puppy.

Ambo rose to his feet. He looked longingly at the black-spotted puppy in Baldo’s arms. Suddenly he bent down and tried to snatch the puppy away. But Baldo sent him sprawling in the dust with a deft push. Ambo did not cry. He came up with a fistful of sand which he flung in his brother’s face. But as he started to run away, Baldo thrust out his leg and tripped him. In complete silence, Ambo slowly got up from the dust, getting to his feet with both hands full of sand which again he cast at his older brother. Baldo put down the puppy and leaped upon Ambo.

Seeing the black-spotted puppy waddling away, Ambo turned around and made a dive for it. Baldo saw his intention in time and both fell on the puppy which began to howl loudly, struggling to get away. Baldo cursed Ambo and screamed at him as they grappled and rolled in the sand. Ambo kicked and bit and scratched without a sound. He got hold of Baldo’s hair and ear and tugged with all his might. They rolled over and over and then Baldo was sitting on Ambo’s back, pummeling him with his fists. He accompanied every blow with a curse. “I hope you die, you little demon,” he said between sobs, for he was crying and he could hardly see. Ambo wriggled and struggled and tried to bite Baldo’s legs. Failing, he buried his face in the sand and howled lustily.

Baldo now left him and ran to the black-spotted puppy which he caught up in his arms, holding it against his throat. Ambo followed, crying out threats and curses. He grabbed the tail of the puppy and jerked hard. The puppy howled shrilly and Baldo let it go, but Ambo kept hold of the tail as the dog fell to the ground. It turned around and snapped at the hand holding its tail. Its sharp little teeth sank into the fleshy edge of Ambo’s palm. With a cry, Ambo snatched away his hand from the mouth of the enraged puppy. At that moment the window of the house facing the street was pushed violently open and the boys’ father, Tang Ciaco, looked out. He saw the blood from the toothmarks on Ambo’s hand. He called out inarticulately and the two brothers looked up in surprise and fear. Ambo hid his bitten hand behind him. Baldo stopped to pick up the black-spotted puppy, but Tang Ciaco shouted hoarsely to him not to touch the dog. At Tang Ciaco’s angry voice, the puppy had crouched back snarling, its pink lips drawn back, the hair on its back rising. “The dog has gone mad,” the man cried, coming down hurriedly. By the stove in the kitchen, he stopped to get a sizeable piece of firewood, throwing an angry look and a curse at NanaElang for letting her sons play with the dogs. He removed a splinter or two, then hurried down the ladder, cursing in a loud angry voice. Nana Elang ran to the doorway and stood there silently fingering her skirt.

Baldo and Ambo awaited the coming of their father with fear written on their faces. Baldo hated his father as much as he feared him. He watched him now with half a mind to flee as Tang Ciaco approached with the piece of firewood held firmly in one hand. He is a big, gaunt man with thick bony wrists and stoop shoulders. A short-sleeved cotton shirt revealed his sinewy arms on which the blood-vessels stood out like roots. His short pants showed his bony-kneed, hard-muscled legs covered with black hair. He was a carpenter. He had come home drunk the night before. He was not a habitual drunkard, but now and then he drank great quantities of basi and came home and beat his wife and children. He would blame them for their hard life and poverty. “You are a prostitute,” he would roar at his wife, and as he beat his children, he would shout, “I will kill you both, you bastards.” If Nana Elang ventured to remonstrate, he would beat them harder and curse her for being an interfering whore. “I am king in my house,” he would say.

Now as he approached the two, Ambo cowered behind his elder brother. He held onto Baldo’s undershirt, keeping his wounded hand at his back, unable to remove his gaze from his father’s close-set, red-specked eyes. The puppy with a yelp slunk between Baldo’s legs. Baldo looked at the dog, avoiding his father’s eyes.
Tang Ciaco roared at them to get away from the dog: “Fools! Don’t you see it is mad?” Baldo laid a hand on Ambo as they moved back hastily. He wanted to tell his father it was not true, the dog was not mad, it was all Ambo’s fault, but his tongue refused to move. The puppy attempted to follow them, butTang Ciaco caught it with a sweeping blow of the piece of firewood. The puppy was flung into the air. It rolled over once before it fell, howling weakly. Again the chunk of firewood descended, Tang Ciaco grunting with the effort he put into the blow, and the puppy ceased to howl. It lay on its side, feebly moving its jaws from which dark blood oozed. Once more Tang Ciaco raised his arm, but Baldo suddenly clung to it with both hands and begged him to stop. “Enough, father, enough. Don’t beat it anymore,” he entreated. Tears flowed down his upraised face.

Tang Ciaco shook him off with an oath. Baldo fell on his face in the dust. He did not rise, but cried and sobbed and tore his hair. The rays of the rising sun fell brightly upon him, turned to gold the dust that he raised with his kicking feet.

Tang Ciaco dealt the battered puppy another blow and at last it lay limpy still. He kicked it over and watched for a sign of life. The puppy did not move where it lay twisted on its side.

He turned his attention to Baldo.
“Get up,” he said, hoarsely, pushing the boy with his foot.
Baldo was deaf. He went on crying and kicking in the dust. Tang Ciaco struck him with the piece of wood in his hand and again told him to get up. Baldo writhed and cried harder, clasping his hands over the back of his head. Tang Ciaco took hold of one of the boy’s arms and jerked him to his feet. Then he began to beat him, regardless of where the blows fell.

Baldo encircled his head with his loose arm and strove to free himself, running around his father, plunging backward, ducking and twisting. “Shameless son of a whore,” Tang Ciaco roared. “Stand still, I’ll teach you to obey me.” He shortened his grip on the arm of Baldo and laid on his blows. Baldo fell to his knees, screaming for mercy. He called on his mother to help him.

Nana Elang came down, but she hesitated at the foot of the ladder. Ambo ran to her. “You too,”Tang Ciaco cried, and struck at the fleeing Ambo. The piece of firewood caught him behind the knees and he fell on his face. Nana Elang ran to the fallen boy and picked him up, brushing his clothes with her hands to shake off the dust.
Tang Ciaco pushed Baldo toward her. The boy tottered forward weakly, dazed and trembling. He had ceased to cry aloud, but he shook with hard, spasmodic sobs which he tried vainly to stop.

“Here take your child,” Tang Ciaco said, thickly.
He faced the curious students and neighbors who had gathered by the side of the road. He yelled at them to go away. He said it was none of their business if he killed his children.

“They are mine,” he shouted. “I feed them and I can do anything I like with them.”

The students ran hastily to school. The neighbors returned to their work.

Tang Ciaco went to the house, cursing in a loud voice. Passing the dead puppy, he picked it up by its hind legs and flung it away. The black and white body soared through the sunlit air; fell among the tall corn behind the house. Tang Ciaco, still cursing and grumbling, strode upstairs. He threw the chunk of firewood beside the stove. He squatted by the low table and began eating the breakfast his wife had prepared for him.

Nana Elang knelt by her children and dusted their clothes. She passed her hand over the red welts on Baldo, but Baldo shook himself away. He was still trying to stop sobbing, wiping his tears away with his forearm. Nana Elang put one arm around Ambo. She sucked the wound in his hand. She was crying silently.
When the mother of the puppies returned, she licked the remaining four by the small bridge of woven split bamboo. She lay down in the dust and suckled her young. She did not seem to miss the black-spotted puppy.

Afterward Baldo and Ambo searched among the tall corn for the body of the dead puppy. TangCiaco had gone to work and would not be back till nightfall. In the house, Nana Elang was busy washing the breakfast dishes. Later she came down and fed the mother dog. The two brothers were entirely hidden by the tall corn plants. As they moved about among the slender stalks, the corn-flowers shook agitatedly. Pollen scattered like gold dust in the sun, falling on the fuzzy• green leaves.
When they found the dead dog, they buried it in one corner of the field. Baldo dug the grove with a sharp-pointed stake. Ambo stood silently by, holding the dead puppy.
When Baldo finished his work, he and his brother gently placed the puppy in the hole. Then they covered the dog with soft earth and stamped on the grave until the disturbed ground was flat and hard again. With difficulty they rolled a big stone on top of the grave. Then Baldo wound an arm around the shoulders of Ambo and without a word they hurried up to the house.

The sun had risen high above the Katayaghan hills, and warm, golden sunlight filled Nagrebcan. The mist on the tobacco fields had completely dissolved.
 

TOP

 

 

RICE

Slowly, Pablo unhitched the carabao from the empty sled. He laid a horny palm on the back of the tired animal; the thick; coarse-haired skin was warm and dry like sun heated earth. The carabao by quietly, licking with its dark colored tongue and beads of moisture that hung on the stiff hairs around its nostrils. Dropping the yoke inside the sled, Pablo led the beast to a young tamarind tree almost as high as nipa hut beside it. A bundle of fresh green zacate lay under the tree and the carabao began to feed upon it hungrily. Pablo watched the animal a moment, half listening to its snuffling as it buried its mouth in the sweet-smelling zacate. A sudden weakness came upon him and black spots whirled before his eyes. He felt so hungry he could have gone down on his knees beside the carabao and chewed the grass.


"Eat," he said in a thin, wheezy voice. "You can have all the grass you want." He slapped the animal's smooth, fat rump, and turned to the house, his hand falling limpy to his side.

"Sebia," he called, raising his voice until it broke shrilly, "Sebia!"

No answering voice came from the hut. He bent low to pass under a length of hard bamboo used as a storm prop, muttering to himself how careless of his wife it was to leave the house with the door open. Toward the side where the prop slanted upward against the eaves, the hunt leaned sharply. The whole frailstructure in fact looked as though it might collapse at any moments. But this year it has weathered four heavy storms without any greater damage than the sharpinclined toward the west, and that has been taken care of by the prop. As he looked at the house, Pablo did not see how squalid it was. He saw the snapping nipa walls, the shutterless windows, the rotting floor of the shaky batalan, the roofless shed over the low ladder,but there were familiar sights that had ceased to arouse his interest.

He wiped his muddy feet on the grass that grew knee deep in the yard. He could hear the sound of pounding in the neighboring hut and, going to the broken-down fence that separated the two houses, he called out weakly, "Osiang, do you where my wife and children have gone?"

"Eh?" What is it Mang Pablo?" Te loud voice of a woman broke out the hut. You are home already? Where are your companions? Did you see my husband? Did you not come together? Where is he? Where is the shameless son-of-a-whore?"

"Andres is talking with some of the men at the house. Osiang, do you know where Sebia and the children are?"

"Why doesn't he come home?" He knows I have been waiting the whole day for the rice he is bringing home! I am so hungry I cannot even drag my bones away from stove. What is he doing at the house of Elis, the shameless, good for nothing son-of-a-whore?"

Pablo moved away from the fence, stumbling a little, for the long blades of grass got in his way. "There is no rice, Osiang," he called back wheezily over his shoulder, but evidently the woman did not hear him, for she went on talking: "Mang Pablo, how many cavanes of rice did you borrow? Sebia told me you are to cook the rice as soon as you came home. She went with the children to the creek for snails. I told them to be careful and throw away whatever they gather if they see a watchman coming. God save our souls! What kind of life is this when we cannot even get snails from the fields? Pay a multa of five cavanes for a handful of snails!" Osiang spat noisily through the slats of her floor. She had not once shown her face. Pablo could hear her busily pounding in a little stone mortar.

"There is no rice, Osiang," he whispered. He felt too tired and weak to raise his voice.

He sat on the ladder and waited for his wife and children. He removed his rain-stained hat of buri palm leaf, placing it atop one of the upright pieces of bamboo supporting the steps of the ladder. Before him, as far as his uncertain gaze could make out, stretched the rice fields of the Hacienda Consuelo. The afternoon sun brought out the gold in the green of the young rice plants. Harvest time was two months off and in the house of Pablo there was no rice to eat...

That morning he and several other tenants had driven over with their sleds to the house of the Senora to borrow grain. The sleds had been loaded with the cavanes of rice. Pablo remembered with what willingness he had heaved the sacks to his sled-five sacks-the rice grains bursting through the tiny holes of the juice covers. Then the announcement:

"Five sacks of rice borrowed today become ten at harvest time."

"We have always borrowed tersiohan - four cavanes become six," the man had repeated over and over. Although they used to find even this arrangement difficult and burdensome, they now insisted upon it eagerly.

"Tersiohan!" they had begged.

"Not takipan - that is too much. What will be left to us?"

"The storms have destroyed half of my rice plants..."

"I have six children to feed..."

"Five becomes ten," the encargado said, "Either that or you get no rice."

They had gathered around Elis. In the end every man had silently emptied his loaded sled and prepared to leave.

The senora had come out, her cane beating a rapid tattoo on the polished floor of the porch; she was an old woman with a chin that quivered as she spoke to them, lifeless false teeth clenched tightly in her anger.

"Do you see those trucks?" she had finished, pointing to three big red trucks under the mango tree in the yard. "If you do not take the rice today, tonight the trucks will carry every sack in sight to the city. Then I hope you all starve you ungrateful beasts!"

It was Elis who drove away first. The others followed. The sacks of rice lay there in the yard in the sun, piled across each other...

"Mang Pablo," loud voice of Osiang broke again, "are you cooking rice yet? If you have no fire, come here under the window with some dry ice straw and I'll give you two of three coals from my stove. I am boiling a pinchful of bran. It will do to check my hunger a bit while I wait for that shameless Andres."

"Wait, Osiang," Pablo said, and finding this mouth had gone dry, he stepped into the kitchen and from the red clay jar dipped himself a glass of water. He came down with the sheaf of rice straw in his fist. Passing the tamarind tree, he pulled down a lomb covered with new leaves, light green and juicy. He filed his mouth with them and walked on to Osiang's hut, munching the sourish leaves.

"here I am, Osiang," he said, but he had to strike the wall of the hut before he could attract the attention of Osiang, who had gone back to her pounding and could not hear Pablo's weak, wheezy voice.

She came to the window talking loudly. Her face, when she looked out, was a dark, earthy brown with high, sharp cheekbones and small pig-like eyes. She had a wide mouth and large teeth discolored from smoking tobacco. Short, graying hair fell straight on either side of her face, escaping from the loose knot she had at the back of her head. A square necked white cotton dress exposed half of her flat, bony chest.

"Whoresone!" she exclaimed, as one of the pieces of coal she was transferring from a coconut shell to the straw in Pablo's hand rolled away.

Pablo looked up to her and wanted to tell her again that there was no rice, but he could not bring himself to do it. Osiang went back to her pounding after all. He spat out the greenish liquid. It reminded him of crushed caterpillars. 

Smoke began to issue forth fro the twisted straw in his hand. He was preparing to climb over the intervening fence when he saw Andres coming down the path from the direction of Eli's house. The man appeared excited. He gestured with his arm to Pablo to wait for him.

Pablo drew back the leg he had over the fence. The smoking sheaf of straw in his hand, he went slowly to meet Andres. Osiang was still pounding in her little stone mortar. The sharp thudding of the stone pestle against the mortar seemed to Pablo unnaturally loud. Anders had stopped beneath the clump of bamboo some distance from his hut. He stood beside his carabao - a much younger man than Pablo - dark, broad, squat. He wrote a printed camisa de chino, threadbare at the neck and shoulders, the sleeves cut short above the elbows so that his arm hung out, thick-muscled awkward.

"Are you coming with us?" he asked Pablo, his voice granting in his throat as he strove a speak quietly. There was in his small eyes a fierce, desperate look that Pablo found to meet.

"Don't be a fool, Andres," he said, coughing to clear his throat and trying to appear calm.

Andres breathed hard. He glared at the older man. But Pablo was looking down at the smoking straw in his hand. He could feel the heat steadily increasing and he shifted his hold farther from the burning end. Andres turned to his carabao with a curse. Pablo took a step forward until he stood close to the younger man. "What can you do Andres?" he said. "You say you will stop the trucks bearing the rice to the city. That will be robbery. 

"Five cavanes paid back double is robbery too, only the robbers do not go to jail," 
"Perhaps there will be a killing..."
"We will take that chance."
"You will all be sent to bilibid."
"What will become of the wife and the children behind? Who will feed them?"
"They are starving right now under our very eyes."
"But you are here with them."
"That is worse."

The smoke from the burning rice straw got into Pablo's mouth and he was shaken a fit of coughing. "What do you hope to gain by stealing a truck load of rice?" he asked when he recovered his breath.

"Food," Andres said tersely.
"Is that all?"
"Food for our wives and children. Food for everybody. That is enough!"
"What will happen if the stolen rice is gone? Will you go on robbing?"
"It is not stealing. The rice is ours."

The straw in Pablo's hand burst into sudden flame. He threw it away. It fell in path, the fire dying out as the straw scattered and burning coals rolled in all directions. 

"I must get some rice straws," Pablo said in his thin, wheezy voice. "Osiang, your wife is waiting for you."

As he turned to leave, Andres whispered hoarsely to him, "before the moon rises tonight, the first truck will pass around the bend by the bridge..."

Pablo did not look back. He had seen his wife and three children approaching the hut from the fields. They were accompanied by a man. He hurried to meet them. A moment later the loud voice of Osiang burst out of the hut of Andres, but Pablo had no ear for other things just then. The man with his wife was the field watchman.

"They were fishing in the fields," the watchman said stolidly, He was a thickset, dull-faced fellow clad in khaki shirt and khaki trousers. "You will pay a fine of five cavanes."

"We are only gathering snails," Sebia protested sobbing. She was wet. Her skirt clung to her thin legs dripping water and slow trickle of mud.

"Five cavanes," the watchman said. "I came to tell you so that you will know--" speaking to Pablo. He turned and strode away.

Pablo watched the broad, khaki covered back of the watchman. "I suppose he has to earn his rice too," he said in his wheezy voice, feeling an immense weariness and hopelessness settle upon him.

He looked at his wife, weeping noisily, and the children streak with dark-blue mud, the two older boys thin like sticks, and the youngest a girl of six. Five cavanes of rice for a handful of snails! How much is five cavanes to five hungry people?

"Itay, I'm hungry," Sabel, the girl said. The two boys looked up at him mutely. They were cold and shivering and full of the knowledge of what had happened.

"I was just going to get fire from Osiang," Pablo heard himself say.
"You have not cooked the rice?" Sebia asked, moving wearily to the ladder.
"There is no rice."

Sebia listened in silence while he told her why there was no rice.

"Then what were you going to cook with the fire?" she asked finally.
"I don't know," he was forced to say. "I thought I would wait for you and the children."
"Where shall we ever get the rice to pay the multa?" Sebia asked irrelevantly. At their feet the children began to whimper.

"Itay, I'm hungry," Sabel repeated.

Pablo took her up his arms. He carried her to the carabao and placed her on its broad, warm back. The child stopped whimpering and began to kick with her legs. The carabao switched its tails, he struck with its mud-encrusted tip across her face. She covered her eyes with both hands and burst out crying. Pablo put her down, tried to pry away her hands from her eyes, but she refused to uncover them and cried as though in great pain.

"Sebia, Pablo called, and his wife hurried, he picked up a stout piece of wood lying nearby and began to beat the carabao. He gripped the piece of wood with both hands and struck the dumb beast with all his strength. His breath came in gasps. The carabao wheeled around the tamarind tree until its rope was wound about the trunk and the animal could not make another turn. It stood there snorting with pain and fear as the blows of Pablo rained down its back.

The piece of wood at last broke and Pablo was left with a short stub in his hands. He gazed at it, sobbing with rage and weakness, then he ran to the hut, crying. "Give me my bolo, Sebia, give me my bolo. We shall have food tonight." But Sebia held him and would not let him go until he quieted down and sat with back against the wall of the hut. Sabel had stopped crying. The two boys sat by the cold stove.

"God save me," Pablo said, brokenly. He brought up his knees and, dropping his face between them, wept like a child.

Sebia lay down with Sabel and watched Pablo. She followed his movements wordlessly as he got up and took his bolo from the wall and belted it around his waist. She did not rise to stop him. She lay there on the floor and watched his husband put his hat and go down the low ladder. She listened and learned he had not gone near the carabao. 

Outside, the darkness had thickened. Pablo picked his way through the tall grass in the yard. He stopped to look back in the house. In the twilight the hut did not seem to lean so much. He tightened the belt of the heavy bolo around his waist. Pulling the old buri hat firmly over his head, he joined Andres, who stood waiting by the broken down fence. I silence they walked together to the house of Elis.

 

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