Iamd1’s Scribbling Desk

Posts Tagged ‘telling tales

 

Author’s Note:

The story is set in the late 60s with flashbacks to the Philippines in the 40s under Japanese rule in World War II. The story and its characters are all products of the author’s imagination including the story of Pedro Penduko and King Krab. The dates and war circumstances however, are historical facts. This a translation from my original story in the Waray language of the Philippines.

 

Search for a Hero

The study table top is full of books and papers. The waste paper basket is full of crumpled paper that overflows onto the floor. The only thing that isn’t full is the paper on the typewriter. I am working on a term paper and with barely a week before deadline, I haven’t been doing much. The assigned topic seems easy—to write an essay on a person who could be one of the country’s heroes or anyone who has done heroic deeds comparable to those of the folklore hero, Pedro Penduko.

Pedro Penduko is the product of the imagination of a storyteller from the past, a superhero who battled giants, monsters and enchanted beings who harmed the populace.

I could only think of one person who could rise to the stature of this make-believe hero. He is the real hero of the Philippine revolution in the 19th century, the leader of the masses, Andres Bonifacio. I am one of those Filipinos who think that he should have been the national hero, but this honor was given to Jose Rizal, who was a pacifist and did not subscribe to violent means to gain freedom from Spanish oppression.

I start to write, but before I could finish a paragraph, the phone rings.

“Mia, can you come home as soon as possible. It’s your Uncle Pedro. He’s in the hospital and is near death. He’s been asking for you.” My mother’s voice is insistent.

“Why me, Mother? I’m not a doctor so there isn’t much I can do to help him.” I couldn’t help being sarcastic and mean.

“Please, forget about your anger. You have always been your Uncle’s favorite niece and this is his dying wish to see you.”

I bite my lips to keep more bitter words from spilling out. At the same time, I feel overwhelmed by the memory of my favorite uncle. He is my father’s youngest brother, the dashing and courageous chief of police in our old hometown.

“Mia, are you still there?”

“Yes, Mom. Okay. I’m glad it’s a week-end. I’ll take the first flight out tomorrow. Meet me at the airport.” I hear her sigh in relief that I am coming home.

That evening, I couldn’t sleep. Scenes of my last meeting with Uncle Pedro keep flashing back.

 

 

I had gotten home early from work that afternoon. My uncle and my parents were huddled in a serious conference at the dining room table. Mom went to the kitchen to prepare some snacks and I was left with Dad and my uncle.

“What’s this talk I’ve been hearing about Eduard wanting to marry you?” my uncle said gruffly without preamble.

“Yes, that’s what we’re planning.” I answered happily.

“My dear, please don’t be in a hurry to get married. You’re still young.”

“But, he’s the one, Uncle. I love him.” I looked from him to my father who sat silently listening to us.

“Marianella, please wait. There are other men worthier of you than him.”

He used my full name and it meant that he was seriously opposing my choice. I couldn’t help wondering why my own father just sat there not saying a thing. Many of my cousins complained that they couldn’t have suitors because our uncle was watchful of their every move. I couldn’t believe that I, his favorite niece would be under the same surveillance. He must have had another reason.

So I faced my uncle and said, “What’s this all about anyway? You of all people should be able to understand how I feel. After all, you got married when you were in your teens. If you’re against him because of his father’s betrayal of the guerillas during the war, that’s way back in the past now. Besides, you were able to get back at them.”

Uncle Pedro’s face reddened. I saw his eyes fill with tears as he touched the golden locket of the necklace he wore neath his shirt.

“Please, consider your options.” He turned away and left the house without saying anything more.

After that incident, I broke off with my boyfriend and left town to go back to graduate school.

 

 

My mother meets me at the airport the next day. We go directly to see my uncle at the hospital. He is in deep sleep from sedatives. I could barely recognize the dashing and debonaire idol of my youth in the shrunken old man whose whole body is being consumed by cancer. I could barely look at the famed guerilla fighter whose daring exploits became legend during the Japanese occupation. He was not wearing the golden locket that many thought was his talisman.

While we were having breakfast at home, I ask Mom why he wasn’t wearing his talisman.

“Maybe that’s why he’s dying because he’s no longer wearing it.” I jokingly remark.

Mama looks at me in a manner that says that I should be more respectful of the dying.

However, she follows this up with, “Oh, I’m glad you brought that up. Do you still recall the stories of your uncle’s exploits during the war?”

Who will ever forget those stories? I am instantly seeing them brought to life in my mind.

 

 

May, 1943—the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. In Burauen, several towns away from Tacloban, the capital of the province of Leyte, the people tried to live life as close to what it was before the war. They were even celebrating fiestas and social traditions like the Santacruzan. At one such occasion, Pedro became enamored of the fourteen-year-old Caucasian beauty, Himaya who was the reigning queen of the festivities. It was love at first sight for both. Pedro took it upon himself to protect Himaya especially from the Japanese officers who were attracted by her beauty. He was constantly escorting her all over town. Then one day  people started to miss seeing them because they had eloped. They lived in a cottage on a small farm that Pedro’s father owned. He farmed root crops and vegetables and tended a fruit orchard. She planted a flower garden and took care of the livestock. This bucolic life was made happier with the birth of their child.

Pedro’s friends from the town often came to visit. He would have a few drinks with them while they talked about the war. Most of them were with the guerilla movement and invited Pedro to join them. Unbeknown to them, Pedro was already a member of the underground movement that aggressively fought the Japanese. He supported the movement with food and sheltered the rebels who passed their way. He did this secretly so as not to compromise his family who lived and worked in town.

Pedro and Himaya used to go to town on market days to sell farm produce. In the month of October, 1944, there were rumors that Gen. Douglas MacArthur would soon be landing in Leyte to liberate it from the clutches of the Japanese empire. That morning, a friend took Pedro to a quiet corner of the market and informed him of a plan to discover the identities of the Filipino collaborators who were betraying the guerillas to the Japanese authorities. They would undertake the mission the next morning.

Pedro woke up to gray skies. On his way to town, he asked his wife if she’d like to come along. She refused because she would be visiting her family in the next barrio. He went straight to the town plaza to meet his friend. The place was filling up with people and the Japanese officers who had called for the assembly. The Japs had lined up several men in a column. Then a man wearing a burlap hood with slits for his eyes, came forward. He was called the Makapili, a word meaning one who chooses, because he chose the rebels from among those men in line. Pedro and his friend were tasked to find out his identity and others like him.

“Isn’t that man in blue shirt your brother Julian?” Pedro’s friend whispered.

He eyed the man who was being escorted to the wall. “Sons of bitches! They will pay for this!” He took out the pistol underneath his shirt ready for a shooting rampage.

His companion had a difficult time placating him. Then they went away from the plaza. They reported to their leader and made more plans to bring the traitors to justice.

Pedro heard the blasts from the  Japanese  firing squad as he made his way home.  His steps were heavy, made heavier still by the rage in his heart to avenge his brother.

He was crossing the river when he heard airplanes overhead. It only meant that MacArthur’s forces had already landed in another part of the island. The Americans would soon be bombing the Japanese arsenal and headquarters in town. He ran towards his house so he could move his wife and child to safety.

As he neared the stream that ran through their farmland, he felt a sudden anxiety at the eerie silence of the place. All at once, the piercing cry of an infant broke the quietude. He ran to the flower garden and saw his child lying on a nest of big red ants. He gently wiped the child free of the insects and placed her in the hammock on the porch of the cottage. Then he went in search of his wife.

The Japanese soldier dug a hole near the riverbank behind the farmhouse. He was about to bury Himaya when his eyes caught the glimmer from the golden locket on her neck. He was pocketing the necklace when bullets riddled his body. The birds roosting on the branches of the tree noisily fluttered away. Pedro used the bayonet that ended the life of his wife to finish off the Japanese. He kicked his body into the hole he dug. The overcast sky gave way to pouring rain that washed away the blood from the riverbank.

Pedro covered Himaya’s lifeless body with what was left of her tattered clothes. He took the necklace with the locket, wore it and never took it off. The infant did not survive the insect bites. He buried the bodies of his loved ones in the flower garden. He kept vigil over the grave all night long, but at dawn break, Pedro San Gabriel, the ferocious guerilla, was born. He actively joined in the mopping up operations of the American forces against the Japanese.

 

 

“Hey, Mia. Where did you go?” My mother’s voice wakes me from my reverie. I smile at her, and she continues, “Not everything about the stories are true. Pedro’s child did not die…”

I feel apprehensive when I hear that. Intuitively, I feel that I know what happened to that baby, and who she is. I have mixed feelings of joy and sadness as I discover my identity. No, remorse is not part of my feelings because I understood that as a child, I had no place being with my biological father given the circumstances.  He had no option but to leave me with folks who could give me a real home and emotional security. He, my real mother and I were all victims of this tragedy called war. I may not have known him as a father, but he was always there for me.

“Here, Mia.” Mother hands me a large brown envelop—my real father’s legacy.

The golden necklace with the locket fell out of the envelop. I open the locket because I am curious about the contents of that talisman. In one frame is the miniature photograph of my birth mother. Her beautiful features come through the patina of time. In the other frame, is a younger version of the first picture. It is me when I was fourteen.

I flip through the other papers—legal documents of my real father’s properties and assets that he deeded to me. There is a smaller white envelop that contains a handwritten letter.

 

Beloved Child,

            By now, you already know that I am your real father. My days are numbered and it’s time to clarify this matter of your true identity.

            Your mother Himaya was already pregnant with you when I married her. She was raped by the father of your boyfriend Eduard. I loved your mother very much, so much that I, without any doubt or hesitation, acknowledged and raised you as my own child. I did not have the courage to tell you this when you wanted to marry Eduard because I did not want to destroy your peace of mind with the truth of your origins. Forgive me for asking you to sacrifice your love without giving you the real reason that it would have been a great sin to marry your half-brother.  Your parents and I would have eventually told you the whole truth as a last resort. I know how much you hated my interference in your affair, but thank you for taking me on trust even if it caused you pain.

            We may not have been given the chance to be a real family, but I am grateful that I was always a part of your life.

                                                                                                     Your loving father,

                                                                                                                            Pedro

 

 

My Uncle Pedro was given a hero’s burial with full military honors. I got the flag that covered his casket.  Now, I am back in my room at the dorm. On top of my study desk is the book I was reading before I went home. I read the last paragraph of the story of Pedro Penduko.

 

            “Pedro is battling King Krab on the vast seashore. He is ready to plunge his sharp spear into the approaching beast when its mighty claw rises to clamp on his neck. Pedro is not bitten but his talisman, the gold necklace with a locket, is snapped away from him. He tries to retrieve it. However, the crab moves faster than him and bites him. Having wounded his enemy, the crab returns to his cave. The shore is dyed with Pedro’s blood. A little later, a beautiful fairy appears, restores him to life and brings him to her enchanted kingdom.”

 

I smile at the end of the story. My search for a hero is over—he is my father Pedro. I insert paper into the typewriter carriage and begin my essay.

 

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