Title: May Offense
My friends called me a barriotic person. I guess I am. I prefer tranquil, exotic, uncrowded places. I love the barrio of my birth. After finishing college and passing the board exam, I chose to work at the municipal hall as our town’s accountant. Just to be always feeling at home and at peace. I know I spend my whole life in this very rural and unknown town.
Anao-aon is a dead-end municipality lying along the west coast of Mindanao Island’s northern peak. Ponong is the remotest barrio to the west wrapped around by hills filled with coco trees in the southeast and wild sea in the northwest. Sunset though unspoiled, unhurried, uncommon lure is the only natural magic we behold. It is the sunset that sets time for us; it signifies break, retreat and respite from the hard day’s work. Mothers dutifully prepare supper, children’s intact in the living room facing the TV; fathers if not congregating sit at the door front with cigar on one hand and a bottle of local rum on the other. At around eight in the evening, everyone is locked inside each abode, lights off.
This is habitual, customary, our definition of normal and ordinary.
The deafening calmness and the blinding darkness at night can be experienced for the whole year round. Except the month of May, this May, where silence is sacrificed, customs put on hold. Widespread festivities happened around neighboring barangays, Santa Cruz on May 1 and Virgen de la Paz on May 3 recently concluded. Fiestas to come are Birhen sa Fatima on May 13, San Isidro Labrador on May 15 and Santa Clara on May 17. Largess for this year is at the highest since national election tomorrow is added. It is highly considered in this rural a feast day in May in triennial interval. Balikbayans from around the globe are home to celebrate feasts with the whole consanguineous clan and to support family and friends running for politics. High School and College students from the cities are backed home to spend summer and to vote.
Today, Sunday, May 9 is a festive prelude to Election Day where everyone’s out in the street, queuing along the dirt highway like long-stretch buntings arranged in crooked interval. This afternoon’s view of another beautiful sunset involves malicious excitement and anticipation. The barriofolks are expecting somebody, something. The sun however takes a slow motion in contrast to the heightening eagerness of people for the darkness to arrive. People around me seem willing to step on the remainder of the sun, push it down to render its final peek and then dip into the ocean. Slowly the sun disappears from the horizon leaving hues of orange on its tail, then grey, then dark.
And the whole neighborhood holds its dirt grounds, willing to savor supper of rice and dried fish as toppings at the roadside. No child entertains the horror of night creatures, no elderly fears the night colds, no laborer cares to retire early to regain strength for tomorrow’s toil. No one’s ever visited by sleepiness, ever shivered by every touch of cold sea breeze, ever threatened by the night creatures wandering for prey. Even the dominant chattering of cicadas is overpowered by the crowd’s chitchats and buzzing. The central topic of which is Santa Claus’ coming to the barrio. He is not the Christmas Santa, he does not wear the voluptuous red suits, he is the Santa that only appears every three years. Gifts, in cash and in kind, are expected that Santa will deliver.
Tonight’s joviality is a disturbance to the routine, an interruption of the usual, a violation of normalcy.
My territory is invaded. Two policemen now stationed at the concrete covered checkpoint where I used to wait. Three of our local version of political analysts, my very own father at the center, occupied the nipa-made purok I used to spend my midnights. I drag my feet to farther venue, the little cottage at the middle of the ricefields, to check if it too is taken.
My usual route is crowded. Bystanders, young and old, parents and children, boys and girls packed the dirt main road; more are coming out tugging along wooden stools. I turn right to the pavement that tapered towards the dike that connects to my favorite hut.
The upside nevertheless is that my potential prey has expanded and in wide range. Along the way, I noticed beautiful boys imported from bigger cities now returning to vote for the first time. Especially the nephews of ‘Ya Goring, Nathan who studied in La Salle, just turned 19, so fresh from Manila, I saw him brushing his teeth when I passed their kitchen. He grew so taller and sexier after a year that I saw him around here. The usual out-of-school bystanders are congregating at the front benches of Tiya Delying Store. I heard them chanting, teasing, and swearing when I step on the dike to the hut.
“Thanks goodness!” I exclaimed in relief to find the hut vacant and headed back home.
I reach the main rocky road to find the people frenzy. People flocked around the scattered representatives of Escabal’s political party. The party rumored to win the mayoralty and vice-mayoralty seats. I approached the nearest group and Nong Atoy noticed me, “Sir!” he shouted reaching for me a rolled piece of paper.
I unroll it to find Vote for Councilor Levi Gesta campaign flyer with two hundred pesos in it. “Wow, two hundred for a councilor? How much more is for mayors, vice-mayors and other councilors?” I wonder. I pocket the whole stuff then and hurried home without glancing back.
I hum my way out, wiping off the sprinkled water on my face from brushing my teeth. I head directly to Tiya Delying store, now already empty of drinking bystanders, “Coke, Tiya,” I hand her the 200 peso bill.
“Guess this is you share,” pointing his pouched lips to the other flock crowded by the bystanders. I smiled and nodded.
“Who’s your president, Loy?” I know it! She will really ask me this.
“Gibo, T’ya,” I replied after a long gulp of the coke sakto. I emptied the bottle hurriedly to avoid more questions about who I vote for as congressman, governor, vice governor, board members, mayor and so on.
“Noynoy ako Loy!” she declared.
Our barrio is Escabal’s territory, eight houses west from us lay their lair. The wife Marga who is my distant relative is running for mayor. Her camp promoted Noynoy’s presidency. I shun questions like this; my choice of our town’s future officials is sensitive for me. The other candidate for same sensitive position is another distant relative of mine, the incumbent town mayor, Sonny Olbes. Olbes’ camp campaigned for Villar as their presidential bet. In our local case alone, insurgency is rife, choosing sides is highly delicate; even few weeks after the declaration of the winner. I don’t want to be labeled as for whom and for what. Answering the who and what will beget why and how questions. “Thank you T’ya,” I excused.
I walked absentmindedly the long-stretched dirt road towards west. When I came near Escabal’s residence, I noticed Nathan standing alone under the shadow of the tree. “Hi, Sir!” my all-time crush greeted me. “Musta sir?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” I courteously responded with a slight nod. I continued walking on the opposite lane passing his spot.
“Where to, sir?” he asked again.
“Just a little walk to the sea, I guess.”
“May I join you?” he offered.
Oh my! My mind told me. Astonished, “why not?” I stammered.
“How’s you mom’s campaign?”
“I don’t know. Things getting dirty, I believe. Mom and Dad are building private armies and they seem to go on war.”
“Then you should not be out here. Tonight in fact is very dangerous for your whole family.”
“I need some air. I want some peace. I came here to experience vacation. Not to meddle with election mess.”
Same here, my mind reaffirmed.
We can hear the slamming of waves on the shores.
“Let’s sit down” he offered hands spread gesturing an imaginary cloth to cover the cold wet shores for us to sit on.
“Tired of walking? We better sit down there,” I suggested pointing at my favorite cottage I checked earlier, just few steps back through the dike.
I feel the same because I enjoyed night my whole life here. It is my time to tour around looking for tricks.