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By:  Sassa Ramos

My father usually leaves to home to open his store at the public  market  at around 3 a.m. every day, seven days a week,  rain or shine. It takes  him approximately  seven minutes of brisk walking from our house to  the main square where the  market is.  The subdivision where we live is lined with houses on both sides of a straight road.  There are about 50  houses on either side of the road. From our village,  he has to get  to the  diversion road which is already very near the market.  Perpendicular  to  the entrance of the subdivision, this diversion road is  a busy route by  day for  tricycles, buses, and other automobiles heading north to Manila  or to adjoining subdivisions.   At about 3:10 am my father has just enough time to continue  walking up to the church of the Lady of the Gate atop a hill, down  to and  around the park,  along the  national highway to the provincial  hospital, and back to the market. By quarter to 4, he would  proceed to  unlock his small merchandise store,  arrange his wares, and would be  just in  time to cater to a group  of barrio  women for their daily sari-sari store marketing. The money exchanged by these patrons for goods is very important.

As it signifies pabuenas for the day. If my father   is a bit late,  even by a  few minutes, the customers would go to  another  store,  and obviously  that is a  regrettable loss of income. Waking up early and opening  the store  for business  even before  the sun comes up have become his  daily tasks  for more than 20 years. Although it sounds unsafe,  surprisingly my father  has not experienced  anything unusual,  scary  or life-threatening  from being  out in the streets during early mornings. There was only one incident  of an attempted  hold up by two armed  men who intercepted him on his route to the  market,  but fortunately let him go  when he told  then he wasn’t  carrying  anything valuable,  which was true.  One morning,  he went out of the house at 3 a.m.  as usual. Street  lamps blazed all the way to the division road. The air  was crisp and  mild,  typical of summer. The neighbors were all still in deep slumber  and blessedly  quiet at that unholy hour. There was only the occasional  hooting of birds, and the intermittent  mating calls of noisy cats.  He bid  goodbye to our sleepy dogs,  and carefully locked the gate.  Inside the dark house  he was leaving  behind,  my mother and all three of  us children were asleep.  He peered out into  the chiaroscuro of the inky sky and the light stain  made by the half moon and the street lamps.  He was all alone.  My father tells me now how exhilarating it felt them to be  the only  one awake,  intrepid and absurdly  alive as though the world  was literally  at his feet. He walked  briskly, timing his breathing. His running  shoes squeaked  faintly against the cement pavement.  On the yard of one of the neighbors, there stood a towering mango  tree with branches extending haughtily over  the roadway. In daylight,  this tree is a sight to behold: Strong brown trunk gnarled with age, a canopy of luxurious  green leaves, and, in summer,  branches that are heavy with fragrant green  mangoes. As long as I can remember, it was  an unpopular tree and  children were not  tempted to conquer its straight  and sturdy trunk that only began branching out into  a crown of leaves  about seven feet from  the ground.  In a few  minutes  my father  was right  under the mango tree’s shadow. Suddenly, a powerful  and angry wind exploded above him.  The leaves  and branches trashed and shrieked as though  a violent  typhoons was raging.  His nape felt a  sensation so strange that in a matter of seconds, his  body was covered in goosebumps. He stopped  and suddenly became  aware of his  accelerating  heartbeat and parched throat.  Looking around, he saw that other trees  in the vicinity were very  still: there was no fluke wind anywhere  else. Outside the immediate area where we stood rooted,  everything was calm and quiet. Yet above him,  the fury was astounding. Branches flailed  wildly as though they were caught in the grasp  of some  horrific  power.  Stories like this  were common in the barrios, where trees were more  numerous than houses,  where houses were situated  far away from each  other, and a lone  man out at an  ungodly hour was an easy target for many kinds of supernatural experiences. My father  was familiar  with  stories of Uyog, where engkantos play tricks on human senses.  Maybe  uyog is the product of an overactive  imagination,  who knows . But right there and then, in the midst of the populated subdivision, my  father could not think of any other explanation for what was happening.  In recounting this tale today,  he tells me  of one story of a villager in his native  barrio of Namantao, who was  walking  home slightly  tipsy  one night  and who  had to cross several  out-of-the-way rice fields  to his  house.  There was only the moon to light his steps,  but it was a familiar  path he never had any problems in the past passing that way. That  night however, in the midst of the field  that had grown suddenly quiet, that man could not find his  way out  of the field for hours.  There were lights  in the distance that looked like oil lamps from faraway houses, but  when he tried to reach them  by walking  in their direction, they would  disappear, only to reappear in another part of the  horizon. In the end, the  man took off his shirt and wore it inside out,  and in exhaustion  camped  out on the side of a paddy,  where the soil  was dry, to wait until  morning. He woke up when the sun was up and shining, astonished  to find that his  house was only a few more meters from where he slept.  That early morning, my father refused  to look up  at the furious tree  above him.  He resisted  the temptation to wear his shirt out, as was  the custom to counter uyog according  to old folks. He paused there only  briefly.  My father took a huge gulp  of the cold air, and walked away briskly.  He was tempted to look back,  but finally decided against it.

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