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Mula Kay Tandang Iskong Basahan: Tagpi-tagping Alaala
| From Old Man Isko the Ragseller: A Patchwork of Memories

Kay hirap maging mahirap, kung hindi ka pa manginig sa galit ay hindi ka pa iintindihin.
| It’s so hard to be poor. If you don’t tremble with rage, they won’t try to understand you.

This short story and its translation are part of the notebook Against Forgetting, which features art by Neil Doloricon.


Language
Filipino
English

Mula kay Tandang Iskong Basahan: Mga Tagpi-tagping Alaala 

May mangilan-ngilan nang tao sa terminal ng bus. Mga tao sa kanilang pang-araw-araw na gayak at ayos. Makikinis na estudyante’t empleyado. Mga di halos nagsipaghilamos na bakulera nang bakulera negosyante’t obrero. Lahat ay nagmamadali, pawang naghahabol ng oras sa kani-kanilang destinasyon. Di naman tahimik ang paligid kahit maaga pa. May maririnig na mga usapang personal na di na malinaw kung makarating man sa kapwa pasahero. Buhat sa lamesa ng dispatcher ay mauulinigan ang isang pagtatalong unti-unting lumalakas at tumatawag ng pansin sa lahat ng tao sa istasyon. 

Kilala ko ang boses na iyon, walang duda, kay Tandang Iskong Basahan. Nakikipagtalo na naman siya. Napalakas ng kanyang boses, para tuloy hindi siya. Ang alam ko, si Tandang Iskong Basahan ay hindi basta-basta nagtataas ng boses kahit maraming gustong ipaliwanag sa katalong hindi agad makaintindi. Hindi siya ang klase ng tao na dinadaan sa paingayan ang pakikipagtalo. Kapag lasing lamang siya mariringgan ng ganoong tono. Pero madaling-araw pa lamang para siya makainom. A, siguro’y matindi ang galit, sa loob-loob ko. 

Di pa siya sumasampa sa estribo’y alam na ng mga pasahero ang kanyang ikinagagalit. “Sobra naman ang mga taong ito. Walang konsiderasyon sa kapwa. Akala yata’y ginto ang laman ng sako ko. Gusto ba nama’y tikitan ng mamiso ang dalawang sako. Dalawang sakong ang laman ay basahan na tig-sisiyete-singkuwenta sa bodega aawasan nila ng dalawang piso, titikitan pa ako ng uno nobentaysingko. Ano pa’ng kikitain ko? Aba’y para ko lang silang ipinaghahanapbuhay.”

“Bakit ho ba?” tanong ko nang mapatapat siya sa kinauupuan ko.

“Ay Ato, ikaw pala.” (Ato ang nakagawian niyang itawag sa akin kahit ako’y malaki nang di hamak sa batang inaato-ato niya noong araw.)  Umupo siya sa tabi ko. “Kay hirap maging mahirap. Kung sino ang wala ay siyang ginigipit.  Pilit akong pinagdadagdag ng upa ng konduktor. Ipinaliwanag ko nang basahan lamang ang kargamento ko at hindi naman iyon mabigat.  Ayaw nila akong pakinggan. May patakaran daw ang kompanya na dapat sundin. Ano bang patakaran, ka ko, wala ba silang sariling isip para magpasiya sa mga ganitong pagkakataon? Ngayo’t nasabi’y, lintik na mga katwiran iyan.  Magagalit daw ang manedyer at may-ari ng kompanya pag nalamang may pinalulusot sila. Lintik, iintindihin nila ‘yong manedyer at may-ari, hindi naman nito ipaghihirap ang dalawang pisong aawasin nila sa kabuhayan ko. Saka wala namang patakarang ginawa na hindi pumabor sa gumawa nito.” Huminga muna siya nang malalim. “Kay hirap maging mahirap, kung hindi ka pa manginig sa galit ay hindi ka pa iintindihin.” 

“Kasi ho nama’y ayaw pa kayong mamahinga sa trabaho ninyo, di sana’y wala kayong nakakagalit na konduktor,” sabi ko naman para lamang huwag maputol ang usapan at para na ring pag-alo sa kanya. 

“Hindi naman, Ato, iyon ang problema. Mabasahan o maano man ang kalakal ninuman, basta’t pinagsaksakan ang batas ng kuwarta sa wala, may pagtatalo. Mainam nga’t di nauwi sa gulo ang usapan.” 


Si Tandang Iskong Basahan ay kilalang-kilala sa buong bayan ng Hagonoy. (Maliban siguro sa mga tauhan ng PAMBUSCO. Pero makikilala na siya ng mga ito mula ngayon.) Hindi dahil sa malimit siyang kumatok sa bahay-bahay upang magtanong kung may ipagbibili silang basahan, kundi dahil sa kanyang kakaibang ugali. 

Sabi ni Rubeng Pulitiko, sira daw si Tandang Iskong Basahan. “Papatol ka sa matandang iva’y sira ang tuktok niyan, di ang labas no’y kabila pa ng sira. Kung hindi ba nama’y pinili ang pagiging mahirap, uubra namang umasenso sa buhay.  Wala namang katuturan ang sinasabing prinsipyo. Kung ginusto niyang lumuwag sa kabuhayan pwede naman, pero pinangatawanan ang kagaguhan. Sa mundong ito, hindi na uso ang santo-santo.  Pag hindi ka praktikal, pag hindi gumamit ng ulo, mamamatay kang dilat at humpak ang sikmura.” 

Mangyari, noong araw, kinukuha si Tandang Isko na maging postmaster sa munisipyo ng nanalong meyor na kumikilala sa kanyang kakayahan. 

Tinanggihan niya. 

Hindi naman nabigla ang buong bayan sa balita. Walanq nagtaka sa kanyang pasya, nagsipanghinayang lamang sila sa magandang kapalarang kung nagkataong sa kanila dumapo ay tiyak na dadakmain nila nang walang kagatol-gatol. 

Hindi nga kataka-takang tumanggi ang matanda. Hindi siva nang-amuhan kahit noong kanyang kabataan. Kahit kailan. Hindi siya sanay kumain ng kanyang salita, lalo na ngayong kung tutuusi’y mangungutangan siya ng loob, at sa isang pulitiko pa.

Katwiran niya, “Kung mang-aamuhan ako, masasabi ko ba ang gusto kong sabihin, magagawa ko ba ang gusto kong gawin? Masasabi ko bang santo ang isang magnanakaw dahil lamang binigyan ako ng kabuhayan? Dahil lamang ba sa kaunting kakainin, pati puso ko’t damdamin ay ibibigay ko na sa kanila?” 

Ayon naman kay Nana Sepang Manang, si Tandang Isko ay walang Diyos, kaya nabibilang sa kampon ni Satanas. Kasi, bukod sa ayaw niyang magkursilyo (siya lamang ang hindi nakikiuso sa baryo), siya ang tanging tao rito na malakas ang loob na tumutol sa kinagawian ng simbahan. 

Halimbawa, hindi siya magbibigay kahit isang kusing sa hermanidad para ibayad sa musiko o sa iba pang gastos ng simbahan. Ayon sa kanya, ito’y isang malaking kalokohan. Aniya, “Magdadasal sa daan kaya nagpuprusisyon, tapos susundan mo ng ingay, paano kayo magkakaintindihan? Panay ang hingi, bigyan Mo po kami ng aming kakanin sa araw-araw, ngayon at magpakailanman.  Pag binigyan naman lulustayin lang nang walang kapararakan.”

 Marami pa siyang pangangatwirang ikinaka-hesusmaryosep ni Nana Sepang Manang. “Palibhasa’y may dilang sanga-sanga tulad ng sa ahas, kaya nga di dapat pakinggan,” pangwakas na hatol ni Nana Sepa.

 Bukod sa kanila’y wala na akong kilalang tao na may matinding pagkainis sa natanda. Di man siya igalang ng nakararami, sapagkat hindi naman siya mayaman at hindi rin malinis ang kuwelyo ng kanyang polo, pinagbibigyan naman siya ika nga. Siguro’y dahil alam nito ang sinasabi: at hindi mapagsinungalingan.

Marunong kasi si Tandang Isko, ayon na rin sa baryo. Tanging siya lamang sa mga taga-roon ang nakatuntong ng kolehiyo. Sabi pa’y magpapari raw ito, pero noon daw pinanghihingi ng limos ng simbahan ay tumanggi. Sa halip, ang ginawa’y hinubad ang hindi pa naisusuot na abito. Natural na nagalit ang kanyang mga magulang at namatay raw ang mga ito nang hindi nabawasan ang galit sa anak. 


Lumakad ang sasakyan.

“Matatapos ka na ba sa libro mo?” (Libro ang tawag niya sa kurso.) 

“Hindi na ho ako nag-aaral. Namamasukan na lang ho ako.” 

Isang mahaba-habang “A” ang isinukli niya sa sagot ko, na para bang ibig sabihi’y ganoon ba? Pero ayaw niyang ituloy ang gustong sabihin, siguro’y bilang simpatya sa mga tulad kong nakukuha pang mag-ambisyon ng mas mataas kaysa kayang abutin ng bulsa. Siguro’y inakala niyang mapangarapin pa rin ako tulad ng dati. 

Namatay agad ang usapang kauumpisa pa lamang. Pero iniisip ko siya. Ang mga utang na loob ko sa kanya. Ang mga natutuhan ko sa kanya. Noo’y malimit akong pumunta sa kanyang kubo para magtanong-tanong. Malimit niyang ikuwento sa akin sina Jacinto Manahan, Julian Cruz Balmaceda at Joseng Batute, mga kabungguang- balikat daw niya noong kanyang kapanahunan. Paborito niyang sabihin, “Noon at ngayon ay wala namang ipinag-iba. Lumalaon- bumubuti, sumasama kaysa dati.” Hindi ako interesado sa iba niyang pinagsasabi noon, sapagka’t kung hindi literatura’y kasaysayan ang pakay ko sa kanya. Tungkol sa kanyang prinsipyong sinasabi, lalo na sa pulitika, hindi ko iyon maintindihan, o siguro’y dahil ayaw kong intindihin noon. 

Sa kanya ko rin natutuhan ang kasaysayan ng aming baryo, ang Sta. Elena. Mga bakas ng nawawalang epiko ng katagalugan ang hinahanap ko noon. Tiyak, mayroon tayo nito na maaaring matagpuan pa sa mga liblib na lugar, halimbawa’y sa dulo ng dila ng mga Dumagat, o sa mga dingding ng kuweba sa Tanay, Rizal, o sa puwit kaya ng mga banga sa matatandang libingan ng katutubo sa Batangas. Si Tandang Isko’y maraming nalalaman at mabibigyan niya ako ng ilang punto bilang panimula, nauwi muna sa kasaysayan ng baryo ang paksa. Mapag-uusapan nga ba naman ito nang di muna hahalungkatin ang kasaysayan? Waring sa paghahalughog nito’y mababakas namin ang mga palatandaan. 

Isinalaysay niya ang pinagkaumpisahan ng aming baryo, na ayon sa kanya’y kuwento pang nanggaling sa nuno ng kanyang nuno.  Para ko pang naririnig, aniya, “Matandang baryo itong atin. Kilala ito sa bansag na Marulaw. Pinagdugtong na pangalan ng maalamat na sina Datu Maru at ang magandang si llaw. Alam mo na ang kuwentong ito, ang kanilang pag-iibigang kamuntik nang di natuloy. Hanggang ngayo’y marami pa ring tumatawag na Marulaw sa ating lugar, kahit ito’y ikinakapit na lamang sa dulo ng baryo. Noon, bagong dating lamang ang mga Kastila, may birang na natatatakan ng imahen ng patrona na napulot doon sa may gawing dulo ng baryo, doon sa kinatatayuan ng simbahan ngayon. Dinala ito sa simbahan sa kabayanan. Kinabukasan, wala sa kabayanan ang birang, muling nakita ang nawawala sa unang kinapulutan nito. Nagpaulit-ulit ang pangyayari. Magmula noon, magmula nang makabalita ng milagro ang ating mga ninuno, naging relihiyoso na tayo. Magmula noon, pirmi na tayong nakatingala sa langit at nag-aabang ng di makitang himala. Nang muling yumuko, wala na ang lupa. Ang napalit ay impiyernong bago, at si Bathala, napalitan ng Kastila.

 “Tahimik na bayan itong sa atin. Dito’y walang naging problema ang mga Kastila; ang mga Amerikano at Hapones ay gayundin. Hindi kailan man basta napasangkot sa sigalot ang ating mga kababayan, kahit na noong panahon ni Bonifacio. Siguro’y ito ang dahilan kung bakit wala tayong naiambag na magaling na lalaki sa kasaysayan, di tulad ng San Miguel at Bulacan. Tanging si Amado Hernandez at Jose Panganiban lamang ang alam kong maipagmamalaki sana danga’t inangkin din sila ng ibang bayan. Si Amado’y naging taga-Tundo. Si Panganiban nama’y inangkin ng Daet, Camarines Norte.

 “Sa palagay ko, kung isusulat ang kasaysayan ng Hagonoy, ang masasabi lang ay mayroon tayong makasaysayang sapa. Magpahanggang ngayo’y naririyan pa rin ang Taguang Moro.  Alam mo ba kung nasaan iyon? ‘yong sapa sa Wawang Tibagin, bago lumabas ng Manila Bay. Iyon ang sapang pinagtataguan ng mga sumasalakay sa Maynila noong araw.  May palagay akong ito’y pangkat nina Datu Koralat, at marahil ito rin ang sapang binaybay ng datu ng Hagonoy  noong humingi ng tulong sina Raha Sulaiman sa sumasalakay na mga tauhan ni Legaspi. Sa wari ko’y wala na iyong katuturan sa ating mga kababayan, di kasi pinagkaka-kuwartahan iyon.” Saka siya nagbuntung-hininga. 

Inisip ko ang ilan pa sa mga natutuhan ko sa kanya, ang maaaring labi ng nawawalang epiko, ang “buwan, buwan ako’y bigyan..,” ang “pong pong kasile…,” at iba pang awiting bayan bago dumating ang Kastila sa labi ng taong bayan. 

Muli siyang nagsalita, Iba na ang paksa. Hindi ang kanyang hasahan, hindi ang aking kursong di naipagpatuloy o ang kasaysayan ng Hagonoy, kundi ang kanyang tanging apo at kasama sa buhay. 

“Si Rex ko, kung nagpatuloy siya sa pag-aaral, dapat ay tapos na rin siya.” Napansin kong may kakaibang lungkot sa kanyang salita nang banggitin niya ang pangalan ng apo, pero wala iyong bahid ng panghihinayang. 

“Kilala mo si Rex, hindi ba? Matalino siyang bata. Noong paslit pa siya, kapag inuutusan ko yang bumili ng suka, hindi agad siya nakakauwi. Mangyari, nakakatuwaan siya ng matatanda. Huhulihin, itatayo sa bakod, sa bangko, o kahit sa pasamano ng tindahan. Pagtatalumpatiin siya o kaya’y patutulain. Listong-listo. Nakikini- kinita ko nang magiging Benigno Ramos din siya sa pagtula balang-araw. Kapag nasa bahay nama’y pilit niya akong pagkukuwentuhin. Alam na alam niya ang mga korido. Ang buhay ni Don Juan Tiñoso, ang alamat ni Mariang Alimango. Ngunit ang paborito niya’y ang mahabang tula ni Joseng Batute, ang ‘Sa Dakong Silangan.’” 

Waring napakalinaw pa sa kanya ang panahong iyon. Kung wariin ko, may nabubuong larawan sa kanyang isip na unti-unting binubuhay ng kanyang pananalita. 

“Magdidisiotso si Rex nang makaisip lumayas. Katatapos lamang niya ng high school. Hindi, hindi pala siya naglayas, dahil nagpaalam naman siya noong umalis. Sabi niya’y hahanapin niya ang kanyang ama sa Maynila. Ang totoo’y ako ang may kasalanan sa kanyang pag-alis. Pero kasalanan ko nga ba? Nagkagusto siya nang matindi Kay Lolly, anak ni Huwes Vicente, Kilala mo siya, hindi ba?” 

Tumango ako.

“Nang malamang apo ko siya, ang bata ang ininsulto, hindi ako. Pinagbawalan pa ang anak na ni tingi’y huwag titingin sa apo ng enggo. Ato, masama para sa kanilang angkan ang mabahiran ng angkan ng lasenggo at magbabasahan.   Parang hindi kanin ang kinakain namin. Sabi raw nito kay Rex, ‘Ang mahusay na damit ay sa mahusay na tao. Ang basaha’ y sa magbabasahan. Ang matino’y sa kapwa matino at ang sira’y sa sekopatik maghanap ng kapwa. Natural lamang na masaktan ang kalooban ng bata, ni Rex. Dinamdam niya iyon, pero hindi niya ako pinigil sa pag-inom. Alam niyang iyon lamang ang libangan ko sa buhay. At bakit naman ako iiwas sa pag.-inom? Ano ang masama roon? Hindi naman sa kanila galing ang ibinibili ko ng alak.” 

Saglit siyang tumigil. Tumingin sa labas ng sasakyan na para bang ninanamnam ang mga huling singaw ng lamig-madaling-araw saka nagpatuloy. 

“Pangalawa’y hindi naman ako nananakit o nanggugulo kapag nakakainom. Saksi ko ang baryo. Di ako nangingiming malasing sapagkat wala naman akong sikreto sa buhay o ugali kaya na iniwasang mabunyag. Ang alam ko, maraming tao na kapag nalalasing ay lumalabas sa bibig ang hindi dapat sabihin, at pati natural na kilos at ugaling pinakakatago-tago’y nalalabas din. Kaya nga ba ang ‘mararangal’ na tao’y di naglalasing. At kung magsiinom ma’y piling-pili ang kaharap. Sila, ang mararangal daw. 

“Noong umalis si Rex ko, pinabaunan ko pa siya ng limang piso, at saka ilang tagubilin. Sabi ko sa kanya’y bata pa siya at marami pa siyang dapat maranasan sa buhay para niya masabing husto na siya sa isip. Di ko siya pinangaralan. Di iyon ang magbibigay ng tibay sa kanyang kalooban, kundi karanasan. At sa karanasan, siya ang maghahanap noon, di iyon namamana o nahihingi. Sabi ko, sumige ka, di kita pipigilin. Ikaw ang maglalagay ng guhit sa iyong palad, ikaw ang gagawa ng iyong kapalaran. Pagbalik mo, makikinig ako sa iyong mga kuwento, sa iyong mga natutuhan sa buhay, sa iyong naging kapalaran. Hihintayin ko ang araw na iyon. Hihintayin ko.” 

Alam ko ang bahaging iyon ng kanyang kuwento. llang taon lamang ang pagitan namin ni Rex. At sino nga ba ang hindi nakakakilala sa kanilang dalawa sa baryo maging sa bayan?  Noong kumalat sa baryo ang balita tungkol sa pag-alis ni Rex, lalong inakala ng mga tao na sira nga ang ulo ni Tandang Isko, at sa halip na turuan ng magaling ang apo ay siya pa ang nagsusulsol ng mali. 

“Talagang ulol,” ani Rubeng Pulitiko. 

“Talagang walang maipapayong mainam,” ani Nana Sepang Manang.

“Talaga nga palang sira ang ulo,” ani Huwes Vicente. 

“Di natapos ang isang taon, bumalik siya, ‘di dahil hindi niya kayang buhayin ang sarili, kundi bilang panandaliang pagdalaw niya sa akin. Mula noon, paminsan-minsan na lamang siyang sumusulpot, hanggang sa tuluyan na siyang nawala. Hindi na siya isang paslit sa ayos at pananalita. Gusgusin siya sa ayos. Wala sa kanya ang garbo ng mga kabataang katulad niya kapag umuuwi sa baryo galing ng Maynila. Walang ipinagpaparangalan ang kanyang payak na gayak. Ngunit wala rin iyong bahid ng pagkaalangan o pagkukunwari. Binata na siya sa loob-loob ko. May prinsipyo na siya, nakukuha ko sa kanyang pananalita. Kay laki ng kanyang ipinagbago, pati ang kanyang maiitim na mata, kung tingnan ko’y parang nagiging bolang apoy na may sumusulak na liwanag. Kapag siya’y nagpapaliwanag, natitiyak kong hindi niya ako nakakalimutan. 

“Ang guhit ng kapalarang sinasabi ko sa kanya’y di sa palad kundi sa kanyang noo natatak. Mahabang pilat na kamuntik nang umabot sa kanyang sentido. Iniisip ko kung paano iyong napalagay roon. Siguro, tulad ng malimit mangyari, may magugutom, may magigipit, may gagawa ng paraan. Minsa’y makalulusot, minsa’y magkakabiso, at may masasabit. Magkakaroon ng masasaktan, at magkakatatak ang kriminal. Iyon ang kanyang magiging binyag. Iyon ang kanyang magiging sagisag. At siya’y magiging pusakal. At siya’y magiging bagong tao. Ngunit hindi iyon ang nangyari o mangyayari kay Rex. Ang kanyang piniling pananagutan ang dahilan ng pilat. Aksidente ang dahilan. Kagagawan iyon ng isang nalalabuang kapwa mahirap, pero hindi kapanalig, ng isang handang manakit sa ngalan ng kuwarta, ‘di ng prinsipyo. Kahit ang pananakot at pananakit ay nagiging hanapbuhay din. Di rin sila masisisi.” 

Saglit siyang tumigil sa pagkukuwento. Samantala’y pumapasok pa ang nalalabing lamig ng madaling-araw sa bintana ng rumaragasang sasakyan. Malalim ang iniisip ni Tandang Isko nang tingnan ko sa mukha. Nakatiim ang bagang. Pinipigil ang iba pang sasabihin. Saka siya nagpatuloy. 

“Alam ni Rex ang kanyang ginawa. Alam niyang kahit na paano’y sasaktan din ako sa aking pag-iisa sa katandaan, ngunit alam din na maikli ang buhay at maraming bagay na dapat gawin. Hindi isang Tandang Isko lamang ang basahan sa lipunan.

“Kung may larawan siyang iingatan ko sa aking isip, iyon ay ang kanyang kamusmusan. Natatandaan ko noon pa siya. Noong minsa’y buong ingat niyang binasag ang isang itlog ng manok na ayaw pisain ng inahin. Dahan-dahan at buong ingat niya itong binasag upang di masaktan ang munting bagay sumisiyap sa loob nito. Isinama niya ang kiti sa iba pang inakay ngunit tinangkang pulukin ng inahin, kaya dagli niyang inilayo. Gumawa siya ng isang maliit na salay. Inalagaan niya ang kiti. Inilayo sa inahin, daga at pusa. Isinasama maging sa loob ng kulambo. Lumakas ang mahinang kiti, nabuhay at lumaki. Naging isang talisaing di umuurong sa kasabong. Kay layo na ng munting karanasan ng aking apo, ng aking si Rex, ngunit nakikita ko pa rin ang inahin, ang mga kiti at ang talisain.” 

Tumigil sa pagkukuwento si Tandang Isko, pero nadarama ko ang pamimigat ng kanyang mga mata. Sa labas ng bus, nababanaagan na ang mga unang silahis ng umaga. Marami nang taong naghahanda sa kanilang gagawin. Habang tumataas ang araw ay lalong kumakapal ang mga tao. Sa isip-isip ko, sa hindi pa nagigising, taeng manok ma’y di sila aabutin. 


Muli kaming nagkita ni Tandang Iskong Basahan nang pagsadyain ko ang kanyang kubo. Hindi ako naparoon para muling magtanong sa bakas ng nawawalang epiko. Naparoon ako para makiramay. 

Sa pinto pa lamang ng kanyang kubo’y umaalingasaw na ang masangsang na amoy ng mga koronang kalatsutsing nakikipaggitgitan sa mga nagpapagaraang kandelero. Mga naglalakihang ilaw na lalong nagpaliit at nagpatingkad sa kakulangan ng pamamahay. Sa gitna ng pilit na karangyaang yaon ay isang pangkaraniwang ataol. At sa pinakaubod ng lahat ng ito’y si Rex, tikom ang bibig, walang kamalay-malay sa kanyang iniwang katawan. 

Nagmano ako kay Tandang Isko, saka halos pabulong kong sinabi, “Nakikiramay ho ako.” May nasilip akong siwang sa kanyang bibig, ‘di ko matiyak kung iyo’y salitang ‘di maituloy o isang alanganing ngiti. Lumapit ako kay Rex. Nakita ko ang “guhit ng kapalarang” ikinukuwento ni Tandang lsko. Parang nakita ko rin ang mga kiti, ang inahin at ang mahinang kiting naging talisain; lamang, ang talisain niya’y di na makalalaban pa.

Namasyal ang aking mga mata sa palibot, sa loob at labas ng ataol, sa mga ilaw, sa mga bulaklak, sa mga lasong nasusulatan ng piping pakikiramay. At sa kurdong nakalawit sa may ulunan ng ataol, namumutiktik ang kurdon sa kumpol ng langaw. Mga natutulog na langaw na walang pakialam sa kanilang paligid. Ni hindi nila alam na ang kanilang dinadapua’y nakamamatay na koryente, danga’t nababalutan. Mga langaw na siguro’y nahapo sa nagdaang maghapon sa paghahanap ng bulok na madadapuan. Sa isip ko, di nga marunong makipagluksa ang mga langaw. 

May ibang taong dumating. Nanaog ako ng bahay. 

Nasa lupa ang karamihan ng nakikipaglamay. Sa umpukan ng ilang kababata’t kaibigan ako humalo. Nang magyayaang maghuwego de prenda, nanood na lamang ako sa isang tabi. Hindi ako marunong kumanta, mahirap nang maparusahan, malaking kahihiyan iyon para sa akin. Sa gitna ng pagpapalipad ng ibon ng hari, na “lumipad dumapo” sa kung saan-saang bulaklak at puno, ay inisa-isa ko ang iba pang kakilala. 

Higit sa lahat, naroroon din pala si Rubeng Pulitiko. Nakikiramay, nakikipagkamay, kumakaway at kung magtatayo’y parang magtatalumpati nang magtatalumpati. Pati si Nana Sepang Manang ay naroroon din, kaumpok naman ng mga katandaang babae, nakaitim, nakakalmen at nagbububulong. Hinahanap ko si Huwes Vicente ngunit wala pati ang kanyang uri sa pagkakataong iyon. 

Sa pagitan ng dalit, dasal at kantahan, narinig ko ang maraming usapan. 

“Nahuli na ba ang kriminal?” 

“Paano mahuhuli ‘yo’y ni anino nito’y walang nakakita.” 

“Paano ngayon? Ganoon na lang ba?” 

“Anong paano, aber me magagawa ka ba?” 

“Di magpahinog ng bukol. Kunsintidor kasi si Tandang Iskong Basahan.” 

Sa umpukan naman nina Nana Sepa ay ganito ang usapan. 

“Sanggol pa lang ‘yang si Rex ay kinakabahan na ako. Masamang sinyal ang kanyang mata. Pang-anghel iyon at di pantao, ‘ika nga’y di para sa lupa.”

“Sino ba naman ang mag-aakalang ‘di agad iyan kukuhanin ng ina?  Bihira sa ulilang ganyan ang ‘di agad sumasakabilang buhay.”

“Sumalangit nawa ang kanilang kaluluwa.” 

“Hesus, amen, kaawaan mo kami.” 

“Kawawa namang bata, nauna pang nakita ang liwanag kaysa ina. Nang lumaki nama’y di nakatikim ng ginhawa sa buhay.”

“Ano ba talaga ang nangyari?” 

“Anong ano? Di binaril ng kung sinong Hudas. Kasama-sama siya ng mga welgista sa pabrika ng kamiseta sa Malabon. Banggain ba naman ang tapayan, sino’ng mababasag?” 

Si Tandang Isko’y di rin mapakali sa itaas. Nang manaog ay ‘di kape ang hinanap kundi alak. Nang maraanan niya ‘ko’y nagyaya sa umpukan ng kanyang mga kabarkada sa bote na kung bansagan nila’y De Curiae ni San Miguel de Cuatro Cantos. 

“Pasalubungan ang bagong dating,” ani Ka Teban, ang tanggero, sabay abot ng tagay kay Tandang Isko. Walang anuman niya itong “sinisid.” Sumunod ang sa akin. Di ko madiretso. Kantiyaw ni Ka Teban, “Ganyan talaga ang alak, sa simula’y mapait at mainit. Sa alak, ang mahalaga’y ang espiritu kaya’t kailangang kalimutan ang lasa.” 

Umikot ang tagayan. At umikot pa nang umikot. Umiikot na rin pati pakiramdam ko. Si Tandang Isko ma’y lasing na rin, nagsasasalita na naman siya. Maingay ang umpukan, sala-salabat ang palitan ng katwiran, pero nangingibabaw ang boses ni Tandang Isko. 

“Lumalaon, bumubuti, sumasama kaysa dati. Mahal ng Diyos ang mahirap, sabi ng pari. Kaya pala nang gawin ng Diyos ang mundo, laksa-laksang mahirap ang kanyang ginawa. Pero huwag tayong malungkot, mahal niya tayo, lalo na si Rex ko, mahal niya, kaya niya kinuha agad. Kasi, si Rex ay maka-mahirap, maka-kapwang manggagawa. 

“Si Rex, si Resurreccion Lakan-Ilaw, anak sa pagkakasala ng kanyang ina. Ang kanyang ina, namatay na, ipinagpalit ang sarili sa anak. Resurreccion, muli raw pagkabuhay. Ng alin? Nasaan ang muli kong binuhay? Pinatay nila. Ngayo’y gusto nila akong magbago. Paano? Bakit? Pinutol nila ang aking ugat, binali ang aking sanga, at ngayo’y gusto nila akong mamunga? Rex, bakit ganito ang mundo? Naririnig mo ba? Bakit ganito ang mundo?” 

Nakatulugan ko ang harapan, ang huling gabi ng paglalamay. 

Noong libing, walang umiiyak para sa namatay. Nang ipapasok na sa nitso si Rex, si Tandang Isko’y malayo sa kaguluhan. Nakatayo siya sa gitna ng mga liling ligaw; nakatitig sa kawalan, habang ang mga puting bulaklak ay waring mga kaluluwang ligaw na nakikiming dumikit sa kanyang katauhan.

Ikatlong Gantimpala (co-winner), Maikling Kuwento, Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature 1975.


From Old Man Isko the Ragseller: A Patchwork of Memories 

Translated from Filipino

A few people are now at the bus terminal. Folks in their everyday clothes and demeanor. Smooth-skinned students and employees. Fishmongers—merchants and laborers alike—who have hardly washed their faces. Everyone is in a hurry, seemingly racing with time to get to their destination. The place is no longer quiet even though it’s early. We catch conversations, unclear whether the message still gets across from one passenger to another. From the dispatcher’s table, we overhear an argument gradually becoming heated and attracting everyone’s attention.

I recognize that voice, no doubt, it’s Old Man Isko the Ragseller. He’s arguing with someone again. His voice is too loud, as if it’s not him at all. What I know about Old Man Isko the Ragseller is that he raises his voice for nothing even if he wants to explain a lot of things to whichever dense person he’s arguing with. He’s not the kind who wins a disagreement with the loudness of his voice. That sound only comes out of him when he’s drunk. But it’s too early in the day for him to have been drinking. Ah, this time maybe, I think to myself, he’s really mad. 

The passengers already know what he’s furious about before he could even set foot on the bus steps. “These people are too much. No consideration for others. They think my sacks are stuffed with gold. They want to charge me a peso each for two sacks. Two sacks filled with rags that cost seven-fifty a piece at the warehouse, and they want to charge me extra two pesos along with a one ninety-five bus ticket. How much will I earn then? Why, it’s as if I’m employing them.” 

“What’s the matter, sir?” I ask when he turns to where I’m sitting. 

“Ay, Ato, it’s you.” (He still calls me Ato even though I’m no longer the little child he used to call Ato back in the day.) He sits next to me. “It’s so hard to be poor. The one who has nothing is the one being extorted. The conductor demands that I pay more. I already explained to them that my cargo of rags isn’t even heavy. They won’t listen to me. The company has rules that need to be followed. What rules, I ask, don’t they have their own minds to decide in this kind of situation? The hell is that reasoning. The manager and the owner would not be pleased if they let it pass. Hell, they’re thinking about the manager and the owner, but the two pesos they want to take from my livelihood won’t leave them broke. Besides, there are no rules that don’t favor those who made them.” He takes a deep breath. “It’s so hard to be poor. If you don’t tremble with rage, they won’t try to understand you.”

“Because you still don’t want to retire, that’s why,” I say just to keep the conversation going and to appease him. “Otherwise you won’t be butting heads with bus conductors.” 

“That is not really the problem, Ato. Whether it’s rags or whatever trade it is, when the law of money is forced on us who have nothing, there will be disputes. Good thing it didn’t take a turn for the worse.”


Old Man Isko the Ragseller is well-known in the town of Hagonoy. (Maybe not to the staff of PAMBUSCO. But they will know who he is from now on.) Not because he often knocked on doors to ask if they had rags to sell to him, but because of his peculiar ways.

According to Ruben the Politician, Old Man Isko the Ragseller is a loon. “You pay attention to that old man when his screws are loose, then you yourself are crazy. Choosing to be poor when he could succeed in life. What they call principles isn’t worth anything. If he wanted his life to be comfortable he could have had it, but he held on to his madness. In this world, playing saint is no longer fashionable. When you’re not practical, when you don’t use your head, you’ll die with your eyes bulging and your guts sunken.”

It happened that, back in the day, Old Man Isko was offered the job of a postmaster at the municipal hall by the elected mayor who believed in his abilities. 

He declined. 

The news didn’t take the town by surprise. No one wondered why he made the decision, but they rued the good fortune that, if by chance landed on their lap, they would grab without a second thought.

That the old man would decline was expected. He never worked for anyone even when he was young. Never. He’s not in the habit of eating his words, especially considering that he would owe someone, and no less a politician. 

He reasoned, “If I work for someone, will I be able to say what I want to say? Will I call a thief a saint just because they gave me a job? Will I give my own heart and mind away to them for a meal?”

According to Nana Sepa the Devout, Old Man Isko knows no God, therefore he’s a vassal of Satan’s. This is because, apart from refusing to undergo a short course in Christian doctrine (he’s the only one in the barrio who didn’t ride the fad), he’s the only one here who has the nerve to defy the customs of the church. 

For instance, he doesn’t give a single centavo to the sisters to pay the musician or any of the church’s other expenses. It’s a huge farce, according to him. He used to say, “You pray on the streets during a procession, and then you follow it with noise, how could you even hear each other? You constantly demand, Give us oh Lord our daily bread, now and for eternity. And when you do receive, you only waste it on nonsense.” 

He has other views that made Nana Sepa the Devout mutter jesusmaryjoseph. “He has a forked tongue like that of a snake, that is why no one should listen to him,” was Nana Sepa’s final verdict. 

Apart from them, I don’t know anyone who is so infuriated with the old man. Even though many don’t regard him with esteem, since he didn’t have money and the collar of his shirt wasn’t clean, they still tolerated him, as they say. Perhaps because he knows what he’s talking about: and they couldn’t prove him wrong.

Old Man Isko is wise, that is—even folks in the barrio know it. He’s the only one from there who attended college. Some say he was supposed to become a priest, but when the church tried to ask him to collect alms, he refused. Instead, he removed the habit he hadn’t even yet put on. Naturally his parents were upset and went to the grave still angry with their son. 


The bus starts. 

“Will you be done reading your book?” (He calls a degree a book.)

“I’m not studying anymore. I’m just working now, sir.”

A lengthy “Ah” was his response to my answer, as if to say, is that so? But he didn’t say what he wanted to say, perhaps in sympathy for someone like myself who managed to aspire for something higher than what my own pocket could afford. Maybe he thought I was still a dreamer like before. 

The conversation that just began quickly perishes. But I’m still thinking of him. The depth of gratitude I have for him. The things I learned from him. Back then I often went to his hut to ask him about anything. Many times he told me stories about Jacinto Manahan, Julian Cruz Balmaceda, and Joseng Batute with whom he had rubbed shoulders back in his time. He liked to say, “There’s really no difference between then and now. Things grow old, improve, or turn worse than what was before.” I wasn’t so interested in some of what he was saying back then, because if not for literature, I went to him for history. Regarding the principles he pronounced, I didn’t understand them, or perhaps back then I didn’t want to understand. 

It is also from him that I learned about the history of our barrio, Sta. Elena. In those days, I was searching for the fragments of lost Tagalog epics. For certain, we could still find those in remote places, such as the tip of Dumagat’s tongue, or on the walls of caves in Tanay, Rizal, or at the bottom of jars in the ancient graveyards of natives in Batangas. Old Man Isko knew so much and he would give me pointers to begin with, but the topic at the moment stayed with history. Could we really talk about such things without rummaging through history? Perhaps in our search we would be able to trace the signs. 

He narrated our barrio’s legend, which according to him had been passed on by the ancestor of his ancestor. It was as if I could still hear it, he said. “Ours is an old barrio. It was known by the name of Marulaw. The merged names of the fabled Datu Maru and the beautiful Ilaw. You already know this story, their love that was an almost-failure. Many still call our place Marulaw, even to refer only to the outskirts of the barrio. Before, when the Spaniards had just arrived, a veil imprinted with the image of the patron was found in the endmost corner of the barrio, where the church stands today. It was brought to the town’s church. The following day, the veil disappeared, and was found again in the archipelago where the town lies. This happened again and again. After our ancestors heard of the miracle, we became religious. Since then, we have always gazed up at the sky and waited for some unfounded miracle. By the time we next looked down, the ground had disappeared beneath us. In its place, a fresh hell, Bathala replaced by the Spaniards. 

“Ours is a quiet town. The Spaniards didn’t encounter problems—the same with the Americans and the Japanese. Not once did our townsfolk participate in conflict, even during Bonifacio’s time. Perhaps this is why we did not produce a great man in history, not like San Miguel and Bulacan. I only knew of Amado Hernandez and Jose Panganiban as men that we could have claimed as our own, but they adopted other towns. Amado became a local of Tondo. Panganiban was embraced by Daet, Camarines Norte. 

“I think, if we write the history of Hagonoy, we could only claim that we have a historic stream. Until now the Taguang Moro is still around. Do you know where it is? That stream in Wawang Tibagin, before going into Manila Bay. Those who raided Manila back in the day hid in that stream. My conjecture is that it was Datu Koralat, and maybe it was the same stream that the datu of Hagonoy traversed when the camp of Raha Sulaiman sought the help of Legaspi’s charging troops. I feel that this is all meaningless to our countrymen, since we can’t make a profit out of it.” Then he would take a deep breath.

I recall the other lessons I picked up from him, what possibly remained of the lost epic, the “each month, I may be given. . . ,” the “pong pong kasile. . . ,” and other folk songs before the Spaniards were on everyone’s lips. 

He begins to talk again. A different subject. Not his rags, not the degree I dropped out from or the history of Hagonoy, but his only grandchild and companion in life. 

“My dear Rex, if he only continued his education, he would have also graduated by now.” I noticed an unusual sadness in his voice when he mentioned his grandchild’s name, but no trace of regret. 

“You know Rex, right? He’s a smart kid. When he was little, whenever I asked him to go buy some vinegar, he wouldn’t come back immediately. It happened that the adults were delighted with him. They would take him, make him stand on a fence, on a stool, or even on the ledge at a grocery store. They would make him deliver a speech. He was always ready. I could tell that someday he could become another Benigno Ramos of poetry. At home, he would ask me to tell him stories. He knew the korido. The life of Don Juan Tiñoso, the legend of Maria Alimango. But his favorite is a long poem by Joseng Batute, ‘In the East Side.’”

It seems that moment in time is still so clear to him. You could imagine the pictures forming in his mind, slowly coming to life in his words. 

“Rex was about to turn eighteen when he ran away. He’d just finished high school. No, not ‘run away,’ because he asked permission to leave. He said he was going to look for his father in Manila. The truth is it was my fault why he left. But was it really my fault? He had fallen hard for Lolly, the daughter of Judge Vicente. You know him, right?”

I nod in agreement. 

“When they found out he was my grandchild, they insulted the boy, not me. The judge forbade his daughter to even lay her eyes on my grandchild. It was as though we didn’t eat the same food as them. He had said to Rex, ‘Good clothes are for good people. Rags are for those who collect them. The sane ones are for those who are likewise sane, and the deranged should look for a partner in a psychopath.’ Of course my boy Rex felt hurt. He took it hard, but he didn’t stop me from drinking. He knew that it was the only pleasure I have in life. Why would I stop drinking? What’s wrong with it? The money I pay for liquor is not from them.” 

He pauses. He looks out as though he was relishing the last cool gust of early morning air, then he continues. 

“Secondly, I don’t hurt other people or sow trouble when I drink. The barrio is my witness. I have no problems about getting wasted because I have no secrets in life nor any unseemly behavior that I’m afraid to reveal. And I know many people that, when intoxicated, spit out things that should not be said, and even their real self and attitude that they have hidden so well eventually come out. That is why ‘dignified’ people don’t get drunk. If they ever drink, it’s only among a selected few. The so-called dignified. 

“When my dear Rex left, I gave him five pesos, and some advice. I told him that he was still young and has so much to experience in life before he could consider himself of age. I did not lecture him. That was not what would toughen him up, but experience would. And experience, he would have to seek it, it is not something he could inherit or ask for. I said, go ahead, I won’t stand in your way. You will have to carve the lines on your palm, you will have to determine your own lot. When you return, I will listen to your stories, what you learned from life, your fate. I will wait for that day. I will wait.”

I already know that part of his story. Rex and I are only a few years apart in age. And who in the barrio, even in town, doesn’t know about the two of them? When news of Rex’s departure spread in the barrio, people believed even more that Old Man Isko had really lost his wits, that instead of teaching his grandchild the right thing he even encouraged him to go astray. 

“Truly a fool,” said Ruben the Politician. 

“Truly has nothing good to impart,” said Nana Sepa the Devout. 

“Truly sick in the head after all,” said Judge Vicente. 

“After a year, he returned, not because he couldn’t survive on his own, but because he wanted to visit me. Since that time, he would hardly make an appearance here, until he completely disappeared. He was no longer a little child in his ways and speech. He was unkempt. He didn’t have the style of other youths like him who came home to the barrio from Manila. His plain appearance honored nothing. But he also bore no signs of insecurity or pretention. He was now a young man, I thought to myself. He held his own beliefs, I could tell from the way he spoke. How much he had changed, even his dark eyes, when I gazed at him they became like balls of fire seething with light. Whenever he had to reason with anyone, I knew that he would think of me. 

“The lines of destiny, I said to him, are not on his palms but etched on his forehead. A long scar that spread nearly across his temples. I wondered how it got there. Perhaps, as is often the case, some will go hungry, others will run out of luck, some will find a way out. Sometimes some get away with it, sometimes others fail, and some get incriminated. Some will get hurt, and the criminal will be marked. This would be his baptism. This would be his badge. And he would be a felon. And he would become a new person. But it was not what happened or would happen to Rex. The reason for the scar was what he chose to be liable for. The reason was an accident. It was the deed of another vagrant, but not an ally, the act of someone ready to injure in the name of cash, not by principle. Even intimidation and inflicting pain have become a livelihood. We can’t really blame them.” 

He stops telling the story. Meanwhile, what is left of the dawn’s cool breeze flows through the window of the speeding vehicle. Old Man Isko is deep in thought when I look at his face. His jaw clenches. Stopping himself from saying more. And then he begins again. 

“Rex knows what he has done. He knows that I could get hurt in my solitude as an old man, but he knows that life is short and there are so many things that need to be accomplished. I am not the only Old Man Isko that society treats like a rag. 

“If there’s a memory of him I hold dear, it would be his childhood. I could still remember how he was before. Once, he very gingerly hatched a mature egg that a hen didn’t want to break out of its shell. Slowly and carefully he cracked it open so as not to harm the little thing sighing from within the shell. He put the fledgling along with the other chicks but the hen tried to pick it up, so he took it away. He built a small nest. He took care of the chick. Spared it from the hen, from felines, and rats. He even took it to bed with him under his mosquito net. The weak bird grew stronger, it lived on and thrived. It turned into a rooster that did not back down in the cockpit. How distant my dear Rex’s young experience has become, but I could still see the hen, the chicks, and the rooster.”

Old Man Isko ends his story, but I could sense the weight in his eyes. Outside the bus, the first shafts of morning light refract. There are people getting ready for work. As the sun rises, the crowd becomes denser. In my mind, those who haven’t woken up yet, they wouldn’t even get shit.


I meet Old Man Isko again when I visit his hut. I don’t come to inquire about the trail to a lost epic this time. I come to mourn with him. 

The pungent smell of the crown of plumerias jostling with fancy candlesticks greets me at the doorway. Large light fixtures make the house look even smaller, its scantiness glaring. Amid this strained abundance is an ordinary casket. And at the core of it all is Rex, lips shut, looking innocent in the body he left behind. 

I take Old Man Isko’s hand and hold it to my forehead, and almost in a whisper I say, “My condolences, sir.” I notice the gap forming between his lips, and I can’t tell if it’s a word he’s reaching for or a tentative smile. I go to Rex. I see the “line of destiny” that Old Man Isko told me about. It’s as if I’m also seeing the chicks, the hen, and the weak fledgling that grew into a rooster; but this rooster won’t be able to fight anymore.

My eyes sweep across the place, the inside and exterior of the casket, the lights, the flowers, the ribbons on which mute condolences are scribbled. And the cord dangling near the head of the casket, the cord swarmed with flies. Sleeping flies with no regard for their surroundings. They don’t even know that they are stepping on, wrapping themselves around, lethal electricity. Flies that perhaps are exhausted in the past day looking for something rotten to land on. These flies, I think to myself, don’t know how to mourn.

Other people have also come. I go outside.

Many of those attending the wake are sitting on bare soil. I join a group of childhood friends and acquaintances. When they decide to play juego de prenda, I merely observe on the side. I can’t sing, so I don’t want to get “punished,” as that would be a great shame. In the middle of flying the king’s bird, which “flies and lands” on whichever flower and tree, I manage to tell apart the people I know in the crowd.

Among the mourners, there is Ruben the Politician. Offering condolences, shaking hands, waving at people and appearing as though he’s about to give a lengthy speech. Nana Sepa the Devout is also there, grouped with older women, dressed in black, donning a scapular and muttering. I look for Judge Vicente but not even his relatives are around.

Amid the sharing of hymns, prayers, and songs, I overhear conversations. 

“Has the culprit been caught?”

“How could that be when no one even caught a glimpse of his shadow.”

“What will happen now? Is that it?”

“What do you mean ‘what’—why, will you be able to do something about it?”

“The apple never falls far from the tree. Old Man Isko the Ragseller was too tolerant.”

In Nana Sepa’s group, this was the talk: 

“Ever since Rex was a baby, I’ve already felt nervous. His eyes were ominous. Those are of an angel’s and not of a human, as they say, not meant to be on this earth.”

“Who would have thought the mother wouldn’t get him soon? It’s rare for orphans like that who don’t die right away.”

“May his soul go to heaven.”

“Jesus, amen, have mercy on us.”

“Poor child, he saw the light first before his own mother. And when he was growing up, he didn’t experience some relief in life.”

“What really happened?”

“What do you mean? He was shot by some Judas. He was among the protesters at the T-shirt factory in Malabon. Who wouldn’t break after smashing against the proverbial jar?”

Old Man Isko is still restless upstairs. When he comes down, it’s not coffee he looks for but drink. When he passes by me, he invites me to join his drinking buddies, who are known as De Curiae of San Miguel de Cuatro Cantos. 

“Let’s welcome the newcomer,” says Ka Teban, the one holding the tagay, handing over the shot to Old Man Isko. He swigs it down like it’s nothing. Then my turn comes. I struggle to drink the tagay in one go. Ka Teban chides, “That’s the thing with alcohol, bitter and warm at the start. With alcohol, the spirit is what’s important, so one should not mind the taste.”

The tagay makes rounds. And more rounds. My senses are turning. Old Man Isko is also drunk, he’s talking again. The group is rowdy, the exchange of arguments tangle up, but Old Man Isko’s voice rises above the din. 

“Things grow old, improve, or turn worse than what was before. God loves the less fortunate, says the priest. No wonder when God created the earth, he made poor people in droves. But let us not fret, he loves us, especially my dear Rex, he loves him so much, he took him right away. That’s because Rex fights for the poor, for his fellow workers. 

“Rex, he is Resurreccion Lakan-Ilaw, child of his mother’s indiscretion. His mother, she already passed away, swapped herself for her child. Resurreccion, to live again, they say. Whose life? Where is the one I supposedly resurrected? They killed him. Now they want me to change? How? Why? They cut off my roots, snap my branches, and now they want me to bear fruit? Rex, why is the world like this? Can you hear me? Why is the world like this?” 

I fall asleep somewhere at the front on the wake’s last evening. 

During the funeral, no one weeps for the dead. When Rex is put into the niche, Old Man Isko is far from the chaos. He stands among wild lilacs, staring into nothingness, while the white flowers seem like lost souls trying to press closer onto him.

“Mula Kay Tandang Iskong Basahan,” which won third place (co-winner), Maikling Kuwento (Short Story), for the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1975, was first published in Utos ng Hari: at iba pang kuwento (The King’s Orders and other stories), New Day Publishers, 1981.