Posted by cool_ambo on March 24th, 2013 | 0 comments
This is a story of a teen-age girl in the mountains of the Philippines. She picks firewood to sell to the village people at the foot of the mountain. Today is Sunday, and Ap-palik is free to go down the mountain to watch the movies.
Red Blue, Red Blue
Ap-palik was never taught how to pray. She knows that there is a God. And it is always in a sitting position, very much similar to the position of her dead grandfather whose body was ceremoniously thrust inside a hole on the mountain even in a sitting position.
For her, the image of God resembles the crudely carved wooden idol which resides mutely at the bend of the trail, also in a sitting position.
As she turned to pay homage to this wooden idol, she once again imagined that this is a strong God because it is able to endure a chipped nose better than she can endure a toothache. Stronger is this God than the God of the lowland people, she thought, because this God is able to withstand the elements. If the lowland gods are really gods, why would they be kept secure inside and out of the rain?
She prayed by imitating the children of the school: genuflecting by knocking her forehead with the palm of her hand, beating her chest with the other, touching both shoulders with her fingers, and bumping her knee on the ground. With both hands stretched to the sky, she said, “Ap-palik is going down the mountain,” in a voice that sounded like a cross between a warning and a demand to the God of Travellers to grant her safe passage.
Glancing at the brother standing beside her, she thrust an upturned palm forward in the begging position and said, “WE are going down the mountain, God of Trees, please protect us as you would protect the gatherers of firewood!”
And then, with more exuberance than piety the third time around, she waved goodbye to her proud parents in the house on top of the hill, and proceeded to go down the trail chanting, “I am going to town.”
The moist earth was squishing through her bare toes when she stopped to shift her skirt so that the pocket swung to the front the way she does before she counts the money. The Catholic Convent gave this skirt to her mother, she remembered, and it was originally white. Her mother is going to buy her a new dress when she gets married to one of her father’s army friends, but that would still be after the next firewood-gathering season. And shoes–it must be fun to wear shoes. Mother says it takes some getting used to. She does not have to wear them on the trail. She can take them off and carry them to make them last longer.
Her brother, Nonoy, was wearing her father’s old army sweater. Ap-palik was wearing her father’s worn-out camouflage army jacket. Father thinks of everything, she thought, as she looked at her wrist watch. He knows she can’t tell time so he painted the face of a clock on Nonoy’s forehead showing the positions of the hands to tell themselves the time when to start back home. The two got carried away, though, and painted dials all over their cheeks and arms and legs until both of them look like graffiti.
Ah, but her father loved the Army. Her name, Ap-palik, was taken from a favorite Army poem—The Charge of the Light Brigade. He taught her how to recite this poem from beginning to end. And this she would recite while going down the mountain, with broken English and all.
“Ap-palik, ap-palik, ap-palik onward,
Into the valley of death
Rode the six hundred.
Forward the Light Brigade,
Charge for the guns, he said,
Not though the soldier knew,
…….not though the soldier..”
She wavered, and she tried again to find the next verse. Nonoy started a chorus with her, and all along the trail, the people that they met could have sworn that the two were reciting a litany to some unknown saint.
When at last they reached level ground, they headed straight for the candy store, buying all they could, including a huge bag of caramelized popcorn. People began to stare at their paint so they went at once to the theater, where the woman in the glass box ignored Ap-palik’s greeting. Who wouldn’t? Even when she smiled, she still looked like a woman on the warpath with all that paint on.
She liked cartoons. Even though the characters were not real people, they were what she wished people to be: simple and colorful and predictable, too.
They must have watched two shows twice. They left before the sad part. She always cried on those. They lingered in town for a while, munching on dried deer jerky which they tore with funny little angry bites. When the wrist watch showed a configuration exactly like that on Nonoy’s forehead they started home, taking the longest route towards the trail.
But then the lights started to come on! This was one thing they wanted to see—Christmas lights, colored lights, all on everybody’s window, flickering, and flashing, and giving color to the trees and the ground and the houses. They stopped at one particular house with bigger lights that dim and brighten slowly. They entered the yard and sat behind the hibiscus hedge, mesmerized by the lights. They called out together, red, blue, red, blue as the lights came on. Failing to recognize the colors green and yellow, they just skipped those, not knowing what to call them. Besides, they like red and blue best.
Pretty soon they fell asleep with their chanting, curled up in each other’s arms, all too happy to fantasize that they are actually living in a color cartoon.
Suddenly, they were awakened by shots and sirens, running feet and barking dogs. The colored lights were shut off. Men came running by away from something. People come chasing them. The two sprang up, but it was too dark to see anything. They came out of the hedge and walked away. The mud squished noisily. Headlights came on and blinded them. They started running away from the lights. A volley of shots were fired. Nonoy was hit and he fell down dead, still clutching Ap-palik’s hand. She tried to raise him but couldn’t. She turned to the lights in disbelief. A second volley was fired, and then a third. On both counts, she felt like two huge arms were pushing her back as the bullets hit. She staggered to maintain her balance in the mud, shifting her feet several times, but the fourth volley slammed her on her back. She tried to get up but her body does not respond. Instinctively, she lifted a hand towards Nonoy’s body. The hand fell limp. The pain went away slowly as numbness overcame her. She looked up for help, up to the flashing police lights, up to the blinking, mesmerizing red-blue police lights, and coughed her last.
Uniformed men milled around to view the bodies. One of them flipped Nonoy’s body over with a foot and said, “It must be a cult–it looks like a cult–yes, the six-o’clock cult.”
“For sure,” replied another. “You would never expect anything good to come out of this people,” pointing to Ap-palik’s body with the red oozing from the nose and through the teeth.
“She was saying something, no?”
“Yes, something like– redblueredblue!!!
EPITAPH: Mountains don’t shed tears…….. they moan and they groan and they blow down branches of trees, a whole lot of branches of trees, for that time when Ap-palik comes to gather firewood.
Epilogue :three days after her interment, and a full seven days after her death, the howling of the winds and the gnashing of the branches never stopped until the elders exhumed the bodies from the mountainside, cremated them,and scattered the ashes to the winds; after which a foreboding silence supplanted everybody’s business and in one awed gesture, all work stopped, as if to catch the faint squishing sounds of Ap-palik’s feet ascending the mountain.
As if on cue, all eyes look up to submit to the gods of the mountains, a new name to implore at firewood gathering time ; the name of AP-PALIK, henceforth the protector of brothers and innocents.
It is said, that while wise men and faithful women deserve the maw of the mountains, the virgins rightfully belong to the gods.