Huwebes, Mayo 5, 2011

An Aswang in my Midst Chapter 2: The Town of Calatrava

Credits to story owner: Aswang Story | Blogger

It was a cool morning in Calatrava, Tablas Island, Romblon. My staff were still preparing for breakfast and I was at the porch of our staff house. The area where I was was dominated by coconut trees. The very reason that I was in Romblon - to set up a virgin coconut mill. It was your usual provincial atmosphere. There were just a few people passing by. There were goats, dogs and other domestic animals moving around. The air was so clean. So sweet. You can take a deep breath and savor that health intake of natural gas into your system.

My staff, Pepito, was the best cook in town. He was also my Field Supervisor in-charge of operations. He asked me if I preferred any particular meals. I told him that I would eat anything - anywhere. He laughed. He said, "Sir, here in Romblon, you don't just eat anywhere or with anyone". That made me pause as I looked at him while he was frying fish for breakfast. I asked, "And why is that? What if we were caught in the middle of the road during our trips from one town to another? What would we eat? Coconuts?". Pepito said, "Ha ha ha, I think sir, we would be better off with coconuts". Pepito placed our breakfast properly on the table and called Lyn to join us. Lyn was our Liaison person who was responsible for talking with the town folks and convince them to sell to us their coconut harvest.

I sat on one side of the table with that kind of jolly mood being my first breakfast with two of my staff who I hardly knew and who hardly knew me. I asked where my other staff member, Lina, was. Pepito said that she was in Santa Cruz which was in the far south of the island handling some business matters there for the while. Lyn said that Lina will be back within the week to join us.

As we were eating our meal, I couldn't help but continue our topic of "eating anywhere". I said that I am not a picky person. I told them that I am not sensitive to what I ate so long as it was not spoiled. Pepito said, "Sir, you don't know people in Romblon", as he looked at Lyn with a sinister smile. Lyn said, "Sir, believe Pepito. He was born and raised here". So I asked, "What Pepito? What do I have to know?", as I swallowed a spoon-full of food. Pepito went, "Sir, people know that you are not from around here the moment you stepped into our port. They know that you are not a "Romblomanon" (a citizen of Romblon) despite your effort to look as local as you can. Sir, you do not just eat anywhere. There are people here who mix food with somethings you shouldn't be eating yourself.". Pepito laughed after that. And as I was chewing on my meal, Pepito continued; "Have you heard stories about Aswangs?". That stopped me. I looked at my two staff who seemingly were playing a joke on me as they laughed at how I looked after Pepito's last phrase. After a sip of my chocolate drink, I said, "Pepito, get real. This is the age of the internet. The age of hi-tech cellular phones and cyberspace. This is the year 2008. Those actors and actresses who starred in "Aswang" movies are either too old or dead". Lyn replied, "Sir, maybe in Manila. Not in Romblon! Look around you. See how backward things are? You couldn't even see a car pass by every 10 minutes. Ha ha ha." Lyn's statement only drew curiosity deeper into the topic. I went, "What do they mix? Poison?". Pepito was laughing again as if I was a naive kid he was teaching first grade math to. "Sir, they mix human parts!".

I was laughing out loud. I couldn't believe what they were telling me. I said, "Pepito, that is pure bullshit. You have to do better than that. Let's wrap it up. This is just too much folklore for me for breakfast!". Pepito replied, "As you said so, Mr. Vice President!". I was giggling as I went back to my room to prepare for my morning bath. It was only 6:10am. We will start working at 7:00am. Our work station is only a block away from where we lived. Lyn was cleaning the table while Pepito was relaxing at the bench looking at me with a smile. "Pepito, we can talk about this over some drinks tonight". Pepito said, "Sir, we can talk about this as early as 5:00pm!".

After a long work day, I realized that Pepito was precise. Calatrava closes at 5:00pm. Every store, shop, billiard place, everything was closed at 5:00pm. The only thing that was open was the beach! We had no television, no internet, no radio, nothing! If that remote cellular signal site died down, we would be cut-off from the world! I walked with my staff to the beach as they wanted me to see it. The beach was fantastic. Though it wasn't the best view of the island, it was a nice place to reflect. There were youngsters and teenagers in the shore playing around or taking a dip. I thought that it was probably the prime afternoon relaxation for everybody. As if they had a choice. Pepito was orienting me about the town. He pointed where the Vice-Governor's house was. He also showed me where the only store that was open at night was. "Good Pepito! Go buy some beer!". Pepito laughed, "Sir, we don't have beer in Calatrava. We only have local whiskey, brandy and gin!". I said, "It's your call. Get anything!", as I reached to him a hundred pesos. Lyn shouted, "Peps, we will go back to the staff house. See you there."

As Lyn and I were walking back, I noticed people staring at me. I felt like a celebrity! I was already wearing simply clothes and still they looked at me as if I was someone connected to their Vice Governor. The night was young. The sun was still setting. A man approached us and greeted Lyn. "Lyn, how are you?". Lyn replied, "Hi sir Rod. Sir Noel, this is Sir Rod, brother of the Vice Governor". I replied, "Oh my pleasure to meet you, sir. You might want to join us for drinks at our staff house later. I had Pepito buy some drinks." He replied, "Why not. Let me have dinner with my wife and kids first then I will catch up with you later".

Rod seemed to be nice person. Simple looking but you know he is somebody when he spoke. Lyn and I got to our staff house soon after. It was a slow and short walk from the beach. a fifteen minute walk which would have taken me around 3 minutes if I walked the same distance in Manila. I went straight to my room and laid down on my 2-inch cushion. It's roughly six o'clock in the evening and there is nothing else to do! I already finished all my reports at the work station. So there is really nothing to ponder on here. I took my cellular phone and started playing "Golf", a game stored in it. I heard Pepito come in. Pepito was a good singer. He was singing out loud as he placed his purchases on the table. I heard him ask, "Where's the boss?".Lyn asked, "In his room"m said Pepito.

Our staff house only had partitions. It was made of bamboo, rattan and wood. There were no ceilings. Your room is right underneath the galvanized aluminum roof which was around twenty-five feet from the floor. A lot of clearance there. But I liked our staff house. It was cool, comfortable and neat. It was hardly three months old. We rented it from the owner who was just a few meters from the house. It was elevated from the sandy ground. I had six solid foundations and the floor was made of thick bamboo strips with about one forth of an inch distance from one another. You can see chickens crossing underneath as you stood above. So the air would pass through the windows and through the floor! Wasn't that cool enough! Natural air-conditioning was what you can call it!

Pepito made dinner. I can smell it from my room. Believe you me, I felt that I was just too excited to eat dinner. I wasn't hungry. But it was the only thing to do! And what was best about it, it smelled so nice. I peeped from my door and saw Pepito's salad. It was a mix of "kangkong", tomatoes, onions and some "dilis" or small sea fishes.

"Dinner!", shouted Pepito. I stood up and went to the dining room. "Pepito, you're a master chef!".

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