By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Publisher & Editor
San Diego Asian Journal
The Original and First Asian Journal in America
From the book “Betel Nuts & Other Stories” published by the San Diego Asian Journal
“He keeps following you,” Borobot’s father said to him.
He was referring to Borobot’s pet duckling, which quacked as it followed Borobot, age three, around the second floor of their house on Pepin Street, Sampaloc, Manila. The year was 1952.
Borobot’s mom was also delighted. At that time, she was nursing her fourth child, her new-born daughter, Mila. She was on a maternity leave from the public school where she taught. Borobot’s father, who operated a printing press in Quiapo, Manila, was home for lunch that day.
Since his mother could hardly make it down the stairs, they had a picnic in the upper room of the house. They spread newspapers on the floor onto which they lay the plates, a bowl of rice and other dishes, despite eating with their bare hands.
Looking back on the early years, he could hardly remember the moment. But in his faint and infantile memory, Borobot recalled his pet duckling would eat the pieces of rice that had fallen off the plate and drink from a cup with water.
His elder brother had brought the duckling home from school one day, having purchased it from a man who sold ducklings as pets. The man was among the vendors who sold wares to school children outside the school yard.
Borobot wished to imitate the actions of his cousin Odeng. Odeng was ten years old at that time, and his family lived next to Borobot’s. Odeng’s mother was the elder sister of Borobot’s mom.
Odeng made a small four by four feet enclosure from chicken wire that stood three feet high. Inside the enclosure, he dug a six-inch by six-inch hole and filled it with water. He placed a small iron roof in one corner of the enclosure where the five ducklings would seek shelter from rain or the heat of the sun. The hole with water would serve as a pool where they could swim.
But Borobot was just a toddler. It was beyond his capability to do what his cousin Odeng did. He was just content with raising his pet duckling within the enclosure of the second floor of their house. Whenever he woke up in the morning, he would look for his duckling inside a cardboard shoe box. He would take it out and let it follow him around the whole day.
Eventually, he took the duckling out of the house and let it follow him in a wide alleyway that separated their house from his aunt’s home. Sometimes he would forget about the duckling after becoming engrossed in playing with his cousins his age.
One day, however, the duckling went inside an opening under the house. Borobot waited for it to come out but it did not. He kept waiting even when it got dark, but there was no sign of the duckling. When his father came home that evening, he told him about his missing duckling. His dad took a flashlight and pointed it toward the opening. He inserted a long stick inside and tried to stir it. They could hear some squealing but no quacking. Finally, his dad told him the bad news: “The rats have eaten your duckling.”
Borobot cried and cried for a very long time.
A STRONG TYPHOON HIT THE CITY THAT AUGUST OF 1952. For three days, rain continuously pounded day and night, flooding Pepin Street in Sampaloc where Borobot and his family lived. On the second day of rain, Borobot’s mom went into labor. His dad hailed a passing jeepney on Dapitan Street, and brought his rain-soaked wife to the nearby Family Clinic on Laong-Laan to deliver their fifth child. He was named “Santiago”, after St. James, the patron saint of his father’s hometown of Plaridel, Bulacan. Early on, the child was called “Tiagong Baha (flood Tiago)”.
When the rain stopped on the fourth day, the flood waters had not yet receded from the street. Every child in the neighborhood came out to play in the flood. Borobot’s elder cousin, Odeng, brought out a sleek beautiful toy boat, which he sailed in the flood water to the envy of every neighborhood boy. Borobot’s father made him a simple plywood boat. By extending a rubber band from one end of the back of the boat and placing a piece of wood in the middle, the wood spun around like a propeller, pushing the toy boat forward through the water.
Borobot and his playmates, who were mostly boy cousins, would go to the corner of Laong Laan and Pepin streets and swim in the flood water as though it were a community pool.
“Huwag kayong lumangoy diyan at baka mahiwa ng bubog ang tiyan ninyo (Don’t swim there because your stomach might be cut by the broken glass under the water),” the elders warned them.
Still, wading in the flood, especially during the rain, was a fun way of spending the time since classes were suspended due to the typhoon.
During a break, Borobot picked up a can full of flood water and poured the contents out. To his surprise, a huge fish fell out and jumped into the flood.
For a long time afterwards, Borobot would develop a habit of picking up a can in a flood, hoping a fish would come out. But nothing ever did.
WHEN BOROBOT WAS FOUR YEARS OLD, his mother brought home a hen with white feathers. While they planned to have it for dinner that weekend, Borobot asked his parents to let him raise it as a pet. His parents winked at each other and let him have his way.
Borobot tied a piece of string on its right leg and led it around the house. He would feed it palay and let it drink from a cup of water. He would play with it all day, tie a long piece of string to its leg and arm, and throw it in the air so it could fly. He kept the string tied to him even when he was asleep.
On the third morning, however, he woke up with no hen in sight. The piece of string was still tied to his arm, but the hen was not tied to the other end. He asked everyone in the house, but nobody had seen it.
“Maybe it plucked the string with its beak and got loose,” his elder brother Buddy told him. He was smirking. “Or maybe, the chicken monster took it away.”
His mother promised to buy him another one.
“When I go to the market next week,” she assured him.
But his feelings would not be assuaged. When he looked out of the window, he saw his hen, white feathers and all, tied to his cousin’s house by a string.
He ran downstairs, removed the string, grabbed the hen and proceeded to take it home.
“Manok ko iyan (That’s my hen),” his cousin Rey wailed from the window of their house.
Rey rushed outside and grabbed it back from Borobot. The two cousins pulled at the helpless hen until their parents came out to separate them.
“That’s Rey’s hen,” his mother told Borobot. “It may look like your hen, but Rey’s mother bought it for him yesterday.”
But Borobot would not hear of it. He insisted the hen was his until he started crying. His mother brought him inside the house where he cried his heart out.
That evening, they enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner.
Borobot looked forward to the day when his mother would buy him another hen at the market. But after only three days, he forgot about his missing hen. Rey’s hen, white feathers and all, also mysteriously disappeared.
“Maybe the chicken monster was still hungry,” Borobot told Rey.
That evening, Rey and his family also enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner. – AJ
From the book, Betet Nuts and Other Stories by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
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