Saturday, August 27, 2005
10:30 PM |
A Tragedy of Chickens
He certainly was in love. He had never met a woman as beautiful for him as Ana. It was not that she was perfection of alabaster skin and the face of a diwata
. She was rather dark -- her skin, although smooth, was the color of light chocolate. She was also short, but she seemed taller beyond her petite frame because she took care not to stoop. She always walked with her back straight, and head held high -- and for that, she was considered a pariah by most of her peers who thought she was arrogant "when she is just a common wench," they'd say, "a waitress
in a chicken restaurant!" That these words hurt did not actually matter to her because she had been through worse. She had been called various things all her life: a gold-digger, for one, and also a "common whore," even if she was still a virgin at 19. Also "manokon," because her eyes, although perfectly almond-shaped, had one iris that slightly strayed off to the middle. It was not very obvious, of course; and for many of her acquaintances, it took quite a few meetings for them to be more certain what it was about her that unsettled them. It was certainly not her soft voice, nor the way she walked around with her head held high. It was not her thin lips, nor her breasts that juggled like tiny melons upon her small frame. It was not that she wore no make-up on most days either, like the rest of the Jo's Manok Inato girls. But when they would at last stare right into her eyes during rare moments when she would frankly regard them with the curiosity of a hen for a worm, there it was, all too suddenly: the left eye slightly askew, at once looking at them and not looking at them. It was always an uncomfortable discovery.
Ana would not wear make-up, like her sisters back home in Guihulngan town insisted they all should, and so her lips had none of the artificial thickness of rouge, and her cheeks none of the sheen of foundation. What made her distinctive from the rest of the brood was the long, black hair she kept untied; it fell around her shoulders like a cascade. That hair had always been the source of envy by her older sisters who also thought her catty and snobbish because she would not indulge in their games and gossip, nor join in their common obsession of the radio dramas that made them weep, or cry in terror. "Ang baktin nga ga-daster!"
they'd shriek in horror, and laugh out loud in their company of small joys.
When she was growing up, Ana knew she had to escape from all these smallness. Her parents were poor. Her father repaired shoes and umbrellas, and her mother had a small stall at the local tsiangge where she sold everything from cigarettes to candies to the little produce she cultivated in her small garden back home: eggs, and some kalamunggay, kangkong, sili
, and mangoes when the fruit was in season.
They lived in a small wooden house with thatched roof, which was fairly respectable for the most part -- but it was poor, and all that was there to entertain the sisters was the radio (which was always turned on from sunrise to sundown) and the flirty gossip about the town's abundance of horny brown bucks. Gorio supposedly had the biggest dick in town, or so Criselda and Betchang claimed, giggling like blushing bitches in heat; Manuel had the smallest, and Alvin -- that rogue of a charmer with the sweet, innocent smile -- had deflowered most of Guihulngan's girls behind the convento
, where the old willow trees bundled together to create a hiding place of leaves, limbs, and tall grass. But Ana would have none of this type of gossip -- although she knew the Alvin boy quite well, and had once felt a strange quickening in the triangle that spread from her nipples to the delta of her pubis when she had seen him smiling sweetly at her during church service one Sunday morning. It was not that she was moral and believed in the virginal tenets the nuns at school railroaded at them. She, in fact, hated the nuns and their cloistered lives. It was only that she did not want to become pregnant, like many of the girls she knew, and end up becoming bored housewives, trapped in a very small town, with only the radio to while away the rest of their days.
While she planned her escape, she took to her mother's chickens as the best alternative to becoming bored. She had already read all the komiks
in the tsiangge
, and she found herself at the edge of surrendering to the radio melodramas of her older sisters. That was when she decided she would feed the chickens one day. "I would like to take over Betchang's chores, Ma," she said, "I'd like to feed the chickens myself."
"Are you sure about that? What about your sister?" her mother said.
"Oh, if she wants it, she can have it," Betchang quickly agreed. Ana's chores, after all, were simple: she wiped the tiny sala clean and washed the dishes after lunch and dinner. This was work, Betchang knew, that best afforded her the best opportunity to follow her radio dramas more faithfully. Feeding chicken was "gawas"
work after all, and she hated it -- she'd always cursed the gods under her breath for work she deemed below menial. She hated it when all she could hear of the unfolding drama was a small echo quickly lost in the cackle of the chickens rushing about her legs. Often she had to run to the open window and ask her sisters what was happening next.
The exchange was made. Ana began feeding the chickens, and that day she welcomed the chance to be outside, where the expansive blue of the sky promised more than the sad radio dramas, bouncing off the thin walls of their tiny house, ever could.
There were nine hens in all and three roosters who cackled at the slightest provocation, always managing to rupture the dead quiet of most afternoons with their piercing crows. Among the twelve chickens, there was also the fluttering of yellow and brown chicks, newly hatched and twittering about in their mad dash for Ana's kernels of grain, which she spread about with precision and a touch of generosity. She loved the chickens, after all, and wanted to see them well-fed.
But there was one hen she was most interested in, perhaps because it was the proudest of the lot and always looked straight at her as if Ana was her equal. She called this white leghorn Burgita, because she was also fat and produced the most number of eggs. She would talk to Burgita like she would not to her older sisters.
"I want to get out of Guihulngan soon, you know," she told the hen, who regarded Ana with such interest. Ana offered it grain in her cupped hands, and the chicken slowly picked at the kernels with its tiny, pointed beak, and then looked at her some more.
"Guihulngan is too small, don't you think, Burgita?"
The hen clucked and stared at her. Ana settled down in a squat, and played with the dirt with her fingers. She made wriggles on the ground while the chickens still dashed about her.
"I want something more, you know?
" she said. "I want to feel what it's like to be in a bigger place, bigger than Guihulngan -- perhaps Dumaguet, perhaps Manila. But maybe not Manila. It's much too big probably for a small town girl like me. And then, when I'm in Dumaguet, I'd find a man -- a strong man -- who would fall in love with me, and marry me. And then we will have many children, the way you have your many chicks. What do you think, Burgita?"
But Burgita only stared back.
All of a sudden, without even a squawk of a warning, the hen dashed at her and started pecking at her face. It pecked at Ana's askew left eye. Only with quick thinking and reflexes did she manage to shield herself with her arms.
Burgita began to cackle as if she was in the clutch of sudden madness, and pecked violently at her. She pecked at Ana's arms. She pecked at her legs. She pecked at her long hair.
Ana gave a brief, startled shout, and then kicked at the chicken, which bumped into a small kalamunggay
tree, and then promptly attacked her once more.
This time, Ana was ready.
When Burgita flapped her white wings and flew at her face, Ana grabbed the chicken from the air. With a practiced movement, she quickly twisted the chicken's neck, and then let it drop.
Like all dead chickens, Burgita ran around the small garden in wild circles, dragging its head -- lying limp on its side -- on the dirt ground.
That night, the family had fried chicken for supper.
The next morning, Ana left town for Dumaguet, and quickly found work at Jo's Manok Inato. She watched the roasting chicken browning in the light, and she thought, Perfect
.To be concluded, with the full story, in next week's issue of Philippines Free Press, in a story titled "A Joy of Chickens"...
Labels: fiction, writing
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