My other stories were removed because of an advice from an experienced writer. He told me if I ever planned to have those stories published in magazines or journals, I'd have to remove them because the publisher buys rights for "first publishing." A FictionPress posting is still a publishing, and thus, would lessen the chance of my stories being published or bought by local magazines or e-magazines. Pardon for the lack of information I gave: my intentions are not to offend others, but only to improve myself.
He swam in uncertainty. As the bus rode on, he slowly rose up to the surface of familiarity; the gray had gradated to the green that he knew, and he felt safe.
Anthony was coming back from the city: he had asked for a salary raise from the landowner of the farm that he worked on, and it was granted. Although scared from the long and hot travel from Dubao City to Makilala, he was happy that he decided correctly.
The landowner was a kind man. After giving Anthony a significant raise, he led Anthony to the bus station and gave him directions to ride back to the farm. Anthony was brave, yes, but he was also careless. If the landowner were some heartless monster, Anthony would probably never have gone back to the farm he loved and lived in.
Anthony thought about that. It made him austere again.
There is nothing to be happy about. I was only lucky, after all.
He saw a familiar tree. It was captured for a single second in the window nearby him, but it was all that he needed.
Stop the bus, please!
The bus slowed down and finally stopped a few meters ahead of the tree. The landowner already paid for his fare; Anthony, with only a backpack, quickly went down so as not to irritate the passengers as wanting as him to go home.
Anthony looked at the acacia tree, and asked it:
Old man, how are you? Are your fingers still aching?
It was currently drought in the farm, and if one looked, one would see the acacia reaching out to heaven as if a palm begging for alms.
Anthony was jumpy. He had been wanting to urinate for an hour, but since he was afraid of being lost if they stopped anywhere (he was superstitious), he waited until he was back home. In his definition, the farm and his home was marked by this acacia unique only to him.
Here, old man, drink. It may not be too much, but it still has water, and I will relieve myself of this waste. Oh, wait. Tabi-tabi.
Tabi-tabi was an incantation to show respect to the spirits of the earth, for when you do not excuse yourself before you release your waste, they will be angry and cause misfortune towards you. Some elders in their town told a story of a boy who urinated without excusing himself, and for two weeks, he was plagued with a bloating penis.
Anthony forcibly stopped thinking about that little boy and placed it at the back of his head. The urine then flowed to the cracked soil and quickly disappeared in it.
I should do my best not to mess with those encantos.
With his backpack, he carefully walked between his fields of rice. He was already a master of balancing himself on the narrow elevated land embedded amongst his rice paddies, and took the nearest path towards his small shack.
The pinkish, cherry-blossom colors of a sunset sky slowly morphed into a black blanket, dismissing the colorful end to another day. Luckily, Anthony already reached his shack by the time the colors of the sky coalesced into black.
The stars slowly pierced holes in the blanket covering the earth, and Anthony observed them getting more and more numerous as night matured by the hour.
The candlelight reflected a bare room and shack. The only furniture it could shed its light onto was a small folding bed. Every night, Anthony would lie on this folding bed, hoping the stars would come out, waiting for the darkness outside to spread into his mind.
The stars were his only respite from total boredom: its infinite number catching his fancy as he tried counting them one by one at night until he fell asleep. Tonight, he was at five-hundred eighty-two.
x x x
It was still dawn when he awoke, where it was still darkness, but there was a perceivable try from the sun to push that darkness away to its rightful place. Every dawn, the sun would triumph from its daily crusade; every dusk, however, the moon leads its army of darkness to triumph over the sun.
It was circadian; it was nature's way of keeping check the powers of light and darkness by allowing them to engage in a forever battle.
The door of the shack opened. A muscular man came out, and it was Anthony.
The landowner has wasted money on this door. The door for the storage room was needed, but in here nothing can be stolen.
He dressed in farmer garb. He wore a simple T-shirt and easily washable denim jeans, and he checked the life of the rice seedlings individually in the many rice paddies. It was drought: the water in the paddies had dried. Although he still checked every one of the rice seedlings, he knew there was little hope. They were all going to die.
Even the waterhole (the favorite place of his carabao) had lesser water, and the irritation of the carabao could be seen. It moved more and its movement was akin to a human's pacing back and forth. The carabao itself had lesser work because all of Anthony's plants slowly died with a drought that started before he went to Davao; the drought continued indefinitely even with his coming back.
The sun rose. Anthony had already started working.
The sun was contemptible, even if it was only early morning, for it shone with such heat and with such force that Anthony could not even sweat: they were all now absorbed by the atmosphere. He continued working amidst the heat: it was his job to do so.
Two hours passed, and the heat intensified. Anthony finished up with his daily roaming around the fields, and went back to his small shack. He removed his T-shirt, and used it to wipe away the remaining sweat still present in his body. From a box underneath his permanently opened folding-bed, he got a clean shirt and wore it.
The landowner gave him two pieces of soap the day before: one for his body, and one for his clothes. He was joyful: his clothes will smell good once again. In the dwindling waterhole, he sang while he cleaned his clothes and took a bath. He was careful not to urinate in there, though. There was a story around the small farm-town that a man once urinated in the waterhole where he was bathing, and two days after, he could no longer urinate properly.
The spirits have been offended by your doing, said the albularyos.
I'll never do that. I'd rather die, Anthony almost shouted.
He lowered his voice when he said that; he was afraid that the spirits would take offense.
Only his carabao was with him, and even it was only noticed when it snorted.
He had finished bathing; he rubbed his body with the towel and then wrapped it around him. The shack was only a short distance away, and inside of thirty seconds, he was inside the shack.
He wore the clean shirt that he wore before the bath. It quickly got soaked by sweat, though. He was angry at the heatwave, and then he decided to go to the acacia tree: his landmark of the farm.
Even if it is slowly dying, it still could provide me with a lot of shade. The leaves are still there.
He slowly went towards the acacia, but he saw two men of the same age, older than him, crouching. They were facing each other, and it seemed as they were playing a children's game of marbles. They were also there for the shade.
When he reached them, however, it was not marbles, but a game in which they used bottlecaps, and a queer hieroglyphic, perhaps a board, on the cracked soil.
What is that, old men?
It is a game.
What game is that?
Do you know checkers?
This is modified checkers. This is poor man's checkers.
Could you teach me to play it?
After we play, son, chimed the fellow at Anthony's right side.
He was fascinated by the game. It was unique checkers. He loved how the tansans made a dull thud on the ground when they were moved; he adored the capture of the pieces.
This is definitely better than checkers, he thought.
He patiently waited for the game to finish, and he was taught the basics by the old man. After the tutorial, Anthony thanked the old man, but the old man replied with a warning:
This is a gambling game, son, and if you can't handle fire, don't play with it.
Let's have a game, then, old man.
How much would you bet?
Is a peso okay?
This is a tutorial game. It's all I need, laughed the old man.
As the game progressed, he learned more about the game itself. As expected, however, he lost to the wizened old man. He thanked the old man.
All that occupied him starting that day was the game itself. He was careful enough to still perform the farm duties, but in every spare moment, he played and played.
With practice and with time, he became one of the best players in the game, and he was already confident to risk a lot with every game. He still won them though.
No harm done. I still won, he will say to himself after every winning game.
The drought was still ongoing. The rice seedlings had already died. The carabao became more and more irritable, but it was still tame. And Anthony gambled more and more, usually out of his reach.
With an improvement of skill and status, Anthony also became more and more arrogant.
His mentor, whom he has not played with after the tutorial session, came to Anthony and challenged him to a game. Anthony bet all the money he possessed, and a lot of money that he didn't.
Each move was carefully thought about by each of the players. In the end, though, Anthony had a choice. It was to attempt a draw, or resign.
You could not win against this old man.
Oh, but I am winning.
Anthony made his move. It was devoured by his mentor's bottlecap, and the game was over. Anthony, still full of himself, not already knowing how to be humble, said:
I will pay you tomorrow. Here's a downpayment.
He gave all his money to the old man.
I will be waiting tomorrow, the old man replied.
Anthony, disgusted but still proud of himself, went home. The only thing that he could think of was to steal from the adjacent rubber plantation; rubber sap was very lucrative.
He waited for the falling of night.
x x x
The rain fell incessantly. The drought had ended. The carabao was happily wallowing in the waterhole, eager to rejuvenate itself in the mud that it missed for already quite some time.
Darkness came. It was still raining.
Anthony struggled to pull his carabao out from the waterhole, but in time, it obeyed. He went to the rubber plantation as discreetly as possible, and saw a big sign of "Trespassers will be shot" nailed to one of the rubber trees.
He did not understand.
Along with his carabao, he ventured to one of the rubber trees, and got its sap. In time, he was already deeper into the forest of rubber, carefully gathering sap to be sold in the town.
He heard a shot.
His soaked shirt slowly mixed with a pale red color. It was the color of blood, and a rose blossomed near his heart. He then slowly slid to the ground, slowly losing the vestiges of his consciousness. He will go into a forever sleep, and we will know where he is going. The last vision of his eyes were of his mentor holding a long gun.
The carabao chewed cud while carrying containers of rubber sap. The rain kept on falling. ♣