Thursday, May 17, 2012
Monsters of my Motherland...
We just hosted the second installment of Words in Process at Allegory Gallery. I was feeling brave and decided to share the beginning of a piece. I don't usually share my fiction. It's a highly personal thing and I was feeling VERY NERVOUS. It's one of those things that I've loved doing – writing stories – but have the least amount of technical training and have always felt bashful. I did want to contribute to the evening though, so I read. I call it, "Monsters of my Motherland". I was highly uncomfortable reading and stumbled quickly through it. I hope the audience didn't mind too much. When I hear it in my mind, I hear someone like Michelle Yeoh reading it very slowly and deliberately.
The first segment is seen through the eyes of a twelve year old Filipino girl. Some of it (only a very small fraction) is based on stories my mother told me about her own childhood and her mother's death, but most of it is fiction. One of the things that I wanted to capture was a lyrical-fairytale style. In the parts of rural Philippines, it seems like what we would consider being myth or fantasy is very much apart of the every day.
So without further ado... I present, "Monsters of my Motherland":
My father has gone to get the Messiah. Mother is ill and all his magics could not heal her. He laid his hands upon her and prayed to Mary, Mother of God, but she did not get better. He prayed to the ancestors and to those that came before us, but she did not recover. He went into the jungle with a jug of rice wine and three coconuts to leave as an offering to the spirits of the woods, but she only got sicker. My aunties and uncles do not come to visit anymore. They say that mother is haunted by a vengeful spirit and that it drinks her blood at night. I have seen the bites all over her body. They are an angry red with black circles around them.
One night her fever was bad and my father was half mad from grief and frustration that all his efforts to heal her had not worked. He went out on to the beach, screaming at the night and cutting his arm with his machete. He kept shouting, "Is this what you want? Is this what you want?! You can have my blood! You can have it all!"
In the morning he would not get up to go fishing. He did not get up to even sit next to my mother. He sat, hunched over, on the other side of the room on a straw mat. His face was white and his eyes were red. His hands and feet were black and covered with ashes. The cuts on his arms looked bad. He was cold to the touch when I went to check on him and I was worried that he was dead. But he wasn't. His breath came in thin hisses. I could tell that he was not happy and would give us kids beatings if we bothered him. He looked hard and mean. I told my brothers and sisters to hide in the trees. I told them it was a game. We were a family of baby monkeys and I was the mama monkey. Only I came inside to give my mother water and wipe her forehead. I avoided his bitter looks. I left a bowl of rice next to my father, but he didn't touch it. He looked like he was a hundred years old and like he'd never sing again or tell us stories or make magic. He didn't look like my father anymore.
When it got dark, my brothers and sisters got scared and were tired of playing. There was no moon and the stars looked extra bright, like holes in heaven. We snuck in as quiet as we could. It didn't matter. Only our mother was in the room with the bowl of rice, still untouched.
My mother talks in her sleep. She says things that scare the little ones. She says things that scare me. She tells stories of dark men who are covered in thick fur who live in mountains. They steal children and make them their servants. Sometimes she talks about a sly snake that wanted to marry a human girl. She told him no and ran away. She got married to a fisherman, but when they had babies they were not human babies, but were all snakes. The worst story my mother tells us in her sleep is the one about the woman that can change her face and pretend to be your mother. She acts sweet and kind, but eats the children one by one in the middle of the night. That story scares me the most.
Father was still not back and we ran out of fresh water. So, I decided to go to the neighbors to get some. I put on my best dress. It was pink with big, yellow flowers. It had holes, but it was clean. I remember when my mother got me the dress. My little sister was jealous and put a hole in it. She put it right on the butt! When my mother saw it, she slapped her and said, "Why are you so stupid? You put a hole in your own dress! One day you'll have to wear it! It won't fit your sister forever!" I got embarrassed thinking about that hole all the way to the neighbors.
They were fighting loudly when I got there. I did not hear everything that they said and I did not know who was arguing, but one of them wanted to go fishing and the other had let a crazy man borrow their boat. The first voice said that he had seen the crazy man burn his own boat in the night and now he would burn their boat! Another voice asked when the crazy man said he would bring it back? The other one said he didn't know. To this, there were a lot more unhappy voices!
I was about to turn and go, but I remembered the water. I needed to make rice porridge for my mother and my siblings. I smiled as big as I could and knocked on the door. Everyone turned to look at me. I said, "We are out of water and my mother is very sick. Can I borrow some water, please?" I saw the owner of the first voice and he said, "Now his fool daughter wants to borrow our bucket!"
My father has gone to get the Messiah in our neighbor's boat. And I have borrowed their bucket.
We took turns waiting for father on the beach next to what used to be our boat. My brothers tried to fish while they waited, but didn't catch much. The rest of us looked for food in the jungle, picking fruit when we found it and catching wild chickens when we could. One of us always sat with our mother. She was not getting better and the sores were starting to smell. Her fever had broken, but she could not get out of bed and it looked like someone had traced her veins with a piece of our burnt out boat. She didn't tell stories in her sleep anymore. Instead, we prayed.
Eight days later, my father returned in the neighbor's boat. He did not find the Messiah, but instead brought missionaries. Two men stood. One woman sat. There were three in total. My father rowed. One of the men was short and stocky with a big, black beard and a round, red face. The other was tall and skinny with a wide-brimmed hat. His skin was pale and his eyes were green. I could not see the woman missionary well. I could not tell if she was white or Filipino like me, but I could see her looking at my father. He still looked like a stranger. It was like he had gotten lost on the beach that night and someone else had come back in his place. I did not wait for them to pull the boat on the beach. I walked back to be by the side of my mother.
The three missionaries prayed for my mother, but her health did not improve. They called on Jesus and they blessed her with all their Might, but she still laid there unable to mend. The wide man, Mr. Tim, even poured medicines from brown bottles down her throat and injected her with needles, but it just caused her to puke all over and pee her bed. Three days after the substitute saviors arrived, my mother died. Not even their faith or their medicines could help her live.
A day later, we found my father by the burnt out boat – his vain sacrifice. His eyes were open and looking out to sea, where the strangers had come. The vengeful spirit my aunties and uncles had feared so much had claimed its second victim and my remaining parent. It bided its time with my brothers and sisters and me.