Clothing Souls

Agnes, until her father’s death was an obedient daughter, marri <!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>

Agnes, until her father’s death was an obedient daughter, married a Mandaya man. It is common in Mati that the most recurring tribal groups are that of the Mandayas and Muslims. Agnes’s parents came from the Visayan region.

She married at the age of forty-two. It was almost not the age for marrying. But she did. Emil, her two-month suitor and a year younger than she was, vowed before the altar that he will love her ‘til death do them part. He had an airy look about him, he seemed at ease with telling the other neighbor’s that he came from a haciendero family of the East Coasts and that he owns vast acres of land. This seemed to be in defense of him, since without any work, he sits by the doorstep watching passers-by; always managing to raise his head up every time girls pass by. Sometimes he’d be seen from outside taking his siesta or watching television. Because he is a smoker, Agnes, coming home from work at the office, had gotten accustomed to the cigarette smell of their curtains and sofas.

“Magka’an da kita,” (“Let us eat”) as he was sometimes heard because of such loud voice, reminded the neighbors of how Manong Roger, Agnes’s father, used to tell her never to marry a Mandaya.

Agnes was happy except for the fact that at forty-seven she never bore a child. She never missed reciting her rosary at night. Those nights when she hears the nearby household’s baby crying, making her yearn more for motherhood as she gently caresses her empty belly and looks at her snoring husband on the bed.

Only Agnes’s godchild Benjie, a nine year-old boy, was their constant visitor, more frequent during the Christmas season. He had been a listener to Emil, who had a knack of talking about his hometown, back where the coconut trees file along the way.

“Have you heard a creaking tree Benjie?” he asked the boy who had taken the remote control from his hands and changed channels as often as he did. The boy looked back at him, for sometime glancing if the commercials have ended.

“Do trees creak?” was the boy’s question. It made Emil laugh, his fake tooth appearing yellowish. He patted the boy’s head and said, “Well we believe that when somebody buries a part of that creaking tree under a couple’s house, that couple will sooner or later separate.”

The boy shook his head; it was not a nod of belief. Emil continued, “Just like the tree, they’ll fight each other ‘til they cease loving each other.”

Emil said that this was a proved superstition. Somebody he knew did such.

After many years, Benjie would find his Ninang seated by their doorstep talking to his mother, and at times cooing the baby that was his sister’s child. She now gets support from the pension she receives monthly. As for Emil, he has been gone a few years back. He has not returned. Through an email, his sister, broke the news to him of his godparent’s separation or rather of Emil’s flight.

“Look how you’ve grown. You’re such a handsome young man now,” his Ninang exclaimed. They have not seen each other for years. He had to live with his aunt in Davao to finish his college degree there. He had even missed many Christmases and had thought of himself too old to ask for gifts.

“He has came home for vacation,” said his mother and then she turned to her cousin Agnes, “Can you hold her for me, I’ll prepare merienda for a while.” He almost told his mother not to bother, but when he saw how his Ninang’s face alighted, he couldn’t help but say, “I’ll help.” Then he saw the little angel yawn sleepily as his Ninang tucked her close.

Nothing has changed except that there was no more of the smell that used to make him twitch his nose every time he visited when he was young. The floral prints of the curtains have faded. Agnes clambered down the steps from her room.

“ I had saved gifts for you,”

He couldn’t believe what his Ninang had said. He felt a pang of sadness when he remembered how reluctant he was when he was asked to borrow money from her. He felt ashamed of the years that he hadn’t even bother to ask if she was living well or fine. He took these things for granted.

“Emil, your Ninong left me,” She said as if fumbling for words like a stuttering child. he felt awkward at that and asked himself Why does she have to open that up.

“I knew about it from ate, Ninang.” It was an immediate answer to keep her from talking about something which he knew could only make her sad.

“We never fought, did you know that Benjie?”

He looked away from her.

“He just left without me knowing except for leaving me a letter.”

He was anxious to hear about that letter. Why? He had just supposed then that he fell in love with another woman.

“He told me that he knew I disliked their culture, that that was the reason why

I won’t come home with him.”

Did you? Did he? He could never ask these questions. He told himself that what if she had told her about the creaking trees. Instead she hugged her real tight and told her, “But he had loved you.”


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