I

Hat in mind, Desmond crouched to tie his shoelaces. The laces were too long. They got caught in one of the branches sticking out the soft, loamy earth. Desmond, focusing on his work, failed to notice and slacked the shoelaces off as he ploughed through. His bare foot touched the moist earth composed of rotting biomass and animal feces.

Punyeta.

He resumed after he secured his second-hand footwear. His salakot, held by a piece of cloth tied around his chin, quivered in the breeze.

The worst part of the day was over. The heat was akin to the gates of hell, but it was all for show. The first harvesting season had just concluded and it only meant one thing to them: typhoons or another chance for a decent income. The former being more likely.

“It’s worth the shot,” he told his askal as it welcomed his master with a windfall of dog spit.

There was to be no dinner tonight, except for the dog. Desmond hid some of yesterday’s spoilt leftovers in his makeshift cabinet over the sans-faucet sink. He placed it beside the door where the dog feasted. They’ve been doing this for years, damn dog’s stomach must be made of rubber, he mused.

He lit up a cigar purchased with the previous harvest’s pay, and gazed at the barren fields. The cigar smoke rose in a slow dancing circle, quietly nudged by the occasional late afternoon breeze, creating an abstract white smudge drifting in front of him.

“What kind of name is it, Carver?,” he shouted as a kayumanggi man about his height wearing a yellow polo shirt announced his welcome with a shift of gravel.

“What?” Carver asked, as he slammed the doors of the car shut.

“I said, what kind of name is Carver?,” he smirked as the man ambled outside and passed through the door. “I wouldn’t name my child Carver, if you really want to know what I mean.”

Carver did not fall for the bait. “The problem is, you stand a chance of having a child as I do getting pissed with your jeers.”

Desmond sneered. Oh yeah, Carver?

Carver sat in the dilapidated wooden sofa and looked around. An old clock hung on the lintel, broken and forever stuck at 6:36. The floor was covered in linoleum, once presentable, now broken in places, exposing the cold and dank cement beneath. The walls were made of exposed hollow blocks and aging wooden planks. He looked closely at one corner and saw two or three termites disappear in one of the holes. The rich smoke of the Mexican cigar has not cleared yet.

“What’s that smell? Have you been smoking pot?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Desmond showed him the glass container of his cigar, now half-consumed. He put it off in an effort to be thrifty. Nicotine, despite its reputation, can still be experienced in premium taste.

“Pure and original.” Carver read out loud. “Where did you get this?”

Desmond sat by the window. “You know Daryll over crossing? He says he bought it off some rich ass Kano. Probably stole it and he had no damn idea of its real price.”

“How much?”

“In your language? I got it for a price of hotdogs and bacon.”

Carver’s eyebrows met with the shade.  “Ha ha, totally funny.” He paused, and saw the irregular looking shoelaces. “Your shoes are broken.”

Desmond, now smoking a normal cigarette, sat looking outside to the barren fields again.

“Damn that stupid branch.”

Carver stood up and traipsed to the lopsided shoe rack. One of its legs broke off months ago after it was accidentally felled by the askal jumping to snap open the neck of an unwitting burglar.

“Good thing I brought you a pair of shoes today. This one’s hopeless.”

“I don’t need no shoes.” Desmond stood up from the window seat and got himself a glass of water. “You’re dry. Want me to fill you up? The heat’s unholy.”

“I’ll do it.” Carver, refusing the service, went to the makeshift kitchen and poured water to his own glass. He paused as he was about to drink.

“The other day my mother-in-law died of stroke.” He drank the water in one gulp and placed the glass on the sink.

“Doctor said it’s probably because of the heat.”

“Then why aren’t you in the wake?” Desmond wondered.

“Because I needed to see you,” he shot him a meaningful look.

Desmond heaved a deep sigh. Here we go.

“Look. What you are doing here is not you. Mama and Papa wouldn’t be happy to see you like this.” Carver notched up his voice convincingly. “It’s been four years and you’ve condemned yourself to this life, pretending you know how to live like them.

Desmond meandered back to the window. Four years? Has it been four years since then?

Carver followed his brother. He watched him turn his head with deliberate slowness – as if reflecting the movement of every bone in his body – as he lit his second stick for the evening. He remembered the first time he saw his brother took up the salakot, his head bowed as he lit the burning cigarette that hung limp at the corner of his mouth.

“I’m doing better now brother. I’ve learned a lot already. It’s not like before.”

Carver looked around and saw the broken clock, the dilapidated wooden sofa, the disintegrating walls, the tattered linoleum, and the broken shoes.

Kuya¸” he sighed. “In my head I wish all that didn’t happen. I know it’s painful to recall, and unfair until now especially when we think of the things they deserved to have. But there is no point being stuck here and doing nothing.”

Desmond’s smoker’s cough broke the awkward silence. He drew deep and spat out of the window.

Kuya, there’s a world for you out there. You’re a college graduate. Mom and Dad worked hard for you not to end up like them.”

Desmond continued his stoic attitude. His hands shook as he grappled for his third stick.

Kuya?

“Tell me, Carver, have you wondered why my name is Desmond?,” he asked without looking at his younger brother.

Carver, caught off-guard by the non-sequitur inquiry, responded. “No. It’s pretty obvious. Mom’s Desiree and dad’s Raymond.”

“My name is weird. But the story behind yours is a bit odder. It goes like this: your name was read by Mom in a magazine she scavenged while we were walking to sell peas at the market. She said the guy in the picture was handsome and his name was Carver.”

Carver sat, lost by the verbal evasion, a skill his brother mastered back in college. He looked away.

“How’s Danica?”

“She’s fine.”

“And the kid?”

“She’s doing well. Daddy’s refused to bring her with me here. He says your place is too dirty. She might catch something.”

Desmond shot him a sharp look. “Please tell him for me,” and raised two middle fingers in the air.

Kuya…,” Carver, looked at his brother in the eye in quiet plea.

Desmond contorted his face, his voice changed to a mocking tone. “Kuya…”

Carver again looked away.

There was a quiet pause as the brothers’ thoughts dwelled far from each other. Desmond saw fireflies in the distance, dancing along some inaudible tune.

“So how does it feel fraternizing with the enemy?” Desmond asked, breaking the spell.

The younger brother stood up. “I am not having this conversation again.”

“Oh yes we will, and you never properly answered my question.” Desmond sauntered close to his brother, cigarette butt between his burnt fingers.

Carver clenched his fist. The dog, sensing trouble, began to growl.

“I love Danica, and she sustains me in that place.” Carver explained. “Along with my daughter. It just so happened that her father is the biggest asshole this land has ever seen.”

Desmond laughed. “And that asshole, my dear brother, is the reason why your mom and dad are dead.”

“I don’t know.” Carver faltered, his fist unclenched. He remembered four years ago. He remembered how they came back from Manila after months of hearing only encouragements and assurances. He heard as if it was yesterday the tones of her mother becoming more and more hushed as the phone calls became shorter and shorter. It was through Danica, weeping from the other side of the line, that they learned of the truth. She said sorry amid tears for the botched deal. She said sorry because the hopes of their parents were pinned on it. She said sorry because when she finally learned, she could only cry. She said sorry because she simply didn’t know. Had she known would things have changed?

It was the time after the first harvesting season. They arrived to a house that smelled of blood and feces. Their Papa, hanging on by a hair’s breadth, had laid quietly on the same dilapidated sofa Carver sat on. He was emaciated, a corpse animated to mimic breathing. It has been over a year since the first specks of blood were coughed out. It has been over a year since the promise was broken after mounds of paperwork overwhelmed them. The land that should have been theirs now reduced to a mere parchment, stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, awaiting the bidding of those in control.

He died in the hospital a few hours after they made their discovery. Their mother staged a longer but losing battle. Dysentery and the same diagnosis as Papa’s. Perhaps weighed further by age. Perhaps aided by heartbreak. Four months later, she followed.

“We got lucky brother.” Desmond uttered as he threw away his fifth cigarette butt. He fiddled for more in his pockets. His hands still shook. Was it really four years today?

“Just because they were able to teach us well and get scholarships doesn’t mean we should feel guilty, brother. This is not the life they would want for us. For you.” Carver whispered.

Desmond chuckled. Four years and to think of the life I used to have in the city. It was a hot September evening. He went to the City Hall with a bolo hidden beneath loose trousers. They wouldn’t suspect a grieving future brother-in-law of the Mayor’s daughter with anything. He saw the bald mug of the culprit through a small crevice at the door. Cat-like he entered without making a creak. He was busy at the phone, words such as land development, progress, per capita income can be heard but Desmond didn’t care. The Mayor failed to notice that his door stood ajar. A family picture stood at the far left corner of the table.

“You don’t have it in you.” Carver told him when he first heard the story.

Instead of grabbing his bolo, he scurried to the table and delivered a sickening blow to the Mayor’s face. A picture of Danica, the Madam, and the Mayor fell on the floor and shattered. The old man screamed for help. One week later, Desmond got out of jail and had the land papers back after Danica and the Madam’s pleading. Election season was the following year after all.

Carver and Desmond stood stuck in that evening, under a broken clock, wearing broken shoes, standing on broken floors protected by broken walls. The dog, sensing the tension ease, laid his large, tan body and resumed its rest.

What was that they called people like me in Manila? A Yuppie.

“Mommy stroked a few days ago.” Carver broke the silence. “I’m very thankful to her. She was kind enough to give us a scholarship, even though it was used by her husband,” admitted Carver. “Danica told me that tarpaulins were printed in our honor when we graduated but with the face of her father on it. But, alas, Mommy didn’t know shit about politics.”

Carver stood up and made to the door.

“Tomorrow evening is the Feast.” He looked back at his brother as he was about to go out. “The roads will be noisy with all the festivities. You should come and enjoy. Daddy is too old to join in and he’s still grieving for Mommy.” He paused, arranging his collars. “You wouldn’t see him outside. He likes staying at the backyard cottage and sleeping there.”

Desmond sat despondently, still looking from afar. “Will I see my baby pamangkin in the procession?”

“Danica and I will go east to the ocean where Mother willed to be her final resting place. She wants it quick and only a few people closest to her. She doesn’t like the hullabaloo of the dead.” Carver chuckled. “You know her. You were closer to her than I ever was.” He glanced at his brother meaningfully.

“We’ll bring Grace with us.”

Desmond closed his eyes for a minute, as if to think. “Why won’t he come with you?”

“The doctor doesn’t want him traveling for the meantime. He’s worried that he too might stroke.” Carver smirked. “Broken brain syndrome.”

The brothers laughed, waking up the sleeping dog who threatened Carver with a growl and snarl. Desmond shushed the canine and accompanied his brother to the car.

“See you brother. Thank you for the shoes.”

Desmond watched the darkness consume the tail lights of his brother’s vehicle. Tonight is a moonless night, he thought, and the stars shone like hanging fireflies, without competition from sky or land. There were no streetlights in this side of Gapan. The real fireflies no longer danced in the distance. Desmond stood on the roadside for a minute, lighting a new stick of cigarette that glowed against the black curtains of provincial night. The horizon was faintly visible from afar, outlined by trees that line the open rice fields. He knew that farther along his line of sight, a silhouette of the mountain range lay unseen. Tonight, it was the stars that ruled the sky. No light or shadow to question their rule.

 

 

 

II

Desmond was woken up by the barking of his dog. The first thing he saw was the mote of dusts suspended in the early morning sunbeam peeking through a break in the window. From a distance, he heard the sounds of a rooster crow and the steady commotion of families preparing for the feast of the city’s patron saint. It was a feast of gratitude for the previous harvest. Desmond stood up, reached for the transistor radio latched on a rickety table beside the sofa. The old furniture creaked as his weight shifted.

He ambled out. The transistor’s out of batteries. Any hope of today’s weather forecast erased, but the winds were blowing unfavorably from the west. There’s a fluff of darkness in the far side of the horizon. There was nothing to be done so the townsfolk continued their preparations. He walked around the small yard of the old house, doing some morning stretches. In Manila, they pay to do this in gyms, or sometimes they travel to University campuses where air’s made fresh by the few remaining virgin greenery. A year and a half have passed since he graduated from the University when he decided to leave all that four years ago.

After a few rounds, he noticed subtle movements in one of the shadowy corners of the yard. He saw the reason for the commotion. The dog chased and killed a field rat the size of a cat. He observed bite marks near the animal’s neck and a bloody trail as it struggled to return to its hole. Desmond looked at it with vague interest. It gasped its final shallow breaths, and then stillness. Dead.

Desmond went to the carcass and kicked it to the soil on the fields. Its legacy now as part of the compost that will feed millions of families.

He tittered at the thought. Right.

Done with stretching, he grabbed his bicycle, chained in one of the window’s steel bars. The smell of carabao manure and poultry is strong in rural mornings. He grew used to it, as one grows used to the nagging of a beloved wife. He cycled through the tough, bumpy roads, avoiding the irrigation channel sculpted by farmers who first discovered the fertile land. He made a beeline for the market where her mother used to sell peas. They used to walk the distance, his mom carrying a sack of peas at her back, Carver still in her belly. He was five years old but this vivid image of mother and son was etched forever in his memory.

He passed through waxing festivities as the people began to invite him over to eat in their homes. It was a rural community. Everybody knew each other.

“Desmond! Come eat with us,” one would say. “Come on let’s have some beer,” another would shoot as he zipped through.

“Thank you!,” he shouted as the headwind whipped through his face. “Maybe I’ll go later.”

He felt the cool fiesta wind rush on his skin as he notched up a gear. He arrived at an uphill road leading to the village houses. The place was relatively quieter. Houses were bigger, from cozy bungalows to plain apartments. Cars gleamed in the growing dust of morning heat as they sat in garages, barely seen in between steel bars of colored gates. The walls of the houses were peppered with broken glass shards and sometimes barbed wire and pointed steel arrows, securing whatever secret is kept inside.

The road went downhill again and he made for a turn, finally arriving at the bustling Bayan. It was already nearing noon when he got to the hardware shop deep in the marketplace. A dull grey river, teeming with dirt and smelling of rotten garbage was visible on the other side.

He entered the shop. It was air-conditioned. The people there consisted of a diverse array of farmers looking for useful farming equipment and village men rummaging to buy new tools for their garage. He went to one of the ladies standing in a corner.

“I would like to buy a whetstone,” he said. The lady nodded, “Sure thing sir, it’s in alley 3A right over there,” she pointed at one of the racks at the far end of the store. Unlike the others, the people in the fancy hardware store barely knew each other. She smiled at him, and Desmond offered his thanks. He grabbed what he needed and went to the cashier.

“Need sharpening of kitchen knives sir?” The guy behind the register asked.

“No, I just need to cut off some shrubs growing in my rice fields. They’re getting unruly.”

The cash register clanged and noisily printed his receipt. The cashier smiled. “Thank you sir, we hope to see you again.”

Desmond, tired of the socializing, clutched his package and nodded.

The heat outside was getting close to furnace levels. The activity in the market, however, remained feverish. Everybody rushed to buy food, alcohol, and materials for the festivities. Later in the afternoon, once the procession is done, the roads would be littered with Karaoke singing and drinking sprees. Desmond looked at the horizon to the west, over the dirty river, and noted the dark cloud has grown in size. A big storm is coming, if not this afternoon, this evening. The only noise they would hear tonight is the sound of massive rain drops hitting corrugated iron roof tops, lightning flashes and rolling thunder.

He placed the whetstone in the floor of his hut. The bolo he once kept deep into the undersink laid beside it. Outside, the clouds of the coming storm loomed more closely. The noise of the festivities on the other side went on, oblivious to the coming deluge.

The procession has begun. Drums and lire started to play. Desmond held the old bolo his father once used as a farmer, looked at it closely and examined its corners. Some of the handle edges were frayed, perhaps nibbled at by the same rat the dog killed earlier. Time has not been kind to the steel. Rust nearly covered the entire blade, giving it a color of dank orange.

Immaculate Mother,

To you do we plead.

Outside, the procession sang in honor of the Virgin Mary. He placed the blunt edges on the whetstone and began to sharpen it. The blade kissed the surface with the force of Desmond’s arms as he pulled backward, rubbing the oxidized steel against the rough exterior of the brand new stone. His pressure and speed were enough for sparks to fly as the once passive edges breathed back to life. He repeated the process until the blade shone in an incredulous revival.

To ask God, our Father

For help in our need

The floor was powdered with the remnants of the rust that once covered the old blade. Thunder began to break the solemn hymn sung by the rural faithful. Most of them were farmers and women, hoping that God might hear their prayers for a windfall. The first drizzle began to disturb the procession. The sun barely visible behind the overcast skies.

Desmond, done with the whetstone, threw it out of the window. He placed the bolo – its edges now shining as it once did – back to its sheath and hung it around his back. He unlatched his salakot from the hook where it was hanged and secured its cloth around his chin. The wind grew cold. Sometimes, hailstorms occur in this kind of weather.

“Hup-hup!”

The dog was immediately summoned by his master’s call. A bright flash of lightning announced the first full roll of thunder. Tiny bullets of ice began to fall. “Let’s go,” he ordered the big askal.

Desmond walked through the mini hailstorm, umbrella at hand, crossing the wooden bridge of the irrigation canal, and landed on the asphalted road.  The tiny icicles stung a bit, but the salakot and umbrella more-or-less protected most of their bodies. He didn’t care. He sauntered through the raining ice as the heavens roared. The festivities were now silent and the procession broken. The people hid in their shelters. Every man for himself.

The visibility turned from bad to worse. The hailstorm produced an unearthly noise and the air grew colder. The dog was eerily silent, occasionally yelping when droplets of ice escaped through the security of the umbrella. Desmond noticed drool dripping from its mouth.  Remembering the songs they memorized back in grade school, he continued the broken hymn:

Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

He arrived at a nearby forested area. On the other side was a wide clearing where a cottage perched quietly, and further down a big house stood in mourning. The hailstorm gave way to cold, icy rain. The master and his canine waded through the slippery rocks and muddy trails. The ice that fell were nowhere to be seen. The fern leaves and banana trees stood soaked in the watery grave produced by the downpour. Desmond used the bolo to hack through shrubs along the way. As they emerged to the other side, the overcast skies produced another flash and rumble.

Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

Two figures were visible in the cottage porch. One was sitting down, the older man, and the other was standing and carrying a tray of empty goblets and a wine bottle. The dog remained silent, following Desmond as he sneaked behind the cottage. In one of the corners, he was able to make out a few words.

“Has Gracey left already?,” the old man asked.

“Yes sir, Miss Danica and Sir Carver left an hour before the hailstorm, together with Madam’s ashes.”

Desmond was not able to see the old man’s face. The rain continued to pour, washing out the mud in their bodies. The dog began to whimper as its thin fur failed to shield it from the cold. Time is running out. The afternoon gave way to the first tendrils of evening darkness. Desmond patted the dog and commanded it to be quiet. The two figures waited patiently as both became soaked with rain water. The dog, annoyed, began to snarl.

Patience.

With a clink of goblets, the Mayor’s butler left the boss snoozing in his rocking chair and went back to the big house. The growing darkness added to the ominous intensity of the unrelenting thunderstorm. Outside, the irrigation canals overflowed, making the dirt roads unpassable by light vehicles. The few asphalted streets were further ruined by the deluge. Desmond’s cultivated field was destroyed by the rising floodwaters, the compost no longer viable for planting rice.

Desmond stood up and made briskly to the cottage porch, leaving his umbrella behind. His dog rushed to the shade and shook away the rain on its fur. It glared at the old man and growled.

The old man slowly looked up, wondering who dared disturb his sleep. Lightning flashed. He saw a figure framed by the porch’s entrance, wearing tattered clothes, bolo hung at his back and wearing a farmer’s salakot. The old man remembered all too well the fist that once jawed him four years ago.

“You know why I’m here.” Desmond whispered menacingly. The dog barked.

The old man, realizing the situation, mumbled. “N–o. No. Please.” His voice quivered pathetically. “I—I already gave your land back. What else do you want?” His eyes popped. His face turned red. The rain continued to grow in intensity, now accompanied by the whistle of strong winds. The porch no longer provided shelter as the downpour slanted along the blows of the gale. The wooden floor became soaked with rainwater. Another flash of lightning illuminated the scene.

“I’m here to offer my condolences,” he drew his bolo and held it with both hands, examining the blade.

“Madam was different,” he sighed. “She was a strange teacher. She pushed me despite of my family’s crushing poverty.”

The old man shook in fear.

“She developed what my mother had already taught me: reading, counting. She – how would you guys say it? – sponsored my needs.” Desmond continued. “I, a complete stranger. Perhaps she noticed something in me that she believed in.”

The winds howled. Or was it guilt?

Desmond moved again with deliberation. “She taught me right and wrong.” He moved closer. “She forgot to tell me it wasn’t always that simple.” Slowly, he raised blade to the old man’s neck.

Desmond growled. “Now she’s gone.”

“No—- no please.” The old man got up, fell down to his knees and began to plead. “I’ll give you anything.”

Say that to my dead parents, you son of a bitch. The dog barked.

“I -, I’ll give you a better job. I promise. I —, I’ll get you out of that place.”

The old man shivered with dread. Desmond also shivered with the satisfaction of giving the once invincible, bureaucratic man a reason to finally kneel before him. Mama and Papa must be throwing a party. There’s a mad gleam in his eyes as he seized him by the collar and dragged him with one hand back to his rocking chair. Breathing heavily, he pinned the mayor down and leaned the cold, damp blade on the skin of his neck.

The mayor, however, finally resisted. “Punyeta! Do you really think you can get away with this?”

“Ah, ah, shut up. You’re in no position to bargain this time old man. It’s just you and me.” Desmond sneered, pressing the steel on his target’s neck.

“Do it then!” dared the old man. Desmond blinked. “Do it. That’s what you want right? If you’re so brave, do it then Desmond.” Lightning flashed, casting long shadows on the porch. The lone light bulb near the door flickered.

The old man, sensing opportunity, spoke again. This time with a shred of calm. “Look, Desmond, you are not a murderer. You never were.” He felt the cold surface of the blade move on his neck. He raised his hands in surrender. “Please, hear me out.”

“There will be no explanations —” Desmond shouted.

“I was looking for opportunities for this city,” the old man interrupted. “I wanted more jobs for the people. There was an offer to turn the land you’re cultivating now into something better, and I already promised the farmers support once they’re displaced, offering them new homes and jobs.” The old man gathered composure as Desmond’s grip loosened.

“They just don’t want to abandon the land. My future in-laws would have been the first to be secured of work,” the mayor raised his voice. Desmond lowered his weapon and backed off slightly. The mayor relished the breathing space. “But they refused,” it was his turn to glare at Desmond. “Reasoning with that common-folk melodrama that it was their father’s land,” the mayor’s face contorted. “And frankly, agriculture is no longer the future of this city! The national government prefers to import rice. Where does that put your parents?”

Desmond thought of all the things he learned in college, the numbers, the principles, trade-offs and opportunity costs. He understood yet his hands still shivered with cold, doubt, and seething anger.

You knew of their state. You knew it was not sustainable, that they won’t have enough to survive. You knew they would lose income and suffer anyway. You thought you could leverage them by hunger.

The storm did not abate

“Answer me Desmond!” It was the old man’s turn to shake in anger. “Tell me that I’m the only one to blame, the sole villain that killed your parents,” the mayor, gaining momentum, continued.

“You of all people would understand. A business administration graduate. Class valedictorian who used to dream of becoming a lawyer. Your whole future was ahead of you.” The old man, knowing what to say, pushed it. He stood up, slowly. “Now you waste it.”

Completely disarmed, Desmond withdrew to the other end of the porch. Shivering in the cold.

“You don’t have the guts to do it.”

The old man, smirked and stood up. The dog continued to snarl.

“You’re just a mad dog, growling and snarling but unable to bite,” the mayor, red again in the face, jeered. Desmond continued to shiver. His hands holding loosely at the bolo.

The old man crept, timing his movements carefully. His eyes glued to the weapon as he continued to throw barbs at the mentally crippled Desmond.

“You know, we have a name for guys like you Desmond,” he jibed.

“You’re nothing but losers. The fucked up people who pulls down on others. You, and your family, are nothing but a bunch of parasites.”

He laughed at his own remark as he neared the quiet Desmond. “That’s right Desmond.” He paused. “Parasites.”

Desmond remained immovable, his head bowed down and face hidden by the shadow of his salakot. His clothes dripping as the storm continued blow through the open clearing and into the porch.

“People like you have no idea what opportunity is and do not have the guts to seize it.” The old man closed in on the solitary figure, seized the hand that held the bolo, and whispered.

Loser

“You’re wrong, asshole.” The old man felt the strong hands of a farmer reassert its grip on the weapon.

“Hup-hup!”

There was a growl and a struggle. The askal jumped on the two figures, planting its teeth on the neck of its master’s assailant, puncturing his windpipe. Unable to scream, the old man fell on the floor, struggling as the dog continued to press its jaws on his neck.

“Stop.” Desmond glared as the quiet figure thrashed around in his own pool of blood. His neck mangled as the dog’s teeth tore through tissue and vessels. The dog retreated, still growling at the struggling figure. Desmond held the bolo on his right hand and pinned the old man down easily with his left.

“Hush.” Desmond’s eyes shone as he placed the tip of the bolo over the man’s chest. The old man flailed as Desmond drove the newly sharpened steel to his chest with deliberate protraction. The old man’s hand waved violently at first, then vigorously, with Desmond whispering “Shush” as he struggled against the farmer’s weight. Then as the blade went deeper, easily piercing through rib and sinew, the movements gradually weakened then, finally, to a stop.

He withdrew the blade and sheathed it. He gave the dead figure a final look as the pool of blood spread from the open veins of his neck. Its eyes blank and expressionless. The person who once possessed it no longer of this world.

Desmond went back to the forest behind the cottage and battled through wind and rain. The evening darkness did not help him as he tripped from wayward rocks and slippery stones. The new shoes his brother gave already broken, soaked in blood and flood. His canine counterpart shivering, still with gore dripping from its mouth.

They reached a small open space. The rain still showed no signs of stopping. The roads are probably flooded, he thought. They sat together under the shade of a small rock formation. Desmond looked at his companion. For the first time he noticed how thin his dog was, perhaps due to a lot of skipped meals and spoilt food. His dog shivered as the rock formation failed to provide enough shelter from the winds and rain. How many hours has it been since they last saw light?

Desmond sat, cold and shivering, covered in mud, rain, and blood. He raised his weary, damp head and gazed at the sky. There were no stars that night. Only the heavens seemed to weep and roar in pain. Lightning forked through the sky, briefly illuminating his surroundings. He glimpsed of leaves swaying in the strong winds. His clothes dripped as freezing water seared deep into his skin. Fatigue seized his spirit. From a distance, he seemed to hear people still singing.

We pray for our country,

The land of our birth;

We pray for all nations

That peace be on earth.

He remembered the face of his enemy, now gone. He remembered his brother, Carver, the only person left in this world that he truly cares about. Would he still acknowledge him once he learned what he has done? He bowed his head and looked at his dog for the last time. He noticed scabs and ulcers he didn’t see before. He put his hand on his shivering dog’s head and petted him.

“Sorry buddy, I wouldn’t be able to take care of you any longer,” he grabbed the bolo and slit the canine’s throat.

He sat there for a long time, drowning in the downpour of rain and blood, with a dead dog resting on his lap. He remembered everything as the world weighed down on his chest. He remembered how he shut his eyes, stood up, and fled into the dark night, tripping through the tough terrain, leaving his dog and bolo behind.

They say time washes away everything, including memory. Right there, in the forest of Gapan, he wished that rain was time, but all it did was wash away the tears that flowed like downpour, like the rain itself, in that starless night.

End