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The Barrio Tattle
Anna and Nonoy
It was a particularly hot day and Anna sat on the bamboo bench in her porch, flipping back an errant hair blown into her face by the occasional breeze. It was the perfect time to do what she and Sam had planned for days. She stood anxiously and her black hair cascaded down her waist.
She saw Magda looking out her window and she felt the same annoyance she felt the first time she met Nonoy’s cousin.
“Is she proud to be the mistress of your uncle?” Anna asked her husband as she placed a platter of steaming rice on the table.
“I don’t like them. Uncle Onofre thinks highly of himself,” Nonoy said stirring his coffee.
“I heard he was complaining because Havana did not pay his ride to town.” Anna smelled the dried fish burning and dashed to remove them from the hot coals with bamboo tongs.
“Havana helps push his jeep every morning, he should give him free rides once in a while,” Nonoy said, more to himself than to Anna.
“Is it true that Magda used gayuma to seduce him?” Anna asked as she placed the plate of charred fish on the table and sat down.
“Hmph! Only a fool would leave Auntie Lina for Magda. It’s either some potion or he just likes women with squat nose and thick lips, plus that kinky hair.” He chuckled.
Anna laughed. “Don’t say that. Yesterday at the stream, she was telling us about her many suitors.”
“Suitors?” he asked with an impish grin.
“She said there were tribal boys but she won’t ever marry a tribesman.”
“So she seduced a married man. Disgusting.” He shook his head, picked up his cup and finished his coffee.
The Proud Mistress
A squawking noise brought Anna’s wandering mind back. A rooster was chasing a hen around her flower garden. Several stems of her daisies broke. Anna loved to tend her garden but these past few days, she had been so engrossed with Sam’s proposal that the last time she was in the garden was when Magda came up to her.
“Oy… your daisies are blooming,” she said securing her sarong to her waist. “Wear a hat. It’s too hot. Your fair skin will burn.”
Anna caught the sarcasm and struggled to her feet. She shook some dirt off her skirt. “You are not in the fields today,” she said squinting to protect her eyes from the sun.
Magda rolled her eyes and folded her arms. “Hay… Onofre brought beef last night and I am boiling them until tender. ‘Kapampangan’ husbands are finicky when it comes to food.”
Anna wanted to ask, “Husband?” but she grunted instead.
"Last night we had sinigang baboy, tonite nilagang baka.” Anna remained quiet which prompted Magda to continue, “I will teach you Tagalog dishes so you can prepare more than just ‘gabi’ leaves for Nonoy.”
Anna wiped her brow with her hand. She wondered what was making her sweat, the sun or her boiling blood. “Nonoy is a simple man with simple tastes. He prefers to put his money in the bank. You know, his share from his parents’ copra, his earnings from his own field.” Anna emphasized the word ‘own’.
When Magda finally left her, Anna sighed with relief and walked to where her coffee beans were drying. Nonoy picked them from the trees the previous day and pounded them to separate the skin from the beans. Anna stooped to move the beans around and they felt dry enough to be roasted and ground the next day. Bagobos made their own coffee straight from the tree to the grinder to produce the powder. Coffee-making was one of the chores that Anna loved doing.
The Gossip Magda
Anna jumped as she remembered the coffee she was boiling. Sam is late, she thought as she went inside.
Like many young Bagobos, Anna dreamed of a life beyond the barrio. She loved going to school but after grade six, her father said, “You will eventually marry. You don’t need school.”
Before she was married off to Nonoy, she and her sisters were once invited to their cousin’s house in the city. That one visit showed them the comforts of city life.
Anna and her five sisters often talked about the city and dreamed of living in a house where water flowed inside and there was no need to fetch from the stream or wait for the rain to fill the tanks. They dreamed of a house where there was no need to chop wood to start fire in the kitchen stove. One by one, her sisters were married off to men with large tracts of land and to men who provided huge dowries. None of her sisters lived in the city.
Nonoy was a good man who promised her anything she desired so it occurred to Anna that if she could not live in the city, she could bring the city to her. She filled her house with items that she saw in her cousin’s house and when electricity was installed in their barrio, she made Nonoy buy her a small TV, colored lamps and an electric fan.
But her little comforts sparked a nasty gossip.
“Nonoy would soon work himself to death if Anna won’t stop being capricious.”
“In her father’s house, she used to sleep on a mat in the floor, but now she has to sleep on a soft bed.”
“Why does she need so many lamps in her house?”
“What a bighead, showing off her TV. Won’t even invite us to watch.”
“And won’t help in the fields. Afraid her fair skin will burn in the sun.”
"We could also buy expensive shampoo if we lived on dried fish like them.”
“Nonoy is a henpecked husband.”
Anna knew Magda had spread the gossip. She dismissed them as caused by envy but Nonoy would not take it lightly. He went charging to Magda’s house and called out, “Magda!”
“Oy, Noy,” she appeared on her window smiling but when she saw Nonoy’s face, the smile faded.
Nonoy swore at her in their dialect. “You shameless woman! Stop gossiping or I will cut your tongue off.”
Magda shut her window while Nonoy continued to slander her in their native tongue. “I swear… one of these days I will chase you out of this place with Papa’s gun.”
That night, Magda got a good scolding from Onofre. Serves her right, Anna thought when they heard the ruckus at the house across the road.
Sam and Anna
The squawking ended her musing. That rooster never quits, Anna thought. Just like Sam who never took ‘no’ for an answer. Only Sam could sell sofa sets to people who were used to sitting on the floor. He knew a lot of things and the barrio women loved to listen to his stories especially about the city. Sam described himself as a Jack-of-all-trades.
Anna frowned. Did I make a wrong decision? What will Nonoy think and do?
The night before, Anna sat on the bed, staring at her reflection in the mirror. When Nonoy reached out to touch her hair, she allowed him to caress it. For the last time, she thought.
“Hellooo.” Anna was startled when he heard that familiar voice. She met Sam at the porch where she caught Magda watching them from her window. What gossip will she spread now, she thought.
Anna poured hot coffee from a kettle into her china cups as Sam stood behind her, touching her hair. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered.
She never felt that excited as she put the kettle back on the kitchen stove where she saw the fire burning. Anna scattered the pieces of wood to put out the flame.
“I’m really worried…” she started but Sam hushed her as he led her to the bedroom.
“Oh, Anna, you’re so beautiful.” He caressed her hair tenderly.
“I’m afraid…” Anna moaned.
“Don’t be. You are doing this for yourself. Everything will be alright,” he assured her.
“Forget about Nonoy,” Sam cut her off, “I promise I will make you happy.”
Anna groaned but suddenly stiffend,” Did you hear that? Something downstairs.”
They listened for a moment, then Anna dismissed it, “Must be that rooster catching up with the hen. I hate to think it’s Nonoy walking in on us.” She giggled.
Unknown to them, a short, stocky figure crawled from under Anna’s bedroom window and stealthily ran to the house up the road.
Anna sat in front of the mirror while Sam stood behind her patting her hair. She loved what Sam had done to her and they basked in satisfaction when they heard a loud crash.
Before they could react, the bedroom door flew open and there stood Nonoy, eyes glaring, a hand on the sheathed bolo hanging from his waist. Anna couldn’t think straight from fear and from the earsplitting shrieks behind her.
“Noy, what is this?” she asked above the screaming that shattered her eardrums. “Sam, stop that!” She yelled at the man crouching behind her, comb and scissors in his hands.
“He’s going to kill us, he’s going to kill us…” Sam shrieked as he held on to Anna like a shield.
“N-Noy…” Anna cautiously said as Nonoy stared at her. Anna followed his gaze to the heap of hair on the floor and back to her. Then he stared at the whimpering Sam.
“This is your salesman, ha, Magda?” Nonoy cocked his head.
“Salesman, beautician, hairdresser, manicurist…” Sam chattered. Ann jabbed him with her elbow when she noticed the two women behind Nonoy.
“What are they doing here? she asked. Then Anna suddenly understood the whole scenario but before she could say anything, Nonoy started to laugh.
Then he stopped and turned to Magda who cringed behind Nonoy’s sister, Maria. “You and your gossiping tongue!” He unsheathed his bolo but Magda raced down the stairs and ran to the road, slippers flying in the air.
The following week, Onofre sat in his jeep barking orders and swearing at Magda who ran ‘to and fro’ loading their stuff on the jeep to move to another farm.
© 2015 Virgo908