Translated from Cebuano by John Bengan
In my hometown Matanao, there was a village they called Kasiawa. I grew up and came of age in Kasiawa. My childhood was a happy one since beyond the large houses, there was a “drier”—an area where they spread grains of rice, coconut meat, and corn out to dry. When there was nothing on the drier, the place would be filled with children, who never tired of running about. Our mothers grew tired of scolding us.
The children in Kasiawa didn’t feel weariness or fatigue. When we got bored with the drier, we went to the lake and snatched mangoes, star apple, tiesa, cacao, and whatever fruit we could stuff into our mouths. Sometimes we played wargames with our guns and weapons made from bamboo. Our ammunition of choice: wet, balled paper.
My friends were the most mischievous and no matter how many times Papa beat me with his belt, I would still join them to play. I would wander into the drier even if it meant welts on my behind. Sometimes I would bring my younger siblings, especially when Mama hadn’t yet arrived from school and Papa from cutting down coconut trees.
Siawa’s big house stood in front of the drier. He was an old Chinese man who came from Canton, China. When he and Papa once drank tuba, the old man recalled how hard life was in the communist nation. I partly understood what they were talking about because I’d already grown some sense at that time. I was in Grade Six and Papa would take me on afternoons he’d visit Siawa’s house. Siawa also sold day old coconut wine.
Siawa was a very short man, his eyes disappeared when he laughed, and his thin hair parted so carefully. His skin were covered in freckles and he had a slouch. He often wore polo shirts and pants, but his sandals were the same brown colored pair that he hadn’t replaced since I’d seen them. Siawa had a soft voice.
All the people in our village, child or grown up, called him Siawa. He owned the largest store in all of Poblacion. The store was always filled with grocery items. Things needed in the kitchen, his store had them all. From salt to chlorine, all there. His large house was divided into three—grocery store, storage room, and a house for his family. He stored in the bodega the sacks of rice he’d bought from the farmers from Barangay New Murcia, Mangga, Buri, and Barangay Balon. At the back of his house, he kept geese and ducks. Sometimes, idlers would nail the wings of one of Siawa’s ducks so the bird wouldn’t be able to fly. They’d trick Siawa into thinking that his pet was ailing and then they’d ask for the duck so they’d have finger food while drinking.
I knew what these bums were up to because they’d ask me to get nails from our house in exchange for some of their duck adobo.
Sometimes, they’d speak gibberish with Siawa. Pitoy would say, “Siawa, tsingkong gawlo, tsingkong gawlo,” and then they’d laugh and along with them Siawa laughed also. It took me some time to understand that what they were just saying was “singkong lugaw”—five-peso porridge.
Siawa was the only Chinese man in our village. There were also Kapampangan, Ilocano, and Blaan, but the only Chinese man was considered the most respected among the settlers in our place. He managed a good business and he never deceived anyone. Even if he’d been asked many times to run for barangay captain, he wouldn’t do it. My grandmother, a Blaan, was a good friend of Siawa’s. Lola Julia was one of those whom Siawa allowed credit at his store. Lola called Siawa, “Tukay lagi.”
Whenever I stopped by the drier and Siawa was around, he’d call me and my friends and he’d offer us some bread. Sometimes, his wife Mana Salud would invite us and serve us porridge. Mana Salud was Siawa’s second wife after the first died from illness, and with whom he had no children. Siawa had hired Mana Salud as a shopkeeper, Mama told me. They had ten children.
Mana Salud was so kind. When we didn’t have a TV, she let us watch in her house. Their living room was filled with photos. There was a fish figurine, various shells, and paintings. Mana Salud often rested on a rocking chair after she working at their store. Siawa called me Boy because Papa’s name was also Boy. In Siawa’s big house, his children would gather. He had three engineers, a dentist, a pastor, and a lawyer. His other children lived in Iligan and Davao.
I wasn’t able to talk with Siawa for a long time. Perhaps, I also didn’t have anything to say that would interest him, lest I admitted to having given the bums nails they’d use to maim some of his pet ducks. Even though he was a kind man, Siawa was not much of a giver. You had to pay him what he’s due. The people he allowed credit were a select group.
Around his house, there were flowers. Each day, when I’d be asked to buy pan de sal, I’d pass by him watering Mana Salud’s flowers. We’d only smile at each other. Sometimes, we’d nod.
When I reached high school, many things happened in my life. There were changes in me, such as I didn’t anymore wander around the drier, I didn’t go with friends from faraway villages, and I didn’t anymore give nails to the bums.
Siawa no longer went out of his house. He also didn’t buy sacks of rice. His bodega was empty, but he still had his grocery store. However, the store only had some grocery items, the selection just a few.
Because there were many other grocery stores around, Siawa’s store grew lonelier. Siawa’s eyes and smile slowly faded. What I won’t forget about Siawa was something he’d told my mother.
Siawa said, “Your child, you send him to school, because it’s hard if a child has no education. A pity, such a pity. In China, too many children without education, girls who don’t go to school, but my children, they go to school, because it means money. Business may go away, but education remains.”
I had come from enrolling at a college in Davao when I heard that Siawa had died. After he passed away, our side of the village became lonely. It was as if we had lost a grandfather or a friend. The whole village mourned with his family. When I reached the crossing, the motorcycle driver asked me where I was going. I said to him, “Kasiawa.”