|Oyang Dapitana, a play by Remé A. Grefalda
Romulo Hall, Embassy of the Philippines
- Mali Bangit
- Rodney Salinas
- Sherry Ann Garcia
- Remy Cabacungan
[READERS ENTER. POSITION WITH BACKS TURNED TO AUDIENCE UNTIL CUE]
The first time I saw him he was standing there- looking out of place in his black suit, beside his steamer trunk. He had arrived sooner than expected. Such an odd pale figure against the old hut by the sea- just waiting there. I was out of breath when I reached him. Thank goodness I prepared the place the day before. He barely said a word. Just nodded.
My name is Rosa. I live about 5 kilometers away from here. Of course I knew him! No one else came near him for months, except me. I would pick up his soiled clothes the day before and return fresh cleaned ones in the morning. I dusted the hut whenever he was out walking; brought in a dish of rice and fried fish that he hardly touched.
I do odd jobs here and there. I don't talk to people much. I don't like being laughed at. It's embarrassing to lose most of your teeth as I have. But one day when I brought in his clean clothes, he held up a nightdress of mine which I included by mistake with his bundle. I burst out laughing and he did too. From that time on, I didn't care if he wondered where all my teeth had gone. I would yap away even if he didn't understand a word.
I don't know the reason why he came here. Maybe for his health. That's the reason most city folks come. They take in the sea air for their health.
He called me Magno. I didn't want to know him. And I'm glad he's gone. He's no different from the others who come, stay awhile and before you know it, when you think they're here to stay, they're gone.
She's right. All those months, we watched him safely from the distance. When most people remained indoors after the last light of day, he could be seen out there with his glowing lamp either in the fields or by the shore-knee deep in water.
What can you expect- he was
a foreigner with foreign ways
even if he looked like one of us.
What can you expect- he was a foreigner with foreign ways even if he looked like one of us. How can you say you didn't want to know him! You spent more time arguing with him about things that didn't make sense anyway. Go ahead- deny it! I heard both of you. Especially you- mouthing off as if you knew anything! Arguing with city folk who are better than you!
He was not better! He was just different. I had different dreams than he did. Looking back, I have to admit that he paved the way for our friendship.
I brought him packages on a regular basis from the steamer boats that arrived each week. I watched him open one, it was a jar containing some white powder, which he would mix with water and sand or red mud. He explained that he had to be careful not to use too much otherwise he would run out and the powder was difficult to get. It was then that I began to notice wherever I walked that the ground would swell from dust into red clay earth. One day, I mentioned it to him and he eagerly asked if I could bring him some. So I did- a whole sack full of red earth. I never saw anyone so delighted over a sack of dirt.
One night I knocked on his door. I had a terrible fight with my parents. I saw his lighted window from the distance and without thinking twice I went. If I disturbed him, he didn't show his displeasure. He motioned me to the middle of the room and pointed to his only chair while he stood by the window.
"I'm running away." I said.
"Where to?" He whispered in concern. I didn't know. All I knew was that I had to get away. As far away from my parents as was possible. Out of the island. Away. But how? I told him my dreams about being a soldier. That friends, even younger than I was, had joined fighting units or sailed with the steamer boats. It was the easiest and surest way to leave the island.
We argued all night- with him persuading me that what I thought was a solution was not one at all. I couldn't make him understand that I was not looking for a solution, I just wanted to take hold of my own life. As he did. But he smiled- a sad smile, and said it wasn't that simple. That night I slept in his hut. The morning after, I heard muffled conversation in my sleep. My mother's voice. His. My mother's again. I rolled over and continued sleeping.
We were the only ones who were
close to him until word got out
that he could "cure the sick."
Oyang here gave him away.
You would think though that after all this time he could have at least told me that he was leaving for good. What am I going to do with his laundry? Ah, but who am I after all! Who am I to deserve a moment's notice? I am a simple housekeeper. Not a very good one at that. [cackles] I remember once how he walked out of the hut in disgust after he found out that I threw away all the old beetles he had lined up to dry on the windowsill. How was I to know that dead insects were important? City folks! You help them and- Such ingrates!
He said the waves- if they were people- were always bursting with joy because no matter how far they were thrown, they always could return home to shore.
But he did say goodbye. We just didn't hear it. We weren't listening.
Don't talk silly, girl. If he said he was leaving next week, the folks in town would have feted him with a town party.
[TO AUDIENCE] You see, after three years, Don Jose had the townspeople eating out of his hands. The Alcaldé offered him the use of his house in the heart of town but Don Jose refused to give up his hut.
We were the only ones who were close to him until word got out that he could "cure the sick." Oyang here gave him away. From that day on, the procession of people in and out of his hut never stopped.
Please, Kuya Magno, can I tell them about Don Jose?
What can you tell about him that most folks don't already know? You're just a child. You never shared his thoughts or heard him talk aloud or argue about things. What can you know of him?
I know what he taught me about the changing sky, about the songs the fireflies sing at night. He said that even though we couldn't see, birds felt a sadness and they had their own tears to cry. He said the waves- if they were people- were always bursting with joy because no matter how far they were thrown, they always could return home to shore.
What nonsense! What kind of crazy talk is that to feed a child's mind?
Go ahead- What else? But when did he tell you all this?
All the time. But especially that time when I was screaming and bleeding. (to audience) I fell from the tree overlooking the path where he used to take his walks. And I landed my heel on a broken glass jar. I didn't think he could run so fast carrying me, but we flew!
I remember he said there were more secret songs hidden away in the earth than we could ever know. And we hardly ever want to even listen.
You were lucky he was around, and that Aling Rosa was there to help him pin you down so he could clean off all that blood and remove the pieces of glass stuck in your heel.
Don't talk about that day! I don't know why I didn't faint. I couldn't eat for days remembering all that blood on the ground.
I spent the afternoon with my foot all bandaged up until Itay carried me home. To distract me from the pain, he showed me how he cut leaves and flowers and pressed them between pages of his books to dry.
(SOUND: music box)
It was the wind and the lapping of the waves and the way his voice described each plant that made me drowsy with sleep. I remember he said there were more secret songs hidden away in the earth than we could ever know. And we hardly ever want to even listen.
It's just as well he didn't talk that way with me. I kept pressing him about foreign cities. He couldn't explain why it was all right that he traveled so much and yet when I wanted to, he held me back. A soldier is needed and appreciated. A soldier's life is more useful than any other. I wanted to be a soldier. He said, "Wait." If after three years, I hadn't changed my mind, he said he would personally recommend me to any general that I be a foot soldier.
But now he's gone. Without a word. He arrived of his own choice and left much the same way. He's probably back in his beloved city, enjoying the sights, surrounded by beautiful women, comfortable among his books and partying all night among his friends. He's forgotten- Who's going to help me now? Now that he's gone?
I will be blind remembering the feel of his hands, hearing his words of hope. Did he leave me to my blindness after he promised me my sight?
Who's going to help me now? Now that he's gone? Who's going to complete what he's begun?
Here, here! Don't wail so, Tandang Juana. He left instructions for your care. Here, Magno- [HANDS HIM AN ENVELOPE] You're the only one who can read. He left this- this must be for you. [HANDS HIM A DOCTOR'S CARRYING CASE] Here's his bag. The way you're holding it, you might as well be a doctor.
He can't do this to me. I'm going to be a soldier. I don't want the responsibility of life and death. I am not cut out for the task of healing and curing. I want to live my life. Out there, not here.
Magno- I will be blind forever! I will be blind remembering the feel of his hands, hearing his words of hope. Did he leave me to my blindness after he promised me my sight?
Hush, old woman. He left you in my care. For whatever reason you were left to me, I will care for you. You will have your sight just as he promised.
". . .yo vivo pensando en lo pasado y lo pasado nadie me puede arrebatar . . . "
(Holding the music box to Oyang) What's this?
(Takes the music box and winds it, speaks as the music plays) He called it a music box! Wherever you are, Don Jose, Goodbye. . . Thank you for leaving this behind. I know you are happy wherever you are. Because you always find good feelings even in the loneliest places. (Sounds offstage: Military commands to a firing squad in Spanish) Please remember us your friends when you are famous. When you are with your family and friends, please think of us whom you left behind. I know you will live a long and wonderful life and one day you will come back to visit. (Sound: Juxtapose snare drum roll over music box playing) I will take good care of all your collection, so that when you return you can claim them. I will miss you terribly. I will listen for your voice in the night. (Sound of body falling to the ground) Goodbye, Don Jose.
© Remé A. Grefalda 1996