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Red, Blue, Red, Blue

Ap-palik was never taught how to pray. She knew that there was a God. And it was always in a sitting position, very much similar to her grandfather, whose dead body was ceremoniously thrust inside a hole on the mountain. The picture of God, therefore, was the picture of her grandfather resembling the crudely carved wooden idol, also in a sitting position, which resided mutely at the bend of the trail.

As she turned to pay homage to this idol, she once again thought that this God is a strong God, able to endure a chipped nose more than she a toothache.

She prayed by imitation genuflecting by knocking her forehead with the palm of her hand, beating her chest with the other, touching both shoulders with her fingers, and bumping her knee on the ground.

She prayed by imitation genuflecting by knocking her forehead with the palm of her hand, beating her chest with the other, touching both shoulders with her fingers, and bumping her knee on the ground. With both hands stretched to the sky, she said, "Ap-palik is going down the mountain," in a voice that sounded like a cross between a warning and a demand to the God of Travelers to grant safe passage.

Glancing at the brother beside her, she thrust an upturned palm forward in the begging position and said, "We are going down the mountain, God of Trees, please protect us as you would protect the gatherers of firewood!"

And then, with more exuberance than piety the third time around, she waved goodbye to her proud parents in a house on top of the mountain, and proceeded down the trail chanting, "I am going to town."

"The moist earth was squishing through her bare toes when she stopped to shift her skirt so that the pocket was out front to count her money. The Convent gave this skirt to her mother, she thought, and it must have been originally white. Her mother was going to buy her a new one when she married one of her father's army friends, but that would be after the next firewood gathering season. And shoes—it must be fun to wear shoes. Mother said it took some getting used to. She did not have to wear them on the trail. She could carry them to make them last.

Her brother, Nonoy, was wearing her father's old army sweater. Ap-palik was wearing her father's worn-out camouflage army jacket. Father thinks of everything, she thought, as she looked at her wrist-watch. He knew she couldn't tell time so he painted the face of a clock on Nonoy's forehead showing the positions of the hands to tell us when to start back home. The two got carried away, though, and painted dials all over their cheeks and arms and legs until both of them look like graffiti.

Ah but her father loved the Army. Her name, Ap-palik, was taken from a favorite Army poem—The Charge of the Light Brigade. He taught her how to recite this poem from beginning to end. And this she will recite while going down the mountain, broken English and all.

"Ap-palik, ap-palik, ap-palik onward,
Into the valley of death
rode the six hundred.
Forward the Light Brigade,
charge for the guns, he said,
Not though the soldier knew,
.......not though the soldier.."

She wavered, and she tried again to find the next verse. Nonoy started a chorus with her, and all along the trail, the people that they met could have sworn that the two were reciting a litany.

When at last they reached level ground, they headed straight for the candy store, buying all they could, including a huge bag of caramelized popcorn. People began to stare at their paint so they went at once to the theater, where the woman in the glass box ignored Ap-palik's greeting. Who wouldn't? Even when she smiled, she still looked like a woman on the warpath with all that paint on.

She liked cartoons. Even though the characters were not real people, they were what she wished people to be—simple and colorful and predictable.

They must have watched two shows twice. They left before the sad part. She always cried on those. They lingered in town for a while, munching on dried deer jerky which they tore with funny little angry bites. When the watch showed a configuration exactly like that on Nonoy's forehead they started home, taking the longest route towards the trail.

They called out together, red, blue, red, blue as the lights came on. Failing to recognize the colors green and yellow, they just skipped those, not knowing what to call them.

But then the lights started to come on! This was one thing they wanted to see—Christmas lights, colored lights, all on everybody's window, flickering, and flashing, and giving color to the trees and the ground and the houses. They stopped at one particular house with bigger lights that dimmed and brightened slowly. They entered the yard and sat behind the hibiscus hedge, mesmerized by the lights. They called out together, red, blue, red, blue as the lights came on. Failing to recognize the colors green and yellow, they just skipped those, not knowing what to call them. Besides, they like red and blue best.

Pretty soon they fell asleep with their chanting, curled up in each other's arms.

Suddenly, they were wakened by shots and sirens and running feet and barking dogs. The colored lights were shut off. Men came running by away from something. The two sprang up but it was too dark to see anything. They came out of the hedge and walked away. The mud squished noisily. Headlights came on and blinded them. They started running away from the lights. A volley of shots were fired. Nonoy was hit and he fell down dead, still clutching Ap-palik's hand. She tried to raise him but couldn't. She turned to the lights in disbelief. A second volley was fired, and then a third. On both counts, she felt like two huge arms were pushing her back as the bullets hit. She staggered to maintain her balance in the mud, shifting her feet several times, but the fourth volley slammed her on her back. She tried to get up but her body did not respond. Instinctively, she lifted a hand towards Nonoy's body. The hand fell limp. The pain went away slowly as numbness overcame her. She looked up for help, up to the flashing police lights, up to the blinking, mesmerizing police lights, and coughed her last.

Uniformed men milled around to view the bodies. One of them flipped Nonoy's body over with a foot and said, "It must be a cult-it looks like a cult—yes, the six-o'clock cult."

"For sure," replied another. "You would never expect anything good to come out of these people," pointing to Ap-palik's body with the red oozings from the nose and through the teeth.

"She was saying something, no?"

"Yes, something like redblueredblue!!!

EPITAPH : If mountains could shed tears........

© Rickoshay

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