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[The following piece is for a storytelling session, requiring 4-5 voices, creative sound effects and audience participation. Members of the audience are assigned sounds and must pay attention when the sound description is called out or when the stage manager points and cues their entrance]

Why Crabs Have Longer Legs
in Barrio Peñafrancia

I live in the village of Barrio Peñafrancia. Everyone here knows each other by name and by house, so when the balikbayans came to town, they caused quite a stir. Who were these strangers who looked like us, didn't speak like us and dressed so differently?

And why were they here in Barrio Peñafrancia?

They were looking to feast on crabs.

That's what Mang Temyo announced. It was during the usual morning meeting at the sari-sari store. The men gathered by the bangko, straddling the old sturdy bench with the checker board laid out between Mang Celso and Mang Sosimo (who was not from Barrio Peñafrancia but who was there to buy his weekly supplies). I was with Tito Manuel at that time because he promised me two new sipa. They were my reward for finding his other pair of tsinelas which was missing for a whole week.

Among my playmates, I was the butt of jokes for having an uncle who didn't care if he walked around the square with only one slipper.

Among my playmates, I was the butt of jokes for having an uncle who didn't care if he walked around the square with only one slipper. Shame more than anything moved me to look high and low for the missing pair.

Tito Manuel was asking me to choose which color sipa I wanted when I was distracted by all the shouting among them as they described the ways of the Balikbayans. I tugged at Tito Manuel's sleeve. He looked at me and bent his ear to my whispering.

"Who are they?"

"Who are WHO?" He whispered back.

"Baaah-lik-bah-yan?"

"A Balikbayan, anak, is someone who used to live here, but doesn't anymore and has come back... to visit, not to stay."

"Is he like the prodigal son Padre Armando described in the bible story last Sunday?" I ventured.

"Prodigal son? Yeah, I guess a balikbayan is like the prodigal son—"

"But they sure aren't poor!" Everyone joined in and laughed.

"No," Tito Manuel said, "In fact you could say a balikbayan is ree-hitch. Supermayaman!" And the others nodded in agreement.

After paying for my two sipa, we headed back down the road.

It was Tito Manuel's habit to take me over to my Lola every market day, so I wouldn't be left alone at home. Lola lived at the edge of the village and the walk to Lola's was exactly the time it took for one story to be told by Tito Manuel.

"Why would balikbayans come to Peñafrancia looking for crabs, Tito?"

Considering the question with his head cocked and his eyes squinting at the sky, Tito always began his stories with

"Hmmm. . . I'm sure it had to do with Juan. Yes, come to think of it, Juan was the main culprit."

[addressing the audience] J-U-A-N, Hooo-waaan. Say it.

Juan was a young lad who grew up always getting into trouble. Adventure after adventure. And the townspeople just knew to either blame something on Juan or praise him with whatever fantastic happening.

One day, Juan's mother sent him on an errand to go to the marketplace at San Isidro to buy some twenty crabs. Now, Juan wasn't much for bartering or even bargaining with the stall vendors at the marketplace. So his mother had talked to the son of Mang Leno. Mang Leno it was who convinced his grandmother who owned a seafood stall at the palengke to give Aling Maria (Juan's mother) a good price for three and a half kilos of crabs—on the one condition that Aling Maria pick up the crabs as early as possible.

The night before, Aling Maria had prepared thirty pesos and some loose centavos rolled and tied in a handkerchief for Juan, she included some boiled kamotes in a bag for him to eat on the way to the market. [SOUND: crickets]

The next morning, still dark and and even before the rooster had a chance to hop on the fence to meet the rising sun, Juan rubbed his sleepy eyes open. He pocketed the handkerchief with the money [SOUND: rooster crowing], bit off half a kamote, and remembered to place his slingshot in his back pocket. He nodded patiently at each whispered instruction from his mother and began to walk down the road towards Barrio San Isidro.

His mother called out to him. "Juan, anak, don't stop and play along the way. The crabs need to be fresh when you bring them home."

Juan waved his hand in response and grumbled, "Fresh? Fresh! I'm not even awake. . ." But he dutifully turned towards her silhouetted figure and shouted, "Opo, Inay!" and continued walking.

As he neared the town, more and more people walked with him towards the marketplace. Ahead, he thought he spied Felipé with his father.

"Ipé! Ipé!" Juan waved to his friend. Ipé waved back and waited for Juan to catch up.

"Ano ba, Juan! What's up?" Ipé smiled. "You're up early! Are you going to sneak into the sabungan?"

Juan smiled back.

"Of course! Why do you think I'm here on my own. See this!"

He held up the handkerchief, bobbing the contents to make sure the centavos jingled noisily. [SOUND: jingling coins] Ipé's jaw fell open.

"Honestly, Ipé, you're the most gullible kid in town. Use your brain! How can I get into the sabungan when they don't allow kids in the cockpit. Besides, my mother would tan my behind if I didn't get home in time with the crabs I have to buy!"

"I don't know, Juan! Sometimes you do things no kid ever thinks of doing. And you've gotten away with them too!"

"Yeah, like when?"

Felipé reminded Juan of the time when Juan hid all the class notebooks during exam week and Mrs. Pardo, the English Teacher couldn't give her exams because no one had a notebook to write on. Every kid had an F during that grading period.

"Not this time. I gotta pick up three kilos of crabs and hurry home."

Just then, Kiko and his brothers Dodong and Anding joined them. The boys kick-slapped each other's behind by way of greetings. Kiko told Juan and Ipé that they were on their way to see this new motorcycle at Mang Berto's garage before it would be attached as a pedicab for Kiko's older brother Kuya Rey.

"Hey, can I come along?" Felipé asked excitedly.

"Sure. How 'bout you, Juan? Wanna come?" Seeing Juan's hesitation, Kiko said the magic words that would test Juan's resolve:

"And Kuya said he would give each of us a ride for at least half a kilometer before it becomes a pedicab."

He had always dreamed of a motorcycle. No one owned one in his barrio. This would be his only chance to actually ride on one! But his mother's admonition rang in his ears.

What a predicament for Juan! He had always dreamed of a motorcycle. No one owned one in his barrio. This would be his only chance to actually ride on one! But his mother's admonition rang in his ears. The money all wrapped up in the handkerchief bulged in his pocket. He had an idea. . .

"Go ahead. I'll follow you guys. I know where Mang Berto's garage is. Let me first take care of my errand."

"Don't take too long, Juan." Anding said. "You know Kuya Rey, when he gets impatient, he might change his mind!"

"Don't worry. I probably will be there ahead of you all!"

And they walked away jeering and laughing at him. But Juan had an idea . . .

Juan reached the wet marketplace and in the distance saw the stall where the crabs were crawling out of woven kaings. The old woman saw him from the distance and waved for him to hurry over.

"Iho, over here! Dali!"

"Mano po, Lola! I'm Juan, the son of Aling Maria of Barrio Peñafrancia. I am here to pay for the three kilos of crabs."

"Hurry, boy, my suki will be here before the stalls open and I don't want her to see you paying me only thirty pesos. I packed the crabs in one sako so it will be easy for you to carry. Here."

Twenty crawling crabs were all around his feet. Then Juan picked up the largest crab and began talking to it.

Juan took the bulging sako and unwrapped the handkerchief's contents into the gnarled hands of the old woman. When he reached the crossroad, he left the pavement and walked towards the woods near a creek. He untied the sack, lifted it and the crabs fell out of the opening. Twenty crawling crabs were all around his feet. Then Juan picked up the largest crab and began talking to it.

"Listen here, I know you are not stupid! In fact, I think you are the leader of this group. Now, I will give you very simple instructions and I expect you to follow them."

Pointing to the creek, he said, "This little river will be winding through the woods. If you follow the river for at least a kilometer, the river will bend and get wider. You will see a bridge not far from the woods, simply follow the river under the bridge. After three huts on your left, go up the slope to the fourth hut. Remember now, the FOURTH hut. You will know it's my house because there is a fenced area where Inay grows her vegetables. No one else has such a garden.

"Just stay there by the fenced area until she notices you. Before the sun is high up in the sky, Inay will be picking vegetables for lunch.

"Remember now, just follow the river and I will see you when I get home."

With those final words, Juan placed the leader of the crabs on the ground. Then he ran back into town and headed for Mang Berto's garage.

[addressing the audience]

SONG
Do you think it's fair
to keep you in suspense?
Do you think it's fair
to keep you in suspense?
Do you think it's fair
to keep you—to keep you—to keep you
Do you think it's fair to keep you in suspense?

"What happened? What happened?" I kept shaking Tito Manuel's arm as we were nearing Lola's hut. He just kept walking and smiling bemused at my insistence.

"What do you think?" He looked down at me with a twinkle in his eye. I stopped in front of him and looked him straight in the eye. He simply stared back.

"It can't be! You mean they got there?"

"Not exactly. You see..."

 

Juan got back home shortly before sundown and his mother was there by the gate waiting for him with the familiar tingting walis in her hand. Her expression was grim. Juan froze in his tracks.

"You mean they're not here yet?" He asked incredulously.

"Who are not here yet?" Demanded his mother fiercely, her lips pursed in anger; her hand raised with the tingting walis to pounce on Juan. But Juan deftly stepped aside each time she tried to land the palm broom against his behind.

"But Inay, I gave them specific directions!"

"You stupid, stupid boy! You expect crabs to come crawling up our yard from the roadside following your directions?"

And with every other word, she whacked him and only his agile moves allowed him to escape the wrath of his mother's beatings.

"Inay, I promise!"

"Promise what?"

"Not to be stupid any more!" And with that promise he got another whack.

Suddenly one could hear an insistent rustling sound on the side of the hill below. [SOUND: Crumple paper] Juan stopped running. His mother stopped whacking at him. And before their unbelieving eyes, three crabs could be seen climbing the slope towards Juan.

Juan stomped his feet in anger when he saw the leader of the crabs. With arms akimbo, he stood before them as they arrived one by one and shouted:

"What's the meaning of this? Don't you know what time it is? Can't you see how worried Inay is? Didn't I make it clear that you guys should be here BEFORE lunchtime?" Then he started counting them as they made it up the slope. "Fifteen...sixteen... seventeen... Whoa! Where are the other two?"

The two, of course, got married by the creek and sired many a baby crab. All of them with long, sturdy walking legs to get them home on time!

AND THAT IS WHY
CRABS HAVE LONGER LEGS
IN BARRIO PEÑAFRANCIA!

© QBd Ink

 

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