This Great Society - Writing

 



Illustration: Mark Gunderson


Thea Tambogon: Far From Home
Illustration: Mark_Gunderson

 
 

            It is a typical humid night in the Philippines. My mother’s ranch vibrates with a blur of bodies—people drinking and smoking and laughing while children push and play on the dry dirt around the barn. Jubilant and energetic since the early morning, they still pound on the hard ground as they race after one another, their bare feet calloused from everyday games. Neglected by parents, they zip in and out of darkness, playing tag with the night. Their haunting laughter echoes against the still air.
             I stay in the doorway that leads to the kitchen. My aunties prepare the food inside and I can hear them laugh and shout almost as loud as the party raging in front of me. There is an endless stream of going in and out; bowls of pancit and lumpia leave as boxes and boxes of empty beer bottles arrive. I am scolded again and again for being in the way, and many times invited to move. With a gallant shake of the head, I refuse and disguise my terrors with a blanket of dark.
            The smell, the sound, the atmosphere—each is so spectacular that I fear stepping out of the shadows, lest I shift something unseen. I am curious enough to watch, but not brave enough to venture.
            I spot my father and uncle out in the yard and begin, finally, to move towards them. They are adding large pieces of wood into an empty, metal tub while everyone begins to gather around in a circle. They give the tub generous squirts of starter fluid and empty a bottle of alcohol to douse the wood. Set ablaze, the heat immediately spreads, creating a fire that is small, but whose spirit is fierce. The temperature escalates. Sweat bleeds from my pores as the raw flame whips its fiery claws against the warm night.
            The children stop playing their game to huddle around their parents. Voices shrill with excitement, they cling to their mothers’ legs as the women begin to clap a strange rhythm. Small faces gleam up towards red drunken expressions and laugh a laugh that echoes further into the distant reaches of the night. The dancing flame of the fire highlights their feet, stomping impatiently to the beat of their mothers’ clapping.
            I, too, look for my mother, but this far from my doorway and the kitchen’s glow, the light is weak and I can only trust that she is out here too, lost among a sea of drunken, happy faces.
            My eyes are drawn back to the fire by a lurching figure just beyond the flames. I see my father and my uncle half-dragging an animal towards the tub by a rope around its neck. It fights against them, it fights against the noose, it fights against the cheering crowd of drunken bastards and giggling children.
            Its face is a broken snarl and its growl is hoarse. Its paws dig and push into the dry dirt in a last attempt to break free. Its legs quiver as it grows weak and its back quakes as its muscles strain.
            A box is put over its head and, one by one, my uncles each grab a long stick and club the creature along its sweating flanks and spine. My father ties the end of the rope to a nearby tree to secure the dog. Then he picks up a splintered branch.
            I want my mom; my eyes dart around to find that one familiar face but something hides her away from me. Fear claws against me from inside and there’s no way to let it out—so I run. I battle my way past arms and thighs and as far away from the yelping as possible. Every face I pass is terrible. When I think I’m nearly through the throng, an uncle grabs me and leads me back towards the fire in jest. I have to scream and bash against him in order to wrench my wrist free from his drunken grip.
             My mother stands at the other end of the house talking with her sister when I find her. I wipe tears from my eyes onto my briny temples when I walk to her. She immediately picks me up and for the first time tonight I feel home.
            The sound of wood hitting skin and bone echo in the deepening night. The dog’s whimpers and cries become silence. The crackling of the fire takes their place and lays all chaos to rest.

 

 
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