Monday, May 14, 2012

№ 79. The Monsters & Me

I saw, heard and smelled the trails of many monsters. They weren't cute, funny, and sterile. They never appeared or pretended to be the almost safe cartoons that Disney or Nickelodeon feed the kids.

The monsters were real.

Mask of Reason

They were kids my age and the old tramps that stole from our store. I saw many of them, running and scurrying with the nails, hinges and the sundry from the hardware. Another nasty critter, our neighbor's tiny daughter, threw a stone at me and earned me a big, bulging temple. I spent an entire afternoon, head on the lap of her mom, with the ice pack on my ringing skull. I remember that other neighbor down the main street who hit everyone in his family. I never saw. But they talked about it in hushed tones. Oh, I also heard a nice neighbor scream the night away when her newborn baby died. Their wooden panes trembled and creaked as she kicked and tore everything that reminded her of her baby Ben.

I smelled the blood of the chickens as they clumped together in the metal plates. That's the first thing the cook did when we fried chickens for dinner---she slit the throats of the chickens and collected the thick, red blood for our Tinola soup.

Many times, I heard the pigs squeal their fright and madness away as they were being dragged to the butcher for cleaning and roasting.

I also felt the monster leave bristles of itch on my skin after I climbed the Aratilis tree. I had to take a bath to wash off the welts and blisters of the caterpillar.

I saw. I heard. I felt. And I sniffed a lot of their kind: creatures that scare, hurt, taunt, sting, maim or kill.

I knew them. They never hid themselves in the eaves of old houses, or the crevices of the concrete sewers, or even in dark places in the gutters.

They walked among us. They were like us. They were us!

I'd recognize them any day. I have been in our fellowship long enough to know them by now.

They confirmed the sugilanon or folk tales of our drivers and helpers. They fleshed out the disembodied nightmares and unseen that go knocking in the dark of sleep. The helpers from far flung barrios and sitios spoke about the aswangs (ghouls and vampires), tikbalangs (centaurs), kapres (hairy tree giants), duwendes (dwarves) and many others who inhabit the night. These creatures were just as scary as the old lady up on the hill who had a rabid dog tied to a post in her big house. Growing up in a rural area infused with Medieval practices of religion, town gossips and folk tales meant I have been told and been acquainted much about the dark powers of the grown-up world.

The monsters were alive in the day and night tedium, in the whispered conversations at the dinner tables, in the bedrooms of helpers, near the kamalig (barn), even by the poso (water pump) and just about anywhere. They did not disappear or disintegrate in broad daylight or even before a crucifix in sight. Especially not during Viernes Santo (Good Friday) when God was dead.

However, I knew without comprehension. The absence of realization protected my innocence, I guess. I experienced what the adults generally did, but I did not go far beyond that. I did not know yet how to process the images, the bits and pieces of empirical data. They remained raw. They were unedited footages of rustic scenes dipped in hazy fog of play, foul and reality.

And some or maybe even many of them remained just that in the consciousness. Somehow that preserved the vividness of their colors.

I know now that we dream in technicolor. But not many of them are sunny primary colors. Many are fearsome caricatures of invisible realities, of undefined forms, of sinister shades and of fierce shadows that are remnants of those dead animals, summer games in the streets, pounding noises, hysterical cries, barking dogs, moonlit fiestas, rural chatters, forgotten lores of long ago, et cetera.

Jessica Zafra

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