Friday, April 29, 2011

Asoy Bantog and the Aswang

This story is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather,
the original "Lolo Bucio"
from whom this story was handed down.
And to Toto, who is not afraid of the dark anymore.

Little Toto was afraid to go to the outhouse by himself after dark. The little building was located at a distance from the house and Toto would not venture out of the house and sit in the thatch-roofed and sawali-walled structure for a while for fear an aswang would come down and snatch him up and carry him away to eat him.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Adriel - A Young Adult Romance

My college classmates and dorm roommates will probably remember this story, and recognize a little bit of themselves. I wrote this when I was 17 years old (has it really been that long ago?) so it's very dated. The original is in longhand in a little notebook about the size of a thin paperback.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One-sided conversation with a maya

(Aurora Blvd./ Araneta Ave. Overpass, 8:00 a.m.)


Hello, little bird.
What are you doing here,
so far away from the rice paddies?

Here there is no rice for you to eat.
There are stray cats aplenty
waiting to catch and eat you;
there are stray wires to hold you
till you can't fly anymore,
then they zap you dead.
The trees here are small and stunted,
there are no tall grasses;
where will you build your nest?
How can you raise healthy nestlings?

Hello, little bird.
We are both far from the rice paddies,
you and I.
But you can still sing.

Photo by photospill on Flickr.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The ant and the eagle

An ant and an eagle fell in love one day;
love conquers all, or so they say.
All went well till the eagle spied the sky
and remembered she knew how to fly--
she had never promised to stay on the ground;
although to keep the love she'd found
she had to stay, and not go far,
had to ignore that heaven had stars,
that high above, clouds floated, winds blew
that high above, other eagles flew.


The ant each day earned his daily bread
by fetching and carrying things on his head
through hard toil, uncomplaining of his lot
never thinking to aspire to what he had not,
that an eagle loved him was too good to be true,
he thought; it was a fluke, it would fall through.
He was just an ant; what did he know of the sky?
He belonged to the ground, he would not even try.

Let me fly, I will come back, the eagle said,
Stretching her wings for the flight ahead;
You belong nowhere but the sky, the ant replied;
I love you but this won't work; we tried.
The sky's your domain, to the earth I am bound;
I can't fly, and you can't stay on the ground.
But don't some ants grow wings and fly?
The eagle asked. Not I, said the ant. No, not I.

The blog is "Laya's Stories" but I've decided to include poems and all things literary as well ^_^


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chapter Eleven: Danger!

Behind Katrin, Pie was shaking. Katrin turned to look at her. Her eyes brimmed with angry tears, and her fists were clenched so hard the knuckles were white.

“Betty, I’ve never slapped anyone before, and if I didn’t know any better I’d slap you now,” she said in a trembling voice, and whirled and ran, dodging blindly through the crowd.

“Pie!” exclaimed Katrin, struggling out of her seat and almost falling over the bench. She picked herself up and ran after her friend.

She made it out of the gate without knocking anyone down, and looked down the street, to see Pie’s fleeing figure, and people turning to look at her. She also began to run, just as Pie disappeared into the shadows at the end of the street.

“Kat!” Michael caught up with her. “Where did she go?” Gasping for breath, Katrin pointed down the street.

“I’d gladly push Betty into the pool and hold her down,” she said, putting her hands on her thighs and trying to catch her breath. “She’s… grrrh.”

“Why, thank you,” said Michael, in such a tone of voice that made Katrin look at him.

“It’s hard to believe you’re cousins,” said Katrin, beginning to walk down the street again. “Pie is so nice, and she always says the right things… why does Betty always want to say bad things about other people?”

“I don’t know,” said Michael, following her. “She’s always been like that; when we were little she always used to make Pie cry.”

“I wanted to smack her,” Katrin confessed. “The first time I met her, at your house, she gave me the impression that she viewed me as a worm within five minutes of being introduced to me.”

“From all accounts, you handled her pretty well,” said Michael. “Pie told Mommy about it, that you kept your cool even when everything Betty said to you was calculated to make you mad.”

Katrin shrugged.

“Well, first of all I was a guest in your house and Mama and Papa always told us to behave whenever we were guests in somebody’s house. And secondly, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have this strange tendency to be more and more polite the more people are rude to me. I guess it’s due to Mama always telling us never to stoop to someone’s level; that just because someone’s rude to you doesn’t mean you automatically get to be rude back.”

Michael laughed suddenly.

“So that explains…” he said.

“Explains what?” Katrin looked at him suspiciously.

“Nothing,” said Michael, still laughing. By then they had reached the part where Acacia Street crossed the lane. Katrin looked both ways.

“That way,” she pointed, and began to walk in the direction of the co-op.

“I guess you’re wondering what Betty is talking about,” Michael said softly. Katrin slowed down and turned and looked at him.

“When she called you a thief?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “I didn’t actually take anything, though. Now that I’m here, I keep kicking myself over how stupid I was to believe what my so-called friends told me.”

“Why?” Katrin asked, stopping. He also stopped.

“I made a mistake in my friends, that’s all,” Michael said. “For a moment I let them persuade me that there was nothing wrong in what they were doing because all of them were doing it. But then I’d never met people like you and your brothers.”

“Uh,” Katrin said.

“You work,” Michael said. “You work for what you have, and you help your parents with everything. You and your parents talk to one another and you don’t get mad at them. You actually listen to them; you don’t think they’re old bores who don’t know anything. You’re proud of what you are and don’t care what others think of you.”

“Er, not quite,” said Katrin, remembering how she’d agonized over not looking as good as Pie and Betty.

“And Andy actually stood up for me, even when he didn’t know me that much,” Michael said, scuffing his foot in the sand. “Eddie told me. Andy went to see the other kids and talked to them and said that he thought I was all right, and that they should at least give me a chance before they listened to whatever Betty was saying.”

Katrin smiled at that.

“That sounds like my big brother, all right,” she admitted.

“Anyway,” Michael said, and fell silent. Katrin felt awkward.

“Let’s go look for Pie,” she said instead, and they walked on.

“You think I’ll like it at your school?” Michael asked.

“Of course you will,” Katrin said.

“I hope Pie convinces the parents to let her go there too,” he said.

“Look, Mike, is that someone in the cottage?” Katrin said, as they neared the co-op.

“Looks like Pie,” said Michael, walking ahead of her.

It was Pie, wiping tears off her cheeks with her handkerchief.

“There you are,” Katrin said, climbing the one step up into the bamboo gazebo by the basketball court. “We were worried about you.”

“Kat. Mike,” Pie said. “Sorry about running out like that.”

“It’s okay,” said Katrin, sitting down beside her. “You okay now?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Pie said. “Betty is so horrible, I wish she’d go back to Manila.”

“She will in a couple of days,” said Michael, sitting down on her other side. “Meanwhile, didn’t we promise Mommy we wouldn’t let her get to us? Come on, Pie.”

“She hasn’t really had a good vacation, has she?” Katrin said. “She’s been grounded all the time; this is really the first time she’s been out of the mansion.”

“Yeah, and then everybody was all over her earlier because of how she looked,” Pie said thoughtfully. “I knew she got mad when she heard what those old women said earlier. She was going to say something then, only Mommy was glaring at her so she kept quiet.”

“Well, what can she expect?” Michael asked. “She sleeps till noon, then wants to watch TV and play music. She got mad because there weren’t any boys around worth meeting, she said, and nothing worth doing. We asked her if she wanted to go to the orchard yesterday and all she said was that it would be hot and sweaty and there would be no one there anyway.”

“Anyway, Mommy did ground her, that’s why she didn’t come along today,” Pie said. “She was really mad about being left behind and complained to Daddy that she was being left out of everything. Daddy said she should come to the wake so she could get out of the house and meet people, as long as she behaved.”

“I’ll bet she gets grounded till she goes back on that plane,” said Katrin, shaking her head. “Do you guys want to go home, or back to the wake?”

“Back there, I guess,” Pie said. “I’m okay now, Kat, really.”

There were little or no people on the road by then as they headed back to Isang’s house, as it was getting late.

“My dad will have you in jail for this! Let go of me!” The three of them heard the faint shout and exchanged glances.

“That sounds like Betty,” Michael said, just as they reached the lane leading back to Isang’s house.

“It is Betty,” Pie exclaimed, as they looked the other way into the shadowy lane, and saw the struggling figures at the far end.

Katrin could make out a thin figure with long hair struggling with two men, who were gripping her arms and hauling her down the lane.

“What are they doing! Where are they taking her?” she gasped, and began to run.

“Kat!” both Pie and Michael exclaimed. Katrin heard Michael tell his sister, “Don’t! Run back to the wake… tell them Betty’s been kidnapped. Tell them we need help. Run, Pie! Kat, wait!”

But she was already running towards the figures struggling in the shadows of the trees that lined the lane. The thoughts that went through her mind were absurd; surely this could not happen here, here in Riverside of all places where people would even bring home wandering cows and goats that they recognized as belonging to their neighbors. Where people watched over their neighbors’ houses and belongings and children as if they were their own. This was Riverside, one of the safest places on earth. Why was this happening to them?

“You don’t know who my dad is!” Betty was berating her captors. “When he catches you he will have you thrown in jail and make sure you never get out again!”

“Ah, all this is getting on my nerves,” said one of the men and clamped a hand over her mouth.

Katrin glanced around her as she ran. None of the houses on the lane showed any signs of life, though the dogs were barking. Yes, she remembered seeing Eddie’s whole family at the wake. Rona’s too. And Panyang’s. No one was home but the dogs, and people would just assume they were barking at the passersby going to the wake.

Noise, she thought. I need noise.

“Let go of her!” she screamed.

“Another one!” said one of the men holding Betty. “What is with this place!”

“I said let her go!” Katrin said.

“Geez,” said the man. “Here, hold this one for me, Boy.” He shoved Betty into the other man’s arms. Betty could not scream because the other man’s hand was covering her mouth, but she kicked and struggled and clawed.

Katrin clenched her fists and screamed in her best voice.


And again.


Her mother had often observed that her scream could be heard in the next purok. I hope she was right, Katrin thought, drawing breath for another scream.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE… pfff,” as the other man grabbed her and clamped a hand on her mouth. She bit the hand.

“Aaaaaargh!” the man screamed, nearly dropping her, and she scrambled away, but he caught her hair.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEE!” she shrieked, genuinely this time as her scalp hurt.

“Let her go!” Michael was suddenly there, hitting the man who held her hair. He cursed, and was suddenly joined by three more men.

“Bong! We have company!” one of the men said, catching Katrin and clamping a hand on her mouth.

“This one came along and started screaming!” the man called Bong said. As he turned, Kat saw his face clearly for the first time and would have gasped if she could. He was that rude laborer whom she always kept running into. “Be careful, that one bites. And then this boy came along!” He had an arm around Michael’s neck by then. “Stop struggling, boy, do you want to break your neck?” he warned.

“Ah, what’ll we do?” asked the other man.

“Let’s just go to the cottage! No one will find us there as long as we don’t make a sound! Quick now! How about the sacks?”

“Already full, though the other houses had dogs!”

“Good! Let’s go!” The man was already hauling Michael up the lane. The men holding Betty and Katrin followed.

When they stopped and dragged the young people off the lane, Katrin felt her blood run cold. It was the back entrance to the Barrios land. Were the men going to take them down to the river? Their parents would never find them; the marshlands were too broad.

She struggled again as they made her go through the wire, roughly, so that her clothes snagged on the barbs and one of her slippers fell off.

“Mmmmpf!” she cried. Suddenly, sparks burst behind her eyes. “Mama,” she thought, and then she remembered nothing more.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chapter Ten: Bordon

“You sure walk fast,” Michael said, hurrying to catch up with her.

“Just keep an eye open for them,” Katrin said. “If worse comes to worst, we can always have them paged at the lost-and-found counter.”

“Then our moms will hear,” Michael pointed out. “Let’s not make them worry unnecessarily.”

They had covered all the shops in that part of the mall when Katrin received a message from Pie.

No luck on this end; you?

None either. You think they’re still in the department store?

Maybe? We’ll try the ground floor and you try the second.


Katrin and Michael looked at each other and headed for the nearest entrance to the department store.

“Where do you think they could be?” Katrin fretted.

“Jenny loves stuffed toys,” Michael said. “Shall we check the toy department first?”

When they reached the area filled with stuffed toys on display, the two of them broke into a run, for Katrin had already caught a glimpse of Jenny’s lacy peach-colored dress. The salesgirl was trying to make her get off of a stuffed toy tiger, which she was sitting on and hugging.

“Jenny!” Michael exclaimed.

“Kyle!” Katrin cried.

The salesgirl breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s a good thing you arrived,” she said. “She wouldn’t let it go.”

“Darling, you already have one like that at home,” said Michael, picking up his little sister.

“Yes, I know,” said Jenny. “I just missed it.”

“Come, Kyle,” said Katrin. “Mama will be worried.” She kept a firm grip on her brother’s hand while she sent Pie a message saying they had found the truants. Soon, the other three arrived, and all five of them went back into the main part of the mall. They amused the little ones at the arcade until their mothers had finished their shopping and came looking for them.

“There you are,” said Mrs. Nolasco. “I hope the little ones weren’t too much trouble?”

“Oh, no, Mommy, no trouble at all,” Pie said hastily. The five of them caught one another’s eyes and burst out laughing and wouldn’t tell their mothers why.

Soon they were in the van and headed home to Riverside. Jenny was already dozing in the front seat and Kyle, who had moved to sit beside his mother, was doing the same thing.

“Tonight’s the last night of the wake,” Mrs. Perez said out loud.

“We’re going, aren’t we, Mama?” said Katrin.

“Yes, we are,” said Mrs. Perez. “How about you, Anna?”

“We’re going, too,” said Mrs. Nolasco. “If the kids aren’t too tired?”

“We aren’t too tired,” said Pie immediately.

“See you there, then,” said Katrin.

Mr. Perez arrived home shortly after they did. After all the shopping had been put away, they had an early dinner and then piled into the tricycle and set out for the wake.

While their parents and Kyle joined the other parents and younger children inside the house, Katrin, Aian and Andy went to sit with some of their schoolmates who had already arrived and were sitting at the table they’d occupied the other night. Isang was sitting with them.

“Oh, good, you guys are here,” she said. “Mother said we might want to play Bordon later, and Andy always makes the best sentenciador.”

“Uh-oh,” said Katrin, mentally making a list of the luwas, or four-line nonsense rhymes, that she knew and composing on the spot a few more to hold in reserve.

“Whose ring are we going to use?” she asked.

“Mother said she’d lend us her ring,” said Isang. “It really is good that you came; I’m not sure I remember all the words to the song.”

“What song?” asked Pie, sliding into the seat beside Katrin. “Hey, all.” She wore a white blouse with long sleeves and a knee-length denim skirt, and had her hair tied back with a white clip.

“Hey, Pie, hey Mike,” said Isang. “Do you know how to play Bordon?”

“No-o-o… what is it?” Pie asked. “And by the way, guys, this is my cousin Betty.” All three Perezes looked around so fast that Katrin almost got whiplash. Betty indeed stood behind them, wearing a silvery shirt and another one of her denim miniskirts, and the same supercilious expression on her face. One of the boys hurriedly vacated a place on the bench so she could sit down.

“Hello, Betty,” said Isang. “Are you from Manila, too?”

“Yes,” said Betty.

“What’s Bordon, Isang?” Michael asked hastily.

“I’ll let Andy explain, since he will be the sentenciador,” said Isang. “I’ll go get your whip, Andy.”

“A whip!” Pie exclaimed.

“Don’t worry Pie, it’s not exactly a whip,” said Katrin reassuringly. While Andy explained the rules of the game, Isang went into the house and shortly came back with a towel, twisted into a soft thick rope the size of a baseball bat, which she handed to Andy.

“Oh, I see,” and Pie laughed.

“Essentially, the important thing in Bordon is being able to think up verses on the spot,” Andy explained. “I’m the sentenciador; it will be my job to pass judgment on your luwas and decide if you should be punished or not.”

“We can play after the prayers are finished,” said Isang.

“I don’t know any verses!” Pie said to Katrin.

“Just make them up!” Katrin answered.

“I’m no good at that sort of thing!”

“Just try your best! Why did your mom bring Betty?”

“Because she was griping about being left out,” Pie said. “Mommy made her promise she would behave, so that she could come along.”

Katrin took another look at Betty.

“She doesn’t look like she’s going to,” she said. “Behave, I mean.”

“Yeah,” Pie said. “Mike said exactly the same thing.”

Katrin saw her mother beckoning from the doorway, so she excused herself from the group and got up and went to her. The prayers had ended, and the women inside the house were talking. She looked around for her father and saw him at another table outside, talking with Mr. Nolasco and the other men of the purok.

Her mother was sitting beside a couple of old women wearing flowered cotton dusters and wrapped in shawls. Katrin politely took their hands and touched them to her forehead.

“Ah, this is your Katrin already, Margarita? How big she’s grown,” said one of the old woman.

“Yes, practically a young woman already,” the other one agreed, peering at Katrin. “So pretty, too.”

“Kat, was that Betty I saw at your table?” Mrs. Perez asked in a low voice.

“Yes, Mama; Aunt Anna had to bring her along,” said Katrin, sitting down beside her mother. She looked across the room at Mrs. Nolasco, who was sitting beside Isang’s mother and listening to something she was saying.

“Mind you be nice to her, now,” said Mrs. Perez.

“Mama! I am always nice. You mean to say I still have to be nice even when Betty is trying to wallop me?” Katrin said indignantly. “Besides, this isn’t her house.”

“Yes, but you are both still guests here,” said her mother, “and even though Betty doesn’t seem to know how to behave as such, you do, and so you will behave as one, which means you will be nice. Do you understand me, Kat?”

Katrin pouted. “Yes, Mama.”

“And please get Kyle’s hat and jacket from Andy when you go out again.”

“Okay, Mama.”

Mrs. Nolasco saw Katrin and beckoned, so she crossed the room.

“Kat, would you please tell Pie, Mike and Betty to come here?” she asked.

“Okay, Aunt Anna,” said Katrin. She went to the coffin to pay her respects before going out again.

“Pie, your mom wants the three of you to go inside,” she said once she’d reached the table again. By that time there were around a dozen young people there, crowded on the benches around the table.

“I think I’ll stay out here,” said Betty. “I don’t like to look at coffins.”

“No, Betty,” said Pie. “Mommy said you should go.” She pulled her cousin up out of her seat on the bench. “Come on. Mike?”

Katrin collected Kyle’s hat and jacket from the table in front of Andy and followed the Nolascos, Pie pulling the reluctant Betty who was balking at going into the house. She stopped to deliver what her mother requested and watched the other three cross the room to Mrs. Nolasco.

“My, whose daughter is that?” the old woman sitting beside her mother exclaimed.

“That skirt is so short it looks like it will uncover her soul!” said the other one.

“Not to mention she’ll catch her death of cold in that. Here, somebody, give her a shawl.”

“Is that Anna’s daughter?” asked the other old woman. “She looks as if she will get blown away by the wind. Doesn’t she eat anything? After all, they are rich, aren’t they?”

“No, Iyay Noring, the other one is Anna’s daughter,” Mrs. Perez said gently. “That girl is her husband’s niece.”

“Oh, I see. What’s Anna’s daughter’s name? Pretty girl!” said the old woman. “She knows how to dress properly, why doesn’t the other one?”

From the set of her shoulders, Katrin was sure Betty had heard every word.

“Lola Noring, they come from Manila,” she said hastily. “That’s how many girls dress there.”

“Mind you never go there then, Katrin,” said the old woman. “That boy is Anna’s son? A fine-looking boy. Looks just like his grandfather when he was younger.”

“Indeed,” said the other old woman, and they fell into reminiscences of the times when they were young. Katrin excused herself and went outside again. Threading her way around the long tables, which had now gotten very crowded, she headed back towards their own table at the edge of the yard. The gates to the yard had been propped open, and people were arriving and leaving all the time.

Halfway there, she stumbled and saw that someone’s legs were sticking out into the way. A man was sitting on a bench, half-leaning against a post, with his eyes closed. He didn’t even move when Kat stumbled, or take his legs away. Katrin recognized the rude laborer who had been at the orchard. Sitting on the bench beside him, playing cards with some of her schoolmates’ older brothers and uncles, were the other men who had been with him the day before.

Katrin, more careful now, went on to their table and slid onto the bench between Aian and Eddie. The table was full of young people by then, crowded on the benches and some of them even sitting on the table. Others stood behind them. Everyone was talking and laughing, and some of the boys were playing tong-its again.

Soon Pie, Michael and Betty came back as well, just as Andy announced that they would start the game. Isang gave him a golden ring.

“Take care of that, it’s my mother’s,” she said.

“Everyone in the game on the benches,” Andy said, handing the ring to Katrin. “Who knows the words? Let’s start.”

Cuerdas de la bordon ang singsing papanawon… they began the simple game that involved the passing of the ring from hand to hand until suddenly Andy brought his towel whip crashing down on the planks of the table and everybody froze.

“The ring!” Andy demanded, and the girl sitting across from Katrin opened her hand to reveal the small gold circle.

“The one who has the ring must pay a tribute!” Andy declared.

“Love is like
a lollipop,
bata mal-am (young and old)
makadilap (can lick it),” the girl declared to much laughter and applause, and Andy hit the table again with his whip.

“Bitooooor!” he declared, and the game was on again. This time the one who got caught wasn’t fast enough with his rhyme, and Andy “sentenced” him to sing for the group.

“Sa sulod sang kasing-kasing (Inside the heart)
may ara sing waling-waling (there is an orchid)
wala sing makalingling (no one can peek at it)
kung indi akon darling (except my darling),” was Aian’s offering when he got caught with the ring, to loud cheers from the boys and shouts of “who is it?” from the girls.

“Ako’y tutula (I shall say a poem)
Mahabang-mahaba (It will be very long)
ako’y uupo (I shall sit down)
tapos na po (for it is finished),” another boy said, earning jeers and objections from the crowd, which was settled by Andy’s “Bitooooooor!” accompanied by a whack on the table.

The game was really underway, with Katrin sorting out the rhymes in her mind to hold them ready in case she got the ring, when suddenly there was a commotion at the table at the far end of the yard. The song stopped as everyone looked around to see what was happening.

“My wallet! It’s gone!” a man declared, standing up from a table. He began looking beneath the table and behind him, in case it may have fallen out. This also made other men reach for their back pockets to check their own wallets.

“Mine is gone too!” another exclaimed.

The yard was suddenly full of people crawling around under tables and looking on the ground. The women came to the door to see what was the matter.

“What happened?” asked Isang’s mother.

“My wallet is gone!” said the man who had first complained.

“I can’t find my cellphone as well!” another man said suddenly. “It was just here on the table beside me, and now it’s gone!”

Katrin was suddenly aware of Betty at the far end of the table, slowly turning her head to look at her cousin with a cold smile.

“It didn’t take you too long to get up to your old tricks again, huh, Mike?” she asked in a voice that carried over the hush that had fallen over their group.


Chapter Nine: Lost!

Katrin, Pie and the boys handed out plates and spoons to the long line of harvesters who filed past the table to get food. They refilled serving bowls and platters and saw to it that everyone had his or her fill and that no one was left out.

Katrin saw the man they’d seen near the Barrios house. He was sitting on a log under one of the trees, along with about five other men who seemed to be his friends. They were talking as they ate, and occasionally burst into loud laughter.

The dog Bantay wandered around the yard, sniffing. Most of the time he stayed near the table, watching people get food from it with his ears perked and his tongue lolling, but sometimes he walked among the people sitting in the yard, most of whom knew him and threw him an occasional tidbit or piece of bone. When he got near to the group of men that sat a little apart, though, his ears went back and his hackles rose.

“Kat, your dog’s growling,” said Pie, who had finally been told by Mrs. Perez to take a break and was sitting on a bench beside Michael and Kyle, eating.

“Oh!” Katrin hurried across to intercept Bantay, who was advancing on the group of men, growling menacingly. The men, who had noticed him, had stood up and were backing away. “Bantay, here. Come here.”

“You guys been eating too much asucena?” another man called. “You know they say a dog can smell it if you eat one of them.” Other people laughed.

Katrin reached the dog, who stopped and looked up at her uncertainly.

“Go back to the house,” she said, pointing with her finger in that direction. Bantay growled some more at the men, then slunk off to the house, glancing at Katrin every now and then.

Katrin got some food and joined Pie and their brothers. The harvesters had by then finished eating and were going to the table to return their plates before going back to the orchard. After the young people finished eating, they helped to wash the dishes while the women cleared the table and put away the leftovers.

“You know, I forgot to ask where Betty is now,” Katrin said to Pie as they took the washbasins full of dishes into the house and left them on the table to dry.

“She sleeps till noon, usually,” Pie said. “She’d just have woken up and is probably yelling at Lita about her breakfast.”

“Oh well,” Katrin said. “You guys want to go to the wake again tonight, or wait till the last night?”

“What?” asked her mother, who had come in and overheard her. “Aren’t you tired yet, Kat, without wanting to go to the wake tonight?”

“We-e-ell,” Katrin said. “Oh well, let’s see. With luck, I might get so tired today I’d be glad to see my bed by eight o’clock.”

“You might at that,” her mother agreed. “Pie, I didn’t know you could wash dishes.”

“Of course I do, Aunt Marge,” Pie said. “Mommy said just because you have money doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn how to wash dishes.”

“Sounds like Anna, all right,” Mrs. Perez said, laughing. “And your cousin, why didn’t she come with you?”

“I don’t think harvesting mangoes is really Betty’s thing, Mama,” Katrin said.

“It isn’t,” Pie affirmed.

“Well, I supposed it isn’t, at that,” said Mrs. Perez.

“I like it though,” said Pie.

“Let’s go back to the orchard then,” said Katrin.

By four o’clock, all twenty-four of the Barrios trees had been harvested, and the harvesters were bringing in their baskets to be counted and weighed, and collect their pay from Mr. Perez. The three boys, helped by Eddie, brought the big, heavy baskets to the storage shed where they were to be kept until they were sold.

“Well, it looks like a pretty good harvest,” said Mr. Perez. “Although it boggles the mind why that group of strong young laborers could harvest only three kaings full between the lot of them. Looks like they harvested only one tree or something.”

“At least they harvested one tree,” said Mrs. Perez, coming to look at the mangoes. “I’ll be going out tomorrow to see who will buy them, and there’s always Market Day.”

When everything had been put away and everyone had been paid, Mr. Perez closed the gate to the orchard, and Katrin, Pie, and the boys went back to the house. Everything was already tidy, and the pots and pans and dishes were all in their proper places. Mrs. Perez had given out the leftovers to the women who had helped with the cooking.

“Whew,” said Katrin, sinking into a chair and letting Whitney climb up into her lap. “I may not be up to going to the wake tonight, after all.”

“Me neither,” Pie agreed, patting Bantay, who sat beside her chair and thumped his tail vigorously. “It was fun though,” she added.

“Hey, you two,” Michael said, coming over to sit on the arm of his sister’s chair. “Mommy just texted me. She’s going to Marbel tomorrow and wants to know if you would want to come along.”

Katrin’s eyes sparkled. Pie took out her own cellphone.

“Why, Mommy texted me too, I just didn’t notice it,” she said. “She says she’s going to the parlor, and then to look at the Notre Dame, and then maybe we could go malling. She says to ask Aunt Marge as well if she wants to come and bring Kyle.”

“I’m sure Mama will let you go, Kat,” Andy said. “We’ve something else to do tomorrow.”

“But it would be fun if all of you came along, Andy,” Pie said. “We could all fit in the van.”

“Shopping, ugh,” said Aian, and Katrin threw a pillow at him.

“Shopping where?” asked his mother, coming into the house with a couple of baskets. Kyle, trailing her, also held a basket.

Pie told her what Mrs. Nolasco had said.

“Oh, how good of your mother, Pie,” Mrs. Perez said. “I was planning to go to Marbel myself tomorrow to see who would want to buy some of the mangoes.”

“I guess that means yes, Mama?” asked Katrin, throwing her hands high. “Yay!”

“So I’ll tell her we’re all going, Aunt Marge?” Michael asked.

Aian and Andy stared at him.

“We’re all going?” Aian asked.

“We are?” Andy asked.

“Well, what were you going to do tomorrow?” Michael asked them.

Aian shrugged.

“Go fishing, work in the garden… shoot some hoops?” he answered.

“As opposed to going malling, eating at a restaurant, maybe play video games in the arcade? There is an arcade, I would suppose?”

“Yeah, there are arcades in the malls at Marbel,” Andy said.

“Yeah well if you put it like that…” Aian said.

“They should be twins,” Katrin observed, and was hit in the face by a pillow.

“Children, children,” Mrs. Perez said. “It is all right with me that we all go… there’s just one problem. Who will stay at home and guard the house?”

“Er… that was what I thought, Mama,” said Andy.

“Bantay can guard the house,” Katrin said. “And we can always let the geese out of the pen.”

“Yeah, the hard part is getting them to go back in again,” Aian said.

“Let’s ask your father,” Mrs. Perez said.

“Oh, all of you just go,” was Mr. Perez’s answer. “The house should be safe enough if you lock it up and let the animals loose in the yard. I don’t see that anyone would be foolish enough to tangle with a dog and an angry gander, turkey, rooster and drake.”

Katrin sighed.

“It’s because of these horrible thefts,” she said. “We didn’t used to worry about leaving the house alone like this, we just up and went.”

“Let’s just hope the robbers will get caught soon,” said her mother.

Katrin, Pie, Andy and Aian exchanged glances.

“Well, we must be going, Aunt Marge,” Michael said. “We will tell Mommy we’re all set for tomorrow.”

“I’ll text you the details, Kat,” said Pie.

“And here,” said Mrs. Perez. “Bring these to your mom.” She gave them each a basket. “Mangoes, the first of the harvest, and vegetables from the garden.”

“Wow, thanks, Auntie!” Pie exclaimed.

“Thanks, Aunt Marge,” Michael said. “We’ll be going now.”

“We’ll see you to the gate,” said Katrin.

After seeing Michael and Pie walk off up the road, Katrin dashed back into the house and up to her room. She was busy hauling out the contents of her closet when Aian stuck his head around the doorjamb.

“Oho!” he exclaimed. “What is this?”

His mother, coming up the stairs with some newly washed and folded clothes, saw him and looked into Katrin’s room as well.

“What’s the matter, Kat?” she asked.

“I don’t know what to wear tomorrow, Mama.”

“We’re only going to the mall,” Aian pointed out.

“Exactly,” Katrin said. “I can’t very well wear my old ratty clothes there, can I?”

“Your jeans will do,” said her mother. “And maybe a nice blouse. Where’s the pink-checked one you got for Christmas?”

“Erk, that one looks like I’m going to do a debate in it,” Katrin said, rumpling her hair.

“Just wear your pink t-shirt,” Aian said.

She stuck out her tongue at him.

“Here, let me through, Aian,” said Mrs. Perez, and Aian moved aside to let his mother go into the room. She sat down on the bed, put down the clothes she was carrying, and began to look through her daughter’s clothes.

“It’s just so hard,” Katrin complained. “Pie always looks like she stepped out of a magazine or a TV show, and Betty looks like she should be in one, a TV show I mean, and that’s just their stay-at-home clothes. I always end up looking like a beggar beside them.”

“Not quite a beggar, darling,” said her mother. “These are the clothes you’ve always worn; has anyone ever called you a beggar while you were wearing them?”

“Well, no… but I end up feeling like one, Mama.”

“Let’s see,” said Mrs. Perez, holding up a blue t-shirt. “What’s wrong with this one?”

“Nothing’s really wrong with it,” Katrin said. “It’s just that, oh, I think what I put on is nice, and then I go with Pie, and suddenly I realize it’s not nice enough.”

“Go away and shut the door, Aian,” said their mother.

“Aw,” said Aian, but did as he was told.

“So you suddenly thought that nothing you have is good enough, is that it, Kat?” asked Mrs. Perez. “You have to understand that Pie and Betty come from a different place. You know that the clothes you have are perfectly all right for Sto. Nino.”

“I know, Mama. But I still feel… inferior, somehow.”

“Come here, darling. Clothes are not always the best way to measure a person, you know that! It’s what you are that is really important. And what you are, what Katrin Marie Leysa Perez is, is as good as anyone else can ever be. Do you understand me, Kat?”

“Uh huh,” Katrin said. “Thanks, Mama. But what am I to wear tomorrow?”

Mrs. Perez looked through the pile of clothes again and held up a soft pink peasant blouse with puffed sleeves and ribbons at the high waist.

“Have you forgotten you had this, darling? And you can wear capris with it, and your sandals.”

“Oh, I forgot I had that! Thank goodness for Aunt Clara,” said Katrin, taking the blouse from her mother. It had been a gift from Mrs. Perez’s sister, who worked in America, last Christmas.

“I’ve not forgotten how you kicked and screamed about it last Christmas,” her mother observed with a smile; Katrin had previously balked about wearing something so girly-girl.

“Eeeeh,” Katrin said sheepishly. “Now I’m glad she did send it to me.”

“You can have your picture taken in it and send it to her,” her mother suggested. “She will be very happy about it.”

“I will, Mama. I know Pie’s cellphone has a camera; I can ask her tomorrow to take a picture of me and we can e-mail it to Aunt Clara.” Katrin jumped off the bed and went to rummage among her pants and skirts. “Don’t I have black capris in here somewhere?”

“Yes, you do, darling. I distinctly recall washing and ironing them a few times,” Mrs. Perez said, laughing. “Choose the plain ones with lace hems, they will go very well with this blouse.”

‘Ah, here,” said Katrin, emerging in triumph with the sought-for item.

“Give them here and I’ll iron them for you,” said her mother. “If you’ll set the table downstairs.”

“Okay, Mama.” Katrin gave her mother a hug. “And thanks!”

She received Pie’s text message after dinner, asking if it was okay for them to leave at around nine in the morning.

Mama says it’s okay, she replied.

Great! Pie answered. See you all tomorrow!

Katrin gradually became aware of her mother’s voice calling her.

“Kat, wake up, it’s seven o’clock!”

“Mrrrrrr…” she said, rolling over and burying her face in the pillow.

“Kat! We’re leaving at nine, remember?”

Katrin suddenly remembered, and came awake immediately. She stretched and jumped out of bed.

“Coming!” she called.

They had to rush through the chores after breakfast—feeding the animals, washing the dishes, tidying up. Katrin looked at the clock, groaned, grabbed her towel, and dashed for the bathroom. She was nearly finished with her bath by the time Andy knocked on the door and told her to hurry up.

She was dressed and wrestling with her hair by the time her mother knocked on her door to tell her that it was nearly nine o’clock.

“I can’t do a thing with it, Mama,” she complained. “Why oh why does my hair have to be so curly?”

“Here, give me that,” said her mother, taking the comb. “Just leave most of it down, and tie the upper part back with a scrunchie so it doesn’t get into your eyes. See? And don’t you have a pink scrunchie with ribbons on it?”

Katrin dredged the scrunchie out of a box in the drawer of her table. By the time Mrs. Perez had fixed her hair, and she had spritzed herself with cologne, Andy called up the stairs that the Nolascos’ van was already waiting at the gate. Katrin hastily stepped into her pink sandals and fixed the straps, grabbed up a little bag that contained her purse and cellphone, and clattered downstairs after her mother.

“Morning, Aunt Anna,” Katrin said, climbing into the van.

“Morning, Kat,” said Mrs. Nolasco, turning to look at them from where she sat beside their family driver, Manong Erning. “My, don’t you look lovely today.”

“Mama, can I sit up front with Aunt Anna and Jenny?” Kyle asked. “I’ll be good, I promise.”

“Please, Auntie Marge?” Jenny piped up. “Please, Mommy?”

“All right with me,” said Mrs. Nolasco.

“Oh, all right then. Just be good,” said Mrs. Perez.

“Yay!” said Kyle, getting out and climbing up into the front seat.

“We’ll sit with you, Auntie Marge,” said Pie, letting Mrs. Perez climb in and take the seat behind the driver, and Kat followed her. The boys, meanwhile, piled into the back seat, and they were off!

The drive to Marbel, which was really officially named Koronadal City, took less than an hour, and in the last part, the highway went up into some mountains and emerged on a lookout, and there spread out below them was Marbel. The van went swooping down, down, down Skyline Drive and emerged on Alunan Avenue, where it entered the gates of the Notre Dame of Siena.

“It looks nice,” Pie said tentatively as they got out. “But it’s so far away!”

“We’re just going to ask, Pie,” said her mother. “We’ll see if you can both enroll here.”

Pie shrugged, and her expression looked mutinous. Katrin looked at Michael. He looked worried.

“Do you want us to go with you, Anna?” Mrs. Perez asked.

“No, it’s all right,” said Mrs. Nolasco. “Pie, do you want to come along? Mike?”

“No, Mommy, I’d rather wait here,” said Pie. Michael looked at his sister, then decided to go with his mother and Jenny.

“It’s a pretty school,” said Katrin. “I was here once, last year, when they hosted a contest. I was just not used to be around so many nuns, though.”

“Oh, I am,” said Pie. “The schools I’ve been to were all run by nuns.”

“You must all have been very good,” said Mrs. Perez.

“Er, no, Aunt Marge, Betty went to the same school I did,” said Pie, rolling her eyes. “Actually, I think I’d like to go to a public school for a change. The public schools in Manila, most of them are said to be awful. But the way Kat talks about their school, it sounds all right.”

“It is,” all three Perezes said in unison, and laughed at one another.

Mrs. Nolasco was soon back, carrying a folder with the school logo on it, which she gave to Pie. She looked displeased over something. Michael, trailing them, had a guarded expression on his face. He again climbed in back with the other boys.

“Where should we go next?” asked Mrs. Nolasco, getting into the front seat with Jenny.

“If you’d drop me and Kyle off at the market, Anna,” said Mrs. Perez, “I intend to look for some buyers for these mangoes.” She indicated the basket she carried.

“Of course, Marge,” said Mrs. Nolasco. “May we go with you, or we’ll just wait for you in the van?”

“I’ll go with you, Mama,” said Andy, and so he got out of the van to help their mother when they got to the market.

“Did you look through the folder, Pie?” asked Mrs. Nolasco, turning around to look at her daughter.

“Yes, Mommy.”

“It’s a good school.”

“Yes, Mommy, but,” said Pie, putting the folder aside. “I really want to go to Kat’s school.”

Katrin kept silent. On one hand, she was proud of her school and would be happy if Pie went to school there; on the other hand, she thought Pie was lucky that her family could afford to send her to a private school.

“That’s where I’ll probably end up anyway,” Michael commented acerbically from the back seat, and both Katrin and Pie turned to look at him.

“Oh, Mike, they didn’t,” Pie said.

“Mike, we’ll talk more about this later when we get home,” said Mrs. Nolasco.

“Didn’t what?”Aian asked, frowning.

Michael shrugged.

“You still have about a month to decide, anyway, Pie,” said Mrs. Nolasco, looking worried. “Just promise me you’ll consider this very carefully.”

“Yes, Mommy. I’ll think about it,” said Pie.

Mrs. Perez, Kyle and Andy soon came back looking happy, as they had taken orders for more than half of the mangoes.

“I’m sure the fruit vendors in our market can buy most of what’s left, and I can sell the rest on Market Day,” said Mrs. Perez, climbing back into the van. “Well then, I can arrange to have those mangoes delivered tomorrow. Where are we off to now?”

Mrs. Nolasco looked at her wristwatch.

“Lunch!” she declared. “Anyone know a good place?”

“Well, all the old places have closed except Celema’s,” said Mrs. Perez dubiously. “But there are fast food outlets at the malls, like Jollibee…”

“Jollibee?” exclaimed Kyle, brightening at once.

“Is Jollibee all right with all of you?” asked Mrs. Nolasco.

“Yes!” Katrin, Aian and Andy chorused, and Pie laughed. Even Michael looked amused.

They ended up at Fit Mart Mall, since it was the biggest of the malls in the city, and all of them ordered chickenjoy at Jollibee, just to see, as Katrin said, if it was really as “crispilicious” as the ads on TV said.

After lunch, which was capped with chocolate fudge sundaes for all of them, Mrs. Nolasco said she had some shopping to do. All three older boys declined and opted to go to the arcade, so she bore Mrs. Perez, the girls, and the two younger children off to the department store.

After they had gone through the clothes sections, and their mothers seemed to be headed for the houseware and linens section, the two girls excused themselves and went off to look for their brothers in the arcade.

They found the three boys trying to shoot some hoops in the basketball game, to the mingled cheers and derision of other young people around them.

“Figures,” Katrin said, shaking her head. “Even here they still found a way to practice.” She and Pie sat down on an available bench, cupped their chins in their hands, and cheered the boys on. Finally, the game ended and the boys joined them.

“I need something to drink,” Aian declared, so all five of them went off to look for a vendor of fruit juices or softdrinks. They finally found a stall that sold glasses of cold pineapple juice, bought some, and found a place to sit.

“So, Mike,” said Aian. “What did you mean, what you said earlier?”

“Yes, Mike, what did the people at Siena say?” Pie asked.

Michael shrugged. He looked at the faces all looking at him, waiting for him to say something.

“You know,” he said. “They were okay with you enrolling, but not so enthusiastic about me. When Mommy started to plead with the principal and mention donations, I said I wanted to go out in the hall. I mean, it kind of makes me feel… funny that my parents would have to plead with a school to let me enroll. So I told Mom I’d rather go to the public school than have her do that again.”

“I bet our principal would accept you,” Andy said. “So you won’t have to worry about that at least. And we’d be there in the same school.”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t be there if Mom and Dad go on with making me go to Siena,” Pie said glumly. “No matter how pretty a school it is, I wouldn’t be happy there.”

“Aw, Pie,” said Katrin, patting her on the shoulder.

Just then Pie’s cellphone sounded, and she pulled it out to look at the message and turned pale.

“What is it, Pie?” asked Katrin at once. Pie gave her the cellphone for her to read for herself.

We may take a while here; take care of Kyle and Jenny.

“But they aren’t with us!” Katrin exclaimed.

“They don’t seem to be with our mothers either,” said Pie. Both girls stared at each other.

“Oh no,” Pie moaned. “They thought we brought them with us. Oh lord.”

“We better look for them,” said Michael. “Jenny can be very stubborn sometimes.”

“But how?” Pie asked.

“Look, let’s split up and keep in touch by cell phone,” said Katrin. “One group go that way and the other group that way.”

“But only you and Pie have cellphones,” Aian pointed out.

“I guess we’ll have to split up then,” said Pie. “Why don’t I go with you and Andy and Kat go with Mike? That way they each have an older sibling in the group? Jenny might panic if she doesn’t see one of us.”

“Okay,” said Aian. “Come on then, we’ll go this way and you guys go that way?”

“Okay,” said Katrin, heading off in the direction indicated.