My son of a bitch father used to boast that we had a security guard to guard our farmhouse.
We didn't have a security guard. We had an idiot named Patricio who refused to wear underpants, or any sort of pants for that matter, and who was regularly roundhoused and Bruce Lee'd by my mean, mean cousins.
Patricio was a stocky boy, born in June on a cold, grey morning. Rumor had it that his mother smoked papaya leaves or chewed avocado pits before she conceived, or offended a dwarf that lived near the chicken coop, right before Patricio was born. She defecated while she pushed Patricio out in this world, and safe to say the sad baby had his first taste of shit way before he had the ability to produce his own.
From the onset, people knew Patricio was different. He laughed at the clouds, stared at the color orange, and made snorting noises when he saw goats. He loved to caress the rough, scabious hide of our guard dogs, and rubbed his upper arms against the fence posts that contained the pigs. He hated it when the cows bellowed and the cocks crowed. He would shriek and cover his ears and sob into his chest. His mother would try to shush him, slapping him with her skirts, trying to lift him like a sack of rice and shove him into their little house behind the chicken coop.
Patricio, on the other hand, never received any form of schooling, wore his mother's old shirts—or whatever we could spare from our closets or what our cousins shipped in balikbayan boxes from the States.
While my father made up stories about Patricio to elevate his non-status, his own father tried to smother his existence away. His other children went to school, were given new clothes, made sure they bathed every day. Patricio, on the other hand, never received any form of schooling, wore his mother's old shirts—or whatever we could spare from our closets or what our cousins shipped in balikbayan boxes from the States. He bathed alongside the dogs, lolling in the mud while his father (or my father) hosed them down, giggling, gurgling, lathering himself and his burgeoning penis, up and down, and we would watch as it swelled. At first we found it extremely funny; as we grew older, we grew more and more uncomfortable. It was about this time my cousins decided Patricio would be the perfect sparring mate for their Bruce Lee ambitions. Through him they would master jeet kune do.
As much as we could, we spent weekends and holidays on that farm. We would pile into our yellow Opel and drive to Rizal, the air clean and crisp in the summer. I always had to sit squeezed in between my sister and brother, but whenever my brother would fall asleep, I would lean over and inhale the fragrance of the fields and felled coconut trees. My mother would whack me on the head and tell me not to stick my nose too far, or else a giant truck might come and slice it away.
When we arrived at the farm, Patricio would be there, Adidas basketball jersey hanging to his hip, the tip of his penis peeking underneath. He hated wearing briefs, or anything under the waist, including slippers and shoes. Whenever his mother would try, Patricio would run away, as fast as a gander, and climb a tree or jump into a mudpool.
My father would get out, slamming the car door behind him, pick up a switch and swat Patricio away from the gate. "Bwisit!" He would say. My mother would cover my sister's eyes. She never bothered to cover mine. "Leo! Leo!" She would shout at my father. My brother and I would stare, and I knew, unconsciously, that we wondered if penises did grow as big as Patricio's.
I think they will, I whispered to my brother one night. After all, we are one-fourth Italian. Carlo would turn to me with his round, light brown eyes and shrug. For one thing, I didn’t have a penis. A real one, at least. And he, he would someday grow up to be a urologist. As long as the plumbing worked, he didn't care.
When I could, I stole food from the kitchen and sneak it to Patricio. I'd seen what his mother fed him. Leftovers and gruel intended for the pigs and dogs before it was mixed up in one ugly mess. He would accept it as a gift, his eyes lighting up, and eat it without complaint. He didn't know the difference between lechon and mashed-up menudo, callos and regurgitated adobo. Same shit, different day. I tried to catch his mother's eye when I did this, but she kept them to the ground—whether her shame of her son or her treatment of him was greater, I would never know. We would never know.
When I could, I stole food from the kitchen and sneak it to Patricio... I tried to catch his mother's eye when I did this, but she kept them to the ground—whether her shame of her son or her treatment of him was greater, I would never know.
What we did know, however, was when it would rain—and how strong and how long—thanks to Patricio's uncanny ability to foretell the weather.
Even if it was sunny, as bright as virgin's eye, one howl from Patricio would send the farmhands a-scurrying to gather the chickens and shove them inside the coops. The goats, pigs, would be herded into their little shelters. Tarp sheets would be pulled over the greenhouses. We would hunker down in the house and wait for the deluge to come.
And it did. Sheets of rain, at first plaintive and unsure, and then defiant and vengeful. Patricio's howls and cries would reverberate through the walls even if he lived several meters away. We never knew what his parents did during those times; maybe they left him alone while they huddled close with their other children. Maybe they even left him outside. I recall being so worried about him, I would peer outside the window to check. All I saw was the gnashing of rain against the trees. Shadows of mist and leaves and small tornadoes of dust and chaff.
But Patricio's lamentations went on, full and horrific, as if he was trying to prove that his soul wasn't as empty as everyone thought it was.
Patricio's lamentations went on, full and horrific, as if he was trying to prove that his soul wasn't as empty as everyone thought it was.
I left home when I turned 19. Didn't have much going for me save for a half-baked art degree and a misplaced loss of faith in government. I had joined a leftist party and the leader hated me because I wore Tretorns, and there was this small-breasted girl who seemed to like my company more than she did his. So he framed me for a series of seditious publications, and my father had no choice but to ship me off to the States until things calmed down.
Putangama ka pahamak ka, my father said to me as he shoved me out of the car and onto the driveway of MIA. Which would become NAIA, then Terminal 1. It was enough to confound even the most embedded Manileño, who might come back after a short ten years and find herself in Strangeville.
I came back after a mere two, after living on potatoes and stapling down other people's insulation. After a quick visit to our family home in Quezon City, I caught a bus to Rizal.
There was no Patricio to greet me at the gate. I had learned he had died a year before, of natural but unknown causes.
His mother had wailed, wailed from her belly, her cries shaking even the tips of ears of corn that grew kilometers away and causing ripples in the dead waters where the Laguna mudfish bred. Anak ko, anak ko, she was said to have cried. I scoffed. When your son was alive, you fed him rice with mealworms and rancid tomato sauce, I said silently, turning away and walking toward the house.
Your father gave him a nice barong to wear, she called after me. And a brand new pair of pants and shoes from Marikina Shoe Expo. He looked real handsome, my Patricio. Like a real gentleman. She sniffed and smiled.
I stopped. Stopped myself from spitting my disgust onto the earth. Clouds gathered above, and inside the coop, chickens fluttered and fretted. The cows bayed and the pigs dug deeper into the mud.
Sonofabitch, I said.
Regina Abuyuan is an editor and educator.
Accompanying image by Veejay Villafranca.