Tuesday, July 06, 2004

fiction: hindi ako gumamela

(I remember waiting in a hotel lobby for a client who made it a habit to be late. Instead of wasting time, I began to write this story, recalling a picture of a young tribal girl I once saw. She had ancient eyes.

This first appeared in Ab Ovo, and subsequently in Hinirang. Here it is for those who requested it.)

Hindi Ako Gumamela

Aponikalandao woke up drenched in sweat. She had dreamt of running though fields and forests, far away from Babalay Anonan, laughing as grass and branch brushed against her dark skin. Always in these dreams she would end up on the top of a small hill surrounded by large stones that pointed to the sky. And there would be a young man there, lean, handsome and wearing a rainbow clout, and he would say

“Sumama ka na sa akin, gumamela.”

To which Aponikalandao would shyly respond

“Hindi ako gumamela.”

Then she would turn around and run down the hill, back to the forests and the fields, back to Babalay Anonan, occasionally sneaking a glance back at the sad-eyed man who did not chase after her, but simply stood where he was on the hill ringed by stones.

Aponikalandao got up from her bedroll and put her things away. She poured some water from a gourd, washed away sleep from her face and arms, dressed herself in the clothes her mother had woven for her, and stepped out into the chill morning air.

Dikono was already awake, preparing his spear for the morning hunt. He smiled and greeted the young girl, standing up from his crouching position.

“Lalabas ka na ba?” Aponikalandao asked him.

“Oo, habang maaga pa.”

“Magingat ka, Dikono.”

He nodded and squatted once again, his attention focused on his weapon. Soon, she knew, he would pray to the gods to send him an animal, perhaps an usa, to take back home. That animal would neither run nor resist his spear, because it would be a gift from the gods to him and the village. Dikono had made sure that he was washed and clean so that the gods would not find the slightest reason to deny his request.

Aponikalandao watched him as she walked away. She could not help but notice the way his shoulders moved, how his fingers worked, and how the curve of his back vanished abruptly into the folds of his clout.

That night, she dreamed the same dream. Running, climbing, the hill with pointed stones, the handsome man with sad eyes.

“Sumama ka na sa akin, gumamela.”

“Hindi ako gumamela.”


Aponikalandao was washing her family’s clothes at the batis when Dikono shouted her name and waved from across the stream. She felt strangely uncomfortable as he crossed the waters and stood next to her, concealing something in his hands.

“May ipapakita sana ako sa iyo.”

“Ano iyon, Dikono?”

He opened his cupped hands and revealed a single blossom, red petals tinged with gold.

“Ano iyan, Dikono?”


She stared at the dream-word made suddenly real and felt a sudden stabbing pain below her stomach. She looked down at a dull red spot, gasped once and fainted.

She felt her mother’s cool hand on her skin when she awakened.

“Dinala ka dito ni Dikono. Akala ko kung ano na ang nangyari.”

“May sugat po ako, kay-inà.” Aponikalandao managed to say, trembling.

“Huwag kang mangamba.”

She told her mother about her dream and her mother told her of the secret bond between the gods and the women of their tribe, the reason she and all other women before and after her would bleed, why that blood must never touch the earth, and the choice she had to make. And she cautioned her daughter never to tell any man about the things she shared.


That night, Aponikalandao dreamed and in her dream she walked instead ran. She gently parted the grasses and knew the names of all the creatures that hid and crawled and slunk there. She looked into the recesses of the branches and knew the clandestine nature of all fruits that hung heavy on the boughs and the secret uses of all the odd-shaped leaves. When she climbed the hill, she knew why the stones where there and to where they pointed and how terribly easy it was to get lost in the twilight lands. And when she saw the young man, she knew who he was, what he was, and what he wanted from her.

“Sumama ka na sa akin, gumamela,” he told her with sad eyes.

Aponikalandao thought about her mother, and all the women who preceded her, and weighed the ungainly love that had started to grow in her breast. She reflected on the things her mother had told her, and with a certainty known only to her sex, she made her choice, smiled and slowly shook her head at the young-looking god who had made the same demand from the very first time the very first woman of her tribe dreamed.

Her denial of his need caused tears to form in his eyes. A final time, the god extended his hands to her as a light rain began to fall upon the hill with the pointed stones. It felt like gentle caresses on her skin and made her shiver.

“Hindi ako gumamela.”

She turned away and forced herself awake.


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