Morning in Nagrebcan
It was sunrise at Nagrebcan. The fine, bluish mist, low over the tobacco fields, was lifting and thinning moment by moment. A ragged strip of mist, pulled away by the morning breeze, had caught on the clumps of bamboo along the banks of the stream that flowed to one side of the barrio. Before long the sun would top the Katayaghan hills, but as yet no people were around. In the grey shadow of the hills, the barrio was gradually awaking. Roosters crowed and strutted on the ground while hens hesitated on theri perches among the branches of the camanchile trees. Stray goats nibbled the weeds on the sides of the road, and the bull carabaos tugged restively against their stakes.
In the early mornig the puppies lay curled up together between their mother’s paws under the ladder of the house. Four puupies were all white like the mother. They had pink noses and pink eyelids and pink mouths. The skin between their toes and on the inside of their large, limp ears was pink. They had short sleek hair, for the mother licked them often. The fifth puppy lay across the mother’s neck. On the puppy’s back was a big black spot like a saddle. The tips of its ears were black and so was a pitch of hair on its chest.
The opening of the sawali door, its uneven bottom dragging noisily against the bamboo flooring, aroused the mother dog and she got up and stretched and shook herself, scattering dust and loose white hair. A rank doggy smell rose in the cool morning air. She took a quick leap forward, clearing the puppies which had begun to whine about her, wanting to suckle. She trotted away and disappeared beyond the house of a neighbor.
The puppies sat back on their rumps, whining. After a little while they lay down and went back to sleep, the black-spotted puppy on top.
Baldo stood at the treshold and rubbed his sleep-heavy eyes with his fists. He must have been about ten yeras old, small for his age, but compactly built, and he stood straight on his bony legs. He wore one of his father’s discarded cotton undershirts.
The boy descended the ladder, leaning heavily on the single bamboo railing that served as a banister. He sat on the lowest step of the ladder, yawning and rubbing his eyes one after the other. Bending down, he reached between his legs for the blak-spotted puppy. He held it to him, stroking its soft, warm body. He blew on its nose. The puppy stuck out a small red tongue,lapping the air. It whined eagerly. Baldo laughed—a low gurgle.
He rubbed his face against that of the dog. He said softly. “My puppy. My puppy.” He said it many times. The puppy licked his ears, his cheeks. When it licked his mouth. Baldo straightened up, raised the puppy on a level with his eyes. “You are a foolish puppy” he said, laughing. “Foolish, foolish, foolish,” he said, rolling the puppy on his lap so that it howled.
The four other puppies awoke and came scrambling about Baldo’s legs. He put down the black-spotted puppy and ran to the narrow foot bridge of women split-bamboo spanning the roadside ditch. When it rained, water from the roadway flowed under the makeshift bridge, but it had not rained for a long time and the ground was dry and sandy. Baldo sat on the bridge, digging his bare feet into the sand, feeling the cool particles escaping between his toes. He whistled, a toneless whistle with a curious trilling to it produced by placing the tongue against the lower teeth and then curving it up and down. The whistle excited the puppies, they ran to the boy as fast theri unsteady legs could carry them, barking choppy little barks.
Nana Elang, the mother of Baldo, now appeared in the doorway with a handful of rice straw. She called Baldo and told him to get some live coals from their neighbor.
“Get two or three burning coals and bring them home on the rice straw”, she said. “Do not wave the straw in the wind. If you do, it will catch fire before you get home.” She watched him run toward KA Ikao’s house where already smoke was rising through the nipa roofing into the misty air. One or two empty carromatas dawn by sleepy litte ponies rattled along the pebbly street, bound for the railroad station.
Nana Elang must have been thirty, but she looked at least fifty. She was a thin, wispy woman, with bony hands and arms. She had scanty,straight, graying hair which she gathered behind her head in a small,tight knot. It made her look thinner than ever. Her cheekbones seemed on the point of bursting through the dry, yellowish brown skin. Above a gray-checkered skirt, she wore a single wide-sleeved cotton blouse that ended below her flat breats. Sometimes when she stooped or reached up for anything,a glimpse of the flesh at her waist showed in a dark, purplish band where the skirt had been tired so often.
She turned from the doorway into the small, untidy kitchen. She washed the rice and put it in a pot which she placed on the cold stove. She made ready the other pot for the mess of vegetables and dried fish. When Baldo came back with the rice straw and burning coals, she told him to start a fire in the stove, while she cut the ampalaya tendrils and sliced the eggplants. Ehen the fire finally flamed inside the clay stove, Baldo’s eyes were smarting from the smoke of the rice straw.
‘There is the fire, mother.” He said. “Is father awake already?”
Nana Elang shook her head. Baldo went out slowly on tiptoe.
There were already many people going out. Several fishermen wearing coffee-colored shirts and trousers and hats made from the shell of white pumpkins passed by. The smoke of their home made cigars floated behind them like shreds of the morning mist. Women carrying big empty baskets were going to the tobacco fields. They walked fast, talking among themselves. Each woman had gathered the loose folds of her skirt in front, and twisting the end two or three times, passed it between her legs, pulling it up at the back, and slipping it inside her waist. The women seemed to be wearing trousers that reached only to their knees and flared at the thighs.
Day was quickly growing older. The east flamed redly and Baldo called to his mother, “Look, mother, God also cooks his breakfast.”
He want to play with the puppies. He sat on the bridges and took them on his lap one by one. He searched for fleas which he crushed between his thumbnails. You, puppy.” He murmured soflty. When he held the balck-spotted puppy he said, “My puppy. My puppy.”
Ambo, his seven year old brother, awoke crying. Nana Elang could be heard patiently calling him to the kitchen. Later he came down with a ripe banana in his hand. Ambo was almost as tall as his older brother and he had stout husky legs. Baldo often called him the son of of an Igorot. The home-made cotton shirt he wore was variously stained. The pocket was torn, and it flopped down. He ate the banana without peeling it.