We like this story because while it is personal it acknowledges the outside world and the mysteries of life. Too many of the entries are one-note: Me Me Me Me Me. They’re talking to themselves. This works if the language is fascinating; we’re not quite there yet. Why should we be interested in them when they’re not interested in us?
No Permanent Address tackles a social reality without getting preachy. The narrator starts out as a bored, self-absorbed youngster; by the end she has discovered compassion. She learns about herself by interacting with other people. In the process she gains a little knowledge of the world.
Also, the gun that appears early in the story is fired near the end. (Read A Brief History of Chekhov’s Gun in Breaking Bad.)
Congratulations, Ronigurl! You or your representative can pick up your prize at National Bookstore, Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, Makati starting Tuesday, April 2. Just go to the Customer Service counter (telephone 8974562) and give your full name.
The next LitWit Challenge is in April.
Here is the winning piece, in our edit.
No Permanent Address
No TV, no books, no radio, and no neighbors for kilometers. This hell was my summer. I was sent to the boondocks where I could spend time with my grandparents so my Mom would have one less mouth to feed. At least the grandies were rich enough to have running water from faucets and a toilet and bath, not like others in this province who only had holes in the ground and a wooden plank to squat on. We also had a half-finished swimming pool with no tiles and no water, and a big lawn with no gardener.
Everyday I would sit on our terrace and wait for the bus. It passed our house four times a day and you could hear it five minutes before it appeared on the horizon as a cloud of red dust. I would hope like hell that it would stop and bring some visitors. Like Mang Sauro with his talk of caves in Bonifacio as big as cathedrals, or streams that disappeared underground. I got a recipe for the Tagabulag Anting-anting from him. You just need to get up well before dawn on Good Friday, sit facing east, stare at the rising sun without blinking while chanting “taga-bulag taga-bulag”. Once a tear slides down your cheeks, wipe it with a pristine white and dalisay handkerchief. Do not, under any circumstances, let the tear or the hanky touch the ground. I tried to do it that morning but there were several problems. Good Friday was several weeks away, but I wanted to use the taga-bulag on my cousin Aman who was a pain in the ass. I also did not know what dalisay means. And then I couldn’t figure out how to not blink. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t work. I was determined to try again the next day, maybe try to think of something really sad so I would cry for real, faster than I could blink.
I didn’t see them coming. They didn’t arrive on the bus; they just materialized at the gate and knocked on it. There wasn’t even any dust to indicate which direction they came from. Two men with a teenage girl and a pregnant woman. I couldn’t grasp the concept that they were NPA rebels and my Lola had trembling hands while she prepared food for the visitors. Ka Eugene was the handsome one who showed me his gun and taught me how to cock it and line up the sights. Ka Thomas was the husband of Ka Malou, who was due to give birth any day now. Ate Bel was the teenager. They would stay with us until Ka Malou felt strong enough to walk again after giving birth. It was annoying that I now had to share a room with my cousin, but my Lola said I had to behave and be kind. Her eyes were darting from side to side, rather like the cows being hauled from pasture by their noses. Maybe it was a good thing since I would no longer be sleeping in the living room under an Iloko mosquitero and awakened at 7:30 am by my Lolo shouting, “Gising na, tirik na araw!”
Lola said I had to pretend that our visitors were my cousins, and I should not ever talk about them. They allowed me to sit with them while they talked about equality, armed revolution, and how God didn’t exist, which to me was plain ridiculous. I watched while my Lolo brought out his big Jerusalem bible, the one with all the pictures of the naked women, half-naked men brutally murdered, and babies held by their hair. I saw Ka Thomas bring out a ratty red and brown book that looks like it has been trampled by horses. They went back and forth arguing in very low voices, as sound really carries in the province. Neither side believed the other, but I think Lolo won since he could quote chapter and verse while Ka Thomas only had books that looked like he made them himself and his only had poems from an Intsik and a bearded guy who looks like one of our mangangawits.
Much to my disappointment, Ka Eugene and Ka Thomas left the next day, depriving me of eye-candy and gun lessons. My quest for the taga-bulag anting-anting would also have to be shelved since I didn’t want to share it with just anyone. I did share with Ate Bel my secret beauty paste of baby powder drizzled with baby oil. It just takes patience to apply since it tends to clump and fall off your face. I also asked whether in her opinion it was a star-apple leaf that was used in the Palmolive commercial, the one where a dried brown leaf magically became green and supple after Palmolive lather was applied to it. I couldn’t replicate the lather nor the feat, so I became quite skeptical about it. Unfortunately, Ate Bel said their camp didn’t have any electricity so she was not familiar with the commercial. Ate Bel was Ka Thomas’ sister and she was Ka Malou’s companion. She said Ka Thomas’ real name was Pedro del Rosario and that they lived in Los Banos before he joined the Kilusan. Their parents were farmers and so proud that he was accepted as a UP scholar. He would have been the first to finish college. I asked Ate Bel to join me and Aman in digging for clams in the stream at our niyugan. She declined as she wanted to keep their presence a secret as long as possible.
The summer passed quickly. I was too busy asking Ate Malou questions about what it was like to climb mountains, what the ground was like, did they have to use ropes, where did they sleep, where did they bathe, whether there were snakes, wild boar, wild deer, did they kill it, did they eat it, what did it taste like, how did they hunt it, how did they kill it? I didn’t lie in wait for the bus anymore. Any visitors meant I had to stay in the room or stay out playing in the niyugan and not ask or answer questions about them.
I don’t remember Golly being born. All I knew was that suddenly there was this cute, fat, cuddly being that would smile if you made funny faces. He would cry if you pinched too hard. The only place I could pinch was his earlobe, and only if nobody was looking. I also had to make sure nobody saw me alone with him so they wouldn’t blame me for his reddened ear. I wished I could take him back home with me. Maybe we could buy him off Ate Malou. I didn’t know if Ka Thomas would come for him since they’d been gone for more than two months. Ate Malou and Ate Bel were getting worried because they hadn’t heard from him. Ate Bel went home to Los Banos to ask her parents if they’d heard anything.
My parents came to take me home as school was starting soon. I felt like kicking, screaming, and crying but I was more afraid of the two-hour paluan sessions than I loved Golly-wow. I didn’t know if I would see them again since Ate Malou said it was dangerous for them to leave any clues as to where they would be staying next. I wished Ate Bel were here so I could get their Los Banos address and write to them there.
I settled back into my old life. I so missed being able to buy candy by the piece and just walking to the next-door sari-sari store to get it anytime I liked. Golly-wow’s memory was soon buried under school assignments, projects that I was too klutzy to ace, and old playmates.
I went back to Quezon the next summer to find that Ka Eugene and Ka Thomas had died inside a room in a Catholic school. They were noticed by a group of soldiers patrolling the street. They only had one magazine between them and they tried to shoot it out. Ka Eugene was 26 years old, Ka Thomas 23. I pictured them lying on their backs, side by side, their eyes closed, arms and legs spread out, like when we play dead. I heard that Ate Malou walked a hundred kilometers from our house to where the shootout happened, but didn’t dare claim the bodies or see them. They left soon afterwards and we never heard from them again.