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A tale of Manila

FEB 10 -

On the third day of December, the men of the families came out of their huts to investigate the silent crow of roosters. They were shaken to discover that their

roosters were fast asleep. Their bamboo sticks dropped, as did their jaws, when they saw the moon shining bright. The sun, it seemed, had refused to come out.

The island, Manila, was a square kilometre in size, accommodated only twenty families, and was untouched by the technological advancements of the twenty first century. The waves that touched its shores washed away any non-living object, except for the sand and a few bones, and left the living ones unharmed.

Each one of the twenty houses on the island would create a raft—from tree trunks, fish skin and coconut shells every day, for these rafts lasted only one day, and every other morning was spent building a new one. The fathers and their sons would wake up, every morning, to the sound of roosters crowing, to begin preparing for their day’s work.

Each family had one son, while the number of daughters in each

household ranged from two to thirteen. The head of the island was settled not by the amount of coins he accumulated but by the number of daughters he yielded. The women would fetch coconuts, mushrooms, and anything edible they could find in the jungle, and prepare family meals and coconut wine, while the men would drink, fish and devour the prepared meals.

There lived, also, a single witch in the village—an old woman who could cure any and all diseases, although the only maladies the villagers themselves had ever encountered were cholera and infertility. No man or woman in Manila ever lived to be over 50 years of age expect for the old which who was 231 years old. Everyone believed that her seeming immortality was the result of being struck by lightning three times in a row; on the same hour of the same day in different years in the past.

On the morning of the dark day when the men had discovered their roosters sleeping safely in their coops and ascertained that there was no giant eagle covering the sun, they were all in a muddle and did not know what to do. They had no answers…nobody knew what had happened or how. The head of the island had called a gathering. The village’s 19 other men and its 231-year-old witch were called together.

“Dark days have arrived it seems, but we shall not fear the mighty moon and will continue living our lives in complete darkness and hope for brighter days to come,” said the superior, and ended his speech in a reiteration of the same notion.

At this point, the witch stepped forward and said that the sunless day was the result of a curse. “The thirteen dead gypsies who had come to our island only to swim back to their deaths have cursed us,” she said. “We need to present a great sacrifice to the gods of the sun,” she continued, and the major, nodding, concluded the gathering by telling his people to return to their huts and rest, and prepare for the sacrifice which was to take place the next day.

A day passed without the sun, but the islanders managed to continue living their daily lives. The women prepared their meals and made their youngest daughters hold the flame. The men floated along the waves with their sons, and managed to gather some fish.

It was not pitch-dark since the moon was full and so they gathered the next day, with their chicken, goat and fish for the sacrifice. The witch asked for wood from the coconut trees and made a great fire. As she chanted—words in a language none could understand—the villagers began throwing their livestock into the fire, one after another. The fire was so great that the island seemed bright; brighter even than it was on days when the sun rose every morning and shone throughout the day. Everyone was hopeful as they went back to their huts. The fire had been reduced to ashes, and their second dark day had come to an end.

The entire island slept for 18 hours and woke up to find their doors blocked by white, powdery cotton that had piled up outside. The men took out their strongest bamboo sticks and went out of their windows to remove the pile of cotton from their doors. No matter how hard they tried though, more cotton kept falling from the sky. And so, the village leader announced for everyone to come out of their huts from their windows, for it was impossible to get out through their doors, and convene in a gathering immediately.

“The cotton falling upon us is ash—of the chicken, goat and fish we sacrificed yesterday. So, fear not. And let us pray to the gods of the sun, that they come out of hiding soon, and bless us with light,” said the leader, with the bravery of a soldier prepared to die in war.

“No, this is not ash. This is snow,” one of the nineteen men stood up, and silenced the crowd with this display of authority.

“We must get ready for cold winds now,” the witch said in deep despair, leaving everyone in dismay.

No one in the village had ever heard of the term snow, except for that man who had just spoken. He was the witch’s abandoned son, and had startled everybody by speaking up so confidently.

The man pointed towards his mother, and she described to everybody what snow was. The housewives began to get annoyed as they had to use their little windows to get in and out of their homes. Some of them got stuck, and had to have their daughters pull them out. All the men (including the mayor), on the other hand, simply got more drunk.

The snow did not affect the children though, they were happy as ever. As if they’d found a new toy to play with. And so they forgot

to go eat their meals. One child discovered that this new ‘snow’ could

be made into a round ball and thrown at the others without hurting them. For the children, it was all good fun. Two other kids discovered that ‘snow’, like sand, could be piled up to make fine castles.

A child missed his ‘target’ as he was hurling a ball of snow at

his friend, so it landed on the back of one of the 20 drunkards in the island. In his drunken fury, the man squashed the little child’s face with a coconut cup.

The little girl died, but her mother did not shed a single tear over her loss. She simply buried her dead body in the snow. At the age of seven, the little girl was the youngest child to ever have died in the island,

and so Manila was drenched in misery. The drunkards became silent, and the children too did not utter a word. The housewives, as always, continued to work.

When the witch heard that a young virgin had been murdered, she rushed to the burial site, and asked the mother to dig up the little girl’s corpse so that she might be presented to the gods of the sun. The mother, horrified at the prospect of having her child burned like a gypsy, retorted, “My daughter is not a filthy gypsy. Where were your gods when he smashed my daughter?”

“Please do not say so,” the witch begged of the mother. “The gods will get angry.”

“Damn your gods,” the woman snapped back at her, as she pushed her to the ground with the shovel in her hand,

The witch knew that the worst was yet to come, and soon everybody came out of their homes to

hear a sweet symphony which gushed gently towards them from across the shore.

Everybody turned their attentions towards the waves that swept so gently in the wind, and the sand grains they carried. They fell into deep trance, as if hypnotised by the music. And as they listened, entranced, the wind blew in full swing, raising the volume at which the symphony played.

A cold gust of air swept the entire island. In a minute, nothing was left of that land; no piece of wood, no coins, no bones and no sand.

Posted on: 2013-02-10 08:49