By Nick Joaquin One warm July night Julio was writing a letter to-of all people-his landlord, Ka Ponso. It was about his son Jose who wanted to go to school in Mansalay, the town where Ka Ponso lived. They had moved here to the island of Mindoro about a year ago because Julio had been unable to find any land of his own to farm. As it was, he thought himself lucky when Ka Ponso agreed to take him on as a tenant. “Dear Compadre,” he started writing. A while before, his wife had given birth to a baby. Ka Ponso had happened to be in the neighborhood and offered to be the baby’s godfather.
After that they had begun to call each other compadre. Julio was writing in Tagalog, bending earnestly over a piece of paper torn out of his son’s school notebook. “It’s about my boy Jose,” he wrote. “He’s in the sixth grade now. ” He didn’t add that Jose had had to miss a year of school since coming here to Mindoro. “Since he’s quite a poor hand at looking after your carabaos, I thought it would be best that he go to school in the town. “This boy Jose, compadre,” he wrote, “is quite an industrious lad.
If only you can make him do anything you wish, any work. He can cook rice, and I’m sure he’d do well washing dishes. ” And I wish you would treat Jose as you would your own son, compadre. You may beat him if he does something wrong. Indeed, I want him to look up to you as a second father. “About six o’clock the following morning, a boy of twelve was riding a carabao along the riverbed road to town. He made a very puny load on the carabao’s broad back. Walking close behind the carabao, the father accompanied him as far as the bend of the riverbed.
When the beast hesitated to cross the small rivulet that cut the road as it passed a clump of bamboo, the man picked up a stick and prodded the animal. Then he handed the stick to the boy, as one might give a precious gift. The father didn’t cross the stream, but only stood there on the bank. “Mind that you take care of the letter,” he called out from where he stood. “Do you have it there in your shirt pocket? ” The boy fumbled in his pocket.
When he had found the letter, he called: “No, Tatay, I won’t lose it. ” “And take good care of the carabao,” Julio added. I’ll come to town myself in a day or two to get it back. I just want to finish the planting first. ” Then Julio started walking back home, thinking of the work that awaited him in his cleaning that day. But he remembered something more to tell his son. Stopping, he called out to him again. “And that letter,” he shouted. “Be sure and give it to Ka Ponso as soon as you reach town. Then be good and do everything he asks you to do. Remember-everything. ” From atop the carabao, Jose yelled back: “Yes, Tatay, yes,” and rode on. Fastened to his saddle were a small bundle of clothes and a little package of rice.
The latter was food for his first week in town. It was customary for schoolboys from the barrio or farm to provides themselves in this simple manner. In Jose’s case, even if he was going to live at Ka Ponso’s, Julio did not want it to be said that he had forgotten this little matter of the first week’s food. Now the boy was out of his father’s sight, concealed by a stand of tall hemp plants, their green leaves glimmering in the morning sun. Thinking of his father, Jose grew suddenly curious about the letter in his shirt pocket. He stopped his carabao under a shady tree by the roadside.
A bird sang in a bush close by, and Jose could hear it as he read the letter. Jumping from word to word, he found it difficult to understand his father’s dialect now that he saw it in writing. But as the meaning of each sentence became clear to him, he experienced a curious exultation. It was as though he was the happiest boy in the world and that bird was singing expressly for him. He also heard the tinkling of the stream far away. There he and his father had parted. The world seemed full of bird song and music from the stream.
Courtney from Study Moose