Homecoming

Two men seated outside an eatery sat on bamboo benches beside a wooden table.

‘You shouldn’t be here Raphael.’ Rodulfo leaned forward and picked a sweaty bottle from a bucket of six.

‘Why not? I have come back to help my father and to return for Ina.’ Raphael turned toward the wooden shed behind him and waved at young lady behind a wooden counter. ‘pica-pica.’

The young girl prepared two bowls. The first was filled with pork rinds and the other with a couple of red chilies. She walked down wooden steps under a straw roof and placed the bowls on the table.

Rodulfo grabbed a fork and sliced up the chilies into three small pieces each. He then picked up the milky bottle of vinegar and poured some into the bowl of chilies while mixing his concoction with his fork until a slight red-tinge filled the swirl.

‘So Rodulfo.’ Raphael dipped a pork rind in the vinegar and chilies mixture. He swallowed the pork rind whole and licked his fingers. ‘Why shouldn’t I be here?’

Rodulfo Raised his leg and scratched his calf. His denim shorts folded into creases and rubbed against his tattered v-neck shirt. ‘Listen Raphael.’ Rodulfo ran his hand against the smooth bamboo surface. He found a piece of twine and played with it for a moment before continuing. ‘Your tatay wanted you to go and help the rebels for a reaanak.’

‘Tatay wanted me…’ Raphael interrupted. ‘So that the barrio will be spared by unnecessary abuse.’ The rebellion will not hold ransom the home of one of their members.’

Rodulfo twirled his finger on a loose strand of twine and pulled it free. ‘Raphael… your father is the Kapitan of the barrio and we all respect him as a very astute man.’

Raphael smiled. He grabbed a bottle from the bucket and sipped the beer. The cool bubbles quenched his salty palette.

Rodulfo continued. ‘It’s about Ina.’

Raphael pulled the beer from his lips. ‘What about Ina?’

‘Ina is married.’

‘Married?’

‘Yes to your father. They have a child…you have a sister now.’

Raphael slammed his fist down on the table. ‘No! You are lying!’

Rodulfo shook his head. ‘They got married after you left.’

‘No!’

Rodulo raised his hand to calm down Raphael. ‘She was pregnant.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Your father sent you to fight for one reaanak.’

‘To protect the people of the barrio.’

‘No…’ Rodulfo now looked at the ground. ‘They were hoping that you would die in the rebellion.’

Raphael clenched his fist tight.

‘I am sorry Raphael.’

Raphael dug his boot in the ground and kicked loose pebbles under the table. He breathed raggedly and kept on whispering. ‘No! No! No!’ He shook his leg and gnashed his teeth as tension built up all over his body. ‘Why didn’t you warn me? Aren’t we best friends?’

Rodulfo’s face turned red. ‘I am sorry.’ He sipped his beer and leaned closer to Raphael. ‘I should have warned you.’ He took another sip from his bottle. ‘You know no one can say or do anything against your father.’

Raphael lowered his head. He knew that Rodulfo’s piggery was a result of his father’s wisdom in political matters. The whole barrio for that matter owed their livelihood to the Kapitan. He pounded the table and thought of the times that his father had inspired him to help the barrio but he can’t the betrayal that he felt. He was betrayed by his friend, by his lover, and by his father. ‘What should I do now?’ he asked.

‘Leave get as far from here as possible.’

‘What?’

‘Rejoin the rebellion, go to the city and find a job…Anywhere but here.’

‘Go to the cit? As what?!? I didn’t go to school, I have no education. I only know how to fight and fish. Should I drive a car for some family? Clean toilets? Tell me what?!?’

Rodulfo lowered his leg and straightened up. ‘That doesn’t have to happen to you. There is much to gain in the city… there a lot of money there. You can live a more comfortable lifestyle than in the barrio.’

Raphael sneered. ‘Should I be a security guard then? Open doors for people?!?’ His eyes burned with rage.

Rodulfo threw a few bills on the table. ‘there is nothing else I can say…sorry.’ He patted Raphael on the arm and walked away.

Raphael removed a fatigued jacked and revealed a black vest-undershirt. He grabbed another bottle from the bucket and took a big sip.

The young girl picked up the money and refilled the bowl with more pork rinds.

Raphael continued drinking until nightfall. He guzzled two pails of beer and his head spun. He raised his hand to call for another serving of beer when he heard the wooden clatter of the store shutters. He whined and then picked up his bag in between his legs.

‘Goodnight.’ The girl spoke as she picked up the pail and bowls from the table.

Raphael waved his hand and wobbled to a dirt road. Half a meter down the road and he would reach the main road. He looked up and then broke out in laughter. ‘I have to talk to tatay.’

He turns left onto the main road and walked unsteadily to the barrio. Two kilometers down and he shifted the bag to his other shoulder. The heavy weight of clothes, his rifle and some gifts wore him down. ‘Just one more kilometer.’ He thought.

Down the road was a quiet little barrio. Parents were busy tucking in their little angels and hummed soothing lullabies to send children to sleep.

Raphael reached a stone fence of a barrio. The road was quite dark and only flickering lamps lit up a grassy path. He sat under a mango tree and looked out onto the quaint barrio. He started thinking about what Rodulfo said earlier. He opened up his bag and pulled out a seashell. He pressed it against his ear and he listened intently to the waves of the ocean. ‘Ina.’ He muttered.

Raphael’s mind wandered to the day before he left. A day spent on the nearby beach with Ina. He remembered the contours of her face and the twinkle in her eyes.

‘Will you forget about me?’ Ina asked digging her fingers in the sand.

‘I would not even think of that.’

Ina looked quietly at Raphael’s eyes. ‘Promise?’

‘I am not going anywhere.’

Ina hit something hard with her toe. She dug more at it with her fingers and uncovered a large shell. It was smooth on the outside with trenches. She picked it up and pressed it against her ear. ‘The sea.’ She whispered to herself. She turned to Raphael. ‘For you to remember me.’

Raphael shook his head and returned the shell inside his bag. He stood up and walked down the road into the barrio. He was amazed at how things hardly changed. The piggery of Rodulfo as always welcomed everyone into the barrio. The lamps were very faint and flickered. The windows showed a glimpse of family life and the city centre had a makeshift basketball court in the middle. Just across the city center was a relatively large house with an orchid garden at the front yard. ‘Tatay…’

‘Raphael.’ The kapitan looked over his young anak’s lean frame. ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’

‘Yes tatay.’ This is for the barrio. ‘We have a responsibility for everyone in the barrio.’

‘That is a good boy.’ The kapitan smiled, he was glad that his anak had developed a strong value of service.

‘Tatay?’

‘Yes Raphael?’

‘I love you tatay.’ He hugged his father.

Raphael wiped his tears at the memory of his father. He can’t believe that his father would betray him. ‘Rodulfo must be mistaken.’ He thought. He walked forward and stopped short of the orchids. He looked at the structure, it was the same as if he had never left. The cement walls was painted with an off white and dull yellow, the roof was made of a blue metal sheet.

Inside the light flickered and a woman rocked on a wooden chair and sang a lullaby to a baby in her arms.

‘Ina?’Raphael watched as Ina cradled the baby in her arms. He hung his head and tears dripped down his cheeks.

A hand squeezed Raphael’s shoulder.

Raphael dropped his bag. ‘Tatay?’

Raphael’s father smiled. He looked at the view of Ina singing to the baby. ‘Yes anak. Ina is the mother of a lovely girl. One and a half years old.’

‘Why?’

‘Anak?’

Raphael pulled his shoulder away from his father’s hand. ‘Why did you steal her from me?’

‘Who did I steal from you?’

‘Ina!’ Raphael turned towards his father.

‘I did not steal Ina from you anak.’

‘She bore your child!’

‘What?!?’ Raphael’s father screamed.

‘Why is she in our house with a child?’

‘I am just taking care of her.’ He cupped his hands on Raphael’s face and smiled. ‘She is part of our family…we take care of family.’

‘Like how you protected me?’ He bent low and pulled on a handle stuck inside his boot. ‘How you sent me to my death?’

‘Arggh!’ Raphael’s father widened his eyes and groped on his abdomen. He looked down and felt a sturdy wooden handle attached to a blade stuck deep in his gut. He looked at Raphael’s eyes. ‘Wh…why?’ He pulled on his anaks black vest and dropped knee first on the grassy ground. ‘Anak…’

Raphael turned on his father’s slumped body and walked toward the house. He pulled the door open and entered the main foyer. He recognized several pictures of him fishing with his father, wooden sculptures they have made on their camping trips and Ina.

‘Raffy?’ Ina ran and wrapped her arms around the muscular neck of Raphael. ‘You are here?!?’ She pressed the side of her head against his chest. ‘When did you come back? I haven’t heard from you…I thought that you died!’ She shook her head slightly. ‘But I always believed that you would come back. I felt that you were alive.’ She released her arms from Raphael and looked him straight in his eyes. They were distant and empty. She slapped him across his cheek. ‘Why did you leave me?’ Her voice stammered. ‘I… I… I told you not to go!’

Raphael ran his hand across his cheek. He felt the red palm print on his face. ‘Why did you leave me Ina?’

Ina raised an eyebrow. ‘What are you talking about? You left me!’

Raphael continued rubbing his cheek and stared long at a picture of his father and Ina that hung on the wall. He turned towards Ina. ‘You married tatay and had his daughter.’

Ina rubbed her ears. ‘What?!? Are you crazy! Has all that fighting made you stupid?’

Raphael wrapped his hand tightly around Ina’s wrist. ‘Why are you staying in my house?’

‘Raffy you are hurting me!’ She wriggled her hand free.

‘Why are you carrying your baby around? tatay’s baby!’

Ina slapped him again. ‘Our baby you bastard!’

Raphael’s mouth dropped. ‘Our baby?’

‘Yes stupid!’ Ina rubbed her wrist. ‘She is our baby. I am staying with your tatay because I was kicked out of my house after you left.’ Ina looked at Raphael’s eyes. ‘I did not want you to go because…because…’

‘I was the father…’

‘Yes.’

‘Then you and tatay did not get married?’

‘No!’

‘You and tatay do not have a child together?’

‘We had a child you fool!’

‘Then why did Rodulfo tell me that you did.’

A voice boomed from behind Raphael. ‘That is because you are a stupid fool Raphael.’

Raphael turned around and saw Rodulfo carrying a rifle.

‘You are too predictable my friend… always suspicious… always gullible.’ He cocked the rifle. ‘Did you think that your father would betray his own flesh and blood?’

‘No…’

‘What kind of man did you think he was?’

Raphael looked towards the picture of him and his father fishing.

He points the gun at Ina. ‘Do you think that Ina… who is your sweetheart ever since would bed another man?’ He smirked. ‘Trust me I tried.’

Raphael pulled Ina behind him. ‘What do you want?’

Rodulfo cackled. ‘Well for starters…I want your father dead. Thank you for that by the way.’

‘Raffy…’ Ina whispered holding tight on Raphael’s arm.

‘Well that is done. What else do you want Rodulfo?’

Rodulfo smiled. ‘Next you.’

‘Me?’

‘I want you gone!’

‘You wanted me out of here? Why?!?’

‘You spoiled brat! You got everything in this barrio. The most money! The princess and you expect after living in the jungle for a couple of years that you deserve a celebration?’

‘I never asked for anything in return!’

‘But you got everything you didn’t ask for!’

‘My family worked hard for our fortune. Not only our fortune…my father worked hard for your fortune as well!’

‘Work?!? Work?!? Day in and day out I work hard providing a living. Paying my taxes and giving you a portion of my earnings to your father. What work did he do? He gets richer while I sweat blood and tears!’

‘You said you respected my father!’ Raphael screamed.

‘I respected his money! I respected his position and now with both of you out of the way I can be the next kapitan.’

‘You are my friend… my best friend.’

Rodulfo raised the rifle and pointed it straight at Raphael’s head. ‘And you are dead!’

Raphael closed his eyes and held tightly on Ina’s arm.

‘Arghhh!’ Rodulfo screamed and dropped the rifle.

Raphael opened his eyes and watched the image of his father appear from behind Rodulfo.

Rodulfo staggered and leaned on the nearby wall. He breathed heavily and wildly flung his arms in the air. ‘I thought you were dead old man?’

‘Not as dead as you!’ Raphael screamed while running and landed blow after blow at the torso of Rodulfo. He threw a combination of punches and kicks until Rodulfo fell on the floor.

Rodulfo whimpered as the impact pushed the knife deeper in his back.

Ina trembled and dropped on her knees beside Raphael’s father. She sobbed as she held on his hand.

‘Tatay I am sorry.’ He cradled his father in his arms. ‘I am sorry.’

‘Anak…protect your family.’

‘Tatay…please…’

‘Remember the barrio is your family…’ Raphael’s father released a slow winded gasp and his head softly rolled to one side.

Raphael pressed his father’s limp head against him and screamed. ‘Tatay!’

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