Friday, May 8, 2009

Granny's Palace

It was an exciting holiday for Yenyen. Her entire family was going for a week vacation at her grandmother's place. It was going to be a big family reunion. But who would think that she was also about to learn the story behind the land which she named "Granny's palace"?

Granny’s Palace

I felt dizzy when we got off the bus. I wanted to vomit but I hardly eaten anything. I haven’t had breakfast yet. We left home too early in the morning and Mama just gave us milk. I didn’t know how long the journey to grandmother’s place took. I had fallen asleep despite the old morning breeze. I looked around and was greeted by the long cemented highway extended to the horizon. The sun was shining brightly in the east. There were some houses beside the highway but they were significantly apart. Everything was still quiet.

I lifted my knapsack higher on my back and saw Papa collecting all the stuff we brought for a week’s vacation. Mama was carrying the baby, our youngest at the time, while securing the others to stay off the road. There were seven of us then. Mama and Papa, I, and my four younger siblings of whom three were boys and one girl. I weakly went to help Papa carry some of the stuff. He gave me the plastic bag filled with toys.

We went through the narrow road under the thick coconut trees and everything I saw were dried leaves. “Mama!” I called. “Is this part of lola’s place?” She was a way ahead of us.

“Yes. Starting from the highway and straight to the sea.” She called back.

“We haven’t been here for long. It’s too big.” I said loudly in excitement while I quickened my steps. The dizziness went away with the thought of my cousins. “Are Manong Dondon and Manang Darlene coming?”

“Yeah, they’re here now. They arrived yesterday.” Mama said lightly when I got next to her.

“Wow! I missed them so much.” I was smiling but my smile faded remembering what lola said to me during her visit a week ago. “But lola said Manang Darlene is tall and pretty and smart. Unlike me, I’m thin and not pretty.”

“You’re smart too aren’t you? You got good grades. Outstanding grades actually.” Mama was comforting.

“But I’m not pretty. Manang is really …”

My words hanged in the air when someone exclaimed, “They’re here!” It was my Manong Dondon. I haven’t noticed that my brothers ran ahead of us straight to the house. I ran too.

Everything was just as I remembered. A wide garden surrounded by beautiful flowers starting from a complete collection of roses, a variety of ground orchids, the hanging orchids with flowers bowing in the air while the roots embraced the trunk of the big trees around the garden, daisies, and other rare types of flowers beaming in bright colors. Everything was arranged according to their types and beauties, while the thick untrimmed bermuda grass covered the entire garden so that not a single soil was seen. It was my grandmother’s paradise.

My cousins ran to meet me. We missed each other for five long years. Darlene was certainly tall and pretty for her age. She was just a year older than I and Dondon was a year older than her but both were in grade six. Dondon was a bit taller than his sister.

I saw my brothers diving in the bermuda grass. We didn’t have those grasses at home. The boys were really enjoying. Just then grandmother came out from the house with aunt Bebe, her youngest daughter.

“Hello everyone!” Grandma greeted with a grin.

We ran to her and paid respect by taking her hand and putting it upon our forehead as we made a bow. We called it “bless”, a culture that our parents taught us since we were little. Our aunts and uncles blessed us too. Grandma prepared a richly breakfast with the help of aunt Bebe and everyone devoured it not long after we arrived.

We went for a picnic at the beach in the afternoon. We trailed on the little farm at the back of the house, passed the wide vegetable garden, walked beneath the mango trees that bore bountiful fruits for exports, crossed the bridge over the long river filled with nipa trees, then ran on the white sparkling sand decorated with dead corals and shells. The beach was clean with clear blue water.

“Mama, how did lola owned this very big land? Was her papa very rich?” I asked while struggling with a piece of chicken. We rested for a snack after a long play in the water. Grandma was not with us. She stayed at home with aunt Bebe.

“Well, it’s a very long story.” Mama said feeding the baby with some bread.

“Wanna hear it Tita.” Dondon said. He was busy making a floater out of coconuts’ dried shells. “Papa didn’t tell us.”

All kids sat quietly when mama started the story.

“Rosa was climbing down the hill one afternoon with two tiny containers in her hands filled with drinking water she fetched from the spring in the mountain when she got a glimpse of their house. There were horses in front of the house and she saw several men in uniforms entering it. She halted sensing danger in the air. Her mother was alone in the house. Her father and three older brothers visited their farm. She realized the men were Japanese Army. The Philippines was under the Japanese occupation at that time and they were brutal to both the Filipinos and the Americans. They were even more vindictive towards anyone collaborating with the rebellion group called the HUKBALAHAP, the troop against the Japanese.”

“Did they kill her mother?” Gee-ar, my seven-year-old brother, asked in anticipation.

“Ssshh! Quiet!” Jenjen , my sister next to me, scolded him and he sank back to sit. Mama continued the story.

“The Japanese were looking for Rosa’s father because his cousins were members of the HUKBALAHAP and their family was suspected to be collaborators. Rosa saw her mother dragged out of the house and trashed to the ground. Her mother got up slowly into a kneeling position. A soldier took a samurai and aimed it to her neck. Rosa ran swiftly towards her mother to save her but before she was able to come closer, she saw her mother’s head flew in the air shouting “Run my child! Run!

The Japanese took their guns and fired to everyone around killing those on their way. The people ran for their lives hiding in the holes they made incase of attacks. Rosa ran along with other children. She climbed on a hill and saw a huge rock with a foxhole under it. Two kids were already hidden inside.”

“If I were there, I will fire back with my gun. Bang! Bang! Bang!” Gee-ar said aiming his toy gun to the sea.

“Ssshh.” Everyone chorused.

“Many people were killed that day and most of them were children. Rosa survived that day’s slaughter however; the violence she saw changed her from a refine girl into a brave fighter. She grew up to join the ‘Hukbalahap’ along with her brothers. Rosa was a young woman and her brothers prohibited her from fighting with arms. Instead, she became an informer and a deliverer of supply for the troop. She fought for freedom for several years until the day when the American army took the Philippines from the violent hands of the Japanese and gave her freedom. Rosa’s brothers however did not live to taste that freedom. They were killed during one of their battles.

Rosa and her father lived quietly in their farm. They had no one but each other. But one night, Rosa was awakened by the wail of their carabao. She hurried down the hut and saw her father lying on its back bleeding. He was badly beaten and his face was unrecognizable. With all might left, he managed to say the names of his assassins before he let go. “Gardo, Alfredo and Ronnie. You will pay for this. I swear!” Rosa said weeping.”

Rosa wrote to the president of the Philippines expressing her grief and inability to afford for the justice of her father’s death. The president replied shortly sending Rosa a very competitive lawyer. The proceedings started immediately pointing to the land issue as the motive of murder. Much to Rosa’s agony however, the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

The suspected assassins went to a restaurant after the trial to celebrate their victory. They drank in mirth until they totally forgot that they were in a public place. The suspects were heard expressing their disbelief that their victim was still able to go home alive. They thought he was dead when they left him. They laughed and ridiculed the spirit of the old man in reaching home. Several customers overheard the conversation and were brave enough to testify against the suspects.

The case was reopened and with strong witnesses, the suspects were sentenced to life and were ordered to pay a big amount to the family of the slain. The suspects couldn’t afford to pay for the amount and it was agreed that a land of the same value will be given to the surviving family member.
Rosa took the land in remembrance of her father and promised to herself to keep the land even for her future great grandchildren so that they too will remember her father.”

“Which land was it mama?” I asked.

“It’s this land Yenyen.” Mama replied. “My parents acquired more lands through enheritance and were also able to buy more but it was in this land where our mother chose to raise us because it's the closest to her heart.”

“Brave lola.” Darlene said shaking her head.

“Yeah, she’s really a fighter.” Dondon added.

“Do you still wanna swim?” Mama asked.

“Yeah.” The three of us chorused. The little ones had fallen asleep on the mat.

“Ok. Now you go and we’ll go home shortly.”

Dondon, Darlene, and I jumped and raced to the water.

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