Just as any place has its own ruins, any town has its own idiot. Bagong Nayon, my barrio has Inong Isabela. Baliwag Bulacan, my town has Porong.
There were movies, too, which used town idiot as catalyst character. Koala, the town idiot in the movie “Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang” (Measured but found wanting) played by Lolita Rodriquez, the late Director Lino Brocka used her idiotic viewpoint exposing town’s corruption. Liloy, in the movie “Pinakamagandang Hayop sa balat ng lupa” (The most beautiful creature in the face of the earth) played by Lito Anzures, through his eyes, Celso Ad Castillo, the Director, spotlighted moral decadence of a fishing village. In Hollywood’s “Ryan’s Daughter” which starred Robert Mitchum, David Lean, the Director used, Michael (John Mills) as mute witness of people’s live, and the grisly secrets of Ireland’s enclave.
Town idiots are part of the local landscape. Funny, though their names and faces, these dregs of society had reasons for their existence: profound or otherwise. Perhaps, as the Anthropologists revered the ruins of the Maya’s long lost civilization, we share that sentiment. Or, perhaps, we felt indifferent to the ruins of our own Fort Santiago. Or, perhaps movie directors pricked us of their town idiots as a convenient tool for slapping the truths.
Cheap source of entertainment was the reason I thought why Inong Isabela, the town idiot of Bagong Nayon existed. He amused me. Not much of his antics, but more of his stories – Bible stories specially. I loved, too, his tales of adventure most of which related to when he was a trucker in Isabela, a Northern province of the Philippines. His mantra: “Aba e nung nagbibiyahe pa ako sa Isabela…” (You know, when I was a trucker in Isabela…) to start any of his adventure stories was the reason why “Isabela” became an appendage to his name. Inong Isabela’s mantra, turned out as a stick up ploy. “No more of your story, please, here’s five or ten cents,” folks would say, and shooed him away. Bagong Nayon’s folks had enough of his outrageous escapades as a trucker.
Inong Isabela was not totally senseless. As he couldn’t extort money from me even if he used his mantra, for obvious reasons that I don’t have a dime to spare with, so he hangs out with me often pestering me of his “Isabela” bit. And he was elated when I stay to hear his other stories. Inong was a Bible wielding idiot. He always carries an old worn out Bible in his sorties. People thought it was his reading too much of the Bible that he lost his mind.
One Bible story Inong taken out from the New Testament, that stood out for me was the story of a leper. When he said that, he was so stricken with so much emotion, I doubted his idiocy.
Inong’s voice croaked when he told me that passage of the Bible. His nasal drawl made me quiver. And he said – “While Jesus was in one town, a man came along whom was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’. Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘Am willing,’ he said, ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.” Then Inong Isabela snapped shot his Bible.
We were inside his isolated hut above the bank of an irrigation canal that stretched out from Bagong Nayon to Tarcan. He stood up from his limping bamboo chair, went out dragging his tattered pants, and looked out at the vast expanse of the clear blue sky. I remained sitting at the Ipil-Ipil tree beam that held the cogon grass walling of his hut. Then he explained what is this leprosy about.
“Leprosy is a disease starting from a small spot, ate away the flesh until the wretched sufferer was left with only the stump of a hand or leg. During Jesus time when you’re a leper, to isolate yourself from the community and dwell alone in a far away place, you have to cry out you’re unclean. Lepers were believed to be sinners, that were the reason they have this disease, and so they were despised and shunned away. But as the leper has the faith that Jesus could make his leprosy clean, so he went to Jesus. Jesus forgave his sins, his leprosy has gone, and Jesus commanded him to go to the priest to ask permission to mingle with the society again.
Inong Isabela glared at the sky. When he spun around and looked at me, I saw a kernel of tears glistening against his bearded face. Then he said … “I wish to go back …”
It took me 15 years to figure why Inong Isabela gave me that story. The leper’s life and his were paralleled. But Inong Isabela never got that chance to really come back mingling with his own people. He was just gone one day. As Inong Isabela was part of Bagong Nayon’s landscape – as ruins, people missed him sometimes.