This is how I get the most severe punishment ever in my life.
One Saturday mid-morning, while playing cara ‘y cruz of “tansan” with Tabog and Pepit, my mother called me to bring lunch for my father who then worked as a “Palay-dryer” at the Farmer’s Cooperative and Marketing Association, FACOMA.
I reached the FACOMA quarter to twelve. The place makes one sick; engine noises, loud people’s voices, oppressive heat mixed with jute-sack’s smell. The Dryer’s big dome contained a huge hearth inside. Attached to the hearth was a rolling wheel with spikes that run in violent rhythm. A chute which looked like band aid strip on top of a bald head served as the “Palay” poured-in place. A conveyor circling inside catches the “Palay,” then spit it out to an outlet down the dome. Planks of wood used as bridges surrounded the dome. On these planks, my father, along with others, would bring up the sack of “palay” on their shoulder and pour the contents to the chute beating the “hurry up” yelling of the overseer. The work scene was like that of the slaves building the Pharaoh’s Pyramid of Egypt. The only difference was instead of whipping the slaves while bringing up slabs of stones, my father and all the other worker were getting yelled at as the overseer demanded for brisk movement.
Twelve, the bell rang, lunch time for my father’s shift. Upon disembarking, my father went somewhere. When he showed up, he looked crudely washed. Mud like residues dripped on his hands. He smelled like rice bran damped with sweat for days, acridly sour. His thinning hair and eyebrows flaked with white dust. His back’s skin red in angry rashes. My father looked like a decrepit old man.
“So you see how hard I work there,” he said, while we were walking away from the Dryer. “That’s why you should study harder. When you grow up, I don’t like you end up like me.”
“I am poor in Art. I’ve no color paper, water color, crayons, paste, scissors, envelope,” I said.
“Art is a waste subject. English, Math, Science, Social Studies; these are what you needed to find a decent job,” my father said.
We reached a big Acacia tree. My father threw his body on the thick grass under the shade. He stretched his back to the tree trunk and spread his legs. He closed his eyes, savoring the gentleness of the wind. I sat opposite him feeling his tiredness.
“So what’s lunch?” He asked.
“Smoked fish and tomatoes.” I said.
“Can’t your Mom cook anything else with the soup at least? These can’t even get back my energy. My father said as he ripped open the pillow-like lunch wrapped in banana leaves.
“Ah…! That’s okay.”
He peered through the plastic bag for salt, finding it, he squirted out the tomatoes and put the salt on it, then started eating with his hand.
“Those shoes you’re asking… next week you’ll get it,” he said, after a mouthful.
I thought he had forgotten all about those shoes. I asked them when I was in Grade Three. I was in Grade Six now. Major purchases like that took years. I knew, because our first wood-cased transistor radio took my mother three years to harass it to my father.
At school, I had a crush on Carmelina. And I hated Rufino, a wealthy bully, who always have new shirts, new pants, and always wear a white Converse Shoes. He dogged Carmelina all the time. I was thinking, maybe if I could get to wear the kind of shoes Rufino is wearing, I’ll have the courage to get near with Carmelina. I knew it would be insensitive of me asking my father to buy me a shoe like that. It felt like doubling the sack of “palay” he would be climbing to the chute. But I asked him, anyway. And now… I would have a new shoe! Great! I dreamt how I look like in my white shoes. I was so thrilled.
My shoes came. It was black, not white that I wanted. It was Elpo, not Converse. Cheap. No class. Frustrated, I faked cheers so as not to sour my father’s pride – his victory on something!
When I wore my Elpo shoes, my classmate jeered. They said, only the rat-catcher wore my kind of shoes. More that I was discouraged now to get close to Carmelina.
So ashamed to wear my Elpo shoes at school, I knotted their laces, one time, and parked them under my desk. Barefoot I must, but not to be laughed at.
And my Black Elpo shoes were lost!
I got rid of my Elpo shoes after all. But my father got so mad. He threw me out of our shack, and told me to look for them, and if I could not find them, I would get something from him I would never forget. I knew what that “something” is, I’d seen samples of it. When Connie, my second younger sister failed to address Elsie, my first younger sister “Ate,” after repeated warnings, my father tied Connie’s hand under the Cashew tree, and bought some ants on her feet. After sometime, my mother couldn’t stand it, she freed up Connie.
I begged for help from the Property Custodian who live nearby to open up the school for me and allowed me to look at our room, saying my father would kill me if I didn’t find my Elpo shoes. I crawled and crawled and found no shoes. I checked all the garbage can, maybe it was mistaken as garbage, no shoes either.
My feet got heavy walking back home. I thought of moving out, be a stowaway. But my mother would die of worrying. Then, I thought of that “something” I would be getting. Would my father hacked me with a paddle or with a belt…? I consoled myself. Only the first whack would be hurtful, the rest would be easy. If it would be kneeling on Mongo beans, I just prayed my mother rescue me sooner?
When I got home, my mother dismayed when she saw me without my shoes. My mother held a dried dishrag wringing it. Then she was gone.
“So, you didn’t find your shoes? My father asked. I nodded while looking at my feet. I was just waiting, if my father wanted me to dive on the long bench for the paddle or belt. Or get ready my knees for the Mongo beans. My mother showed up again. She was restless, wringing still that dried dishrag in her hands. My four younger sisters got disturbed, like squirrels, scampered for a place to hide.
“Son,” my father said. His voice soft, putting his arm around my shoulder. His touch felt light, my body squirmed. He led me to the bench. His ‘son’ calling, it felt like a bullet shearing my flesh. We sat.
“I am not mad at you. I am mad about your attitude,” he said. I choked, then sobbed.
“You saw me how hard I worked on the Dryer. How it took me three years saving every penny, how I rather you not bought those little things you needed in your Art, just so I could buy your shoes to make you happy. Yet, you don’t put a value on those. You seem no concern at all. Your attitude of putting no values to one’s efforts is no good.”
His soft words needled teeny-weeny bits my heart. Torrents of tears cascaded from my eyes. I wished my father just whipped me. Two hacks, it’s done. You paid off your sin. But his words that would etch in my brain, like it would be an endless persecution of my fault and guilt.
Half blind with tears, in mirage, I saw my mother without her dishrag. My younger sisters came out from their hiding.
“You must remember that,” my father said. And who could forget. That was the most severe punishment I ever had in my life.