(04 August 2009, Cebu)
We lived inside a private compound of a kind Filipino-Chinese pastor for a year. Many things had happened when we were there. I began my first year in school and ended it at the top of the class. We sold the last piece of precious property that reminded us of affluent times in the hacienda – our tricycle. My mother cried that day. My mother’s father passed away. My mother cried that day too. And we all went home to the hacienda to attend the wake and the funeral.
Accustomed to have a certain sense of freedom, my parents decided to live on our own outside the compound. My parents wanted us to be free. On one summer day, no less than 20 men volunteering in the spirit of “bayanihan” literally lifted our house, made of wood with elevated flooring, off the ground and moved it to our new spot. From being a charity case, we became squatters.
The unused stretch of land that we transferred into was just about a hundred meters away from the compound but one would have to go around another property to reach our new place. This provided less communication and less connection with the people in the old compound.
When I was in second grade, my father decided to raise chickens. We started with a hen and a rooster. Eventually they increased in number due to the cross breeding with other chickens that frequented the area. Aside from providing occasional meat and eggs, they (mostly the roosters) have given us afternoon entertainment. My younger brother, a cousin and I would usually relax under the shade of the large ipil-ipil trees in our backyard after a game. It was in one of those afternoons that we unanimously yet silently decided to tire ourselves with running. We chased the roosters to formally initiate a cockfight.
At first, we were unsuccessful. However, since we were fast learners, we decided to merge our efforts and to work together. Soon enough, we were imitating how the old people set up the cockfights. A hand holds the rooster’s saddles to keep it scratching on the ground and prevent it from either running or rushing towards its opponent. Another hand has to tap its wings to prevent it from straying and from loosing focus on its opponent. The standing hackles indicate the provocation of the congenital aggression of roosters towards each other. After a few scratches and taps, the roosters did the ceremonial bite and began the fight. We stood on the sides and cheered on the roosters. The cockfight would eventually end when one of the roosters gave up and ran away. At times, we had three roosters doing the round robin. At the end of the tournaments, the roosters panted and were nearly exhausted!
We did not have the blades. And so we improvised. A vine grew abundantly in our backyard. Its seeds are encased in a slender pod that curves just as the blade used for cockfight. With fine strips of cloth and the vine pods, we continued our afternoon entertainment until the time came when it was very difficult to catch the roosters. They had also improved on their escape routes! The afternoon cockfights then waned until we discovered that we could always have the cockfight without having to catch two roosters – all we need is one.
It happened one afternoon when we were all in the bedroom. A stray rooster entered by the open window. We struggled not to frighten the bird otherwise it may panic and fly just about everywhere. Dirty markings of a rooster’s feet on the pillows, on the blankets and on the curtains would mean disaster for us.
My brother was quick enough to get hold of the stray rooster. He did not immediately let it go. He happened to face the full-body mirror in the room and suddenly to our surprise, the rooster’s hackles stood up. It took a fighting stance against its own image! And my brother had set it free to attack its own reflection. We laughed until our jaws ached!
My paternal grandmother was staying with us that time. Seeing how we made fun of the poor chicken and she could not make us stop laughing just by her words, she took hold of a curved meter stick and had given each one of us a beating. However, we still did not stop laughing. We laughed even more when the rooster, while panting, continued to attack its reflection and the stick splintered in two after several beatings. They say that if you cannot beat them, then join them. My grandmother joined us in laughing.
We then occasionally chased roosters and made them fight their own image in the mirror. It has not lost the delight it has given us. We eventually stopped when my father decided not to raise chickens anymore. Their safekeeping became difficult. There were many other squatters in the area by then and space became a constraint. It began with squatting, and ended with squatting.
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