Norman

| September 17, 2015

Olayra

THE SKY IS OVERCAST as forceful winds blow from the sea. It is just three in the afternoon but the dark clouds covered the sun making it feel like almost dusk. Olayra stands alone on top of a high cliff; her gaze is fixed on the vastness of the sea. Her graying hair is fondly fanned by the wind as she stands in the very place where the mountains of Antique and the sea of Panay meet. Whenever she looks down from the precipice, faintness took her. A kind of faintness with some measure of fear rooted from some distant emotions she can barely comprehend. In fact every time she comes near the beach, some unknown force is telling her to dive into the water and look for herself in its depths.
She turned her head on her right towards the direction in the bottom of the rocky height, where the beach kisses the sea. The memory of her former lover came back like waters rushing to the shores, flooding her mind while sending a shrill on her spine and then goose bumps appeared all over her skin. It is on that very shore she meet Bilbo, the first man she fell in love with. More than two decades ago they used to see each other on that beach every day. They used to walk barefooted on the sand while holding hands. Olayra was just eighteen then, carefree and nothing more made her happy but to see the man of her love. Bilbo used to bring her on the island where he lives. Her lover’s house, on the rocky beach of that island is a mansion covered with so many lights it shone so bright that it glimmers in the water.
Bilbo is such a charming young man, well-built, tall, fair skinned and with eyes as blue as the ocean. He even owns a golden yacht covered with diamonds to top it all. This he use to ferry the young Olayra back and forth the island. He made a promise to Olayra that he will give her everything to make her happy and someday they will travel the world with the ship that his family owns.
The happiness they shared for a couple of months died out when Bilbo asked her to leave her family and marry him. Olayra’s parents refused to give her permission to marry. They said that they haven’t even seen the man, how could they entrust her to a total stranger. They locked her up in her room for her protection. Forced to solitude, Olayra succumbed to madness. She rarely eats and cried all through the weeks of her imprisonment. Then her parents brought her to a well-known babaylan(shaman) in their province to get cured. She recovered eventually.
Olayra was suddenly brought back to the present when she heard her mother’s thundering voice calling out to her. Startled she turned around and she saw her sixty seven year old mother holding a staff while making her way through the rugged and rocky path near the cliff.
“Hoy!” her mother cried out, at the top of her voice while trying to catch her breath, “What are you still doing in there? Your daughter’s having tantrums again!”
Olayra’s heart started to beat faster. She pressed her palms into her chest. “Stay there Ma. Don’t come for me. Just wait for me there,” she yelled back.
Despite being drenched with worries and fears, Olayra couldn’t bear to run and leave her weak-kneed mother behind. She assisted her mother on their way home but the latter upon nearing the house insisted that Olayra must go ahead to settle her child. As she approaches the house, which stood on a hill, she could hear the wild cries of her only child and daughter.
Upon entering the house Olayra shuddered at the sound of bottles breaking. She immediately went to the kitchen to calm down her child but she was shocked at the terrible scenario she sees. There are broken bottles of vinegar everywhere as her daughter continues to smash them on the walls and on the floor. Her daughter’s hands are drenched in blood as the child picks up the broken pieces and throw them on the window. Her beloved daughter is again in a state of inconsolable rage.
Olayra can’t seem to breathe and she’s almost fainted from the sight of such blood gushing from her daughter’s hands. “My God, my child! Stop this!” she pleaded her.
Within moments the child stopped and lay weakly on the floor. “Oh my child,” she asked almost crying, “why are you keep on doing this? I was just gone for an hour.”
Olayra took a cloth near the water jug and ran back to her daughter. She wrapped her bleeding hands with it.
“My child, why do you make me suffer like this?” She embraced the child while trying to hold back her tears.
“Ahhh, uhhmmmm! Huh?” her daughter muttered unintelligibly as she does not know how to speak despite her age.
Olayra’s daughter is turning 18 next week and at the same time will be the death anniversary of her father. She cannot forget the fateful night that her father died for it was also the same night that she labored for her daughter. Her father sustained a three day stomach ache coupled with a very high fever. They brought him to a babaylan but to no avail. When they finally decided to bring him to the nearest hospital in Valderama it was already too late. Her father died because of an infection of the ruptured appendix that spread and poisoned his blood. The doctor told them that her father’s death could have been avoided if they only brought him earlier, for an operation might have saved him.
After washing and putting medicine on her daughter’s wounds, she sees her to their room and waited until her daughter fell asleep. Then as usual Olayra went to the kitchen to clean up the mess. She placed the shards of broken glass into a sack. Then she wiped the floor soaked with a mixture of her daughter’s blood and vinegar. The stench is unbearable.
As she went down to throw the sack filled with broken glass she spotted her mother seated on a bench under the mango tree. The old woman is massaging her varicose and rheumatoid limb. Her mother might have sensed her as she lifted her gaze and pitifully stared back at her. She cannot bear looking at her mother’s sorrowful eyes so she just looked at the lofty mountains ahead.
“And where do you think you’re going now?” her mother yelled.
“I’ll just throw these shards over the cliff.”
“Hurry and be back soon. Your daughter goes berserk whenever you’re gone.”
“She’s asleep now, Nay. This won’t take long. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.”
Olayra seems to drag her feet. Reasons failed her why they have such a hard life.
She heard rustling sounds from the rows of growing rice. She stopped and searched for the source. It is a rat struggling on a mouse trap. She knows it is a pest but mercy prevailed in her, she set it free. She barely has the energy and will to kill the poor creature. And for unknown reason it made her feel a little better.
Suddenly the wind blew harder and the booming sound of a distant thunder was heard from above. Olayra looked up and she noticed the thick column of clouds about to burst. A drizzle fell on her face. She wipes it off and prayed that she might get home first before the down pour. Heaven must have shut off her plea for a whip of lightning suddenly crackled startling her. Then it began to rain.

She went home running but before she reaches their house she is already wet. When she got to the balcony it rained even harder. Terrible winds blew aimlessly creating horrible sounds on its way.
After she is done drying herself with a towel and changing into clean clothes, she helped her mother cook for supper. Even as they eat their meal the rain continues to pour outside. When they are done with supper, her mother asked her to join her and pray in their small altar adjacent to the door. Instead she went in the terrace, sat down and thoughtlessly looked at the direction of the sea.
After praying her mother approached her, asking “Until when will you watch the sea like that?” not without a hint of reproach in her voice.
Olayra blinked and returned from being away from herself for a while. Breathing deep, she turned to face her mother. “Stop bothering, Nay” she said without conviction.
“That’s what I’m talking about! You lack faith in God. You are selfish and arrogant,” her mother raised her voice.
There was anger in her voice as she replied, “Don’t bring God into this argument! He has no business here.”
“Ay! That is really your character. You can’t blame other people why our life is in such a mess like this. If only you hadn’t fallen in love with …”her mother stopped herself.
“In love with what, Nay? Why can’t you say it? Until now it is the single repetitive cause of all our problems.” Her words are filled with anger.
“And why not? When you gave that creature your heart, what happened to us? When you got married, what became of your husband? Just a few months after that, what happened to your father? And your child, what is she? All of this are the results of your foolhardiness. We tried to stop you from getting involved with other beings. That is why our lives are crumbling. You brought a curse into this family.”
Olayra clenched her fists. She stood facing her aging mother. “It’s up to you, Nay. Go on, blame me. Keep on reminding me my errors. I can’t change them though” sadly and softly she said. She went to the room where her daughter was sleeping. She lay down the bed and embraced her. She hold the urge to wail but the tears fell.
“Forgive me my child” she whispered to her softly sleeping daughter.
Her late husband suddenly came to mind. She didn’t love him but her memory of him is always fresh and every single night she could clearly see him in her dreams. How could she forget the man who came to save her from the shame she was into when she lost her sanity? The man, who inspite of all the rumors about her condition still, without question, accepted her and loved her. According to the babaylan it was her marriage that saved her and returned her to sanity. True enough for after their marriage which was arranged by Olayra’s parents, her condition improved.
The marriage of Olayra with her husband was only short lived. On her third month of pregnancy her husband, a fisherman, got lost in a storm in the sea-the very sea that Bilbo promised her. The worst part of his husband’s disappearance is no body was ever recovered.
Olayra was awakened by the rooster’s heavy crowing. She scrambled out of bed while her child is still asleep and hurried to the kitchen to prepare their breakfast. Then she decided she wanted to bathe in the beach. She spotted her mother on the tambi of their house feeding the chickens. She has second thoughts on whether she will ask her mother’s permission; she decided against and silently with measured steps made her way to the beach.
On her way to the beach she noticed how the grasses sparkle with the dews left behind from yesterday’s rain. The morning is calm but the air that blows from the sea is unpleasantly cool.
Upon arriving at the shore Olayra marvelled at the magnificent beauty of the early morning by the seashore. The sun is midway in the horizon and its rays are reflected by mirror like clarity of the water surface. The sea is unnaturally calm as if no tempest had befallen on it yesterday. She walked a short distance trying to feel the fine sands of the beach on her feet then she stopped looked at the horizon. Then she stretched her hands sideways feeling the cool wind pass through her. Without much thinking she just sing her heart out like someone who never been to a sea. She felt she’s a maiden again reminiscing her years for carefree joy in this beach, despite of being a forty year old widowed woman.
Out of nowhere Olayra heard a familiar booming sound of a ship and her heart begun to beat fast. She looked around and there it is the huge golden ship covered with diamonds and precious stones. It is coming to her direction. She spied on the top deck of the ship a man in his twenties wearing an all-white polo and trousers. The lad is smiling and waving on her as if inviting her to join him. She cannot believe how he has not aged ever since their first meeting. He still has that other worldly beauty of man.
Olayra’s feelings for the man seemed to have returned fresh just like the first time. Had she not remembered her daughter and mother, she would have been tempted to swing on board the ship. Gradually she felt afraid that she would lose herself again if she went near the man. She retreated away from the shore and run to the nearest grove. Upon reaching the trees farther inland, the ship suddenly vanished from sight.
She ran home as fast as she could oblivious to the sharp grass and rocks scratching her legs and bruising them. When she reached near the hill where their house stands, she could already hear the wails and howls of her daughter having tantrums again. She went immediately to their roofless tambi and there she sees her mother trying to calm her raging daughter. Her daughter is lying on the bamboo floor already covered with purplish bruises. She hugged her daughter to calm her down and brought her to their room. The emotional burden caused by her mentally handicapped daughter is weighing on her and she can bear it no more. She went outside after settling her child and the cool and salty sea breeze greeted her. She disgusted it and cursed the sea. Then she looked at the sky and wanted to scream all the sufferings she is experiencing but could not find the right words or the energy to do so. What her heart or mouth cannot express, her eyes did the job and tears begun to stream on her face.
After a while Olayra took the refuge of the mango tree. The peaceful ambiance relieved her of the burden she felt inside the house. While deep in thought she is startled by a hand that grab her right shoulder and she heard a voice from behind calling out her name.
“Olayra.”
She turned around to stand. “Nang Sedes, what are you doing here?” she asked, surprised.
“Don’t you know? You’re mother sent for me. Today I will attempt to rid your daughter of what ails her. Your mother says her “episodes” are getting frequent. Her eighteenth birthday is drawing near” the aged babaylan related with worry.
“Ha! So what if she’s turning eighteen?” she asked in confused.
The babaylan fell silent upon seeing Olayra’s mother coming toward them.
“Nay (Mother), what’s with this holding of a ritual for my daughter? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“And why? If you knew, you wouldn’t allow it?”
For a moment Olayra fell silent. “Nay, I pity my daughter she’s always the subject of gossip and being mocked as mute and mentally ill. These repeated rituals caused the people’s derision on our family. It’s the reason why we’re always the talk of the town.
“All right. You just keep on worrying about what other people think. Leave your child so she gets to the point of incurability.”
“What cure? Nay, my daughter is mute and dumbed since birth. Why can’t you just accept that and live in peace.”
“You can easily say that because you are the cause of all of this. You are to blame for all our suffering,” her mother’s voice rose in anger.
“Have it your way, Nay. Keep on blaming me. Recite all the crimes I did twenty years ago!” Olayra replied angrily.
“Why not? It’s the truth!”
The babaylan intervened, “Both of you, stop it. You cannot solve your problems if you keep on blaming each other.”
Olayra sat with bowed head beside the mango tree. Her mother took a deep breath. “Get ready, Sedes. I’ll go up and prepare the materials. Follow me in a while” then she turned her back and walked straight to the house.
Tears begun to well on Olayra’s eyes as she sat there. “I do not understand Nanay. She knows that I never wanted Tatay and my husband to die, nor for my child to be like this, but she keeps on blaming me. Why?”
The babaylan touched her back to console her. “Have patience with your mother. Perhaps, it’s just all too hard and heavy for her to accept. You have no idea how much she endured when you lost your mind from being madly in love with that tamawo.
She ceased sobbing and forced her tears back. “Why, Nang Sedes? What happened to me? I can’t remember a thing. All I had was the memory of the man I meet on that beach and the places we went. And the marriage I had with another man whom I don’t have any affection. Beyond those, nothing.”
“Perhaps it’s high time that you should know the whole story. Only I and your mother know about this. We never told anyone not even you but now you must know it so you might protect your child.”
“What about my child, Nang?”
“It’s not true I’ve driven away the tamawo. I have kept him away but not too long. Your marriage was the strongest factor that drove him away. But Olayra I fear that now…”
“Now what, Nang? What?”
“Haven’t you noticed anything about the face of your child?”
“Face? Why so, Nang?”
“Her face and yours, Olayra. Like two halves of the same fruit!”
Her mind got more confused. “Well, what of it, Nang? It’s only natural because she is my child.”
“That’s why Olayra. Your child is losing her mind because the tamawo wanted her just as she long for you before. Remember, you lost your mind because you refused to accept the life he offered you. Your mother asked me to save you. I did everything I could Olayra, everything just to convince him to stop tormenting you but he was so strong. Now it is your daughter he wanted. He even desired your child while she is still in your womb. The tamawo is persistent. He’s going to take your child away.”
“Is there a way we can save my daughter?”
“There is.”
“What is it, Nang?”
“If you offer yourself and go with the tamawo.”
She bow down her head in desolation. She combed her hair with her hands and pressed her scalp. She looked up to the heavens without knowing what fault to fling its expanse.
Nang Sedes told her to go inside the house and attend to the things needed for the ritual. Not long after that, Olayra went down, with her daughter dressed in all white clothes. Her mother and Nang Sedes followed carrying plenty of things to be offered for the ritual to expel the tamawo.
Nang Sedes prepared all the things needed. On the ground she placed a huge kararaw loaded with foodstuff made of pilit (glutinous rice). The kararaw is a tear drop shaped weaved bamboo skin container primarily for separating the few remaining chaff, pebbles, and insects from the grains of rice by both flicking the rice up and shaking the container. Beside the kararaw are two grilled chicken and a platter of various fruits. One live chicken is tied and tethere in one foot struggling to get free. The babaylan took out one long red piece of cloth and tied it around her head. On her neck she wore a necklace of round metal beads.
Olayra’s mother spread a red patadyong on the ground beside the offerings and a long knife beside it. She made her granddaughter sit on it. Watching and worrying, Olayra sat beside the mango tree once more. Her mother handed the babaylan an upturned cover of an iron pot filled with burning coals. In a few moments, while sitting down the babaylan whispered the animistic prayers. Then she sprinkled on the coals some sort of crushed and powdered lime. A column of white smoke rose coupled with an overpowering odor. She carried the pot cover with the live coals on it around Olayra’s daughter while murmuring indiscernible prayers and supplications, she took the long knife and clanged the iron cover with it repeatedly, and the sound rises to resonate like a bell. After a few more minutes she placed the cover in the middle of the offerings in the kararaw. Taking the tied chicken, still chanting the prayers, she raised the poor bird gutted its neck. Blood gushed out, flowing straight to Olayra’s daughter’s head. The child seemed to be in a trance, quietly looking into the deep. Olayra’s body hairs stood up on end when suddenly a cold wind blew from the sea. The smoke that just before was rising above followed the winds direction. It coiled around the child and the offerings.
The babaylan placed the dead chicken beside the girl. She swung and waved the knife aimlessly in the air in a sort of dance around the child. She keeps on dancing and chanting in the hours that passed. She dances like singing to somebody while she keeps on praying aloud. The smoke followed the direction the babaylan waved and went round. Olayra felt exhausted watching the babaylan dance for hours. If other people saw what is happening now, they would have laughed. But Olayra felt something wrong as the ritual proceeded, as if another being is present somewhere around them that the babaylan is persuading with all her might but Olayra cannot tell in how she’s doing it.
The ritual went for hours until it reached dusk. Nang Sedes ate supper before she went home, she looks very tired. She said nothing to her but she heard her instruct her mother never to let her child out of the house for three nights that they must guard the child very well.
Tired, Olayra’s family went to bed early. The night is calm and relaxing with the cool breeze around. A bright round moon shines through the bamboo wall of Olayra’s room.

Olayra’s was deep in sleep when suddenly she was awakened by the noise of pots and plates from their kitchen. She frantically searched for her daughter but nobody’s beside her. The noise from the kitchen must be caused by her daughter.
“Olayra! Your child…!” her mother screamed from the kitchen. Olayra dashed there. Turning on the light her eyes surveyed the broken plates and glass, pots and pans scattered on the floor. Her daughter was sitting and leaning on the wall covering her ears with her palms. Her eyes were filled with terror, her movements extremely wary. Olayra went to console her beloved daughter. She held her shoulders to comfort her then to make her stand up. But her daughter with hateful eyes pushed her arms down, and then pushed her down. She fell; her back and head hit the floor. She cannot what just happened her daughter never hurt her like that ever since the child was born.
Her daughter went wild again and headed to the tambi. She was out before Olayra and her mother said a word.
“Your child, she’ll get out!” the old woman yelled quickly told Olayra: “Run after her before she jumps out the door!” Too late her daughter was already down stairs, sprinting to the sea.
“My child, where are you going? Have mercy, don’t run away! Olayra screamed. But her daughter ran on, the sounds she is making were like she’s in pain. Terrible pains. Olayra’s heart pounded as her mind panicked.
“Oh my God! Go after her. She might get hurt!” her mother ordered, while trying to ease her way into the tambi.
Olayra got the flashlight from the kitchen and ran to the sea. In her rush she forgot to wear slippers and the jagged pebbles and dried earth hurt her soles but she minds not her pains. It is her daughter that she is worried of. She want to ask for help from other people from the barrio but it’s too far away. She thinks that she might not be able to handle her daughter on her own. A moment later she sensed the salty breeze coming from the sea her heart started to beat even faster.
“Please don’t let it happen,” she told herself while she keep on praying.
Olayra reached the steep cliff. From where she stands the view is majestic. The moon seemed to glow in the water and the torches from fishermen’s bancas are like stars that twinkle from afar. She went near the edge and looked at the waters below and what she saw sent her heart to skip a beat. Her beloved daughter is standing on the shore as if expecting something to fetch her. Olayra can never forgive herself if something bad happens to her only child. She looked up the sky and she saw the moon perched on its throne in the sky stared back at her mockingly.
The sound of a familiar ship startled Olayra. The golden ship is approaching the shores and her daughter seemed to be responding to the ship as she walks a little farther near the water. She cannot bear to look at the scene. She felt she might lose her daughter tonight. She acted quickly.
“Nooo!” she shouted hollowly. She is shaking and panting. Then she ran downhill to the seashore. She keep on shouting at her daughter trying to make her stop but it’s as if she wasn’t heard for her daughter proceeded towards the ship. Olayra gave all her strength to reach and to stop her. She can see her daughter as the water slowly claims her. Olayra let go of the flashlight and dove into the water. She swam as fast as she could until she reached and held an arm of her daughter. Mustering all her energy, she pulled her back to shore.
She placed her daughter on the beach and she noticed how the poor girl seemed to stare blankly into the sky. Olayra carried her daughter with all the remaining strength she has. She didn’t mind if her saliva, tears and the sea water mixed in her face. All that matters is her daughter.
Upon arriving home Olayra and her mother locked her daughter inside the room. Several nights passed after the incident while her mother and daughter were sleeping soundly, she went to their rooms and kissed each of them on their foreheads. After that she went out of the house wearing a long white dress. She walked toward the seashore barefooted until the water’s edge.
The moon isn’t bright and round anymore but it gives bright stars opportunity to twinkle. She walked on the wave-wiped sand until in a blink appeared the golden ship on the sea. Just then the ship blew its horn to welcome her. As it neared, she could see Bilbo standing on the uppermost deck. He is looking at her smiling, his blue eyes is filled with other-worldly joy. Then as if the wind lifted her, Olayra found herself beside him. He turned to face her. He held out one arm, an invitation to a new life offered by the never aging bachelor. As she held and received Bilbo’s hand, slowly her skin turned young, her hair turned jet black, her curved back straightened, and the full bloom of her maidenhood returned. Her black pupils turned blue like the sea.
They both faced the deep, holding hands. Olayra breathed the cold air from the same direction. Gradually all her worries begun to fade and all burdens lifted from her shoulder.
“We’ll go round the world aboard this ship, my Queen” he said.
Without haste the ship went for the depths until it faded from the face of the sea.

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