Kamote

by Janssen Cunanan Read author interview December 16, 2019

The following story is part of SmokeLong Quarterly‘s Global Flash Series. The story, in Filipino, is followed by the English translation below. 

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Madaling-araw na nang may nagbukas ng pinto ng kubo ng dalaga. Hinawakan siya nito at inalalayan palabas, patungo sa lilim ng mga puno. Pagdating ng umaga’y nagising siya sa loob ng kanilang kubong karga ang bilugang sinapupunan. Nagulat ang buong baryo. Napadasal ang ilan sa bakanteng simbahan. Umikot ang mga tsismis kung kaninong asawa ang salawahan. Nagturuan ang mga ina. Nag-away ang magkakapit-bahay. Magkakasunod na balahaw ang narinig sa buong baranggay. Umabot sa katabing bundok, ilog, at sa sentro ang balita. Unang nakaalam ang mga nasa itaas. Nangamba ang gobernador na baka siya ang nakadali dito’t masira ang reputasyon niya sa darating na eleksyon. Tinawagan niya ang senador na bihasa sa ganitong sitwasyon. Hindi ito sumasagot. Sumunod na ang mga panginoong-maylupang walang pinanghahawakang pangalan dahil nakatatak na ito sa mapa at sa bawat butil ng pawis ng mga magsasaka. Napangisi lang sila’t sinilip ang malawak na sakahan. Walang ani nang araw na yun. Wala ring mapipitas na pinya o saging. Tila namroblema rin ang mga palay, gulay, at prutas sa natunghayan.

Dumating ang arawang ronda ng mga sundalo. Tumigil ang lahat. Bumalik sila sa kanya-kanyang bahay. Mahirap na.

Pabalik na rin ng kubo ang babae nang kumawala ang tubig sa kanyang panubigan. Wala siyang magawa kung ‘di iluwal ang sariling anak sa gitna ng kagubatan. Humiga siya sa piling ng mga patay na dahon at ng matabang lupain. Ibinuka niya ang mga hita. Napunit ang kanyang kalamnan. Humagilap siya ng hangin. Sa pag-iri ay lumabas ang isang malusog na kamote. Niyakap niya ang anak at inuwi sa kanilang tahanan.

Nang tumanda ang bata’y nagpaalam itong maglaro kasama ng iba pang bata sa baryo. Pumayag naman ang ina. Ngunit nang makita siya ng mga bata ay nagtawanan lang ang mga ito. Isa raw siyang malaking kamote. Yung kamoteng kabubunot pa lang sa lupa, yung marumi at may ugat-ugat pa. Tiningnan ng bata ang sarili, malinis naman siya. Hindi niya maintindihan kung bakit sila nagtatawanan. Nagalit ang bata’t sinigawan ang mga nangungutya. Mas lalong nagtawanan ang mga ito. Kahit ang mga inang nakakita sa kanya ay natawa rin. Saan ka raw nakakita ng kamoteng pinaglihi sa galit? Nahiya siya at tumakbo pauwi. Umiyak ang bata sa kanyang nanay nung gabing iyon. ‘Di na raw siya lalayo sa kanilang bahay uli.

Isang araw habang tinutulungan niyang magsampay ang kanyang ina, dinagsa sila ng sunod-sunod na putok ng baril. Tumakbo sila papasok ng bahay ngunit inabot ng ligaw na bala ang kanyang nanay. Ilang minuto pa’y tumigil ang putukan. Lumapit ang bata sa ina. ‘Di na to sumasagot. Lumipas ang araw na nagluluksa lang ang anak sa harap ng nakahandusay niyang ina. Ang araw ay naging linggo, at ang linggo ay naging buwan. Bumalik ang mga kaluskos sa dilim ngunit ‘di na makatayo ang bata. Tila bang ayaw na ng katawan niyang iwan ang kanyang pinag-ugatan. Pinapanood niya ang nanay niyang parang mahimbing lang na natutulog. Pumutok ang isang baril. Hindi na naramdaman ng bata ang init na iniwan ng bala.

Lumapit ang mga sundalo sa target mula sa pinagtataguang dilim. Nakita nila ang babaeng nakahandusay, pamilyar ngunit ‘di na nila maalala kung saan nila ito nakita. Mukhang matagal nang patay. Nagturuan pa sila kung sino ang nakadali rito. Malamang ay hindi galing sa batalyon nila. Humalakhak ang isa, tinuturo ang katabi ng babae. Yung tinatarget daw nila kanina ay isang malaking kamote lang. Nagtawanan ang lahat. Kumuha sila ng mga sinibak na kahoy sa kubo. Ninakaw din nila ang kasirola‘t tubig sa bahay at pinakuluan ang kamote. Nang lumambot na ito’y biniyak ito ng kumander nila para makatikim ang lahat.

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Kamote

Translated from the Filipino by Kristine Ong Muslim

It was already in the small hours when someone opened the door to the young unmarried woman’s hut, touched her, led her outside to a tree-shaded area. By daybreak, she woke up inside her hut, heavily pregnant. This scandalized everyone in town. Some people headed out to pray in a vacant chapel. Rumors circulated on whose husband had an affair. Among mothers, the blame game ensued. Neighbors squabbled. Successive outbursts rang across the village. The news spread across the neighboring mountain, river, and city. The ruling class was the first to know. The governor was worried about having fathered the child; that could ruin his reputation come election time. He called up a senator, an expert in this type of situation; the senator did not answer the phone. Then the landlords, who had no reputation to preserve because their encroachment was already on the map and sweat of laboring farmers. Landlords smirked, glancing momentarily at their vast farmlands. No harvest could be made that day. No pineapple or banana could be picked. Even the rice, vegetables, and fruits were affected by the uproar.

The daily patrol of soldiers arrived, and everything stopped. People returned to their houses. Things could turn from bad to worse.

The young woman was also about to return to her hut, but her water broke. She had no choice but to give birth in the woods. She reclined on top of leaves and topsoil, opened her legs. Her insides ruptured. She gasped for breath. Contractions yielded a healthy sweet potato. She hugged her child, took it home.

When the child grew up, it asked permission to play with other kids. Its mother said yes. But when it presented itself to other kids, it earned ridicule. They said it was only a giant kamote. A kamote that had just been unearthed, filthy with its roots exposed. The child examined itself, found itself to be clean. It could not understand the mockery. Livid, it berated the kids. They laughed harder. Their mothers, too, saying, where on earth could one find a kamote that personified rage. It felt shame and rushed back home. That night, it wept before its mother, vowed never to leave home again.

While it was helping its mother dry laundry over the clothesline one day, gunfire rang out. A stray bullet hit its mother. When the firing stopped, the child approached its mother’s fallen form. Days passed, and it was still grieving before its mother’s corpse. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. The rustling sounds in the darkness returned, but the child could no longer rise. It was as if its body refused to leave its roots. It watched its mother, who looked as if she was only sleeping. Another gun fired. The child could no longer feel the warmth from the bullet’s wake.

Leaving their hiding place, soldiers approached their target. They saw the slumped body of the woman, who looked familiar although they could no longer remember where they first saw her. She looked as if she had been dead for a long time. They even pointed fingers at each other, who might have killed her, later decided that it was likely not from their battalion. Someone hooted, pointing at the remains beside the woman. All this time, their target was just an oversized kamote. Everyone laughed. They gathered firewood from the hut. They also took a saucepan, poured water for boiling the kamote. When it finally softened, the commander broke it in pieces for everyone to eat.

About the Author:

Janssen Cunanan lives in Makati City. His zines include 7(Seven), Gnaw, and Hunyango Man ang Tao part 1.

About the Artist:

More from Danielle Scott on Flickr.