Tag Archive | "short stories"

When I Was Cheated


I was cheated. I was cheated when I was in school, not by my classmates but by the very exams that were supposed to measure my ratings and academic performance.

Grade 1: Math Subject

We were given an exam on multiplication. Part 1 was a timed exam due within 5 minutes. We were supposed to answer a set of items such as 8 multiplied by four and 7 times 51 using mental math. No calculators were allowed.

With a snap of a finger, the teacher shouted, “Finished or not finished, pass your papers.” I was hesitant to do so. I was not finished with ten items to fill up. But, hell, I had to move on to part 2.

The second part was easy. No time pressure. You just have to solve the problems given.  For example: Your father gave you a daily allowance of 100 pesos. How much will you be able to save in a week after spending 65 pesos a day?

The teacher checked the papers and after a day we were informed of our grades. I was given a perfect score for part 2 but the results of part 1 were devastating. Bottom line, I failed the test because part 1 had more items and thus had more bearing.

I was cheated that day. I felt that part 1 should have less bearing on exam. Why? Because part 1 is not a math exam. It doesn’t measure how good you are in applying mathematical principles. It just tests how good you are in memorizing the multiplication table.

I was not just cheated in math. I was consistently cheated in my other subjects due to the traditional belief that memory retention is the ultimate measure of academic success as thus success in later endeavors.

High School: History Subject

I was given an exam. The first part was enumeration. I had to write down names of Filipino Heroes. There was a question: Who was the Filipino hero who killed Magellan? I was tempted to answer Lapu Lapu because that was written in the history book that we were asked to memorize. I didn’t answer Lapu Lapu. Why? Because I believe he was not a Filipino in the first place. There was no national identity back then, only tribal identity.

This is just my opinion and I may be wrong. What bothers me is not just that we are expected to memorize what is written in our textbooks but that we are also expected to believe what’s written as if it was the ultimate truth.

I’m sure you can relate to what I am saying: that one time or another, we are expected to memorize and believe what our teachers and textbooks say. We are taught to believe that what’s written in our textbooks are ultimate truths and that memorizing these texts will make us succeed later in life. This is misleading because wrong measures lead to wrong results.

If we make our children memorize the multiplication table instead of making them understand the application of mathematical principles, we are inhibiting their learning and analyzing skills, making them good memory chips but poor mathematicians. If we strictly enforce the ideas of our social science textbooks to our children as if these were ultimate truths, we are prohibiting them to think independently.

Yes, the educational system sucks and we are all cheated. But the fact that you are reading this article right now is a proof that you keep an open mind and that you search for learning beyond the classroom walls of traditional education. You reflect on what you do and why you do it or why you believe what you believe. Instead of asking what, when and where, you ask the more important questions of how and why. How we all wish others would ask these questions too.

We are freethinkers. We were cheated once before and we do not want to be cheated again.

Posted in Personal, Society, StoriesComments (27)

Rabbits Part Three: The Clearing


…continued from Rabbits Part Two: Deeper Into The Forest

The man woke up with a headache. It was still light so he figured that he had slept for only a few hours. He knew he had to hurry and face that which scared him, for he did not come this far just to turn back and head out of the forest.

Still groggy, he took off his clothes and jumped into the stream. The sudden shock of cold water jolted his senses back to life. Reinvigorated, he got out of the water, put his clothes back on and mounted his horse.

Part of him did want to turn back, for what he was about to do he found distasteful. But he knew he had to do it, otherwise he would never find peace with himself in his new life outside the forest, and the only way for that to happen was for him to have closure in his old life.

Riding as fast as the fading light allowed, his heart too was racing because he knew that he was nearing his destination. And soon enough, he saw the clearing.

Slowing down, his chest felt heavy once more. More than that, he felt guilt, and sadness, because when he saw his village, his people, his home, he knew that he no longer lived there. Then as if that wasn’t enough, he felt a hopeless despair, because he knew in his heart that he had never really lived there at all.

He brought his horse to a walk as he entered the village of the Fenek, or what he secretly and mockingly called “The Rabbit People”.

He was first greeted by his thirteen year-old cousin Kannello, who was already running towards him. “Ghaqli!” the boy cried. “It’s Ghaqli! Ghaqli!”

Ghaqli smiled when he saw the boy, now almost a young man. He could still remember Kannello as a small kid the last time he saw him. How time had passed. “Kannello! My Ku Kannello! How you’ve grown!”

“You’re back, Ku Ghaqli! You’re finally back!” And Ghaqli alighted his horse and hugged his cousin. Kannello quickly said, “Come, come, surely the chief wants to see you.”

“And how is Chief Ka Boxxla?”

“Oh, he is well. He had been waiting everyday for your return. It’s been two years but he knew that you would come back to take your place among the Fenek. We missed your cooking. The new village cook, the one who took over from you, uses a white crystalline powder. We don’t like it because it puts too much flavor and the taste seems so artificial, and there was an increase in the number of dog poisoning and a decrease in sexual activity.”

Hmmm…missed me for my cooking, my natural way of cooking that promotes good health. You rabbits. All you care about is food and sex. No wonder why I left. “Is that so? That’s good, except for the dogs. Be sure not to feed them anything prepared by the village cook. If you can’t cook on your own that’s fine, because dogs eat raw meat.”

“But what about us? We don’t eat raw meat!”

“That’s why you have your village cook. His cooking is good for you, good for this village, good for this entire ecosystem.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Ku Ghaqli. Could you please explain?”

“Ku Kannello, better take me to Ka Boxxla. I need to talk to him in private before I address the rest of the village. My time here is very short.”

“But Ku Ghaqli…”

“Take me to Ka Boxxla, Ku Kannello. Please, let us hurry.” Kannello hesitated, but seeing the urgency in Ghaqli’s eyes, he relented and took his long-lost cousin to the chief’s house.

While they walked across the village, his old neighborhood, Ghaqli noticed that nothing much had changed especially in what he felt, or more importantly, what he did not feel around the place. He could not understand why no one else left the village, but being a fair man, he was never quick to judge. Still, he knew with all honesty that he could not live in this place for one more day.

“Ghaqli!”, cried the chief as he embraced his long-lost tribesman. I knew you’d come back! I thought it would be sooner though, much sooner than this. Nevertheless, you’re here and that’s all that matters. And it isn’t too late because my daughter Fidda is still turning twenty. She was seventeen when you left, and had you married her then, you would have had kids by now.”

“Ka Boxxla, please, let us not talk about the might-have-beens. I have a graver matter to discuss.”

“I see. What do we need to talk about then?”

“I am leaving here for good. I can’t live here anymore. I don’t want to live here. I do not feel alive in here.”

“What are you talking about? Can’t you see how happy we are, here together?”

How happy you are, here together. “I am sorry Ka Boxxla, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, and I never mean to insult you, but whatever it is that keeps you happy here, I do not see it, do not feel it. In fact, I never once experienced it in all the years that I lived here.”

The chief bowed his head and wiped a single tear from his eye. “How sad to see you leave the village again, and for good, you say?” Then Ka Boxxla lifted his head and looked hard at Ghaqli. “But infinitely sadder still is to know how empty you had been all your life here. I am sure you have your reasons, and whatever is there outside the forest that caught your heart, we respect that. You will have to explain – not justify – just explain, that to the whole village though, as a courtesy. They deserve that from you.”

“Of course. That is my intention.”

“Very well then my dear Ghaqli. But you will have to tell your story to the village tomorrow, for tonight we shall feast! You arrived at the right time, because a traveling merchant had just traded a cartload of seafood for three of our cows. You shall do the cooking tonight, so the village can savor great food one last time.”

“What kinds of seafood? Are they fresh?”

“Lobsters, scallops, squids, and some very nice but very rare fish I don’t even know what it’s called. The trader said they were caught this morning, and they were transported all the way here covered in sea salt. ”

“Then have some volunteers wash them down with fresh water, and others to prepare a fire – make that four fires side by side in a single line, and a pot above each fire.  And I need four people to help me in the preparation.”

“Very well”, said the chief, and barked out his orders. Men and women went about to wash the salt off the seafood and build the fires. After a while four women came to Ghaqli, each carrying a large basket, one for each kind of seafood.

Ghaqli taught them how clean and prepare the shells, shellfish, and fish, and when he was satisfied that they got it right he went to the village garden to get some herbs and spices.

When he came back with a bagful of leaves, roots, barks, and seeds, all the seafood had already been cleaned and readied for cooking because the other villagers had helped. The fires were now also burning, heating the pots hanging above them. Satisfied, Ghaqli instructed the women to put the seafood into their separate pots. Next he crushed some leaves and dropped them in two of the pots but not in the others. He did the same with the roots, barks, and seeds. No two pots had the same combination of the herbs and spices, and yet the smells from all four pots seemed to blend perfectly, whetting the appetites of the villagers.  He took two large wooden spoons and stirred the pots two at a time and covered them, letting the ingredients simmer for a few minutes.

“I need some of our village wine,” he told Ka Boxxla.

“Bring out the inbid!” shouted the chief, and several young men arrived, one of them Kannello, carrying jugs of inbid, the famous village wine originally concocted by Ghaqli himself.

Ghaqli took one jug with each hand and poured them into the four pots, but not evenly, as he filled some pots more than the others. Then he took two more jugs and poured them both into the pot filled with fish, and loosely covered all of them.

Now the vapors escaping into the air were driving the villagers crazy, and Ghaqli suggested that all of them first have a cup of wine to wash the tongue so that no stale taste may corrupt the flavors of the dishes. They obliged, and after a drink they lined up for the pots and started to feast on lobsters, scallops, squids, and some very nice rare fish. Ghaqli told them to wash each bite with wine especially when shifting between two kinds of seafood so that the flavors don’t overlap with one another, otherwise he might as well have cooked it all in one big pot. Again they obliged, for they knew that no one else knew more about food than Ghaqli. And how they ate and drank.

Around midnight when everyone was full and a bit drunk, some a bit more than the others, Ghaqli asked Ka Boxxla if he could address the village now.

“Can’t this wait until tomorrow morning?” said the chief. “We are having a great feast, all of our people think that you came home for good, and now you’re going to ruin it by telling them that you only came home to finally say goodbye? How cruel could you be?”

“Which is crueler,” replied Ghaqli, “to tell them now or tomorrow? If I tell them now at their drunken state their festive mood will weaken the blow. If I tell them tomorrow morning when they are hungover, the headache will make any bad news seem like the end of the world.”

“You have a point there, my wise friend.” And Ka Boxxla called the attention of the villagers. “Our friend Ghaqli has something say to all of us.” And with that he sat down and patted Ghaqli on the back, urging him to speak.

Ghaqli hesitated for a second, and hesitated for real, because although he already made up his mind on leaving this village for good, he realized that a very small part of him actually longed for this place, for these people. Then he thought of his life outside the forest, and how he felt so much more alive out there.

He took a cup and poured wine into it, and he drank deep and drank it all. He put the cup down, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said, “My friends, I am very thankful for this great feast that we have all prepared. This is a great night, and how I wish all nights were like this.

“But my friends, we all know that all nights cannot be like this, no matter how we may wish it to be so.  And now it is with deep regret that I tell you that this will be the last night that I will sharing with you.”

The villagers gasped, and Fidda, the chief’s daughter to whom Ghaqli was betrothed, shouted “No!”, but Ka Boxxla hushed them up. “Please let Ghaqli finish,” he said, and nodded to Ghaqli.

Ghaqli nodded back, and said, “Tomorrow I shall no longer be with you. At the break of dawn I shall be heading out of the forest, back to the place where I now live, my new home.”

“But why?” asked Fidda. “Aren’t you happy here with us? What could be there outside the forest that you would choose over us?”

“Fidda, my dear Fidda, you wouldn’t understand. Even if I told you, even if I took you out there to see for yourself, you still wouldn’t understand, because you have to be me to see things through my own eyes.”

“But Ghaqli…”

“Fidda!” Ka Boxxla cut her off. “Everyone, please, let us respect Ghaqli’s decision.”

Fidda wept, and Ghaqli’s heart melted. He poured another cup of wine and drank, and noticed how his feelings were starting to numb, and he was thankful for that.

“Goodbye Fidda. Goodbye all of you. This pains me more than you could imagine. But I am just not happy here anymore.”

Everyone was sad, and Fidda continued crying. Then Ka Boxxla said, “Come on everyone. Let us all drink some more wine. Ghaqli is leaving, but that is his choice, and we cannot compel him to stay, because it is so much sadder to hold a man whose heart is far away.”

Everyone thought of what Ka Boxxla had said, including Fidda, and they all refilled their cups and drank more wine. And after a while they began to accept the reality of Ghaqli’s leaving, and slowly the spirit of gloom lifted from the air, and they continued to eat and drink through the night.

Ghaqli sat by the fire, cup in hand, and took a long look at his villagers, at Kannello, at Ka Boxxla, and finally at Fidda, who stared back at him and made an attempt to smile amid the tears.

And Ghaqli smiled back, but mostly he smiled to himself, because he knew that he was now truly free. He filled his cup once more, almost to the brim, and he drank.

innerminds.wordpress.com

Posted in StoriesComments (4)

Rabbits Part Two: Deeper Into The Forest


…continued from Rabbits

The man woke up at dawn.  He was a little lightheaded but his body was rejuvenated by sleep. The campfire was already out but the embers were still smoldering. He added a few twigs and the flame came back to life.

He took out a small kettle and filled it with water from his canteen. He unwrapped a piece of cloth and from it grabbed half a handful of tea leaves and dropped them into the vessel. Using two damp branches, he held the kettle over the fire to brew the tea.

He poured the hot brown liquid into a metal cup and drank. His mind began to clear and he readied himself to continue the journey. He washed his face with water and chewed on some fresh mint leaves.

He checked his horse and saw that it too had a good rest and was already munching on some grasses, seemingly preparing for the journey ahead. He petted its face and it responded with a soft contented neigh. After putting out the fire and packing his things, he mounted his horse and rode along.

As they trotted he noticed, or more likely felt, something different. He knew it was not the light although it was darker than yesterday since he was going deeper into the forest. There was something else, something unsettling that he could not describe. He could feel a certain heaviness in the air, a pervading gloom. But little did he know – or perhaps he just refused to acknowledge – that the air was fine, and that the heaviness was in his heart.

He dug his heels deeper into the sides of his horse and it ran faster. He took his weight off the saddle and transferred it all to the stirrups, leaning forward as he did so, willing the horse to give more speed. As the animal hurried its pace, the man bounced along to the rhythm of the ride, feeling the muscles of his own legs burn from the smooth rocking motion, as if it was he who was making the powerful strides.

Sweat rolled down his neck and he felt good. It was as if he could run away from whatever dark force that was weighing down on him. He closed his eyes and for a few seconds he felt at peace, and he smiled.

Satisfied, he opened his eyes and sat back on the saddle, releasing the pressure from his heels, and the horse slowed down. The heaviness in the air was gone, and his head had cleared. He thought of the reasons for this journey, of the task at hand. And with his renewed sense of purpose, even the path seemed to brighten amid the shadows.

He stopped when he saw a stream and got down to drink from it. As he was swallowing the water from his hand, the edge of his vision caught a quick glimmer and from his instincts he knew that it was a fish swimming upstream to spawn. He went back to his horse to get an old shirt and tore it. He tied the edges of the cloth to a pair of branches to make a net. Then he waded into the stream and waited for another fish. Soon enough there was one and he caught it with his makeshift net. He took out his knife and gutted the fish, cleaning it in the rushing water.

He got his iron pan and washed it in the stream and set it down. He proceeded to fillet the fish and put it inside the pan, then sliced it into thin strips. From his pouch he took a small bottle of well-aged, mellowed soy sauce which he sprinkled on the fish, and a horseradish root which he finely grated with his knife. He fashioned chopsticks from twigs, and using them to pick up a piece of the seasoned fish, he began to eat.

As soon as the first piece entered his mouth and landed on his tongue, the first thing he noticed was how soft and succulent it was, and it melted when he pushed it against his palate, releasing its creamy taste. The fish was as fresh as it could be, and spawning fish always contained lots of fat. Then the horseradish burst with its pungent aroma, rushing into his sinuses. He breathed in and closed his eyes as a few teardrops slipped from their corners. He chewed slowly, savoring all the flavors as they blended in his mouth, then swallowed. He got a bottle of home-made rice wine from one of the many pouches strapped to his horse and took a sip to wash down the fish. Then with his improvised chopsticks he picked up another piece and continued to eat slowly, enjoying the meal with every bite and every sip.

As he finished the fish and the wine (it was a large fish and he needed all the wine to wash it down), he felt full and a little drunk, so he decided to take a short nap. He sat beside the stream and leaned his back against a rock, and soon fell asleep.

To be concluded…

Rabbits Part Three: The Clearing

innerminds.wordpress.com

Posted in StoriesComments (2)

Rabbits


Once upon a time a man road a horse into the forest. The canopy of treetops was thin at first and the path was bright, but slowly it darkened even as the sun was just rising.

The man stopped when he saw a small but clean pond of water, alighted from his horse and approached it. The water was so clear it sparkled. He got down to his knees, scooped with his hand and drank, savoring the purest liquid, invigorating because it was living water, never been contained in any vessel made by man. But then he filled his canteen and pulled his horse towards the pond. The animal drank while the man splashed water to his face and neck.

Both man and beast now refreshed and contented, they continued deeper into the forest, carefully treading in the dim light. The sun was now at its zenith, and even the forest could not totally block its light. The forest was beautiful, with trees all around, their tops racing towards the sky. There were no shrubs or small trees because in order to thrive, plants need sunlight. Hence, although the sky was totally blanketed, the path was wide since the big trees stood several feet from each other.

They rode a little faster this time, taking advantage of the noontime sun because when it began to set it would be too dark to travel. They stopped for a quick lunch of dried meat, grapes, three types of cheese, rye bread, and home-made wine for the man, and fresh green grasses for the horse. They continued on their journey, observing the surroundings change into deeper, mellower colors with the dimming of the light.

Alas, they had to stop while it was still bright enough to search for firewood. After gathering several armfuls of dry twigs and branches, the man carefully but expertly arranged them to make a fire. He took out his matches and lit up a few thin twigs as primer, carefully nursing the small flame, adding just the right amount of wood, because too little would waste the heat while too much would smother the flame. Slowly the flame grew into a steady fire, and with the way he arranged the firewood, the fire would last for a few hours untended, and he had enough extra wood to last the whole night.

He was not yet hungry for dinner because his muscles were still tensed from the journey, and that was fine because he needed some time to hunt for fresh meat. He saw a rabbit several yards to his left, and in a swift but smooth arc he took his bow, fixed an arrow on the string and pulled while aiming at the rabbit, and with a tiny flick of a few fingers the arrow left the bow in a quick flight straight to the rabbit’s heart. It died almost instantly. He walked over to retrieve his kill, brought out his knife and proceeded to clean and prepare it for cooking.

Placing the rabbit meat in an iron pan, he rubbed it with salt and pepper which he always carried inside a pouch along with herbs, spices, and various seasonings.  Next he took a pinch of a brown-red course powder and sprinkled it on the meat. Then he covered the pan and put it in the fire, the flames enveloping it and sealing it shut, keeping all the flavors locked in.

Inside the pan the rabbit meat began to roast, the seasonings working their way into the flesh and its juices, blending the flavors into a splendid feast. The man took out his bottle of home-made wine and took a swig, rolling the wine inside his mouth for a few seconds to savor it before swallowing. Then he held two small twigs like chopsticks to uncover the pan and poured some wine into the dish. Instantly it sizzled, filling the cold night air with a heavenly smell, and he covered it again.

After few more a minutes his meal was ready. Using a pair of firewood, he carefully took the pan from the fire and laid it on a flat rock. Vapor rose as he lifted the lid, intoxicating him with the anticipation of gastronomic delight. Using his knife he took a piece of meat and brought it to his mouth. The moment it touched his tongue he knew that he was having good meat, and as he chewed, the different flavors began to emerge, allowing him to savor them one by one. He slowly swallowed the meat and washed it down with wine, and all the flavors blended and exploded in his mouth. He repeated the whole process several times until the pan was clean and the wine bottle was half-empty. He lit a hand-rolled cigar as he continued to drink the rest of the wine, leaning back against a rock and watching the flames, and he started to recall a story he heard when he was a kid.

Long ago, the great Frith made the world. He made all the stars, and the world lived among the stars. Frith made all the animals and birds, and at first made them all the same. Now among the animals was El-Ahrairah, the prince of rabbits. He had many friends, and they all ate grass together.

But after a time, the rabbits wandered everywhere, multiplying and eating as they went. Then Frith said to El-Ahrairah, “Prince Rabbit, if you cannot control your people, I shall find ways to control them.” But El-Ahrairah would not listen and said to Frith, “My people are the strongest in the world.” This angered Frith, and he determined to get the better of El-Ahrairah. He gave a present to every animal and bird, making each one different from the rest. When the fox came, and others, like the dog, and cat, hawk, and weasel, to each of them, Frith gave a fierce desire to hunt and slave the children of El-Ahrairah.

Then El-ahrairah knew that Frith was too clever for him and he was frightened. He had never before seen the black rabbit of death. He thought that the fox and the weasel were coming with Frith and he turned to the face of the hill and began to dig. He dug a hole, but he had dug only a little of it when Frith came over the hill alone. And he saw El-ahrairah’s bottom sticking out of the hole and the sand flying out in showers as the digging went on. He called out, “My friend, have you seen El-ahrairah, for I wish to give him a gift?” “No”, answered El-ahrairah, without coming out, “I have not seen him.” So Frith said, “Come out of that hole and I will bless you instead.” “No, I cannot,” said El-ahrairah, “I am busy. The fox and the weasel are coming. If you want to bless me you can bless my bottom.”

“Very well, be it so.” Frith blessed El-ahrairah’s tail and it grew shining white and flashed like a star, and his back legs grew long and powerful, and he tore across the hill faster than any creature in the world.

Then Frith said, “All the world will be your enemy, Prince With A Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you: digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

And as the man finished his wine and cigar, he added more wood to the fire and unrolled a mat beside it and lay himself down. He kept thinking about the story, wondering about his people and if they will be destroyed by their own arrogance. And with that thought he drifted into fitful sleep, until the spirit of the wine finally took off the hard edges of physical and mental exertion and brought him into sweet dreamless slumber.

To be continued…

Rabbits Part Two: Deeper Into The Forest

innerminds.wordpress.com

Posted in StoriesComments (0)


Facebook.com/Freethinkers