“Baykoy and The Only Something”
A gripping and magical story of a little Filipino girl who goes by an endearing nickname, Baykoy.
It is told through the heart-convulsing letters of a woman to her niece, detailing her extraordinary childhood experiences.
Baykoy and The Only Something
by J.J. Ireneo
Age: Five years old.
— indomitable —
The Long Walk – Part One
Our new house was made of bamboo trees and logs. It had a tin roof. The front porch was big enough for all five of us, including Kidlat and Kuwago. It had two bedrooms. Grandma and I shared the spacious one. While grandpa’s chamber looked a bit cramped. But you wouldn’t hear him complain about anything. Nothing at all. Unless it involved his personal Philosophy.
Like on this day.
Over breakfast, grandpa said to me, “I’m taking you to the town center.”
Grandma casually responded, “Take the shortcut.”
“We’re not taking the shortcut,” grandpa protested. “It’s never good to take shortcuts. We’re taking the old route, and it wouldn’t matter how long it would take us to get there. But we’re definitely taking the old route.”
“I just want you to take the shortcut, so you two could get home early,” grandma reasoned.
“I’ve already said it,” grandpa replied, “it wouldn’t matter how long it would take, but we’re taking the old route regardless. How are we supposed to know whose fields or whose gardens have already grown? Or if a new house has been built. Or if somebody’s animal farm is now packed with more cows, pigs, ducks, chickens and carabaos. Or if my former students are planting or fruit harvesting. These are the things I’m looking forward to catching along the way. So we’re not taking the shortcut. No.”
“I don’t care,” grandma insisted. “But you can’t tire her out. Or she’d get sick, and you’d have to carry her all the way back.”
Grandpa looked at me. “You’d enjoy investigating the town with me, wouldn’t you?”
I nodded enthusiastically.
Grandpa chuckled. While grandma was seething with exasperation.
I couldn’t wait.
It would be my first time to actually see the town center for real. And it wasn’t exactly about the raving stores and the rhapsodic rush of rural folks’ simple joys. The five-year-old child in me just craved for a great adventure with grandpa. How he saw the world. How he could teach me about the world. How he would make me understand about the world.
The world that he had known out of the wisdom hidden in all his amazing adventures growing up.
Your great grandfather was one of the wisest men I had ever known. I always looked up to him. This argument alone between him and grandma had been implanted in my heart since. I never understood its meaning fully back then. Until I met the world myself.
Never take a shortcut.
The only something.
— Indomitable —
The town center was a long walk from our house. Really long. Strenuously long. But grandpa made it fun, so I didn’t really feel it. He liked telling stories. So he told me a series of funny stories the moment we left home.
He told me a story about a young man called ‘Buntatae’.
Buntatae was homebound. He was known as the only craftsman in his town. He loved making beautiful artworks out of trash and junks. He was a mysterious figure around. Yet beloved.
One day, to everyone’s surprise, he decided to see what was going on outside. So he went for a long walk himself. To him, people were all strangers. Yet the same people had already been his long-time admirers.
Each time he would walk past someone, they’d ask him, “Buntatae, where are you off to?”
“Just roaming around, buddy,” Buntatae would reply. “Simply roaming around.”
After a whole bunch of inquisitive encounters, curious eyes and prying questions, Buntatae took a rest to think things over. If he made a good decision. If it was worth it somehow. If he still had to continue on with his journey.
The journey of… simply roaming around. To see what was out there. To discover some interesting things. To experience a bit of life.
Instead, he got bombarded by strangers whose one simple question wore him out. Such strife.
He thought to himself, “Why would it matter to them, anyway? Why do I matter to them? What have I ever done?”
A drunk approached him and ordered for his wallet. Buntatae didn’t have anything on him at all. So the drunk went mad and swung a jab to Buntatae’s face.
Buntatae landed on the ground, with a bleeding mouth. His teeth had been dislodged, too.
The drunk was going to smash him some more… when the strangers… Buntatae’s inquisitive encounters… scrambled over to the drunk and smacked him around. Big time. Without mercy at hand.
The police captured the cracked drunk. While the strangers treated Buntatae and took him home, with more trash and junks.
Buntatae asked them, “How did you guys find me?”
“We followed you,” the strangers replied.
“We just wanted to make sure you’d be safe,” one stranger said.
“But why?” Buntatae wondered.
“Because you make our homes beautiful,” they answered. “And we can’t let anyone hurt someone who makes our homes beautiful the way that you do.”
Grandpa and I were about to cross a bridge after he told me the story. I looked down below, and a fear of heights shivered right through me.
“Hop on,” he said. “Don’t look down.”
I hopped on to his back, and the walk all the way to the other end felt effortless.
“Would you rather be Buntatae or one of the strangers?” he asked.
I giggled. “I don’t know. Which one would you rather be?”
“I’ve always been one of the strangers,” he replied. “What about you?”
I couldn’t answer it then. I still can’t answer it now.
Which one would you rather be? Buntatae or one of the strangers?
The only something.
— Indomitable —
Our first designated stop was a restricted pineapple field. An old man was harvesting. He was about grandpa’s age. Scrawny and sickly-looking. A rundown hut stood nearby. It could have been his house. Or just a place to relax in during farm work.
“Dadong!” he acknowledged grandpa, then sprung his way towards us. Wide-smile. Just a happy fellow.
Grandpa introduced me to him, and he was delighted to meet me. His name was Miyong. He asked me if I wanted some pineapples. I shook my head ‘no’ and clutched onto grandpa’s arm. Though I had a good feeling about him. I looked into his eyes when he was talking to me, and I could sense he had a good heart.
After a while, a somber talk flurried in. Grandpa looked distracted over something. I wasn’t paying attention much to their conversation. But I caught a dreadful word… death. Someone was dying.
A part of me moved. Drastically. So then I listened on.
“Is that why you’re harvesting them all now?” grandpa asked, teary-eyed.
Miyong nodded. “They all live in the city. What am I supposed to do?”
“Then they should all have been here to help you out,” grandpa said. “Take you to the hospital, look after you.”
“Ahh,” Miyong groaned. “I already asked them once. I wouldn’t bug them anymore.”
“Kids,” grandpa reacted. “You raise them, they grow up, they see the world, they forget, you die alone. That’s how it is nowadays.”
Each time I feel nostalgic or a tragedy happens within our family, grandpa’s words always haunt me.
Yes, I do feel guilty. Most of the time.
All. The. Time. As a matter of fact.
But once you grow up, you would understand all the whys. I can’t justify my absence now. As there should be a perfect time for it one day.
One day. Someday.
Grandpa assured him that he would help him out as much as he could. Miyong responded with a ‘thank you’ smile, then we walked on.
“Do you wanna see the world one day?” grandpa asked me. His voice cracked a little.
“I guess,” I replied, shrugging.
He was quiet for a while. He held my hand as we trudged on. I knew he was sad. He was probably thinking of all his daughters. Four of them were living in the city. One had just moved to the southern part of the country.
Your grandmother has four sisters. You must have already known the other three, and they were just as ecstatic as I was when you were born.
The other one lives in Palawan. That’s way down south. All the way down. And it’s one of the most sublime islands in the whole world.
“Miyong is really, really sick,” grandpa informed me. “And he’s gonna die soon.”
“What made him sick?” I asked.
“He works a lot. His lungs gave in.”
“Then he should stay away from the pineapples.”
“The pineapples kept him alive for many years. They also sent his kids through school. That’s why they were able to make a life of their own now… far away from home.”
What keeps you alive can kill you in the end. Loneliness is the culprit within.
The only something.
— Indomitable —
Our accidental stop was an animal farm. But wait. It was more than just an animal farm. It was the kind that I wouldn’t even want to see myself. At all.
There was a huge family feast going on. Such chaos. Was it a happy one or something quite abhorrent pinning into my innocence… which would never be… undone?
As the women were getting the large open fire pit ready and the kids were in high spirits, the men were slaughtering a pig!
Oh poor, poor pig!
I caught them butchering the poor animal around, and my stomach instantly harrowed.
I grabbed grandpa by the arm and looked up at him with a plea. A serious plea. We had to get out of there. Now!
Like right now!
But no. Grandpa stuck around for a bit out of courtesy. The maniacal men stalled us up for a chat. I couldn’t stand the way they grinned. I supposed they were just legitimately overwhelmed by the whole roasted-pig blowout, but I was heartbroken over the slaughtered animal. I had never seen something like this before, and I wouldn’t want to see people murdering any animals ever again!
Not again! Ever!
They said it was somebody’s birthday, and they invited us to join them. I gave them an impolite ‘no’ right away, and grandpa softly pinched my hand as a sign that he didn’t like the way I was behaving.
After a few word exchanges, grandpa said his ‘thank yous’ and ‘goodbyes’. I was relieved.
We paced on.
“They can’t do that,” I told grandpa. “That’s really bad. Really really bad!”
“They were about to make lechon,” he replied. “It’s our country’s national dish.”
“And it’s a really bad national dish.”
“Don’t we eat fish? What do we do with fish first before we gobble them up? We take off the gills, we slice their stomachs open…”
“I’m not having fish anymore then! We’re not having fish anymore! Ever!”
“You’re only five,” he chuckled. “You need these things to grow.”
“And it’s a bad way to grow,” I grumbled.
He laughed. “It’s the nature of life. It’s how we survive. We need nature to survive.”
“And I can’t appreciate it,” I said.
“Just because we eat vegetables all the time doesn’t mean we’re supposed to hate people who slaughter pigs for food,” he explained.
I shut up. He held my hand.
But I was still angry, and I still wanted to grieve over the slaughtered pig. It was a heartbreaking sight that I would never forget.
That I still haven’t forgotten. Especially how grandpa taught me good judgment.
The only something.
— Indomitable —
The rice field walk prompted my memory back to Reynan a.k.a. Kidlat. So I told grandpa about him. It was when I had a brush with the power of mystery.
Grandpa remembered most of his students, especially the recent ones. Names, family backgrounds, academic grades, behaviors and even special quirks. If he had had a student who was as fascinating as Kidlat, he would make it to his list of ‘Memorable Pupils’.
It must be why I caught distress crinkling in Reynan’s face the second after I introduced myself.
“Your grandfather said they keep other mammals alive.” was Kidlat’s claim during our close encounter of the eagle-owl.
“He must have read it somewhere,” grandpa said. “Now I’m really curious about this kid.”
“Maybe you just don’t remember him at all,” I replied.
Grandpa delved into his memory for a while. Nothing. Resulting into irksome sighs instead. “I’m sure I’d remember a pupil like that,” he murmured. “What did he look like?”
I couldn’t come up with an accurate physical description of him. He looked just like all the other boys his age. Except he was the first boy I had ever really met. And he made me feel something that no other stranger ever did. Because he made me feel all the other emotions swirling inside of me.
Fear, curiosity, marvel, more fears, excitement, judgment, trust, security, surprise, anticipation and having an angel for real. All this. Was impossible to lay it all out to grandpa around this time.
I have just realized this now.
“I once had a pupil named Reynan,” grandpa recalled, “but his nickname was certainly not Kidlat, and he was an obnoxious kid. But he graduated years ago. Years ago. Way before you were born.”
Maybe he just made it up.
But why would he lie?
“If someone would ever hurt you, I’d feel it, and you’d see me again. And then I’d kill them with my slingshot.”
From this day on, I thought of Kidlat as an angel who flew down to meet me.
Despite his harsh opinions on The Bible, on God and on His People.
“Grandpa, did you have an angel?” I asked.
“We all have angels,” he replied.
“But did you actually have one yourself though?” I interrogated him.
“Nothing supernatural has ever happened to me yet,” he said. “Although the only supernatural thing that… I believe… had ever happened to me… was… when I was selling sewing machines. I knocked at your great grandma’s door. Your grandma opened it, and then I fell in love right away.”
I laughed. The story tickled me. And I thought he was kidding, but it was exactly how they met and fell in love. And the rest was history.
“If I had disobeyed my father, then I wouldn’t have been a sewing machine merchant,” grandpa added. “I wouldn’t have met your grandma. Your mother wouldn’t have been born, and you wouldn’t have existed at all. Just imagine how supernatural life already is.”
Family history is a supernatural aspect of life.
The only something.
— indomitable —