Sunday, September 20

In a War-Torn Motherland

By DENISSE P. TABOR

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is one of the works in a seven-part series in line with the Dapitan 2020 theme Ina. All works that are part of the series are written by the Flame’s Letters staffers.

art by TCHEKY NICOLE G. CABRERA/ THE FLAME

AS Generosa stepped out of their family home, the sight was not far from what she imagined.

The streets were bestrewed with random firearms and empty cartridges. Lifeless bodies, mostly those of the Japanese soldiers, lay on blood-spattered pavements. Makeshift garrisons were completely deserted; their porch lights flickering ominously.

What was once a harmonious country was now devoured by smoke gray and crimson red — a telltale sign of the war.

True to their promise, the Americans came back to the archipelago after three years. But what the locals did not anticipate was the warfare that would ensue thereafter, and that their fathers, sons, and husbands would be called to serve in the American forces.

One of these men who were forced to enlist was Generosa’s husband. Knowing he was not built for battle, she knew that the possibility of his return was shrouded in uncertainty — and her survival too if they had waited any longer. To her, fleeing further away from civilization with her child was the only way to circumvent death.

In her search for possible escape routes, Generosa stumbled upon a dirt road right outside the fences of her village. She looked at the tiny bundle of life in her arms who was flailing her feet around, before returning her gaze at the winding path. Ignoring the tire tracks and the sets of footprints on the soil, she threw caution to the wind and followed its course.

For days on end, she traversed the same dirt road. Her feet became covered with blisters and calluses after walking for many miles. Her shoulders were also numb from carrying the sleeping infant all the while. To make things worse, there were no more than a few droplets of water left in the jug she brought, and the paltry food of canned beans and biscuits did not satiate her hunger.

She paused in the middle of her tracks, contemplating whether to return to their home or stick with her decision. It seemed like she only brought themselves closer to death in an attempt to evade it.

Continuing down the endless path, Generosa comes across an abandoned 4×4 jeep parked in the middle of the road. She rummages through its backseat looking for something that can quell her hunger and thirst, but there was only weaponry. Hastily, she gets down from the vehicle, muttering every curse word she can think of. Frustration further consumes her when her empty stomach starts rumbling. It did not help that her baby was on the verge of crying, possibly alarming the passengers of the vehicle if they were nearby.

Generosa decides to depart from the dirt road in order to forage and search for drinkable water. As she trudged away from the vehicle, she hears leaves rustling. However, there was no one in sight when she looks back.

It was the wind, she supposes. She holds the infant tighter to her chest and continues walking, careful not to wake her.

Many days have passed since her last full meal. In her desperation, she fed on every wildberry she could find. She was looking for more fruit-bearing shrubs when she chanced upon a shallow stream which led to a cavern. Its uneven walls and mossy ground were uninviting, but she went straight inside nonetheless. In her newly-found relief, she did not bother to check anymore for any inhabitants in the cave. Finally, they found shelter amidst the war-torn land and escaped from the onslaughts.

Once inside, she immediately proceeded to set up their interim home. She took out a blanket and wrapped her baby in its layers, rubbing the infant’s arms and feet constantly so as to heat them up. Her skin was cold and stiff because of the frigid breeze, Generosa supposes. She gathered all of the nearby twigs and lit a fire with the matches she brought. The heat, the breather — they were all foreign sensations after her grueling ventures in the wilderness. Soon enough, the exhaustion caught up to her and she fell into a deep slumber just like her daughter.

Generosa wakes up the next morning with an itchy neck and back, feeling several insect bites when she runs her hands through her skin. She examines the daughter sleeping beside her; flies were also circling around her, and she was quick to shoo them away.

She smiles somberly as she looks at her child. Generosa brings her in closer, shielding her from the rays of morning light that peeked through the cave.

Upon closer look, she notices an odd tint to her baby’s skin. It is an uneven mixture of purplish-gray, with green veins sticking out. She also catches a whiff of a putrid scent, reminding her of the time she made her way among the bodies of fallen soldiers outside their home.

Panic starts to settle in.

Generosa tries to lift her daughter up. She is relieved when her left eyelid starts to twitch, signaling that she is waking up. But the infant did not move a single inch, and to her horror, a maggot crawled out of the twitching eye.

A pang of terror struck her upon realizing what she had done. Revulsion is evident in her eyes as she looks at her own hands.

She remembers the piercing wails. The panic and anxiety of getting caught.

One hand pinching her baby’s nose, the other covering the mouth.

Muffled cries. The eerie silence that came after.

She remembered how her daughter’s cries reverberated around the forest, loud enough to catch the attention of soldiers scouting the woods. Back then, she did not have a choice. She had to save herself. F

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