By Sinai Hamada
FAS-ANG first came to Baguio by way of the Mountain Trail. When at last she emerged from her weary travel over the mountains, she found herself just above the Trinidad Valley. From there, she overlooked the city of Baguio itself.
Baguio was her destination. Along with three other women, she had planned to come to work on the numerous roads that were being built around the city. Native women were given spades to shovel the earth from the hillsides, and to make way for the roads that were being cut.
They had almost arrived. Yet Fas-ang knew of no place where she could live in the city while waiting to be taken in as a laborer. Perhaps she would stay in the worker's camp and be packed with the other laborers in their smelly quarters. She had heard a lot about tiered beds, the congestion in the long, low-roofed house for the road work¬ers.
It was mid-afternoon. The four women and three men, new immigrants from Bontoc, walked on the long straight road on the Trinidad Valley. They had never before in their lives seen a road so long and straight. After the regular up and down journey over the hills, the level road was tedious and slow to travel on.
Plodding along, they at last left the valley behind, passed through the narrow gap of the Trinidad River, and entered Lukban Valley. All along the road, the sight was a succession of cabbage plots, more and more.
And when they passed Lukban Valley and came to Kisad Valley still there were rows and rows of cabbage.
But now the sun was sinking low behind the brown hills in the west. And the company thought of their shelter for the night. For they had one more steep hill to climb before the city laborer's camp. So they had been told. And their feet ached painfully. Was there no door open for them among the thatched homes in the valley?
It was then that they came to the house of Tanabata-san. The Japanese gardener was looking out through his tiny window as they were about to pass on. He halted them.
"Are you looking for work?" the gardener called in his broken dialect.
"Indeed we are, my lord," one of the strangers replied.
"If you like, I have work for two women, in my garden," Tanabata offered.
The men looked questioningly at the women. "Which of you would like to stay?"
One man asked.
Only Fas-ang was willing to consider the gardener's offer. She stepped forward.
"How much would you give me?" she demanded.
"Ten Pesos?" Fas-ang asked for twelve, but Tanabata would not agree to that. Fas-ang reflected for a moment, and then confided to her compasions, "Guess I'll stay. There is but a difference of two pesos between what I'll get here and my wage if I become a road worker. Who knows? My lot here may even be better.
One of the remaining three women was also persuaded to stay after Fas-ang had made her decision. Tanabata was smiling as he watched the two make up their minds.
The rest of the company were going on their way. "So you two will stay," the eldest of the group said, affecting a superior air. "Well, if you think it is better for both of you, then it is alright. You need not worry over us, for we shall go on and reach the camp early tonight."
In this way, Fas-ang first lent herself to Tanabata. She was at the height of her womanhood then. Her cheeks were ruddy, though not as rosy as in her girlhood. She had a buxom breast, the main charm of her sturdy self. As she walked, her footsteps were heavy. And anyone would admit that she was indeed pretty.
Tanabata had had no wife. For a long time now, he had been looking for one among the native women, hoping he would find one who might consent to mary him. But none did he ever find, until Fas-ang, guided by fate, came. He had almost sent for a Japanese wife from his. homeland. He had her picture. But it would have cost him much.
Would Fas-ang, perchance, learn to like him and later agree to their marriage? This was only a tiny thought in the mind of Tanabata as he sat one evening looking wistfullv at Fas-ang. She was washing her feet by the water ditch in front of the house. Every now and then, she lifted her skirt above her knees, and Tanabata saw her clear, bright skin, tempting him.
After a time, Fas-ang herself would watch Tanabata. As they sat before their supper she would cast furtive glances at him across the low, circular table. He was bearded. Sometimes, he let his beard grow for three days, and his unshaven, hairy face was ugly to look at. Only with a clean countenance, and his blue suit did Fas-ang like him at all
Well-dressed, Tanabata-san would walk on Sunday to the market fair. Close behind him follow one of his laborers, carrying two heavy baskets over his shoulder. The baskets overflowed with the minor produce of the garden: strawberries, celery, tomatoes, spinach, radishes, and "everlasting" flowers. Fas-ang, in her gayest Sunday dress would trail in the rear. She was to sell garden products at the market.
In the afternoon, the fair would be over. Fas-ang would go home with a heavy handbag. She would arrive to find Tanabata, usually drunk, with a half-emptied gin bottle before him on the table.
Fas-ang would lay the bag of money on his crossed legs. "That is the amount the vegetables have brought us," she would report.
"Good." And Tanabata would break into a happy smile. He always said gracias after that, showing full trust in Fas-ang. He would pick out two half-peso pieces and give them to her. "Here, take this. They are for you. Buy yourself whatever you like with them." For he was a prosperous, generous gardener.
On weekdays, there was hard and honest work in the garden. The other native woman had gone away when she saw that she was not favored as Fas-ang was. So, Fas- ang, when she was not cooking, stayed among the cabbage rows picking worms. All that Tanabata did was to take care of the seedlings in the shed house. Also, he did most of the transplanting, since he alone had the sensitive fingers that could feel the animate sense of the soil. He had but little area to superintend, and only three farm hands to look after.
New life! Fas-ang liked the daily turns that were her lot. Little by little she learned to do the domestic chores. Early in the morning she rose to cook. Before noon she cooked again: And in the evening likewise. She washed clothes occasionally, and more when the laundress came irregularly. She swept the house and, of course, she never forgot to leave a tea kettle steaming over live embers. Anytime, Tanabata might come in and sip a cup of tea.
Immediately after noon on weekdays, when the sun was hot and the leaves were almost wilting, Tanabata like to stroll and visit his neighbor, Okamoto-san. They were of the same province in Japan, Hiroshimaken. Okamoto had a Benguet woman for a wife. Kawane was an industrious and amiable companion. The only fault Okamoto found in Kawane was her ignorance. She had no idea of the world beyond her small valley.
One afternoon, Tanabata as usual paid his friend a visit. This was a great conse-quence, for he had a mind to ask Okamoto if he thought Fas-ang could be a fit wife for him. Tanabata was slow in broaching the subject to his friend, but he was direct:
"I think I shall marry that woman," Tanabata said.
"Which woman — Fas-ang?" Okamoto said.
"She is good woman, I think. She seems to behave well."
"I have known her only for a short time. Do you think she will behave well al-ways?" Tanabata asked earnestly.
Okamoto was hesitant and would not be explicit, "I can not tell. But look at my wife. She's a peaceful woman," he answered simply.
"There, my good friend," Tanabata reminded his neighbor, "you forget that your wife is of the Benguet tribe, while Fas-ang is of the Bontoc tribe."
"Yet they are good friends — as much as we are," was Okamoto's bright rejoinder. And they both laughed.
Two days later Tanabata proposed to Fas-ang. He had frequently teased her before. But now he was gravely concerned about what he had to tell. He had great respect for this sturdy native woman.
He called Fas-ang into the big room where she heretofore seldom entered except to clean. It was dimly lighted. Fas-ang went in, unafraid. It seemed she had anticipated this. She sat close beside him on a trunk. Tanabata talked carefully, convincingly, and long. He explained to her as best as he could his intentions. At last, she yielded. Without ceremony and without the law, they were wedded by a tacitly sworn agree¬ment between themselves.
As before Fas-ang did not find difficult to tend the truck garden. To be sure, it was sometimes dull. Now and then she would get exasperated with the routine work. But only for a short time. Ordinarily, she was patient, bending over the plants as she rid them of their worms, or gathering them for the sale in the market. Her hands had been trained now to handle with care tender seedlings, which had to be prodded to grow luxuriantly.
When the sunbeams filled the valley, and the dewy leaves were glistening, it was a joy to watch the fluttering white butterflies that flitted all over the garden. They were pests, for their chrysalids mercilessly devoured the green vegetables. Still, their advent in the bright morning could stir the laborers to be up and doing before they, themselves, were outdone by the insects.
In time, Fas-ang was introduced to Japanese customs. Thus she learned to use chop¬sticks after being prevailed upon by Tanabata; they had a zinc tub outside their hut in which they heated water and took a bath in the evening; Fas-ang pickled radishes after the Japanese fashion, salting them in a barrel; she began to use wooden shoes, though of the Filipino variety, and left them outside their bedroom before she retired; she became used to drinking tea and pouring much toyo sauce in the viands; mattresses too, and no longer a plain mat, formed her beddings.
A year after they were married they had a child, a boy. The baby was a darling. Tanabata decided to celebrate. He gave a baptismal party to which were invited his Japanese friends. They drank sake, ate Japanese seaweeds, pickles, canned fish, etc.
But Fas-ang, in all this revelry, could not understand the chattering of her guests. So, she was very quiet, holding the baby in her arms.
The men (there wer no women visitors) had brought gifts for the baby and the mother. Fas-ang was very much delighted. She repeatedly muttered her gracias to all as gifts were piled before her.
Then the men consulted the Japanese calendar. The child was given the name Kato And the guests shouted banzai many times, tossing glassfuls of sake to the ceiling They wished the mother and child, good luck.
Tanabata was most solicitous toward Fas-ang as she began to recover from the emaciation caused by her strenuous childbirth. He would now allow her to go out. Sh< must'Stay indoors for a month. It was another Japanese custom.
At length, when August had passed, Fas-ang once more stepped out into the sun shine, warm and free. The pallor of her cheeks had gone. She was alive and young again. Her usual springy steps came back and she walked briskly, full of strength and passion, it seemed.
But what news of home? Fas-ang yearned to hear from her people back in Besao Bontoc. Had the kaingins been planted with camote and corn? Her kinsmen had heard of her delivering a child, and they sent a boy-cousin to inquire about her. He was told to see if Fas-ang lived happily, and if her Japanese husband really treated her well. I not, they would do him harm. The Bontocs or busol are fierce.
The cousin came. Tanabata entertained the cousin well. He bought short pant for the Igorot boy and told him to do away with his G-strings. The boy was much pleased. After a week, the boy said he would go back. And Tanabata bought some more clothes for him.
Fas-ang saw her cousin off. Tanabata was then in the shed house, cultivating th seedlings. Fas-ang instructed her cousin well: "Tell Ama and Ina I am happy here they must not worry about me. My husband is kind, and I'm never in want. Giv them this little money that I have saved for them. You see, I have a child, so I shall live here long yet. But I do wish to go home sometime and see Ama and Ina. Often feel homesick.
She wept. And when her cousin saw her tears, he wept too. Then they parted.
It was no hidden truth that Tanabata loved his wife dearly. In every way, he tried to show his affection. Once, he had not allowed her to go to the city to see the movies. But he repented after wards and sent her there without her asking.
Fas-ang soon became a cine addict. She went to shows with one of the garden boys Sometimes, she took her baby along. She carried the baby on her back. They had to take kerosene lamp with them to light their way coming home. They would return near midnight.
Tanabata, alone, would .stay at home. He sat up late reading his books of Japanese novels. When Fas-ang arrived, she would be garrulous with what she had seen. Tanabata would tuck her under the thick blankets to warm her cold feet. She would then easily fall asleep, and after she had dozed off, he would retire himself.
More and more, Fas-ang liked to attend the shows. The city was two miles away. But that did not matter. The theater was fascinating. Moreover, Fas-ang admitted, she often met several of her relatives and townmates in the theater. They too, had learned to frequent the cine. Together they had a good time.
Tabanata asked Okamoto what he thought of Fas-ang's frequenting the shows. Okamoto, being less prosperous and more conservative, did not favor it. He advised Tanabata to stop her. But Tanabata was too indulgent with Fas-ang even to intimate such a thing to her. Though inclined to be cautious, he loved her too much to deny her any pleasure she desired.
Thus Fas-ang, after the day's duties, would run off to the show. Tanabata had grown even more lenient. He could never muster courage to restrain her, much less scold her. She never missed a single change of program in the theater. Tanabata did not know what to do with her. He could not understand what drew her to the cine. For his part, he was wholly disinterested in screen shows which he had attended but once long ago, and with which he had been disgusted. Still Fas-ang continued to attend them as devotedly as ever.
One night she did not come home. She returned in the morning. Tanabata asked where she had slept, and she said, "With my cousin at the Campo Filipino," She had felt too lazy to walk all the way down to the valley, she said.
That whole day, she remained at home. Tanabata went out to the garden. Fas-ang rummaged among her things. She tied them into a bundle which she hid in the cor-ner. She dressed her child.
Then, at midnight, when Tanabata as sound asleep, she escaped. She carried her child and ran down the road where her lover was waiting. They would return to Bontoc, their native place. The man had been dismissed from the military post at Camp John Hay.
Fas-ang left a note on the table before she left. It had been written by the man who had seduced her. It read: Do not follow us. We are returning home to Bontoc. If you follow us, you will be killed on the way!
When Tanabata had the letter read to him he dared not pursue the truant lovers. The note was too positive to mean anything but death if disobeyed. He was grieved. And for three days, he could hardly eat. He felt bitter, being betrayed and deserted. Helpless, he was full of hatred for the man who had lured his wife away.
Okamoto, faithful indeed, came to comfort his friend. He offered to come with his wife and live with Tanabata. But Tanabata would not consider their proposition. Nor could he be comforted. He politely begged his friends to leave him alone. He had suddenly become gloomy. He sat in his hut all day and drank much liquor. He shut himself in. The truck garden was neglected.
Months passed. The rows of cabbage were rotting. Tanabata was thought to be crazy. He did not care what happened to the plants. He had dismissed the new help-ers that were left him. Weed outgrew the seedlings. The rainy season set in, and the field was devastated by a storm. Tanabata lived on his savings.
The rainy season passed. Sunny, cold November came to the hills. In a month more, Tanabata would perhaps go home to die in Japan. His despondency had not been lessened. When he thought of his lost boy, he wept all the more.
But, one evening, Fas-ang came back. She stood behind the house, scanning the wreck left of what was formerly a blooming garden. She had heard back home, from wayfarers who had returned, of Tanabata. The man who had alienated the affections of Fas-ang had left her.
"Your Japanese husband is said to be ruining himself," some reported.
"He pines for you and his boy," others brought back.
"It is said he is thinking of going home across the sea, but he must see his little son first," still others informed her.
Fas-ang at once decided. "Then I must return to him before it is too late." And so she came.
In the twilight, she stood, uncertain, hesitant. She heard the low mournful tune arising from the bamboo flute that Tanabata was playing, What loneliness! Fas-ang wondered if that now seemingly forbidding house was still open for her. Could she dispense the gloom that had settled upon it? There was a woman's yearning in her. But she wavered in her resolve, feeling ashamed.
The music had ceased. She almost turned away when the child, holding her hand, cried aloud. Tanabata looked out of the window, startled. He saw the mother and child. He rushed outside, exultant. Gently, he took them by their hands and led them slowly into the house. Then he lighted the big lamp that had long hung from the ceiling, unused.