M. Evelina Galang: Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery

The day my father disappeared he gave me one thousand pesos. “I’ll be home in three days,” Papang said, counting the money. “But just in case. Take care of your ináy, Angel.”

It’s been two weeks. My mother is out of her mind.

This morning, St. Magdalena’s school bus pulls up to our house. The roosters crow and traffic gathers beyond Mabini Street, everyone fighting for space. Drivers honk horns, long bellows sing from diesel trucks. An old vendor rolls his heavy cart up the hill and caws, “Mais! Mais!” The lamps along Mabini shut down one by one.

We climb aboard the empty bus – my grandmother Lola Ani, my little sister Lila and our ináy. I lift two plastic supot of chicken and rice and put them on an empty seat. The driver loads our maletas into the back of the bus. We’re not sure how long we’ll be gone. A day, a week, maybe a month. The bus is so big and white and we are tiny in its space, sitting seats away from one another, each gazing out a different window.

As the bus eases onto Mabini. Lola Ani makes the sign of the cross. We pray for safe travel. We pray for good health. We pray for Papang. We bless ourselves and our family and we bless the drivers who will be traveling on these roads. My family’s voice comes together. It is the only sound I hear beyond the chugging engine.

“Angel,” my mother says. “Text your papang again. Tell him we’re coming na.”

“But Ináy –”

“Don’t answer back. Just text him, ha?”

I look to Lola Ani. She turns away from me, arranging herself in her seat. “Opo,” I answer, pulling out my phone.

“Good girl,” Ináy says. “Tell him aalis na tayo.”

The bus idles at a stoplight like it’s waiting for me to text my father. My thumbs tap the keys, swift like drumsticks on a snare. All the while I stare at the back of Ináy’s head, the way it bobs like a blossom on a vine, gingerly holding on, as if the wind will blow her petals out the bus window. I feel the blood spinning in my belly, threatening to spoil my breakfast. Two thumbs hit send, a beep sounds. Ináy sighs. “That’s my good girl.”

When the light goes green, we shoot down narrow streets, weaving our way to the superhighway. Though it’s early, before long we’re stuck in traffic, idling behind a carabao driven cart. A mountain of hemp baskets, bags, hats and mats piled onto the cart obstruct our view. A vendor perched on top waves the heat away. His cart is surrounded by odd plated vehicles, by the smog of diesel fuel. Slowly, the sun tries to burn the vast Manila haze hovering over us.

If Papang were here we’d be riding in his van. He knows how to drive on seven thousand islands, knows all the long and short cuts. He goes ikot-ikot in the traffic like he and the car are dancing partners. He says even if it takes him longer to get there, it’s better to keep the car moving. It makes the customers think they’re getting somewhere rather than sitting still in traffic. His clients come from all over the world. Americans are loudest, he says. They talk nonstop about nothing. He pretends he can’t speak English sometimes, so they won’t talk to him. But then they just talk louder, like yelling will give meaning to their noise. Papang pretends to care how he nods his head and gets them places without a fuss, but really he’s just driving.

Driving is what Papang does for a living, but really he’s a musician. He plays rhythm and blues through the night, till the sun burns through smog.  He smokes cigarettes, drinks whiskey, and is known all over Makati as the Beat Man. “A heart that won’t quit,” she once said. “That’s what drew me to your father.”

When I was still too young for school, I’d sit in the front seat while Papang drove his clients from one end of Manila to another. He took them to business meetings and to restaurants in Makati. Sometimes he took them to resorts in the provinces. He’d drop them off and Papang and I would listen to the blues and he’d teach me how to hold his sticks and how to beat the drum. “The trick, Angel, is not to think. Just feel it. Listen to the way the tires roll, or the way the wind blows. Listen to the engine when it’s idling. You can hear the traffic breathing if you are very still. It has a heartbeat.” And then he’d thump his chest and chant, “Pintig. Toom-toom. Pintig. Toom-toom. Pintig.” I’d join him, eyes closed, hand on my heart, beating to the count, my whole body vibrating with each syllable – pintig, pintig, pintig.

*   *   *

I prop the window open and dust from the road drifts in along with traffic horns and motors rumbling. Beyond the glass the palengke sprawls with bright bushels of kang kong, green leafy spinach, and bok choy. I see mangoes and bundles of lychee, red as rubies. Before St. Magdalena’s, we used to walk through the palengke to get to class. Holding Lila’s hand, I’d guide her past the hot reds and greens of the vegetables and past the fish packed in ice. We knew everyone in the stands. Sometimes we’d get treats on our way to school. The year Papang made lots of money driving foreign clients around Manila, we stopped going to public school. We stopped sitting in crowded classrooms with boring teachers. We stopped working after school. We stopped walking all over Manila. Instead, we attended St. Magdalena’s School of Holy Angels, where the nuns take their girls to the Cordillera Mountains on field trips to get closer to God. Papang drove us to school. We ate our lunches in the courtyard gardens. Afterwards we’d stroll arm in arm with our batchmates, exchanging stories of aswangs, fairies, and other spirits.

The bus races down a boulevard, the sky lightens to gray. Behind the cityscape an orange red fights its way past the oppressive haze, colors the sky. At a stop light, a series of jeepneys with brilliant purple and orange banners rippling from the back of buses, zoom past, honking and chanting in one miraculous voice.

“Naku!” I shout.

“What is it?” Lila asks. “What’s the matter, Ate Angel?”

I say, “Didn’t you see that?” and when she says “What?” I tell her, “It was nothing.” Not a flash of white, not a van going so fast it blurred before you, not our Papang zipping through the streets of Manila, his silver blue van buried deep in the pack of jeepneys, heading off to some protest.

I see Papang’s van rushing through every stoplight, rushing past us even when traffic is still.

“Ano, Angel,” Ináy calls, “Wala pa bang sagot ang papang mo?”

Of course there is no answer. What does she think? I close my eyes, hold my breath, listen to the traffic’s beating heart. Were Papang here, he’d flip that radio on and the van would pulse with the bass of pop radio. He’d nod his head and drum the steering wheel with his fingers and reach out and tap Ináy like she was the snare on his drums. She’d roll her eyes, but secretly she’d love it and in the end the four of us would be stuck there in traffic, dancing in our seats, being our own rock band.

But not today. Today the ride is so quiet I can hear Ináy shiver when she sighs, I feel her sadness and think about ways I want to go to her, but I cannot. I look over at her, the way her body has wilted. She has thrown her legs on the back of the seat before her and her arms sprawl on either side of her, sighing like a teenager. I motion for Lila to sit with Ináy, but Lila says, “No Ate Angel, she wants you. You sit with her.”

I shift my way down the bus aisle, walking my hands across the railing overhead. Under my feet, the bus rumbles, hitting every stone and dip in the road. I fall into the seat behind her and I lay my head on her shoulder. “Ináy,” I say. “What if Papang was in that accident?”

 “Maybe he has no load. Maybe the battery has died.”

“But Ináy, it’s been two weeks.”

“Siguro,” she tells me, “those clients from Hollywood are working him too hard. Baka when he comes back he’ll have earned our passage to America.”

I shake my head and feel the tears rising, threatening to come out of me. “Pero Ináy, remember how two weeks ago, you said he was with us. You said he was there in your room. What did you mean?”

“That was a dream. But this is the truth, anak, you’ll see. He’s coming home and when he does, we’ll be that much closer to America.”

“But we’re not going to America. Papang is missing, Ináy.”

*   *   *

And that’s when she screams at me as if I am responsible for losing him. Her arms fly up, her face grows red and Lola Ani has to run to the back of the bus to hold onto her, to calm her. She fights my grandmother, pushes her and Lola Ani almost hits her head on the corner of a seat.

I pinch my arm. Wake up, I think, wake up. It’s as if I’ve gone to sleep and someone has kidnapped every single person in my family and replaced them with some stranger. Some alien being that looks like my relative, sounds like my relative, but is not my relative. My nails dig into my skin, but when I open my eyes, I am still there, sitting alone in the middle of the bus, my family scattered about like fallen fruit, my papang not among them. Wake up, I say out loud. Gumising ka na. Tama na ito.

Excerpt from Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, forthcoming Coffee House Press, Fall 2013


Named one of the most influential Filipinas in the United States by Filipina Women’s Network, M. Evelina Galang is the author of the novel, One Tribe (New Issues Press), the story collection, Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press) and the editor of the anthology Screaming Monkeys (Coffee House Press).  The recipient of numerous awards, including the 2004 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Awards Advancing Human Rights and the 2004 AWP Prize in the Novel, she has worked as an advocate of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII since 1998. Galang directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami.  Her second novel, Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, is forthcoming with Coffee House Press in the fall of 2013.