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The Apollo Centennial - Gregorio Brillantes

The Apollo Centennial - Gregorio Brillantes

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Published by Clara Buenconsejo



The Apollo Centennial

BY THE RIVER. When Arcadia Nagbuya and his two sons arrive on the riverbank, the heat has already begun, the bright humid windlessness of the July morning. It was cool going down the trail from Camanggaan through the talahib and the bamboo brakes: but here by the river the broad slope of sand lies open to the sun, and Arcadia Nagbuya can feel the warmth of the sandgrains underfoot as they stand about waiting for the raft. By Mr. Balaoing's watch it is not yet se



The Apollo Centennial

BY THE RIVER. When Arcadia Nagbuya and his two sons arrive on the riverbank, the heat has already begun, the bright humid windlessness of the July morning. It was cool going down the trail from Camanggaan through the talahib and the bamboo brakes: but here by the river the broad slope of sand lies open to the sun, and Arcadia Nagbuya can feel the warmth of the sandgrains underfoot as they stand about waiting for the raft. By Mr. Balaoing's watch it is not yet se

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Published by: Clara Buenconsejo on Feb 12, 2011
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? ..
The A pollo Centennial
AITING BY THE RIVER. When Arcadia Nagbuya and his
f ' Y
two sons arrive on the riverbank, the heat has already begun,the bright humid windlessness of the July morning. It was coolgoing down the trail from Camanggaan through the talahib and thebamboo brakes: but here by the river the broad slope of sand liesopen to the sun, and Arcadia Nagbuya can feel the warmth of thesandgrains underfoot as they stand about waiting for the raft.
Mr. Balaoing's watch it is not yet seven o'clock: they should be inthe city well before nine. The thin, impatient schoolteacher, wear-ing an orange polka-dot necktie for the occasion, "alternately shadesanl fans himself with a magazine, and wonders aloud what is tak-ing Lacay Ustong so long. His English affirms his calling, a certifi-cate of 
which an recognize: "I tol' hem to be heamearrrly," he says to no one in particular, "what eiss de materr
dot man," waving the magazine impatiently at the miniature hillsand craters of gray sand, the hollows still wet .from yesterday'srain, the women washing c10tllesin thegreen water beside tlJepostsof the
bridge, the bus parked on the opposite bank. As helowers the hand holding the magazine the boys edge closer for alook: reluctantly he opens it for them, the gloss of the pages withthe color photographs of the old spacecraft and the astronauts
in the hard sun. Arcadia Nagbuya glimpses some of thelarger type of the Tagilocan text before the schoolteacher resumeshis irritated fanning: HANG NAUNANG TAO SA RABAW TI
THE RAFf. His shirt beginning to wilt moistly l;lround.his frailshoulders, Mr. Balaoing has set off for the shade of the coconutgrove facingthe,sandy beach, and he has almost reached the slantedtrunks with their fronds shredded by the last. typhoon when theboys start shouting and jumping. He hurries back to rejoin the groupand nearly trips
a mound, recovers his balance, then proceedsslowly, rather formally, towards Arcadio Nagbuya and the .others asLacay U~1:ong'snephewPedring poles the raft c1oserto~e nverbank.The boys are chuckling into their hands, and ArcadlO Nagbuyagives the older one's hat a scolding brush, ?ushin~ it down .ave! ~cboy's eyes. Being in Grade Five, Oolfo ISnot
Mr. Balaomg sclass and his buck teeth are curved widely in soundless laughter.His ~ncle's rheumatism is troubling him again, Pedring explains,digging the pole glumly into the. river. Mr, Balao.ing squa~ on thebamboos of the raft the magazme tented over Ius head: ISANGGASUT TAON TI APOLLO II," Arcadia Nagbuya reads the whiteletters superimposed on the gray cratered'mO<''1above the faces. othe three astronauts. And: "Imprenta ti United States InformatIOnBureau Southeast Asia Dep<:.,tInent, Territory of the Philippines,"he read~ on the black back cover highlighted by the sun, his lipsmoving around the words, Happily hetightens his grip on his youngerson's shoulder, and he jniles inwardly at his ability to read bothEnglish ani Tagilocan, at this rare morning's journey to the city, thesure gliding movement of the raft, the sun full and warm on thegreen nver.the ~oad. Behind the last bench and occupying the rest of the vehi-cle ISa storage compartment, now filled to the roof with sacks of ch~rcoal, bundles of kakawati firewood, vegetable crates, andchicken cages. On the platfonn jutting out from the rear of thecompartment are piledmorechicken cages, agoat'with hostile blood-shot eyes~and ~ee pigs gJU?ting passively, bound for the slaugh-terhouse m the city. The bus ISone of the more dilapidated units of the fleet .operated by the Hashimoto sisters in the western part of the provmce, where they own a sawmill, a chain of videoramictl:~ters, .andother enterpriSes.For a time Arcadio Nagbuy<,.workedfor the Sisters,
the sawmill in San Clemente: improbable twinson~ huge and laughing like a humorous sumo wrestler, the other ~dehcate b~auty with.nervous eyes seemingly being pushed outwardby her gOlt~r.He nugllt ha~e made foreman had he chosen to stayon at the mJlIand not returned to the farm in Camanggaan: but thesa~dust was b.adfor his lungs, he recalls now as the curly-haireddnver clears hISthroat and spits out a yellow coin of phlegm andmakes one last call for passengers in a mock barker's voice."Intayon,
sa buan, mga kaibigan!" The bus strains up the.dus~ lane a~y fro~ the riverbank towards the highway, the driver~~e~mg.up hISteasIng chant and Arcadio Nagbuya's young sonsJommg m, "Intaybn sa buan, intay6n," and then there is only theloud
cironeof the motor and the framework of the bussqueaking and rattling when the wheels shudder over the water-logged craters on the asphalt road.BUAN ... SI ARMSTRONG KEN ALDRIN ... " If he couldborrow the magazine, to show to the boys: but oyercome by acertain shy courtesy he merely smiles at Mr. Balaoiitg, grateful forthe schoolteacher's briefgesture.THE BUS. The maroon Twin Sisters Bus is a converted Nakajimatruck with five woode~ benches behind the driver's seat. On the:high rack behind the windshield rest plastic figur~es ofth~ BlessedVirgin and San Martin de Porres: on the ra?k ltsel~, pamt~ ~n-steadily on the peeling wood, is a Tagilocan mvocatlOn remmdmgthese powerful advocates before the heav~nly throne to proter;t':::::.passengers from flat tires, highway robbers, and other hazards of THE VIEW FROM THE BUS. M~.Balaoing as usual has takenthe only canvas-backed seat beside the driver. Arcadio Nagbuyastares at the frayed sweat-damp collar, the thinning hair combedacross ~e squarish top of Mr. Balaoing's head: he thinks again of borrowmgthe USIB magazine,decidesagainst disturbing the school-teacher, and turns to watch the moving landscape. The fields aredark green where the young rice has been spared by the storm,yellow-brown in places where it lies broken in the flooded paddies:the tree~ onthe horizollare bluishsmudges likesmoke, theZambalesmountaIn') beyond a deeper blue, almost the same color as the sky.Far to.thesouth, clouds likesoiled rags smother the peaks:
seemsArcadlo Nagbuya can smellthe distant rain in the humid breeze. He
remembers his grandfather tel:ing him of the time long ago whenthe Black Cloud rose to.cover most of the sky, and t~e rains thatcame after were warm and gray with an ash which made so manyvomit blood and waste a. lay in pain. Now the sky is clear but forthe remote clouds, and a couple ofhelidiscs humming in a wide arcover the fields. For a moment the fighter-bombers hang gleaming insilhouette against the mountain.:" their two-man crews visible in thebubble canopies, before rising vertically, abruptly, cut off from viewby 'the roof of the bus. Something like the premonition ofa terribleand swiftly approaching disaSter alights on Arcadio Nagbuya's heart:but Andres, he assures himself, knows what he is doing, he will besafe in the interior of the forest. Children playing around therusted remains of the armored car near Malacampa pause towave at the bus.large poster of the Centennial. For a second as the bus lurches pastthe porch, the officer seems part of the poster, a masked brownastronaut printed beside the white vertical rocket. "Robberrrss andfascistsss," Mr. Balaoing cranes his neck to peer spitefully at thereceding outpost, and thenmeetingArcadio Nagbuya's neutral gaze.shakes his head and slumps back in his seat.FROM SANTA IGNACIA TO TIBAG. The older boy is askingfor a popsic1e. Vendor~ crowd below the windows of the bus mak-ing a stopover in front of the municipal building in Santa Ignacia totake on a few more passengers: three young men and a girl with aguitar, an old couple, a man in a shark-skin suil two priests, somemore chickens, and a turkey in a wire cage ,wnich the wall-eyedconductor pushes up to the top of the bus and secures with rope.Arcadia Nagbuya buys peanut brittle for the boys, which costs lessthan popsicles, and promises them ice cream in Tarlac City: ap-peased, Dolfo and Doming sit chewing solemnly as the bus resumesthe trip on the road that is cemented now, wider and smootherbetween the stretches of broken concrete. All of them get off at theoutpost in Tibag: the soldiers with the skull-and-crossbones patchofthe 17th Paratroop Brigade, and uniformly tall and lean, it seemsto Arcadio Nagbuya, arep~lite and efficient, examining eachalumiglass nechag quickly and asking no more than the customaryquestions, except with the three young men from Santa Ignacia.The lieutenant in command, sullen mouth and dark gIasses beneathvisored cap, steps do\\n f\'om the porch of th~ guardhouse anddirects a soldier to search the trio and look closely at their indexfingers. for the tell-talc grooves fornled by the triggers ofNasakompistols. Satisfied, unsmiling,the lieutenant signals to the driver to be~ on his way. and returns to his rocking chair on the porch, beneath aARRIVAL IN THE CITY. "Malapit na ti buan," the driver singsout, and "Malapiten, malapiten ti Apollo," the boys chime in, andthe girl on the rear bench strums a rich staccato chord in ar.compa-niment. The young men laugh and yell, and stomping on the floor,begin to sing the Apollo Hymn: "Prom the launch pad at Ken-ne-dy, Neil Armstrong bentured porth par hu-man-ity... " 'Tanla nadayta!" shouts thedriver. "Hindi rocket dayto!" But the three youthspay him no heed and sing on and pound the floor with their boots:Arcadio Nagbuya notices Mr. Balaoing, the stem disciplinarian of the classroom, nodding smilingly in rhythm. The Cathedral is ring-ing the halfhour as the Twin Sisters Bus slows down in the tricycleand calesa traffic around the rotonda with the headless statue of theLast President. Five
'clock, thedriver is reminding his passengers,all those who wish to make the last trip back with him should be infront of Qui Sing's hardware store at five o'clock sharp as he is notgoing to wait for anyone, not even if he is the bastard son of DonFernando the millionaire. The shameless who must sing and poundon the floor, he adds, will please, maawa cayo ti tao, take anotherbus. TIle young men respond to this last injunction with a chorusof merry obscenities insulting the driver's mother and the size of his genitals.THE DOME. The plastilium dome like a giant silver egg half-bur-ic Iin the earth occupies almost halfofthe plaza and istwice as tallas the soaring memorial to the Heroes of 2045 on the other side of the square. Assembled at the end of June by engineers from theMcDonnell Unisat Station in Mabalacat, it isone of similar domes.Arcadio Nagbuya recalls having heard on the radio, set up for theApollo Centennial in the major cities. In the kiosko tiny and archaicbeside the gigantic structure, the band has just finished playing"Pamulinawen" and is blaring out the firstjubilant bars of"Deep in

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