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The God Stealer - F Sionil Jose

The God Stealer - F Sionil Jose

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Published by Clara Buenconsejo

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Published by: Clara Buenconsejo on Feb 12, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/29/2013

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The God Stealer
E
Sionil]ose
Vp.
The lfugao rice terraces in Mountain Province, built by lJrimitive natives throughthe centuries, are considered by many Filipinos as the Eighth Wonder of the world.
- Philippine tourist folder
THEY WERE
the best of friends and that was possible because they worked in thesame office and both were young and imbued with a freshness in outlook. SamChristie was twenty-eight and his Filipino assistant, Philip Latak, was twenty-sixand was-just as Sam was in the Agency before he assumed his post-intelligentand industrious."That is to be expected," the official whom Sam replaced explained, "becausePhilip is Ifugao and you don't know patience until you have seen the rice terraceshis ancestors built.""Youwill find," Sam Christie was also told, "that the 19orots, like the Ilocanos,no matter how urbanized they already are, entertain a sense of inferiority. NotPhilip. He is proud of his being lfugao. He tells all about it first chance he gets."Now, on this December dawn, Sam Christie was on his way to Ifugao with hisnative assistant. It was his last month in the Philippines and in a matter of days he 'would return to Boston for that leave which he had not had in years.The bus station was actually a narrow sidestreet which sloped down to adeserted plaza, one of the many in the summer capital. Sam could make outthe shapes of the stone buildings huddled, it seemed, in the cold, their narrowwindows shuttered and the frames advertising Coca-Cola above their doorwaysindistinct in the dark.Philip Latak seemed listless. They had been in the station for over half anhour and still there was no bus. "That boy in the hotel gave us bum dope," hegrumbled and zipped his old suede jacket up to his neck. It had been four yearsthat he had lived in Manila and during all these years he had never gone home.
 
Now the cold of the pine-clad mountains seemed to bother him. He turned toSam and, with a hint of urgency-"One favor, Sam. Let me take a swig."Sam Christie said, "Sure, you are welcome to it. Just make sure we havesome left when we get to Ifugao." He stooped, brought out a bottle of WhiteLabel-one of four-from the bag which also contained bars of candy and cartonsof cigarettes and matches for the natives. He removed the tinfoil and handed thebottle to his companion.Phil raised it to his lips and made· happy gurgling sounds. "Rice wine-Ihope there's still a jar around when we get to my grandfathers. He couldn't be asseriously sick as my brother wrote. As long as he has wine he will live. Hell, it'snot potent as this, but it can knock out a man, too."Sam Christie kidded his companion about the weather. They had arrived inthe summer capital the previous day and the bracing air and the scent of pine hadinvigorated him. "It'slike New England in the spring," he said. "In winter, when itreally gets cold, I can still go around quite naked by your standards. I sent homea clipping this week, something in the Manila papers about it being chilly. And itwas only 68! Myoid man will get a kick out of that.""But its really cold!" Philip Latak raid ruefully. He handed the bottle back toSam Christie, who took a swig too. "You don't know how good it is to have thatalong. Do you know how much it costs nowadays? Twenty-four bucks.""It's cheaper at the commissary," Sam Christie said simply. He threw his chestout, flexed his lean arms and inhaled. He wore a white dacron shirt with thesleeves rolled up."I'm glad you didn't fall for those carvings in Manila," Phil said after a while."A Grecian urn, a]apanese sword, a Siamese mask-and now, an !fugao god.The Siamese mask," Sam spoke in monotone, "it was really a bargain. A studentwas going to Boston. He needed the dollars, so I told him he could get the moneyfrom my father. Forty dollars-and the mask was worth more than that."Now, the gray buildings around them emerged from the dark with white, definiteshapes. The east was starting to glow and more people had arrived with cratesand battered rattan suitcases. In the chill most of them were quiet. A coffee shopopened along the street with a great deal of clatter and in its warm, golden lightSam Christie could see the heavy, peasant faces, their happy anticipation as thesteaming cups were pushed before them.The bus finally came and Sam Christie, because he was a foreigner, was giventhe seat of honor, next to the driver. It was an old bus, with woven rattan seats andside entrances that admitted not only people but cargo, fowl and pigs. They did
 
not wait long, for the bus filled up quickly with government clerks going to theirposts and hefty 19orots, in their bare feet or with canvas shoes, who sat in the rear,talking and smelling of earth and strong tobacco.,After the bus had started, for the first time during their stay in Baguio, SamChristie felt sleepy. He dozed, his head knocking intermittently against the hardedge of his seat, and in that limbo between wakefulness and sleep, he hurtledbriefly to his home in Boston, to that basement study his father had tidied up, init the mementoes of his years with the Agency. Sam had not actually intended toserve in the Agency but had always wanted to travel and, after college, a careerwith the Agency offered him the best chance of seeing the world.Soon it was light. The bus hugged the thin line of a road that was carved onthe mountainside. Pine trees studded both sides of the road and beyond theirgreen, across the ravines and the gray rocks, was the shimmery sky and endlessranges also draped with this mist that swirled, pervasive and alive, to their veryfaces. And Sam Christie, in the midst of all this whiteness and life, was quiet.Someone in the bus recognized Philip and he called out in the native tongue,"1p-pig!" The name did not jell at once and the man shouted again. Philip turnedto the man and acknowledged the greeting, and to Sam he explained: "That's myname up here-and that's why I was baptized Philip."Sam Christie realized there were many things he did not know about Phil."Tell me more about your grandfather," he said."There isn't much worth knowing about him," Philip said."How old is he?""Eighty or more.""He must be a character," Sam Christie said."And the village doctor," Philip said. "Mumbo-jumbo stuff, you know. I wastaken ill when I was young-something I ate, perhaps. I had to go to the Missionhospital-and that evening he came and right there in the ward he danced todrive away the evil spirit that had gotten hold of me.""And the doctor?""He was broadminded," Philip said, still laughing. "They withstood it, thegongs and the stomping.""It must have been quite a night.""Hell,
I
was never so embarrassed in my life," Philip Latak said, shaking hishead. "Much later, thinking of it," his voice became soft and a smile lingered inhis thick-lidded eyes, "I realized that the old man never did that thing again foranyone, not even when his own son-my father-lay dying."Now they were in the heart of the highlands. The pine trees were bigger,loftierthan those in Baguio, and most were wreathed with hoary moss. Sunflowers burst

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