You are on page 1of 6

? ..

~~

The Apollo Centennial

11 AITING BY THE RIVER. When Arcadia Nagbuya and his
f'Ytwo 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 seven o'clock: they should be in
the city well before nine. The thin, impatient schoolteacher, wear-
ing an orange polka-dot necktie for the occasion, "alternately shades
anl 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 distinction which an recognize: "I tol' hem to be heam
earrrly," he says to no one in particular, "what eiss de materr wit'
dot man," waving the magazine impatiently at the miniature hills
and craters of gray sand, the hollows still wet .from yesterday's
rain, the women washing c10tlles in the green water beside tlJe posts
of the ruined bridge, the bus parked on the opposite bank. As he
lowers the hand holding the magazine the boys edge closer for a
look: reluctantly he opens it for them, the gloss of the pages with
the color photographs of the old spacecraft and the astronauts
glinting in the hard sun. Arcadia Nagbuya glimpses some of the
larger type of the Tagilocan text before the schoolteacher resumes
his irritated fanning: HANG NAUNANG TAO SA RABAW TI
the ~oad. Behind the last bench and occupying the rest of the vehi-
BUAN ... SI ARMSTRONG KEN ALDRIN ... " If he could cle IS a storage compartment, now filled to the roof with sacks of
borrow the magazine, to show to the boys: but oyercome by a ch~rcoal, bundles of kakawati firewood, vegetable crates, and
certain shy courtesy he merely smiles at Mr. Balaoiitg, grateful for chicken cages. On the platfonn jutting out from the rear of the
the schoolteacher's briefgesture. compartment are piled more chicken cages, a goat'with hostile blood-
shot eyes~and ~ee pigs gJU?ting passively, bound for the slaugh-
THE RAFf. His shirt beginning to wilt moistly l;lround.his frail
terhouse m the city. The bus ISone of the more dilapidated units of
shoulders, Mr. Balaoing has set off for the shade of the coconut
the fleet .operated by the Hashimoto sisters in the western part of
grove facingthe,sandy beach, and he has almost reached the slanted
the provmce, where they own a sawmill, a chain of videoramic
trunks with their fronds shredded by the last. typhoon when the
tl:~ters, .and other enterpriSes.For a time Arcadio Nagbuy<,.worked
boys start shouting and jumping. He hurries back to rejoin the group
for the Sisters, in the sawmill in San Clemente: improbable twins
and nearly trips 011 a mound, recovers his balance, then proceeds
on~ huge and laughing like a humorous sumo wrestler, the other ~
slowly, rather formally, towards Arcadio Nagbuya and the .others as
dehcate b~auty with.nervous eyes seemingly being pushed outward
Lacay U~1:ong'snephewPedring poles the raft c1oserto~e nverbank.
by her gOlt~r.He nugllt ha~e made foreman had he chosen to stay
The boys are chuckling into their hands, and ArcadlO Nagbuya
on at the mJlIand not returned to the farm in Camanggaan: but the
gives the older one's hat a scolding brush, ?ushin~ it down .ave! ~c sa~dust was b.ad for his lungs, he recalls now as the curly-haired
boy's eyes. Being in Grade Five, Oolfo IS not III Mr. Balaomg s
dnver clears hISthroat and spits out a yellow coin of phlegm and
class and his buck teeth are curved widely in soundless laughter.
makes one last call for passengers in a mock barker's voice.
His ~ncle's rheumatism is troubling him again, Pedring explains,
"Intayon, intay6n sa buan, mga kaibigan!" The bus strains up the.
digging the pole glumly into the. river. Mr, Balao.ing squa~ on the dus~ lane a~y fro~ the riverbank towards the highway, the driver
bamboos of the raft the magazme tented over Ius head: ISANG
~~e~mg.up hIS teasIng chant and Arcadio Nagbuya's young sons
GASUT TAON TI APOLLO II," Arcadia Nagbuya reads the white
Jommg m, "Intaybn sa buan, intay6n," and then there is only the
letters superimposed on the gray cratered'mO<''1 above the faces. of loud throbbing cirone of the motor and the framework of the bus
the three astronauts. And: "Imprenta ti United States InformatIOn
squeaking and rattling when the wheels shudder over the water-
Bureau Southeast Asia Dep<:.,tInent, Territory of the Philippines,"
logged craters on the asphalt road.
he read~ on the black back cover highlighted by the sun, his lips
moving around the words, Happily he tightens his grip on his younger
THE VIEW FROM THE BUS. M~. Balaoing as usual has taken
son's shoulder, and he jniles inwardly at his ability to read both
the only canvas-backed seat beside the driver. Arcadio Nagbuya
English ani Tagilocan, at this rare morning's journey to the city, the stares at the frayed sweat-damp collar, the thinning hair combed
sure gliding movement of the raft, the sun full and warm on the across ~e squarish top of Mr. Balaoing's head: he thinks again of
green nver. borrowmgthe USIB magazine, decides against disturbing the school-
teacher, and turns to watch the moving landscape. The fields are
THE BUS. The maroon Twin Sisters Bus is a converted Nakajima
dark green where the young rice has been spared by the storm,
truck with five woode~ benches behind the driver's seat. On the: yellow-brown in places where it lies broken in the flooded paddies:
high rack behind the windshield rest plastic figur~es ofth~ Blessed the tree~ on the horizoll are bluish smudges like smoke, the Zambales
Virgin and San Martin de Porres: on the ra?k ltsel~, pamt~ ~n- mountaIn') beyond a deeper blue, almost the same color as the sky.
steadily on the peeling wood, is a Tagilocan mvocatlOn remmdmg Far to .the south, clouds like soiled rags smother the peaks: it seems
these powerful advocates before the heav~nly throne to proter;t
Arcadlo Nagbuya can smell the distant rain in the humid breeze. He
':::::. passengers from flat tires, highway robbers, and other hazards of
remembers his grandfather tel:ing him of the time long ago when large poster of the Centennial. For a second as the bus lurches past
the Black Cloud rose to. cover most of the sky, and t~e rains that the porch, the officer seems part of the poster, a masked brown
came after were warm and gray with an ash which made so many astronaut printed beside the white vertical rocket. "Robberrrss and
vomit blood and waste a. lay in pain. Now the sky is clear but for fascistsss," Mr. Balaoing cranes his neck to peer spitefully at the
the remote clouds, and a couple ofhelidiscs humming in a wide arc receding outpost, and then meeting Arcadio Nagbuya's neutral gaze.
over the fields. For a moment the fighter-bombers hang gleaming in shakes his head and slumps back in his seat.
silhouette against the mountain.:" their two-man crews visible in the
bubble canopies, before rising vertically, abruptly, cut off from view ARRIVAL IN THE CITY. "Malapit na ti buan," the driver sings
by 'the roof of the bus. Something like the premonition ofa terrible out, and "Malapiten, malapiten ti Apollo," the boys chime in, and
and swiftly approaching disaSter alights on Arcadio Nagbuya's heart: the girl on the rear bench strums a rich staccato chord in ar.compa-
but Andres, he assures himself, knows what he is doing, he will be niment. The young men laugh and yell, and stomping on the floor,
safe in the interior of the forest. Children playing around the begin to sing the Apollo Hymn: "Prom the launch pad at Ken-ne-
rusted remains of the armored car near Malacampa pause to dy, Neil Armstrong bentured porth par hu-man-ity ... " 'Tanla na
wave at the bus. dayta!" shouts the driver. "Hindi rocket dayto!" But the three youths
pay him no heed and sing on and pound the floor with their boots:
FROM SANTA IGNACIA TO TIBAG. The older boy is asking Arcadio Nagbuya notices Mr. Balaoing, the stem disciplinarian of
for a popsic1e. Vendor~ crowd below the windows of the bus mak- the classroom, nodding smilingly in rhythm. The Cathedral is ring-
ing a stopover in front of the municipal building in Santa Ignacia to ing the halfhour as the Twin Sisters Bus slows down in the tricycle
take on a few more passengers: three young men and a girl with a and calesa traffic around the rotonda with the headless statue of the
guitar, an old couple, a man in a shark-skin suil two priests, some Last President. Five 0 'clock, the driver is reminding his passengers,
more chickens, and a turkey in a wire cage ,wnich the wall-eyed all those who wish to make the last trip back with him should be in
conductor pushes up to the top of the bus and secures with rope. front of Qui Sing's hardware store at five o'clock sharp as he is not
Arcadia Nagbuya buys peanut brittle for the boys, which costs less going to wait for anyone, not even if he is the bastard son of Don
than popsicles, and promises them ice cream in Tarlac City: ap- Fernando the millionaire. The shameless who must sing and pound
peased, Dolfo and Doming sit chewing solemnly as the bus resumes on the floor, he adds, will please, maawa cayo ti tao, take another
the trip on the road that is cemented now, wider and smoother bus. TIle young men respond to this last injunction with a chorus
between the stretches of broken concrete. All of them get off at the of merry obscenities insulting the driver's mother and the size of
outpost in Tibag: the soldiers with the skull-and-crossbones patch his genitals.
ofthe 17th Paratroop Brigade, and uniformly tall and lean, it seems
to Arcadio Nagbuya, arep~lite and efficient, examining each THE DOME. The plastilium dome like a giant silver egg half-bur-
alumiglass nechag quickly and asking no more than the customary ic I in the earth occupies almost halfofthe plaza and is twice as tall
questions, except with the three young men from Santa Ignacia. as the soaring memorial to the Heroes of 2045 on the other side of
The lieutenant in command, sullen mouth and dark gIasses beneath the square. Assembled at the end of June by engineers from the
visored cap, steps do\\n f\'om the porch of th~ guardhouse and McDonnell Unisat Station in Mabalacat, it is one of similar domes.
directs a soldier to search the trio and look closely at their index Arcadio Nagbuya recalls having heard on the radio, set up for the
fingers. for the tell-talc grooves fornled by the triggers ofNasakom Apollo Centennial in the major cities. In the kiosko tiny and archaic
pistols. Satisfied, unsmiling,the lieutenant signals to the driver to be beside the gigantic structure, the band has just finished playing
~ on his way. and returns to his rocking chair on the porch, beneath a "Pamulinawen" and is blaring out the first jubilant bars of"Deep in
the Heart of Texas" as Arcadio Nagbuya and his two' sons hurry became commander of the Centaur 9 flight to Mars in 2018. . ."
past the softdrink and halo-halo stands and merge with .the crowd Arcadio Nagbuya comes upon his uncle Faustino from Capas in the
that has collected before the entrance to the dome, beneath a red, section devoted to the moon landing located halfway around the
white. and blue banner \vith "Apollo 11 - 1969-2069" emblazoned hall. The old man, jovial and garrulous as always. reads aloud for
on it. The grass has been trampled into a soggy mat of straw and the benefit of the boys the placard for the scale model of the lunar
they shuffle inside trackingrriud on the floorboar~s, watched by a module and Neil Armstrong descending from it to the moon's sur-
round tall American with a cigar and arms akimbo, leaning and face: "Et was Monde, July 21, 1969. As da whole worl' wats,
smiling by the door. Armstrong steyp down prom da ladder an' da pers man on da moan
made da dramatec announee-meynt: 'Dat's one smol steyp pOI'man.,
INSIDE. THE DOME. They stand uncertainly in the clear. white one djayan Jeyp por mankind.'" "Marunong paJa nga magbasa ti
air-conditioned light. gazing up at the replica of the old three-stage lacay," a voice taunts behind Arcadici Nagbuya: it is one of the
Saturn 5 launch vehiclein the center ofthe circular hall, its pointed young men from Santa Ignacia. Undaunted, the old man bends
escape tower appearing to thrust through the apex of the concave short-sightedly to read the inscription on the box which holds a
roof A mestiza. in the blue uniform of the Centennial c.omes to plaster copy of man's first footprint on the moon: "Armstrong
Ar~dio Nagbuya with a sprightly greeting, a Tagifocan pamphlet unbeiled a pla-que attats to won op da mow-dule's leygs. 'Here
on Apollo 11. and a simeographed floor plan of the exhibits. He man prom da planeyt Eart' perst set poot upon da moan July 21,
knits his brows over the sketCh, as if to memorize it for atest: the 1969 A.D. We came en pays for owl mankind.'" Arcadia Nagbuya
hall is divided into s~veral compartments built around the replica of exhales in relief when the old man says he must go, he has to look
the rocket. Bracing himself as for a dive, a swimmer breathing for his companions. The next compartment is a projection room:
deeply of the coolness ofplastilium, he leads the boys to the right, here the crowd is about ten deep around the cinecube, and Arcadia
to the first section with the blue-neon legend, "THE· MEN OF Nagbuya hoists the younger boy on his shoulders. Inside the cinecube
APOLLO II." Earth, a blue-green globe streaked with cloud, hangs in a black sky
above the two astronauts moving in their white bulky suits with the
THE EXHIBITS. The life-size dummies of the three astronauts slow tentative deliberation of children learning to walk, while the
are strapped in thei I' quaint suits to command module contour seats. nasal soundtrack ('.ontinuesits brisk narration: "1be lunar landscape
Minus helmets. the dennawax facsimiles rigid as idols grin unceas- is like pale gray sand, littered with rocks. TIle.mountains and cra-
ingly at the visitors. who are kept the proper distance by a con- t~rs are not visible. TIle curvature of the moon is so sharp that the
temptuous attendant: Arcadia Nagbuya has seen the man before, a horizon is only two and a half kilometers away ... Armstrong and
clerk behind a grilled counter at the provincial capitol. Displayed on Aldrin plant an American flag with a spring device to hold it up-
the walls are photographs of the astronauts training for the Apollo right. They deploy the equipment. .. Armstrong and Aldrin rest
mission, relaxing at home. posing with their fa/miles, laughing, brave, for six hours before beginning preparations for the return to lu-
and handsome a hundred Y9arsa~o:"A happy Neil Annstrong shown nar orbit. They have to link up with the eommand module pi-
above with wife Janet ~nd sons Eric and Mark. He was born in the loted by Collins ... " It is a fifteen-minute shbw, and Arcadia
small town of Wapakoneta. Ohio. on August 5, 1930 ... Edwin Nagbuya sets Doming do\VIlat the part where they came in: but the
Aldrin. his wife Joan. ar j the'r children, Michael, Andrew, and boys are insistent, and they stay on to repeat the rest of the film.
Janice, on a picnic before the historic blastoff on July 16, 1969 ... From the projection room going counter-elockwise, they wander
Michael Collins and his wife Patricia with their children, Kathleen. vaguely through the remaining displays: more repl.icas, diagrams of
Michael. and Ann. Michael J.r was to take after his father and the Apollo flight, a cybergraph of the Eagle lunar module left on the
moon being examined by latter-day astronauts in their bodyfit space sioner is delivering a speech on the videoramic wallscreen between
suits, a framed statement by President Nixon: "For one priceless the counter and the kitchen: he is speaking of the first man on the
moment in the whole 'history of man, all the people on Earth are moon and tIle frontiers of the universe, and the hoarse ~ratory and
one ... " The last section they visit contains a mock-up of the com- the crash of applause like static blend with the receding thunder and
mand cabin of a Columbus cruiser with a simulated view of star the steady boiling hiss of the rain. Arcadia Nagbuya tires of watch-
clouds and clusters. On one wall painted to look like a rocketship's ing the flushed solemn American face on the wallscreen, and he
bulkhead are blown-up cybergraphs of the Magellan Space Station glances about, as if searching for the reason for their being here, he
and its family ofshuttJe tugs, the American-P' ssian installations on ~nd his two sons in this restaurant in this city called Tarlac, more
the moon, the Venus skylabs, and the international crew of the than an hour away by bus from the river in €amanggaan. Posters
Uranus mission due to teturn in 2071. Mr. Balaoing is contemplat- from last year's election~ remain pasted anq fading by t1.ledoor.
ing a mural on the opposite wall depicting American space projects One of the ceiling fans wobbles on its stem, above a table of beer
for the rest of the century, including the first starship mission be- drinkers. At the next table the sad tired waitress in a tight Centen-
yond the solar system, <.joint expedition with Britain and Germany nial T-shirt is setting down two steaming bowls ofpancit for a large
to Alpha Centauri: "It is believed that a planet of this star nearest to family, father, mother, five boys, three girls, and grandmother or
Earth is the source of the first message from extraterrestrial intelli- grandaunt. The restaurant opens out on the street, and bunches of
gence ever received by the hu;nan race." This particular revelation flies dot the floor on the same level as the wet sidewalk: a beggar
is illustrated with a mathematical formula: "Look hearr," says Mr. comes in scattering the flies, and a waitress shoos him away. The
Balaoing to the boys, PQintingrapturously at the center of the massed long vertical rain breaks with fierce little bursts on the black asphalt
algebraic figures, "et eisss de equation par de circumferrence op a of the street. The boys stray off to squat before the wall screen,
cirrcle!" But Dolfo and Doming are now listless and hungry, and which now resounds with horsehooves and ancient gunfi reo
care little for mathematics or messages from other worlds. They and Arcadio Nagbuya wets his thumb to turn the pages of
leave the schoolteacher in rapt conversation with a short bald Ameri- the USIB magazine.
can in rimless glasses, the smallest American Arcadio Nagbuya has
ever seen, shorter even than Mr. Balaoing. At the exit girls in blue RETURN TRIP. The bus is half-empty when they board it in front
unifonns hand them USIB pamphlets on the Centennial, medal- of Qui Sing's hardware store. Mr. Balaoing has taken another ear-
lions bearing the im?ges of the Apollo 11 astronauts, ham sand- lier trip, and so, apparently, have the boisterous young men and the
wiches, and ice-cold Cokes. The afternoon in the plaza is gray girl with the guitar: now the bus in the late rainwashed light seems a
with rain, and they wait for the downpour to slacken, munching different vehicle, altered somehow, bigger and emptier, with a dif-
on the sandwiches. ferent subdued driver, although it is the same curly-haired man at
the wheel. In the falling dark Doming snuggles against his father
THE RESTAURANT. It is still raining, and they are in the New and is soon asleep. Arcadia Nagbuya is drowsy himself and for a
Washington Cafe on Nevada Street. The younger boy wants an- while drifts in a shallow uneasy sleep, his mind ncver quite re-
other asado mami. but Arcadia Nagbuya has just enough money moved from the vibrating racket of the engine' and the forward
Icft ovcr for thc trip back to the river crossing, having bought, jerking motion of the bus. It is evening by the time they reach Santa
earlier in the afternoon, a ,bolo, a bottle of liniment, a T ~shirt each Ignacia, where five mcn'corne aboard, and Arcadia Nagbuya and
for the boys with Apol.lo Centennial prints, and a couple of ice his two sons and the faceless strangcrs sit in siJ~nce in the roaring.
cream con~s. Hc mav have to wait till after the harvcst, he rcflccts, swaying dark of the unlighted bus. He dozes again and in the dark
before he can afford another visit to the city. The High Commis- of his closed eyes his dead wife appears suddenly and then his

~
father a f.ln11Crloo born at the turn of the century and a soldier miting potang beiigi.O sigue, Cadio," and there is the rustle of feet
dying'in the SecOnd :Asian War: he wakens to the cool.ness of wind departing across the sand.~'Si Tio daytay tao,Tatang?"asks Dom-
on his face, and then he sees, as he has seen it at this hour for ing. Arcadia Nagbuya stares into the dark, in the direction where
unnumbered evenings, the Magellan Space Station rising in the west, his cousin has gone, his heart warm and beating rapidly. Dolfo
a bright solitary'star among the night clouds. repeats his brother's question, blit their father remains silent, and
they start off for the trail in the coconut grove beyond the sandy
THE RIVER AT NIGHT. Pedring does not take everyone across slope of the riverbank. The Magellan Space Station has cleared the
all at once but makes two trips: the river has risen a' few feet and tops of the trees, and a smaller, fainter star is moving away from it:
the raft: is too small to carry all of them gathered on the riverbank. another nuclear spaceship going to Mars or perhaps only to the
The women and the old. folks go first: a baby cries on and on, moon, now a sharp-pointed sickle in the eastern sky.
bleating like a lamb in the small orange glow of the lamp suspended
in the middle of the raft, in the night astir with the croaking offrogs
and the black whispering flow of the river. Then it is theirtum, and
Arcadio Nagbuya and his two sons squat close to the lamp, clutch-
ing their paper-wrapped bundles, the water slafJping at the raft,
sucking and gurgling under the glistening platform of bamboo poles.
The men with them do not ans\"er when Pedring asks where they
are from: one of them, Arcadia Nagbuya notices in the lamplight, is
cradling a laser rifle wrapped loosely in a raincoat.

A MEETING ON TffE RIVERBANK. The man with the rifle
hails a group huddled around a flashlight on the riverbank. The
figure \vith the flashlight calls to A rcadio Nagbuya: at once he knows
it is his cousin from Concepcion, and the dim oppressive fear sur-
rounds his heart as he remembers the helidiscs hunting over the
morning fields. His cousin clicks off the flashlight and speaks to
him, not in Tagi1ocan, but in the old language: "Minta ca TarIac,
Cadio'?" and "Wa,Cong Andres:' he replies, "mjnta cami para keng
Centennial," and the tender fluid accents of their fathers' tongue,
unheard for so long yet never quite lost nor forgo(ten, bringa swift
rush of pridc and love that pushes back the enclosing dread. "Cadio,"
his cousin says. reaching for his hand in the dark, "Cadio,
mangailangan caming tau .. " He can hear his cousin's breathing,
smell the odors of the sun and the rain of the long day on his
cousin's clothes, as they stand with their hands clasped in the
quiet dark. They were young boys together ol1~e: how quickly
the years pass . . . "Asahan da cayung maki<..ue kekame:' his
cousin says, his tone hopeful and co.if'ident. "Mako na cami, atin
~