If Words Can Talk

Sun.Star Davao - - DAGMAY - DEN RAMONAL

The Math teacher roughly grabbed Tommy by the sleeve.

“Who taught you this word?” she de­manded.

“She did!” point­ing at a play­mate. “Dili gani ako!” the play­mate coun­tered and adamantly pointed her fin­ger at another play­mate. The other play­mate quickly said no and pointed his fin­ger at another. The fin­ger point­ing went on and on un­til it erupted into a quar­rel amongst them. He did, she did, you did ac­cu­sa­tions were fly­ing around for they for­got who started the game in the first place. It was the mak­ings of pol­i­tics. Cage rat­tler, play­ers, fin­ger point­ing, dis­placed ac­count­abil­ity, feigned ig­no­rance, point­less hul­la­baloo, and lastly cor­rupted si­lence.

Se­lena was silent but she did not for­get. She re­mem­bered it was Diana who started it but she bit her tongue to pro­tect her friend. She shoved me down her own throat and kept mum while the in­ter­ro­ga­tion was hap­pen­ing. That was the last time I heard her use the word that year. That was the end of ‘de­vir­ginized’ for the time be­ing. Af­ter a few years, this sor­did word will be re­vived which ex­plained why the feel­ing of be­trayal never went away. At that mo­ment though, I still felt re­duced into a thing in the past. A mem­ory, rel­e­vant only when there is a need to dig up his­tory and rum­mage through for­got­ten boxes. Fin­ished. I have never felt so down­graded in my en­tire ex­is­tence as a let­ter. So, I re­belled many times. Failed. Re­belled again. Failed some more. Re­belled even more. Wars were al­ways waged be­cause she mas­tered this for­eign lan­guage.

She mas­tered it be­cause she was re­peat­edly told that it was the gate­way to suc­cess. It was sup­pos­edly her key to a lu­cra­tive life in the land where the pas­tures were be­lieved to be greener.

She first started us­ing it at home, and then re­fined her skills in school. She used it most care­fully when it was oblig­a­tory like in ex­am­i­na­tions, shows, and fam­ily gath­er­ings; which were ac­tu­ally one and the same if you scru­ti­nize it metic­u­lously. Ex­am­i­na­tions, shows, and gath­er­ings in her fam­ily are all the same ba­nana. She used it more of­ten than I would have wanted as the years passed. In fact, she be­came more flu­ent in this for­eign lan­guage than her own na­tive tongue. And ev­ery chance I got, I re­belled with enough in­dig­na­tion by mak­ing her speak Bisaya. Some­times, when she was in the mid­dle of con­vers­ing in English, when she was caught un­aware, or was an­i­mated by some­thing, I coaxed my old friends to band with me and we vaulted out of her mouth. We banded to form words that can only be rec­og­nized as Bisaya.

Gi­atay. Lit­sugas. Amaw. Yati. Puryagaba. Labad. Unya. Hur­rah! We be­came ninja let­ters and there was vic­tory in watch­ing her eyes bulge while she cov­ered her mouth.

“Oh, you’re Bisaya!?” some lis­ten­ers would com­ment. And some­how, I felt some­thing stir in her in­nards. Some­thing al­most re­sem­bling shame and it rum­bles on when her lis­ten­ers would talk in whis­pers, eye­ing her, feel­ing more su­pe­rior. Ap­par­ently, for th­ese lis­ten­ers, if you speak Bisaya then that means you are not from Manila; to state it even more cal­lously, you are not from Lu­zon. If you spoke Bisaya, you might be from Cebu and Cebu is some­how tol­er­a­ble, be­cause peo­ple from im­pe­rial Manila take va­ca­tions there and it is filled with beau­ti­ful beaches. But, if you speak Bisaya and hailed from Min­danao, that is even worst for th­ese lis­ten­ers. Au­to­mat­i­cally, they will think of maids, helpers and nan­nies.

And this was where the shame in her in­nards were rooted from, even though the thoughts of th­ese lis­ten­ers is in the wrong, even though there is also noth­ing amiss with work­ing as a house­maid or a care­giver to chil­dren and old peo­ple. Big­otry, in­tro­duced by peo­ple around her, taught her to be wrongly ashamed.

“Oh your ac­cent is barely there,” they will con­tinue to com­pli­ment her, and some­how this made her feel bet­ter. So, I make her lapses more reg­u­lar just to spite her for feel­ing shame­ful when there was no need to, for los­ing that pride. “Dah! Dah!” I would de­clare ev­ery time. I only re­al­ized later that by lay­ing those traps, I buried her in that grave of shame even deeper than it was first dug for. Not be­cause what I did was wrong, but be­cause the peo­ple sur­round­ing her wickedly dic­tated that she grew up in the wrong side of the coun­try. Not all of them though thought the same way. There were some who dis­agreed with this men­tal­ity. The quiet some. The some who also rec­og­nized the burn of that shame be­cause they know it should not be there. The some who never raised their fists in de­fi­ance even if in­jus­tice was served in plat­ters to those who did not be­long in their cir­cles. The silent spec­ta­tors who kept mum be­cause they do not want their con­ve­nient cages rat­tled. Some. I will rebel against th­ese ‘some’ one day. When she is older, more ex­pe­ri­enced, an­grier. For now, there are only the traps.

Did you ever have the urge to clear your throat or sud­denly feel that your nor­mally rested tongue starts fid­get­ing? That’s our do­ing. Let­ters in ju­bi­la­tion, skit­tling from your oral cav­i­ties to your brain, and then back again. She thinks she is in con­trol? Know this, we – the let­ters – we let her take rein be­cause we al­low it. It is as sim­ple as that. But in worst times, when I am set on pe­nal­iz­ing her, I in­sti­gate a re­volt amongst my fel­low let­ters. The re­volt then caused so much may­hem that let­ters ei­ther no longer knew what or­der to fol­low or they would refuse to get in line. Think of protest ral­lies. Yes, those peo­ple march­ing in the streets who ended up some­where – like in front of a gov­ern­ment of­fice – with plac­ards, shout­ing at the top of their lungs about end­ing some in­jus­tice of some sort and then would be dis­persed by wa­ter can­nons by the po­lice. The re­volts I in­sti­gated re­sults sim­i­larly to those dis­per­sals.

As an af­ter­math, two things would hap­pen – si­lence or mind­less mut­ter­ing, but peo­ple phrased the ex­pe­ri­ence as tonguetied, in­co­her­ence of thoughts, or plain stu­pid­ity. If one tries to re­gain con­trol, saliva spurts from the mouth un­con­trol­lably.

This was when she learned to talk in hushed tones. She learned the im­por­tance of not need­ing to be heard all the time. To keep mum when you are un­cer­tain about some­thing or some­one. To choose when to speak, where to speak, and how. To talk in whis­pers and scheme like gos­sip­mon­gers. Many times, in the fu­ture though when she is older, she will fail. Mostly in­ten­tion­ally, without my do­ing.

(Den Ramonal has a de­gree in Speech Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mi­nor in Theater arts at the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines. A proud Dabawenya, she has al­ways in­cor­po­rated her love for the per­form­ing arts that ad­vo­cates the in­dige­nous cul­ture of the Philip­pines with all her work. Cur­rently, she is a re­cip­i­ent of the Eras­mus Mun­dus +’s Chore­o­mundus - In­ter­na­tional Mas­ter in Dance Knowl­edge, Prac­tice, and Her­itage)

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