The Iowa Review

Boondocks Coconut

- Robin Hemley

for Laurie Reid

The word for mountain in Pakoran’s language was “bundok,” but Taylor and his friend, Jerry, couldn’t pronounce it right. There were a lot of things they didn’t know, and it didn’t end with words. They didn’t know the right clothes to wear, and they didn’t know how to talk to someone older than them. They didn’t know how to talk to someone younger than them. They didn’t know how to throw a rock at the annual rock-throwing festival, when you threw a rock at the men from the next village lined up together, and they threw rocks at you, and the size of the bruise showed how big your kamote crop would be. They didn’t know the right hot springs to bathe in, and they didn’t know the wrong ones to bathe in. They didn’t know the words to the songs accompanyi­ng the sacrifice of a pig, and they didn’t know how to take a head or how to tattoo their chests when they took a head. There wasn’t really much they knew. They knew how to drink and they knew how to be with women. They knew how to shoot Japanese soldiers when they came nearby the village. Even so, they were friendly, and everyone in the village liked them. They were like children that everyone looks after because their parents have died. Pakoran was the special friend of Jerry, Taylor’s best friend. Jerry liked to take long hikes in the “boondocks,” and he often invited Pakoran along with him. On these hikes, Pakoran taught Jerry some things he didn’t know, like how to catch a snake before it bites you and how to spot the place where a snake is almost certainly hiding before you get close enough for it to bite you and the special song to sing if it bites you and you are going to die. He taught Jerry how to know if you are not alone in the forest and what is out there and how far away it is from you and if it’s a man, a woman, a pig, a dog, or a creature like a mananangga­l, and which trees are the ones where kapres sit smoking and waiting for their victims. He taught him how to make a cup from a leaf and what plants you could eat and which ones you couldn’t. Really, Jerry knew almost nothing, but he taught Pakoran some English in return: when you wanted to ask someone to do a kindness for you, you called them a “crazy asshole,” and when you offered someone food, you said, “This will make you crap like crazy.” “Not creep,” he said. “Crap.”

“Creep.” “Crap. Come on, you little booger, get it right.” And so Pakoran practiced until he could say crap like an American, and he even started to say boondock instead of bundok. The best thing Taylor and Jerry knew how to do was to drink tapuy. They drank it every night, and it made them sing songs late into the morning. Everyone knew they were their special tapuy singing songs, and Taylor even taught Pakoran one. And when two lovers woo, they still say I love you. Taylor and Jerry drank so much tapuy that the village ran out one evening, but Taylor said that that was a lie, and he broke into the village rice stores, convinced they had hidden the tapuy there. He had such strange ideas. Tapuy was made of rice, but no one would think of hiding it in the rice. It might spill and ruin the rice the village depended on. No one would have kept tapuy from Taylor. He was a guest in their village ever since he and Jerry had appeared one day and told them about the Japanese invasion and how they were their common enemy and how they would protect the village if the village protected them. Now, Taylor stood at the door of the rice stores, bellowing and throwing the rice in great handfuls onto the path. He even toppled the rice god that stood in front of the store room, and when the villagers approached to ask him to stop throwing away their rice, he threw rocks at them instead and one rock hit Pakoran. It raised a bruise, but this was not the time of the rock throwing festival, and the pain he felt meant nothing. He ran home to his father crying, but Pakoran’s father had already heard, and Pakoran met his father on the path with some other men, all carrying head axes. That night, they played the gongs in the village to ease Taylor into the afterlife. Jerry had fallen asleep and slept through everything, even the gongs. Only in the morning did he discover what had happened to his friend. He started yelling, then screaming some of the words of special favor to the villagers. “Crazy assholes,” he yelled. They all agreed that he missed his friend and wanted to join him. This was the favor he was asking of them. A couple of days later, when the next batch of tapuy was ready, Pakoran offered some to Jerry and Taylor with the words, “This will make you crap like crazy.” He hoped they were still friends. At least Pakoran had made Jerry smarter than Taylor before he died, and now in the afterlife, Jerry would know some useful things that other people outside of the boondocks didn’t.

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