Egul’s head hang when he was tied to the post. He was still unconscious. Agawe could see Egul clearly from where he was. He could also see the dead man lying on a mat in the floor. The body was surrounded with flowers and dressed in the most beautiful clothes he had ever seen.
He must be a datu, Agawe thought. He looked around to check that no one could see him. He was hidden from view by thick bamboo poles piled high under the house. He could only see a little inside the house through a slit in the bamboo wall.
His eyes never left Egul who started to regain consciousness. Agawe heard some chanting or praying going on. He noticed people coming up the short stairs. Scared that they could see him, he crouched lower.
Then he heard a scream. He looked through the slit again and froze at what he saw. People were stabbing the screaming Egul with their short knives called gal-lat.
“No… please no… stop..! Have mercy….” Agawe heard Egul crying and pleading but no one listened.
Everyone who came up the house stabbed Egul who screamed at every thrust of the small knives until his blood-curdling scream became fainter and fainter.
Egul bled and his shorts soaked in blood. Agawe cried. He was helpless. He couldn’t do anything for his friend. He slowly moved away.
Suddenly, he heard a voice, “You! Who are you?”
Agawe turned and saw a man unsheathing his sword as he bounded down the stairs. Agawe ran as he had never ran before. His heart pounding as he raced through the abaca plantation. When voices got nearer, he cut through the thick bushes with no regard for the twigs slapping his face and the thick vines pulling at his arms and tearing his flesh.
He got to a small clearing and he fell to the ground kneeling. He was panting as he looked up and cried to the heavens, “Manama… Manama…” He wanted to scream but all he could manage was a whimper. Weak from anguish, he slumped forward sobbing.
The sound of horses’ hooves mobilized him into action. He darted from the clearing and found himself going down a steep and narrow pathway. He could hear the sound of water. At the bottom of the steep hill was a stream of clear water. He rushed to the water but as he looked up the hill, he changed his mind. He jumped from rock to rock until he found one large enough to hide him from view. He scooped water with his hands and drank from it. He splashed water on his face and he felt the searing pain on his arms and neck but the water cooled his spirit. He kept splashing water on his face. He did not want to stop. It was something he needed to do to forget what he saw back there. When at last he stopped, he leaned back exhausted on the large rock. He sobbed uncontrollably.
I need to get a grip of myself, Agawe thought. I need to go home.
He pulled himself up and again jumped from rock to rock until he got back to the bushes. He crept slowly, ears straining for any human or animal sound.
It was dark when he reached their hut. Outside the hut his mother, Lungkayan was sitting on the ground. She stood up when she saw him.
“Agawe, where have you been?”
“Egul was not a gift, Innà… they killed him!”
“What? How did you know?” Lungkayan pulled him inside their hut.
Agawe sat on the bamboo cot. “I … followed … them…” he said catching his breath.
“Manama… are you out of your mind?” his mother hissed. “They did not see you?”
“They chased me …”
“Ay, Manama!” She looked up as she called on their supreme being. “They will kill you!” she screamed.
He ignored his mother’s hysterics. “Innà… it was horrible,” Agawe sobbed like a child as he watched his Innà move around the hut.
Lungkayan took a shirt and an old tinalak shorts from a woven basket. “Here, get into these… ” She turned to her kitchen where a black pot stood on a stone stove while Agawe got into dry clothes in the corner. She blew on the coals. They glowed and burst into flame. She stood there for sometime before she took the pot by its wooden handle and poured hot liquid into a tin cup. She handed the cup to Agawe and sat next to him. “Agawe, tell me what you did…”
After a few sips, Agawe started, “Egul and I agreed to go to the stream this morning so I went to their hut but I was scared when I saw people with horses. I hid in the bushes and watched as they took Egul away. They left two horses with his father and they gave him money. I knew Egul did not want to go because he kept looking back.”
His mother was silent.
“Why did his father sell Egul, Innà?”
“It’s not our business, Agawe…” sha snapped. “Why did you follow them?”
“Egul is my friend…”
“Do you know that if they saw you, they would take you, too?”
“I was careful… they did not see me at first…”
“Manama… tell me what happened next.”
“They were walking and talking to Egul like they were all friends. I cannot hear them but I was afraid to go nearer… I was happy that they were treating Egul nice. I thought I would go back but I wanted to see where they would take him so I can visit him sometime.”
“You are foolish, Agawe…”
“They stopped at a clearing and they all sat down. They were laughing together. Then the one holding a heavy piece of wood stood up and suddenly hit Egul on the head.” Agawe shuddered and started to cry. “Egul fell on the ground and I… I was too scared.”
Lungkayan breathed a prayer. “Then you ran?”
“They put Egul in a sack and carried him … so I followed them.”
“What? Agawe… what did you do? Do you want to die?” Lungkayan became hystrical.
“Innà… I want to know where all the al-langs go when they are taken from here… what happens to them, why they don’t come back! Innà, I have to tell Egul’s father.”
“No, Agawe! Let him believe that Egul is serving a young master… that his son is part of a wedding dowry.”
“But Innà, he needs to know the truth…”
“For us al-langs, Agawe… we need to believe that our sons are treated well when they are taken from us. That is how we survive … we hear stories…” Lungkayan took a deep breath and continued, “but we console ourselves that it’s not our son… it will not happen to our son…”
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