Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

(Dedicated to my friend Dr. ‘Lala’ Morales, who always brings joy into a hospital room, to Ms.Joelyn Tolera and my erstwhile pinay colleagues at Cyryx, and to all my friends from the Republika ng Pilipinas. )

Red Horse and Sam Miguels ran in close competition as the lone, old man watched the young living it up. His face inscrutable, he drained his Lambanog, blew his last ring of Hope smoke into the hazy air, and left the noise and clammy heat of the local dive. Ignoring the obvious convenience of a jeepney, he walked briskly into the dark night. Had the young revelers in the bar been watching him, they would have said that he walked almost like a teenager. They would have also said that he had the air of someone who was not a local. But, no one was watching him in particular. Except….

“Hallo there! Now, what barangay are you from?” The voice had a peculiarly warm boom, not quite pinoy as the locals called themselves, not quite Spanish as the accent first seemed to indicate. “Looking for local hospitality, my friend?”

The old man looked around, looked at the glowing tip of his cigarette, sighed, looked around again and saw no one. He muttered under his breath, “Lambanog must have been spiked tonight…”

“No! Your drink was perfectly fine. And you are going the wrong way, hombre!” The voice laughed. It appeared to be coming from a sprawling balete tree on the side of the road, its limp aerial roots reaching for the ground like dead snakes.

Suddenly the man remembered the story of the mythical Kapre, the pipe-smoking giant of the forest who would often send unwary travelers in the wrong direction. “Hey whoever you are, you can’t fool me. I don’t believe in the Kapre. So tell me, who are you? What do you want from me?”

“But I am Kapre!”

“No, you can’t be. Should not be…. Explain yourself!” The old man commanded, willing enough to play a game with any perverted prankster, mugger or drunk that sought to find entertainment in fool an old man. “You see, the Kapre was a fictitious, mythical being. Only sick fools believe in him these days.”

“But I am Kapre!” The voice insisted. There was a tinge of sadness in it now.

“All right! I will humor you for once. Tell me of yourself!” The old man threw away the butt of his cigarette and lit a new one.

“Born of someone else’s tortured mind, I came into this world. Seed of a dark mind’s opium-induced hallucination, I took my first breath. Fed on the faithless fright of murky, moonless nights, I grew. Forced into permanence in the beliefs, traditions and beliefs of my original weakling maker, I lived on! Corralled into the crafty hands of wily chieftains and unwillingly serving their need to control many affairs of the night over gullible subjects, I became useful. On a parallel plane, I saw the local manananggal carry out their acts of horror in the night and I attained fond recognition, perhaps for my comparative benevolence. I kept growing in splendor and might as I attained fame, power and omnipresence. Those were days when sane men accepted the false Mandate of Heaven and fought for the glory of vain monarchs who reigned half a world away!”

The old man stood there, hands in his pockets, smiling at the shadows of the old balete tree.

“Today, I still exist. To some, I am the same Kapre of a half-century ago. I am still an unwilling tool in the hands of the crafty and the wily who would use the Unseen Powers of the Night to command, control and exploit. To the greater majority, I have become a slightly over-large, relatively powerless denizen of a peasant’s forest, to be ridiculed in comparison to the gory deeds of assorted neighborhood aswang who could, after all, do more spectacular, more terrible things than redraw the mental maps of a hapless passer-by. In reality today, my only real fetters are those that chain me to the sincere belief of a child who is forced to stay indoors by parents who find my existence a simple matter of convenience and nothing more. Thus, I am still destined to smoke my nocturnal pipe and cling to the serpentine roots of an otherwise-innocent banyan.”

“Why don’t you go away and be nothing? Why do you still try to be what you can never be?” Asked the old man, no longer sure of his conviction in the absence of Kapre.

“If that little child, last sincere believer in me, doubts my existence, I shall finally be set free from my spirit, my form, my power, my name, even the need for my existence. I shall be happy to go into a state of non-being for that is what I really am: If I can lay any claim to that last word. The only thing that I would miss, perhaps, would be the heady aroma of the heavenly tobacco in my eternal pipe!”

“So…?” asked the old man with the white hair and the sun-creased face.

“Until then, I am Kapre, the All-Powerful, Big Man of the Night! And I shall try to make you lose your way as I am supposed to!” The voice had regained its boom once again!

“Begone, you nonexistent figment of my supposedly fertile imagination! Begone, you poor unwilling assistant of those who frighten old ladies, fanatic young men and little children into submission! Begone, you poor, poor tobacco-addict of the night! I laugh at you!”

The old man had not spoken in a voice that a human being would have heard. He reached into the hip pocket of his safari shorts and took out a small flask. He took a swig of whatever was in it, grimaced and spat in the dirt.

“Damn this Lambanog!” He said as he walked into the darkness with the gait of a healthy teenager.

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  • mysterystar  On February 3, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Who is really Kapre! Why do I see the similarity of In Kapre and the old man.They both smoke! Both have got depressive side of life……..Thank you for sharing this story

    • ldive  On February 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm

      Hmmm! I wondered how I would have to wait before someone came up with that observation! So, now….. Who made whom, what was modeled after what, who is real and who is not… a whole heap of questions, right? Agreed, Star?

      • mysterystar  On February 12, 2011 at 3:50 am

        Read the story again and thought I will wait for someone else to come up with an observation.Bless you!

  • silentfingers  On February 10, 2011 at 3:34 am

    ‘”I kept growing in splendor and might as I attained fame, power and omnipresence. Those were days when sane men accepted the false Mandate of Heaven and fought for the glory of vain monarchs who reigned half a world away!” … How I enjoyed this humorously sardonic piece of writing 🙂

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