“All of history–and all stories–eventually collide.
That is how the Great Laon creates new worlds.”
—From an old script written on bamboo, found in Ilog, Negros Island
In the old days, when the last of the encantosand diwatas had yet to abandon our everyday realm–banished first by an invasion of Spanish cafres and duendes, and then by the sheer forgetfulness of a people too fascinated by the pomp and gilded guilt of Christian ritual–there lived a girl named Epefania. She was rather plain-looking but she was capable of the most romantic dreams.
Such was the occupation of her fabled life. There are many versions (some would say chapters) of her tale which incredibly spans centuries, all of them differing greatly in detail and circumstances, but all sharing the same tendency to dramatize her embroidered stories of love found, and eventually, love lost.
In one ancient story, she was the young woman who chided away the sun and the moon and the stars toward the quiet safety of faraway firmaments, where they were not deafened by her endless tales of woe and heartbreak. The world then was a place of mist: the clouds hung low to the ground, and the sun, moon, and stars were all within easy reach–their heat scorching the earth that, in most days, people took to caves and underground crevices to hide from the deathly oppression of the heavenly bodies. Epefania, who had only her heartbreaks to talk about, eventually ran out of willing ears to share her romantic commiserations: in the end, she only had the sun, moon, and stars to turn to for company–until they, too, flew away from her tales, to the dark reaches above, where they found the quiet humming of the cosmos a more suitable residence.
In another story, she was an obscure village nuisance whom most ancient storytellers believed to be an insignificant twit serving no gravity to the epic narrative she figured in; they subsequently purged her name from their regular accounting of the tale, and replaced with the passable mythology of a father-figure. But the earliest surviving strands of the same story spoke of Epefania as the woman whose suffocating love finally drove the Manobo hero Baybayan away into adventure around the world, seven times, where he prospered in his long journey by singing old stories from his ancient land to the peoples of Bharat, the Middle Kingdom of Ch’in, Oyashima, Ur, Egypt, Nubia, Hellas, Vinland, and Mesoamerica. In his travels, Baybayan sang of Lam-ang who was swallowed by the giant fish berkahan, which became the Hebrew story of Jonah and the whale. He sang of the kidnapping of the sea maiden Humitau by Lord Aponi-to-lau, a depraved act which unleashed the wrath of the sea god Tau-mari-u who proceeded to let loose a great deluge on all the land, which also became the story of Noah and the Great Flood. He sang of the virgin birthing of gigantic heroes, which became the Babylonian story of Semiramis and her son Nimrod.
Back in the rugged mountains of Bukidnon, Epefania sang of her love for Baybayan, until she became like the dusk and disappeared into a mango tree.
Somebody once pointed it out to me that if you think hard about these early stories, a young woman and her unwanted heartbreak stories thus created a livable universe out of heavenly chaos; and also spurred the creation of world literature by sending adrift, and armed with old stories, an unwilling participant in her dreams for romance. Heartbreak, it can be said, is the precursor to creation.
In this particular story, which I first heard in Negros as a latter-day sugilanon from tipsy men made loquacious by tuba (a drink for sturdy men) and eager to share their gift of drunken hyperbole, Epefania falls in love with the handsomest boy in town–and almost destroyed the universe.
When the sugilanon begins, she was growing up in Old Tolong, a town in the southern end of the island of Buglas (which would latter be renamed Negros by the conquistadores). The house she lived in was at the very heart of the small town. It was a modest, wooden box on stilts, though it had germelina planks cobbled together in haphazard fashion to make a singular staircase that rose from the powdery dust of the ground to a small landing on one side of the house. Inside the house, everything else was spartan, and rotting: the small bedrooms–partitions, really, separated from each other by cloth–had the musty air of old wood and termites, and the kitchen sink beside the apog–the table of hardened ash that was the repository of all their cooking–threatened to give way from the years of concentrated and constant wetness.
Epefania was born in this house many years earlier to Bebang, who never once screamed, or changed expression, when she delivered the child one night without the usual aid of the mananambal, and with only the nervous ministration of Old Woman Intan, Epefania’s maternal grandmother. Old Woman Intan had hurriedly readied swaddling clothes, a jar of hot water, and a kuling, a cutting instrument with diabolic metal swirls used in the ritual of cutting a newborn’s umbilical cord.
It was also here, some years later, that Bebang, had been “spirited away”–according to the storytellers–by the encanto who lived in the big mango tree which shadowed the old house. Bebang had been a beautiful woman, chinky-eyed and fair, with long, dark, sinuous hair. She had gone to feed the chickens one late afternoon, and though it was a breezeless day, the tree had swooned and stooped towards the young woman. And then she was gone, leaving only her bakya on the ground.
Old Woman Intan was bereft. She cursed all encantosfor their romantic whimsies, and stared with sad eyes at the young Epefania who stood mute before her, absorbing the strange turning of the days. Intan was already a widow in the waning years of life, and Bebang was her only daughter. She looked at Epefania, and thought, What happens to you when I am gone? Who can take care of you?
Some storytellers insist that this point in the narrative marked the first time magic touched Epefania–and one particular version tells of the young girl feeling something surging and growing at the back of her head. Was it an echo? Was it a whisper? Then she realized she was hearing her grandmother’s thoughts. She turned to the old woman, and with a firmness that belied her young years (because it didn’t seem fitting for one so young), said: “I can take care of myself, grandmother. And if need be, there will always be love to watch over me.”
In the story, Epefania was only ten when the encanto had taken her mother. It was her first taste of what abandonment felt like–like bitter gourd left to rot in the hot sun. It unleashed in her a craving for affection so great that it turned her eyes a deeper black, and full of concentrated want. Epefania needed to grasp and hoard whatever caught her fancy. To let go of anything would leave her tasting abandonment yet again.
The small family of the old woman and the young girl managed to survive. They kept mostly to themselves making and selling baye-baye, a local cake delicacy made of sticky rice and coconut pounded to a textured firmness which tasted like honeydew. Their baye-baye was popular in Old Tolong, and kept them from becoming beggars. The secret of Intan’s baye-baye, according to some storytellers, was the dollop of tuba added to the mix before grinding rice and coconut into a paste.
It was part of Epefania’s daily chores to buy the tumbler of oil to light the lamps in their old, dilapidated house in the poblacion. At the end of each day, Old Woman Intan would sit in her wobbly chair beside the open window, the view of nearby banana stalks obscuring the slowly setting sun. And when she felt that the afternoon sun had from the way the shadows fell on the banana leaves, she would call Epefania to her side, hand her three silver coins, and say, “Paning, here are three silver fronds. Hurry up before Tiyay closes, or else we will not have light tonight.” And Epefania would walk to Tiyay’s tiny shop around the next bend, not too far away from the old house.
And during one such errand, something happened that was to change her life forever.
Night always came quickly in Old Tolong, like iron drawn by a magnet. Some storytellers said that the town contained a mysterious force that pulled in everything: the cool air from the top of Cuernos de Negros that eased the unbearable humidity of the endless summers; the friendly winds that kept at bay the threat of the torrential monsoons called the walo-walo(rains that lasted eight days or double that); the puffy clouds that shielded the town from the sheer weight of the sun which threatened to shrivel the food crops to rotting yellow, and the soil to patches of hard cracked earth; and the moon that kept the waves in check, and prevented them from eating up in bits and pieces the town’s sandy beach. The endless exertions of these friendly elements, of course, rendered the town quite habitable.
One day, Epefania went on her regular errand to Tiyay’s store. But the middle-aged woman was not there. In fact, the store was closed. And guarding the door to Tiyay’s small house was a youth of breathtaking beauty: a tall young man with taut muscles that rippled with every movement of his lean frame. His face, while manly and angular, was not harsh or rough; and his skin, though exquisitely tanned, was not coarsened by too much sun, like the boys Epefania knew. There was an innocence to him that struck the young girl with a power that she could not name. It was a force that bordered on the carnal. And for the first time she sensed a tingling in her armpits, in her breasts, in the delta between her legs. She did not realize that, at fifteen, she was ripe as a seasoned mango, ready to be plucked.
For a moment, Epefania could not speak. When she dared to open her mouth, her own voice sounded disembodied. “I need to buy oil from Tiyay,” she mumbled.
“Nanay Tiyay is not here,” the young man said. “She has gone to the next town to consult the rooster that people say can foretell the future.”
“But it is almost night-time, and I need my oil,” she insisted.
“What is your name?”
She was surprised by the question, and suddenly felt shy. “My name? My name is Epefania.”
When he did not say anything else, she thought to ask him something, to gain time while she took in the whole sight of him. “Who are you? I have never seen you around here before.”
“I am Tiyay’s son. I’ve been away for a while, on a journey through the seven kingdoms of the world. People call me Bangbangin.”
“That’s a strange name for a boy.”
“No more strange than Epefania,” he smiled.
She felt her face turning beet red. “I still need my oil,” she said finally. “My grandmother has given me three silver coins so I may fill this small flask. Look, here they are,” and she opened her palms.
The boy hesitated, but when he looked at Epefania’s eyes, he was startled by the deep, unfathomable want in them, and knew it could not be refused. “My… my mother…,” he stammered, “will be sure to reprimand me–but all right, I’ll open her store. Just this once. I certainly do not want you or your grandmother to pass the night in the cloak of darkness.”
“Daghang salamat,” she said, thanking him, and offered him her flask.
Epefania gazed mutely at the young man while he opened the store. She took in the tallness of him, the beads of sweat around his nape, the tension of the muscles in the small of his back. When Bangbangin took the flask from her hands, he could not tell that they were trembling. But when his flesh touched hers, the very air that surrounded them quivered.
The people of Old Tolong would mark that night as the first and only time they would see a (sudden) manifestation of northern lights in the darkening tropical skies: the alien aurora borealis snaked through the night clouds in translucent green and red, and wavered briefly through the atmosphere above the town, descending soon into the trees near Tiyay’s house, disappearing just as quickly as it had appeared.
But neither Bangbangin nor Epefania noticed anything out of the ordinary. He simply filled the flask with a generous helping of oil, and she took it back, offering the boy the three coins, which he in turn refused. Then she hurried down the road back to her house. Before she disappeared in the shadows of the next bend, she looked back at the boy, and knew that her heart wanted him.
Of course, some townspeople took the strange quivering light in the sky as a thing of immense beauty, and went out of their houses to marvel and gaze. Others took it as an omen for coming disaster. Sometimes it pays to be a pessimist. For the light did presage disaster.
That night, Epefania stood over her grandmother who was sleeping in her wobbly chair beside the window. When the young girl closed the windows the old woman awoke with a start. She saw Epefania’s face and was troubled. There was something there, spreading from the darkness of her eyes that did not bode well. “Are you all right, hija?” she asked.
“I have found what my heart wants,” Epefania replied simply.
“Is it a boy?”
“It is my future.”
Epefania said nothing more and went to fill every lamp with her oil. Soon the house was bright with a strange orange glow. The lamplight lasted through the night, and into the morning. When dawn came, Old Woman Intan woke up to extinguish the lamps, but found that no matter how much she tried, and no matter how much air she blew from her lungs, the flames would not die. She quickly evoked Laon’s name, and went to see her granddaughter. Epefania was asleep on her bed, but on her face, instead of the innocence of slumber, there was the bright determination of one who was willing captive to the uncertain promises of the heart.
That day, when Epefania walked to Tiyay’s house on her daily errand, she found Tiyay herself, and not the beautiful young man. For the briefest moment, Epefania’s heart sank. But soon, she was filled with a resolve she herself did not recognize. “Manang Tiyay, where is your son?”
“Bangbangin is helping his father till the soil for the planting season. How is your lola? Have you come to get your three silver coins’ worth of oil?”
“Yes,” Epefania said, “but I have also come to tell your son that my heart beats only for him.”
Tiyay did not know whether to laugh or to get angry at such a pronouncement. Curiosity kept her rooted to the spot. She recognized the plea behind the girl’s abruptness and frankness. The announcement–plain and simply declared without even a hint of trepidation–sounded ridiculous but truthful. And coming from the mouth of such a young girl! How old was she? Perhaps only fourteen harvests? Perhaps not even that? The young should not be allowed to speak with such forcefulness, and especially about matters of the heart! Tiyay thought. What does a young girl know of the heart’s secret wants? Does she know that Love had a sinister twin, which is Heartbreak? Only the wisdom of the years could prepare one for the gravity that love demanded, or the grimness that heartbreak caused.
“You shouldn’t say such things,” Tiyay finally said.
“But I speak the truth.”
“Nonsense. Go to sleep, and perhaps you will wake from this foolishness.”
“I don’t understand. I only know that I love your son.”
Tiyay took Epefania’s flask, and quickly filled it. “Here’s your oil, Paning. Now, go home.”
Epefania had not gone two meters when she turned around and looked back at Tiyay. “I love your son,” she repeated. “And I will have him.”
“Go home, before I take this broom, and spank you,” Tiyay said. “Nothing will come of this. Not until Cuernos de Negros stops sending its cool air over Tolong. Not until the winds cease to chase away the walo-walo. Not until the clouds disappear. Not until someone steals the moonlight from the night. The world has to stop spinning before I grant your foolish romantic wish!”
And Epefania replied, “I shall come back, when I have persuaded the world to stop spinning.”
When she went home that night, the orange light still burned.
Early the next morning, Epefania said goodbye to Old Woman Intan and set out to the nearby mountains on foot. It was a journey of only half a day because Old Tolong was nestled in a narrow strip that connected, or divided, the sea and the mountain ranges of Cuernos de Negros. She did not feel tired, not even when the thickness of the jungle pricked and scraped her skin, nor when the stones were replaced by monstrous boulders, and her feet and knees stained the earth with blood. The cool breeze from the mountain tops made the going bearable, and while she sometimes stumbled, she only had to stand up, regain her footing, breathe in the freshness, and feel her body quickening with new resolve. She had prepared simply for the trip, taking only a jar of water, a small bar of the thickest baye-baye wrapped in banana leaves, and a sturdy branch–no, a big twig–from the mango tree that had swallowed her mother.
Epefania trudged on until she felt the noon sun high above her, casting short shadows everywhere. When the air soon became thin, she knew she was nearing the foot of the mountains. She slowed her pace. Then she poked gently at the soil here and there, until she found a spot that was a perfect amalgam of clay and stone. There, she began digging with her twig. And as she dug, she sang:
Didto sa amo, ang akong kasingkasing gahilak:
Hinaot unta, Kan Laon, nga imong dunggon ang akong pagbati.
Ingna ang bukid nga dili na sya mohuyop ug hangin.
(From where I am, my heart sheds profuse tears:
I implore Kan Laon, god of the mountain, to hear my plea,
And tell the mountains not to send the cooling breeze.)
There was a sigh from the hole in the ground, and in her thoughts she heard the mountains grumbling and shifting in the distance. She knew that she had done what she came to do, and began to set out for home.
But the trip was different this time. The mountain breeze no longer blew. In its place there was a creeping, heavy humidity. Everything seemed steep in sweat: trees, blades of grass, soil, insects, birds, animals… Soon, Epefania, too, felt parched. Just when she felt that she was about to pass out she realized she was finally home.
Old Tolong sweated all day long. Soon the reports came: some old people and small animals were dying. “There is no breeze anywhere,” someone remarked. “Nonsense,” somebody else said, “Cuernos de Negros has always sent us a cooling breeze. This will soon pass.”
But it did not.
Epefania wearily set out for Tiyay’s house where the old woman glowered at her while feverishly fanning herself. And yet, no matter how much Tiyay tried, nothing came of her exertions. There was no cooling air, even from the fan.
Epefania said to Tiyay, “I have done what you told me I must accomplish to calm my heart. Cuernos de Negros no longer breathes. And I love your son.”
But Tiyay only glowered some more. Then she got up in a huff, and threw away her useless fan, which joined a heap of other fans on the ground. Epefania turned to go home, where the orange light burned even brighter.
The next day, she woke up early, and said goodbye to Old Woman Intan. “Don’t do anything more, Paning,” her grandmother said. “We can barely breathe. Don’t bend too much to the will of an unreasonable heart.”
But the young girl did not reply. She only knew that there was a chasm in her heart that needed filling, and that fulfillment came with a name. She set out for the nearby seas, bringing with her another jar of water and another packet of baye-baye to sustain her on the short journey, as well as a small bag of mango leaves she had taken from the yard, which she had grounded into the finest powder.
She was tired when she arrived at the shore because Old Tolong was still sweltering and no matter how much she drank from her small jar of water, the humidity clung to her body, and dried her throat. When she reached the nearest beach, the sound of the lapping sea waves against the stretch of sand was hypnotic. They seemed to echo the strange beating of her heart.
Epefania opened the packet that contained the powdered leaves, and felt their coarseness on the thin skin of her palms. She stared into the horizon for a few moments, and when she felt the time was right, she cupped them, brought her fists close to her face, and then she began to sing softly into the cavern of her hands:
Didto sa amo, ang akong kasingkasing gahilak:
Hinaot unta, Tau-mari-u, nga imong dunggon ang akong pagbati.
Ingna ang mga hangin sa tibuok kalibutan nga dili na sila mohunong sa ulan.
(From where I am, my heart shreds profuse tears:
I implore Tau-mari-u, god of the sea, to hear my plea,
And tell the winds from all around never to stop sending the rain.)
Then she flung the ground leaves into the air.
There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere–certainly not wind. The sky seemed to compress itself into an indescribable denseness, and suddenly there were torrents pouring everywhere. It seemed like a malignant rain that fell in sheets, in cataracts. But the waters did not rise. Nor was there any wind, only driving rain. Everything in Old Tolong was drenched. And still the heat and humidity clung like a curse.
The townfolk were unprepared for the strange behavior of the world around them. “It’s Laon!” they shouted. “We must have insulted the old mountain god with our devotion to the white man’s saints!” And so, each one knelt in the direction of the northern volcano where the old mountain god slept, paying no heed to the girl passing by. If they had seen Epefania, they would have wondered about the strong, fearful aura tinged with red that sprang from her face. She was on her way back to Tiyay’s house, and never thought once over her skin crinkling in the unbearable combination of wetness and humidity.
The old woman was waiting for her. Still she did not speak. But now in her face was a kind of confusion. Epefania said, “Cuernos de Negros no longer breathes, and the walo-walohas come. I love your son.”
Tiyay did not say anything. She got up in a huff, and went into her house. Epefania turned to go home, where the orange light burned even brighter.
The rain had not stopped the next morning when Epefania woke up. Her grandmother was nowhere to be seen. Epefania went about her task with grimmer determination. She went to the mango tree and dug into the wet soil, and managed to grab a handful of the tree’s roots, soft tendrils still sticking out from the pulpy mass. This time, she did not have to go anywhere far. In a nearby nook–carved out from a gigantic rock that stood beside the old house–she found a dry spot where she could do her magic plea.
Epefania laid the roots on the dry ground shielded from the rain by some rocks and waited for the moisture in them to dry up. This took hours. When Epefania felt the time was right, she took two stones from the ground, and with just one smash, she created sparks that flew from the point of contact between the stones to the heap of roots. Suddenly there was a blaze, and the roots turned black in the consuming flame. Soon all that was left were embers. When the fire died down, the remaining embers let out a thick cloud of smoke. It drifted slowly upward, and wrapped itself around Epefania like an embrace. Epefania closed her eyes, and began to sing:
Didto sa amo, ang akong kasingkasing gahilak:
Hinaot unta, Lang-an sang Kadalayapan, nga imong dunggon ang akong pagbati.
Ingna ang mga panganod nga dili na sila mohunong sa kakusog sa adlaw.
(From where I am, my heart sheds profuse tears:
I implore Lang-an of Kadalayapan, goddess of the sky, to hear my plea,
And tell the clouds never to veil the heat of the sun.)
A long, preternatural shriek pierced the air. The rain suddenly seemed to buckle and pour from all directions. There was chaos all around. And in the midst of the rain, there was dazzling light. As the brightness intensified, the rain sputtered and hissed. It beat down in a rage.
Epefania remembered other days of sunlight and rain, but those days were gentle, the sun mellow in the sprinkle of soft rain. This time, there was only fury. The sun began to drop its weight on Old Tolong with such immensity that before one drop of rain could touch the ground it would fizzle into nothingness, evaporated by the ground’s heat, so the earth stayed parched and cracked. And even more incredibly, the air remained humid. The people of Old Tolong were not just bewildered but truly fearful. It was as if the heavens and the earth had gone mad, as if natural law and reason had given up. There was just this wild, utterly abandoned dance.
On the third day, the crops finally failed. The people had borne with some stoicism the deluge of the previous day, but with the earth suddenly empty of moisture, the farms of Old Tolong quickly became deserts, while only inches above, the monsoon fell hard yet never quite touched the ground to quench the overwhelming thirst of Tolong’s soil.
Tiyay was waiting for Epefania when she came, and still she did not speak. But now her face was shadowed by fear. “You do not know what you are doing, little girl,” Tiyay finally spoke. It was barely a whisper. The girl stood there, weak but resolute. “Cuernos de Negros no longer breathes, the walo-walohas come, and the sun has allowed itself to rage. I love your son.”
Tiyay did not reply. She got up, and entered her house. Epefania turned to go home, where the orange light burned even brighter.
Old Tolong was quiet when the fourth day came. The humidity had not abated, the rains had not stopped, and the sun shone brightly even at night. It chased the moon all night along, and finally, exhausted, the moon hid behind Cuernos de Negros.
Epefania had started her task early. She did not sleep. Her grandmother had yet to reappear, and she was beginning to worry. Still, she knew what she had to do–or else her own heart would overwhelm her.
She had taken note of the sun chasing the moon all night along, and had gotten up from her bed, proceeded to the mango tree that was now slowly withering, and plucked the remaining fruit sticking out from its shriveled branches. All the rest had yellowed out of season and had fallen, rotten, to the ground. Epefania took the fruit, laid it on a clay plate, and left it where it absorbed into its yellowing fibers the beams of the racing moon.
When morning came, the moon had settled into its hiding place and the sun still glowered balefully in the sky (growing more blinding by the hour). Epefania walked sluggishly towards the spot she had left the mango fruit, and saw that it was ready. She waited for nightfall. The eighteenth hour of the day finally came, and while there was no trace of twilight because of the stubborn sun, she knew it was time. In the west, she saw the moon peeking out from behind Cuernos de Negros–uncertain whether it should rise, and become prey once more to the ravenous sun. When the first moonbeam peeped out from behind the mountains, Epefania took the mango fruit, and sang her song as she slowly peeled it:
Didto sa amo, ang akong kasingkasing gahilak:
Hinaot unta, Mayari, nga imong dunggon ang akong pagbati.
Ingna ang bulan nga matulog, para makabakon ang dagat.
(From where I am, my heart sheds profuse tears:
I implore Mayari, goddess of the moon, to hear my plea,
And tell the moon to sleep so the sea may rise.)
She began eating the flesh of the mango, the succulent juice slaking her thirst. She ate until all that was left of the fruit was the bony seed, shaped like the crescent of the moon.
That night, the moon died. Behind the mountains, the moon just faded away like a dejected lover, its beams weakening until there was nothing there except a trace of its face. In the distance, where the waves were lapping at the shores of Old Tolong, people could hear the roar of the deep moving closer to the land.
The people of Old Tolong, frightened and wearied by the unnatural tumult, slowly made their way to higher ground, wary of the encroaching sea. Though they no longer had faith in Laon, they must have harbored some sliver of hope, since they were patiently walking to the mountains, though the soles of their feet burned in the heat of what remained of the desert ground, and their skin was peeling from the lashing rain, and their throats grew dryer and dryer. They walked, and Epefania walked with them. But soon she left them and took the familiar path leading to Tiyay’s house.
This time, Tiyay was waiting for her outside of her house, her store in shambles, her husband and a daughter ghostly shadows of their former selves. A few feet away stood her son Bangbangin, looking tired and weary, though still strikingly beautiful despite the overwhelming disasters engulfing the world. “Take him!” Tiyay said in a dull, harsh, defeated voice.
Epefania looked at Bangbangin, and her heart trembled so hard that she feared for her life. The boy looked at her, utter confusion on his face. He spoke plainly, wearily.
“But I don’t feel anything for you,” Bangbangin said.
Something caught in Epefania’s throat when she heard Bangbangin’s words. Then she began to cry.
“I feel nothing for you,” the young man said once more.
But he had moved slowly towards where Epefania stood, and when he reached her, he found himself embracing the young girl, who went into his arms as to a refuge she could never have.
In a softer voice which seemed to contain all the world’s lassitude, he whispered to her, “I feel nothing for you, Epefania. And that is sad.”
He felt the girl shudder against his chest. And then she was very still. And everything within her was finally stilled.
First, the sea receded and the land was whole again, and the moon grew bright once more, slowly, like a gentle flutter of new feathers. Then, the sun began to set, and as the heat gradually waned, the rain which had been unable to touch the ground finally fell, and covered every inch of the cracking soil. There was a deafening sizzle when water touched what had been blistering earth, and the thick steam that rose from everywhere quickly ascended to the heavens and filled the skies as newborn clouds. Then at last the rain stopped, and the winds returned, blowing away the tempests from Old Tolong to the faraway corners of the world. When the last of the howling winds had swept past, only the breeze from the top of Cuernos de Negros remained. And the people slowly trickled back home. And for the first time in days, they finally settled into truest sleep. They had survived the universe edging towards collapse.
Bangbangin looked down at the woman in his embrace, but Epefania was no longer there. All what was left was a mango in the palm of his hand, yellow and ripe and pungent with some indescribable need.
Out of the shadows came the figure of an old woman. It was Intan, grown much older, her hair completely white, and her skin gnarled like the bark of a withered mango tree. “Eat it, boy,” she told Bangbangin, “eat it, and then plant the seed. Epefania would have wished it so.”
And so the boy ate the flesh of the mango fruit, and felt its tender sweetness snaking through every inch of him, spreading like contraband love through his body to become an aching in his nipples, and a surging cocksureness in his crotch. He ate, and he swallowed, and he slurped the juice that now covered his hands.
And after he had surrendered to the final fullness of the magical fruit, he sank to the ground, and began digging with his hands in the wet soil. When he had dug deep enough, he gently laid the mango seed inside, and slowly covered it with earth. Then he sat back, and to his own surprise, began to weep. His tears fell to the ground and watered the seed in its cocoon of earth. And Bangbangin knew, deep in his heart, that someday it would grow into a majestic tree.
Somewhere in Old Tolong, an orange light brightened one last time…before it finally vanished in a wisp of smoke.
“The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak” was first published in Tales of Fantasy and Enchantment, edited by Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo (Milflores 2007), and will be anthologized in the untitled Fully-Booked/Neil Gaiman Awards 2008 compilation edited by Dean Francis Alfar.
Ian Rosales Casocot was born in Dumaguete City in 1975, and studied in the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, and in Silliman University, where he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor in Mass Communication degree. He was a fellow for fiction in English in the National Writers’ Workshops in Dumaguete, Baguio, Cebu, and Iligan. He is currently working on a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Silliman University, where he is a faculty of the Department of English and Literature. He has won several Don Carlos Palanca Awards and an NVM Gonzalez Prize for his fiction, and was chosen as one of the authors for the UBOD New Writers Series 2003 by the country’s National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). In 2002, he edited FutureShock Prose: An Anthology of Young Writers and New Literatures, which was nominated as Best Anthology in the National Book Awards given by the Manila Critics Circle. In 2005, the NCCA published his first short story collection, Old Movies and Other Stories. His children’s book Rosario and the Storiesgarnered him an Honorable Mention from the 2006 PBBY-Salanga Writer’s Prize, and his stories “A Strange Map of Time” and “The Sugilanon of the Epefania’s Heartbreak” has won top prizes in the Fully-Booked/Neil Gaiman Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards. His novel “Sugar Land” was longlisted in the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. One of his stories, “Old Movies,” has been translated to French. He has published in Story Philippines, The Sunday Times, Sands and Coral, Dapitan, Tomas, Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Philippine Daily Inquirer, SunStar Bacolod, and MetroPost. He is a correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and writes two weekly columns, “The Spy in the Sandwich,” for StarLife Magazine of the Visayan Daily Star, and “Tempest in a Coffee Mug” for MetroPost.