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.