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The damp smell of mud brought old Alfonso’s memories in the year 1940; the blissful time of his youth. The creaking of his old tumba-tumba, a rocking chair that his son, Amado gave him as a birthday present, also added nostalgia in his weary mind. He had been dreaming a lot lately, and in cold nights where crickets and frogs sing in contrasting harmony, he felt that the long wait was finally coming to its end. Unmindfully, his wrinkled hands slowly clasped the necklace that he wore around his neck. He smiled with content as he reminisced that cold moonlit evening when he first met Hiwaga, the love of his life. One by one, his thoughts marveled upon the collective memoirs of his youth.
Slowly, he drifted into the distant past.
“Let’s make it quick, Alfonso. We will be late for the dance,” complained Erning, the childhood friend of Alfonso. They were headed to the town plaza were the annual Sayawan sa Barrio was being held. It was a dance party by which all of the single maidens and lads in their small town were being invited for the occasion. This had been one of the greatest traditions in their town that the town folks upheld with pride.
“I’m trying to be as quick as I can. If you will look at me now, I am all drenched in sweat. How will all the girls in the dance pay attention to me now that I smell awful?” replied the handsome Alfonso. He was a sturdy young man with a deep masculine voice. He had little stubbles on his chin and thick brows that complemented his coffee-brown eyes.
“Hush now, Alfonso! It’s your fault for being sluggish,” taunted the funny and lanky Erning.
"Haha! Whatever you say, Erning. I know you are just too excited to see your beloved Leleng."
They walked a little more with Erning ahead of him. They brought nothing except a small torch that seemed to become extinguished any minute. Only the ghostly whispers of the wind can be heard as they carelessly trudged along the dusty road. The moon hovered before them, lighting their paths as they teased each other with haughtiness and humor.
They were so absorbed with excitement that they never noticed that they had already reached the river near an old Acacia tree. Just then, Alfonso felt the cold palm of Erning on his shoulder as he whispered, “Did you hear the stories around this place, Alfonso?”
Alfonso nodded his head and answered, “I sure did. Why? Are you being a chicken now?” he retorted.
“Me? Of course not!” Erning replied. “Those stories weren’t real anyway.”
“Is that so? Then, I dare you to stay in that spot near the old Acacia tree for five minutes. Let’s both prove the authenticity of the stories that our grandparents told us. Are you in?” Alfonso said while smirking. Their torch completely consumed now. Erning threw it away and boldly said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Overwhelmed by the challenge and curiosity, the two lads decided to stand underneath the old Acacia tree while facing the river bank. Apparently, they seemed to have forgotten about the sayawan for awhile. They had been hearing a lot of mythical stories in their town and yet they were not able to encounter the existence of dwarfs, kapre or black giants who smoke large tobaccos, and diwatas or deities with heavenly beauties. Perhaps now is the time to get to the bottom of it.
Cold winds continued to touch their exposed skin which, literally, brought them goosebumps and caused the rapid beating of their hearts. For a second there, both of them were thinking that what they agreed on was stupid and silly and scary at the same time when they finally spent two solid minutes facing the river; although they did not want to say it out loud.
“There should be pretty ladies playing and bathing in the river by now, right? At least that’s how I remember it,” Erning asked while scratching his arms from mosquito bites. “Besides, the moon is in its fullness so I guess, tonight is the perfect time for the diwatas to go out and play.”
The story of the diwatas or deity bathing in the river in the fullness of the moon and stillness of night had been popular in their town. Yet, at that moment, Erning had decided to have proven the myth behind all those stories and he, in his own thoughts, was not able to notice the abrupt silence of his friend and how he slowly advanced towards the river bank.
“Oh well, I guess we are just wasting our time, here. Come on now, Alfonso. We are already late for the dance,” he said grabbing his friend’s arms.
The old Alfonso opened his half-blind eyes and continued to rock himself once more in his wooden tumba-tumba. He thought of the thing that he saw which Erning claimed to not notice at all. Was he being delusional during that time? Such was the question that he carried when they reached the sayawan.
“Are you okay?” Erning, after dancing with Leleng for a short while finally noticed his friend’s sudden change of behavior. “You’ve been so quiet after we left the spot at the acacia. Don’t tell me you’ve seen something? Because to be honest? I didn’t see anything or anyone in that river,” exclaimed Erning.
“I-I know you wouldn’t believe it but...” Alfonso’s stammering was cut when the emcee announced the arrival of some visitors in their annual dance party. Five dazzling ladies with beautiful satin gowns graced the stage with confident smiles. Each of them wore flower crowns on their heads and their eyes seemed to sparkle.