Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jake (To My Best Friend And Hero)

By: Mikejuha


When I was twelve years old, I used to visit a rice paddy a few meters away from our house. The paddy, measuring like 150 square meters, was situated at the foot of a hill which teemed with wild plants. I liked the place so much because on its edge, the big trees provided cool shades and refreshing air, not to mention the wild fruits like guavas and papayas ready for grabs. Nearby, a small fresh-water creek provided for an added touch of communing with nature if not an invitation for a swim. On the hill, I could see the bird’s-eye view of my entire village, a place of just around thirty families where everyone knows everybody, even the names of our neighbors’ pet dogs and cats.

The paddy was under the charge of Jake, a boy of my age. He was much bigger, with a body so firm and a skin as brown as the mud he assiduously tilled. His arms were strong and in his eyes reflected the physical hardships he passed through all those years of his life. Jake was the fourth child of five brothers and four sisters; the eldest being fifteen, the next, fourteen, then thirteen, and so on – maybe a gap of a year in succession. Their family was big, noisy, even messy one. And even if there were many of them to share with whatever little was there in the family, I liked their set-up; unlike my family which was lonely and boring. I mean, probably because being the youngest kid, the next sibling closest to me was ten years older. So, that at my age of twelve, both my sisters and an only brother had their own separate families to look after. I was like an only child, left alone in the house most of the time when my parents would work in the farm.

My friendship with Jake was actually born out of accident, or shall I say, divine providence. I didn’t really know Jake that much. But one Saturday noon while I was taking a dip at the creek, something happened. I thought the water was shallow. It was too late when I realized it was deep enough to drown me. The water sucked me down and things happened so quickly. I tried hard to wriggle forcefully my hands and feet to lift myself up the surface and shout for help. But nobody seemed around. As I engulfed more and more water, I resigned myself to death. Suddenly, someone pulled my hair up and dragged me to the edge of the creek. It was Jake. He laid me on my back and pressed my belly hard. As I coughed the water out of me, he laughed in delight as I joined him laugh in all frightfulness.

“So, you don’t know how to swim, huh?” he asked still laughing like nothing serious had happened.

“No. Maybe, I’ll learn later.” I answered sheepishly. “Thank you for saving me.”

“No sweat! If you like, I’ll teach you how to swim.”

“You will? Yes, I like that!” I answered excitedly.

That was the beginning of our close friendship and my fondness to visit the paddy. Jake had saved my life and I owed him later another thing – learning how to swim. I became close to his family too. It was with Jake and his brothers that I experienced real brother stuffs – companionship, friendship, to play games, to talk to, to have amicable fights, fun, even crazy things like real brothers do. For me, theirs was a great and happy family. I mean, except for one thing – their parents reared them with utmost discipline, especially their father who at times become irritable and would punish them even for simple childish mistakes. Every time a crime was committed, expect that a sentence by hanging under a tree branch, or flogging, or a combination of both be served to its full extent.

Jake’s father worked as a seaman of an inter-island ship. I didn’t exactly know what his job was but I remember seeing him in picture with those bulging muscles carrying two men on his shoulders. He was a big, strong man, an expert in Arnis and Martial Arts. Once a year, he would spend his one-month vacation with his family. When that comes, everyone becomes well-behaved and everything should be in proper order. Or else…

I remember a time when Jake’s older brother did not come home immediately on his way from an errand. His father tied his legs after a couple of painful lashings; hang him upside down by the branch of a tree. And as if it was not enough, a smoke was induced to billow up the dangling offender as his father’s voice thundered in anger. His ordeal lasted for two hours and nobody among his brothers dared rescue him lest they could suffer the same fate. It was one awesome punishment. But eventually, I became used to that sight. It was one thing which made me thankful of my parents. With my father, I remember to have received only one but blistering lashing. That was when I slept overnight in a friend’s house without permission. With my mother, a few “blah-blah-blahs” and a promise not to do it again would already do.

Jake and I went to the same school. Though I belong to a different section, we both go together before and after class. I was a small kid at my age, but I was never afraid to be bullied by the bigger classmates because there was Jake to defend me in any trouble. Jake was one of the tough guys in school and everybody respected his stature. Being his best friend, I earned a little of that respect too. In return, I would help him out in class assignments, and tutoring. I can say that there was a symbiosis. He was like a big brother who would come to my rescue anytime. We shared so many things from foodstuffs, playthings, to whatever there was to share. And our favorite hang-out was the paddy. Every afternoon after school we would go there to play, catch fish, have a swimming match at the creek, or just talk about anything. And our favorite topic - plans and dreams.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” He would ask.

“I want to enter the seminary and become a religious person.”


“Because when I die, I want to go to heaven.”

“Ah… a saint! Hahaha!” He would laugh as if there was something unusual with my answer.

“How about you?”

“Me? I want to be a seaman like my father. I like the seas, the ship, and I want to travel around the world!” He would shout his answer as if he were very optimistic about the future. “When that time comes, I’ll give you a free ride on my ship. Of course, I need you to pray for my safe journey… Father!” He would add teasing me with a big grin on his face.

One day, Jake was absent in class. When I visited him after school, I found him hanging upside down under the tree of execution nearby their house. My heart throbbed so fast. I sensed something was wrong.

“I woke up late for school and couldn’t rise up because I felt sick. My father got furious he thought I was making up a story. He forced me to weed out on the paddy. I couldn’t work for long under the scorching sun and I took a rest. He caught me…” Jake narrated in an agonizing voice. His skin was badly bruised as a result of hard caning but he never cried. He had accepted the judgment in total righteousness. I could feel he was very sick. His vigorous expressions were gone and on his pale face reflected the pain and exhaustion of the punishment. An hour later, he was released. I helped him struggle into the house, laid him on the bare wooden floor as I sat beside him. We talked about what had happened in school, the activities, and other things.

“Tomorrow when you’ll be fine, I’d like to have a swimming match with you. Maybe this time, it will be my turn to win.” I challenged to give him a boost.

“Deal! And I’ll prove you’ll never – ever win,” he teased me. “Remember, I’m a seaman,” as he exhaustedly extended his hand to lock his index finger with mine in our unique fraternal handshake. There was a faint smile. I could see the excruciating pain on his face.

“Okay. Let’s see it tomorrow!”

The following day, Jake was again absent. I thought he was still sick so I hurried to his house after class. I was surprised to find people preparing something I couldn’t imagine. As I approached the house, an eerie feeling crept over me.

“Junior! Junior! Your best friend…!” Jake’s eldest sister Selena approached me sobbing, almost choking for the next words to say.

“Why? What happened?” I demanded.

“He didn’t wake up early this morning so my father forced him to open his eyes. But he wasn’t breathing anymore!”

It seemed like a thunderbolt had hit me and everything blacked out. The next thing I remember was in front of Jake, carefully laid on the bed. He seemed like he was only sleeping. I couldn’t believe that only the day before, he was talking to me about the many things he wanted to do. But at that time, he was in total silence.

“I thought we will go swimming today and I will defeat you!” I shouted on top of my lungs as I hugged and shook his cold body like a helpless wailing child. “I thought you would be a seaman and you will give me a free ride on your ship!” But Jake never heard me anymore.

Nobody in our village really questioned the reason behind Jake’s death. All we knew was that he died of sickness. Of course, there were many who believed it was more; only, no one was brave enough to intrude into the affairs of Jake’s family. But for me, whatever the reason was, I had lost a brother, a best friend, and a hero.

Now, twenty years later, I never made it to be a religious person as Jake had known I dreamed to be. He didn’t live to see how my life had changed when I left the seminary. When I visited the paddy again, there was no more trace of the old place where Jake and I used to play, or share our childishness. The place which used to teem with green surge of rice and lush vegetation of wild fruits and groves had now become a pavement of a housing subdivision, a testament to the changing faces of time. I searched for the creek where Jake had saved me and where our friendship had started, but it too had lost its life. Like Jake, they all had vanished in sight. I know I will never come to see the paddy again. But as long as I live, Jake and his memories will continue to live on…




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