We wept on the banks of the river of healing and prayed for the coming of night. When we were done, we took up the drums, we lighted the candles, we took up the chant and woke up the spirits.
A loud wail rose up from within the city. Shadows stalked the streets. Nowhere was safe except where the rings of light had been established.
-Juana Agpalayo, elder woman-
When they arrived in Central, the gates of the Migration Palace remained closed, and the people of BalayBukid stood helpless in the face of their Regent’s silence.
“Two months,” Alduwil Nacion moaned. She was the tribal spokeswoman, and she nursed her sore feet, while she stared her indignation at the smooth polished walls. “Two months for what?”
Her husband, Sakri, stood beside her and shook his head. The Regent was off to Northern Paraluman, they’d heard. Flew off in a big bird to view new acquisitions, and sign more contracts guaranteed to fatten the City’s purse.
“And who benefits from that?” Alduwil asked. “It’s not the Regent who’s got to go looking for new grounds on which to bury her dead. A journey of so many miles, because we wanted to spare the innocent—all useless.”
“Shhh. . .” Sakri said. “Be careful what you speak, Alduwil. Next thing they’ll be catching you and jailing you for a subversive.”
“So, let it be. Regents should think of the children. And this one has a child of her own, does she not?”
Sakri bowed his head and didn’t reply.
Two months before, they’d been quiet on their own lands. Their goats grazing peacefully, their children running free in the mountain air, and themselves contemplating the prospects of growing old on these lands handed down from generation to generation.
Imagine their surprise when the first of the pig farmers arrived and staked his claim.
“This land is mine,” the man said.
“The Regent has given us these lands,” the pig farmer went on. “You, and you, and you, and you. . .” he went about pointing at people, making shooing gestures with his hands. “Get off my land. There will be more after me.”
“We will not leave,” Alduwil said. “You have no rights here.”
“Rights?” the farmer sneered. And he waved a paper in front of her nose. “These are my rights. If you don’t go, then the government will have to force you to go.”
“Every Regent knows that this land belongs to they who dwell in houses of earth,” Alduwil said. “If this injustice persists, the children will have no choice but to unleash the Agpoy.”
“Pah,” said the farmer. “Old wives tales.”
“Let the Agpoy deal with the intruders,” the elders said.
“If we do, do you think we will be left here in peace?” Alduwil asked. “Let us not release what cannot be leashed without sacrifice. We’ll take our petition to the Regent and see what she has to say.”
Now, two months later, they stood outside the Palace. They had lost a number of their elders on the long march from BalayBukid, and their children were tired from the long trek. They had no place to go and no means of livelihood.
“Nothing to see here,” a man in uniform said. He pushed the bystanders and the curious away, and Alduwil thought she saw some sympathy in his gaze.
“You’ll have to leave,” the officer said. “I’m sorry, but the Regent doesn’t wish to see you.”
Their story almost didn’t make it to press.
There was an outbreak of fires on the eastern quay and the ensuing round of finger-pointing and accusations made far more interesting fodder than the fate of yet another group of displaced individuals who would have to find shelter under one of the many bridges on Hungduan Avenue.
However, Faylad Omed was determined to tell their story and by strength of being related to Kaitan Omed, owner of City Square Alight, his editor was forced to place his report somewhere in a corner on the fourth page of CQA. A small story, true, but still . . .
“It never changes, I see,” Faylad’s wife said.
“Not in this government,” Faylad replied. “If not for Uncle they wouldn’t have printed this.”
“Do you think anyone still cares?” His wife asked. “Think of the fishermen, uprooted from their fishing grounds; think of the tribespeople displaced and dislocated for their land; we have forgotten the gods of old, Faylad, and now this. I only hope they won’t call you a dissident for writing about it.”
“I doubt they’d care,” Faylad said. “Every since the death of Frey Magistrar, it seems as if the country has been swallowed up in ennui.”
“So, where did the people go?” His wife asked.
“Last I heard, they were looking for a place near the river.”
Under Halinguyon’s bridge, the tribespeople of BalayBukid made their new home. They gathered discarded iron sheets for roofing, spread out their woven blankets to keep the cold from seeping up through the hard asphalt, and they took piles of discarded rubber tires from a nearby scrapheap.
Beside them, the river flowed black and rancid. The only fish to be gotten from it were malformed, hideous and as dangerous as the acid in which they swum.
“Keep away from the river,” the women told their children.
They sat on the bank of the river watching as the black swallowed up the sun, and little lights appeared on the surface of the river.
“Agpoy,” the children cried. “Agpoy coming to play with us.”
“No,” the mothers said. “Not to play. Be careful of how you speak with their honors.”
As they spoke, the lights in the city fell out.
“Agpoy,” the children cried.
“Come,” the mothers said. “Come then, sing your songs to Agpoy.”
While the sounds of traffic thundered about them, their chants rose up and mingled with the sounds of the dark. The lights on the river glimmered, rose and fell, rose and fell to the clapping of their hands and the stamping of their feet on hard ground.
Above the river, the moon rose. Full and glowing like a malevolent eye, its macabre light shone on the river, it shone down on the bridge called Halinguyon where mothers thrummed on makeshift drums and their children stamped in rhythm to a dance dedicated to the memory of the Agpoy.
“Agpoy,” the children cried.
And they lifted up their arms as if to embrace the moon.
The moon lit up the river, the moon was a fire in the sky, the moon bled down along the marble walls of Migration Palace, it bled down among the flowerbeds, and wandered with its light along windows opened up towards the south where the scent of jasmin crept in and filled the princess’s room.