Until a few years ago, the only “living” pigs I ever saw in Manila were the ones that were shown cutely prancing around on TV or on the big screen. Of course, there were also pictures and illustrations of smiling or gamboling boars and piglets on print; but somehow it was not quite the same. Occasionally though, I would get a glimpse of a truck crammed with pigs on some busy thoroughfare. Their squeals would lightly pervade the closed environs of our family car. I would always notice people outside covering their noses and grimacing, as if they were suddenly plunged into an invisible but inescapable miasma.
I would watch in fascination at the packed mass of moving bodies, often saddened by the thought that that was the last time the pigs would ever experience rides again. My parents had blithely told me once that they (the pigs I mean, not my parents) would be headed for slaughter when I asked them about it. My eyes would follow the truck until the vehicle made a sudden turn to a street where our car would not go. Pretty soon the truck and animals were nothing more than another indistinguishable speck on the choked up, traffic-jammed streets of Manila.
All the time I was growing up, I only ever remember two times of negligible “interaction” with these animals—if you can even call it that. One, I distinctly remember a man from our barangay asking for food scraps and other not-so-edible throwaways to give to their pigs. We never really saw the animals but my family did get to see a lot of this person. As is our family’s inherent custom of providing monikers to people we know, we often referred to him as Mr. Feed, which is a rather polite albeit incorrect translation for: Mamang Kanin Baboy.
There was also our next door neighbor, who for reasons known only to him, decided to raise such an animal in his backyard. It was enclosed in an unsheltered, makeshift pen that was directly hammered onto our firewall and onto the firewall of another neighbor as well. Again, I never really saw the beast—as my Mother called it. I only ever knew of its noise and that awful stench that became such a huge issue at the barangay hall. Come to think of it, I was not particularly sure who my Mother was referring to the pig when she said “beast.” After a while, the “animal” was gone—and with him was his pig.
Otherwise, my exposure to the animal was limited to bacon, cracklings, ham, pork chops, sisig, and the required Filipino celebratory dish called lechon. I think you get the picture.
It is therefore no surprise (to me, at least) that I find myself gawking at the grunting hogs that pass by in front of my house almost everyday here in Barangay Mintal in Davao City. When I say “gawking,” that may sometimes involve dropping everything, running out the front door and afterwards giddily clapping away for a minute or two.
To my neighbors, this is an ordinary scenario—something akin to watching the taho vendor passing through. After all, most of them do raise hogs (and even the occasional cow) as a means to supplement their livelihood. In fact, my landlady is currently the proud owner of a piglet—whose frequent bids for freedom has been a great source of entertainment for me.
When this tiny creature, which stands no more than 1½ feet high and about just as long, comes squealing out from wherever it is being kept and starts tearing up landlady’s front yard, I always dash out the front door and snap pictures like crazy. Then this thought would always run through my head: I would magically open my landlady’s gate and set the piglet free. Then I would run with it; my hoofed companion frolicking happily at my side. I would be leaping into the air with much waving of my hands (exactly the way heroines do it in movies). Hair streaming behind, I would hear the piglet’s comforting grunts and happy squeals accompanying each step forward.
I would stand there in complete rapture at this vision: Man and Pig running freely on the streets of Mintal—moving, moving, moving—until we are no more than specks on the long stretch of road, until that darn taho vendor would call my attention. He would ask if I was going to buy anything. And every time I would say no, he would go away with a smirk, accompanied by frequent shakings of his head, and one or two glances back like he wanted to say something but would rather not.
There was a time when I felt perpetually sad to see these animals. There is a slaughterhouse and wet market several street corners away and I thought that this was the final destination for all the pigs in the area.
Apparently, this line of thinking is faulty, for now I am seeing some hogs on an almost regular basis which are often accompanied by their human companions. For starters, there is Hairy Rump. This is an extremely large, rotund animal that can carry the full weight of his equally rotund human companion, whom I call Mr. Blue Boots. As you might deduce, Hairy Rump is distinguishable by a specific body part and his human companion for his unchanging choice of footwear.
There is also the very tiny Baby and Mr. Hugs. Their presence is marked by the distinct squeals of protest coming from Baby who Mr. Hugs cradles in his arms like a—you guessed it—baby.
I have given another hog the name Flopsy for two reasons. One: its right ear flops over the side of its face. Two: the creature really flops tiredly on the side of the road whenever it and its human companion pass by. Speaking of its human companion, Flopsy is always with Mr. Grunt: a wiry, old man who seems to have lost his ability to speak. He coaxes his hoofed companion up using the same low frequency grunts that Flopsy has.
There is also this riotous group of animals headed by Barks: a medium sized, black legged pig that makes a very recognizable barking noise. His entourage is comprised of two tri-colored goats that bleat non-stop (earning them the monikers Non and Stop) and a stray dog that I named, for very obvious reasons, Mangy. Kid S (short for scrawny) is their human companion, who is not really keen or efficient in his job of corralling the animals.
And of course, there is La Piglet, which is a shortened term for Landlady’s Piglet.
True enough, there are some pigs that never seem to pass my way again. During my morning walks, I would see some of these animals being shepherded into the slaughterhouse. With a great pang of pity, I know that their meat would be in the market stalls soon enough. I suffer briefly for each animal, and have consciously tried to lessen pork dishes from then on. And then I would fret and worry about Hairy Rump, Baby, Flopsy, Barks and La Piglet—until I see them passing by my house every once in a while.
Hands down, my favorite would have to be Hairy Rump. I did mention that this was a massive creature. But what I failed to add before was the fact that Hairy Rump took on five grown men and still came out the best.
It was just after eight in the morning when I heard a series of grunts combined with the noise of people scrambling about just outside my window. I saw Mr. Blue Boots first, along with four other men definitely not sharing his interest in footwear. They were encircling Hairy Rump, forming a tight human enclosure that was not-so-gently nudging the animal towards the direction of the slaughterhouse.
I ran out the house for a better view and was secretly hoping that some miracle would happen that would save the pig from its inevitable but premature fate. Hairy Rump kept breaking through the circle of men and was determinedly moving in the opposite direction. The hog even managed to hold the people off for a few minutes by backing into someone else’s garage and wedging itself tightly between a tricycle and the wall.
Pretty soon, a good number of onlookers were littering the streets, including a few kids that could have been cloned from Kid S. And of course, there was the taho vendor who usually made his daily appearance during this time. Some of the older men were shouting out instructions on how to best un-wedge the animal from his place, but I was joining the encouragements being shouted off by the kids to Hairy Rump.
All of the sudden, Hairy Rump gave a frightful charge and moved so fast that it caught everyone off guard. It leapt from out of the garage, charged past the four men and ran, ran, ran right between Mr. Blue Boots’ legs. Next thing you know, Hairy Rump was sprinting down the street of Mintal, with his human companion bouncing ridiculously prone on its back. His face was hitting the hairy rump as the pig surged on.
The kids ran after them, squealing in delight. They ran with much waving of their hands, their hairs streaming behind them until they were no more than specks in the distance.
I see from the corner of my eye the taho vendor shaking his head at me with that smirk of his. But I didn’t care. I was giddily clapping away with happiness, and from that moment on, Hairy Rump was my absolute favorite in the world.
Rowena Rose Lee was a fellow at the DWG-ADDU Writers Workshop this year.