Putli the Carabao trots in the forest, proud of his big horns, his big body, and his pale skin. Along with him is Gaitom the Cow, timid as he was, with his tiny horns, his tiny body, and his dark skin.
Everyone in the forest wonders how two creatures so different get along with each other so well.
At noons they go to the lake in the middle of the forest, take off their skins, and freshen themselves up. Sometimes they walk the downhill path to the edge of the forest, where there is a farming village. Putli and Gaitom like to watch men till their big fields all by themselves. Putli often laughs at the men. Gaitom shushes him.
“It’s not right to laugh at men like that. They need help,” Gaitom says.
One day they reach the edge of the forest, farther than they had gone before. It is noon, and time for their dip in the lake.
“But the lake’s too far from here,” Gaitom says.
“Let’s find us a lake in the village,” Putli replies.
So they set out to the village to find a lake.
“Look, Gaitom! A pond!” Putli finds a big pond behind a little hut. Without a second thought, he takes his pale skin off and jumps into the water.
But Gaitom holds himself back. “What are you doing, Putli? What if a man finds us?”
“Come on, Gaitom. Every villager sleeps at noon,” Putli says. “Jump in.”
So Gaitom takes his dark skin off and jumps in. He has to wash his dark skin, too; it is so dusty.
One of the farmers comes out from the little hut and sees wild naked animals wading in his backyard pond. He is furious. He grabs his bolo and runs towards the pond.
“You pesky beasts! I’ll cut you into pieces and have you for dinner,” he shouts.
Putli and Gaitom jump out, grab what they think are their skins, and run away. Gaitom is not able to put on his skin, for the farmer with the bolo is right behind him. He runs into the forest naked. He runs and runs until he loses sight of the farmer.
In the shrubs where Gaitom stops running, three frogs laugh at his naked body. Gaitom wears the skin, and the frogs laugh even more.
“He just sags, man,” one croaked.
Gaitom feels the skin is too snug, too loose. He takes it off, and finds out it is Putli’s skin!
Putli must have got mine, Gaitom thinks. So he goes to the lake to find Putli. But there is no sign of him around the lake.
He goes back to the village, avoiding the little hut and the pond this time.
He asks the chickens in the coop if they’ve seen Putli. But the chickens are terrified of his sagging skin. “Sorry, sir, we can’t help you.”
He asks the goats and the pigs in the pens if they’ve seen Putli. But they, too, are terrified of his sagging skin. “Sorry, sir, we can’t help you.”
He asks every farm animal he meets on the street if they’ve seen Putli, but everyone avoids Gaitom with the sagging skin and the drooping face. He goes back into the forest disappointed.
Everyone in the forest soon heard that Gaitom is now wearing Putli’s skin. They thought Putli stole the skin out of vanity.
“How could a friend do such a thing to you? Putli may have been so ashamed he stole your skin. Good thing he never came back here,” they often say. To this Gaitom says nothing.
Gaitom waits and waits for Putli to show up, but still, there is no sign of Putli in the forest.
Years pass. Gaitom goes out to the plains to graze in the rice fields. It is the time for harvest. Lots of hay is all around for Gaitom to eat.
He passes a tree by a mudpuddle and finds Putli resting in the shade. He looks bigger with the dark skin on. And now miserable with his head bowed to the ground.
“Gaitom! It’s good to see you again!” Putli hugs him. “I went back to the pond and I didn’t find you there.”
Gaitom tells Putli, “You went back to the pond? I thought you ran off to the lake in the forest. You weren’t there.”
And they say in chorus, “Can I get my skin back?” Gaitom takes the pale skin off easily. He didn’t like the sagging skin anyway.
But Putli has a hard time unzipping the muddy skin off him. Night came and he still can’t take the dark skin off. It clings on him as if it has been there forever.
“You better have the pale one, Gaitom. I’m sorry I got fatter and fatter,” Putli says. “Work made me eat and eat and eat.”
Gaitom learns Putli has been helping the farmers to till the fields and fetch water and chicken feed and hay for the goats, and he has started to like helping the men do their jobs. Gaitom is glad to hear Putli finally helping the men. Being a good friend, Gaitom decides to never to go back to the forest so he can help Putli and the farmers till the fields and fetch water and chicken feed and hay.
They still enjoy wading in the waters at high noon even to this day. Only this time, they never take their skins off.
Sarah Bagis is a third year student from the UP Mindanao University. This story was done as group work for her Children’s Literature class. Other collaborators in this story were Lee Ivy Acevedo, Erika Navaja, Darylle Rubino, and Jet Tevar.