Elias said, “Is there? I only know of the Yamashita treasure. It was my grandfather who told me about it. The Japanese General. Pero, wala man gihapon.”
“We can search for the treasure ourselves,” Tito persuaded Elias.
“Nabuang naman guro ka?” Elias had no hint of emotion on his face, but his mind swirled with images of gold. He looked at the tombs and on the ground and then pictured shiny and heavy gold bars underneath the asphalt ground.
Tito said, “They did find a treasure at the wakeboard area. There must be one or two here as well!”
Elias’ eyes widened and he felt a shiver down his spine. He was speechless. But, he saw a clearer vision of gold bars beneath his feet. . . everywhere, underneath all the tombstones, trees and the small obelisk. “Treasure hunting has long been banned,” he answered back.
“The authorities had been planning to excavate the graveyard even in the past. They want the gold for themselves. Don’t you want them too?” Tito said in a low voice as if talking to himself.
“What if we’ll get caught?”
Their conversation did not continue as they both saw the teenaged worker walking toward them. Tito took a large can of white paint along with a brush and headed toward a tomb that was half painted. He whispered to Elias, “For now, let’s get back to work.”
The teenager neared Elias and said, “ ‘Ya, katong mga puntod nga naa sa tumoy, kato sila ang wala pa napinturan.” He took the Coca-cola bottle and drank the remaining soda.
The teenager peeked at the cellophane of bread and inquired, “May I have these?”
“You may,” Elias replied. The teenager then brought the cellophane to where he was working.
Elias carefully watched Tito and contemplated why Tito had that idea in the first place. He seemed to be very well-informed. Elias deemed that Tito’s firm belief on the possible treasure in the cemetery did not just stem from hearsay. Just as he was, Elias had wondered about those treasures too. Maybe someone told Tito where the treasure was and requested for him to dig them. With that, he would have his share. He would no longer have a problem feeding his family. Tito did say something about the Barangay Captain sharing a tale or two about a certain treasure. Was the treasure real, Elias wondered. He looked below him and imagined gold bars beneath him, jewels beneath his feet. All these ideas, all these doubts, all these questions—Elias wasn’t so sure. But, one thing was certain. He saw in Tito’s eyes how serious he was about searching for a treasure whether the tales were true or not.
Elias took a deep breath, picked up the large can of paint and a brush, and then headed toward where the small obelisk stood. He shouldn’t get bothered by Tito’s wishful thinking about all these buried gold. Besides, he did not want to get involved with anything. He was contented and wanted nothing more. Who was he to ask for more when others had it worse than him? Before opening the can, he took his handkerchief and covered his face with it.
While painting, Elias’ body warmed. The sun’s rays were hotter than usual. Had the heat always been like this, he thought. His head burned and it gave him a headache. Sweat began to form all over him—on his face, neck, chest, back, and armpits. And he’d just started. He scanned the graveyard. Many tombs weren’t wiped clean and repainted yet. The other workers continuously wiped off their sweat on their faces too. After a while, Elias had finished painting. He walked toward another tomb. He squinted at the sky and had a glimpse of the glowing sun. It was golden like his favorite viand, bulad, and giniling. Or, rather his comfort food. Of course, he couldn’t afford to buy expensive food for himself. He could, sometimes. But, he chose to eat those to save money in case of emergencies. Maybe there would be days when he wouldn’t earn enough from his business or have no customers at all.
Elias thought he was being dried under the scorching sun. The energy of his body was drained like how his comfort food on process was dried under the sun for several hours. The heat that dried the fish was a different heat. It was a heat that sated his hunger. For a moment, he desired something. He wanted to eat luxurious food. Then he remembered the orange-brown color of the dried fish was the same as the ginger cat that had its head cracked by someone. The same cat constantly tried to steal his food. Maybe the reason why those stray animals continued to steal food was for the reason they did not want to die of hunger. Having their stomachs filled kept them alive. Or, they wanted to have revenge on the people who beat them.
The full moon shone on the dark sky. It was larger than its usual size in most days exuding a yellowish light. The moonlight shone through the leaves and branches of trees, casting spots of moonbeam on the ground. It was early morning and Elias’ neighbors were asleep. There were no other noises other than occasional vehicles passing by the road and howling dogs. Elias sat by the door of his house, drinking lambanog. Having tuba as one of his ginansiya did not only earn him money but a good drink on cold mornings. Nothing could beat lambanog—a distilled tuba, a coconut wine. Elias’ body warmed. He could feel the heat coming off of his face. His stomach warmed and felt full. Elias had developed a habit of drinking tuba to forget his hunger. There were times when he would just drink lambanog for consecutive days and be high. Elias was down to his first bottle when he saw Tito walking toward him. It seemed that he came from the cemetery. His shirt had stains of brown dirt. He was drenched in sweat too.
Tito did not say anything to Elias, but abruptly took his bottle of lambanog. He gulped it down and said, “I found something at the cemetery.”
“What? A ghost?” Elias said.
Tito replied in a low voice, “Gold.”
“You’re joking, right?”
While Elias waited for Tito to answer, his heart pounded hard against his chest. He had his doubts and presumed that Tito must be losing his mind, looking for something impossible. But, a part of him also wanted to know if Tito really did find a gold at the cemetery. He wanted to see it and hold it in his calloused hands. Tito sat beside Elias and reached into his pocket. He then showed Elias a small gold earring. Its shape was that of a flower with five petals. The tip of each petal curved inward. From its center branched out two stamens within each petal, having anthers at each end. It was fine-looking. Unfortunately, Tito did not find the pair.
“There must be more down there,” Tito informed. “I covered up the hole again.”
Tito was right, Elias thought. There must be more treasures beneath the graves. He was jealous and wanted to steal the gold from Tito. However, he couldn’t bring himself to do something as awful as that. They were good friends. In the first place, he had thought that his friend had gone mad over something unreal. Now that Elias had seen the gold, he believed. He wanted to tell Tito that he wanted to join up with his venture of digging for treasures. However, he couldn’t get the right words.
Elias said, “You have to stop. You might get jailed for this.”
“I’ll dig again tomorrow.” Tito stood and went on his way home.
Elias watched Tito go farther and farther. His back was full of dirt, his legs and feet too. It’s not that he couldn’t find the right words, but he really was envious of Tito. But, at the same time, he admired Tito. Elias could see how Tito was devoted to his family. For sure, Tito only wanted to support his family. He wanted to give them a good life. He wanted his wife, Dolores to be happy with him. Elias wondered how Tito found a spot to dig in the vast cemetery. Elias couldn’t think of other things, but how Tito had mentioned the Barangay Captain telling him about those treasures. Maybe that was why Tito was head-strong in his decision to look for treasures.
Elias sighed, went back to his house and locked the door. He lay on his mattress on the bamboo floor and thought about the Yamashita treasure and the gold buried around a Japanese Doctor’s tomb. He recalled the image of the gold earring on the calloused and dirtied palm of Tito. The earring was covered in dirt, but it shined under the moonlight. The earring reflecting back the light of the moon made it more entrancing and surreal, confusing Elias whether he did really meet Tito or not. His body burned. He thought maybe he was already too drunk from the lambanog. However, Elias was sure he was no longer content with what he had. He wished to find a gold treasure too. But, a part of him still held back. Can he actually dare to look for something he might never find unlike Tito, he asked himself. Again, he persuaded himself he was content and wouldn’t be dazzled by the gold earring.
Part 3 of this story appears here.
Andrey Caridad recently graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in English major in Creative Writing. She lives in Mintal, Davao City.