I remember the day I almost lost Jun-jun. I was in eight grade and longed for Tatay’s attention. At four in the morning, I got up before Jun-jun could sound the morning wake up call. I barely slept the night before, thinking of ways to get rid of him or at least get Tatay’s attention away from him. Jun-jun could not cook rice or boil the coffee, but it was me who always got called useless around the house.
On the second Sunday that June, I planned to give Tatay a new wallet I’d bought at Novo. I’d spent all the money I saved up that summer from selling a bunch of buko to Angkol Nono, a buko juice vendor in front of Central Plaza, for ten pesos each. Since I went to Isulan National High School, Tatay always got mad at me for waking up late. He blamed my addiction to mobile games that kept me up at night and threatened to confiscate my phone. He didn’t like it that he had to boil the water for the native coffee and cook rice every morning.
Roosters started crowing from a distance. I opened our front door, lifting the three locks carefully not to make a sound. I checked outside. The dawn was already breaking and I smelled the cool and damp breeze. My nose itched and the next thing I knew, I was sneezing like crazy. I couldn’t make out where Jun-jun was until I saw his long, red curvy tail atop the lower branch of our Mango tree. He flapped his multicolored wings, shook his tiny head, and crowed his mighty battle cry that echoed through our house. Other roosters from our neighbor followed suit.
I looked for the kettle as I wiped my nose using the front of my shirt. I filled the kettle with tap water and brought it to the stove to boil and put four spoonful of native coffee from Kulaman. I put the jars of coco sugar and cream on our dining table for Nanay and Tatay. My head started to ache from the allergic rhinitis so I needed coffee myself.
I got the pako that Nanay brought from the market last night out from the refrigerator while I waited for the coffee to boil. I was about to prepare the scrambled egg with ampalaya when I heard the door from my parents’ bedroom open. Tatay still looked groggy and his bushy eyebrows were already meeting at the middle. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I suppose.
“Abaw. The señorito Toto is up early, ha,” he said in his hoarse voice. He went straight to the kitchen sink and drank water from the faucet using his hand. After that, he scrunched his nose. “Is that coffee?”
“I already boiled it, ‘Tay.”
“Hmp. Himala! What about the rice?”
“I’m going to cook it later.”
He wiped his face with a clean towel hanging from the rattan chair and sat across me. “Bring the coffee now,” he ordered without looking at me. He looked past the window, maybe contemplating the things he needed to do for the day.
Tatay was a very industrious man. He would remind me to always think of what I will do next so that I could finish the chores in our house. A rattan stick was at the ready behind the shoe rack at the front door when he caught me lazing around the house, lying on the couch and watching television while he was doing something. For him, there was always something to do in the house. I only got to rest when he took a rest.
After drinking his coffee, Tatay went outside to do his morning ritual of stroking Jun-jun’s silky feathers gently, as if comforting him that everything was going to be alright. A friend once told me that caressing a rooster brought luck. Every time I tried to touch Jun-jun, he would peck my hand and a series of unfortunate events would happen.
One time, as I was feeding him, he got loose from the rope and Jun-jun got out of our gate. Tatay shouted at me to call him back to the house. I was a goddamn pitla back then that I couldn’t pronounce the letter “r” properly. Instead of “kruu-kruu,” all I mustered was, “koo-koo” and Jun-jun got farther away. Nanay told me I had a stutter because I didn’t drink enough breastmilk when I was a baby. She said I preferred Sustagen. Tatay pushed past me and spit the words “You’re useless!” as he chased after the stupid rooster who managed to get inside our neighbor’s backyard.
Every day, I put up with his loud and noisy crow—a constant reminder of letting a boy steal Kookoo, my father’s most prized rooster which he bought for 100 pesos.
I lost Kookoo that summer. Nanay and Tatay left for a seminar on microfinancing in Sta. Catalina Cooperative. I was busy watching the noon-time show in our house, laughing so hard while Willie Revillame repeated the contestant’s answer that “dragonfly” in Tagalog is called “tubi-tubi” since butterfly is “paru-paro.”
Kookoo had been stolen by Klip: the skinny and greasy klepto boy notorious for stealing pets from houses that he would let out in the open and never return to their owners. Most of them just die after being attacked by stray dogs in our barangay. Klip had an unusual interest in lizards, rats, ducks and chicks, but his favorite were roosters. Tatay said he was two years older than me but he looked a lot older because of his big muscles and scarred face. He seriously injured Miko, the malnourished boy who lived next to us when Miko caught him stealing. He was in and out of the police station since he was still a minor and they couldn’t hold him for more than twenty-four hours in prison and because his parents argued that he was just a kleptomaniac.
Our front gate were batches of decaying bamboo sticks and the barbed wires encircling the fences were riddled with oxide and rust. After a strong storm a week before the incident, some of the bamboos broke down. Any thief could actually march inside and out with ease without us knowing. I spent the whole summer with Tatay, fortifying our fence with a new batch of fresh bamboo sticks and bought new chicken wires and barbed wires for extra support.
Tito Tawi, Nanay’s youngest brother whom she helped get to college, brought Jun-jun to us days after Kookoo got cocknapped. He was indebted to Nanay that he did everything she wished. It was after Tatay chased me with a rattan stick, threw me one of his slippers, and hit me with his leather belt when he caught me that Nanay called Tito Tawi over to our house and told him to bring one of his finest roosters from his fighting cock farm.
I wanted Kookoo back. I could put up with his series of clucks, and when I would call to him, he answered, and he didn’t peck. The only thing annoying about him was that he scurried inside the house looking for food so I always had to close the kitchen door.
When Tito Tawi left, Tatay called me over to our front yard. He was holding the rooster.
“Ti, Toto, what do we name him?” Tatay asked, void of any emotion and merely talking to himself. He didn’t look at me.
“Ambot, ‘Tay,” was all I could answer. I didn’t really know and I didn’t care. One of my cousins said that when you name a thing, you subject it to your possession and you have all the rights to it. My mother named our blue Honda motorcycle Uriel, the angel of protection. Later, I learned that Uriel was the angel of justice but I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to upset her.
Tatay raised a brow. He looked at me and said, “What, you want to call it ‘Ambot’?” He shook his head and pointed a finger to our bodega, an old sari-sari store. “Get me the rope there. The yellow one.”
As I walked away, I heard him say, in his gentlest voice, “I will call you Jun-jun.”
It left me wondering if he used the same voice when he came up with my nickname. Did he give enough thought to my name? Or was I just some cockerel to him? Nanay told me it was my grandmother, Nanay Lucing, who named me Alexander Miguelito. My father nicknamed me, “Toto,” like most boys in our town.
“Are you jealous of Jun-jun?” Nanay’s question startled me. I didn’t notice her come out from their bedroom.
“Tsk. Nanay ah, bal-an niya nga ga-kape ko pay,” I told her, reiterating that coffee makes me edgy. I didn’t realize I was staring at Tatay and Jun-jun for a while now.
“Have you cooked the rice?” she asked to which I nodded a yes. “Okay. I’ll have coffee later. Help me with the salad, will you?” she continued.
I got up from my chair and helped her slice the onions, ginger and tomatoes for the pako salad. While she put the vinegar in the mixing bowl, she said in a hushed voice, “We are going to your Tito Tawi’s house later. You have to wear the new polo shirt we bought last Christmas, ha? The blue suits you, anak.”
“It’s the only polo shirt I have, ‘Nay.”
“Next month is going to be your birthday. We can buy a new shirt by then.”
“My old clothes still fit me. Don’t worry, I won’t get fat.”
“I don’t want your friends to tease you. Your shirt have holes in them. I’ll tell your Tatay about it.”
“No need, ‘Nay. Besides, I can tell them the holes are designed for the shirt. Let’s use the money to buy rice instead.”
“Hala. We don’t have rice anymore?”
“It will suffice until tomorrow.”
After we ate our breakfast, Tatay asked me to help him cut the top branches off our Mango tree. It stood beside the bodega, once a sari-sari store and kept the sunlight from Nanay’s garden.
Tatay climbed the Mango tree and I waited below to gather the fallen branches. I have to get the fallen branches outside to be cut later for firewood. I left the gate open so I could easily go out. I crouched not far away from the Mango tree as I waited for Tatay to cut another branch. Tatay was busy chopping his binangon when I heard Jun-jun squawk. I couldn’t see him anywhere and Tatay had freed him from his ropes. The gate, I thought. In a jolt, I sprang to my feet and shouted at Tatay to come down.
Tatay raised an eyebrow, “Na-ano ikaw?”
“Si Jun-jun, ‘Tay!”
Klip was at it again, I knew it. Tatay didn’t seem to hear a word I said, so I ran outside. The scarred boy was prancing about, whistling as if nothing happened and the rooster he’s holding was his. Jun-jun continued to squawk. He was already two blocks away.
I didn’t know what came to me. Maybe it was the adrenaline from the native coffee. I ran after him and charged at his back. He was taken by surprise that Jun-jun escaped from his grasp immediately. He happily squawked away. Klip pushed me aside and got on top of me. He threw a right jab in my face.
“You stupid boy! That’s my chicken!”
I heard a ringing in my ears. I couldn’t lose to him. I couldn’t let Tatay beat me again for another stolen rooster.
“Bwisit ka!” Klip shouted. He was about to punch me again.
I grabbed a handful of sand and threw it at Klip’s face, straight into his wide-open eyes and mouth. “No! That’s our Jun-jun!” I got up quickly. I kicked him hard in the stomach.
He cried in pain and blindly threw punches in the air. He tried to wipe the sand off his eyes. “Bwisit! Bwisit ka!”
“Ikaw ang bwisit! Run! Before we call the police!” I shouted back at him.
Klip spat some of the sand out, got up to his feet, and staggered away.
Panting, I looked for Jun-jun. He was just meters away. “Kuu-kuu,” I called and Jun-jun willingly strutted to me. I picked him up from the ground easily. We walked home. I can now feel the pain from my left cheek. I held him on one hand and felt his warmth and his heaving chest. Poor Jun-jun. He must have been scared. I caressed his long, silky feathers comforting him and comforting myself. Tatay stood in front of our old sari-sari store, waiting.
“I knew you could defeat him, ‘nak,” he said with a grin and patted me on the shoulder. “That Klip should know better than stealing from us now, huh?”
That was the first in a long time he called me “anak,” as if only now he had accepted the fact that I was his son. I shoved Jun-jun to him. “Itali na ang manok mo, oh. Ma-kawat naman na karon.”
Nanay came rushing out from the house. “Susmaryosep! What happened to you?” She checked my face and poked my left cheek. My sando shirt was covered in dirt. “You clean yourself up! You’re so dirty!”
The newfound strength of standing up to Klip and talking to Tatay like that gave me a confidence I never knew I had. I remembered the wallet I bought for him. Nah, I decided I would keep it to myself.
Charmaine Annjeanette P. Dimalanta studies creative writing at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She takes pleasure in writing fiction inspired by her father who has a penchant for telling good and funny stories. She currently lives in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, waiting to don her sablay on June 2019.