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  • In the Garden
  • Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. (bio)

The children were in the schoolhouse garden, pressing squash seeds into mounds they had shaped the day before, when the soldiers came. The tomatoes would be ripe for picking in a few days; they had watered these, and Rosita, being big boned and the eldest at fourteen, was drawing more water from the pump near the mango tree. The pump was old and creaky; it was as old as the schoolhouse, and older than the tree. Rosita pushed down on the iron lever with all her weight, and the pump spat water into her pail in uneven bursts. The pail was nearly full when Rosita saw the soldiers coming up the path.

Mr. Pareja was inside the one-room schoolhouse at that moment, preparing questions for a social-studies quiz he planned to give the next morning. On the table, in front of him, was a tin box that had once held biscuits. The crayons he had brought back with him from his last trip to the capital now lay at the bottom of the box, most of them stripped of their paper wrappings. The box sat on top of a folded map, and the map was reinforced with tape at the creases. Earlier that day Mr. Pareja had made the children copy, with their pencils and the crayons, the map of the country: all its major islands and important cities. He had watched over their shoulders as the children labored with the unfamiliar names and shapes, and shaded the islands—lightly, because the crayons were few and had to be shared.

Bienvenido, the brightest boy, had asked him where Kangmating was on the big map. It was nowhere to be found, much to the children’s perplexity, so Mr. Pareja had had to mark its approximate location with his pen. In doing so his eyes had strayed upwards, across straits and seas, to another town, its name printed in the smallest and faintest type, and he felt a fleeting pain in his chest, and saw in his mind the outlines of a church and belfry and the fall of delicate white lace. “Here,” he had said softly, “Kangmating is here. This map was made by very old people. They forgot to put us in it.” The children had laughed, and he had laughed with them. Then he had gone to the part of the wall where the children had pasted cutout pictures of Mayon Volcano, Pagsanjan Falls, and the Banaue Rice Terraces, and he had pointed out their locations on the map. Bienvenido had remarked that they all seemed to be very far away from Kangmating, [End Page 176] and Mr. Pareja, wiping his glasses on the hem of his shirt, had tried to explain that away by saying that Kangmating was a beautiful place in its own right: there were wild orchids and blue-feathered birds to be found in the outlying forests. But no one had smiled.

Now it was past four in the afternoon, and the midday heat had dissipated. Mr. Pareja had removed his shoes, as it was his habit to do, and had forgotten to put them back on. His socks were the same ones he had worn the day before, but they were soft and comfortable on his feet, which he perched on top of his shoes. The shoes themselves—brown suede with black rubber soles—had long ago lost their color and taken on the dull gray of the earthen floor; one of the laces had frayed so badly that he had had to knot it whole again. Nevertheless, they were the only shoes in the building, and every school day for the past two years he had resolved to wear them, failing only once, when a scorpion had stung his ankle and caused it to swell.

Mr. Pareja looked out the window and saw two children arguing over the distance to leave between the squash seeds. He thought of stepping out and resolving the issue for them, but he changed his mind just as quickly; they would know, in a few weeks, who was right. It was more likely that they already knew...