Reported by: Cielo Jane M. Miake
You have seen the chain that holds logs on a carriage in place. Well, that chain is controlled by a lever in which is out of the way and unless that lever is released, the chain cannot whip out like a crocodile’s and hurl a man to the wheeling circular saw.
I was down at our sawmill last summer to hunt. As soon as school was out, I took a bus for Lemery where I boarded a sailboat for Abra de Ilog. Inong met me at the pier with one of the trucks of the sawmill and took me down. The brazen heat of summer writhed on the yard of the sawmill which was packed hard with red sawdust.
My father met me at the door of the canteen. He took my bags and led me in. I shouldered my sheathed carbine and followed. The canteen was a large framehouse made of unplaned planks. My father’s room was behind the big, barred store where the laborers of the sawmill bought their supplies. The wrought walls of the small room looked like stiffened pelts.
My father deposited my bags on a cot and then turned to me. “I’ve asked the assistant sawyer, Rey Olbes, to guide you.”
The machined of the sawmill were dead.
Only the slow, ruthless grinding of the cables of the winches could be heard.
“No work today?” I asked my father.
“A new batch of logs arrived from the interior and the men are arranging them for sawing.”
then a steam whistle blew.
“They are ready to saw,”my father explained.
The steam machine started and built solid walls of sound that crashed against the framehouse. Then I heard the saw bite into one of the logs. Its locust-like trill spangeld the air.
“You’ll get used to the noise,”my father said. “I’ve some things to attend to. I’ll see ypu at lunch time.” He turned about and walked out of the room, shutting the door after him.
I lay on the cot of my clothes on and listened to the pounding of the steam engine and the taut trill of the circular saw. After a while I dozed off.
After luch, I walked out of the canteen and crossed the yard to the engine house. It was nothing more than a roof over an aghast collection of soot-blackened, mud-plasterd balky engines. Every inch of ground was covered with sour-smelling sawdust. The steam engine had stopped but two nakedmen were still stoking the furnace of the boilers with kerts and cracked slabs. Their bodies shone with sweat. I skirted the boiler and went past the cranes, tractors, and the trucks to the south end of the sawmill. A deep lateral pit, filled with kerts, flitches, and rejects, isolated like a moat the sawmill from the jungle. Near the pit, I saw Rey. He was sitting on a log deck. When he saw me, he got up and walked straight to me.
“Are you Rustico?” I asked.
“No, I’m Rey Olbes,”he answered.
“I’m Eddie,”I said; “my father sent me.”
He was tall, a sunblackened young man. He had unusually long neck and his head was pushed forward like a horse’s.His skin was as grainy as moist whetstone.He stooped and picked up aa canterand stuck it on the groundand leaned on it. Then he switchedhis head like a stallion to shake back into place a damp lock of hair that had fallen over his left eye. His manner was easy and deliberate.
“Your father told me you wanted to go hunting.” He said slowlu, his chin resting in the groove of his hands folded on the butt end of the canter. “tomorrow is Sunday. Would you like to hunt tomorrow?”
“Yes, we can hunt tomorrow.”
Inside the engine shed the heat curled like live steam. It swathed my body like a skirt. “It’s hot here.” I said. “Do you always stay here after work?”
“No, not always.”
Then I saw a woman emerge from behind one of the cranes. She was wearing gray slik dress. She walked toward us rapidly.
“Ray!” she bugled.
Ray dropped the canter and turned swiftly about. The woman’s dress clung damply to her body. She was fair; her lips were feverish and she had a sock of black electric hair.
She faced Rey. “Have you seen Rustico?”
“No.” Rey answered. There was a small fang of frenzy in his voice.
“Tonight?” the woman asked.
Rey glanced at me and then looked at the woman. He reverted to his slow, deliberate manner as he said: “Dida, this is Eddie. The son of the boss.”
Dida stared at me with frantic eyes. She said nothing.
“He’s a hunter too,” Rey continued.
Then I saw a man striding toward us. He walked hunched, his arms working like the claws of a crab. Tiny wings of sawdust formed around his heels. He was a small squat man, muscle-bound and graceless. He came to us and looked around agrily. He faced the woman and barked: “Go home, Dida.”
“I was looking for you, Rustico,” Dida remostrated.
Did atruned around, sluking, and walked away. She disappeared behind the boilers and the furnace that rose in the shed like enormous black tumors. Rustico set himself squarely like a boxer before Rey and demanded almost in a whisper. “Why don’t you keep away from her?”
Rey lokked at him coldly an answered mockingly: “You have found a fertile kaingin. Why don’t you start planting?.”
“Why you insolent son of the mother of whores!” Rustico screamed. He reached down to the ground for the canter and poised it before Rey like a harpoon. I bounded formward and grappled with Rustico. He pushed me. I sank to the sawdust; Rustico leapt forward to hit me in the jaw. Rey held him/
“Keep calm.” Rey shouted. “This is the son of Mang Pepe.”
Rey released him and Rustico dropped his arms to his side. He looked suddenly very tired. He continued to stare at me with eyes that reflected yellow flacks of light. I got up slowly. What a bastard, I thought. Rustico wheeled about and strode to the whistle box. He opened it and tugged a cord. The steam whistle screamed like a stuck pig.
“All right man,” he yelled. “It’s time. Load the skids and let us start working”
Rey picked up his canter and walked towards the log carriage.Rustico was supervising the loading of the log deck. He was as precise and pulled clamps. He sparked like a starter and the monstrous conglomeration of boilers, furnaces, steam machines, cranes, and winches came alive. I walked away.
When I reached the canteen, I heard the teeth of the circular saw swarm into a log like a flight of locusts.
The next day of Rey, carrying a light riffle, came to the canteen. He pushed open the door with his foot andentered the barred room. He stood near my father’s table. His eyes shifted warily. Then he looked at me and said: “Get ready.”
“I did not bring birdshot,” I said.
“I thought you wanted to go after a deer?”he asked.
I was surprised bacause iknew that here deer was only hunted at night, with headlamps and buckshot. The shaft of the lamps always impaled a deer on the black wall of night and the could pick it off easily.
“Now? This morning?” I asked.
“Why not? We are not going after spirits.”
“All right. You are the guide.” I dragged the gun bag from under the cot and unsheated my carbine. I rammed the magazines full with shells, pushed it in, and got up. “let’s go.”
We entered the forest from the west end of the sawmill and followed a wide tractor path to a long station about four kilometers from the sawmill. The forest was alive with the palever of monkeys, the call of the birds and the whack of the wind. Then we struck left uphill and climbed steadily fo about an hour. The trail clambered up the brush. At the top of the rise, the trail turned at an angle and we moved across the shoulder of an ipilipil ridge .
Rey walked rapidly and evenly, his head pushed forward, until we reached the drop of the trail. I looked down into a valley walled in on sides by cliffs that showed red and blue-gray gashes. Streaks of brown and green were planed across the valley. Islands of dark-green shrubs rose above the level rush of yellow-green grass. On the left side of the valley, a small river fed clay-red water to a grove of trees. At the north end, the valley flattened and the sky dropped low, filling the valley with white light and making it look like the open mouth of the jungle, sucking at one of the hot, white, impalpable breasts of the sun. we descended into the valley.
Rey’s manner changed. He became tense. He walked slowly, half-crouched, his eyes searching the ground. He examined every mound, bush, and rock. Once he stopped; he bent and picked up a small rock. The rock had been recently displaced. He raised his hands to feel the wind and then he backtracked for several yards and crept diagonally to a small clump of brush. I followed behind him.
“Urine,”he said. The ground near his feet was wet. “Work in a cartridge,”he told me, “and follow as noiselessly as possible.” I pulled back the bolt of my riffle.
We crept on half-bent knees toward a groove of tress. Rey, carrying his riffle in the crook of his arm, was swaying gently like smoke and the tall grass that swirled with the breeze. Rey was intent.
Then he stopped and stiffened.
“Remove the safety,”he whispered. I heard the safety of Rey’s riffle click off. I pushed mine off.
“There is your deer,”he said In a low voice. We were still crouched. “Near the base of that tree with a dead branch. Only its head was visible but it should be somewhere near that dry patch of leaves. Shoot through that. Do not move until I tell you to do so.”
I did not see the deer until it moved.it turned its head towards us. Its antlers were as brown as the dead branch of the tree. The deer regarded us for a long time. Then it dropped his head and quickly raised it again. We did not move. The deer, reassured, stepped, deffidently out of the shadows.
“Now!” Rey said, falling to his knees. The deer stopped, looked at us, its antlers scuffling against the leaves. I raised my riffle and fired. The deer went high in the air. Then dripping his head, it crashed through the trees and vanished.
“Your aim was too high,”he told me quietly. He was sill on his knees. “Too high,” he said softly. “But you got him.”
He stood up slowly, pushed down the safety of is rifle and walked toward the grove of low trees.
We found the deer. It was stretched out on the ground. Its neck was arched upward as though it had tried to raise its body with its head after the bullet had ripped a hump of flesh off its back. Blood had spread like a fan around its head. Rey sat down on the ground and dug out of his pocket a small knife. He cut an incision at the base of the deer’s neck. He stood and picked the deer up by its hind legs. Blood spurted out the cut vein.
‘You got your deer.” He said. “Let’s turn back.”
Rey hauled the deer up and carried it around his neck like a yoke.
I felt my nerves tingle with triumph. The earth was soaking up the blood slowly. I felt a crazy urge to wash my body with the blood. I felt that it would seep into my body and temper my spirit now forging hot with victory. I looked a t Rey. He was smiling at me. In a strained voice iI said: “I’ll try to do this alone.”
“You’ll learn,’ he said. “The forest will surely outlive you.”
We walked out of the valley.
After an hour’s walk, we came to a kaingin. Rey was sweating. We crossed the charred ground. At the end of the kaingin, Rey stopped. He turned arounnd. The deer has stiffened on his shoulders.
“This used to be deer country,” he said. We surveyed the black stumps and half-burned branches that lay strewn on the ground. The bare soil looked rusty.
“You know these parts very well, don’t you?” I asked.
“ I grew up here, I was a logger for your father before I became a sawyer.”
His rifle slipped from his arm. I picked it up and carried it for him.
“It is the sawmill,” Rey continued. “It is the sawmill that openned the foresr. The sawmill has thinned the jungle miles around.” I starred at him. He continued meditatively, veins showing on his long, powerful neck. “But I do not think they can tame the forest. Unless they discover the seed of the wilderness and destroy it, this place is not yet done for.”
“Don’t oyu like your job in the sawmill?” I asked.
He shot a glance at me and grimaced. “ I do not complain. You do not have to tell this to your father but Rustico is making my stay very trying. You saw what happened yesterday.”
Yes.” I said. “What made him so mad?”
Rey did not answer. We crossed a gully and worked our way to the end of a dry river bed before he answered. The shale crumbled under our feet. The trees that grew along the bank of the river were caught by a net of vines. Rey, yoked by the deer, was now panting. Under a kalumpit tree he threw his burden down and sank to the ground.
“You know why?” he asked. “Because his wife is pregnant.”
The revelation struck me like a slap.
“And he suspects you,” I asked tentatively, unsure now of me footing.
“He knows, Dida told him.”
“Why doesn’t he leave her then?” I said, trying to direct the talk away from Rey.
“He wouldn’t! He’d chain Dida to keep her!” Rey flared.
I shut my mouth. It was noon when we reached the sawmill.
Late that afternoon we left to shoot fruit bats. Rey knew a place where we could shoot them as they flew of their roost. He had aseveral tubes of birdshot and a shotgun.
It was almost eight o’clock when we returned. We followed the road to the dawmill. The shacks of the laborers were build along the road. Near the motor pool, a low grass hut stood. We passes very close to this hut and we heard supressed, agry voices. “That is Rustico’s hut,” Rey said.
I heard Rustico’s voice. He sounded strangled. “I want you to drop that baby!” The words spewed out like sand. “Let me go!” Dida screamed. I heard a table or a chair go, it crashed to the florr. “I’ll kill you,” Rustico threatened. “Do it then! The yellow wings of light that had sprouted from a kerosene lamp shook violently.
Rey quickened his steps. He was carrying a bunch of dead bats. One of the bats had dropped, its wings spread. It looked like a black ghoul on Rey’s side.
The next morning, I heard from the men who were huddled near the door of the canteen that Dida ran away. She had hitched a ride to town on one of the trucks.
I was eating breakfast in the store with my father when Rustico entered. He approached my father carefully as though his feet hurt. Then he stood before us and looked meekly at my father. He was gray.
“Mang Pepe,” he began very slowly, “I want to go to the town. I will be back this afternoon or early tomorrow morning.”
“Sure,” my father said. “Inong is driving a load of lumber to the pier. You go with him.”
“Thank you,” he said and left at once.
After breakfast my father called in Lino, the foreman. “Tell Rey to take charge of the sawing today. Rustico is going to town. We’ve to finish this batch. A new load is arriving this afternoon.”
“Rey left early in this morning,” Lino said. “He said he will be back tomorrow morning.”
“Devil’s lighting!” my father fumed. “Why didn’t he tell me! Why is everybody so anxious to go to town?”
“You were still asleep when he left, Mang Pepe,” Lino said.
“These beggars are going to hold up our shipment this week!” my father flared. “Eddie,” my father whirled to face me, “look for Rustico and tell him that he cannot leave until Rey returns. We’ve to finish all the devil’s logs before all these lightning-struck beggars pack up and leave!”
I walked out of the canteen to look for Rustico, I searched all the trucks first and then the engine house. I found him sitting on the log carriage. He was shredding an unlighted cigaretet.
“My father said he is sorry but you cannot leave until Rey comes back from the town. We have a lot of work to do here. A new load of logs is expected this afternoon,” I spoke rapidly.
He got up on the carriage and leaned on the chain that held the log clamps. He actedtired.
“It is all right,” he said. “I’ve plenty of time.” He spat out a ragged stalk of spittle. “Plenty of time.” I turned about to go but he called me back.
He looked at em for a long time and then asked: “You are Rey’s friend. What has he been about?”
“Nothing much,” I lied.
“Nothing much!” he screamed, jumping off the carriage. His dun face had become very red. “He told you about my wife, didn’t he? He delights in telling that story to everybody.” He seized a lever near the brake of the carriage and yanked it down. The chain lashed out and fell rattling to the floor.
Rustico tensed. He stared at the chain as though it were a dead snake. “Now look at that chain,” he said very slowly.
He mounted the carriage again, kicked the clamps into place and pulled at the chain. The chain tightened. He cranked the lever up and locked it.
He was trembling as he unlocked the lever and pulled it down with both hands. The chain lashed out again like a crocodile tail.
“Just look at the chain,” he mused.