a writing by Elizabeth Padillo Olesen

My father died as I was starting Secondary School. He died of heart attack. It was a sudden death, death that came like a thief in the night. Without a job to support her children,and without a husband who was once the breadwinner, mother had to raise pigs.

She built a pigsty, few meters away from our house, along the fence of the house where trees were growing taller. And beside this little enclosure for the pigs with a cemented floor, she made a well, a shallow well that could give much supply of water, especially when the sea was on high tide.

We live actually in a very small island, very near to the shoreline, an island which can be toured around in less than an hour, and an island which is not on the map, not even counted among the 7,100 islands that comprise my country we call Pilipinas. I don’t know even how big my island is. It is funny that until now I have never known the area of my island in square meters. We are strange people, I think. Our local people are not really particular about mathematical figures and details.

I hate pigs. I know some people in the island who raise pigs. I even refrain from passing their place because of the awful smell of the pigs’ manure. Often I equate pigs with dirt and intolerable smell and I often wonder why people eat pork. But of course, I love pork, especially during feasts in the island when there is always lechon. Lechon is a grilled pig as a whole with head and tail. My local folks can prepare a “lechon” for 6 hours under the burning charcoal and dried shells of the coconut fruits.

But mother’s pigs were always clean. The water from the well made it very much easier to clean them. For a period of time, mother was able to sell some of her pigs. The sale of the pigs was indeed a help for the family’s needs. Mother could buy me a pair of shoes and a new t-shirt, which I really liked. So after sometime, there was only one pig left in the pigsty. I was glad then that there was only one pig left to take care of. There was silence around.

Many pigs have the tendency to make noise especially when they are hungry. Their cries as demand for food are special while they raise their heads. And with one pig left, there was much peace and the air was much cleaner. However, I knew that it would not take long before this remaining pig would give us more piglets.

When mother was out of the island, to be in town to purchase goods for the family, she assigned me to take care of the pig. I was really good at taking care of it, caressing her back while she was eating. I know that she was the source of our income. If mother would be successful to find a boar, then soon this pig could give us more piglets, maybe 8 or 12. Oh, I dreamed for more. I just hoped that mother could earn more to help us, her remaining 6 children to be in school.

In a short period of time, I felt very attached to this pig. Every time I found out that her feeding which mother bought from the shop was not enough, I was so glad to go to our neighbours, banked at their doors, and asked for their leftover food which I could give to our pig, and our good neighbours were so kind to lead me where I could get their leftovers,more of them were fish or heads of the fish. But not only that which I enjoyed doing for the pig. I also enjoyed taking this pig to the sea to bath with me. Oh, I enjoyed giving her a bath, like riding on her back, which she did not like, but she liked every time I splashed water to her or when I rubbed her back. The other children usually giggled every time I took mother’s pig to bath with me. Nobody in the island complained that I took the pig to the sea, bathing together with us, little children. It was as if the sea was also the right for the pigs. My only regret was that I forgot to give her a name. I just called her mother’s pig although I knew by heart that he was my pig and my friend.

Every time I came home from school, the first thing I did was to take care of the pig, rub her back and kiss her and fish water from mother’s well to splash at her and clean the floor, if I was convinced she had urinated. Pigs are pigs. They don’t run to find toilets. They just urinate where they are. Maybe mother and I had not disciplined her or maybe we took it for granted that pigs are dirty. Any way, mother’s pig was part of my excitement in the island, part of my responsibility, knowing that such pig was necessary for our economic survival as a family.

But one day, something terrible happened. As I came home from school, I saw the pig with blood on her mouth and blood on her anus. I was very scared and did not understand what happened. When I asked her to stand, blood was draining out of her bottom. I began to cry. I could hear the pig moaning in pain and I felt helpless to help her. I ran to the house and called for mother. She was not there.

I ran to the doctor in the island. He is a very good doctor in the island whom people feared of but for whom they have a strong respect. We, small children, should not bother him for anything but I was desperate. I knocked at his door. The housemaid said that he was resting. But I pleaded, I said, “Please tell him it is very important.” I waited and prayed that he would come out soon.

In few minutes the doctor came out, still rubbing his eyes. It was late in the afternoon. Almost all people in the island take a siesta, a short nap during the day to be able to cope up with the searing heat of the noonday. When I saw the doctor, I kneeled down and said, “Please, doctor, help my pig.” He saw that I cried and I meant it.

The doctor looked at me in great amazement. He said, “My child I am not a vet doctor. Do you understand what is a vet? a doctor for animals? I am a doctor for humans. I cannot help your pig.” And he seemingly laughed.

“But you are a doctor and there is no vet doctor in the island. Please help me”, “My pig…” I could hear myself stammering, “my pig is bleeding. Please come and help for I am afraid that she will die.”

The doctor shook his head “ My child, I have not treated a pig in my life, don’t you understand that?” He sounded as if he meant it truly and sincerely.
But I came with my honest demand. “But you are a doctor, you must know. Please come with me.”

Feeling my insistence and misery, the doctor gave in. “Okay, okay, I will come with you.”
And he came with me without changing his clothes. He came not with his usual white attire. I know by heart that he never would refuse me. I know he was a good friend to my dead father.

When we came to the pig, I saw there was more blood on the cement floor, and mother was there together with some neighbours. Mother shook her head, wondering why on earth I came with the doctor. The people moved back, giving a place for my doctor. The doctor touched the pig, and as he let the pig stand, more blood came oozing out of her. I cried and cried I could not bear to see the pig that way, I considered the waste of much blood as the loss of life or the sight of death.

Then the doctor said to my mother, “ You can ease her pain by killing her. There’s no way to be done, something must have wounded her inside; we don’t know what she has eaten.”

Mother said, “I tried to give her medicine this morning. It was a tablet for coughing I pulverized and mixed it with water. I used a coca bottle to enter into her mouth, to deliver the medicine into her throat. She bit the bottle and the bottle broke. There must be broken pieces she must have eaten.” And my mother looked very unhappy.

The more I cried. I was so angry with my mother. How my mother could be so stupid doing so I thought to myself. But she was my mother I loved. I could not blame her. I could only be angry at her wrong action. I came closer to the pig, caressed her while tears kept on falling from my eyes, dropping on her head.

And my pig was butchered. Inside the intestines of my pig, the butcher found a big hook for catching fish. It must have come from the leftover food I collected from one of our neighbours. The kind women in the island insisted that mother was not guilty at all because they could gather all the broken pieces of the bottle from the floor. The finding of the butcher, therefore, freed my mother from being the culprit for the pig’s death. And I looked at myself responsible for it. I felt more terrible. I uttered a prayer for my pig to forgive me.

The people in my island held a feast. They divided the meat of my pig by kilos for their dining tables. The pigsty became empty. Mother cooked a special meal too, out of the meat of my pig. She called the whole family to eat. I did not come down. I did not want to eat the flesh of my beloved pig.

Note: One of the stories as I attempt to recall my childhood memories at this time when I am sick and have time to write. January 21, 2011

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