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The Umbrella Country (Bino Realuyo)


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  His last words to me--Run, Gringo. Run--whistled in my ears.

Pipo lay on his bed, limbs all over as if they were born separate from each other. His back was turned so I couldn't see his face. But I could hear him picking the wall with his fingers, removing layers of papers that covered it, revealing the years we had spent plastering the whole house with big square technicolor wallpapers. Soon he had those years all over him, a shower of little tamarind leaves, each torn piece a different color, a different time. Every hour, his fingers drummed and picked the wall, his fingernails became the teeth of hungry night rats.

He had not said anything to anybody.

The General Electric fan roared in his place, its metal screen covered with thick dust, and spitting out more dust all over our room, especially in the sun rays that entered through our window. Streaks shone directly to where Pipo was, hitting one leg of the bunk, splitting our bedroom in the middle with light.

His ribs moved quietly. Ninang Rola had told me once that nobody died lying on their side, always face down or on their back, so that their spirits could see where they were going or where they had come from. Pipo was on his side, his thumb, halfway into his mouth, facing neither heaven nor earth, eyes closed, his cheeks moving in and out, making sucking noises. His shirt was pulled up so that his bruised back was exposed, so fresh that it hurt to look at it. His blanket was pushed down to his feet. The mattress was so bare I could see its stained striped lining. Hanging above him was my own blanket, left undone like the one on the big bed in the middle of our room. I could see from the spring underneath my bed that the weight of my body was in the middle, the middle part being more depressed than the rest.

But Pipo's bed had no middles, no sides.


The familiar smell of bruises.

He didn't move as I edged to him. I touched the dark blue metal of the bunk, which creaked as soon as I sat down. He didn't even hear my loud breathing, didn't hear my insides tumbling like a rubber band ball as soon as I smelled him so close to me. I remembered the times I waited outside this room and watched him flee; the scent of the room always swallowed me in.

I waited until the day after to see him. I didn't want him to remember that I wasn't hurt by Daddy Groovie, didn't want to remind him of his bruises, the shape of Daddy Groovie's palms. I wanted to tell him that he could keep inside what hurt most, deep inside, in Ninang Rola's words--when you buried something so deep, you did not know it was even there. There would be no need to suck his thumb, pick the wallpaper, because doing those wouldn't bring him back to the past, or remove Daddy Groovie from him.

I moved my hand closer, slightly brushed his skin. His hair, disheveled, and thin. Looking at his scalp made me see Daddy Groovie's hands again, dragging him all over the room. I heard heavy footsteps and I quickly pulled my hand away and ran to the window. The bed squeaked. I sat behind the curtains, peered out the window. The sun cascaded down my face.

The door swung. I sensed Daddy Groovie's scent inside the room. I didn't turn my head. I could only hear him walk over to Pipo.

"Tsk, tsk. Get up, don't you want to eat" he asked in a low voice after standing there for a while. He probably shook Pipo's shoulders as he did to wake us up every morning. He didn't know Pipo had already eaten, in the middle of the night when nobody could see him get up from his bed. Pipo didn't answer.

"Pipo . . ."

Daddy Groovie never talked about what happened. He didn't ask why I was walking up and down the stairs with a dustpan full of shards of glass early that morning. He didn't know I was cleaning up after him. He didn't know how much I wanted to remove the traces of everything he had done to this family. Every time I picked up a piece of broken glass I saw a part of his face in it. Every time I emptied the dustpan and heard the clang of the broken mirror I thought about what he had done. Mommy didn't bother to remove the shards of glass that could have hurt them more if they accidentally stepped on them. Daddy Groovie just stepped over them. He spent much time standing in front of that mirror to spray himself with his Pacorabang. As I slowly put them in the dustpan, I was also removing parts of Daddy Groovie from my mind, throwing them out, wishing his memory could stay in the garbage can.

 
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Excerpted from The Umbrella Country by Bino Realuyo. Copyright © 1998 by Bino Realuyo. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.