One day my father brought home a beautiful horse. She was the most beautiful white horse anyone in our barrio of Pulong-Masle had ever laid eyes on. She had long and slender legs, a silky mane, and a flowing tail. She was, however, not the kind of horse anyone in our barrio would have any use for. She did not seem fit for pulling a rig. She was good only for the track, or for riding but races were held only during the town funeral, and even the rich bachelors in town did not ride horses anymore. They preferred the bicycle. What good was such a beautiful white horse in Pulong-Masle?
My father did not exactly bring the beautiful white horse home. She followed him. When my father would stop to pull a thorn out of his foot or to scratch a bite on his leg, the horse would stop, too, and swish her tail from side to side. When my father continued on his way, the horse too would come along. She had a grand way of walking, proud and confident.
“Why, Estong,” the people at the roadside or in the windows would say, “how did you come by such a beautiful horse?” But my father only smiled and stared straight ahead; he was as proud as the horse that was following him. He did not even notice my sister Victa and me. Victa and I walked behind among the other children.
The people we passed also wondered how my father had come by such a beautiful horse. He couldn’t have bought her because he did not have that much money; everybody knew he earned no more that what was needed, and sometimes less.
I overheard some of the people say that my father might have stolen the horse, and I felt angry with my father and with the people and at the horse, and I knew my sister Victa also felt the same way. When I looked at her, I saw tears in her eyes.
Father was suddenly a stranger to us. He did not seem to be our father at all, and for the moment we hated him. In the past when we met him on the road on his way home, he would hug us or lift Victa or me way up in the air. We used to be very happy when Father came home.
When we reached home, Father led the horse straight through the yard into the field. He sat down on a fallen bamboo and watched the horse beginning to graze. So absorbed was he in the sight of the beautiful horse, he didn’t notice Victa and me sitting beside him. For a long time we sat there watching the horse cropping the wild grass. We did not say anything to one another. It was getting dark.
“What a beauty!” Father said, sighing dreamily and gazing at the horse. “What beautiful legs!”
“They are not beautiful,” Victa said, curling her lower lip. “They are thin and weak.”
That was when Father perhaps first took notice of our presence. He turned his face toward Victa and all of a sudden there was anger in his dark eyes.
“Don’t say that,” Father said. “You know they are not thin and weak. They are slender and beautiful, are they not? Yes, they are. She is a beautiful horse.”
“Doesn’t she belong to us, Father?” I asked.
“She is such a beauty,” Father sighed again, staring admiringly at the horse. She kept on swishing her tail, which was long and flowing and silky, as if she were enjoying herself immensely.
I was beginning to suspect the people were right after all. I trembled at the thought of my father stealing a horse. He used to tell us how good it was to be honest and truthful and obedient, and now, I thought, he wasn’t any of those things he had told us to be.
Presently I heard my mother calling Victa and me, and then the chapel bells rang out the Angelus.
“Come up now, Victa, Marcos,” Mother shouted from the window.
Victa crossed the yard and climbed up the stairs. I sat, silent, beside Father, who seemed to be immersed in thought. Then, suddenly, my mother was with us.
“Where did you get that horse, Estong?” she asked.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Father asked, as though he were talking to nobody in particular. He didn’t even bother to turn his eyes away from the horse.
“Whose horse is that?” Mother asked again.
Without turning his face, father said, unconcerned,
“I don’t know.”
“How come she is here in our own backyard?” Mother asked.
“She’s a beautiful horse,” Father said.
“Let us go in now,” Mother said. “Supper is ready.”
Father did not make the slightest move. He sat silent, his chin cupped in the hollow of his hand, his elbows resting on his thighs. He continued staring dreamily at the horse.
“Let us go in now,” Mother said. “Supper is ready.”
“Let us go, Marcos,” Mother said, pulling me along.
We ate silently, for Mother was angry. We, Victa and I, knew better than to talk when Mother was in that mood. Finally she started mumbling, at first to herself, and then to us.
“I wonder where he got that horse,” she said.
“Ask him, Mother,” Victa said.
“The people on the road said he might have stolen it,” I put in.
“Just who was it who said that?” Mother asked, suddenly florid with anger. “Tell me, who was it who said that?”
“I do not know,” I said. “I just heard some people say it.”
“Let us go right now. Point them out to me and I will show them how to judge your father better. Let us go, Marcos. Right now. Come.” She took me by the arm, tugging me toward the stairs.
But just as we were to leave the house, we met father coming up.
“You and your beautiful white horse, with her long, slender legs!” Mother cried at Father.
“Now don’t say anything harsh against that horse, woman,” Father said. “Don’t say bad words about your cousin Barang.”
“Why, what has my dead cousin to do with that beast, Estong? Don’t you start invoking the dead, you . . . you . . . impious . . . .”
“That horse is the reincarnation of your cousin Barang,” Father declared solemnly. Father was a good jester, he loved to laugh, but this time he was dead serious, and his voice sounded sincere and stern.
Mother crossed herself three times, her eyes almost popping out. “What is the matter with you, Estong?”
“I knew it the first time I saw her, that horse,” Father said, walking past us, and then seating himself at the table. “The first time I saw her following me I knew she was somebody I used to know. Only, I couldn’t remember who. Now look at the eyes. Just look at those eyes tomorrow when the sun comes up. They are the eyes of your cousin Barang.”
Mother crossed herself again. “May she rest in peace,” she prayed, clasping her hands across her breast. “Please, Lord, forgive my erring husband. And may the soul of cousin Barang forgive these utterances!”
Father continued. “When I turned around and saw the horse’s face, I asked myself, ‘Where did I see this face before?’ It was very familiar. And then in the backyard while she was feeding, she wiggled her rump, and I remembered the way Barang used to wiggle her buttocks when she was feeling funny.”
“Ohhh! . . .” Mother cried. “Heaven forgive him, for he does not know what he is saying. He is touched in the head, my husband. Ohhh . . . What have we done to deserve this?”
“She is such a very beautiful horse, your cousin Barang is,” Father sighed.
“Where did you get that horse, Estong?” Mother wanted to know. “Tell me!” she pleaded. “How is it she is here in our own yard?”
“She followed me, don’t know from where. But she just followed me. I told her to go her way but she followed me just the same,” Father said.
“You did not sell this house and buy yourself that horse, Estong? Please tell us the truth.”
“I told you that she is your cousin Barang come to visit you,” Father said. “Now please let us eat. I am hungry.”
The next morning Victa woke me. She was very excited. “Come quick,” she said. “Quick!”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Look at our aunt Barang,” she said. “She is still there.”
“In the backyard. Under the tamarind tree.”
I remembered what my father had said about the souls of the dead coming back to life in another form. Father had been very fond of Aunt Barang. Many times he and my mother had quarreled on her account. My mother did not like Aunt Barang very much, and when she died she cried only during the funeral, but one could see how relieved she was afterward. And now here she was again. Only, she was in the form of a beautiful white horse, come back to life to torment my mother again. Why can’t the dead stay dead? I asked myself.
“Come, quick, Marcos,” Victa shouted. She had gone down the stairs again, so excited was she. “Look at the eyes. They are the eyes of our aunt Barang.”
Mother was in the kitchen, silently doing her chores. She was beginning to take it all with resignation. Poor old Mother. She must have felt very miserable.
I went downstairs into the yard and joined my sister. Father was sitting there on the fallen bamboo, watching the reincarnation of our aunt Barang feed on the grass, swishing her long tail from side to side.
“Look at her eyes,” Victa said to me.
True enough, they were the eyes of our Aunt Barang. Indeed, she couldn’t have been other than our Aunt Barang.
The men came to take Aunt Barang sometime before noon that day. They were a couple of strange-looking men in city clothes, a constabulary man, and some men from the barrio. One of the strange-looking men was short and had a mustache and long hair. The other was tall and carried a walking stick with a copper knob. The constabulary man said they were the owners of the circus which had been set up in the town.
When they saw the horse browsing peacefully on the sward beyond our back yard, the circus men rushed to her, stumbling over the bamboo trunk on which my father was sitting. They hugged the horse and kissed her on the face as if she were their sister.
“Oh, my Minda Mora, my beautiful Minda Mora,” the taller of the two strange-looking men said. “I missed you terribly. Terribly so. Oh, my beautiful Minda Mora.”
My father stood up. So bewildered was he by all this show of affection he could not utter a word.
The shorter one with the mustache and the funny nest of long hair was talking to the constabulary man. He was also very excited and very happy. Then the tall man took something out of his trousers pocket and handed it to my Father. A couple of silver coins.
“Thank you very much for keeping our dear Minda in your yard,” the short funny man said to my father. “We hope she did not give you too much trouble. Come to the circus in the town tonight, and don’t forget to bring the children along. It is the best show there is. And thanks again.”
For a long time after they left, we stood in the yard silently, sadly.
“I did not know Barang would turn out to be a circus lady,” Father said.