It’s unfair. With small bodies, they move in all directions. Once a leg gets broken—which usually happens when they resist to be caught—they have seven more to spare. No difference. They still move like they used to.
Kuya Ping is one of the tikri masters. When it gets dark, he troops to the thick foliage with his friends. In the dark, their flashlight beams, cuts through the night like tiny moving stars. Sometimes, the flickers sway as if large fireflies are lighting barks and underbrush just so Kuya Ping and his gang can bring home a winner.
Today, my brother’s matchboxes where he keeps his catch remain empty except for the gagambang talon from two nights ago. With wiry legs that barely support their round bodies, it’s as good as feeds for bochoks—the real fighters.
Kuya Ping is just three steps away, but his silence sizzles, I know. Just like mother’s boiling pot of milkfish cooked in sour broth, with the tamarind scent crawling around the room, making my mouth water.
My brother is silently sewing his slippers. That pair that he loves dearly bought from the town plaza, the yellow pair which he says makes him “almost invisible each time he comes close to their nest.” Father cut it last night. He did not want Kuya to go out. “It’s the soft rain that kills you,” father always says.
Maybe father is right, after all. It’s just a game where the big spiders eat up the small ones. We will outgrow this one day. We don’t even talk about sticking beetles’ backs with bubble gum anymore. It’s best to see those beetles flying and landing on your shirt like a pleasant surprise.
But for now, from where I am, I can see Kuya Ping’s hand pushing the cut piece of wire to bridge the yellow rubber pieces. He is silent because he knows I’m to blame. I told father about his plans last night. Now, I can’t even look at my brother for fear of what he might say.
He promised to let me tag along. Since summer started, he said he’ll let me come. I even collected empty matches and cut cardboard to divide a box of casa fuego into small rooms.
But I know it’s Kiko; he keeps telling about how slow I am or how my voice might get too loud once they’ve trailed a spider’s nest. So I’m always left waiting every night. I am tired of hearing how Jose always steps on cow dung or how they avoided a snake coiled on the branch of the jackfruit tree in Kakang Upeng’s lot.
With the rainy months approaching, I know father will be extra strict unlike when summer was just starting. One day, I’ll be as fast as them. I will run fastest and without losing breath, I can outrace Kiko to the river’s edge and then he’ll say with his tired voice, “You’re good, Poying. I did not expect this from you. From now on, you can go hunt with us every night.”
Kuya Ping is jolted, throws down his slippers, shouts and sucks on his left pinky. “Are you happy now, Poying?” he half-whispers, eyeing mother stirring the pot in the kitchen.
“I didn’t know father would do it. I’m sorry.” My voice gets faint and small as if coming out of an empty matchbox.
“Sorry? Now that we both can hang around the transistor after supper? And you say you’re sorry?” Kuya Ping says contolling his
voice from exploding.
“But you promised. Now, it’s already the rainy season.” I can feel my throat running dry. I try and think of a stick with two battling bochoks, their large behind protruding from the stick like moving rosary beads.
Kuya Ping lets out a heavy sigh, picks up his cut up slippers and sits beside me. “It isn’t easy out there, Poying.” His voice is more calm now as he pretends to sew together his right foot slipper. “The other night, we had to run because Tandang Sauro was drunk again and he caught us in his premises near the corn plantation.”
“But you won’t leave me, am I right, Kuya? Just once, we can do it before summer ends.” I think of the first bite thrown by the dueling spiders on a stick. One will fall for sure. But if both have been wrapped in chewed-up leaves of malunggay or ampalaya for a whole night, that’s another story. Something about saliva mixed with green leaves, they say.
“I don’t know. Kiko might say,” he pauses and Kuya’s eyes probe the slats on our bamboo floor just to avoid my stare.
“Kiko? That double-seeing maniac who only sees clearly when hiding to peek at the girls bathing in the river? Don’t tell me you’re afraid of him.” I say the words imagining the round strangle-hold spinning on a stick like a strange dance. Double the stick and we have tinikling dancers with six extra legs each. I wonder when I can dance the tinikling in school.
“Afraid of Kiko, I am not! But he knows where the bochoks hide. I don’t know how he does it. Must be those eyes.”
He laughs loud and I feel I must laugh with him. From the bottom of my dry throat, I try to imitate the booming tone of his laughter. I see the winning eight-legged creature continue wrapping the enemy. Faster and faster until the small movements from the defeated one are seen no longer, even if you force yourself not to blink. I laugh some more until I end up coughing.
Kuya Ping bites his lips and with all his might thrusts the piece of wire into the yellow rubber. He succeeds and just like that, two metal lines join the two pieces that have become of his right foot slipper. He looks at me smiling, thrusts in the two yellow pieces in his hands then puts them up. In crooked movements, he moves the shiny objects in front of me.
“Look, Poying. This is how light moves when we are out hunting. You should move fast.” Brightness is slowly sucked out of our living room until only the light coming from my Kuya’s hands are seen.
“If it’s from a dead tree trunk, watch out for those white ants.” Kuya beams his light below us and I see the tree felled by lightning at the back of our house. “If you feel them crawling, shake them off really hard. “He flashes the light on his boy scout shirt, “Try to feel if they’ve entered your sando.” Kuya scratches my shirt with his magic yellow lights and adds, “What’s worse is if they enter your shorts.” Kuya Ping reaches down my shorts and I cannot help but laugh.
Like a tightrope walker from the perya or a spider balancing on a stick, Kuya demonstrates the proper way to walk so as not to disturb a nest. Gently, he paces the darkness that has eaten up our living room.
“But if you see a shiny thread, don’t point your light directly,” he hides his slippers-turned-flashlights on his back then cautiously approaches the spider’s web. Gently removing a slipper from his right hand, he says, “Cup your palm and in a swooping rush, close your fist. But not too tight, ha, Poying? The spider must be able to move in your closed palm. It is important or you might kill him.”
Walking towards me, Kuya Ping reaches out his loosely clenched fist and hands me our first catch for the day. I reach for my empty matchbox and there I tuck our loot.
“Will you let me climb a tree then, Kuya?”
Shaking his head, he looks at me, smiles and blurts out, “Yes.”
Removing the yellow light on his left hand, he picks me up from my seat and thrusts me up near the stairs, I mean, the great balete tree by the riverbed. Quietly, I examine the branches until I spot the white round silky thing protecting their eggs.
“Kuya, I found it. I found a nest!” Using what he’d taught me, I reach and feel the tingling steps crawling in my hand. “I got one.” I whispered.
Kuya Ping reaches out for me, and seats me again. Then I hand over the catch in my loosely closed palm. Cautiously, he gets my first ever catch from my hand and declares with his booming voice, “It’s a bochok. My brother caught a champion.”
I smile and start clapping my hands to which my brother joined my applause.
“Dinner is ready,” mother calls out. Father comes in swaying, still with a lit tobacco in his mouth. He smells of sugar cane wine and he joins us clapping.
My hands start to feel sore. I can’t stop myself. Suddenly, Kuya Ping stops, followed by father. Mother comes nearer me and points out.
“Okay, Ping, your brother did it again,” mother says pointing at my shorts. I try to reach for my crutches.
“Tsk, tsk, I told you not to get too excited, Poying,” Kuya seriously tells me. “Come now and I will wash you and help you put on a new pair of shorts.”
Kuya Ping carries me on his back and we head to the casilyas. I feel so light, hugging Kuya’s back. Never mind if my feet are too skinny or as they point out, my legs aren’t right. I am so happy that my heart still beats fast. Someday, I will run as fast as my heartbeat. One day, the kids outside will see.
Suddenly, the road to our backyard casilyas seem nearer. “Looks like rain again, ha, Poying?”
“Never mind the strong rains,” I find myself saying. Then, like dancers moving as one, we both add mimicking father’s drunken tone: “It’s the soft rain that kills you.”
We laugh some more before I tilt my head up and look at the sky, thinking of the coming rain. All of a sudden, I know that everything is possible.