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Antic narratives, of much bewilderment

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 01, 2022 5:00 am Updated Sep 04, 2022 12:24 pm

Six somewhat outrageous stories compose the little tidy book Flowers for Thursday: Stories by Mia Tijam, published by Ateneo de Naga University Press.

Born and raised in Iriga City and now a resident of Naga, Tijam was one of the first writing fellows for Creative Nonfiction in the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. She’s a Comparative Literature graduate of UP Diliman, and co-edited the pioneering virtual anthology Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler with Charles S. Tan. 

In this author’s debut collection are the stories “Remembering Thursday,” “Waiting for Agua de Mayo,” “The Ascension of Our Lady Boy,” “Wishes Do Come True,” “What the Children of Muerte Caxerex Say,” and “Talking to Juanito.”

Tijam’s fiction often bewilders with its wild amalgam that utilizes some familiar creatures of lower mythology that have localized variants, along with versions of “the other” and related denizens of the invisible world.

Earlier versions have appeared in magazines or short story and speculative fiction anthologies as well as in digital form and international collections. One of these, fittingly, is Bewildering Stories, a web-based magazine for speculative fiction.

It’s a bit of a tough read, for me, anyway, as Tijam’s fiction often bewilders with its wild amalgam that utilizes some familiar creatures of lower mythology that have localized (made Irigueño, that is) variants, such as faux tikbalangs, along with versions of “the other” and related denizens of the invisible world. Then too there’s frequent use of local terms that are not explained or only thinly contextualized.

These italicized terms compete with the non-italicized argot combining Filipino “gayspeak” and trendy syntax identifying with both pop culture and the newly woke. It is thus a welter of layers of seeming verbal hieroglyphs — all that as a departure from the usual structural and textural world-building efforts found in spec fic.

In “Talking to Juanito,” there’s generic reference to the “wrinkled people” and a “demonyo” that is apparently a child’s metaphor for a horny stud. But the story also has passages that appear to be clearly constructed, with the exception of a local term that may raise a reader’s eyebrow:

“The wrinkled people say that when ’Anay was more little than me, she would sing whenever she saw the curtains moving. But the curtains move even when there’s no wind. ’Anay is really alone, the wrinkled people say, ta there is always the girl with her, the girl with hair all over her face and body, the girl always standing beside ’Anay.”

Both an intriguing “other” and a local colloquialism that is repeated no end in this story are the uncommon features. Thankfully, the Foreword in its English version, “The Native Agimadmad in Tijam’s Fiction” by H. Francisco V. Penones Jr., explains the mystery word:

“And the single-syllabled Irigueño word, ta, which also means to see the consequence, and, reason, easily melded in the narrative of Talking to Juanito because it is inevitable and reasonable like the deft weavers of the nipis de piña of old in Iriga.” Oh, “Agimadmad” is Bikol Central for “consciousness.”

In “Waiting for Agua de Mayo,” the national lore on the salutary effects of the first drenching rain of May is counterpointed in the narrative with the annual peril in a river where the specter of a giant monitor lizard serves as a bogey for bathers, especially children. But for the narrator who’s a young girl who grows past her teens, it becomes a dragon she befriends since it can talk to her — and learns all about Demi Moore’s gamin cut and VHS players and laser discs.

As summer ends, the bayawak/dragon comes out of its lair to meet with her, until she makes the mistake of violating a promise exacted from her to keep their yearly rendezvous secret. For years, on the day of Agua de Mayo, she tries to lure it out again to revive their friendship.

“l hope it will talk to me and take me back as its friend. Maybe I will even get to tell it about DVDs and the Internet and iPods and all. Maybe I might even get to tell it about drugs and politics. It would give it another opportunity to launch into a lecture about how stupid and self-destructive we all are. Maybe it will even take me away and take me to its home. Maybe it will ask me to stay. Maybe I’m just a weird woman who chooses a weird dragon for a life companion.”

As the longest story, “The Ascension of Our Lady Boy” mixes up a random assemblage of pop culture references and hair-raising oddities, as the narrator goes through her travails as the title character, while imagining the beauty contests she would join where she’d proclaim: “Mabuhay! My name is Lady Boy and I’m from Los Angeles Iriga Cityyyyyyy!”

Macho Daddy, the town’s agri kingpin and cock-of-the-walk, cages his only son in a chicken coop until he/she gets “some manly and chicken sense.”

The yaya Iyay turns out to be her Fairy God-Aswang. She teaches Lady Boy how to converse with the chickens.

At one point, Lady Boy even gets to join the rest of the boys of Los Angeles in getting circumcised one summer.

“It was heaven for me. Of course it hurt like hell being circumcised and I wished I didn’t have to go through it, noh! But see I got to wear a skirt for weeks while I healed.”

The humor weaves through the antic narrative the way Lady Boy’s Mommy Dearest fingers the rosary in mock desperation for her son’s salvation. Well, she obviously remains unaware that Lady Boy’s customary stream-of-consciousness rhetoric includes “Why not chocnut?”