Black Rice (Part II)

(Read Part I here)

The corn was sold, and the income was not enough to pay for Molong’s debts. However, the financer of the farm, a rich man from the center of the town, offered to buy the farm, horse, and carabao. The down payment was enough to pay for the family’s fare to the plains and help them tide things over for a month or so. They started to pack.

The kids were forbidden to go back to the forest, and so far nothing untoward had happened to any of them. Their father had taught Dalen the prayer against encantos.

Nonoy felt that their father had been colder to him than ever before. He had barely spoken to him since the day they found Dalen near the cave. His mother too. She wasn’t exactly doting on him before, but now she was distant. She always seemed lost in deep thought whenever she saw Nonoy.

The day before they were to leave the village, Dalen came to Nonoy. He was carrying pieces of wood for the kitchen. “Nong . . . ,” she said.

He ignored her.

“Sorry, Nong,” Dalen said, stifling.

Nonoy stopped walking.

“I’m a bad kid.”

“Don’t cry.”

“I’m a liar.”

“Stop crying, it’s all right.” He put down the wood on the ground.

“You’re no longer mad at me?”

“No. I was never mad at you. I just didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“Because of what I’ve been saying, now Tatay is convinced you’re not his firstborn.

“It’s all right,” he said. “At least now I know the truth.

“You’re no longer mad?”

“I’ve told you, I’m not.”

“Cross your heart?

“Cross my heart. Hope to die.”

Dalen smiled, her eyes brightened.

Nonoy couldn’t resist smiling back.

“If you want, I’ll tell Tatay and Nanay the truth,” she said. “It’s okay for me if they’ll spank me.

“You don’t have to do that. Everything will be all right.”

She took a few sticks from the pile and went with Nonoy inside the house. They were alone. Their father and mother had last-minute matters to attend to.

As Nonoy cooked rice, Dalen merrily talked. She wondered what their life would be in the new place.

“You will find new friends there,” Nonoy said.

“Tatay told me there’s no forest in the plains,” Dalen said. “Just flat land and rice fields, rice all around. Do you think there will be encantos there?”

Nonoy shrugged. The thought of Tuljik pained him. Tuljik was the only friend he had. Dalen was his friend, but she was his sister, so she did not really count.

“Nong,” Dalen said, “I want to see your encanto friend.”

He stared at Dalen with bewilderment.

“Don’t deny it, Nong,” Dalen said. “You can see encantos. You’re the lucky firstborn. You inherited Tatay’s third eye.”

What his sister said warmed Nonoy’s heart. “Well . . . ,” he said. “I can’t let you do it. It’s dangerous.”

“Just once, Nong. Please!”

“Tatay will get mad.”

“I won’t tell him. And we’ll just go back right away. As soon as you place your hand over my eyes and I see your friend, we’ll go home. We’ll run fast.”

Nonoy didn’t like the way the conversation was going. “What if the encantos get mad?”

“They won’t,” Dalen said. “They like you, and your friend’s kind, right? Besides, I know the prayer that can be used to fight them. I’ll teach you. I don’t think we will have to use it, but just to be sure, I’ll help you memorize it.”

“I don’t know, Len,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t risk it. Sorry.”

Dalen pouted and stayed silent beside Nonoy. Just when he thought she had changed her mind, she said, “What if you did not really inherit Tatay’s third eye?”

He frowned at Dalen.

“Maybe I’m really the firstborn. Maybe I really have a third eye but it’s not open yet. What if you can see encantos because you’re one of them? Don’t you want to know the truth?”

***

It was dusk and drizzling. The path through the woods seemed so long, and the cave seemed so far. Nonoy and Dalen took long pauses, discussing how they would deal with the encantos, but they couldn’t come up with an exact plan. Nonetheless they plodded along.

They were near the caves when they heard their mother shouting for them. Nonoy stopped. “Let’s go back,” he told Dalen.

Instead of obeying his brother, Dalen ran toward the cave.

“Noy!” Bebeng shouted upon seeing her son. “What are you doing here?”

The boy felt like bursting into tears. His mother’s face was red, and beads of sweat dripped from her forehead.

“Where’s your sister?”

Nonoy couldn’t utter a single word. He merely glanced at the footpath leading to the cave. Bebeng understood right away. “My daughter!” she exclaimed, and ran toward the cave. Nonoy ran after her.

They weren’t able to catch up with Dalen, and even when they reached the mouth of the cave, the girl was nowhere in sight. Bebeng shouted for her, but the only answer she got was the echo of her own voice.

Bebeng turned to Nonoy with fiery eyes. “How could you,” she said. “Why did you bring your sister here?”

Nonoy rose as he felt hot liquid stream down his cheeks. “Nay,” he pleaded.

“You must really be an encanto’s child. You want to harm our family.”

“Nay, no. It was Dalen who wanted us to go here.”

“Liar,” Bebeng said. She left him and started to walk inside the cave.

“Nay, don’t go in there,” Nonoy cried.

“Leave me,” she answered. Then she looked back. “If you still care for our family, go home. Tell Dalen’s father we are here.”

Though hesitant to leave his mother, Nonoy obeyed her. He ran home as fast as he could, and there he found Dalen sitting on Molong’s lap. She had changed into dry clothes.

Controlling his sobs, Nonoy told Molong what happened.

Molong’s face darkened. He put Dalen down.

“Tay,” Dalen said, “it wasn’t Manong’s fault. I just wanted to see Ana, but I got afraid Nanay would be mad, so I ran back here.”

Molong took a kerosene lamp from the kitchen. “Stay here,” he told Dalen. “I’ll go find your mother.”

“Bring me with you,” Dalen pleaded.

“No, stay here. And don’t go out till we’re back.”

Nonoy held his sister. “Don’t be afraid, Len,” he said. “I’m staying here with—”

“No, you’re not,” Molong cut in. “You will come with me.”

“But, Tay,” Nonoy protested, “the encantos might take me away.”

“Indeed, that’s the reason I’m taking you. So that they won’t take away your mother or sister, I’m giving you to them.”

Both Nonoy and Dalen cried no, but Molong grabbed Nonoy by the hand.

It took a while for Molong to have his way. He had to force Nonoy to go out of the house and force Dalen to stay inside. Eventually, fear of their father took over the kids’ own will.

Molong placed a heavy log against the door to lock Dalen in, and pulled Nonoy along with him.

Molong lit the lamp when they reached the cave’s mouth. He called out for Bebeng, and before long he heard her voice.

Bebeng rushed to her husband upon seeing him and Nonoy. “Molong,” she cried, “they took our daughter away.”

“She’s all right,” Molong said. “She’s at home. She didn’t come in here.”

Bebeng sighed in relief. She looked at Nonoy. Now that she found out Dalen was unharmed, she felt guilty for the way she treated the boy. She asked Molong, “Why did you bring Nonoy here?’

Now that he found out his wife was unharmed, Molong felt guilty too for what he had done to Nonoy. “Nothing,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

Bebeng said, “I’ve been walking around and can’t find the cave’s mouth.”

“Let’s just follow the water,” Molong said. “It will lead us out.”

The three of them used the stream’s flow as a guide, but the water seemed winding and endless. They walked until the light of the lamp started to dwindle. Molong adjusted the wick so that they could use as little fuel as possible.

“Perhaps we made a wrong turn,” Bebeng said. “Let’s go back and find another way.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Molong said. “Whichever turn we’re going to take, we will never reach the cave’s mouth. The encantos are playing with us. We must reverse our clothes to counteract the spell.”

The three wore their garments inside out and continued walking along the water, but after what seemed like an hour, they were still unable to find the way out.

“We’re really lost, Molong,” Bebeng said. “We’re stuck here forever.”

In frustration Molong shouted, “Encantos, I know you’re here! Show yourselves. Let’s face each other, Siqbal. Let’s settle the score!”

Utter silence answered Molong. He continued shouting, but no encanto appeared.

“The lamp!” Bebeng cried. “It’s running out of fuel.”

The three of them watched in horror as their only source of light petered out.

***

When Nonoy opened his eyes, he right away felt someone else was in the cave. His parents and he had fallen asleep with weariness, leaning against the damp wall of the cave.

“Tuljik!” Nonoy exclaimed. A white glow emanated from the body of the little prince, and the light helped Nonoy see faintly his surroundings. “Help us,” Nonoy pleaded.

“Worry not. I will,” the little prince answered.

“Thank you,” Nonoy said. “You are really my friend, Tuljik.”

“Your mother and father I will let escape. Ye, however, must stay.”

Nonoy stared at Tuljik in disbelief.

“Ye will like it here,” Tuljik added. “Ye’ve been in our kingdom several times, and I could see ye’re happy with us. Ye’re happier here than in yer home.”

“That’s not true,” Nonoy instantly countered. But at the back of his mind, he wondered if what Tuljik said was true.

“If ye eat black rice, my father will give yer family a gold bar. Yer family will be wealthy and happy.”

“We’re happy even if we’re poor, Tuljik,” Nonoy said. “Why don’t you just help us? Why do you have to ask for something in exchange?”

“Why, my friend,” Tuljik answered, “don’t ye want my offer?”

“Please, Tuljik, let us all out of here. I know you’re a good encanto. You—” Nonoy stopped when he noticed Tuljik’s attention was no longer at him. He turned and saw his father looking at Tuljik and him.

“You can see encantos?” Molong asked Nonoy.

“Yes, Tay,” Nonoy answered with happiness. “I am your—”

“So you are indeed an encanto’s child,” Molong said. “You can see encantos because you’re one of them.”

“No. I—”

“Where’s Siqbal?” Molong asked Tuljik.

“My father?” Tuljik said.  “He can’t be here.”

“So you’re Siqbal’s son,” Molong said. “Your father had better show himself now, or I will be forced to harm you.”

“Now, Molong,” a voice said, “that’s not the way to talk to kids.” King Siqbal appeared beside Tuljik. The white light from his body made the cave brighter.

“Siqbal, damn you!” Molong said. “Leave my family alone.”

The king laughed. “I am not doing anything to yer family, my friend.”

“Don’t ever call me friend,” Molong said. “You betrayed me.”

“Is the traitor really me, Molong?” King Siqbal said.

“What’s going on?” Bebeng asked in alarm. She had been awakened by Molong’s voice, but she could neither see nor hear the encantos.

The king’s eyes narrowed. “Why don’t ye make yer wife see us, Molong? So that she would know the truth.”

Molong sneered. “Indeed, she should see you. She should know what you have done to her.” Molong put his hand over Bebeng’s eyes, and at once she was able to see the two encantos. She gasped.

“Now, Siqbal,” Molong said, “tell my wife what you did to her to get back at me.”

King Siqbal frowned. “I didn’t do anything to yer wife, Molong. Harm yer new family I never did. Ye know we encantos only take something equal to what we have lost or given away. We are fair in our dealings.”

“Fair?” Molong said. “Was it fair for you to kill my brother just because I refused to be one of you?”

“My fellow encantos killed yer brother in retribution. After ye told yer father about us, he killed my mother.”

“Lies,” Molong said. “My father couldn’t do that. Stop fooling me, Siqbal. You killed my brother just to show how powerless human beings are against your kind. You even took advantage of my wife, and now you’re planning to take my daughter away from me.”

“Tay, no,” Nonoy interjected. “They’re not going to take away Dalen. She can’t see them. She’s making up stories.”

“Bastard,” Molong said, grabbing Nonoy by the shirt. “Here, Siqbal,” he said. “Take the kid. I know you won’t stop until you have taken away my daughter. Take your lying son instead.”

“No, Molong,” Bebeng cried. “Don’t give our son away.”

King Siqbal said, “I do not know what ye mean, Molong. I have no intention of taking yer daughter. But I want to take yer son. And now that ye’re willing to give him up, very well. Ye’re making things easy for all of us.”

It was Molong’s turn to be confused.

Nonoy cried, “Tay, don’t give me to them.”

Bebeng started to cry too. “Molong, can’t you see Nonoy’s telling the truth? He’s your son. He inherited your third eye.”

“No,” Molong said. “He can see the encantos because he’s Siqbal’s son.”

“All you want to believe is yourself, Molong,” Bebeng said. She broke down crying.

King Siqbal said, “Let’s put an end to this once and for all.” A bowl appeared on his hand. He passed it to Tuljik, who came to Nonoy.

Nonoy smelled again the meatlike aroma of the black rice. In a trance, he stopped struggling against Molong and reached out for the golden bowl.

“Noy, don’t!” Bebeng said. But with one stare from Tuljik, she found herself unable to move. She watched helpless as Nonoy held the golden spoon and brought it to his mouth.

Nonoy did not bother to chew the black rice. He knew they would be scrambling for his throat. Just when he had accepted his fate, he felt the grains melt into nothingness.

Once again, Dalen’s voice saved Nonoy.

***

Dalen was crying, calling for her father, lighting her path with a kerosene lamp. Molong ran to her daughter, carried her in his arms, and walked back to the rest of the family.

“Nay!” Dalen cried upon seeing her mother.

Bebeng, too, had been released from Tuljik’s spell. “Len,” she said, taking the lamp from her daughter’s hand, “can you see the encantos?”

Dalen hesitated for a while, and then said, “Yes, Ana is here.”

Molong stood agape. He put down Dalen and shook his head, murmuring “no” repeatedly.

Bebeng turned to King Siqbal. “Gentleman, please tell us, is Nonoy your son?”

King Siqbal said, “Why would he be my son? He’s a human being. I have only one son. He’s here, Tuljik is his name.”

“Nay, what’s going on?” Dalen said. “Are you talking to the encantos? Ana—”

“Hush,” Bebeng said. “Molong, get a hold of yourself. We must get out of here.”

Molong nodded to his wife. He faced King Siqbal and said, “Where is the black rice?”

King Siqbal was surprised, but he smiled shortly. “Ye’re now giving us yer son, Molong?” he asked.

“I know you’re wily, Siqbal,” Molong said. “You won’t set my family free until the black rice is eaten.”

King Siqbal laughed. “It’s good that ye know that, my friend.”

“Molong, no,” Bebeng said, holding Nonoy. “I won’t let you give Nonoy to them. If you still don’t believe he’s your son, I’ll no longer try to convince you. But you can’t take him away from me. Whoever his father is, Nonoy’s my son, so I won’t let anyone—”

Tuljik cast a spell again on Bebeng.

King Siqbal nodded to his son, and Tuljik carried the golden bowl back to Nonoy.

“No,” Molong said. “Give it to me.”

Everyone stared at him.

Molong asked Siqbal, “Do you have a problem with my offer, my friend?”

The king seemed to think over the matter for a while. “Nay,” he said. “It is all right. We prefer to take kids because they are usually easier to convince. But an adult, an adult like ye, my friend, will do just as fine.”

“The gold bar . . . ,” Molong said.

“Of course, it shall be given to yer wife, Molong. After ye eat the black rice.”

Molong told his motionless wife, “Beng, please forgive me. Take care of . . . our children.”

When Molong took the golden spoon, Dalen bawled and held on to his father. Tuljik hexed the little girl too.

Nonoy stared around in panic. His father was chewing the black rice. He must do something. He knew his father was determined and he could no longer stop him. But he could fight the encantos.

The prayer.

He began reciting the prayer, and immediately he saw its effect on Tuljik. The encanto boy crouched, as if something hit him in the stomach. The golden bowl disappeared, and Bebeng and Dalen were released from Tuljik’s spell.

King Siqbal rushed to his son, but he too felt the power of the prayer. Nonoy’s mother had joined him, even Dalen too, reciting the prayer as fluently as the older members of the family. When Molong eventually spat out the rice and joined his family, King Siqbal and Tuljik vanished.

The four of them ran away, following the course of the stream, guided by the lamp Dalen had brought.

***

Nonoy zipped the large bag and pushed it to a corner, beside a small pile of sacks and other bags. He then went out of the room.

“Are you done?” his mother asked. She was preparing the table for supper.

“Yes, Nay,” Nonoy answered.

“Good,” Bebeng said. “Now sit here.”

Nonoy came to the table.

Bebeng turned to Dalen, who was sitting on a stool beside the door, staring outside the house. “Len, come here,” Bebeng called out. “I cooked chicken for us. I’ve already put food on your plate.”

Dalen remained sitting on the stool. She seemed not to have heard anything.

Bebeng sighed. She came to Dalen and whispered to her. She then led the child to the table.

Nonoy started eating.

“Eat now, Len,” Bebeng said. “Look, I reserved the wings for you. You like them, right?”

Instead of taking her spoon, Dalen stared at the door.

In a shaking voice, Bebeng said, “Don’t wait for your father. He won’t be coming home.”

Nonoy looked down and bit his lip. He held his breath so that tears wouldn’t well up his eyes. His mother had told him that the two of them must be strong. They must not cry in front of Dalen so that she would get well soon, so that she would speak again.

Bebeng said, “Your father is gone, Dalen. He chose to stay with the encantos. He gave up his life so that we would be able to come back here.”

King Siqbal and Tuljik had disappeared when the family recited the Latin prayer, but the family was not able to get out of the cave. The whole place had been enchanted, and the spells worked even without the presence of encantos.

Nonoy said, “He will come back, Nay.”

“We’ve been waiting for months,” Bebeng said. “It’s time we accepted the truth. We’re leaving the village tomorrow, and unlike what your father did before, no one of us will ever come back here.”

“But, Nay, we didn’t see Tatay being taken away by the encantos.”

“Your father wanted it to happen that way. While we were asleep, he must have called the king of the encantos and asked him to give him the black rice. So when we woke up, he was gone and we found ourselves near the mouth of the cave.”

“He really loved Dalen.”

“He did it for you, Noy. The last time I saw your father, he was staring at you while you were asleep. I told him to touch you, to hug you, but he couldn’t. He was carrying too much guilt in his heart.”

Nonoy could no longer hold back the tears. His vision blurred with the profuse flow from his eyes.

“Len, where are you going?” Bebeng said.

Nonoy wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and looked at Dalen.

She had stepped down from the stool and was walking to the hearth. She stopped a foot or two before the still-glowing charcoal, her eyes fixed on something.

Nonoy and Bebeng followed Dalen, and they saw a yellowish bar lying amid the embers. Bebeng hugged her children and broke down crying.

***

Standing beside his father, the little prince watched several male encantos swim in the enormous pool. The water was azure and home to hundreds of vicious creatures—piranhas, sea snakes, two‑headed crocodiles, and many others. The encantos rode and raced with the animals.

“I am sorry, Father,” the prince said. “I failed.”

“Nay, son, ye didn’t,” the king answered.

“But The Boy From Without refused to come with us.”

“It matters not. His father did.”

The prince nodded. “Where now is The Man From Without?” he asked. “I thought he would become like us and live with our kind.”

“It’s time ye learned the truth, son. It’s time yer eyes be opened.”

The scenery changed to gently sloping hills filled with thorny orchids, blood‑sucking roses, and a thousand toxic flowers. Amid the blossoms, encantadas sang and danced.

The king led his son down a series of golden steps.

“Shan’t his family miss The Man From Without?” the prince asked.

“They shall. But eventually he shall be gone in their memory. The gold bar shall help them become happy.”

“The gold bar, Father? I thought it is rice that brings happiness, that helps us forget bad memories.”

“Human beings have their own ways, son. Their rice is different from ours, not as powerful.”

They reached a golden arc, beyond which nothing could be seen except darkness. They passed through an invisible barrier, and the prince found himself and his father inside a golden dome. The prince looked back at the arc and saw that the place behind them, where the vast garden was, was now empty and dark.

The king led his son to the center of the dome, where a plant lay. It was not different from ordinary rice; only, it’s huge, as huge as a full-grown tree, and its tiny grains were black.

“It is time, son, ye learned the secret of our kind,” the king said, watching the plant with pleasure. Its leaves were green and shiny, swaying in the wind. “Because of what ye did, our kingdom is assured of food for the next two hundred moons.” The king smiled, exposing his saw-shaped teeth.

The eyes of the prince moved down. Instead of roots, the rice had a giant claw, and on its grip was The Man From Without.

The Man From Without was sprawled on his back, on top of a pile of skeletons, his limbs limp like wilted vegetable, his face drained of blood. He was mute, but his eyes spoke of terror his mouth never could. He was staring at the little prince, silently pleading for quick death.

Glossary

albulario – Filipino term for folk healer

aswang – in Philippine folklore, a person who changes shape and eats other human beings

encantada ­– female encanto

encanto ­– a human-like supernatural being in Philippine folklore

manong ­­– Ilonggo term for big brother

nanay – mother

tatay – father

tuba – coconut wine

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