On the Road
“Don't go there,” his grandfather thundered. “These place may be all bright and sunny, but the stronger the light, the darker the shadow.” But he didn't care. He was no longer a boy for crying out loud. He was eighteen, tall enough to be mistaken as a twenty-five year old man. God, why did his father let his grandfather bring him here. He had friends, back home. A family, he thought further, remembering the aunts and uncles they left, remembering their smiles. He had a life back at the US. of A. But his grandfather had been insistent. He would not hear of any reason.
He sighed as the vehicle- jeepney, he heard it was called- made a little jump. What in the world was this colorful contraption anyway? They're too colorful for his tastes, too eye-catching. He groaned, softly, trying to keep it to himself. The suffocating space inside the jeepney seemed to make it all the more harder. And then his grandfather said something, to which he raised a brow. “Hurry now,” his grandfather muttered, as he pulled their luggage out. “It's impolite to keep our hosts waiting.”
“We're only guests in this country, Bernard,” he spoke. “I know these people love guests. They live to entertain at times. But we're only guests.” He kept silent.
Charles Wulfe, his grandfather, was a military man, often appearing cold and tough to most people. So much so, that they thought he was neglecting his child. But his grandfather was a caring man, just too subtle to let anyone know. It was something his father had not inherited, being rather free-spirited, and yet still stern. He had come to terms with it during his earlier teenage years. Perhaps that could be counted as growing up?
However, his grandfather was acting strange, ever since they entered this country's airways, as soon as they saw land beneath the plane's wings. There was some unknown urgency- or was it paranoia?- that seemed to have stricken his old man. He seemed to be looking around, searching for something. “Excuse me,” his father muttered as he approached a bystander. “Unsa nga jeep ang sakyan para Talamban?” The man stood up and pointed, saying something that his ear wasn't able to decipher correctly. “Salamat,” his grandfather said with a soft smile.
“Talamban?” he asked, a note of confusion in his voice. His old man however just nodded. He shook his head. His grandfather never explained himself to him.
“Liadlao,” he suddenly warned. Damn it, he thought. He always hated it when his folks called him that. It was a weird name, something like those cultist call themselves. “Most people here are good-natured, but as always...” His grandfather let the warning hang. He nodded, following the man's floral patterned-back. They were dressed like tourists out for a vacation, or at least his grandfather was, because he was in a blue, dress shirt, jean and boots. But they seemed to be too far from the beach or any other places of luxury. What were they doing in the middle of nowhere in fucking summer in the sweltering heat? Only his grandpa would know.
“We'll take a taxi from here,” he smiled, “though you might want to use the cheaper way?”
“The cheaper way?” he asked -and later, wished he hadn't.
“God damn it,” he cursed as the motorcycle gave a slight jump on the fucking pothole on the dusty road. He was not really the outdoorsy type, although he tolerated the forest camping that he and his father had. But adventures like this had him cursing just like this. Nothing was really stunning with the scenery, he observed, as they traveled. All it showed was the damage done to Mother Nature, or at least people living in nature. Trees seemed to fuse with their houses.
The motorcycling men dropped them by a feather road, a feet-worn path that led into the green. He sighed. “Are you sure there aren’t any snakes here? This place looks like it’s stuck in the Jurassic Park.” He may have heard his grandfather give an amused snort, but the man merely picked up his bags and started following the path. He had no choice but to follow his elder.
The walk towards the heart of the jungle was a quiet one, punctuated by various bird calls and insect chirps. “Gramps, are you sure there aren’t any dangerous animals here?” His and his grandfather’s footfalls seemed to be the only thing that was human in the forest.
“The animals won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt them,” the old man replied, pulling his bags, seemingly unhindered. That wasn't reassuring in the very least.
Towering trees were thickly clumped together that it bit a few rays of sun directly hit the forest floor. As comforting as the shade of the trees from the noon sun, the natural coolness of the area made the hair of his hackles rise. It made him think of elves and curses and dwarfs. It eerie, reminding him of things that were older than he was, primeval and ancient.
He cursed within, half-tempted to pulled back the sleeves of his shirt, before remembering that this part of the world just might have malaria.
So they trudged on. Luckily, they’d been wearing boots instead of the local flip-flops. The soles would have been worn, and the straps would given up by now. The rocky path and the roots of the trees were stumbling blocks. He can’t remember just how many times he’d almost fallen flat on his face.
He sighed. It was getting muddy and slippery. Another sigh escaped his lips. He was really missing the concrete roads of the middle-class suburbs, the well-kept shrubbery and the mowed lawns. He missed wide streets and his bicycle.
“Gramps, does someone actually live here?” he sighed doubtfully. Looking up, he noticed that the sky was gaining a vermilion color. The sun was setting.
“Yes,” the old man replied, a tinge of humor in his voice. He furrowed his brows. “There is a hut here in the middle of the forest, where anyone can rest. They will welcome anyone, provided that they will not threaten them.”
“Or else?” He was sure that there was a story that the old man was itching to share to him, as he wiped the sole of his boot on the tree root. “Gramps?” he prompted when the old man didn’t answer.
“Let’s just say you don’t want to know.” The old man gave a gruff chuckle. He frowned. There wasn’t anything amusing with this trip.
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