The Problem With Enteng
By Lily C. Fen
Enteng's situation was getting worse. "Happens to everyone," well-meaning neighbours kept whispering.
The air in Lalawigan, a slow-paced farmer's town where he lived, was so still from the heat that only insects fizzed and moved about the rich earth, as the occasional breeze rustled quietly through the dried straw awnings of the nipa huts.
Flies buzzed about the magnificent black carabaos that he tended, their tight black coats glistening in the afternoon sun while they chewed on green grass.
The boy's hair was impossibly oily, his skin a mess of pus and fat, purple-red welts. It was perfectly normal for someone his age to have acne - he was thirteen, after all. His mother pushed him back against the wooden bench, to get a good look at his acne-attacked face.
Three months ago the teen's face had erupted into a multi-colored volcano. There were little ripe mountains of violet on his cheeks and chin, running over his slick, shiny forehead; while other mounds had exploded and were sinking into puddles of sickly green. Every time a barrio resident crossed paths with him, there was a ripple of disgust at the sight of his battered countenance.
Certainly, everybody had expected that it would dissipate and dry up, but those ugly clumps persisted, never going away. If a good tub of soap and regular washing wasn't going to do the trick, it was time for another course of action. Enteng's mother had had enough of it--the whispering neighbors, her fear of Enteng's courting prospects being ruined so early in his youth.
She decided they would pay a visit to the barrio's resident albulario, their village's healer. Normally, the wrinkled woman was visited by older folks to deal with bouts of rheumatism or arthritis, sometimes the occasional sprained ankle, or sore shoulder muscles, but Enteng's mother didn't know where else to go.
The albulario accepted his mother's offer of three dozen eggs, and let Enteng into her hut.
Both Enteng and his mother followed, while the rest of their barrio peeked through the hut's doorway, or through the little window in the rear, the straw providing some shade where the roof stretched into an awning overhead. It was high noon, and no one was tilling the fields for fear of passing out during the hottest time of day.
Enteng's mother didn't like it, but it was not as if she had a choice. Everyone was curious as to how the albulario would solve the problem.
The old lady took one long, lingering look at Enteng's face, and then turned to her cabinet of medicines, chanting in Tagalog, using words older than what the villagers spoke. Most of it was lost to Enteng's mother, or the rest of those peeking in. The albulario lit some incense, set it on a side table, and let the smoke waft through the tiny hut. She took a walis ting-ting, a makeshift broom made out of dried reeds strung together on one end, and started waving it around, spreading the smoke throughout the hut, engulfing poor Enteng in its cloud.
Then she took a dark brown maraca and started rattling out a beat to match her chanting, jiggling the instrument over Enteng, her arms dancing over him. This went on for the better part of the afternoon, and most of the town folk remained transfixed. Chalky exhaust spread out of the tiny window and door.
And then – neither Enteng nor his mother knew when exactly it had happened – something changed. The jangling stopped abruptly, and the healer's chanting changed to a flowing, legato pace, almost as if she were singing a lullaby.
Enteng looked at their shaman then, wide-eyed, almost in fear, as the ugly purple mounds began to tear open and erupt, the melting mountains of pus oozing out. Cockroaches and centipedes crawled out of his skin. Large winged roaches skittered out of his pimples, crawlers with yellow legs slithering out of the holes on his face. Enteng sat there, terrified, not sure if he should shut his eyes. He remained frozen, staring in wonder at the creatures coming out of his face.
Many-legged insects emerged from his cheeks, some small, some large. It seemed to go on for an eternity, everyone unable to move - apart from the albulario, who kept on humming, her old, wrinkled skin swaying as she moved about, her toothless mouth opening and closing as she spoke the words, waving her maraca about, rocking it gently with one arm through the waves of white smoke.
After that, Enteng was free.QLRS Vol. 14 No. 2 Apr 2015