The Summer of a Million Tutubis
by Dino Igancio and Budjette Tan
Her name was Celeste. We met back in the summer of `82.
I was nine years old and she was eight.
She was Rey’s cousin from San Francisco. She came to visit and was the flower girl in Rey’s older sister’s wedding.
It was a hot, dusty summer in Marikina.
We spent it playing in the streets all day and eating halo-halo at Aling Ninding’s store. She would always put more lanka in the halo-halo than Manang Lety from across the street.
Every day after lunch, my Nanay Loleng would make me take a nap until the afternoon sun went away. I would twist and turn in my bed until I was allowed out to meet my friends. It was a true test of patience but it always paid off once I was allowed out.
It was the summer of tutubis.
The summer of the million tutubis.
We must have caught over a hundred of them that day and they just kept on coming. We chased them and put them in jars, and no matter how many holes we punched on the lid they all seemed to die by the next morning.
We wanted to keep them as pets. Give them names. Set them free inside the house and make them fly around as we played with other toys. But they’d always die before we could get them back home. Sometimes we’d breathe into the holes to make sure they had enough air, but that also didn’t work.
It seemed like the summer would never end. But it did.
Aling Ninding stopped serving halo-halo, the tutubis left, the salagubangs came and Celeste went back to San Francisco.
Rey and I still saw each other but slowly grew up and grew apart.
19 years later, I saw Celeste again-- at Rey’s wake.
She was standing outside the chapel smoking one of those thin cigarettes. I went up to her and said, “Hi. Alex --my name is Alex. I was Rey’s old neighbor. From Markina.”
She blinked. Then recognized me. “Yes, I remember. When I came home for Rhonda’s wedding. Wow! How’s it been? Do you still chase tutubi?”
“No, sorry. I stopped doing that. I’m a writer now. I write for the papers. And you? What have you been up to?”
She waved her cigarette in the air as she answered. “A bit of this. A bit of that.”
Her smoke made me cough. I tried to keep our little conversation going. “You know they built a mall in that place where we used to catch tutubis. I still jog there in the morning, when the mall is still closed, and on some months I can still see some tutubis flying around that area.”
Celeste looked away, like she was looking for someone. “Malls. They’re everywhere,” she said.
She took a puff from her cigarette and continued, ”We basically live in malls. We’ll die in malls, you know. I used to work in this mall and everyday I’d see this guy. He wasn’t really a bum. He had money to buy stuff, but he’d make such a big fuss about what to buy. Took him hours trying to figure out if he should buy it or not. He’d get all friendly with all the sales ladies and the guys at the food court. Know them all by name and you’d think they were friends or something, but the guys were just doing their job and being nice to him because he’s a customer. One day, at closing time, they found him in the parking lot, in his car. Turned out he owned a Jaguar. They found him dead in his car. Didn’t really die of carbon monoxide poisoning. He just died. Like his heart just stopped beating. Like he just decide to one day quit it all.”
She dropped what was left of her cigarette to the ground and stepped on it with her Doc Martins. “I guess that’s why you should never put tutubis in a jar,” she said with a smile.
Celeste’s mom called her. She turned to me and said, “Bye. Gotta go. Nice to see you again.” But you know it was just one of those things she always says.
We buried Rey the next day.
There was a heavy downpour as we drove from the chapel to the cemetery.
But as soon as we arrived, the rain stopped.
The ground was muddy and it was slow and slippery walk to where we were going to bury him.
And as were about to lower his casket into the ground, the tutubis started to appear.
A million tutubis.
They hovered around, zoomed here and there, but they didn’t bother anyone. They just watched over the whole proceedings.
After the casket was lowered and the first shovel-full of dirt was thrown in, the tutubis started to fly away.
Back in 2001, Dino sent me seven pages to a story and a text piece that had a beginning and an ending. He asked me to fill in what happened in the middle. I think this was supposed to be part of an anthology we were doing at the time, but never got around to it. So, here's the story... three years late. Hope it makes sense. :-)