As a third year student in the New Nueva Vizcaya Vocational H.S., with a new name and new classmates, I felt embarrassed when, during the first day roll call, I failed to respond when my new name was called until our teacher included my second name, Sibayan. I blushed as everyone turned towards me not realizing the fact that I was, for the first time in 14 years being called Jose instead of Patrocinio.
My beautiful and very cute cousin, Eufemia “Mamin” Bravo, who was my classmate, explained to her friends my new name and told them that my nickname is “Siniong.” And so my new acquaintances called me Siniong instead of Jose or “Peping.”
Aside from the regular H.S. general subjects, I was enrolled in Poultry and Swine, as a vocational course. In that class I fell in love with Miguela (Ilay) Faralan who responded to my special attentions by slipping to me the answers to our daily Biology exams as I slipped to her the answers to our Algebra daily exams as we met each other in the exchange of classrooms. Nobody noticed this secret understanding of ours. She was the daughter of an Asst. Protestant Pastor and the sister-in-law of our vocational school teacher, Mr. Rimozin. Ilay and I continued our friendship up to Manila when we were enrolled in college there after our graduation from H.S.
Although my classmates and other H.S. students looked at me with envy for being a bicycle owner and a relative of my rich cousin, riding a P.C. calesa, driven by a soldier on rainy days, they didn’t know the dark side of my life. They didn’t know why I was limping after I got wet during a rain, riding my bike from school. Because I only had one pair of shoes, I tried to dry them inside an oven. When I got them they had shrunk. I could hardly get my feet inside them. When my uncle asked me why I was limping, I explained to him my problem. He told me to get a pair of rubber shoes from a friend’s store. At that time, men did not wear socks. And so I wore first one pair of rubber shoes from June to the end of the school year without much chance of washing them. The stink of those shoes and my feet served as anti-colds medicine. As I ran my finger between my toes and smelled it, the cold germs got killed instantly with the bad odor!
They didn’t know that I had to wake up at 5 AM daily to go to town, bike on the stony road for more than two miles, to buy fresh bread from the bakery and then polish the floor with coconut husk before I took a bath. They didn’t know that I had to pump water by hand every morning for bathing purposes.
They didn’t know that I had to wash the dishes after our meals and ran errands for my auntie and cousins with my bike. They didn’t know that during our Senior Junior’s Prom I had to wear my oversized uncle’s shoes and coat and tie because I didn’t have any at all. They didn’t know how much I wanted to give a Christmas gift or card to Ilay, my girlfriend, but I did not even have a centavo in my pocket.
They didn’t know how my self-pity brought tears to my eyes when I saw my uncle and his family going to a dance in the barracks across the street and they left me to take care of their young children. And I sang the orphan’s song to myself.
But I got very much higher grades than my cousins and my uncle asked why. My cousin’s close friends became my friends too and so I had Ilay, Olive, Edity and Jonnie closer to me than other H.S. students. I had a chance to ride Edith on the bar of my bike one moonlit night around the town, but I had no nerve to make love with her for fear of breaking our friendship. I continued my friendship with these ladies when they were taking nursing courses in Manila. I was then a law student and working at the same time.
In Bayombong my uncle brought home from his expeditions in the jungles of the Sierra Madre Mountains a wild Ilongot boy and a naked black girl called “negrita”, the supposed aborigines of the Philippines. They were wild like animals in the forest, but were tamed very easily. We called the negrita Pogot and the Ilongot Tiadang. At night they slept without blankets or mosquito nets, although it was very cold with plenty of mosquitoes. They slept too soundly that we had to douse them with cold water to wake them up!
Tiadang can fire an arrow from his bow into the thick tall weeds of a forest and still be able to retrieve it back. Pogot can climb up a tree as nimble as a monkey. They were both very healthy, full of muscles, without excess fat on their bodies. Their strength was unbelievable. No amount of convincing them can make them take a bath. They prefer to rub ashes on their bodies. No doubt flies or mosquitoes avoid them! They preferred to eat fruit and raw vegetables.
The elder sister of Mg. Maming, Bicensoceso (Susing) Bravo was crowned as Mrs. Philippines Veterans in 1933, as a candidate of the Constabulary of Nueva Vizcaya. I almost got killed at a wooden bridge in Soleno, N.V. when I was holding to the side of a truck converted into a float riding my bike as the truck speeded homeward bound. It’s good I was able to let go of the truck to avoid being pinned to the railings of the bridge. It is also a wonder how I managed to balance myself at a great speed on the stony road without falling from my bike. I guess my guardian angel saved me. I did not notice I wet my pants until I arrived home.
After our school closed for summer vacation my uncle and auntie decided to send me back home with my bike to Bangued. They took my younger brother in my place so that he can continue his studies in H.S.