An anime-inspired mythical story of a young boy’s journey as a mystical healer and warrior in the lush forests of Dakilang Bundok somewhere in the Philippines.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Page 8 – The Awakening
“Wake up, Zardo. Wake up,” a soft soothing voice coaxes the boy.
Zardo groggily rouses from his nap. He opens his eyes but the blinding ray of white light startles him. “Did I die while I was asleep? Is this the welcoming glow of afterlife?” Zardo jokingly asks himself. Slowly, a human-like form begins to appear before him. The sight jolts him into a sitting position.
“Hello Zardo. I’m Leilanie … your spirit guide,” she gently tells Zardo. “Huh? What do you mean, spirit guide? Who are you and where do you come from?” Zardo is getting visibly upset by the figure before him as his right hand anxiously tries to find his arnis sticks.
“I have always been with you since you were born, along with Kidlat. We are here to protect and guide you.” Zardo then sees the big black dog walk up to sit right in front of him; his tail wagging. “Hey! This is the dog on top of the rock I saw earlier,” he exclaimed. “You’re right, Zardo,” she assures him, “and he’s the same dog who guarded you until you were found by Sister Luz when you were an infant.”
His right hand found and grasped the arnis sticks, but let go and reached forward to pet the dog instead. Kidlat happily lurched forward to lick the boy’s face. Zardo brought his other hand to embrace and playfully wrestle with the big dog.
Leilanie delights in seeing Zardo reconnect with Kidlat. She's convinced the boy will now be receptive to what she is about to reveal to him.
In only a few minutes, Rafael’s accuracy rewarded him with a small pile of ripe mangoes. He plans to put them all in a plastic mesh bag that he keeps in his knapsack and then dip it in the water of the nearby brook. When they later on awake from their nap, he will pull the cooled mangoes from the water for all to feast on.
Rafael is about to get the mesh bag from his knapsack when he suddenly hears a songbird. He looks up and sees it perching on a branch of a tamarind tree. He stealthily puts a pebble at the end of his slingshot, takes aim at the bird and releases the pebble. It was a surefire hit. The bird landed on the ground.
The boy sprints to fetch it; however, once he got to the spot where he saw it fell only a moment ago, the songbird is nowhere to be found. But he certainly saw it drop from the tree branch and land on this particual spot. He walks around the tree a couple of times; scratching his head, wondering where it went.
"Oh well, I'll shoot me another one later on," he whispers to himself as he walks over to where his friends are napping to fetch the mesh bag from his knapsack.
“Did you see that? There on top of the big rock!” Everyone looked but then turned their gaze back to Zardo rather quizzically.
“You’ve been under the sun for too long, Zardo,” quips Sebastian. “There’s nothing up there, except for that darn rock. Better you stay under the shade and rest for a while.”
They all met up early that morning for their planned day hike. They first headed over to the river to help Lexi pick up some washed stones for the necklaces she has in mind. They then walked over to the forest to help Zardo gather some herbs, leaves and flowers for Sister Luz’s medicinal potions.
It was way past noon when Lexi suggested they take a lunch break. She pulled out a cotton floral sheet from her sack and laid it out right under the mango tree. They all sat on it as they enjoyed their lunch of fried tilapia fish, garlic rice, and sliced salted egg and tomato salad. Everything was prepared for them by Tia Rosalina at the break of dawn.
Feeling somewhat lethargic from their hearty luncheon, Sebastian suggests a nap; both Lexi and Zardo readily agree. On the other hand, Rafael, a slingshot ace, decides to first shoot down some ripe mangoes to munch later on when they awake from their nap.
Rafael takes aim at the stem that holds a large yellow mango up in the tree while the cool breeze lulls Sebastian and Lexi to sleep. Zardo is mulling over the sight of the dog earlier, but eventually fell asleep as well.
The foothills that surround Dakilang Bundok are teeming with medicinal plants used by Sister Luz in her healing sessions. However, there are plenty of herbs, plants and trees that abound in and around the village that when decocted could be used as effective cures for the common ailments afflicting most people.
The bayabas (guava) tree, for example, is a wonderful source for basic cures. Its leaves or bark can be boiled and used to cure diarrhea, dysentery, sore throats, vomiting, stomach upsets and vertigo. Bayabas leaves can also be chewed to heal bleeding gums or eliminate bad breath. And when chewed before going on drinking bouts, these guava leaves can prevent hangovers. A decoction of the bark and/or leaves or a flower infusion can be applied topically for wounds, ulcers and skin sores. Guava flowers can also be mashed and applied to painful eye conditions such as sun strain, conjunctivitis or eye injuries.
There are many others used by Sister Luz in her healing sessions such as Luya (ginger) to soothe upset stomach, relieve intestinal cramps, and alleviate excessive vomiting by pregnant women. Kalachuchi is another tree she resorts to. Its leaves when extracted can be used for asthma, and when decocted can be a refreshing cooling tea to prevent heat stroke.
The sampaguita (jasmine) flowers not only smell good and make wonderful altar offerings, but they can also be decocted to use as eyewash to alleviate reddening and swelling pains in the eye region. Sister Luz uses its root materials in combination with other drugs as external poultice to speed up the healing of sprains and fractures. The okra roots, on the other hand, she would use to assuage varicose veins, arthritis and fevers.
Under her tutelage, Zardo is learning all about the many varieties of these indigenous medicinal plants and their curative effects. But there is one significant aspect of mystical healing that Sister Luz, due to her advanced age, now finds too exhausting to practice. It involves battling with the dark spirits that horrifically possess anyone who unknowingly crosses their path.
She has started training Zardo on it, but she senses the boy at this time is still shying away from it. Sister Luz knows that this craft is something that one cannot impose on another. She can only wait for the time when Zardo really wants to learn it.
They aren't just friends to Zardo; they are more like brothers and sister to him. They are always together; inseparable it seems — to idly pass some time together or engage in some frivolous adventure.
Sebastian comes from the town’s richest family. The vast tracts of fertile land they own produce the juiciest sugarcane crop in the country. He was schooled earlier on in Switzerland and in America, but his frailed health worsened during those countries' bitter winter months. He was eventually returned to the Philippines. His parents were exasperated by the neverending search for the ultimate cure. Until one day, one of their farm hands mentioned about Sister Luz. They were at first reluctant, but eventually relented. They brought the boy to see her. Under Sister Luz’s recommended regimen of local herbs, fresh fruit and luscious vegetables to supplement his regular meals, Sebastian soon overcame his food allergies and other nagging ailments. He also began to develop a robust and strong body.
However, Sebastian's aloof and conceited attitude annoyed everyone and earned him no friend. He led a lonely life buried in his books; that is, until he met Zardo. Somehow, Sebastian sees in him someone worth his friendship. Consequently, he met Zardo's other friends and grew fond of them as well.
An avid reader and an aspiring scientist, Sebastian was to become the group’s go-to-guy whenever some scholarly issue needed to be explained in plain words. He feels comfortable enough to let his guard down among newly-found friends, but to others, he remains snotty and disconcerting.
Rafael is the youngest of the group. His father works for Sebastian’s family plantation while his mother takes on work doing other people’s laundry. He is a feisty kid full of mischief at times. But his doleful puppy eyes and an honest demeanor endeared him to his friends. They are extremely protected of him, which Rafael does not appreciate at times. He doesn’t like the idea of having another three parents besides his already two at home. But he certainly thrives in his friends' love and attention.
Lexi is an absolute gem to these boys. They enjoy her deep understanding of things, as well as for her sharp intuition, which as young boys they still seem to lack. Lexi would always be the one to hammer in some sense into their heads whenever they get into their recalcitrant mood. Needless to say, there were many times Lexi prevented their careless adventurism get the best of them.
Her father died when she was only three years old. He was mistaken as a local rebel by the army patrol one rainy night and shot from behind. Her mother recently found closure; finding peace and comfort through her love of music. She is the town’s prominent music teacher. Lexi never took after her as a skilled musician, but she’s nonetheless the most creative and artistic in this group of friends. She loves baubles, bangles, and beads; undoubtedly, a talented custom jewelry maker. She creates exquisite pieces with silver strands, crystals, amethysts, and all sorts of semi-precious, but as she claims it, healing stones.
This group of four friends had made a secret pact to remain loyal and protective of one another. It is a covenant they shall treasure forever.
Rosalina, the niece of Sister Luz, is one fine cook. She can whip out a fine dish out of simple vegetables such as Baguio beans sautéed in onions, garlic and a dash of pepper. She would usually serve it either with steamed or fried fish; lapu-lapu mostly.
Experts claim a sensitive sense of taste is the secret of master chefs, but to Rosalina, it’s her keen sense of smell that she gives credit to. Her husband Rodrigo fails to grasp its logic, but he’s not about to argue with his wife; she is by far the best cook he has ever known.
If Sister Luz and Rodrigo were responsible for Zardo’s overall mental and physical development, Rosalina, on the other hand is the epitome of a doting mother to Zardo. Rodrigo often jokes that the only thing his wife didn’t do for the boy was breast-feed him. Rosalina, also with a hearty sense of humor would laugh loudly along with her husband whenever he mentioned this often-repeated joke.
There is, as they say, more truth in jest than realized, for Rosalina would get hysterical if the boy would get so much as a minor scratch on his body from some rough play with his friends. She would also worry herself to death over simple natural illnesses that a growing toddler usually gets—such as chicken pox, measles, and simple colds. When Zardo turned thirteen and was to get circumcised, based on Rosalina’s frailed nerves caused by excessive worrying, it seemed as if the boy was to undergo major surgery
Be that as it may, she is a loving woman who sees to it that the boy always enjoys nutritious meals and snacks; that his clothes, however few, are always freshly washed; and that he learns all about proper etiquette, as well as grooming and hygiene. Strangers often mistake Zardo as having come from one of the refined and illustrious families in the province based on his neat appearance and impeccably good manners.
There is indeed an air of elegance about Zardo. It becomes more prominent as he gains in age and maturity. It was Sister Luz who first brought it up to both Rodrigo and Rosalina — that Zardo seems to have a sort of royalty blood flowing inside of him. It’s quite evident in his gait, his reserved yet charming disposition, and his attractive physical features. He also possesses a seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge.
As he gets older, the hunch in which Sister Luz feels about Zardo’s extra-ordinary bloodline gets stronger. She just couldn’t put a finger on it yet at this time. But there’s indeed something about Zardo.
Zardo calls him Tio Rodrigo. He is the husband of Sister Luz’ niece, Rosalina. Without a child of their own, much like Sister Luz, the couple has also taken in Zardo as if their own. Rodrigo delights in instilling the traits of a fine human being into the boy’s fertile mind. He also introduced the boy to arnis.
The history of this Filipino martial art dates back when Spain still ruled the Philippines. When the Spanish regime imposed a strict ban on natives from practicing all fighting arts, as well as the carrying of swords, the Filipinos smartly substituted the use of bladed weapons with that of the rattan. Eventually, they developed various deadly offensive techniques, which made arnis a lethal form of martial art.
Arnis has been a part of Rodrigo’s family for generations. He hails from a lineage of masters of this stick fighting technique, and had become a master himself. As soon as Zardo attained the required physical agility, Rodrigo started the boy's training. Both teacher and student got into it with much enthusiasm. Consequently, Zardo became a formidable practitioner of this local martial art. Whenever the opportunity arose, they would both travel to villages that host arnis competitions. Rodrigo used to compete in such events, but nowadays, it would just be Zardo.
Aside from having developed a ferocious means of self-defense, Zardo also gained exceptional poise and confidence. Even more astonishing is the training also sharpened his ability to focus on complex tasks at hand despite of distracting circumstances.
But most important of all, the inner strength that Zardo has developed through this disciplined practice of arnis also prepares him for the most challenging aspect of mystical healing. That is, in battling wicked spirits who assault and erode the village peoples’ overall sense of well being.
Sister Luz has always been like a kindly grandmother to Zardo. He was a mere infant when abandoned beside the bamboo tree and chanced upon by Sister Luz. She was walking home one evening from a healing session at a nearby village when she was startled by the sudden yet incessant barking of a dog beside a bamboo tree along her path. It wasn’t at all threatening or menacing; rather strangely, his barking seemed as if meant to catch her attention. When she finally noticed the bamboo baby basket, the dog scurried away swiftly into the darkness. Walking closer to the basket, she was astounded to find an infant in it. She hurriedly picked it up, wrapped the baby into her arms and took him home.
After no one claimed him even after the news of his discovery was cried out in all the neighboring villages, Sister Luz raised the infant as if her own. Every now and then she would wonder about what unfortunate circumstance could have led the mother to abandon this sweet child. The baby wasn’t even crying when found. He was comfortably covered by a fine blanket while nestled inside that baby basket.
The infant was wearing a gold necklace with a pendant. On it was etched the name Zardo. She surmised it as the name given by the mother to the infant so, she raised him by that name. Zardo, in turn, could have referred to her as Grandma Luz, but opted for Sister Luz instead; the name by which she is fondly called by everyone, including her niece, Rosalina, and her husband, Rodrigo.
Sister Luz loves the boy dearly that while growing up, she would always bring him along everywhere she went, including to her every healing session—be it in the neighboring villages or in some faraway provinces. And as soon as the boy developed the capacity for learning, Sister Luz indoctrinated him into the art of mystical healing by using indigenous plants, herbs, leaves and barks.
He was a fast learner and even before he became a teenager, Zardo had already become proficient enough to venture into the lush forests and pick the proper medicinal ingredients needed by Sister Luz. More astonishing was when he started to demonstrate his uncanny ability to perceive peoples’ maladies, as well as accurately foretell their appropriate remedies.
Zardo is well on his way to becoming Sister Luz’s heir apparent — the newly rising medicine man whose craft is so enigmatic that it borders on the occult.