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In the company of a tikbalang

THE TIKBALANG must have been drawn to the camp-in site by tufts of cabonegro coir I used to start up our bonfire. Coir, clawed off a cabonegro palm trunk, resembles a maiden’s midnight tresses. It even burns with a faint smell of singed hair. A tikbalang, as rustic old-timers have it, emits a similar stench. It must have wanted the company of another inhered with a quaint body odor as he has.

My kids – I have four, 3 boys and a dalaginding – were in their early teen years when I told them as we sat before a bonfire up in Sierra Madre of an encounter with such a creature. Children love horror-fantasy stories, yes!

A lambanog-soused man was on his way home somewhere in an erstwhile pastoral Paltok in Quezon City in the 1950s. He was passing beneath humongous boughs of a mango tree when something plopped down on his head – it was a ripe chico fruit. A chico falling off a mango tree? He didn’t bother wondering, halved it, ate a half and found it cloyingly sweet. He was about to pop the other half into his mouth when he found out what it really was—the chico’s other half was a ball of horse manure. The drunk sobered up presto retching out whatever organic fertilizer he ate. At the same time, the mango tree-dwelling tikbalang was in stitches, amused at his wicked sense of humus.

Metallica: “Enter Sandman.” I was too busy trying to latch myself to a slide of bedrock for some decent sleep—only to slip. Rats! I wasn’t sniffing around for the peculiar smell of singed hair, which I surmise, can be touched off with prolonged loving rubbing of the nether parts. Why, we’re smack deep in the wilderness of Makiling, some parts can be called virginal, still untouched; other portions gape open like wide-splayed thighs of a, aah, ummm, Diana Zubiri in heat. Besides, I was having the sniffles and all the delicious odors plugging my nasal passages were of culinary herbs and edible ferns.

A drizzle of fireflies among tree branches preceded the tikbalang's visit on us. A superstition among Ilocanos has it that fireflies are lanterns of malignant spirits. Fact is, male fireflies are blinking their gonads out to attract females and do it on the wing and we humans tried to emulate 'em by establishng a so-called "Mile High Club." By the way, a tikbalang is also a symbol for male virility and the presence of fireflies seems to confirm semiology.

The tikbalang snooped on us at around midnight—that was when Maundy Thursday was giving way to Holy Friday. That’s enchantment time in these parts. Viernes Santo’s meant for snatching agimat, dupil or anting-anting off their bearers from a mystical dimension. This time, the creature of mist and myth wasn’t out for a prank.

It probably wanted my 20-year old Kukudyu to hurl himself at it for a hell of a bareback ride. That joyride culminates in the tikbalang giving out an agimat or talisman to the kid, granting him three wishes and worse, coming home with us to become a household pet of sorts. That’s how the tikbalang legends I’ve read and twice-told tales I’ve heard ply out the scenarios. The mind boggles on the verge of going at the atrocious prospect of toilet training a 15-foot equine symbol of virility.

And the tons of deodorants and gallons of Lactacyd to mask off the odor of singed hair-- whether from the pate, nape or pubic parts – that could tear the household budget to tatters. I neigh, oops, nay to such a fiscal nightmare!

So we let the tikbalang gape at us from his safe distance in askance and chagrin from witching hour to dawn. We gazed back-- unafraid, unalarmed while tossing and turning in vigilant wakefulness and dour half-sleep… After all, he’s supposed to live for a good 150-200 years—and we’ll be coming back each Lenten break for a whiff of sylvan air, some quaffs of mountain spring water, even for a waft of singed hair smell that announces his welcome presence.

We just knew our intrusion in his turf was welcome. He left before daybreak, with a faint sounding of a mournful neigh. He evanesced like mist among the leaves of his tree roost.

At an altitude rising 1,109 meters above sea level, Mount Makiling hums to a hymn of some 2,048 different plant species, excluding endangered fauna like tikbalang and kindred engkantos. For this particular foray, I promised myself to obtain an aroid specie called locally as “buntot ng diyablo.” Why, its leaves are shaped just like that—a devil’s forked tail.

It’s much more tenable to keep a pair of demons buried in a size-12 pot with just their tails hanging out.

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