Dark glasses over his eyes, a hand in his pocket and the other fixing his scarf. His backpack was set on his broad shoulder and a hat graced his dark hair. Gabe was more than ready for the trip ahead. After all, he had been preparing for it for nearly a month. Although it shouldn't have taken a month's worth of preparation, but the idea of going to the province for an indefinite time unnerved him. He was a purebred city guy. Both of his parents grew up in the capital city, although his mother's roots could be traced all the way back to the Province of Bikol. But still, most of his relatives now live in the national capital region and he doubted that he still had living relatives in southeast Luzon.
Well, that was what he thought until a letter came in last month. It was, apparently, from the granddaughter of a friend of his great-great-grandmother. A bit far fetched and too long a line, if he was to be asked. But apparently, this woman, of unknown origin (Well, obviously from the province) possessed a some kind of contract, binding the first born male to the woman's family. And to Gabe's luck, he was the first born male. He wasn't even sure how they were able to get a hold of their postal address. Heck, do they even have posts in the mountains? Not that he was judging them for their provincial life. (He was totally judging them) But according to his grandfather, he had to go and fulfil the contract, whatever it was. And he can't really disobey his grandfather since whatever Lolo says is basically law and they are obliged to abide by his words.
So that's exactly why a man of his calibre is waiting in the airport for the provincial flight. He probably looked more like a foreigner on an Asian tour rather than a city guy visiting the province.
Gabe crossed his arms over his chest, wondering how those weird people even figured out that there was a first born male in his family since according to his mother, the family's first born had always been a girl. That had been the case for nearly a millennia. They knew this because they kept a family tree that dated back in the pre-colonial era. Which terrified and perplexed him, to be honest.
Soon, he finally boarded the plane and bade his dear city farewell. Gazing morosely at its tall buildings and busy streets. He may have hated all those but he knew he was going to miss them. And to be honest, he never really stepped on anything but the capital region and the mere idea of being carted off to a poor poverty-stricken region made him anxious. Which was basically the reason why he was three weeks late from the intended date of arrival.
Oh well. It's not like they could complain. After all, they were the ones who demanded for him to be there with only an old thin tree bark as a basis. And besides, they didn't say whether how long he would be staying there. He most certainly had to come prepared.
Gabe heaved a sigh and let his eyes droop, feeling sleep steal him away. But it wasn't for long since apparently, it only took 45 minutes to reach his destination on a plane. He couldn't be more disappointed.
Or so he thought.
For someone who had been requested by a member of an old society with a high and glorious title, he had been expecting for someone to greet him at the small airport with his name printed beautifully on a cardboard. Perhaps waving zealously to catch his attention, and then he would smile politely and come to the person whilst the person would show him to his designated car: a sleek black limousine.
But those things only happened in movies and cheesy novels he found his sister reading. In real life, what waited for him outside were a line of sketchy taxi drivers, hoping that he was naive enough to fall for their cons. Well, it was unfortunate for them since he was a graduate of philosophy and majored in Realism. He even graduated magna cum laude, which became a source of pride in his family. However, no matter how intelligent he may be, he was still a tad socially awkward which made him at a disadvantage in the corporate world, rendering him jobless.
He waited for someone to show up, but none came. So Gabriel Zamora was looking gloomy as he sat on the sidewalk, a pink straw between his lips as he sipped his can of soda.
"Magta-taxi ka sir? 400 lang pa-Naga. 350 na lang sa'yo." One of the drivers offered in Tagalog, but Gabe simply shut his offer down with a menacing glare. He hated people begging for his attention, especially those trying to get a hold of the smallest amount he had. It wasn't that he was stingy but he simply didn't like the annoying and persistent nature of those people.
But how long could he turn down these taxi offers when he wasn't even sure that someone would come for him. Should he just go and wait at the foot of the mountain and hope that one of the people the letter mentioned would happen upon him and take him to their village? That was probably asking too much.
So in the end, he got into a taxi and asked the driver to take him to the foot of the mountain. The driver asked which route to take, and that was when Gabe ruefully realized that he was very much unprepared for this journey.
"The closest to the waterfalls." was his reply, remembering the waterfalls the mountain people boasted about on the internet.
Soon enough, he was dropped off by the driver at the foot of the mountain. The fresh cool air, slamming into his being as he stepped out of the car. His bag in tow. Gabe tugged at his scarf, attempting to shield himself from the surprisingly cold air. It was nearly nightfall too.
The man looked around, taking in his surroundings. The trees were tall and green. Healthy. There were a few nipa houses scattered in random distances. It looked like it sprang out of a historical film. And as the sun sets, the horizon was peppered with the colours of yellow, orange, pink, indigo and red. He was stunned with awe as he gazed upon it. It was as if he sat aloft a high seat where he could gaze at the world below. What more if he was high up the mountain?
He took out his mobile phone and captured the scenery into his camera roll.
But as soon as it was etched into the memory of his phone, he realized that he was at a dead end. Remembering the letter that was sent to them a month ago, Gabe took the paper from his bag and read the contents.
Sa mga inapo ni Haliya:
Ayon sa tala na iniwan ng aking lola, ang angkan ni Haliya ay hindi kaylanman magkakaroon ng panganay na lalaki para maprotektohan ang lipi mula sa mga alagad ng Gagamban. Ngunit kung magkaroon ng panganay na lalaki ang angkan, kaylangan syang bumalik sa lipi upang ito'y bantayan. At nang malaman namin na mayroong panganay na lalaki ang panganay na apo ng inapo ni Haliya, hinihiling namin na bumalik siya sa lipi at tuparin ang nakasaad sa nakatala. Isang linggo mula ngayon, isa sa amin ang maghihintay sa kanya sa paanan ng bukid. Sana'y maniwala kayo dahil hindi lang kami ang kabiliang sa lipi. Ang inyong angkan ay kasama rin.
It was the most ridiculous letter he has ever laid eyes on, but his grandfather was fast to believe it and had immediately sent for him. So here he was, sitting morosely on the foot of the mountain, waiting for this unknown and sketchy person to take him to the esteemed village.
"Are you lost?" He heard a feminine voice ask from behind him. Sure enough, a girl, probably around 18 years old was standing behind him. Carrying a bilao filled with root crops.
"Yeah, kinda." He answered. Suspicion washing over him as he realized that the woman spoke in English with so much ease as if it was her mother tongue. She looked like a native, though. Dressed in a bright skirt that fell a few inches past her knees and a red chequered long sleeves on top of a plain white shirt. Her neck was adorned with colorful beads and her dark wavy hair was brushed up in a messy bun and her fringes framed her onyx eyes.
"If you're going to the village, you can come with me. I'm on my way home." She answered, this time in a language he had grown familiar with: Tagalog. But for some reason, he was unnerved by her. Gabe looked at her with curiosity written on his eyes. The woman merely smiled at him and beckoned for him to follow her.
Really, he had no other choice since he was three weeks late and he was sure no one in their right minds would wait that long for someone to arrive. He was sure that if it was up to him to wait for someone, he would give up if the person was late for more than two hours. To hell with that person, anyway.
He picked up his backpack and nodded at her.
And why the hell not, indeed.