“Kids come here!” dad’s in the sala, his right hand is casually on the shoulder of a man. The man looks a little different than daddy’s other labor guys. He’s kayumanggi, really dark. That’s not so different. He’s barefoot, so his shoes are on the step before our screen door. It’s a politeness of people from the province. That’s not different. He’s not bashful. He sits straight up, feet crossed. His pants ride up past his ankles. He smiles with his whole face.
“My wife, Eunice.” To mom, “Jose’s a union leader from Bagiuo Gold. He’s a pastor training at the Labor Education Center with Cicero.
Mom looks a little flustered, but she says “Please stay for merienda."
“Thank you, mum. I already ate,”
“Please, join us. We have some special cuchinta.”
“Thank you, mum. It’s OK...”
“I will tell Elena.”
So we take merienda caramel cuchinta with ngog, shredded coconut. And calamansi juice. We call him Pastor Jose.
“Do you have children?” mom asks.
“Yes, mum, I have three, all girls.” He laughs, and looks at me. “Maybe Belen is your age. Are you five?”
“and a half.”
“Next time, I will bring strawberries from Baguio.”
Scott perks up. “Pastor Jose? Uh, do you go up the zigzag road?”
The zigzag road! Five long hot hours to Christmas: Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac... After La Union, our blue chevy chugs up the zigzags, winding til Johanna turns yellow and we stop so she can vomit. The air gets cool. Scrawny pines spring up steep escarpments first a trickle, then they flood down the hills and we are in heaven, Oh Bag-ui-o. Only when we pass the checkpoint we can be excited – Westminster Hill Cottages here we come! Chilly see-your-breath mornings, the sweet gas-smell of the one heater, Noche Buena on the star speckled Christmas Eve, singing Ideo-o-o In-Excelsis-Deo! Even after Christmas presents there are pony rides, bumper cars in Burnham Park, and the taste of American lemonade at Camp John Hay.
We love the zigzag road.
Pastor Jose nods. Dad asks about strikes.
“Can we be excused,” Scotty for both of us.
Pastor Jose turns to us, smiles.
“Wanna see gold?”
“Gold?” We perk up. He holds out two fists. “Which hand?” Scotty pokes both fists.
Dad, “Relax Scott,”
No problem, Rev. Poethig,” Pastor Jose good naturedly squats down and opens his left hand.
“It’s a rock,“ Scott grumbles.
“Kita mo,” Pastor Jose’s strong crooked finger traces a thin yellow vein, “Gold.”
“It’s a dribble.”
“Letmesee, letmesee!” I scramble over my skeptical brother.
The pastor hands me the rock. Up close, bright gold flecks glimmers in the black.
“Where did you get it?”
“Baguio Gold mine.”
“What’s a mine?” Scotty holds out his hand. I give the rock to him.
Dad, “A deep hole in a mountain where men dig for gold. Then after they have a pile of rocks, they cook them to melt the gold.”
How did you get dis rock?” I want to know.
“I chop it out.”
We look at the rock again. He chop it out of the mountain.
“Do you chop a lot of rocks?” asks Scott
“Every day, we go down, all day long in the dark.”
“Your church is down there?”
Pastor Jose laughs. “I am a miner, a union leader, and a pastor. A fisher of miners, a miner of souls. Ha!” He gives a loud guffaw and slaps his knees. Mom smiles and sits forward. Like she suddenly woke up.
Daddy gives mom an “I told you so” look. Pastor Jose pretends not to notice.
Pastor Jose’s voice is now like a preacher, “you can see, the gold? See it is crying? Ah ha, tears of da earth.”
You know, gold,” says Pastor Jose says as a quiet warning, “is tears of da earth.”
“Gold,” he says again, “is tears of da earth, we miners say,” he hesitates,
“When the shafts collapse.”
Mom shoots us a sharp look.
I think rain is tears of the sky, and the sea is salty like tears. I see with eyes to see: the black rock is sparkle-crying.
Pastor Jose mutters to an invisible congregation of miners, and maybe my parents too, “We take out gold for too few pesos. We give our life for gold. Gold of our tears. But God loves us more than gold. He knows we are but dust.”
His voice has a Dahil sa Iyo sadness.
His eyes get soft when he says, “God loves us more than gold.” My heart gets soft too.
A little silence hovers, the soft silence at the end of prayers.
But dad makes a rustle.
"Can we be excused?” asks Scott.
“OK now Scotty, Kerry...Give back the rock.”
Scotty holds tight. “Can I have it?”
“Scotty! Give it back!” Dad bends down to pry the rock from Scotty.
“It’s OK, Rev. Poethig, it’s OK.” Mr. Jose waves his hands, “a pasalubong.”
Scotty got the rock!
“Can I see?” meekly. He turns his back.
Dad, “Show her the rock, Scott,” Scotty opens his hand to show me quickly then shuts it again.
“Can I hold it?” I say in front of dad so he will make Scotty give it to me.
“Later,” he grumbles. There is no later.
But, I whisper to myself, God loves me more than the gold. So even if I hate my brother, God loves me.
Another fight with Scott. “Crybaby, you’re a crybaby!” “NO I’m NOT!”
“So why are you crying? Nobody likes a crybaby.”
“BOBO bobo bobo BOBO!”
Mom comes out, “Both of you- GO to your rooms!”
Curl up on bed sobbing, then quiet, just watching the butiki on the screens.
Soft knock, Scott opens the door opens a crack.
“Whadoyouwant?” I turn towards the wall, but hear him come over.
“Here,” I twist my head to the gold rock in his open hand.
My fingers curl around it gingerly, brushing his palm.
Then I put my head down to hide new tears, whisper, “Thank you.” A streak of pain, like gold, for my brother.
The door closes.