Kitsune no Yomeiri
狐の嫁入り by Aron G. Castro
Kitsune no yomeiri or “Fox’s Wedding” referred to a meteorological phenomenon known as sun showers in which a single rain cloud would pass over an area in mid-daylight, causing it to shower simultaneously with the sun’s presence. When a sun shower occurs, Japanese legend has it that foxes out in the forests of Japan are currently having a solemn wedding ceremony. Children are warned by parents to hurry on home for it is forbidden to bear witness to this ceremony. If one is caught watching, consequences would surely follow.
Despite setting my first steps on earth in the Philippines, I had spent most of my formative youth in Japan. Granted, my older brother Paolo and I were raised and educated in an international community surrounded by multi-national students and adults. No matter, Japan is essentially an infectious way of lifestyle and any attempts of bubbling yourself from their incredibly rich and potent culture would be impossibly futile.
With that said, it is true to a certain extent that my infantile years in the Philippines were a blur. Like many premature memories, my impression of the Philippines form in snippets; akin to pieces of a larger puzzle that isn’t necessarily complete yet comprehensible. Amidst my murky recollections, I recall a particular sun shower afternoon on Masinop street which brings to light an evocation of submerged emotions.
I stuck my hand out from the safe shelter of the wobbling compartment, trying to catch as much of the precious raindrops as we made our way to my grandmother’s house. School had just ended when drops of relief showered from the passing cloud onto a typical sunny afternoon in Manila. My grandmother’s cousin fetched me in a sidecar, which is essentially a bicycle operated by a cyclist with a passenger cart attached to its side. The black, poorly engineered roads of Manila glistened, with the stark sunlight reflecting on the occasional puddles formed by its ditches, dimples, and bumps.
My parents were grinding through a career ladder at that time so every weekday my grandmother’s cousin who we called “Ate Bi” would pick me up from St. Paul’s Academy and bring me to my grandmother’s house in Masinop street.
The word “masinop” translates to “clean.” The 200 to 300 metre long street was what I’d call a colourful and intimate neighbourhood. Intimate, because if you spread both arms to either side of you, that length is how wide the road between the houses are, yet, they weren’t shanties. Masinop street, living up to its name, consisted of average-class neighbours that were simple, yet focused on keeping what little communal area they have free of obstruction. For the grownup that I am today, Masinop street is crooked and narrow, but back then as a child, it might as well have been as wide as a league-qualifying football field.
Masinop street truly had the oddest mix of residents both in and around it. Everyday, after our pre school, my brother would consume our afternoon snack at our grandmother’s house. After which, we would simply step beyond the house’s front gates, and upon hearing the creaking of the metal hinges, kids from the neighbourhood would exit their houses and converge to where we were. (It was play time.)
Masinop Street wouldn’t be vibrant without its colourful people. There was Buboy. Buboy was a lanky fellow several years older than my brother and me. He had stark orange-dyed hair that contrasted greatly with his dark tropical complexion. Oddly enough, I can’t recall him ever wearing anything but a sleeveless basketball jersey.
Then there was Joseph. Joseph was our age and boy was he plump. His bellybutton was consistently peeking out from the bottom hem of his ill-fitting shirt. From what I can remember, his grandparents had immigrated to Manila from mainland China, which explained why he would stick out whenever we walked down the streets as a group of friends.
Lastly, there was always a mysterious one in the group and his name is Gerard. He lived in that one tiny house that never had its lights on. I never saw his father and had only met his mother once. A courteous heavy lady, but nothing else beyond that would give me any additional significant information. Every time he would come in and out of his house, he would open the front door only wide enough that his thin frame could slither through snuggly. Never wider. Now that I think of it, Gerard’s resting facial expression was a face that no kid should ever have. Even when smiling or laughing, his eyes would still remain rested and constrained, as if he were carrying something heavy inside of him. To me at that time of course, it never registered. I always thought that it was just something he had. But there was certainly something hidden there.
These were the three fellows we spent 3PM to 6PM with, and like many other restless kids in the rest of the country, we subscribed to our own brand of mischief and mayhem.
That particular afternoon, me, Paolo, Buboy, Joseph, and Gerard were sitting in my grandmother’s living room, waiting in solemn silence for something to pop out and happen. Restlessness threatened to cut our precious afternoon short but a shriek outside from “Aleng" (Miss) Auring shot energy up our spines. Aleng Auring was panicking and she had ran from her home in Masinop Street to the nearby San Leandro street only to bring back Aleng Ponchy, who was looking for her cat.
There in the middle of Masinop street was Aleng Ponchy’s beloved cat, who had strayed from San Leandro Street and was at the mercy of a boy from our street named Butiki.
Butiki, which translates to Lizard, is the son of Daga, whose name translates to Rat. It’s hard to make this stuff up, trust me. Butiki was our age. His family came from the province, and had decided of all places to set up an illegal shanty in Masinop Street. The people of Masinop street were kind, god-fearing people, so it was unanimously agreed that the family of Daga from the province would remain a resident of Masinop Street until such time that the family would be able to properly settle down and be financially capable enough to properly join the neighbourhood.
Butiki’s family was certainly not financially sound, which left Butiki literally without a shirt on his back, unkempt hair, an incomplete set of teeth, and his trademark Los Angeles Lakers basketball shorts which he had received from Buboy as a gift.
So… there in the middle of the street was Aleng Ponchy’s cat, sitting obliviously on the floor. Butiki stood above her cat, with his hand hovering just a few inches away from its tail. I can distinctly remember Aleng Ponchy shriek with resentment: “Step away quickly before I squash you to hell!” This was in my eyes a huge possibility given Aleng Ponchy’s massive build. She operated a bakery in San Leandro Street, so she must have tested one too many of her own products. No qualms about that, her morning dinner rolls were a godsend.
With his mischievous grin, Butiki refused to acquiesce to Aleng Ponchy’s demands. Aleng Auring, probably envisioning herself to be the hero of that ordeal, attempted to take down Butiki. She grabbed him from behind, but it was too late. Before one could even say Butiki, he had reached for the tail of the cat, lifted it up, and swung it like a lasso above his head in jubilation. We were in awe. It seems so impossible now, but I remember at that particular moment just thinking to myself: “I’m watching a cat spinning by its tail right now.”. Butiki in his cackling glee made a good three to four full circles before being tackled by Gerard to the floor. The cat I’m happy to say was propelled onto the window sills of the house in front of my grandmother’s. And a cat always lands of its feet (mostly).
Needless to say Butiki was picked up from the ground by Aleng Ponchy’s with one hand. In anger, she hoisted the boy up with one swift pull and started dragging him towards his house with the intent of having him castigated by his father Daga. But even Aleng Ponchy’s anger-fueled super strength couldn’t clutch onto Butiki. He escaped and sped down Masinop street. Gerard, still on the ground, sprung up and ran after him. Needless to say, Paolo, Buboy, Joseph, and I ran after him.
At one point Butiki must have surely made a sharp turn to a left junction since we found ourselves looking for Butiki and Gerard in an abandoned construction site that covered the expanse of the end of Masinop Street. It was certainly no place for kids to be running about in just flip flops. There were jagged pieces of sharp metal and rocks all over the place, which had caused our high speed chase for our friend to turn into the most careful navigation of the rough terrain. Buboy, being the oldest of us, led in front, dutifully calling out for Gerard and the Lizard, Butiki. Paolo followed, with me behind, and Joseph trailing. I could hear Joseph’s heavy exhaustive breathing as we made our way on all fours to cut through the collapsed concrete beams and crevices.
Gerard halted. From a few metres away we could hear the swift running of two pairs of legs coming towards us. My hair swept to the flow of the wind as Gerard whizzed past us, followed by Butiki, jumping from one large rubble to another, running back to where we just came from. Paolo, Joseph and I were perplexed, we turned back and in front of us, two black, savage, street dogs growled at us with gritted teeth just five to seven metres away. (Joseph confessed later that day that he had shit his pants just a tad bit.)
Before the dogs charged, we hastened our way out of the construction site, only to be followed even further down Masinop Street. That straight run down the beloved street must have been the longest in length and duration I’ve ran in my entire life.
In what felt like an eternity, we had finally reached the front gates of my grandmother’s house, with Gerard and Butiki already waiting at the entrance. Just before the two dogs could enter, Gerard and Butiki swung the metal gates shut.
The five of us leaned against the gate and laughed away the rush of fear that we had just experienced. Buboy turned to Butiki, and smacked him on the face. “Son of a bitch, you’re stupid! You know that right?”. I’d like to say that this was the most colourful thing Buboy had said to him at that time, but to expand any further would not be kind to both the reader and poor Butiki.
That was my most lucid memory of Masinop Street. The colour, texture, and emotions, all housed under the beautiful memory of a sun-laced shower. Every time I find myself caught in the rare sun shower, I am brought straight back to the crooked old road of Masinop Street, my very own version of Kitsune no yomeiri.
After moving to Japan, we would return to the Philippines and pay a visit to Masinop Street perhaps once in every one or two years. These visits never failed to supply Paolo and I with unwanted news on the changes and mysteries that continued to shroud our little patch of our childhood.
Buboy had gone off to join the police like his father had done. I saw him once whistling down Masinop Street while I was looking out from the window of my grandmother’s house. His orange dyed hair was no longer. I must have been thirteen or fourteen at the time and I didn’t dare to go out and issue my awkward greetings. No particular reason why.
Joseph’s family vacated their house and moved out into the provinces. His elder brother had developed a disease that caused permanent blindness, and they felt that the province was a safer and more suitable place to take care of him.
Butiki and his father Daga had bought a sidecar of their own the last I heard of them. By the mercy of Masinop Street’s inhabitants, their still-shanty house remained faithfully, snuggled in between opportunistically two of the street’s original houses.
Gerard’s house remains the same. Still no lights, but I have a feel that there’s also no inhabitants. I wish I knew more about him, because I had only just realised how I never cared to ask about him beyond our time playing together.
I remember a scene in Cinema Paradiso (you should absolutely watch this film), where Alfredo, an old mentor to the protagonist Toto, tells him to leave his home town as soon as possible and never return. Alfredo tells him that should he return, he will only find ghosts. Spectres of his memory…