Monday, October 22, 2012

The Big Dupe

Three hours on the dusty, rutted carabao trail had shortened our spines by at least six inches. Just one more hour on the bumpy road and we’d have our arms sticking out of our knees and our heads resting on our hips.

“Are you sure this is the right carabao trail?” uttered the head on the seat beside me.

“I’m definite!” I said, as I tried to peer over the dashboard.

The old man from the last barrio we passed had reeked of lambanog as he gave us directions. It was a good thing there wasn’t anyone smoking or he would have turned into a living flamethrower. There being no convenient road signs, he made references to rocks and trees along the track to keep us on course.

Three hours down the trail and we were convinced that the trees had either been chopped down for firewood or had grown ten feet taller in the interim. The rocks obviously had weathered down at the same time. Certain references had also been made by the other dwarves in the car as to the possible maternal origin of the old man.

Suddenly the carabao track ended. There in front of us was a big green lake.   We scrambled out of the car, our knuckles and gaping jaws dragging on the dry gravel. We stretched for a moment, allowing our spines to telescope us to our natural height.

 This is it!” shouted Anton as he pulled out his rod… after taking that much needed leak, he ran to the back of the car and pulled out his fishing rod. I knew exactly what was in his head: a high speed slide show filled with images of big dalag and hito fighting each other for our baits.

I thought back to how we came about the secret lake. It was an early Friday evening at the shop and the group was debating the possible repercussions of fishing the fenced-off Subic Bay marina. Anton had just finished a list of legal fees that we would incur if we were caught decimating the pargo population of the marina when the man walked in.

Silence filled the small store, along with the familiar stench of a full day’s fishing under the hot summer sun. We knew at once that we had a proeither that or a nutcase. It wasn’t so much the smell as it was the look. His sandals were worn down to their straps. His jeans were caked in mud, fishscales and blood. Snelled hooks hung out of his pocket and a landing net worn from use dangled from a belt loop. At first glance, he looked like he was wearing a brown shirt. Then we realized he was naked from the waist up. Sunburn had etched its trademark collar and sleeves on his skin.

He smiled a big toothy grin and opened the sack he was carrying. A huge dalag head hit the floor with a loud thud. We gasped in shock at the sight; in our minds a phantom fish body had immediately swum into the shop and attached itself to the decapitated head. Most of the ghostly image was still outside the shop tail slapping unmindful shoppers. Mike, in a vain attempt at maintaining his casual composure, leaned against the counter, sending a large stack of fishing CDs crashing to the floor.

“That’s a pretty big fish,” he said, barely hiding the tremble in his voice. 

That insane grin was still on the man’s face as he spoke. “That’s one of fifty I caught.” 

The tension that filled the room was as thick as gulaman in a freezer. What ensued were shouting and cursing, enough to put fear in any man’s heart. Shoppers cleared the storefront faster than if someone had yelled “bomb!”.When the smoke cleared, the scene was too horrible for anyone to witness. Three grown men on their knees with palms together. Supplication from this grinning despicable man was the farthest from our minds.

“Please tell us where you caught them!” we implored. After thirty minutes of prodding and haggling, he finally gave in to the tune of three Shad Raps and a spool of line. A great deal, or so I thought at that time.

After eight hours of fishing, we had caught nothing substantial. Some self -righteous anglers would even consider the two birds we snagged while flogging the lake as “fowl catch” but we think otherwise.

“If it breathes, it’s fair game” was the motto of the day. 

“That guy must’ve cleaned the lake out,” growled Mike as he packed his rod.

“Maybe he used electricity or dynamite,” Anton muttered.

I wasn’t worried at all. “Well, we still cut the price of those Shads three ways. Right? I mean you guys never complained when I bribed him with them. Right???”

We drove back through the goat track and after two flat tires reached the barrio. Mr. Lambanog was still there, we extinguished our cigarettes.

“You caught nothing?” he asked, releasing a cloud of volatile vapor.

“The man reads minds,” I thought.  “A man fished the lake a few days ago…didn’t catch a thing. So did the two guys last week and the week before.” he said.

 “Can’t expect to catch anything in that lake. Some fool used cyanide in it a year ago. Left nothing alive … it’s great for swimming though, kills the lice.”  

“That man …a few days ago, what did he look like?” Anton queried.

“Can’t remember, but he had this weird grin on his face when he left.”  The old man gassed.

We drove home in silence. We all knew what had happened, someone had sent anglers on a long, useless quest counting on an angler’s innate greed as a lure. The poor victims, we’ll never know how many, found out what we just did. Since they could never get back at whoever sent them for fear of being branded as sore losers or even worse! – poor fishermen, they decided to pass on the gag. A cruel, slimy chain letter of a gag. Such unsportsmanlike attitude. Many anglers would have been saved from the pain we endured if this was ended by those boors before us. How many more victims would have fallen prey had this not happened to us?

 “Stop by that market on the highway,” Mike said flatly.
 “Let’s make it a really big pla-pla,” I added in an even flatter voice.



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