The Short Story Series were originally published on Through Frog Eyes as a collaborative effort between a guest photographer and my writing. I am relaunching the stories individually for all those who are new to the website and Marie Balustrade´s writing. The MG Series features guest photographer Manny Goloyugo from the Philippines for three stories. Click HERE for the full set.
Amidst the firecrackers and the unabashed revelry of the crowd ushering in the new year, a small boy huddled between the doors of the shops, distancing himself from the madness, and truly petrified of the noise. This was the first time he had been allowed to leave the house to join the festivities on the streets, and his grandmother had cautioned him to stay close to the shops in case things got too wild once the fortune dragons came dancing by. His older brothers and cousins were all part of the parade, either as acrobats or dragon legs weaving through the streets and dancing the night away. Little Chen felt lost and instantly regretted tagging along. He was a quiet introverted boy who preferred to read a book or painstakingly put together model planes and ships rather than go out and play with the neighborhood boys. He listened to the stories of the others with great interest but made no move to ask if he could join in until family pressure got the better of him this year. Following incessant cajoling from the uncles and cousins, Chen convinced himself that it was worth a try. After all, how bad could it be? He found out soon enough, and wished he had not tagged along with his father who had to cover the event for the evening news.
A week later, Chen found himself being sandwiched by a different multitude watching yet another parade. This one had no fireworks and was loaded with marching bands playing catchy tunes that he actually recognized. Dad had promised him a walk around the market later to buy some sweets and clothes, and if there was time, a large plate of steaming hot noodles with extra shrimp. With so many older siblings at home, Chen rarely stood a chance to get a single shrimp with his noodles. Being the youngest, and sometimes the slowest eater at the table because his mind tended to drift away, he ended up eating whatever was still left on the platter after his brothers had demolished the prior contents. This meant a lot vegetables and if chicken was on offer, the parts that only his 92-year-old grandmother would fight for. At least with fish everyone was assigned individual pieces and he didn’t have to rush.
Years passed and Chen found himself travelling from one remote village to another as a public health doctor attending to families who couldn’t be bothered to travel several kilometres down the mountains on foot to the nearest health center. If the families would not seek medical services, the hospital sent out teams to check up on the villagers. Everywhere Chen went, however, he carried his camera. His father’s spirit lived on through that camera decades after he had been shot dead while covering a protest march. His mother had been devastated by the loss and never recovered from the nervous breakdown that followed. Witnessing the physical and mental deterioration of his mother, Chen decided to take up medicine and help families one way or another. The stories and adventures that he had grown up with made him want to travel and meet the very people whom nobody knew anything about. Journalism would have been the obvious choice but Chen was not a risk taker and preferred to work quietly in the background, extracting the stories from those whom he attended to with first aid or had to drag out of the line of fire.
As Chen slowly opened his eyes and explored his surroundings, immediately realising that he was paralysed from the neck down. The village he had been assigned to inoculate was celebrating the harvest and these celebrations included several rounds of the local brew and passing the village cigar. He had his suspicions about the cigar from the very beginning, knowing there was more than just tobacco rolled into it, but the Chief had declared him the guest of honour and there was no way out. Chen’s downfall, however, turned out to be the tea that had “a bit of a kick” as the elderly village women had told him. That “kick” turned out to be a powerful concoction of herbs and hallucinogen mushrooms that rendered the person useless. It took him a while to focus and clear his mind, training his ears on the surrounding noises. He didn’t understand the local dialect of this particular village, but managed to piece together a few odds and ends. Much to his horror, Chen realised he had misunderstood or rather, mistranslated, the concept of him being the “guest of honour” when it should have been “main meal”.