On the stormy night of January 7, 1933, the former Valentina Bellen gave birth to her and her husband Paciano Belo Beltran’s second son, the second of ten children they would eventually have. The baby, swaddled in warm blankets and laid on a caragumoy mat, was small, but with a full head of fine, black hair. They named him Crispin, but as he grew up, he was called by the literally diminutive nickname ‘Pin.’ His siblings were Ciriaco, Arcadio, Armando, Bonifacio, Celina, Azuzena, Gerodia, Consuelo and Araceli.
From the onset, Ka Bel, then called Pin, was a quiet child. He was never loud or boisterous, seldom if ever joining his siblings in play. Born to a family that lived hand to mouth from one day to the next, he immediately learned what responsibility meant.
There were no televisions then, and radios were still a luxury and the signals of the already existing stations did not reach areas further than the city or municipal proper. The days were long, especially for children, but for Pin they were always spent helping his parents keep
the family together and alive.
They planted kamote (sweet potato)in the small patch of land surrounding their bahay kubo.(house of bamboo and straw) After a few weeks, Pin would dig them up, wash, peel, and cut them into cubes and boil them with rice. More often than not, the entire family would subsist on this fare for days on end, sometimes with fish, sometimes with chicken, but often than not with only a sprinkling of salt to break the monotony of flavor.
As the second eldest, he took on chores in the household from washing dishes, fetching water, and doing the laundry. His father, a fisherman, lumberjack and farmer depending on what season it was, found an assistant in the elder son, Ciriaco, Pin’s senior by one and a half years. Pin helped their mother, a housewife and a farmer. A true son of the soil, he knew how to plant rice, to harvest it, dry it and pound it to separate the chafe from the pearly-white grains.
Pin learned to use the slingshot, and used it well not as a toy but as a hunting weapon. He shot birds and brought them home to be plucked and roasted. He also used a home-made bow and arrow made of slender bamboo and string to shoot fish in the shallower end of the river. An uncle had given him a wooden top made of guava wood, but he was not interested in playing with it.
Immediately after school, Pin would head straight home and begin his chores. He looked after his younger siblings like they were his own children instead of being another child not much older than them.
Being a solitary sort, Pin preferred the company of adults. Among them he could sit silent and unnoticed, closely listening to their conversation. On early evenings when the other children would be outside playing habulan or taguan (catch-me-if-you-can, hide and seek) in the moonlight, Pin would sit in the kitchen or living room while his parents talked with visiting relatives.
It was this way that he learned about how life was like for most other poor folk living in the provinces and underdeveloped towns. As he grew older, he would learn that his family’s experiences in poverty and want were the same as those of most other families, and that it was none of their own doing or fault. Poor they were, but lazy they were not. It was among Pin’s earliest realizations that many Filipinos work from sun-up to sundown and their lives would never improve, and that larger social and economic forces were behind it.
The summer after he graduated from elementary school, Pin helped his family improve their bahay kubo in Tanagan. With their father Paciano and uncle Gorio, Pin and his brothers Ciriaco and Arcadio chopped down and then dragged, sometimes carried on their shoulders long poles of bamboo and sheaves of anahaw leaves from Sitio Mandoong, next to Tanagan.
For two months the Beltran family cut the bamboo in half, securely tied them together for the walls and floors of their kubo which they expanded in size. They wove the anahaw leaves together and in thick, tight clusters put them on top of each other to form the roof and ceiling. It was a genuinely family affair with all of the children helping.
They didn’t use a single nail. Theirs became the grandest bahay kubo for kilometers around.
Ka Bel was born in Tanagan, Bacacay, Albay, and he lived the first few years of his life there. When he was seven and about to enter the first grade, he was sent to live in Birac, Catanduanes with his uncle Pedro Beltran. Pedro was a school teacher, and for two and a half years Pin lived under his care and tutelage. In 1941, Pin returned home to Tanagan, and it was around that time that the Japan invaded the Philippines.
Ten hours after bombing Pearl Harbor, Japan launched a surprise attack on the Clark Air Base in Pampanga on December 8, 1941. After continued aerial bombardment, Japanese troops landed in Luzon. General Douglas MacArthur was then commanding the armed forces of the Philippines and the United States troops.
All over the country, Filipinos organized militias and guerilla units. Towns, municipalities and even baranggays put together their own defense units. These independent initiatives and coordinated efforts were so effective that the Japanese only succeeded in controlling only 12 of the 48 provinces. In Central Luzon, the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Hukbalahap was the biggest Filipino guerilla force against the Japanese. It had a fighting force of 30,000 armed Filipinos, and their influence spread all across Luzon.
Fighting continued until Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945. The Philippines suffered great loss of life and tremendous physical destruction by the time the war was over.
As a child living during the time of the Japanese occupation, Ka Bel’s life was irrevocably changed. School was suspended, and all children were forced to forego their formal education for three and a half years. Ka Bel was then two months shy from finishing grade four.
The members of the invading army were cruel in their dealings with the people they conquered. Ka Bel and the other children were witness to various atrocities.
The Japanese would round up suspected guerillas and torture them. The victims would be taken to the river and hands tied behind their backs they were forced to lie down in the water. The swiftly moving water would flow over their submerged heads and enter their noses,
and slowly, more painfully, their lungs.
Choking and nearly drowning, they would be kept down for minutes at a time, the Japanese bearing down on their chests or legs. When the victims were already half dead with the exhaustion of fighting against drowning, they would be hauled out. There, on the riverbank, with their victims’ hands still tied and water overwhelming their senses, the Japanese would stomp on the victims’ stomachs.
Ka Bel’s favorite teacher was part of a guerilla unit. The teacher had long noticed his young student’s serious nature, his adult gravity and ability to grasp ideas that were often beyond the understanding of children his age. It was to the teacher that Pin addressed his questions about the invaders. It was also to him that he confessed his eagerness to help fight them.
By then, Ka Bel’s own parents were guerilla sympathizers, giving shelter and protection to the fighters, and serving as militia. Ka Bel, young as he was, decided to do the same, and volunteered his services.
It was the assessment of the guerilla leadership that Ka Bel was a sturdy and steady boy, and because of his smallness, he would be considered a harmless, ordinary boy even as we went around town and the surrounding region as a courier.
He learned from the guerillas and his teachers about what the Japanese aimed to achieve by invading the Philippines. His young mind did not understand why another nation had to invade and take over another when on its own; the invading nation was already rich and developed.
In his heart, however, it was easy to determine right and wrong: it was wrong to take over, torture and massacre a defenseless people.
The one time that Ka Bel saw the Japanese behead a group of suspected guerillas behind the Bacacay school house was more than enough to cement his anger against the occupying forces. The experience also planted the seed of patriotism in Ka Bel; it was then that he first understood what love of country meant.
From the beginning he had wanted to carry a weapon, a gun even if the guerillas had any to spare. After three years, when he turned 13, the guerilla leaders found him responsible and able enough to carry one of the carbines and Browning automatic rifle.
Ka Bel knew of the dangers of being a courier for the guerillas. He saw and heard enough of Japanese atrocities to know that they would not spare him if he were caught. He’d heard of how the Japanese burned villages, abducted and raped women, young and old alike, turning them into sex slaves.
He exercised caution in his dealings even with children his age. He was careful to never speak about his work for the guerilla movement with anyone including his parents lest he jeopardize their safety and security.
For three years, Ka Bel delivered messages for the Flor guerillas. He went to and from the offices of local government officials such as the Albay mayor and governor of Bacacay, carrying secret letters from the guerillas. He went to various houses all over the provinces, on foot and on his own, the letters tucked inside his shorts. He never read the letters, but he knew of their contents: they were either requests for assistance, for money or weapons; or more importantly, they were intelligence reports, detailing the movement of Japanese troops and how they were conducting themselves in the region.
He was never caught.
A good student
To get to Bacacay from Tanagan, the young Crispin Beltran had to take a banca ride. Not having any extra money for the fare, he volunteered to be the boat’s ‘crew.’ The old sailor Tata Fulgencio Bertiz, a cousin some degrees removed, was kind to Pin and let him on board for free, but Pin insisted on working for his ride.
He took his position at the other end of the boat and act as a balancing weight. Sometimes the waves were particularly strong, hitting the boat’s sides with force and there was a threat of the boat falling on its side. Pin would rush to the side of the boat that was tilting, secure the ropes securing the boat’s sails, and pull, bearing down with all his weight to steady the boat’s center of gravity.
With the war behind him, Ka Bel went back to being a student whose favorite subjects were arithmetic, social studies and history. His pre-Japanese occupation schedule of heading home immediately after school resumed. On the outside, every thing was back to normal.
Inside him, however, Pin was never the same.
He became conscious of what other people did and said in their lives and how it affected others. He was unable to forgive the townspeople who supported the Japanese, the collaborators who gave the invaders food and shelter in Bacacay. He resented how the collaborators in Bacacay were able to continue living comfortably, and without remorse over their betrayal of their various neighbors and even relatives.
Ka Bel focused most of his free time studying. He would rush from school to his uncle’s house, help with the chores, or whenever still possible bring merienda to his uncle and aunt who were in the fields or selling vegetables and rootcrops in the market. Immediately after dinner and the wash-up, he would tend to his homework. He studied by the light of gas lamps, and seldom stopped studying until just before midnight.
Ka Bel’s first ambition was to become a priest. Subsequent events would change this, and he would then aim to become either a lawyer or an engineer. He pounded away on his math and English, having been told by his teachers that being good in these subjects would help him in the long run.
During his sophomore year, Ka Bel was elected class president. His junior year found him beating the nominee of the senior class for high school student council chairman. On his senior year, he was elected the chairman of the Supreme student council. By then, Tobaco Municipal HS was called Albay High School.
His earlier-conceived interest in English landed Ka Bel a position in the student paper, as associate editor of the Vanguard. He was unable to write many articles, however; he was often busy with other extracurricular activities. He became a member of the sports club, and became assistant adjutant in his PMT classes, or pre-military training.
The adjutant was Ka Bel’s best friend, Ranulfo Buensalida, and together they led their platoon to become the model platoon in Albay. Pin began to think of getting a career in the military.
Weeks before graduation, Ka Bel started to save up for the Americana suit he was going to wear to the rites. Previously during all the other awards ceremonies and social functions that he attended as a student leader, he wore an America he borrowed from his uncle Pedro. He wanted to wear something new on his school graduation because he thought his entire family would be able to attend.
When the day came, however, it was only his mother Valentina and one of Ka Bel’s younger sisters who were able to attend. They did not have enough money for the fare from Tanagan, and the rest of the family thought that since the ceremony would only be for half a day, it be better if they did not attend anymore. Instead, they sent their warmest and most affectionate greetings to Ka Bel.
Ka Bel was awarded first honorable mention or third honors, and he walked up the stage to loud applause because everyone knew that he was the boy who sent himself through school by being a live-stock caretaker.
Ka Bel was humbled and gladdened by the applause, but inside him he did not agree with how the other academic awardees were chosen. Ka Bel believed that the boy who was ranked after him as second honorable mention deserved to be valedictorian because he was without doubt that most intellectually gifted. The boy, Jaime always had the highest scores in the exams, performed well in class during recitations and problem-solving experiments in Math. Jaime was also personable and friendly. Ka Bel believed that Jaime was a victim of discrimination because his family was mestizo-Chinese.
Chosen as valedictorian was the son of the local judge. The salutatorian was Odilia Competente, Ka Bel’s first girlfriend.
When it was turn to deliver his speech about his predictions for the graduating class, Jaime predicted that Ka Bel would be elected president of the country 25 years into the future. Ka Bel felt the back of his neck and ears turn red with embarrassment, but he took it in his
stride and smiled gratefully when the audience applauded.
Ka Bel also ranked as the Bicol region’s topnotcher during the first national high school competency test for seniors. The exams were the precursor of the NCEE and the NSAT. He ranked among the top 10 percent of all high school graduates in 1953.
In school, the young Crispin Beltran was a studious and obedient boy. His friends were also of the quiet sort, young boys who became men overnight because of the atrocities they witnessed during the Japanese Occupation. He talked to them about his experiences, and they in turned shared theirs. Together, they tried to understand these experiences and how they were affected by them.
Among Ka Bel’s schoolmates was the son of a rich landlord, a scion of one of the families who collaborated with the Japanese. The sight of Sergio Villar strutting around the school yard like he owned it made Ka Bel angry. Sergio was also something of a local bully, and teachers had the habit of ignoring how he copied off his less well-off classmates during quizzes and examinations.
One afternoon after a short test in school, Sergio was heard bragging in the school yard about how well he did in the exam. One of their schoolmates retorted that Sergio was a cheat, that he copied from Ka Bel.
Incensed, Sergio threw a sharpened pencil at the classmate. At the time Ka Bel was standing right next to the classmate, and the pencil hit him instead, square between the eyes. Instead of apologizing, he taunted Ka Bel, calling him ‘taga-bundok’ or literally, from the mountains. Ka Bel, a foot smaller, reached up and threw a punch,
catching Sergio on the jaw. Sergio staggered back in pained surprise.
Sergio ran to their teacher, Mr. Rosario to tell him what Ka Bel did. The teacher confronted Ka Bel.
“Ang liit-liit mo, lalaban ka ba sa kanya?” (‘You’re so small, can you fight him?”)the teacher asked as he pointed at Sergio.
As if in answer, Ka Bel gave Sergio another blow this time to the chest, then walked away. The teacher did not stop him as he left the school grounds. From then on, Ka Bel gained a reputation: the boy was not one to take slights lightly.
Fledgling Boxer, Boy Scout, Farmer
Ka Bel as a young boy had no other interest other than school. He liked music, but wasn’t one to sing. Movies were still a novelty and had yet to reach Bacacay.
What Ka Bel liked to do, even as a young boy, was to box. He would frequently get into ‘fights’ set up by the male adults in the community.
He proved to be a formidable little boxer. By age 10 his fists were rough and scabbed over after hitting them against various opponents’ faces, teeth, and stomachs.
He himself had his own war- wounds, scars on his chin, and cuts below his eye. Never deep or serious, but they marked him as a fighter. It was never his habit to pick fights, but never did he walk away from a challenge. It was a test of manhood and a rite of passage for many young boys growing up in the province to be able to best his contemporaries in backyard brawls. They were expected to be good sports, to accept defeat manfully.
When he was in fifth grade and he was on his way home, he passed the make-shift gym and exercise area of a local boxer named Binong but who went under the moniker ‘Small Talio’ because of his relative shortness. Small Talio was considered a professional, but he had lost two of the last fights he was in and so needed to practice more.
Small Talio was then shadow-boxing in his backyard, within a boxing ring consisting of four wooden posts connected by rope.
Ka Bel walked up and watched Small Talio do his exercises, jabbing, evading, striking at an unseen enemy. He was transfixed.
From then on, at least twice or trice weekly, he would drop by the boxer’s gym, and take boxing lessons along with ten other boys his age. Together they took instruction from Small Talio on footwork, punching moves, and how to strengthen their bodies.
Ka Bel was by far the smallest among Small Talio’s students; but he was also the most hard-working. He learned how to punch hard enough to knock the wind out of his bigger sparring partners. He learned to lift his own weight as he used the monkey bars. He could even hang himself upside down by the feet to strengthen his ankles.
For the next thee years, he harbored a small dream to become a boxer. But as he grew older, he noticed how Small Talio’s ears looked like crushed cauliflowers, and how thick the skin on his cheeks was. Ka Bel, an adolescent, had become conscious of his looks and became a little alarmed at how the constant blows to his face and head would affect his appearance.
He began to more conscientious during sparring practice at ducking and evading punches.
His ambition to become a boxer was given a death blow one evening three years after he first began boxing.
Ka Bel was then a high school freshman, and he practiced less often than he wanted. Tired from school, he still went through his boxing paces and then swung himself up on the bars by his feet. He fell with a dull thud, scrapping his forehead so hard his scalp burned raw. He saw stars, and right then and there resolved that a career in boxing was not for him.
Small Talio tsked-tsked and said that had Ka Bel persevered, he could have made a name for himself as a professional. Years later, Ka Bel would joke that he let go of his boxing dreams because he wanted to keep his ‘baby face intact.’
The only other extra-curricular activity Ka Bel had during his elementary years joining the Boy Scouts. He joined when he was in his 5th grade, and he enjoyed it well enough to continue until the 6th grade.
What made Ka Bel like being Boy Scout was not so much the activities (which he liked because they were trainings in how to be more organized, prepared and disciplined); but because of the leather shoes he wore during the said activities like marching practice, camping and jamborees.
They were his first pair, two leather, lace-up shoes that ended just above his ankle. A deep chocolate brown, they were warm and sturdy, and Ka Bel loved them because they were a gift of his grandfather, Cenon.
Ka Bel’s Lolo Cenon sold eggs for a living, and his grandson who had very earlier learned the value of hard work was seldom rewarded with the commensurate money knew that his Lolo must have sold hundreds of eggs just so the shoes could be brought. Cenon had told his grandson that the shoes were his reward for being a good boy.
Cenon took his favorite grandson to Legaspi so that in could pick the shoes. Cenon himself went everywhere barefoot; his foot pads were thick and rough like steel wool, and his toes branched out, seemingly allergic to each other. To Ka Bel they resembled ginger roots.
Together grandfather and grandson went into the bigger of Legaspi’s shoe stores, and Ka Bel chose his shoes. At P10, the shoes became Ka Bel’s most expensive possessions; and because they were from his grandfather, his most cherished.
Ka Bel took the shoes almost everywhere with him, but he seldom wore them on his feet; instead, he drew the laces through the shoe eyelets and slung them across his shoulder. On the very few occasions that he did wear them, he was careful to make sure that his feet were dry and clean. He also shined the shoes regularly, and made sure that they were protected from mildew.
When Ka Bel finished elementary school, he graduated with honors and ranked third in his class. Some of the teachers said that Ka Bel deserved to be class valedictorian, but because of small-town politics, he had to settle for third place. The principal’s daughter, Baby Vibal, became valedictorian, while his old nemesis, Sergio Villar, was salutatorian. Ka Bel’s being a transferee from the barrio also worked against him.
The young Crispin Beltran went to Tobaco Provincial High School. During the first two years, it was still called Tobaco Municipal School. Located 25 kilometers from the Bacacay town proper, Ka Bel, still called ‘Pin’ had to ride the bus and pay 25 centavos as bus fare to get there, and another 25 centavos to get back to Bacacay where he still lived with his uncle’s family.
It was very hard going for Ka Bel. He wanted to give his full attention to his lessons, but it was frequently difficult because he did not have the necessary materials, from the notebooks, paper for exams, and even books. He often borrowed from the library but because of budget constraints and school policy, the books could not be taken out. Ka Bel would look wistfully at the books his more well-off classmates carried around with them.
Ka Bel knew that he was getting an education solely because of his own persistence. Back home in Bacacay, his parents barely had money to sustain the rest of the family and send the younger ones to elementary school. Neither could he ask any of his aunts or uncles, or even his previous mentors to help him because they too were poor.
The 50 centavos he had to pay for fare everyday was already a heavy burden his family was shouldering; the added expense of school books would be financially crippling. Confronted with these realities, Ka Bel, then 17 years old, wracked his brains to find a way to support himself and his schooling. He determined that he would be able to save money if he lived nearer the school, and that if he found a source of steady income, he would no longer have to burden his parents with his tuition.
Tobaco Municipal High School was in the heart of town. It was surrounded by sari-sari stores, barber shops, stores selling grain and animal feed, the local police station. Many residents made their living by offering their services to the school, as janitorial help, clerks and custodians, gardeners, cooks and helpers in the cafeteria.
The teachers who lived in town employed the services of an elderly labandera, or washerwoman. Lola Tinding, as she was called, washed the school uniforms of the teachers, as well as other articles of clothing by members of the staff and even the student body. At 65 years old, she was a small and stout woman, her skin burnt a deep brown and her eyes crinkled with laugh lines despite the hard life she had lived.
Ka Bel asked teachers where Lola Tinding lived and went to her house one afternoon. Lola Tinding lived in a small but well-kept house along the main road heading towards the school. Ka Bel offered to help her do the laundry in exchange for a place to stay.
From childhood he already washed his own clothes; and when he was home either in Tanagan or in his uncle’s house in Bacacay, he helped do everyone else’s laundry. He proved to be a good labandero, and was quite adept at ironing clothes as well. He was careful with the iron, a heavy metal contraption that was fed with hot coal. He knew how to keep the iron just hot enough to smoothen the creases out of different kinds of cloth without getting them burned.
Ka Bel slept on a wide bench in a corner of Lola Tinding’s one-room house. Every night, after reviewing his lessons and doing his homework, he attacked the piles of school uniforms that Lola Tinding collected during the day.
He soaped and scrubbed, rinsed the teachers’ blouses and skirts, the male instructors’ white pants and long-sleeved shirts, and the occasional Americana suit and formal coat in the small laundry area at the back of Lola Tinding’s house. Then he would hang the clothes to dry, careful that they did not fall off the clotheslines.
The next evening, he would do the ironing. Lola Tinding was the one who returned the clothes to their respective owners.
Ka Bel stayed with Lola Tinding for six months. His hands, hardened by years of helping in the fields of Tanagan and Bacacay, became even more callused as he washed kilos and kilos of dirty clothes. He left when he was accepted as one of the student caretakers of the school’s pilot poultry and swine raising project. Up to the time he graduated from high school, however, Ka Bel visited the old woman and with every visit he washed clothes for her, this time, refusing any payment.
In school, Ka Bel applied for a position in the school-run farms. As usual, he was the smallest among the applicants. At 18, he had already reached his full height of 5 feet two inches, and would not grow taller anymore.
As one of the five student caretakers, he was tasked to look after, take care and guard the school’s 300 chickens – White Leghorn and New Hamsphire varieties – and five hogs. Ka Bel attended his classes in the daytime, and at night sleep in the storage building next door to the poultry farm and make sure that the animals were safe at night.
In between classes he checked on the animals, how many eggs the chickens laid, the state of their feathers; how the pigs were faring, how their appetite was. Everything was written down in a daily report and taken to the principal.
It was work that Ka Bel took easily to. He enjoyed looking after the chickens. He was fascinated with how big they were, and how glossy and thick their feathers were. The New Hampshires, in particular, had beautiful soft yellow feathers. The chickens laid one egg a day each for 30 days in succession, stopped hatching for the next 30, and lay eggs the following month. It was a cycle that Ka Bel found reliable, and it fitted with his sense of order and discipline. He didn’t even mind the often raucous noise the chickens made because at night, the loud cacophony of screeching and clucking was reduced to a gentle clicking and cooing.
For the most part, Ka Bel felt a little proud of himself because the chickens flourished under his care. The principal also trusted him to choose and buy the feed for the animals. He would go to the feed stores in Tobaco and canvas prices, asking storeowners about the different kinds of chickenfeed and which were best for foreign varieties. He learned that different grains mixed with vitamins helped boost chicken’s immunity against diseases and pests. He was told which chicken feed helped the animals lay more eggs.
As a security guard, Ka Bel was conscientious. He guarded the chicken house like a hawk searching for prey. He made sure that the cages were secure, that there were no holes in the wire mesh big enough to allow the occasional chicken to fall or escape through. Short of ordering the chickens to line up as he conducted a head count, Ka Bel made sure that all the chickens were safe before be turned in for the night.
All his efforts however, went out the window one night.
Not really knowing what woke him up – the pigs were behaving for a change – Ka Bel was suddenly compelled to get up and check on his feathered wards.
When he got to the cages, he immediately felt something was amiss. Sure enough, when he trained his flashlight on one row of cages, the occupants were missing.
First thing the following morning, Ka Bel went to the principal to report what happened. The principal was understandably upset. Ka Bel estimated that there were at least 35 or 40 chickens missing, judging from the empty space in the cages. The principal asked Ka Bel what he intended to do. He didn’t ask Ka Bel to pay for the missing chickens, only saying that steps must be made to discover where the chickens went.
Ka Bel feverishly asked himself who could have entered the coop, extract almost 40 chickens without having the fowls raise hell with their noises, and get away without making a sound and undetected?
A professional thief, that’s who, he said to himself.
Ironically, Tobacco’s resident and confirmed thief was Napoleon Blancaflor, the son of the local chief of police.
After school, Ka Bel went around the community where Blancaflor lived and asked his neighbors if they had seen Blancaflor.
The neighbors nodded in the affirmative. They had seen Pinaflor, and quite recently in fact. Only the morning before, they saw Blancaflor leaving the house with boxes with airholes in them. They believed that Blancaflor headed in the direction of the train station and was bound for Manila.
Ka Bel thanked them and hastened to Legaspi station. From there he immediately sent an telegraph to the Gumaca, Quezon station where the train would eventually pass. He estimated that Blancaflor would arrive there – with a cargo of stolen chickens in boxes –the following morning.
Ka Bel went back to school and impatiently waited for the train station to call back. The telegram he sent, he asked the train managers and conductors to apprehend Blancaflor and his cargo, inspect it and if it contained live chickens confiscate them in the name of Tobaco Municipal High School. He left the number of the principal’s office and asked that the principal be contacted if Blancaflor was caught.
The following afternoon, the principal sent for Ka Bel. The train
station had called and said that the chickens had been recovered and that they would be returned to the school as soon as possible. In the meantime, they would make sure that the chickens were fed and given water. The principal was all praises for Ka Bel and patted him on the back.
It was a Monday when the chickens were stolen. The following Friday, they were returned and taken back to their cages. Out of the 40 chickens, 37 were recovered. Since the station authorities did not mention that any of the chickens had fallen ill and died, Ka Bel assumed that they had slaughtered three of them and ate them as their reward for foiling Blancaflor.
From then on and for the next two years until he left, Ka Bel slept in the poultry farm itself. He would perpetually smell of poultry feed and chicken droppings. No matter how long he bathed and how hard he scrubbed, he still felt that the smell of chickens clung to him like second skin.