Conversations with Tungkung Langit
Matanong looked out the window of their hut. The wind had calmed down, but the rain continued its downpour. The rain annoyed Matanong because it prevented him from playing up and down the mountainsides, among the forest trees, or across the grass fields.
"Why does it have to rain?" Matanong asked his grandmother, Lola Diwa.
"Rain is Tungkung Langit's tears," Inang Sipag, Matanong's mother, said without looking up from the dinner she was cooking.
"Who is Tungkung Langit?" Matanong asked.
"He is the God who made order of everything," Lolo Dunong, Matanong's grandfather, said.
"Let's hear his story during dinner," Itang Tapat, Matanong's father, said while placing bamboo cups and banana leaf mats on the table.
Lolo Dunong, Lola Diwa, and Matanong took their seats while Inang Sipag and Itang Tapat served the rice and pig stew. Then, in between bites and mouthfuls, Lola Diwa told the story of Tungkung Langit.
"Tungkung Langit longs for his lost love Alunsina. He cries, and it rains. He sobs, and it thunders."
Lola Diwa finished her story and stuffed a handful of rice and pork in her mouth. She sipped the pig stew soup from her coconut shell bowl and washed it all down with water.
"Did you like the story?" Lolo Dunong asked.
Matanong crumpled his face and said, "I think he's a selfish god."
"Why so, my grandchild?" Lola Diwa took out her wooden box and prepared betel chew for Lolo Dunong. "Are you not glad Tungkung Langit created everything?"
"I'm thankful he did, but he should not be selfish like this," Matanong replied. "He should cry less, and he should keep his sobs low."
"You really can't say that," Inang Tiwala said. She and Itang Tapat had finished cleaning up and were joining the elders in chewing betel nut. "He lost Alunsina. The sorrow comes to him at a time he does not expect. The intensity varies, and sometimes the pain is too much for him. His tears fall; he lets the rain pour."
"Perhaps he is still too young to understand it," Itang Tapat said while he flashed a red-toothed smile at Matanong. "You'll learn it someday, my son, why Tungkung Langit sometimes cries and sobs so hard. For now, it is fine to get annoyed because his tears flood our rice fields."
"And prevents children from playing outside," Matanong added. The adults laughed.
From that night on, Matanong yearned to see Tungkung Langit, so he could tell the god to lessen, if not stop, the rain caused by his tears.
Matanong talked about how unfair and selfish Tungkung Langit was for crying the whole day. Inang Tiwala smiled at him and asked what humans could do to a god like Tungkung Langit.
"It's still unfair." Matanong smirked, his arms crossed over his chest.
Inang Tiwala tucked Matanong in between her and Itang Tapat.
"Go to sleep child; I'll sing for you.
"The sky is calm. The moon is bright. My child, sleep sweetly. My child, fly on the wings of dream," Inang Tiwala sang while tapping Matanong's thighs.
"It's still raining hard, Mother," Matanong said. "The sky is not calm. I wonder if the moon shines bright tonight, but with the storm clouds hiding it, I don't think we will ever know."
"Oh, let it go, Matanong. The rain will stop, maybe tomorrow. For now, just sleep." Inang Tiwala repeated her lullaby.
Mother's voice united with the hum of the raindrops. Matanong thought of a choir of birds with his mother in the lead. Wink after wink, Matanong fell from light into complete sleep. The last words of Inang Tiwala's lullaby, flying on the wings of dreams, lingered and echoed in Matanong's consciousness until he fell asleep.
The wind brushed Matanong's face. He smelled and tasted the salt in the air. Matanong opened his eyes. Light stung them briefly. When his vision cleared, he saw the ocean stretch below him. A mist loomed over him, over everything. The flaps of wings thundered in his flight. He was flying on the wings of dreams, flying through the realms of chaos.
"What kind of bird are you?" Matanong sneaked the question through gusts of winds pushing on his face, through dips and climbs in the flight that twisted his guts and intestines.
The bird stayed silent. Matanong observed the bird's feather shift from as white as the cloud, to as blue as the sea, to as transparent as air. He shouted the question.
"Oh, hello there, my little passenger. I'm not a bird. I am the breeze."
Matanong saw that he was flying with the breeze. The clouds or the mist--chaos made manifest--became the bird's feathers for a time. He saw the shape of the breeze as a bird whose outline disappeared as they flew above the blue ocean, or over the world of greens and browns. Matanong felt he flew on his own.
"Where are you taking me? Is this a dream? We just can't fly in the real world. I tried it a couple of times, didn't work."
"You are funny, dear child," the breeze, then a collage of forest canopy, open fields, and rocky hills, said. "It is an honor to have you as my passenger. To your question, I say we came from a dream, your dream, and we are going somewhere in between reality and fantasy, a world of chaos, for what are dreams but chaotic experiences that once in a while leads to chaotic places. This time, though, you are summoned, and it is my task to deliver you to the first home. Your rumblings are so loud, dear child, that they echoed even here in the chaotic places, attracting the attention and troubling the Great Creator. I am taking you to the Universal King, to Tungkung Langit, my dear."
"Where is Tungkung Langit's home?" Matanong still thought he was dreaming, but he felt fear and excitement. Tungkung Langit had noticed him and summoned him.
"We are almost there, just straight ahead."
"I don't see it, no magnificent house or anything ahead of us, just sky, horizon, and mist."
"That's good, dear child, neither do I." The breeze flew and blew forward.
It slowed down just as darkness greyed the surroundings. The breeze ceased being a bird and became fleeting ribbons of visible air. Matanong searched for the bird, his hands looking for the scruff, wings, or feet because he feared the fall towards the abyss of nothing. He was screaming for help when his feet touched the flat bamboo floors.
Matanong walked along the strip of bamboo floor extending as far as his eyes could see. He looked over the edge, mist above, below and on both sides. An invisible wall lining the edges prevented him from falling or forcing his body over. He was pushing against the invisible force when a voice thundered and told him to stop it.
"Who's there? Who are you? Are you Tungkung Langit?" Matanong searched for the source through the white glowing mist and beyond. "Hey. Can you speak again? I can't pinpoint where your voice came from."
As if in answer, water flowed on the bamboo floor. The stream submerged Matanong's feet. It flowed over the edge. The waterfall created rainbows in the mist. The boy splashed in the stream, kicked more water over the edge, and got soaked all over.
"You sure this is a dream?" Matanong asked the mist, abyss, and infinity looking down on him. "Otherwise, I think I just soaked my sleeping mat, and worse, maybe even Mother and Father."
Silence. The water gurgled when it reached Matanong's lower shin. The boy shrugged and held his bladder just in case. He walked upstream and hoped the source of the voice waited for him there.
Matanong took a step; the water level rose to mid-shin. Another step, it rained, Matanong wishing again that everything was as it appeared and not a dream, or that this rain, when he woke up, would not equate to urine. On his third step, the water level reached his knee. Despite the amount of liquid flowing and surrounding him, the water only brushed against his skin. The bamboo road and the stream stretched forever, but on the fourth step, Matanong reached the pillar of light, the end of the road and the source of the stream.
The pillar stood at the center of a circular slab of black stone. The pillar of light did not come from the sky. Instead, Matanong saw it supporting the sky. He also estimated that more than twenty adults, arms stretched and hands held together, would hug the whole circumference of the pillar. Water cascaded on the pillar's surface. It created a cloud of mist and a thunder of falling water. Rain came from the splash of the waterfall.
"Hello, Matanong, I've been waiting for you," the pillar's light pulsated as it spoke with thunder that brought sadness instead of fear in Matanong's heart.
"Tungkung Langit?" Matanong stared at the vertical sun without hurting his eyes.
"I've heard your ramblings about my sorrow, boy. It bothers me, so I brought you here. Let us talk."
Matanong noticed the rain from the splash had stopped, the waterfall had become a film of water flowing down the pillar of light, and the almost knee-deep stream had decreased until it only submerged his feet.
"I'm glad you decided to talk to me, but can you turn into something more appropriate for a talk?" Matanong said.
"Very well, how about this?" From the base of the pillar of light, a boy stepped out, tears from his eyes tracing waterfalls on his cheeks. He produced a wooden bench out of thin air and invited Matanong to take a seat.
"Come, boy," little Tungkung Langit said. "You might find my referral to you as 'boy' awkward."
"Not as awkward when you look like that," Matanong pointed at the pillar supporting the sky.
"Why do you despise me, Matanong?" Tungkung Langit asked. He let the tears fall from his eyes, down his cheeks, to his chin. A continuous thread of tears fell on the stream's surface.
"I don't hate you," Matanong said. "I just think you should decrease your crying. See? You can transform a shallow stream into an ocean in just one big sob."
"I cannot help it. The loss I feel just twists the fabric of my soul and squeezes all the tears. I always expected that my soul would dry up from sadness, but now I am not so sure." Tungkung Langit sobbed again. Matanong covered his ears as thunder after thunder came out from the boy.
"That's what I meant," Matanong shielded his face from the torrential rain of tears. "Don't you know that when you cry, it rains where I live? And if you cry like this, we get storms. We love rain but not storms that destroy our crops and houses.
"How long has it been since you lost Alunsina anyway? I lost my favorite top once. I cried. After a few hours, I realized crying won't bring my top back, so I asked my father if we can make a new top together. He said yes, so I searched for the best guava branch while Father tended the field. That night, he helped me finish the top. That was I being a boy. You're a god, creator of everything. Can't you stop crying and create another woman to love?"
"First, time does not matter in chaotic places." Tungkung Langit's voice ceased to be thunder. Instead, Matanong heared lightning ripping the sky and volcanoes spurting liquid fire. "It can be a day or a million harvests in your reckoning since I lost my beloved Alunsina. How long I've lost her doesn't matter. Pain comes because I lost her. Second, she is not a thing I can create, not a toy, or a life. She is a god, and she is my love. You replace what you lost, so you can regain the pleasure that you lost. Love is a different matter, boy. My love for order made me fix chaos. When I lost Alunsina, I thought I would have all my heart available to create order. How wrong I was, for Alunsina still owns my heart."
Matanong allowed the god in the form of a child to cry like a child for a while. The tear level rose. Matanong wondered how his home fared in the storm.
"I'm sorry. I don't understand love very well. Maybe my parents or grandparents know more about that."
Tunkung Langit continued crying. The tear flood reached their waist, but Matanong stayed seated with the crying god. Matanong hoped again that he was not dreaming before plunging into the flood.
"What are you doing?" Tunkung Langit asked.
"Just swimming." Matanong lay down on the surface of the water and floated. "When I'm sad, I always go to the nearby waterfall. Between the waterfall and the river is a pool. Swimming relaxes me and makes me happy. You cry a lot, and now we have this pool."
Tungkung Langit rubbed the tears from his eyes and said, "I don't know how to swim."
"I don't need it. I don't drown."
"Well, I can teach you."
Matanong taught Tungkung Langit how to swim. Soon the two boys were paddling and diving in the water.
"What was that sound?" Matanong thought he heard the sound of life as it is created.
"That was just my laughter," Tungkung Langit replied.
"I never heard that sound before, but it makes me happy."
The boys laughed a symphony of innocent notes. With the laughter, the pool began to drain until the two boys sat on the bench, their feet on the dry, black stone surface.
"That was fun. I haven't heard myself laugh for a long time," Tungkung Langit said.
"Great. Now remember, when you're sad and it gets flooded again here, just turn into a child and have a swim in your own pool of tears."
"Thank you, my friend, if you don't mind me calling you my friend?"
"Yes, you may, my friend. What am I but a human? How can I refuse the friendship of a god?"
After sharing a few more laughs, Tungkung Langit called the breeze to take Matanong back home.
"Take this," Tungkung Langit gave a sheet of white light to Matanong. "It's a kind of clothing. Try it on."
Matanong wrapped the sheet of light around him and raised the hood to his head. The light sank into Matanong's skin. For a moment, the boy was glowing. Matanong stared at his glowing body parts until all the light vanished into his skin.
"Don't be afraid, my friend," Tungkung Langit said. "That robe will protect you all through your life. It will give you light when you are in darkness. It is also your key to my realm."
"I will return here?" Matanong loathed the idea of babysitting a god.
"Only when I want you to, my friend, until then, you can go back home and wake up." Tungkung Langit blew Matanong and the breeze away.
Matanong looked at his new friend as the god turned into a dot on a white sheet of mist, until he saw nothing anymore but the mist, then darkness. He woke up with dry pants.
Every time heavy rain fell, Tungkung Langit summoned Matanong. Tropical storms and hurricanes came, and Matanong spent an hour or so talking with the god. When he grumbled about how selfish Tungkung Langit was, the breeze would deliver him to Tungkung Langit.
The robe of light held on to Matanong and protected him from everything, the wrath of nature, accidents, and the whims of humans. He noticed it most in the dark, and in fleeting moments in front of the mirror or from the corner of his eye. One of his visits to the god's abode in the chaotic place occurred right after Matanong's circumcision.
Matanong had to walk through a rice paddy field while holding the front of his Mother's skirt. He expected the tears of a god would help his wounds heal. When he reached the end of the soil path after four steps, he discovered the circular slab of rock had turned into a small hill.
At the top of the hill, a giant tree, with a trunk as big as the pillar of light from his previous visits, supported the sky on top of its canopy. The green leaves detached from the branches and wilted before they touched the ground. Matanong had to walk on a knee deep pile of leaves to reach the base of the tree.
Tungkung Langit was sitting on the tree's root shaped like a bench, tears still in the god's eye. He also wore a skirt like Matanong.
"Why are you wearing a skirt too?" Matanong asked.
"This is not a skirt, this is a malong," Tungkung Langit replied. "I saw your outfit when the breeze set you down by the entrance. I decided it would be appropriate to wear something similar."
"This is not a malong," Matanong felt the blood rise to his face and his cheeks warm up. "This is my Mother's skirt."
"That is a sweet thing to do, boy."
"No, I didn't do it to impress Mother, and stop calling me a boy. I'm a man now. I got circumcised today before sunrise."
"Hmmm," Tungkung Langit said, looking intrigued and staring at Matanong while wiping off the stream of tears on his cheeks.
"You can't look," Matanong said. "Mother said it would grow round and red like a tomato if somebody else sees my wound. Or was that just applicable to girls? Father and Grandfather said it would feel just like an ant bite. I think they were talking about a giant ant."
"I don't want to look at it." Tunkung Langit smiled. The god's smile glowed so much like the sun that Matanong had to cover his eyes. "I want you here for I felt the sorrow of Alunsina's absence. Now, that you are here, you wasted no time and made me happy with your antics."
Tungkung Langit offered a seat to Matanong, but the new man decided to stand and hold the skirt away from his wounded manhood. Now that Matanong claimed to be a new man, Tungkung Langit asked him to tell the story of Matanong's past year.
Matanong started with the circumcision. He recalled the experience in darkness, for he kept his eye closed during the whole operation, from the pulling back of the foreskin until the moment he spit the chewed guava leaves. Tungkung Langit seemed to flinch when Matanong illustrated the edge of the blade splitting the foreskin. The god congratulated the new man for his successful rite of passage to manhood.
Then, Matanong told Tungkung Langit of his duties on the farm. His Father and Grandfather needed more of his help in planting and harvesting their rice. Planting season ended about two moons ago, and the coming harvest season promised another granary filled with sacks of rice if a certain god kept his crying controlled.
"When I came here, I saw tears in your eyes," Matanong said. "It was still summer when I left. You were crying then, yet no rain has touched our land for more than two moons."
"So?" Tungkung Langit said, the god's face and tone of voice unimpressed. "My time here and the time in your land are not synchronized. I may cry now, and rain may fall in your land far in your past even before your grandfather was born, or in your future where you are dust and your grandsons are bent, wrinkled, and almost bone. Also, my tears may fall on distant lands, beyond the mountains of your land, across all the oceans, or even beyond the stars."
Matanong bade farewell when he felt his wound needed cleaning. Tungkung Langit called the breeze. It turned into a bird with feathers of dry leaves as it swooped Matanong away from the god's chaotic realm. The new man saw the solitary god smile and wave. He landed on the front door of their house. The sun's warmth and the cool afternoon wind told Matanong that Tunkung Langit would keep the tears away and allow happiness to stay. A ray of sunlight filled with dancing dust motes pointed to Matanong's bloodied skirt.
"So," Matanong's teeth chattered, "What are you up to now?" Tungkung Langit had given Matanong a blanket made of some animals hide and thick fur. It wrapped around his body but his fingers and toes had only enough heat to keep from losing blood and life. When the wind blew, the cold pierced through all of the coverings and gnawed his bones.
"Crying and being lonely, as usual." Tungkung Langit sat on a bench of ice. Matanong attempted to sit beside the god, but a touch of the bench's surface was cold enough to bite his skin. The ice pillar behind the god had branches and thorns of ice. Snow fell from the gray clouds. Matanong stood on a rock covered with the same blanket that he wore. It kept his feet above the layer of solidifying snow.
"How about you, my friend, what are you up to now?"
"Well, I'm," Matanong fumbled for the words and felt a sudden rush of blood and warmth to his cheeks, "I'm courting someone."
"Ah, so you are in love." A smile made Tungkung Langit's face shine. The grey clouds thinned and parted. Sunlight melted the falling snow. Matanong felt sweat trickling down his skin. The fallen snow played with sunlight like a flowing river.
"Of course I am," Matanong said. "I've been chopping wood and fetching water from the well for almost a week now. She does look out her window whenever I serenade her. Her parents also seem to favor me. I actually want to thank you. It was raining when I met her."
"I am glad to help you in ways that even I did not expect to." Tungkung Langit bid the breeze again. The god's touch and blessing gave Matanong more confidence for the courtship. Matanong's smile melted the ice and the cold gripping Tungkung Langit's heart.
The warm breeze took Matanong in one sweep. He waved good-bye to Tungkung Langit. The pillar melted and released a waterfall. The snow evaporated as quickly as the grasses and flowers filled the banks of the river starting at the god's feet.
Matanong returned with the strength to chop all the trees on the mountain and fetch all the waters of the sea. He sang not only for his love but also for the moon and stars. It took a month of that to convince the girl's parents to bless their marriage.
Years passed. Matanong received summons from Tungkung Langit at the day of his marriage, at the births of his children and grandchildren, and even at the death of his wife when he needed the companionship of his friend the most. It never rained on his happiest days and on the days he wanted for his own, even during the rainy season or after a week of downpour, as if the rain stopped just to fulfill Matanong's needs.
One year after his wife's death, Matanong's body started succumbing to old age. Talino, Matanong's grandson from his youngest daughter, sat at his bedside. He told the story of Tungkung Langit and Alunsina to the child.
"I think he's unfair," Talino said. "He shouldn’t cry this much. It floods the rice paddies, the road, everything."
"That was what I thought when I was young," Matanong replied. "Now, I think it's not proper to say Tungkung Langit is selfish."
"Why not, grandpa?"
"Because now I know what it means to lose someone, how someone stays in your heart no matter where she is."
"Grandpa, are you feeling well? You are glowing."
"Ah, finally, someone wants to see me." Matanong looked at the light robe Tungkung Langit gave him. "Stay here for a while, don't call your parents."
The light burned. Talino shielded his eyes. Matanong saw his room and grandchild disappear under the sheet of white light.
"It's nice to see you've reverted back to the mist," Matanong said.
"This is a chaotic place. It turns into things it wants to." Tunkung Langit floated above a swirling ball of mist. Behind the god, a pillar of cloud released streams of mists.
"It's been a while since you summoned me."
"I still watched over your life."
"I know, thanks for not crying or diverting your tears to another place whenever I needed a dry day."
"I don't, well I really didn't, it was just, I don't understand." Tungkung Langit blushed.
"No need to hide it, my friend. By the way, can you turn this light robe into something more physical, a prayer necklace maybe?"
Tungkung Langit nodded. The robe of light crawled over Matanong's body. Some merged into a string of light around his neck, but most converged into a bar of light. The light exploded into stars and a shower of light droplets. A silver string around his neck held a black, cylindrical gem. Matanong raised the gem and looked through it. The gem enclosed the night within.
"Will that do?" Tungkung Langit asked.
"Yes, this will make a proper heirloom. This could be our last meeting. I just wanted to pass something to my bloodline."
"I can make you immortal if you stay here."
"No, I'm a man not a god. I lived a meaningful life like any other mortal does. The meaning of death eluded me all of my life until the death of my wife."
"Then, I'll miss you, my friend."
"I'll miss you too, Tungkung Langit."
"Won't you leave something to remind me of you?"
"I think I will, but not now."
"Hello?" Talino's voice echoed through the mist. He clutched the black gem in his small hand. Before his grandfather's death, Talino received the prayer stone, a family heirloom that should pass from generation to generation. He remembered the tears and the sadness the light rain emphasized during his grandfather's funeral. The boy believed his grandfather lived inside the gem of night, so he talked to it whenever he was alone. At his latest conversation with the gem, the night within turned into the grey of dawn, and then into the white of a clear, summer afternoon.
When Talino removed his hands from his eyes, he was standing on the peak of a rock. The mist hid the fall and the horizon around him. Tears were accumulating in his eyes when a big bird came.
"Hello there, boy," the bird said. "Tungkung Langit heard your call, and he told me to bring you to him."
The bird scooped him away. Talino felt fear and excitement on their way to Tungkung Langit. The flight ended with the mist parting to show a pillar of white light supporting the sky. A boy stepped out of the light and greeted him and invited him to have a seat on a star.
"Are you Tungkung Langit?" Talino asked.
"Yes," the glowing boy said.
"My grandfather told a story about you. You're unfair."