Young Ati

He was staring at me when I was talking to his parents about herbal medicines. I was holding on to oils and twigs, studying its use and how their little makeshift sidewalk stand would be able to convince people that their alternative medications could cure headaches, diabetes, or even heart problems. Behind their cart stands a known pharmacy, where people actually go to purchase medications.

My right eyebrow remained raised during the conversation and the boy’s attention was still glued to my face.

It was during the Dinagyang Festival that I was able to roam around the streets of Iloilo, dodging a swarm of people, and finding comfort in talking to an ethnic group that holds a great significance in the history of the city and the country.

The mother offered me a seat while tribe dancers with dark brown painted skin were gracefully performing in the street. She opened the window of her cart and placed it just above my head to shield me from the rays of the noontime sun. I carefully observed her while she was going back and forth taking care of her son, her daughter, and a new baby wrapped in cloth around her torso.

It seems interesting that the annual “grand” festival is held to honor the Santo Niño and to actually celebrate the arrival of Malay settlers in the island of Panay and the selling of the island to them by the Ati people – them, the people I was sharing an afternoon with in a nationally celebrated event.

I was pondering that afternoon. Tons and tons of thoughts and questions right there beneath the shade of the wooden roof. When I looked at the boy again, he was still staring at me like I was a stranger.

Well, maybe because I am?

“Young ati,” a painting of the boy who could not get his eyes off me. His pensive look and his questioning eyes lead me to the most difficult question of all – “Why?”

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