Qwertyman for August 15, 2022
(Some of you may have noticed that since last week, and with my editor’s indulgence, I changed the title of this column from “Hindsight,” which I took the liberty of inheriting from Manong Frankie Sionil Jose, to “Qwertyman.” The reason was that, for more than two months now, I’ve been experimenting—okay, I’ll admit it, having fun—with fiction as opinion, which I thought could be my unique contribution to Philippine op-ed writing in this era. I became increasingly uncomfortable, however, with continuing to use FSJ’s column-title, since what I’m doing now bears very little resemblance to his work, so I asked to use “Qwertyman,” which will be my editorial persona as opposed to the arts-oriented “Penman.” It doesn’t hurt that I also collect vintage typewriters—the oldest one dates back to 1896, the onset of the Revolution—so my affinity with keyboards has always been there. So there, and now, on with the show.)
THERE WAS a great commotion in the pasture as the new Chief Bovine took his seat at the head of the Council of Beatified Bovines, enjoying the plushness of the leather (not cow leather, of course, heaven forbid, but the soft underbelly of crocodile). He was new on the job and was frankly ill-prepared for it, having spent most of his youth ogling the curvy heifers on his dad’s Playbull magazines and smoking grass (yes, there was a special kind of grass that cows could smoke). But his time had come, secured for him by his doting mother by dropping off bricks of special salt at each herd’s outpost and promising that it was just going to be a foretaste of things to come. There must have been something magical in the salt, because just a few licks made every cow believe that nothing better had happened to Cowlandia, that they were all going to be wallowing in imported hay very soon, and that the Chief Bovine’s late dad—himself a former Chief Bovine—was nothing less than a saint.
“Hmmm, it looks like this seat wasn’t used very much,” said the Chief Bovine, pinching the leather and watching it spring back into shape.
“Sir, your predecessor preferred sleeping under a tree,” said his Chief Minister. “Sometimes we called on him, only to find him snoring with a fallen mango stuck between his teeth.”
“Oh, that’s right!” said the Chief. “I forgot. The SOB was a boor. No manners. I’ll bet he never knew how to use a salad fork.”
The Chief Minister edged closer to the Chief’s ear: “I have it on good authority that he used a salad fork to torture 147 suspects to death, and even ate parts of them later, using the same utensil.”
The Chief shuddered. “Ewww, that’s gross! The stuff of Netflix documentaries. Remind me to issue an Executive Order prohibiting the use of salad forks for torture.”
“What about, uhm, breadknives and carving knives?”
“Let’s be reasonable. Those are perfectly valid instruments of torture. I know because I tried a breadknife on our cat once.”
“Well, sir, you know he’s coming today, right?”
“What? Do I still owe him anything?”
“No, sir, he’s bringing up an issue that may be of some interest to you and to other members of the Council. It’s about that inquiry being launched by the International Court of Crocodiles. We need to come up with a unified position.”
“Gah! These bloody crocs! Why can’t we ever get rid of them? Haven’t we offered them enough goats to feed on?”
A cloud of dust began to form in the distance, accompanied by the deep-throated lowing of a dozen bulls. Any chickens or goats who got in their way were haplessly trampled underfoot. “Here he comes with his security escort. We better get ready,” said the Chief Minister, who had an underling lay down a bale of fresh hay for every member to munch on. The hay had been smuggled in through the far north where the impossibly ancient former Defense Minister still held sway. There were ugly rumors that, to stay alive, the old bull had drunk some secret potion mixed with crocs’ semen, which was also why he had a direct line to them. He sat in the Council, attended by a pair of hefty heifers who tickled his nose with stalks of exotic grasses.
The Chief Bovine got up to greet his predecessor. In truth, he felt exceedingly lazy and would have left matters of state to his Chief Minister so he could soak in the pond behind the Herd House and get his ears scratched, but his enemies were watching his every move, waiting for him to make some stupid mistake, so he forced himself to flash his best smile and do the customary tapping of horns with his senior.
“Manong!” he mooed. “Good to see you again! What brings you to the Council?”
The fellow sat on his haunches, like he had been known to do even in the poshest of parties, and went straight to the point, starting with an obligatory curse. “Bakang ina, these crocs are too much! They want to investigate me and my ministers for allegedly goring to death at least 6,000 low-life goats who were illegally munching on our grass!”
“Well, did you?”
“Well, wouldn’t you? How else was I going to pay our tribute to Croclandia, which they keep raising every year? Where do you think those 6,000 bodies went? We had to put them in cold storage so they could arrive fresh and tasty. And now they want to indict me for it?” He stood up to his full height—which wasn’t very much—and began pawing the ground like he was about to charge, unsettling the gallery. “All I want to say is this: I’m willing to face these charges anytime, but only here in Cowlandia, to be tried by a court of my fellow cows, under the statutes of the Taurine Constitution!” A great moo of assent arose from the audience.
“He’s right, of course,” the wizened ex-Defense Minister interjected. “This is isn’t about just him, or about just goats. It’s about all of us, about cattledom. What do you think tastes better than a goat? A big, fat cow! Our status as beatified bovines means nothing to them.” Horrified groans.
“But—Manong—how do we work our way out of this?” said the worried Chief Bovine. “I heard that—that you have a special working arrangement with Croclandia….”
“Indeed I do,” said the old bull. “As I do with Monkeylandia, Vulturelandia, and so on. That’s why I’m still alive. I put my modest wisdom in political longevity at the service of others, for an even more modest fee.”
“Can I appoint you as my Special Counsel and Plenipotentiary?”
“Have I ever refused the call of patriotic duty? I shall serve you, sir, as faithfully as I served your father.” His gold incisor glinted in the sunlight.