Sariling Dugo't Bakal

rating: +29+x

As the beautiful sunset of Manila washes over my gears, I watch as the waves crash into the seawall, the sea breeze chilling my body, and I think about the world that came after my teenage years. Who knew I would meet a lot of wonderful people? I couldn't even imagine dating someone before, but now? We're planning to have a vacation on the beaches of Palawan and possibly have a honeymoon in my hometown.

An engine slightly hums behind me, then two strong arms warm my small body. A deep voice rings out.

"I'm hungry! Where are we eating? Didn't you promise me we're eating at a buffet?" he whined.

"C'mon Vincent, every buffet here is filled to the brim with people." I tell him. "If you want to eat somewhere, go ahead, but I don't have the money to feed you."

"Okay fine, we're not eating at a buffet." he pouted. He scanned the bay, like a predator hunting for its prey. "Speaking of which, is that an Ambrose restaurant I see?"

"Ugh, Ambrose is garbage compared to local food. You're better off going for the restaurants whose food aren't made in a factory."

"Oh, sorry I have terrible taste in food." he sarcastically said. "Besides, their adobo's not that bad."

"You only say that because you haven't tried the really good stuff. I swear, once you go for local, you're never eating at Ambrose ever again."

"Hmm, yeah, you know how much I like the… 'local stuff' here." he says, with a wink. His deep and hearty laugh rumbles my body.

"Fuck off, man" I chuckle, hopping off the seawall with a quiet thud and walking towards the restaurant where I met him. On the street, a magician performs a sleight of card with a deck of cards. She recites a spell under her breath, and with another sleight of hand, she throws the deck of cards into the air, which turn into fireworks that shine above everyone's head.

The neon lights above the diner blinds my eyes. I squint to take a good look at the sign. "Sinigang and Crispy Pata Diner", it reads. A waiter stands in front of the diner, answering the questions people throw to her.

"Welcome to Sinigang and Crispy Pata, how may I help you?" she smiles.

"Hello, I would like a seat for two, please."

"Please sit by the chairs while I find a seat for your two!"

I sit on the chair she provides while we wait for our names to be called. As Vincent's chin rests on my head, the various stares coming from nearby passers-by don't bother me. The various people seating one seat away from us don't bother me. The parents pulling their children away from us don't bother me. The sea breeze blows over me and I shiver. I activate my neural implants and send a message to him.

"We aren't staying here for long, right?"

"Relax mate. No one would harm you as long as I am here :)."

"Thanks <3."

I close my neural implants, look up, and my body warms at the sight of his smile. Our names are called and we order their famous sinigang and crispy pata combo. Around the diner, families are waiting for their seats, children are running around the tables, and the noise of the diner brings me back to my childhood where my mother and I would go here and eat. I still remember running around the tables, ducking and diving under the tables until Ma—

"Hello? Earth to Jun?", he says, waving his hand in front of my face.

"Wuh? What? Ha?"

"You always look cute when you snap out of a daydream."

"Oh c'mon man, let me have this one."

"No." he says with a sly smile. "No, I won't."

"Aww, you bastard. So, what are you asking?"

"You following me to the mall?"

"Nah, I'll probably head straight home. Haven't met my mother in a long while."

"Sure, go ahead. Just give me the address of your house and I'll be there, after I do my shopping of course."

"You sure? I can give you my GPS, if you ever get lost."

"Hey, I'm not that bad at directions. Besides, you're always there to fetch me anyways."

"I'm not your personal driver, you know." I chide him. "You should really learn how to drive. I swear, it's good for you."

"Hey I already know how to drive." he retorted. "Drive you in bed, that is."

"Oh c'mon, you can't think of a better counter?" I sighed. "This is why I easily beat you in fighting games."

"Yes I can, but you're an idiot that loves those lines to hell and back." he says, the rice and meat muffling his voice.

The steam of the sinigang warms my red face as I take a drink from it. After we finish our meal, he says the one thing I was hoping he wouldn't.

"So, when am I meeting your family?"

The sound of the broom keeps my mind busy until I heard the bell ring. He's back. I rush past the Christmas tree with presents under it, to the big brown gate. The gate loudly creaks open and his big body warms me as I am comforted and squished by his hug.

"Shit man, you never told me your house was this big!" he exclaimed.

"I'm surprised you didn't get lost on your way here." I joke. "Anyway welcome to my house, sit by the sofa, I'm telling Ma you're here."

I squeeze past my cousins, their sweaty skin sticking onto me, and rush towards the kitchen, where I can smell the rich and heavy scent of the largest lechon Ma is cooking for me ever since I left the Philippines. My brother is off to the side, the sound of calamansi being chopped and squeezed repeating monotonously while he pours the soy sauce using his normal hands.

"Ma, Vincent's here!" I yell.

"Ay, he's here na pala! Can you prepare some orange juice for your brother's friend please, May?" she asks my little sister while crouching.

"And why not give him a tour of the house, Jun?" she turns to me. "Better let him see where you both are staying for a few weeks."

"Sure, I can." I tell her. Going back to the lounge, I try to pull him up the sofa, but his heavy body pulls me instead into a hug. Pulling myself away from his grasp, I grab his hand, and lead him up the stairs while telling him we are having a tour of my house. As the crowd quiets down, and we enter my childhood bedroom, my mind wanders to all the possible things that might happen today. The cool air of the room makes me shiver as I put on a playlist and I relax in the warm embrace of his body. When the playlist ends, he asks me something.

"Nervous? You feel really cold right now." he asks with concern.

"Who wouldn't be? I mean, what if they kick me out? What if they say I'm not allowed to be in this house anymore?" I start breathing heavily. "W-what if they do something to—"

He pulls me into a hug. "Calm down man, calm down." My breathing slows. "It's okay, you're gonna be fine. I'm always here for you."

"Thanks man." I mumble to him. I hear footsteps on the stairs, a knock on the door, then a voice.

"Jun, kain na!"

"Don't fudge your words, okay? Remember what you're gonna say." Vincent whispers.

"I promise. Hope this all goes well."

"How's work, Jun? Earning that money?" Ma says.

"Work's fine, doing well. Might get a promotion next time." I mumble loudly as the soy sauce covers my mouth.

"Taking care of yourself out there? You know naman how people are out there, super judgemental about us." she says, as she places another slab of lechon on my plate.

"Yeah, yeah, taking care of myself. Been buying lots of skincare products, since my skin feels really dry."

The sounds of chewing around the table got louder as Ma stares at me. "Jun, why not remove your long-sleeved jacket? You look really unconfortable in that jacket. It looks way too big on you, you know."

"As I said nga Ma, my skin feels really dry right now." I blurt out. The steam of the sinigang burns my face as Ma continues to stare at me. "I also feel cold right now, you know. Besides, it's Vincent's jacket I'm wearing, so it's okay."

"You sure you're comfortable there? It reminds me of the time noong bata ka pa when you would wear that Spider-Man mask all the time. I even have some pictures of that time!" she smiles. She grabs her phone and turns to Vincent, as she places another pile of rice in his plate. "Hoy, Vincent, look at these pictures of him when he was a child!"

"Haha, you're right, he looks really adorable here." Vincent grins. "Guess he's still adorable after all these years."

"Syempre, he's adorable! Where do you think he got his good looks?" Ma grins. A chorus of groans come from the table.

"Hay, alam mo ba, Vincent, when he was a child, he would copy the stunts he saw on TV, para magpasiga and impress his crushes! Ayan tuloy, I had to bandage his wounds multiple times. Hay nako, you should've seen the stunts he tried to pull with the coconut trees we had!" Ma says

"Yep, that's the Jun I know!" A round of laughs come from the table while my face flushes with a deep red and I get up to grab some wine. I return to the table, wine glass in hand, as I overhear them talking about May.

"So, how's his little sister?" Vincent asks Ma.

"She's doing really good, you know. She is at the top of her class and she got very high grades. We're planning na nga to teach her some prayers to Ion after her next birthday nga eh, as a reward."

"Guess she got her work habit from Jun, huh" Vincent chuckles.

"How's my son nga pala?" Ma asks Vincent. "Is he doing well in his job?"

"Yeah, he is very… hardworking, you could say." Vince says with his wink and that sly smile on his face. "He always had my back whenever I had various… problems."

"Well, I hope he is very kind to you." Ma smiles. She then turns to me and places another heaping pile of rice as I absorb myself into the environment.

"Jun, you've been reciting Ion's prayers?" she cuts in.

"Yeah, yeah, I've been reciting them." I nonchalantly say. "Have most of them memorized, just haven't had the time to learn new stuff. You know, work and all."

"Jun, remember to place some time for Ion, okay? Don't let your work consume you." she concerningly says.

"Okay, okay, thanks for the advice Nay." I say as the rice muffles my voice.

As we continue eating the lechon Ma prepared, they talked a lot about the current issues of the Philippines as I bath in the smell of the sampaguita, the sounds of children singing Jose Marie-Chan outside our gate, and the blinking lights on the Christmas tree. As we finish off the leche flan Vincent bought for us, she asks me a question that almost froze my body.

"Jun, Vincent, when's the marriage?"

I warmed up when I heard the question, but before I can answer back, Vincent already speaks up. "We're probably going to get married in June. I mean, that is the month he's named after."

"I hope Ion blesses you with a very fruitful married life. Want me to recite a short prayer, Jun?" Ma asks.

"N-no thanks, Nay." I stutter. "Thank you for the blessing though."

The Christmas tree blinds my eyes while Vincent's body warms my left arm. My heart is beating slowly, my gears ticking quietly under my clothes. While Ma is giving presents to our nephews, she stops and cups her ears to my direction.

"Jun, am I just hearing it, or is there a ticking somewhere?"

My gears tick. My body chills. "I-it's probably the clock, it's kinda old, you know." I look around for the old clock we have and point to it.

"Yeah, probably. I'll have to replace that sometimes." she remarks. My gears keep ticking as I make a mental note to buy some silencers for them.

After the presents were distributed and our nephews say their goodbyes and "Merry Christmas"es, it was just me, Vincent, Ma, my brother, and May sitting around the lounge, with the Christmas tree in the center. Ma turns to me with a smile, staring at me. The Christmas lights blind my eyes.

"Ma, Brother, May, and everyone in here, I-I actually have to something to say about me and my l-life— ." I start. "Err, not really my life, but more of— You know, like how I— " I stutter. "Okay, this isn't going well." I mumble under my breath.

"Slow down Jun, we're not in a race." Ma says. "Now, what are you going to say, anak?" She smiles again. My heart beats faster, the gears ticking louder. My lungs drown on dry land and I breath in and out, in and out, like what Vincent taught me.

"Okay, okay, here we go" I mumble under my breath. "S-So, I've actually been hiding something from you all ever since I came here." I say. With a trembling hand, I removed my jacket, unwrapped the cloth around my arm, and let the Christmas lights reflect off my metal arm. The plastic joints in my hand move smoothly as I stretched them out for everyone to see.

"As you can see, I got a metal implant." I turn to Ma. Her face is a pale white. "Err, not because I got amputated or anything." I quickly correct myself. "I just, you know, am a Mekhanite now. Yeah, that's what I am saying. I'm a Mekhanite now."

Silence. Every second that passes, only silence. My beating heart tries to warm my body, while the ticking grew louder, keeping track of every second that passes.

May broke the silence. "Hey, it's okay Kuya! As long as you are happpy, I'm okay with it! I have Mekhanite and Sar— err, Nalkan friends and we are all happy together." she says, with a beaming smile.

I turn to her. Her smile comforts me. "Thanks May." I say. "I knew you were always kind."

"Yep, fucking knew it!" my brother jumps up and down while shouting. "I knew you were a Mekhanite through and through ever since I saw that metal arm inside your drawer along with your metal di-"

I quickly run towards my brother and covers his mouth. "Right, right, thank you for the very encouraging word Brother. Yep, yep, thanks for the support you gave me." My face warms up, and I turn to Ma for any response. She just sits there, red returning to her face, her breathing calming down. She then speaks.

"Thank you for that announcement Jun, I think it was hard for you to announce that to all of us here." Ma stiffly starts. "Okay lang sakin, be who you are, worship who you want to worship, as long as you are safe and sound in here, okay?"

"Thanks Ma." I go for a hug, but I don't feel any warmth from her.

The sound of roosters wakes me up as I wrench myself free from Vincent's body. I go outside my room and to the kitchen with the smell of fried longganisa hanging in the air. As I enter the kitchen, I see Ma chopping off her hand using her blade-shaped right arm, however, as I pass her by, she turns her blade arm into a normal appendage and grabs the nearby knife to continue chopping the remaining meat.

"Good morning, Nay." I yawned.

"Morning, Jun. Slept well?"


I sit at the dinner table, water in hand, watching her chop the meat with difficulty.

"Jun, how's your relationship with Vincent?" she says, accidentally chopping off her hand.

"Eh, we have some arguments, but still okay. I still love him as my boyfriend."

Silence settles between the two of us, Ma struggling to cut her meat with the knife, while my body ticks on, marking the time.

"How's your job, Jun?"

"Okay lang naman. I'm having fun with my job."

"Maraming kakilala?"

"Yeah, mostly Nalkans, but I have some Mekhanite friends too."

"Pasalamat naman. You know, when I was a teenager, I had a lot of normal friends, you know? They always helped me whenever I had problems. Sayang lang nga they went away after I left high school after I came out to my family. Haha, I still remember the times I had to move from place to place because I was scared of people finding out. Be careful outside, ha?"

"Okay… Nay. Don't worry, Vincent's always here for me."

"Still, mag-ingat ka, okay? You never know when people might leave you, so please be careful."

"Thank you for the advice Nay. I'll go now, gotta buy some stuff."

Ma suddenly turns to me. "Oo nga pala, I almost forgot. Jun, can you buy some pandesal at the sari-sari store? It's just by the block."

"Sure. Anything else to buy?"

"Buy their chicken na rin. We're having chicken tinola this lunch."

Before I go out of the house, Ma shouts.

"Wear some long sleeved shirts, please. Wear a hat and sunglasses too. Alam mo naman how people are when they see those prosthetics of yours."

I chuckle. "Nay, times have changed." I say, but Ma doesn't chuckle back. As I go outside the kitchen, I only hear her sigh.

Saturday comes, and Vincent and I plan for the both of us to go mall shopping around three in the afternoon. After I took a bath, I wear my T-shirt and shorts, and start prepping for the mall. While I wait for Vincent to finish dressing up, I go to the living room and get a quick glass of water. At the kitchen, Ma is reading food recipes from some Facebook post.

She looks up and stares at me. "Jun, why don't you wear something less… revealing?"

"What do you mean, Nay?"

"You know how people out there are, they might judge you for your… things."

"Ma, it's been like thirty years. No one will notice." I say. But before I even finish saying that sentence, she already has a jacket, hat, and sunglasses on her hands.

"Wear this."

"Nay, I don't need and want to."

"Hay, wag ka na matigas ng ulo. Just wear them, please"

"Why though? People won't stare at me, it's not 2012 or anything."

"Sige na Jun, if not for your own safety, then why not wear them for me?" Ma looks at me with concern.

"Ugh, okay fine." The oversized jacket warms my body, while the hat blocks the sun from my eyes.

As Vincent and I go out to ride our bikes, she suddenly goes out with a pair of gloves in her hand.

"Here, wear them to cover your hands."

"Okay, okay, fine. Place them on the basket nalang."

"Be careful, ha? Be sure to be home by eight!"

"Nay, I'm an adult, okay!" I shout as I bike towards the mall, Vincent in front of me.

As nine o'clock rolls around, Vincent and I are just eating at our favorite diner. I open my phone and twenty missed calls stare at my face. Right on cue, another call comes from Ma.

"Nay, hello?" I say.

"Saan ka na, Jun?" she shouts.

"Nasa mall pa. Why?"

"Sabi ko home by eight, diba? Why aren't you at home?"

"We're still shopping."

"The mall's closing, and you're still not leaving? Hay nako, ang tigas ng ulo mo!"

"Okay, okay, fine." I quickly say. "We'll be home by ten."

"We'll have a talk, young man."

I close my phone. Vincent looks at me with concern.

"Do we need to go home now?" he says.

"I mean, if you don't want to…"

"You sure? Sounds like your mom was prettty mad."

"It's fine. I can just always explain to her."

"You know what? Let's visit one more store, then we're going home."

"Fine. So, wanna visit that tech store with all the cool new implants?"

"Sure, why not?"

As we enter the house, I silently close the gate, quietly park our bikes outside, and slowly open the door, only to see Ma sitting at the sofa, staring at me while I remove my helmet and place it on the table. As Vincent goes up the stairs to my room, silence wedges between Ma and I.

"Home by eight, diba? What took you so long?"

"We had to weave through Manila traffic. You know how—"

"Manila traffic is not that intense at this time of day, you liar."

"It's not like before, Nay. There was a traffic accide—"

"What if you got injured, ha? Who's taking care of you? What if nasagasaan ka?"

"I can take care of myself, Nay. Matanda na ako, you don't have to coddle me—"

"Anong take care of yourself? How many times have you've been almost ran over by a car? What if someone runs over you?"

"What? I won't, Nay, that's why I have someone with me all the time."

"Yeah, but what if they weren't there with you? What if someone stabs you at mapunta ka sa hospital?"

"What the fuck? That doesn't happen anymore, besides I can protect myself."

"What if you go out one day then makita ko nalang sa news you're dead?"


"You know how people are outside, Jun. They are very judging against people like us. Alam mo ba, I have a friend, he told me that he knows someone who came out to her family, the next day, nahanap nalang sa canal, with multiple stab wounds in the chest!"

I look at her with a puzzled face. I do not remember her face being this red before. This doesn't happen anymore, right?

"I also know someone who had a friend whose uncle was ran over by a car. Yung nakakalungkot pa, he was just seen entering a Nalkan church by his Mekhanite friends. Rumour has it, they are the ones who ran him over!"

"What the fuck?" I exclaim. This definitely doesn't happen anymore.

"All I'm saying is be careful outside, Jun. People come and go, people change, and people get angry at things they don't know. I just don't want to see you dead!"

"Nay, for the last time, I am an adult now. I can handle myself."

"Bakit ba ang tigas ng ulo mo! I've already told you a lot of times, all I want you to do is to go home early and be safe inside our house, but no! You have to be rebellious and disobey what I say! Why can't you be like your brother or your sister! Why can't you understand I'm doing this for your own good!"

"Nay, how many times will I say that I'm. Not. A. Kid. Anymore! " I yelled. "I can take care of myself, okay! How many time will I say na matanda na ako! Let me be independent for once and treat me like an adult!"

"Live in your own house, then! If you're such an adult, then why don't you go out there and be an adult with your boyfriend!"

"Don't bring Vincent— aaargh! Putangina mo, this is why Papa fucking left you!"

I quickly run towards my room, where Vincent is already asleep and snoring, my engine overheating, my heart beating. How can she not understand that I'm an adult already! Why can't she let go of me! Vincent's embrace warms my body, the hum of the air conditioner calms my mind, and I try to hold back my tears, only to feel water flowing down my face as I close my eyes.

The next day, I leave my room to go to work. I see Ma in the kitchen, chopping some celery up for dinner. I look at her for a moment, then I leave for work. The day after that, the same thing. For the next few days, me and Ma don't talk much. We just follow our own routines, Ma cooking whatever we will have for dinner, and me just repeating that same routine. Go out of my room, look at Ma, and leave for work. Every time we would be alone together, I would think about bringing up that issue again, but I keep my mouth shut and pretend she isn't there. Sometimes I'll see her on a Facebook comment section, reading about mothers and their children. Other times I'll hear her prayers to Ion, that I be safe against this world. Most of the time, she just stares at me when Vincent and I go out to either have a date or buy something. She doesn't even attempt to give me those jacket, hat, glasses, and gloves anymore.

It's New Year's, and my brother decides that we all go to the bay and eat at a buffet. Vincent and I bike to the bay, while my family rides a car to the mall. We park our bikes in a safe place and walked beside the sea walls, the very same ones where I met Vincent. Families gather around the food stalls set up, with fried quail eggs, fried squid balls, and French fries being sold.

"So, Jun, you okay with your family? I haven't seen you talk to them lately" he says, while licking an ice cream.

"Yeah, it's just that… uurgh, I don't know man!" I yell. "She thinks I'm still a child!"

"Maybe she's just concerned about you, man."

I groaned. "Great. Now you sound like her too."

"Haha, I don't remember being called Mommy, only Daddy."

"Ugh, you and your jokes."

"Doin' my part to lighten the mood. Anyways, have you tried talking to her?"

"Ehh, I already tried that, but she doesn't want to listen to me."

"But have you really tried talking to her after your argument? Y'know, like connect with her on a deeper level?"

"…n-no?" I quietly whisper and slightly shake my head.

"Why not try now? We're leaving soon for our vacation, and your time on this blue marble is only gonna happen once, so why not take the plunge?"

"You might have mixed up a few metaphors there."

"You know what I mean." he says, with a peck on my cheek and a pat of my head.

I eat my fill and go out of the buffet to walk along the bay. The cold sea breeze hits my body as I see Ma, staring at the setting sun, with eyes that once burned with emotions. I land on the seawall with a thud and we both stare at the sunset together. A tense silence settles between the two of us, my gears ticking, her heart beating.

"Leaving soon?" she suddenly says.

"Yeah. Honeymoon and all." I reply.

"Ha, I still remember when you were so excited for our trip to Baguio. You brought a lot of clothes and even had your favorite pillow."

"Yeah, I still remember those times."

A more comfortable silence settles between the two of us as the sound of the bay blends in the background. My gears tick on, her heart beating along with me.

"Nay, how was life before?"

"When I was a child, I was a patintero and Chinese garter champion. Me and my friends used to play on the streets before curfew rolled around."


"Martial law. When I was a teenager, I would swim on the ground we stand on, along with my friends. We had a fun time hunting for clams and fish in the clear water. Marcos turned this into land that people can build on."

"Huh, didn't know he did that."

"People disappearing was just a common part of life. You'll just have friends you knew since childhood disappear out of nowhere. You'll be worried for a few days, then forget, with your only reminder being that missing poster outside your house."

My gears tick along with her heartbeat as the sun blinds my eyes.

"And God help you if you were magic-adjacent. You'll then hear a knock at your door, and the next thing you know, either you were a traitor to your country, or you were found in a canal with ten gunshots to the back of your head, beaten and bruised beyond recognition, ruled a victim of the CPP."

Silence sits between the two of us, with the waves of the sea, the ticking of my gears and the beating of her heart accompanying it.

"You're an adult now, Jun. I will not be able to protect you from everything."

"Yes, that is true."

"I won't be able to protect you from people like Marcos."

"I know, Nay."

"But birds have to fly away from the nest, and I think it is your time to fly away from here, Jun."

Warm water starts forming in my eyes as my chest tightens.

"Remember to s-stay safe, okay?" she choked. "Just remember that I will a-always be there for you."

I hop down the seawall, and as the beautiful sunset of Manila washes over both my gears and my mother's flesh, I feel warm water dripping down my back as warm water flows down my face too.

"You are my son, and I still love you as such."

"Thanks Nay."

Her hug stays warm even as she release me from her grip and she wipes her tears off with her handkerchief. At the corner of my eye, I see Vincent, with his big dumb smile and three cups of halo-halo.

"I'll send over some hand-made longganisa next time."

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