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#BookbedFictory 016: ‘The Bowler Hat’s Lover’

by Joel Donato Jacob
This year’s Fictory is for a cause. We donate P100 to a chosen beneficiary for every fic submitted this July. Participate here if you can. Enjoy this one!

Prompt: He wanted to tell him how much he loved him but…

The red satin lining of the black bowler hat clung to Aman’s head like a lover’s arms because the bowler’s hat was Aman’s lover. Or used to be. Maybe still was, it was complicated. But Leon had once wished to be everything that Aman needed so there he was, sitting atop Aman’s head, helping him look for the source of the flood.

Aman and Leon once lived in the Sto. Tomas side of Mt. Makiling. Well, Aman still lived there, Leon was an inanimate object. But the Habagat blew on the Los Baños side of Makiling and her many peaks trapped the clouds. The rainwater from the clouds cascaded down into many rivulets that merged into streams and into rivers that drained into Laguna de Bay. One side was prone to droughts, while the other side was prone to landslides. Makiling is so named because she was prone to playing favorites. The people of Sto. Tomas thought that the people of Los Baños were her favorites, otherwise they wouldn’t have to toil all year to irrigate their fields. The people of Los Baños thought that the people of Sto. Tomas were her favorites, otherwise they would have landslides every rainy day of the Habagat too. They would have come to conflict had not a mountain separated their tempers and jealousies. But something could fly farther and faster than ire and that was gossip. And gossip reached Sto. Tomas that Los Baños was experiencing floods in the middle of Kanluran season!

Leon tried to cover Aman’s ears with bowler hat flaps, tried to be a blinder to the huddled gossip-mongers with his bowler hat rim but Aman heard. And that’s why Leon fell in love with Aman anyway, he was a fixer. Los Baños had a problem and the solution to it might help Sto. Tomas too! Aman would fix it. He wanted to tell him how much he loved him but Leon was a bowler hat.

Aman clambered up the ridge to cross from the Sto. Tomas side to the Los Baños side. The extent of the flooding spanned from the fishing villages on the southern banks of Laguna de Bay to the poblacion at the foot of Makiling. Red dust clung to Aman’s soft cloth boots, a definite sign that no rain had fallen on Makiling that would account for the flooding. Aman picked Leon up from his head to fan some dust off his boots. Leon was just glad to be useful.

The walk down would have been more difficult during the Amihan and even deadly during Habagat but the paths were dry, and the forest leeches were asleep during Kanluran months. The winged seeds in the treetops burst from their pods and glided down in a blur even as amethyst vines and jade vines dangled their flower lanterns brighter than broad daylight.

A shed flanked by piles of coconuts came into view as the road bent around an ivory tower of an apitong. A bolo was stuck by its edge onto a stump of a coconut tree that served as a chopping board. Aman tipped his hat as a greeting at a man who then offered Aman a drink of fresh buko juice for two centavos.

Aman, unsure about spending so much money on buko juice albeit very thirsty after the climb and the descent, scratched his head. He found two bits of coin in the folds of the bowler’s hands lining. Leon was happy to be useful.

Aman wiped buko juice off his lips. “What happened in the lowlands of Los Baños?”

The buko vendor shrugged. “Ah the people built resorts for tourists but as the springs dry up during Kanluran, they needed other means to fill up the pools. They asked Makiling for help but she didn’t like them digging holes along her foot. Instead her twin sister answered, the diwata of the lake. Mejia gave them a goblet and they were overjoyed when it filled up their pools. Only Mejia is a jealous mistress and did not like that they asked her sister first. She never taught them how to stop the goblet.”

Aman nodded, fascinated by how the goblet could help the people of Sto. Tomas during the worst of droughts.

Aman thanked the man who introduced himself as Bino. Bino smiled sheepishly as they bade each other goodbye and Leon fumed. It got so hot under the hat that Aman had to fan himself with the bowler to cool off. Being useful assuaged Leon’s fears.

Aman descended onto the outskirts of the town of Los Baños where houses welcomed water into their homes. People squatted glumly from their rooftops and looked out to the still waters that stretched pristinely all the way into the lake.

Just as Aman was about to get his soft cloth boots wet, Leon extended his red satin lining, waxed to be water-proof, into a vessel for Aman to ride on. Carrion birds peeked out from their tree hole roosts, unhappy that they would not be having Aman’s eyeballs for dinner. Unlike the crows, catfish and tilapia still hoped that maybe Aman would be stupid enough to drown like many of the residents of Los Baños had, so that they might have something else other than tadpoles and imelda for dinner.

Aman found a room carved out of a tree, and up a silver stairwell one more step than death but one short of gold, a side table held Mejia’s goblet. The water clear, the once human supplicants of Makiling bid him take it, so that they might recede with the waters into the arms of their new mastress, Mejia in Laguna de Bay.

Aman did, and returned home to Sto. Tomas a hero. Leon was just overjoyed to be useful. ☁️

Joel Donato Jacob is called Cupkeyk by his friends. He was the 2018 Scholastic Asian Book Award winner for Wing of the Locust. He was an Editor’s Choice awardee for The Best Asian Short Stories 2019 for Artifact from the Parent, which first appeared on Fictory: A Bookbed Fic Fest. He lives in Bay, Laguna in the Philippines with his mother and dogs. He enjoys fitness and the outdoors. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @chimeracupkeyk.

2 replies on “#BookbedFictory 016: ‘The Bowler Hat’s Lover’”

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