Bantay, Brgy. Lipit-Tomeeng, San Fabian, Philippines

Inang’s kitchen had three large windows with wrought-iron bars spaced wide enough to admit sunlight, and since there was no glass, brilliant swarms of bougainvillea spilled onto the table. Occasionally, a neighborly arm offered a handful of fresh eggs in exchange for half a pack of Lucky Strikes. Inang, then in her early seventies, was a heavy smoker, already engaged in the early stages of a private battle with emphysema that would eventually drag her out and claim her in the open. She maintained a steady supply of cigarettes, allegedly for window bartering. No one had ever seen her smoke, not in public or in private. The truth was she took it up as a tribute to her husband—my grandfather—Alejo Disu: farmer, family man, and resolute chain-smoker, who, even on his untimely deathbed, stained the sheets with nicotine as he lay dying of pneumonia. I never knew him but am told he was a gifted conversationalist, that he could talk the rain down out of the clouds.

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