Juan or Suan, as he was popularly called in his neighborhood, was a very lazy boy. His mother did all she could to reform him, but to no avail. Whatever the poor mother would tell him to do, he would not do it. All that he would do was eat, play and sleep.
One afternoon, Suan’s mother thought of cooking rice cakes for sale. [The] Rice cake was one of Suan’s weaknesses, [and] his mother knew it well. While the mother was cooking the rice cakes, Suan was intently watching, and as the smoke assailed his nostrils, it whetted his appetite. When the rice cakes where already cooked, he wanted to ask for a little piece, but he knew his mother would not give him. He could no longer enjoy the sight, so he said, “Mother dear, may I have a slice of that rice cake?”
His mother did not heed him although she heard him very well. He tried again. “Mother dear. Is there anything you would want me to do?” Suan asked tenderly.
The mother was so much touched that she turned to her son and said, “I will give you a piece of this rice cake if you will go around the neighborhood and sell this.”
“Oh, yes, mother,” replied Suan eagerly.
The mother was very happy because this would be the first time her son could be of help to her. So that, before Suan left, his mother said, “You made just eat the sides, and sell the middle.”
Suan head gone a few meters away when he felt like eating. He sat under a big mango tree, looked at the rice cake, bit his lip, and soliloquized, “Mother told me to eat only the sides. That, I will do. I do not want to disobey her now.”
Suan began to eat. He was very careful to get the sides only lest his mother would scold him should he eat the middle. He was about to eat the last side of the cake when he realized that the whole thing was almost gone. Remembering what his mother told him, he ate the last side. With nothing but the basket, he went home. When his mother saw him, she asked, “Did you do what I told you to do?”
“Yes, mother,” replied Suan.
“Very good. Now you are beginning to learn things. Where is the money?” asked the mother.
“What money?” retorted Suan in a surprised tone. “You told me to eat only the sides and sell the middle.”
One day, Suan had nothing to do. It dawned upon him to go to a fortune teller to know something about his future. When he was already there, he said, “Kind sir, will you please tell me frankly about my future?”
The fortune teller looked at Suan’s palms thoroughly, and eyed him in a scrutinizing manner from head to foot, then said, “Young man, you must be very careful about your health. The moment your umbilical cord [navel or belly button] gets wet, you are already a dead man.”
Suan left the place very much dismayed about his future. When he arrived home, his mother told him to pound some rice for supper. He obeyed reluctantly. His work was half done when he noticed that his umbilical cord was thoroughly wet with sweat. He remembered what the fortune teller told him. He knew he was already a dead man. He put down the pestle, laid down under a big guava tree in the backyard. He closed his eyes and said, “I am already dead. Goodbye to all.”
Several hours later, he felt very hungry. He opened his eyes and saw some ripe guavas. He was about to get up but instead, he kept still and sighed, “Oh, if Suan were only alive, he should have gathered all those ripe guavas for himself.”
A few moments later, the mother was shouting [out] loud, “Suan, Suan, where are you? Have you finished your work?”
There was no answer. The mother looked for Suan and found him lying supinely under the guava tree. “What are you doing there?” interrogated the mother angrily.
“Just pray for me, Mother, I am already dead,” Suan replied with half-closed eyes.
“What?” demanded the mother.
“Oh, yes, Mother. I am already dead,” Suan replied with half-closed eyes.
The mother got a big branch of the guava tree. Suan saw it, and knew already what was going to happen next. He got up quickly and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
“I can hardly believe that the dead man can run faster than the living,” muttered Suan to himself.
Suan was already old enough to go to school. His mother, however, could not persuade him to do so. One day, just to coax Suan to go to school, his mother promised him a very good meal every time he came home from school.
Early the next morning, Suan was all set. His mother prepared a very nice breakfast for him. He was about to go when he asked, “Mother, where is the school?”
“Go to the place where it is noisy. That is the school,” answered his mother.
Suan had gone a long way when he came to a pond full of croaking frogs. The place was really a pandemonium. “Ah, so this is the school,” he said to himself.
He sat near the pond and after a few minutes began aping perfectly the sound of the frogs. He went home hungry but happy for he thought he knew a lot at so short a time.
“Mother, I am here,” he shouted as he entered the gate. “Is my lunch ready?”
“Oh my poor boy, you must be very hungry by now,” said the mother tenderly. “No, you better eat first.”
The meal was as good as what was promised. Suan ate with gusto.
“Well, what did you learn in school today?” asked the mother when Suan finished eating.
“Plenty,” responded Suan proudly.
“Really?” snapped back the mother. “Let me hear what you learned.”
Suan stood up and with a deep breath shouted, “Croak, croak, croak, crrr…”
“Stop, stop,” yelled the mother. “Where did you learn all those nonsense?”
The mother got her whip and demanded sharply, “Now tell me. Is that what you said you learned in school – the croaking of frogs? Lie down on this bench and tell me the truth.”
“You told me to stop in a noisy place because that is the school. When I reached a pond, I found the place very noisy. I stopped there because I thought that was the school.”
One day, Suan’s mother told him to go to market to buy a needle. Suan obeyed immediately. He rode on the cart and proceeded to market. After buying the needle, he put it in one corner of the cart and went back home, driving the carabao as fast as he could. When he reached home, the mother asked for the needle but it was nowhere to be found. The mother was so furious with anger that she beat Suan black and blue. “Suan,” said the mother. “Whenever it is pointed, pin it on your shirt. Understand?”
“Yes mother,” Suan replied meekly.
The next day, Suan’s father thought of planting bananas in their backyard. He called Suan and said, “You go to our neighbor and borrow the crowbar.”
Suan obeyed. He found out that the crowbar was pointed at one end. He remembered what his mother told him that day before that whenever it is pointed, he should pin it on his shirt. So, he pinned the crowbar on his shirt. When he reached home, his shirt was already torn. The mother was mad at the sight. “Why did you pin that on your shirt?”
“Didn’t you tell me, Mother, to pin on my shirt anything that is pointed? Look at this thing. Is it not so?” replied Suan sarcastically.
“Foolish,” shouted the mother and at the same time pulled Suan by the ear with all her might. “Remember, whenever it is heavy, drag [it] along with you.”
That same afternoon, Suan’s mother was going to fry some dried fish for supper.
“Suan,” she called. “Go to our neighbor quickly and borrow the frying pan.”
The frying pan was quite heavy for him. He remembered once again his mother’s advice. He secured a piece of rope, tied the frying pan by the handle, and dragged it home behind him. When he reached home, nothing was tied to the rope save the handle.
“You good-for-nothing, goby-brained idiot,” shouted the mother angrily. “What did you do with the frying pan? Why do you have the handle only?”
“The frying pan is heavy. I did what you told me. I dragged it home behind me,” replied Suan with great concern.
“Foolish,” grumbled the mother. “Next time, remember to carry on your head anything that is concave.”
A few days later, Suan’s father got ill with diarrhea. The mother got tired of throwing away the human excreta. She called Suan to do the job for her. And what do you think Suan did? He put the container on his head upside down.
2 “History and Cultural Life of the Barrio of Boot,” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.