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The Saddest Story: When a Pregnant Woman Meets her Husband's Pregnant Mistress

We used to have a lavandera who would come in every once in a while to do the family’s laundry. She was this dark, skinny Ilongga who had somehow found her way to the province to eventually become one of its citizens. She spoke with an unmistakably Ilonggo accent that was nevertheless tainted already by the local punto.

Like all lavanderas rather tend to be, she always had tons of stories to tell. It was entertainment already just to squat at the edge of the labahan just listening to her endless stream of tales. It was always fun; as many other older women did in those days, she smoked this dark brown filter-less cigarette with the lit end inside her mouth.

Telling her stories in her mixed Batangueño-Ilonggo accent, and holding as she always used to a brown cigarette between her lips while she scrubbed away at the dirty clothes, the way she spoke was always fun to listen to. She was this jolly character who was always cracking jokes and had this ability to speak to us children as though we were equals; so I – for one – adored being near her.

There was one story, though, that I remember her quite clearly for – much more than the countless tales she spun at the labahan while we were in attendance. This involved her love-hate relationship with her husband, with whom she bore quite a litter.  She told this story to my Mom, and there were several of us around the kabayo as she did so.

At the time – and this is my mere estimate – she must have been in her late thirties or early forties. She was by no means pretty. She had this dark, wizened face not unlike that of a hag. She had thick lips that were darkened by smoking endless brown cigarettes. It was not a pretty face to look at; yet it was pleasant and always comical. When she tired to look serious, she looked – if anything – funnier.

Her husband was many, many years her junior. Now, there’s the rub. By her own description, her husband – an uneducated man who did odd jobs for the neighborhood – was mestisohin. Indeed, if he was not necessarily what one would describe as classically good-looking, he did have this fair complexion and a simpatico face.

I do not know how exactly she managed to land him, but I remember her telling my Mom that when they first lived together – this was when live-in couples were severely frowned upon by the entire society – her husband was just fourteen years old and still kalbong-kalbo. She was not referring to his head.

“Dili pa nagkasabot,” was her cheeky description. You will have to find and Ilonggo to translate for you.

They could not even be properly wed because he was way below the age of consent. She was soon with-child, though, and her husband – if he had regrets – just could not find a way out of the bind he had found himself in.

Eventually, they did get married; and she bore him many children. The husband had this tendency to disappear for long periods on end; then return to the fold to make one more baby. And then disappear again…

It was a ruthless cycle that broke the lavandera’s heart. Despite advice – from my Mother, among others – she just did not have it in her to leave him for good. She probably thought it would be a bit hard to land somebody of the same ilk; if at all.

That was not the most heartbreaking part of her story. Apparently, when she was in her early thirties and with child, she discovered that her husband was also living with another woman. Nakupow! Kaya pala nawawalâ for weeks on end!

But that was not just it; she learned that the other woman was actually somebody she was acquainted with! Tsk! Pang-soap opera talaga ang k’wento

“Birô mo Ma’am,” the lavandera continued to tell my Mom between sobs, “nakasalubong ko sa palinki, buntis na buntis ako, kabuwanan na…” My Mom’s face was really torn between being supremely touched by the irony and melodrama of her story and wanting to laugh at the manner with which she was telling it. With the lavandera, one never knew when an extremely poignant tale would be spoiled by a sudden, unexpected and rib-tickling punch-line.

She went on, “Eh ‘yung baba-i, buntis na buntis at kabuwanan na din…!!!” By this time, despite the gravity of the storyline, my Mom’s face was really an expression of barely suppressed laughter. “Aba,” the lavandera went on, “sabihan ko ngâ, hindi ka na nahiyâ, nakigamit ka ng (censored word) ng iba!”

Sabay talikod daw siya, hihiyad-hiyad… My Mom broke into spontaneous laughter, as the rest of us around the kabayo did. There are just people who can tell you what really ought to be the saddest story and still make you guffaw loudly at the end of it.

To this day, I still remember that lavandera with extreme fondness. Albeit, I have not seen her in decades and do not even know whatever happened to her. There were many more supposed-to-be poignant and extremely personal stories that she told all who cared to listen that would, nonetheless, always end up as sources of laughter.

I suppose her sense of humor, along with her ability to lighten her personal dilemmas by making light of these, was what enabled her to slog through what must have been a very trying life. I remember her as a very funny woman; but I also remember her to have been a very, very strong one…

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