Sunday, November 11, 2012
The Centipede by Rony V. Diaz
by Rony V. Diaz
When I saw my sister, Delia, beating my dog with a stick, I felt hate heave like a caged, angry
beast in my chest. Out in the sun, the hair of my sister glinted like metal and, in her brown dress, she
looked like a sheathed dagger. Biryuk hugged the earth and screamed but I could not bound forward nor
cry out to my sister. She had a weak heart and she must not be surprised. So I held myself, my throat
swelled, and I felt hate rear and plunge in its cage of ribs.
I was thirteen when my father first took me hunting. All through the summer of that year, I had
tramped alone and unarmed the fields and forest around our farm. Then one afternoon in late July my
father told me I could use his shotgun.
Beyond the ipil grove, in a grass field we spotted a covey of brown pigeons. In the open, they
kept springing to the air and gliding away every time we were within range. But finally they dropped to the
ground inside a wedge of guava trees. My father pressed my shoulder and I stopped. Then slowly, in a
half-crouch, we advanced. The breeze rose lightly; the grass scuffed against my bare legs. My father
stopped again. He knelt down and held my hand.
―Wait for the birds to rise and then fire,‖ he whispered.
I pushed the safety lever of the rifle off and sighted along the barrel. The saddle of the stock felt
greasy on my cheek. The gun was heavy and my arm muscles twitched. My mouth was dry; I felt vaguely
sick. I wanted to sit down.
―You forgot to spit,‖ my father said.
Father had told me that hunters always spat for luck before firing. I spat and I saw the breeze
bend the ragged, glassy threads of spittle toward the birds.
―That‘s good,‖ Father said.
―Can‘t we throw a stone,‖ I whispered fiercely. ―It‘s taking them a long time.‖
―No, you‘ve to wait.‖
Suddenly, a small dog yelping shrilly came tearing across the brooding plain of grass and small
trees. It raced across the plain in long slewy swoops, on outraged shanks that disappeared and flashed
alternately in the light of the cloud-banked sun. One of the birds whistled and the covey dispersed like
seeds thrown in the wind. I fired and my body shook with the fierce momentary life of the rifle. I saw three
pigeons flutter in a last convulsive effort to stay afloat, then fall to the ground. The shot did not scare the
dog. He came to us, sniffing cautiously. He circled around us until I snapped my fingers and then he
came to me.
―Not bad,‖ my father said grinning. ―Three birds with one tube.‖ I went to the brush to get th e
birds. The dog ambled after me. He found the birds for me. The breast of one of the birds was torn. The
bird had fallen on a spot where the earth was worn bare, and its blood was spread like a tiny, red rag. The
dog scraped the blood with his tongue. I picked up the birds and its warm, mangled flesh clung to the
palm of my hand.
―You‘re keen,‖ I said to the dog. ―Here. Come here.‖ I offered him my bloody palm. He came to
me and licked my palm clean.
I gave the birds to my father. ―May I keep him, Father?‖ I said pointing to the dog. He put the birds
in a leather bag which he carried strapped around his waist.
Father looked at me a minute and then said: ―Well, I‘m not sure. That dog belongs to somebody.‖
―May I keep him until his owner comes for him?‖ I pursued.
―He‘d make a good pointer,‖ Father remarked. ―But I would not like my son to be accused of dog -stealing.‖
―Oh, no!‖ I said quickly. ―I shall return him when the owner comes to claim him.‖
―All right,‖ he said, ―I hope that dog makes a hunter out of you.‖
Biryuk and I became fast friends. Every afternoon after school we went to the field to chase quails
or to the bank of the river which was fenced by tall, blade-sharp reeds to flush snipes. Father was away
most of the time but when he was home he hunted with us.
Biryuk scampered off and my sister flung the stick at him. Then she turned about and she saw
―Eddie, come here,‖ she commanded. I approached with apprehension. Slowly, almost carefully,
she reached over and twisted my ear.
―I don‘t want to see that dog again in the house,‖ she said coldly. ―That dog destroyed my slippers
again. I‘ll tell Berto to kill that dog if I see it around again.‖ She clutched one side of my face with her hot,
moist hand and shoved me, roughly. I tumbled to the ground. But I did not cry or protest. I had passed
that phase. Now, every word and gesture she hurled at me I caught and fed to my growing and restless
My sister was the meanest creature I knew. She was eight when I was born, the day my mother
died. Although we continued to live in the same house, she had gone, it seemed, to another country from
where she looked at me with increasing annoyance and contempt.
One of my first solid memories was of standing before a grass hut. Its dirt floor was covered with
white banana stalks, and there was a small box filled with crushed and dismembered flowers in one
corner. A doll was cradled in the box. It was my sister‘s playhouse and I remembered she told me to keep
out of it. She was not around so I went in. The fresh banana hides were cold under my feet. The interior
of the hut was rife with the sour smell of damp dead grass. Against the flowers, the doll looked incredibly
heavy. I picked it up. It was slight but it had hard, unflexing limbs. I tried to bend one of the legs and it
snapped. I stared with horror at the hollow tube that was the leg of the doll. Then I saw my sister coming.
I hid the leg under one of the banana pelts. She was running and I knew she was furious. The walls of the
hut suddenly constricted me. I felt sick with a nameless pain. My sister snatched the doll from me and
when she saw the torn leg she gasped. She pushed me hard and I crashed against the wall of the hut.
The flimsy wall collapsed over me. I heard my sister screaming; she denounced me in a high, wild voice
and my body ached with fear. She seized one of the saplings that held up the hut and hit me again and
again until the flesh of my back and thighs sang with pain. Then suddenly my sister moaned; she
stiffened, the sapling fell from her hand and quietly, as though a sling were lowering her, she sank to the
ground. Her eyes were wild as scud and on the edges of her lips, drawn tight over her teeth, quivered a
wide lace of froth. I ran to the house yelling for Father.
She came back from the hospital in the city, pale and quiet and mean, drained, it seemed, of all
emotions, she moved and acted with the keen, perversity and deceptive dullness of a sheathed knife,
concealing in her body that awful power for inspiring fear and pain and hate, not always with its drawn
blade but only with its fearful shape, defined by the sheath as her meanness was defined by her body.
Nothing I did ever pleased her. She destroyed willfully anything I liked. At first, I took it as a
process of adaptation, a step of adjustment; I snatched and crushed every seed of anger she planted in
me, but later on I realized that it had become a habit with her. I did not say anything when she told Berto
to kill my monkey because it snickered at her one morning, while she was brush ing her teeth. I did not
say anything when she told Father that she did not like my pigeon house because it stank and I had to
give away my pigeons and Berto had to chop the house into kindling wood. I learned how to hold myself
because I knew we had to put up with her whims to keep her calm and quiet. But when she dumped my
butterflies into a waste can and burned them in the backyard, I realized that she was spiting me.
My butterflies never snickered at her and they did not smell. I kept them in an unused cabinet in
the living room and unless she opened the drawers, they were out of her sight. And she knew too that my
butterfly collection had grown with me. But when I arrived home, one afternoon, from school, I found my
butterflies in a can, burned in their cotton beds like deckle. I wept and Father had to call my sister for an
explanation. She stood straight and calm before Father but my tear-logged eyes saw only her harsh and
arrogant silhouette. She looked at me curiously but she did not say anything and Father began gently to
question her. She listened politely and when Father had stopped talking, she said without rush, heat or
concern: ―They were attracting ants.‖
I ran after Biryuk. He had fled to the brambles. I ran after him, bugling his name. I found him
under a low, shriveled bush. I called him and he only whimpered. Then I saw that one of his eyes was
bleeding. I sat on the ground and looked closer. The eye had been pierced. The stick of my sister had
stabbed the eye of my dog. I was stunned. For a long time I sat motionless, staring at Biryuk. Then I felt
hate crouch; its paws dug hard into the floor of its cage; it bunched muscles tensed; it held itself for a
minute and then it sprang and the door of the cage crashed open and hate clawed wildly my brain. I
screamed. Biryuk, frightened, yelped and fled, rattling the dead bush that sheltered him. I did not run after
A large hawk wheeled gracefully above a group of birds. It flew in a tightening spiral above the
On my way back to the house, I passed the woodshed. I saw Berto in the shade of a tree, splitting
wood. He was splitting the wood he had stacked last year. A mound of bone-white slats was piled near
his chopping block. When he saw me, he stopped and called me.
His head was drenched with sweat. He brushed away the sweat and hair from his eyes and said
to me: ―I‘ve got something for you.‖
He dropped his ax and walked into the woodshed. I followed him. Berto went to a corner of the
shed. I saw a jute sack spread on the ground. Berto stopped and picked up the sack.
―Look,‖ he said.
I approached. Pinned to the ground by a piece of wood, was a big centipede. Its malignantly red
body twitched back and forth.
―It‘s large,‖ I said.
―I found him under the stack I chopped.‖ Berto smiled happily; he looked at me with his muddy
―You know,‖ he said. ―That son of a devil nearly frightened me to death‖
I stiffened. ―Did it, really?‖ I said trying to control my rising voice. Berto was still grinning and I felt
hot all over.
―I didn‘t expect to find any centipede here,‖ he said. ―It nearly bit me. Who wouldn‘t get shocked?‖
He bent and picked up a piece of wood.
―This wood was here,‖ he said and put down the block. ―Then I picked it up, like this. And this
centipede was coiled here. Right here. I nearly touched it with my hand. What do you think you would
I did not answer. I squatted to look at the reptile. Its antennae quivered searching the tense
afternoon air. I picked up a sliver of wood and prodded the centipede. It uncoiled viciously. I ts pinchers
slashed at the tiny spear.
―I could carry it dead,‖ I said half-aloud.
―Yes,‖ Berto said. ―I did not kill him because I knew you would like it.‖
―Yes, you‘re right.‖
―That‘s bigger than the one you found last year, isn‘t it?‖
―Yes, it‘s very much bigger.‖
I stuck the sliver into the carapace of the centipede. It went through the flesh under the red armor;
a whitish liquid oozed out. Then I made sure it was dead by brushing its antennae. The centipede did not
move. I wrapped it in a handkerchief.
My sister was enthroned in a large chair in the porch of the house. Her back was turned away
from the door; she sat facing the window. She was embroidering a strip of white cloth. I went near, I stood
behind her chair. She was not aware of my presence. I unwrapped the centipede. I threw it on her lap.
My sister shrieked and the strip of white sheet flew off like an unhanded hawk. She shot up from
her chair, turned around and she saw me but she collapsed again to her chair clutching her breast,
doubled up with pain The centipede had fallen to the floor.
―You did it,‖ she gasped. ―You tried to kill me. You‘ve health… life… you tried…‖ Her voice
dragged off into a pain-stricken moan.
I was engulfed by a sudden feeling of pity and guilt.
―But it‘s dead!‖ I cried kneeling before her. ―It‘s dead! Look! Look!‖ I snatched up the centipede
and crushed its head between my fingers. ―It‘s dead!‖
My sister did not move. I held the centipede before her like a hunter displaying the tail of a deer,
save that the centipede felt thorny in my hand.
Task 1. Using Context Clues in finding Synonyms
Encircle the letter of the option that best approximates the underlined word in each sentence.
1. George could only stand in shock as Lilian tramped across the field, her angry eyes latched on to
A. tread heavily B. walked slowly C. limped quickly D. darted past
2. The vendor, hoping to finish selling his goods before noon, ambled toward the group of clueless
A. crawled B. sold C. walked D. limped
3. While Jonathan escaped the accident with just a scratch on his arm, his car was badly mangled.
A. spared B. scratched C. returned D. ruined
4. Lourdes watched the performance with apprehension; she felt that anytime now, someone would
make a mistake and the audience would laugh at her class.
A. fascination B. dread C. rapture D. listlessness
5. The mayor denounced the kidnapping of the eight year old year, and vowed that he would do
everything in his power to get the girl back and punish the kidnappers to the fullest extent of the law.
A. condemned B. criticized C. commented D. contorted
6. Kyla‘s lips started to quiver when she heard that her daughter had been kidnapped.
A. close B. open C. shrink D. tremble
7. The prima ballerina snickered when she saw her main rival stumbling over the new dance steps.
A. laughed derisively B. coughed politely C. commented D. parodied
Task 2. Literal or Figurative?
Determine whether each statement below is literal or figurative. Write L if the statement is literal (i.e. there
is no other meaning). Write F if the statement is figurative (i.e. there is an underlying meaning).
1. Berto was tasked by Delia to kill Berto‘s adopted dog.
2. Centipedes often scare people because of how they look.
3. Delia‘s resentment toward Eddie could be traced back to their mother‘s death.
4. Eddie saw his sister as a thorn on his side – something which should be plucked.
5. Eddie‘s feelings toward his sister could be compared to that of an overheated kettle.
6. Eddie‘s sister was stunned when she saw the centipede.
7. Even as a young boy, Eddie already had the instincts of a hunter.
8. For most of the story, Eddie and Delia were like oil and water.
9. Once, Eddie thought that Delia was extending the olive branch to him.
10. Their father often told Eddie and Delia to keep the peace.
A. Study the following sentences. Choose the determiner that will best complete each sentence.
1. ____ stolen cart was returned to the farmer the following day by the policemen.(an, the, their)
2. Joseph ignored ________ warning that nobody should leave the building. (Luke‘s, his, he‘s)
3. Lily managed to round up _____ bystanders to serve as the audience for her seminar.
(much, a little, a few)
4. Liza tried to retrieve _____ cap, but she was afraid to climb the tree. (this, her, their)
5. Mr. Reyes told the restless crowd that everyone had to wait for ____ hour for the guest speaker.
(a, an, the)
6. My father gave me ____ watch before I left for Manila. (these, this, an)
7. The branch manager told his staff to make sure that _____ important documents should be sent to
the main office by the end of the day. (a, an, the)
8. The company lost _______ boxes of its products when its delivery truck fell off a cliff.
(three hundred, these, theirs)
9. The lawyers gave the complainants _____ days to respond to the motion. (fifteen, the, those)
10. The teacher gave the students an exam after a few of them challenged her lecture. ____ a behavior
was unacceptable to the teacher. (what, such, theirs)
B. Determine whether the sentences are using the underlined determiners correctly. If the underlined
determiner is wrong, encircle it, then provide the determiner that will make the sentence correct. If the
sentence already makes proper use of the underlined determiner, write C in front of the number.
1. A history of the Philippines was at first written by Americans.
2. A new president is often given a hundred days by the media before they begin criticizing his or her
3. As punishment for their offense, the students were told to make sure that a school was always
4. Because Mario couldn‘t find his wallet, he borrowed money from his colleague.
5. Due to a President‘s motorcade, we were stuck in traffic for two hours.
6. Jonathan‘s record, which has remained unbroken until this day, remains the legend.
7. Many water was needed in order to quench the debater‘s thirst.
8. Marjorie decided to leave her house when she saw several rat colonies in her kitchen.
9. People should keep his noses in their own business.