Kapre: A Love Story

A rough, calloused thumb pressed against the baby’s small wrist.

Several minutes later, when the mother returned, Kapre was gone. Inside her tiny cradle the baby slept on, undisturbed.

 

***

Kapre watched her in the years that followed.

He watched her take first steps, laughing, in between snatches of fir and wood. From high atop the trees he watched her swim, her stunted, clumsy movements folding and unfolding until they were sure and graceful. He watched her adopt the fluid manners of her elders, gathering wood and straw, tending animals.

A misstep alerted her to his presence. A sudden shifting on his part, a movement of branches where no breeze had touched. Immediately the girl was on her feet, her eyes wide and fearful.

“Who’s there?”

Kapre could remain hidden, but knew she would no longer relish the safety of forests; knew he could not bear that look on her face. He emerged slowly from the camouflage of foliage; several heads taller, his black body leaned and gangly from abstinence, his jawline a crude map of past atrocities. “Do not be a-fraid.” He said, his mouth unfit and guttural for complicated words.

The girl continued to stand, paralyzed to the spot.

“Do not be a-fraid.” Kapre repeated. He slid down to the ground, crossing his legs, to show he intended her no harm. He spoke again. “Do not be a-fraid.”

Still wary, the girl approached, a small stick raised in one hand. Kapre said nothing more, and bowed his head.

“I know you.” The girl finally said. Slowly, wonderingly. “I have seen you before.”

“Yes,” Kapre said. Monsters knew nothing of lies; these were human entrapments.

The girl lowered her stick. “I’m not afraid,” she said, puzzled yet understanding, emotions in conflict. “I don’t know why, but I’m not afraid.”

“I would not harm you.” Kapre said, and he was struck by the enormity of what he said, and of what he knew was true. He would not harm her.

Her name was Nina, she said, and there was nowhere else for her to go. Her parents had been born in San Lorenzo, but had moved to Manila when they were older, in a small huddled room of ten cots and a kitchen stove. Her father had applied to Steel Forges, Ltd. in Saudi Arabia, but his contact soon disappeared with his money and his passport a month before his departure. Her mother worked as a maid for a wealthy Chinese family, cooking and cleaning for the comfort of others. “Their neighbor’s house caught fire one day.” Nina said. “The fire moved from roof to roof, burning and burning and burning, till it burned their roof down, too.” Kapre shuddered in understanding, knew the frightened fear of fires. Deprived of the last of their possessions, her parents had moved back to San Lorenzo, her mother giving birth to Nina soon after.

They became friends. He was a companion when she lingered by the woods, finding fruit, harvesting small plots of vegetables and potatoes. He showed her his secret stashes of warm nuts and berries, outcroppings of mushroom farms that spun, dripping and wet, from the undersides of heavy moss and fissures. Sometimes Nina would bring these treasures back home, but more times than not she and Kapre would sit hunched over the small piles, greedy hands snatching back and forth and lingering, like guests seeking their fill of banquets.

Kapre protected her from staying too long, or straying too far. When night crept in, there were worse things in the woods of San Lorenzo than he.

Sometimes they would play games. “Let’s play house.” She would say, and it was a sight to see – Kapre at small wooden tables, clawed hands wrapped around stringed paper dolls and imaginary tea. Held them like he would a baby, all those years ago.

“Let’s climb a tree.” She would say next, and Kapre would scamper from tree bark to tree bark as Nina clung to his back, laughing. “Let’s pretend you’re a carabao!” “Let’s go for a swim!” “Let’s build a castle!” He would do anything she told him.

Nina’s parents knew nothing of him or of their games. Kapre faded into scenery at every indication of their approach, watched as Nina ran to her mother and father, wondered about the intricacies of familial love. For Nina’s parents were no different than the dolls Nina played with. Often shredded, torn with little care and for fewer reasons; bits and pieces of mortality that came floating slowly, sadly, back down to earth.

But Nina was his paper doll, and suffered no tearing and wearing. Was cared for. Adored.

Nina’s little fingers, dainty and clasped tightly over his own, rough-strewn as gravel, scraped as stone, gentle as a feather might alight on pavement.

 

***

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