4 min

Greg Roensch’s flash fiction has appeared in Defiant Scribe, 365 Tomorrows, Potato Soup Journal, Dream Noir, and elsewhere. He’s also written travel stories for GoNOMAD and Cemetery Travel. And  [+]

Image of Short Story
It was the summer of 1944, nearly two years after the occupation began, when we received permission from the Office of the Military Governor to leave the city. As soon as my father had the official paperwork, he loaded the horse-drawn caratella with our old canvas tent, some pots and pans and other household items from our apartment above his shop on Escólta Street, and a one-hundred-pound sack of rice. Other than the clothes on our backs, this is all we were allowed to take into the jungle near Marikina River.

“We’ll all come back to our homes when MacArthur returns,” father said during dinner on the night before we left Manila.

“Don’t be naïve,” replied uncle Lazarro. “Do you really think he gives a damn about any of us?”

“Coño,” snapped father. “I asked you not to talk like that around Pepe.”

My uncle didn’t say another word though I knew he was fuming, as was my father.

We left before daybreak and arrived at the camp late in the afternoon. After pitching our tent by a gnarled Banyan tree overlooking the muddy Marikina, we sat quietly around a small firepit eating the last of the food that mother had packed for the journey. As he would do every day during our time in the jungle, father went out early the next morning with the other men to find food and gather firewood. Mother kept the campsite clean and spent most of the day preparing our meals. Instead of pansit palabok, pork adobo, bulalo soup, and other family favorites, she served up grilled fish and chicken, yams and coconuts, mangos and papayas, and whatever else we could find in the jungle.

I also fell into a routine, attending classes at the makeshift school, finishing my homework under mother’s watchful eye, and doing my assigned chores, such as sweeping out our tent with an old whiskbroom and carrying jugs of water from the river. Though we never saw any soldiers, the rumble of fighter jets overhead was a constant reminder of the war.

One day, after living in the jungle for nearly three months, I was surprised to see father return to camp leading a small pig by a leash.

“He’s yours,” father said, handing me the end of the rope. “Be sure to take good care of him.”

I named the pig Chato, after a dog we’d had before the war, and, in many ways, he was like a puppy. He’d splash in puddles, roll over on his side to have his belly rubbed, and spin around in circles with his snout in the air. I often took Chato for long walks in the nearby swamp, where he would dig in the mud, rooting for grubs, worms, and the like. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with that little baboy. And everyone knew it.

“Here comes Pepe and his piglet,” people would say.

“Those two are always together – like the Bobbsey Twins.”

“You never see one without the other.”

At night, I’d lock Chato in his rusty metal cage next to our tent, where he’d burrow under an old blanket until only his nose and eyes were visible.

“Buenos noches,” I’d whisper to Chato before going to bed. “See you in the morning.”

“Buenos noches, Pepe,” I imagined him responding. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I often fell asleep to the sound of my pig snorting and snoring in his cage. And in the morning, when I pushed through the tent flaps, he’d press his snout against the grate, eager for scraps of food or a sip of goat’s milk. We lived like this for about six months, with the pig growing fatter and fatter by the day, until one Sunday morning I emerged from the tent to find the cage open and Chato gone.

“Chato,” I called. “Chato.”

“Bastos,” scolded my aunt Esmerelda from the campsite next to ours. “Did you forget we’re hiding from the Japanese?” I lowered my voice and ran from one tent to the next asking if anyone had seen my pig.

“Pobrecito,” said mother when I returned to our camp with tears in my eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Chato is gone,” I said, sniffling. “Will you help me find him?”

“Not now, corazon,” she answered. “Let’s wait for your father.”

“But Chato...”

“Be patient,” she said. “Sit and eat your breakfast.”


“Eat,” she repeated in a louder voice and held out a bowl of rice topped by strands of red meat.

I did as I was told, though all I could think about was my pig. We should be looking for Chato, I thought as I chewed my food. Where’s he run off to? What’s going to happen to him? Why won’t anyone help me? I wanted to ask mother again if I could leave to look for my pig, but she had a look on her face that said not to bother her. So, I kept quiet until I saw father walking toward camp.

“Papa,” I said, running toward him. “Chato is gone.”

Father didn’t say a word.

“Papa,” I said again, pulling at his sleeve. “Chato isn’t in his cage.”

It dawned on me, as I watched father avoid my glance, that he must be mad at me.

“I’m sorry for leaving the gate unlocked,” I muttered.

When he finally spoke, his words surprised me. “Hijo,” he said, “you didn’t leave it unlocked.”

“But I must have left it open. How else could Chato escape?”

His next words surprised me again. “I’m sure the gate was locked,” he said.

“How do you know?”

Father didn’t answer me.

“How do you know?” I repeated.

He took a deep breath before saying, “Because I took the pig.”

“You did what?”

“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Are you going to bring Chato home?” I asked, but father ignored me and walked into the jungle.

I was relieved to know that I wasn’t to blame for Chato’s disappearance. He was safe with father, I thought. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine – or maybe I didn’t want to imagine – why father would take my pig. I finished breakfast and sprinted to the river to wash my bowl, my hands, and my face. I then brushed my teeth and slicked down my hair before returning to camp in time to see father return.

“Chato!” I called, my voice shaking with worry.

“I’m sorry, hijito,” said father, “but Chato isn’t coming back.”

Father handed me a string connected to a brownish-red balloon that sagged in the dirt.

“What have you done with Chato?” I cried.

“I’m sorry,” father said again, “but these are hard times. And we all have to make sacrifices.”

“Chato!” I shouted as if my pig might come running.

I slumped to the dirt, the droopy balloon at my side, and sobbed like I’d never sobbed before. I didn’t want to hear about sacrifices or hard times. I didn’t want to eat stale rice with stringy meat or play with a blood-red balloon that I’d later find out was the inflated bladder of my butchered pet pig. I wanted to run as far from camp as my feet would carry me. I wanted to return to my home in the city, even if it meant hiding from the soldiers or being imprisoned – even if it meant never seeing my parents again. Most of all, I wanted my pig. I wanted Chato. And nothing my father could say or do could convince me otherwise.

A few words for the author? Comment below. 0 comments

Take a look at our advice on commenting here

To post comments, please