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In the town of Santa Rosa there once lived a couple named Hugo and Imelda. Every mealtime they quarreled over the chore of washing the dishes. Imelda would scold Hugo if he refused to wash the dishes. Sometimes she would become angry and call him names, and if he talked back she would get coconut midrib broom and chase him with it. He would run to the house of his compadre and hide there till his wife’s anger had passed.

The neighbors familiarly called Imelda, Ka Maldang and Hugo, Ka Ugong.

One day just as they were finishin their lunch, Ka Ugong announced: “I’m not going to wash the dishes any more.” He threw out his chest and lifted his chin.

“Who says so?” asked Ka Maldang, holding up her chin, highert than his.

“I say so; I worked so hard in the field this morning. I’m not going to wash any dish.”

Ka Maldang stood up and with her arms akimbo , she glared down at Ka Ugong across the table. She was at Ka Ugong across the table. She was a Big woman. Her arms were stourt. Her voice was also big. “Ad who, Mister Hugo, is going to wash these dishes?” she asked.

Ka Ugong’s chest sank again. His chin salso went down. He held on the edge of the table nervously.

“You!” he said in a much lower tone. “You are the woman. You should do all the housework.”

“And what do you do?” asked Ka Maldang. “You tie the carabao to the reeds in the field and then you lie down on the grass to watch it graze. You call that hard work? I cook, clean the house, wash your clothes, I scrub the floor, I do all the work that only slaves should do. And yet, you even refuse to help me wash the plate which you have eaten!” Ka Maldang’s voice was now raised to a high pitch and her tears posed on her eyelids at Ka Ugong and at her broom. She grabbed the broom. She raised the broom to strike him, crying, “You, you, you lazy man!”

Ka Ugong ducked under the table, “Don’t” he cried. “Don’t strike me!”

“Come out from under the table, you coward.” ordered Ka Maldang.

“Lay down your broom,” said Ka Ugong.

“All right, all right. Come out.” Ka Maldang put her broom behind the door.

Ka Ugong returned to his seat opposite her at the table.

“What have you to say?” asked Ka Maldang, wipingher eyes.

“Let’s stop quarreling over the plates. Let’s have a wager. The first one of us who will speak after I’d said ‘Begin’ will wash the dishes. Always”

“Only that?” said Ka Maldang. “The first one who talks will always wash the plates, and bowls, and pots and pans. Always.”

“Right.” said Ka Ugong. “If you ever say just one word to me or to anybody, or to anything after I had said ‘Begin’, you will always wash the dishes.”

“That’s easy. I can keep my mouth shut even for a week. You can’t. You even talk to your carabao.”

“All right, are you ready?” asked Ka Ugong.

Ka Maldang sat upright in front of him across the table. She nodded her head, compressed her lips, and Ka Ugong said “Begin.”

They both fell silent. They sat at the table looking at each other across the unwashed plates and bowls and spoons. They did not like to leave each other for fear that one would talk to him self without the other’s hearing. They sat there just staring.

Soon tje cat began to mew for its food. Neither Ka Maldang nor Ka Ugong paid attention to its mewing. The cat jumped upon the drying dishes to lick the leftovers. Ka Maldang did not drive the cat away. Neither did Ka Ugong. The cat licked the pot and pan on it, overturned a kettle, spilled its contents, then went to lie down under the table. Ka Ugong pretended that nothing had happened. He continue to sit still, and so did Ka Maldang.

Soon, it was getting late in the afternoon but they went on sitting mutely at the lunch table. Their eyes were tired from staring hard at each other. Tears began to roll down their cheeks. Ka Ugong’s shirt became damp with his sweat. Ka Maldang’s sweat gathered on her fore heat, and trickle down to the sides of her face, and fell drop by drop to her breast.

A neighbor called, “Compadre Ugong! Oh! Compadre!”

Ka Ugong did not answer.

The neighbor called again, “Comadre Maldang! Yoo-hoo Comadre Maldang. Yoo-hoo, Compadre Ugong, may I borrow your ax?”

Ka Maldang did not answer. Ka Ugong looked at her silently.

“Perhaps nobody is at home ,” they heard the neighbor say to himself. “But why did they leave their ladder at the door? They usually remove the ladder when they go away. Well, I’ll just go up get the ax and return it later.” The neighbor went up.

When the neighbor went u the bamboo ladder he was surprised to see Ka Maldang and Ka Ugong sitting silently at the table where the plates had dried up with the leftovers. He hurried toward them.

Ka Ugong nether moved nor talked. The neighbor repeated his question. He shook Ka Ugong;s shoulder. Ka Ugong let him shake him, closing his lips tighter.

The neighbor turned to Ka Maldang. “Speak, Comadre! What happened?” He shook her shoulders, too.

She pushed him roughly aside but did not speak.

“Did you eat something poisonous? Some food that has made you dumb?” He shook each one alternately. But still neither stood up nor talked.

The neighbor was alarmed . He did not get the ax but ran out to the rest of the neighbors, He told them that something terrible had happened to to his Compadre Ugong and Compadre Maldang. The neighbors gathered at Ka Maldang’s dining room. They took turns trying to make them speak. But the two continued to sit staring at each other in silence. Ka Maldang looked at her husband threateningly for a moment then closed her eyes. Ka Ugong knew that she did so to avoid looking at the neighbors, He also closed his eyesand ignored every one who had come up to his house. Ka Maldang was very angry with her Compadre’s interference but she dared not to speak her mind, She pretended to be asleep.

The compadre was very much worried. He ran to the village herb man. The herb man came and when he saw the motionless, silent husband and wife sitting at the table, he declared that they were bewitched. He spread a woven bud mat in the center of the sala and asked the “bewitched” couple to lie down. Ka Ugong obediently lay down and closed his eyes. He curled up and went to sleep. But Ka Maldang refused to get up from where she sat at the dining table

The herb man said “Ah, the spirit that has taken possession of her is very stubborn. I must break its spell.”

He turned, then produced from a small bag which he always carried nine pieces of betel leaf, a piece of areca nut, and a little lime from a tiny bottle. He examined the leaves closely to choose those which had veins running in identical arrangements on each side of the midrib. He cut the nut into nine pieces. He spread a little lime on each betel leaf, rolled them and wrapped them around each piece of areca nut. He now had nine rings of the leaves.

“This represents the lost spirit of the couple,” he said.

He chewed the leaf and nut. When he had chewed it he spat it on his palm, dipped a forefinger of the other hand into the nut colored saliva and marked with it a cross on the foreheads of Ka Ugong and Ka Maldang. Ka Ugong did not seem to feel the old man’s finger on his forehead. Ka Maldang caught the man’s forefinger and twisted it. The old herb doctor cried “aray” and pulled back his hand. He moved toward Ka Ugong who was lying down. Calling his name softly and slowly several times. “Come, Ugong, Come back, Ugong!” Ka Ugong did not move nor speak.

“Come Maldang…come home to your body now…come. Maldang…!” chanted the old man. Ka Maldang did not answer.

Evening fell on the frightened village, frightened because the herb doctor said that the spell might be cast on some other villagers besides Ka Ugong and Ka Maldang. He called to the bewitched couple softly at first, and then louder, but became tired so she reclined against the bamboo wall.

The old her man said, “This is the first witchery of its kind that I have met here. By their silence I believe that they are dead. Their spirits, driven away by the witch, have left their bodies. The only thing to do in order to keep their souls in peace and to prevent this witchery craft from spreading among us is to bury them.”

The herb man ordered some of the men to look for boards and make two coffins immediately before the malady would go to them. In no time, the two coffins, made of rough planks, hurriedly nailed together, were finished .

The women began to weep for Ka Maldang. She had leaned rigidly against the back of her chair, closed her eyes, and shut her lips tight. The herb man asked the men gathered around to lift the couple into the coffins.

“We shall bury them at sunrise. Some of us have to stay to keep the wake for the dead,” he said.

The man easily lifted Ka Ugong and places him inside his coffin. Surely, he thought to himself, he would win the wager. He would not be afraid of being buried. Why, he would just get cut of the grave when the neighbors were gone. He thought everything going on was great fun and he was enjoying himself. How he would frighten them all when he returned from his grave!

The herb man approached Ka Maldang. Although her eyes were closed, she had been listening to his directions. She was afraid that he would surely force her into the coffin if she did not tell him to go away. But she did not want to talk. She hoped her husband would object to the men’s lifting her into the coffin.

“Surely, Hugo will not let me be buried tomorrow. Uh, I’m afraid to sleep in that coffin tonight. No, I’ll not let them lift me into it,” she thought to herself.

But she did not hear Ka Ugong speak. She opened her eyes just as the herb man, aided by two other men, put his arms around her to lift up from her chair.

Ka Maldang pushed the men, got up to her feet, and shouted, “Don’t touch us! Get out! Get out of my house. Shame on you for coming here, meddling with our lives!”

Ka Ugong leaped to his feet. He also shouted, “You talked first!”

He jumped about clapping his hands and saying to the astonished neighbors, “She talked first. We had a wager. Now she will always wash the dishes!’

Ka Maldang lifted up the lid of Ka Ugong’s coffin to strike his head with it but he ran out with his neighbors, still shouting happily and saying “I won, I knew I would win! Now I’ll never wash dishes.”