I get back on the bike to find Nanay. Outside, the rain has stopped. A few men are out on the street, playing basketball. I stop and ask about directions to Nanay’s house. I get four different directions from four drunk guys. “You need bolo-bolo? “asks the only one who speaks a bit of English. I want to say I need Nanay. But then, I think. That’s what I need. A bolo-bolo healer. Doesn’t matter what name the healer goes by. So, I nod. But why? Eight pair of quizzical eyes look at me. “I need to find the bolo-bolo healer for this,” pointing rather incongruously to some cold sores that have just broken out. “I show you bolo-bolo” he says, satisfied with the gravity of my illness. We go past a plantation, past gardens, past more nipa huts, before I reach a house. His house. I sit inside on a narrow ledge that faces the TV. Chickens walk around unconcerned, sniffing my feet. The family looks at me shyly. Roberto, because that is his name, sends his father to fetch the bolo-bolo healer, Arumbole. And so I wait. Roberto talks incessantly and I can barely follow his drunken monologue. After 30 minutes, Roberto’s father comes back saying that the healer would not come down here. Well, we go there then, I say, smiling at Roberto.
Past some more plantations. More huts. Mud slithering under my feet. Roberto is considerate enough to ask his sister to join me. I hadn’t thought I would be in any danger, anyway. The only danger I can think of is me sliding down the mountain, while trying to get a grip in the mud with sports shoes. I cling to Roberto, while his sister watches with amused condescension, prancing up like a goat. I grit my teeth in irritation. Slip. Slide. And I am holding on to a drunk. Life.
Perched high on the mountain, Arumbole’s shack is the poorest of all I have seen. Barely a thatched roof protects it. Arumbole walks out, shirtless in the humid air. He is bent over with age. Roberto does the translation, pointing to me. I squirm. But Arumbole doesn’t say much. Doesn’t offer a diagnosis. He looks at my cold sore, nods to me, and comes out with a glass and a straw with water in a plastic mug. He blows into it and then applies what smells like coconut oil to my lips. Mumbles. Says a prayer. And then another. Goes back to the glass, blows again. There are now black particles floating around in the clear water. He shows it to me. Roberto is delighted. “You see, you see,” he says as if the magician has just revealed his trick. I see, looking at the glass that Arumbole helpfully holds out to me. Then he touches the straw to the cold sore. Goes back and blows again. The water is clear again. “You see, now, no black,” Roberto claps. From clear to murky to clear again. This was bolo-bolo. I don’t feel any different. This is what I was searching for. Or was it? No magic. No mysterious potions. This is Siquijor with its healing.
Healing consists of a glass. Some water and a straw. And faith. I don’t know what I was looking for in Siquijor. Dark healers shrouded in mystery? Or just gentle folk persevering in faith? Strange chants? Or just people who know how to laugh? As we come down the hill with me clinging to Roberto’s arm more than ever, we hear loud music from a hut up on the hill. It’s a karaoke session in full swing. Roberto loves singing. Which Filipino does not love singing? He is like a child, caught between wanting to join the karaoke session and leading me down the hill to where my bike waits. I am a sucker for childlike expressions. And I am a sucker for spontaneity. We run down to the hut where the beer is flowing freely. A group of men hover around a TV, and howl raucously into the mike. I look at the song book and choose an old song I used to sing to in Chinese karaoke sessions many years ago. It brings back memories. It also brings back this moment. I go to the mic, and a guy with long hair joins me. I sing Madonna’s La Isla Bonita really off-key. The guy next to me dances along. My voice sounds loud and screechy. But who cares if you can swing your hips? I sing the song even more awfully. And I am laughing. I find that yes, in a way, I am on my way to being healed.