THIS midmorning staple: notes floating, more waves of light than of sound. The tinkle of ivories has greeted us since coming home.
On the first day of home quarantine, in a sea of changes, the piano music stands out after our absence of nearly a year. I have learned that our neighbor, a lawyer, recently holds piano lessons at her home-cum-office.
More than a few teachers live in our street. I am on study leave from the state university. A neighbor used to tutor gradeschoolers in the family garage until she opened a school outside the village.
Two houses away is property turned into a kindergarten until the increase of enrollees forced the owners to relocate the school. A door away is the extension of the daycare center our younger son attended.
Some years back, the days sparkled with the twitter of children and cries of “Teacher, Teacher” that took to the air like birds. Long before the pandemic locked down our community, the schools relocated, taking away the children.
When I hear the piano’s tinkle now, I think the children have returned. A few nights ago, high-pitched cries ripped the outside quiet.
It was a woman’s voice, the words unintelligible. The jagged tirade, rising and falling, spiraled fury, not fear or pain, into the quiet street, the darkened houses with stilled breath and quenched lights.
Morning-after checks revealed that the nocturnal “tukar” comes from the same source of the midmorning piano music. “She is scolding again her foreigner-boyfriend, poor man” is the gist of responses to my inquiry whether the incident of possible abuse should be reported to authorities.
The Binisaya expression of “tukar-tukar,” meaning “off and on,” was used to explain not just the disjointed string of cries, shrieks and yells but also to imply disorder at other levels: the difference between rhapsody and disturbance, the feud between respectability and scandal, the conflicts that break out and split apart the unfortunate creature born female, “still” unmarried, and living alone.
It fascinates that there is a word to capture all these complexities: “babaye (woman).” I could be living in the second millennium BC, when hysteria was first documented in detail as an exclusively female disease.
Binisaya has the peculiarity of changing meaning with the repetition of a word in a phrase. “Tukar” refers to music; “tukar-tukar” can swing from intermittence to unpredictability and insanity, all forms of negation implying increments of differentiation and alienation.
“Babaye,” though, may be the anomaly. The personas warring inside this conflicted sphere do not require linguistic repetition. Then and now, “tukar, babaye, tukar.”