Tabada: Heads, the headless

TO go back to Paete entailed taking up the gauntlet of Black Friday traffic.

In the previous Sunday’s homily, the priest chided us, singling out the parents for no longer preserving the tradition of bringing families to church on Black Friday, the day on which the Christ was crucified.

This young man, whose hair was precisely trimmed and whose shoes gleamed down to its fashionably narrow tip, pointed at the palm fronds held aloft by the parishioners.

Betrayal, he said, was signified by the palm fronds waved by those who welcomed the Christ entering Jerusalem, the very same people who bayed for Pontius Pilate to crucify the Christ instead of the revolutionary Barabbas during the Passover.

Almost a week later, we waited for traffic to inch forward in streets jammed by families seeking the “bulalo” and nippy breeze of Tagaytay, or the manmade pools of Laguna.

It was nearing 3 p.m., which my Yaya said was the time of the Crucifixion. Growing up with her, my sister and I were forbidden from playing, even singing, from sunrise on Holy Wednesday until sunrise on Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead.

If we misbehaved and cut ourselves during those days, a headless priest would emerge from our wounds, which would take longer to heal, Yaya said.

Stronger than the images intoned by that young priest, whom I met after mass hurrying away in tight blue jeans and a red slim shirt, were Yaya’s stories of penance and punishment at the mercy of priests without heads.

We left Paete a few minutes before the procession was about to start. The carrozas, sprouting flowers and plants composed like verses around heirloom statues, were nearly as wide as the narrow snaking streets.

One of the few open shops displayed how the woodcarving industry of Paete survives in the age of cheap imports: keychains, back-scratchers, tiny statues with giant penises or dirigible breasts, climbing Santa Clauses and simpering cherubs made in the “taka (papier-mache)” tradition.

At the back of the showroom was a dusty bust of the Christ crowned with thorns. Perhaps the block of wood or its rarity accounted for a steep price and its unsold state.

It would never accent a corner. At the back of the mind would be unceasing worry someone might slip and impale himself on the spikes.

I don’t remember the expression of the bust, which drew me back, reluctantly. Most of the thorns turned inwards. A head carved from wood simulated impalement; a wooden head did not bleed.

But what about the hands of the artist that carved those snaking, twisting coils? What had those hands looked like after carving that head and its crown of thorns?
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