Update: Please note that I’ve used some Filipino words in this story. I’ve created jumplinks to take you to the translations/definitions, and similarly, back to the story.
In a far away land, there lived two women, both equal in renown but could not be similar. The first woman, Mayumi, was the tamer spirit of the two. She would giggle when Marilag laughs with jaws that unhinge like a cobra’s. She would only smile coyly after getting a compliment when her friend would raise an eyebrow and ask for more. Despite this subtle impetousness of Marilag, she also had her strong points. She was wise beyond her years that not even Mayumi – given her sharp wit – can outsmart. Marilag was also enchantingly beautiful; while Mayumi would certainly get stares from men, Marilag would hold their gaze and turn their heads until she got hidden by a passing crowd.
They were close friends, or so thinks Mayumi of Marilag. Deep inside, Marilag thought that by keeping the company of a lesser beauty, hers would stand out more. She would pretend to like Mayumi and her charitable actions, but deep inside, Marilag thought that those in need got into dire situations because of their own foolish actions. She would snap at Mayumi to hurry things up whenever she got dragged into helping another person. In a nutshell, she was rather sinister.
One day, while they were walking near a stream, they heard an old lady sobbing. When they looked to see what the old lady’s affliction was, they realized that the laundry that the old lady was washing in the water was swept away by a current.
Immediately, Mayumi took off her bakya and swept her skirt up and around her waist, a preparation to wade into the stream and rescue the old lady’s laundry.
“You must be kidding, right?” Asked Marilag.
With a simple shaking of her head and a smile to say no, Mayumi handed her bakya to Marilag before stepping into the cool water.
With a handful of muddy clothes, Mayumi headed towards the old lady and gave her the clothes. Marilag was already by the side of the old lady, trying her best not to gag as she stroked the elderly woman’s back to give her feigned comforting.
“Here you go, lola,” Mayumi said as she handed the dirty clothes to the old woman.
“Thank you, girls,” the old lady said. “Here, take this as a thank you gift,” she offered while extending two muddy malongs. “Those are special, so treasure them.”
Marilag, wanting to get out of there as soon as possible, took the malongs and said their goodbyes to the old lady. She nearly broke Mayumi’s fingers as she dragged her towards the village.
“Wait a moment, Marilag. I want to make sure that the old lady is alright. She seemed distraught.”
With a slight hint of annoyance, Marilag let go of her hand. “Just make it quick, alright?!?”
Within two minutes, Mayumi was back.
“What happened? I thought you’d take forever to get back,” amazedly and mockingly asked Marilag.
“She isn’t there anymore. It’s like she vanished into thin air.”
“Oh don’t be silly. She must’ve gone home in a hurry.”
“But not a minute ago, she was standing right there. Well anyway, let’s head back to the village,” agreed Mayumi.
When they got to the fork in the road that parted their way, Marilag passed the dirty malongs to Mayumi.
“Here, take them. I don’t want anything to do with those dirty things.”
Mayumi just took one and insisted that Marilag keep the other.
“You know that it’s bad luck to throw a gift away, right?” She smiled with naiveté and walked home.
“Bad luck your face,” mumbled Marilag under her breath but continued to carry the dirty malong home. When she got there, she immediately looked for the trash can and threw it away.
Meanwhile, when Mayumi got home, she took her basin and started washing her malong. It wasn’t an easy task since the mud has dried. Nevertheless, she continued washing it. After a few hundred scrubs, she squinted.
When she opened her eyes, she saw a glimmer of yellow metallic twinkle on the malong. She – thinking that it was just her imagination – just dunked the malong back into the water. When she pulled it back up, something amazing happened. The entire malong shone brightly, revealing that it was made of pure gold threads! When she held it up, all of a sudden, it dried up, crisp and clean with a faint but easily discernible smell of sampaguita.
She was overjoyed and wanted to share the wonderful news to her friend. She also smiled, assuming that her friend is also enjoying the same fantastic fate.
The next day, Mayumi wore the malong on her way to Marilag’s house, thinking that her friend is already wearing a similar piece of precious garb. When she got to Marilag’s house, she got mildly surprised that her friend is still wearing the clothes that she wore yesterday.
“Good morning, Marilag!” greeted Mayumi.
When Marilag saw Mayumi, her brown almond eyes turned into large green watermelons in envy. When she regained her composure, she managed to ask, “Where on earth did you get that?”
“Oh, stop that. This is the malong that the old lady from the stream gave to us. You should have one too, which I think is as lovely as this! All it takes is perseverance since the dirt was really hard to get out!”
Realizing that she has thrown the dirty malong in the trash, Marilag’s heart was consumed by the need to retrive it, so she shooed Mayumi away under the guise that she’ll be busy laundering the malong with the rest of her family’s clothes.
True to her understanding nature, Mayumi bid farewell and gave Marilag her vote of confidence that she’ll be able to clean her own precious malong.
When she was sure that Mayumi has gone, she immediately dove into the trash to get the malong. At first, she thought that she won’t find it, but when she accepted the fact that there’s no other way but to touch the wet leftovers that her mother threw away, she finally found the all-important piece of clothing.
She took it to their wash area and started the arduous task of laundering the malong. It was so dirty that instead of just being muddy brown, it was jet black and slimy. It was also rank after a full night of soaking under spoiled leftovers. When she dunked it into the soapy water, the water turned into muck, so she had to throw the water out and fetch some more. When she finally got to scrubbing, her laundry, which was seemingly like a bad dream became even more nightmarish.
The malong wasn’t getting any cleaner, and she was getting dirtier with each scrub she made. Dirt went under her fingernails, forming black crescents at the edge of her fingers. Fuelled by greed and envy, she continued until the pads of her fingers and knuckles were also black.
In exasperation, she slapped the still dirty malong onto the water, which splashed into her eyes. She was forced to close her eyes, and when she opened them, she was horrified. The dirt from the malong had started crawling up her hands, wrist, and forearm. It turned her skin black and slimy. She also started smelling rotten food, which she realized was coming from her pores and each breath she exhaled.
Desperate for help, she took the malong and put it over her head. Despite the horrid smell, she needed to hide her face and avoid shaming herself. She hurriedly ran towards Mayumi’s house while sobbing.
“Mayumi! Mayumi! I need your help!” screamed Marilag.
With the hysterical voice calling for her, Mayumi ran to open the door, and there, she saw a dark cloth hanging over somebody’s head. “Marilag, is that you?”
“Yes. Please let me in.”
Mayumi took her friend’s hand to help her up the stairs, and she noticed the black skin instead of the glowing, bronze skin of Marilag.
“What happened to you? You smell bad,” Mayumi noticed.
“I think it’s the old lady we met at the river. I think she cursed me.”
“What are you saying? She seemed nice. Well, let me see.”
“No. You can’t! Don’t look at me. I’m ugly.”
“Oh come on, Marilag. Let me see. I couldn’t help you if you have a rag over your head.”
Before she can snap back at Marilag to say that it’s the devilish malong draping over her head, she thought for a moment. She looked hideous and smelled rank. It would embarrass her to be seen and smelt at her worst. On the other hand, she did need help. Mayumi was the only person that she can think of who can help. Eventually, she arrived at a decision and pulled the malong off.
“Oh my! Look at you! Let me see what I can do.”
Mayumi went to get a wet towel. When she returned, she wiped off the blackened face of Marilag.
“Look! It’s washing away!” Mayumi remarked.
Surprised and relieved, Marilag sighed. She felt so mortified, knowing that she wasn’t all that good to Mayumi to deserve such kindness. She cried, and the tears left streaks of clean skin as they fell down her cheeks. More tears fell from her eyes, and they fell like rain to wash away the remaining dirt off of Marilag.
“I’m so sorry, Mayumi.”
“I wasn’t a good friend to you. I only hang out with you because I thought that you are less pretty than I am, and I did that so that I would stand out more. I also snap at you when you do nice things to other people. There’s so much to say sorry for! Would you still be my friend?”
After she asked the question, Marilag belched a black, putrid cloud that reeked.
Mayumi paused, ignoring the awful smell. Then, she smiled. “What kind of a question is that?” She sounded serious. “Of course, I’ll still be your friend.”
With more relief, Marilag sighed, and a gust of wind blew open the doors and windows of Mayumi’s nipa hut. The wind smelled like sampaguita, and it took out the remaining stench from Marilag.
At the open door, a shadow stood. Lit from the back, the two women couldn’t see who it was, but they somehow knew that it was the old lady from the stream. The shadow spoke, “I’m glad that you have learned your lesson. The malong I gave you reflected your true self. Mayumi’s was golden because of her golden heart. Yours became black because that’s what your heart was like. Nevertheless, there’s still hope for you. From now on, treat Mayumi like a real friend and stand by her side no matter what happens.”
“Yes, I will,” Marilag answered. “After today, I wouldn’t exchange her friendship for anything – even if it were a golden malong.”
Another gust of wind blew, and the women closed their eyes. When they opened it, they saw the black malong flying away and out of the window. The two women ran out to see what happened to it, and they saw that it dropped into Mayumi’s wash basin.
They walked to it, and when they looked inside, the black malong is nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was a white malong in the bottom of the basin.
“Look, Marilag! It’s your malong! Let me get it for you.”
Mayumi dipped her hand to get the malong, and out of habit, she gave the malong a quick swirl in the soapy water before picking it up and twisting it to dry. When she unfurled the malong, it shimmered with a milky-white glow of pearls.
The two women smiled to see that the sight, and just like Mayumi’s golden malong, Marilag’s pearly one was already dry and ready to wear. Mayumi put it on Marilag and smiled again.
“You look pretty!”
“Thanks, but you’re wrong,” Marilag answered. “We both are!”
They giggled again, and soon decided to walk to the stream to look for and thank the old lady that gave them the precious gifts.
I’m featuring some Filipino words into this story. To help you understand those words, here are their definitions:
bakya – traditional footwear that looks like a sandal, but is made out of wood. It clicks and clacks when the person wearing it walks. Usually, it’s worn only by women. (back to the story)
lola – grandmother. It is usually used as a term of endearment when used for family members, but can be used for strangers, too, to give respect. (back to the story)
malong – roughly translated, it’s a tube skirt. It’s very similar to the sarong of Malaysia and Indonesia. More information on this can be found in the Malong entry in Wikipedia. (back to the story)
sampaguita – white, sweet-smelling flower from the jasmine family that grows in South and Southeast Asia. (back to the story)