Steel-Sparkled Hands

by waxnwings

It’s an original replica, which meet that you can shoot up to 50 rounds and we can guarantee you it won’t jam once. But it’s not an original, so nothing carries guarantees. I hear some like to call them faithful replica’s, but I prefer not to. I have found that it’s not always best to leave things to faith.

I make them with my cousin in the hills of Cebu province. There are other workshops here as well but we all keep relatively private businesses, and added to that faces are often covered to help against inhaling the steel filings and cleaning chemicals – it’s a safety precaution which means I would have difficulty recognising them without the tied shirts. Sometimes we pass each other on the pass through the rice fields and I have a habit of offering our spare tools for sale; this, however, is more to maintain good relations with a neighbour rather than a business interest. Tools are not our business.

To find us you can follow the northern pass through the paddies which roll toward Halba village like the crooked spine of a skinny carabao. You will see a few shacks to the left and right of the stony path which winds around the open fields, some of them inhabited by pigs too skinny to sell for pork belly and chickens whose feet will be cooked with garlic, bay leaves, vinegar, soy sauce and reduced until they are sticky and delicious. When the path begins to thin toward the forest, look to your left – the grassy slope leads down to an opening where there is a large corrugated shack and the smell of old steel mixed with new oil.

workshop2

We make perhaps fifty guns per year, but it can depend heavily upon the social climate – usually we sell a let when an election is coming up and, on our part, we are very happy. Regardless, it’s a craft which takes precision, care, and, ultimately, time. We know workshops of two or three people who have been know to produce as much as one hundred and fifty to two hundred pieces per year. They sell at understandably lower prices – their products are inferior and often dangerous. Do not expect the gleam of a newly manufactured replica where every curve, rivet, hole and screw speaks the care of men who look for art in their work.

We can sell the pieces anywhere from $80, depending on the model, and I’m thankful that my cousin and I have a skilled trade with which we can support our families. We know men who sell mangoes in the street while their wives keep one of the small shanty shops with sweets for two peso’s a piece, home-made coconut ice-cream, loose sachets of toothpaste and other small snacks. Those who can afford to, stock Coca-Cola, Fanta, and Sprite, whilst their children collect their bottles from those who have plenty enough to discard them. By day, some men climb palms new coconut and cut them open with old bolo’s to sell for their sweet milk and flesh. By night, they await people stumbling home drunk on Tanduay and Red Horse and call ‘balut!’ from under street lamps where the mosquito’s are at there most fierce.

Their children will be lucky to go to school. If they get sick they will wait hours to see a doctor whose only free medication will be electrolytes to help ease the dehydration. Many of them prefer to take the child to the priest who will bath them with holy water. In such cases only a small ‘donation’ is requested.

Some cannot even afford God’s Grace and Mercy.

If you do not find my cousins or I in the workshop, we are out collecting scrap metal for upcoming orders. It feels strange to say ‘scrap’ because it sounds as if we collect parts from any old jeepney or motorcab – that’s certainly not the case. It’s not just any metal that is both strong enough to meet the standards of our original replica’s and malleable enough for us to work with our hands. Machinery is not an option – the running and maintenance costs are too high to be profitable – and though our tools are simple, they are effective. They ask us only to provide the best canvas. So recognising the correct metal and parts is in itself a skill, as is being sure not to take from another workshop’s scrap grounds. We are not here to cause trouble and we would not want to find ourselves on the wrong side of our own hand-crafted triggers.

Filipino gunsmiths work in an illegal makeshift gun factory on the outskirts of Danao in central Philippines July 8, 2012. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Most people in the village know our business; they do not approve of our work, but they understand. They tell us only to think of our souls – they remind us that the blessed lives we have run faster than any bullet compared with the eternity of Hell. This is something I know, and even though I no longer feel holy enough to visit the Church, I ask the Almighty and his Son to take pity on my cousin and I, to forgive us for the evil that our actions help happen. I can only hope my prayers are heard amongst the millions of others in this troubled country.

If you see a Police Offcial, Military Personnel, or Politician in the village, now you know why they are here. There is an upcoming election and so soon the workshop will be very busy; many people will have troubles to be resolved. Again I will return home at hours when the moon shines like a silver bullet stuck in black metal and the Grace of Heaven falls upon us through starlit skies. Finding myself into the single room of our small house, I meet my wife with an oily cologne and hold my children with steel-sparkled hands as they sleep.

The next morning, more men in button-shirts wet with sweat on the chest, back and armpits will arrive, and the villagers who know our business will point with their lips toward the northern pass through the rice fields, the ones which roll like the spine of an old, skinny carabao toward Halba village. The building will be alive with the whirring of silver hands on diamond-tip drills, the soft scrape of skilled filing, and the smell of old steel and new oil. My cousin and I will be working.

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