He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come, though afterwards he can come as he please.
– Bram Stoker “Dracula”
My home is not in Manila, but the first thing I must do is to present myself to Capitan Tiago, my father’s dearest friend. It would be the most terrible of insults not to do so. His house stands overlooking one of the waterways passing through the city, alongside Anloage Street in Binondo, close to Manila’s Chinatown. At this time it is Manila’s financial and elite residential district, far more so even than the functions inside Intramuros.
His house stands overlooking one of the waterways passing through the city, alongside Anloage Street in Binondo, close to Manila’s Chinatown. At this time it is Manila’s financial and elite residential district, far more so even than the functions inside Intramuros.
Stone houses of this time leave an impression of each being their own castles, but Capitan Tiago’s house was known far and wide for being open to all things except business and new things and new notions.
“Crisostomo! As God is my witness, you have grown! Tall and strong, hah! So much like your father!” Capitan Tiago meets me by the door and embraces me, quickly and firmly, and slaps at my shoulders. “You have been away far too long, how much your heart aches for the comforts of home!”
He shouts for the servants to hurry up. “Sit, Crisostomo. I will handle everything. And – what is this? Is this a present?”
“Sadly, no, Don Santiago. This is Doggol, my traveling companion, though I believe he would be just as overjoyed to meet a certain person.”
Capitan Tiago curls his lips up good-naturedly, knowing who I meant. “I can see your ploy, Crisostomo.” All Doggol needed was aviator glasses, for he is the best wingman.
Doggol is running around my feet, and looks up at me with wide inquisitive wet eyes. He asks: Should I trust this fat man?
Who is he? Capitan Tiago was born Don Santiago De Los Santos, a short round-faced man with thinning hair cur short in the back but long and combed over in front. He looks to be in his mid-thirties despite being closer to fifty. His eyes are small, but not slanting, and would be handsome were it not for the faint asymmetry of his face, caused by incessant chewing of betel nut and tobacco.
It is the face of a man supremely satisfied with his life.
He is close to the priests because of his devotions and vast contributions of money during ecclesiastical events, the sumptuous commissions he gives to decorate their churches, and always inviting the parish curate to every formal dinner. He does this for two reasons, the first for his daughter Maria Clara being born after six long childless years of his marriage, for though her mother died in childbirth it was well her weeping over effigies saints had finally born fruit and it was not well that mere death should release such a vow.
The other reason for his devout reputation is his vexed competition with a certain Doña Patrocino, a widow whose grand gifts to the churches always upstaged his. Whereas he looked young for his years, the old woman was like steel wire, clinging to the mortal coil with the humorless tenacity of a sovereign. Her partisans were supremely confident that she would be canonized after her death, leaving even Capitan Tiago to venerate her at the altars, an idea the good Captain was willing to concede as long as she died soon.
For this reason sometimes he is called ‘Sacristan Tiago’; a rich man too much a servant of the friars.
He is close to the government because he supported every tax increase they called for, fed the inmates of Bilibid Prison, and was an agile participant in the leases and bids for various positions and employment that the government saw fit to give to private enterprise. For this, he was able to gain the post of Gobernadorcillo – the highest post a native-born Filipino could aspire to in these lands.
He had the power not only to collect taxes, order the construction of public works, appoint lieutenants and lesser judges and arresting officers, serve as captain of the port for a coastal town, but also to judge civil cases up to two taels of gold or forty pesos.
It was for this reason that he is called ‘Captain Tiago’.
A human should not trust him. But you are a dog, Doggol. Go forth then and be pampered. His larder is full, and his servants often maltreated. Go be cute, and while they may grumble about Capitan Tiago’s sudden orders to rush about and cook and clean for a completely unexpected party, and sooth some of their resentment.
Doggol follows at Capitan Tiago’s heels, and the man seems inordinately pleased at having a European, even if but a dog, worshipfully trailing behind him like a courtier to his king.
The servants are drawn to the curious sight, but less charitable. ‘What is this dog?’ they whisper to themselves, ‘Almost all head, legs so tiny as to be almost useless, and all the rest fluffy fur – it is unnatural! This is what dogs are in Europe? A dog like this lives and expects to be fed from the work of others, how much like the white man!’
Then Doggol sits by the kitchen watching the insides with eerie focused interest, and like a little master of the house, he goes from servant to servant, staring at them. He starts rubbing his sides at their bare legs, asking for attention. Dog, you are acting like a cat. Why.
“Don Santiago, I have returned from Spain as swiftly as I was able, specially in this time that I make offerings and prayers on All Souls Day. But it has been a year already since my father has died, and I hold no knowledge of how it happened.”
“Now is not the time for such talk. This is a happy day, I will speak to you about such unpleasant matters later.”
And so I am left alone.
This is Capitan Tiago’s home, and I certainly do not feel welcome nor very comfortable here.
For in these times, what was called a Filipino was only those wealthy or a mestizo with Spanish blood, and above them were the insulares; pure blooded Spaniards born in the colonies, and the highest authority came from peninsulares, those who were born in Spain and sent to office overseeing her colonies. All the rest were but Indios, the natives, or Sangley, the useful but never fully accepted Chinese immigrants.
Capitan Tiago is considered perhaps the second or third wealthiest person in the whole country. His vast wealth comes from his properties of farmland in Pampanga and Laguna, in Binondo and environs collecting rent from businesses in its busiest streets, and in partnership with a Chinaman running a monopoly on the opium trade. He is pitiless master over his workers, but ever a friend to those with wealth and power.
He is as happy a man could ever be in these Isles.
I know what it would take to crush him, divest him of all his properties, and reduce him to a shallow opium-addled wreck. He had done little to save my father from his imprisonment, for though he was my father’s good friend he was also the friend of Padre Damaso – who was his departed wife’s confessor, and upon whose advice their union had finally born fruit.
He had chosen his side, and yet I find little heat in my heart. For I love Maria Clara, his daughter. If there is a reason I should hate Rizal more than crafting me to suffer indignities was that I was ever made to leave her with the smallest of hurts.
He doted on her as if she were his life, and that fatherly love I cannot fault. I even understand why in another time he might feel retracting the marriage promise would be better for his daughter’s future.
Even as he laughs and with a wide grin presents me to his guests, presuming upon a friendship he’d allowed to die. Even as he moves through life thinking he was completely blameless for anything, nonchalantly trampling on people simply because their skins were browner than his, because their wealth are less than his, because pretty young women had no power to resist.
Because, Capitan Tiago, she is not your daughter.
Padre Damaso had suggested to dance in the fertility rites in Obando, and there had lain with his wife, and in truth it was Padre Damaso who was Maria Clara’s father.
And not even that will save *him* from my vengeance.
Capitan Tiago has decided to host a dinner in honor of my arrival. Though the invitations were sent out only in the afternoon, by the evening’s turn it had already run around the districts of Manila, and guests both invited and uninvited had congregated upon his home upon Arlegue Street in Binondo.
Let us first get one thing out of the way. In another life, I would have ineptly attempted to treat this gathering as I would have the affairs in Europe. That is, the hope it inclines towards the not thoroughly boring. Even the matron of this house escaped this fête using the earliest possible excuse.
Men and women are separated as if they were still children at a school dance, too afraid to mingle. The highlight of such a gathering would be the foreigners, but even they looked only bored with the lack of usual amusements they would have found in other parties in other countries. They paced around the room as if still trapped on an ocean liner, or lions in a cage.
“The host must not show himself early, for it is the visitors that should be eager to see his face. The poor folk greet each visitor and attend to all their needs straight from the door, that is the way of a supplicant, Crisostomo!” Capitan Tiago instructs me as we wait in the next room over. “This is how people like us make others into beggars craving for our presence.”
Most of the people out there are simply there for free food, and for that they endure some hours of uncomfortable furniture and tedious talk trying to impress their peers. It was not the custom in the Philippines to ask for invitation cards, and even in the future any gathering was open to any person a relative or honored guest might decide to bring along; and if all else fails, simply blend in a pretend to be old friends.
Silently I send:
[Googol] make a note: Among the first movies I would make should be titled “The Uninvited”, a comedy about someone who inserts himself into the gather for free food, and pretending to be an old friend or relative of always someone on the opposite side of the room. He is eventually caught in the contradiction of excuses as other guests attempt to introduce him to each other.
He is thrown out, but as he is passing by a smaller gathering, a tattered-dressed old man says “You look unhappy, friend. Come, drink with us.”
He looks towards the house he just left, kicks off the dust from his shoes, and much happier he turns to the old man and smiles warmly. Briefly change the view to the party in which the rich people are seated at the table, eating silently and nervously. Wipe to a scene of common people around a table happily drinking and laughing, the man from before raising some bits of barbecued meat on a stick.
Silent film, runtime about five minutes.’
The dog barks. Good boy.
Prior my presentation, I already knew that a certain group of five people would have the only interesting conversation in this place; the only conversation Rizal decided to write. Two priests, two civilians, one military man.
In which Padre Damaso in outrage declared that the government had no right to interfere with a priest’s right to declare a heretic’s remains not to be buried with the church, to exhume it and place it elsewhere. He had ordered beaten his assistant who had allowed the burial while he was away.
And for the Tiniente de Guevarra, through his long service in the Guardia Civil he was known to the Governor-General, and having known the deceased as an upright man undeserving of this ignominy protested and spoke of this to the patron. The Governor-General required Padre Damaso to be relieved of his post as the curate of San Diego. It was unseemly for a nobleman, a son of Spain no matter his state, to be disrespected so.
Said deceased being my father, Don Rafael Ibarra. It is the gross betrayal of a long friendship. He had ordered my father’s remains to be dug up, and thence thrown into the lake!
This, I will never forgive.
In Spain, dueling was allowed. Here in the Philippines, it is not quite illegal, but those who die in a duel are forbidden a Christian burial. So strongly do we Filipinos feel about this, that Francisco Dagohoy begun the longest insurrection in this country simply because the priests refused his brother a proper burial. It lasted eighty years.
“I have the honor of presenting to you Don Crisostomo Ibarra, the son of my deceased friend! The gentleman has recently arrived from Europe and I want you to meet him.”
As I was introduced and received their names in return, in another life I would have vainly attempted to greet Padre Damaso with cheer as I would a family friend, only be confused as he rebuffed my honest gesture.
“It is my pleasure to meet you.” I nod with respect to each person. And “Padre Damaso, the parish priest of my town! I am very much surprised and pleased to see you here.”
“What do you mean by that?” he asks me with a tight tone.
You have levied false charges and bore false witness against my father. You cast him into prison, where he died in ignominious silence while I, his son, was dallying in Europe believing as was the wont of youth in the infallibility and immortality of their fathers.
“That you are here and not in San Diego, what else could I mean?” I reply with all the innocence I could muster. “What a coincidence that you would be at Manila the day I arrived.”
You dug up his bones and cast them aside like a dog’s leavings, simply because he insulted you by being a practical man who cared more for the least of us than the petty trappings of power.
An uncomfortable silence descends upon us, with Capitan Tiago giving me a puzzled look. My happy smile grows wider.
My name is Crisostomo Ibarra. You killed my father. You will die.
“A fool,” Padre Damaso spits. “I see that you only have grown up to be an even greater fool than your father.” He turns his back on me as if shrugging aside a dirtied cloak.
My name is Crisostomo Ibarra. You killed my father. You will die.
The Teniente looks at me up and down and stares into my eyes. His eyes are a pale, clouded blue, mine an Oriental brown. I incline my head slightly and thin my lips as if to say ‘I know.’ His eyes widen and mists up.
“You truly are Don Rafael Ibarra’s son. I knew your father, he was truly one of the Philippines’ most worthy and honorable.”
“Sir, I am deeply moved by the eulogy you have given my father. It wipes away all my doubts concerning his fate. Please, may we one day speak of interests that concern us both?”
“You are ever welcome in my home, young Ibarra! Call upon me for any need.” With that said, he too turns to leave.
My name is Crisostomo Ibarra. This rotten society killed my father. It will die.
Having been left to my own devices, I still decided to go off to introduce myself to the ladies. “Allow me to bypass the rules of strict etiquette. I have been out of the country of these past seven years, and on my return I cannot help but to greet her most precious adornment- her women.”
They offer no reply, some titter behind their fans held up to cover their mouths. Now I have the knowledge that it would have been scandalous of them to offer any reply, so I merely wink and leave; gasps and tittering follow in my wake.
Must not wiggle eyebrows. Swabe.
Doggol barks and shamelessly dives into their throng. The old women of the group scowl as the young women let out happy sounds painful to their ears. This is better, I think; rather than just one young man notable for his looks or wealth, I would be better remembered as that young man with the cute dog from Europe.
The favored breed of Queen Victoria, Pembroke Welsh Corgis are working dogs though. They were bred to herd sheep, ducks, cattle, even horses, and small children.
With much more lightened spirits I approach this gathering’s assembly of young men. Their group opens out in a semi-circle as I draw near, and I beam at them as if we were already the closest of friends.
They are dressed well in the fashion of the time, in white shirt and pants covered with a short black jacket, or black pants and an untucked white camisa de chino covered by the semi-transparent barong Tagalog over it. These are the young Illustrados, and they gaze at me with not a little bit of caution as much as they search for the new and foreign.
“Gentlemen, if you will allow me this impoliteness. In Germany, there exists a custom that if there is no one to introduce a stranger to the gathering, he gives his own name and introduces himself, and for the others to do the same. I do this not to introduce foreign customs, for ours is beautiful, but because I am compelled to do so in order to meet the spirited young men who shall shape our nation.
So I greet you, as I am Juan Crisostomo Ibarra y Igsalin, good evening my fellow countrymen!
Do let us speak, and find common interests.”
Though much has changed within me, the amount of knowledge I have gained has only allowed me to understand that I am in many ways an introvert. It is Simoun who through loneliness and spite had carefully figured out the levers by which to move hearts and minds. Greed, mainly. Jealousy, and fear.
But as I am still Crisostomo Ibarra, let me be honest instead.
Ah, Rizal. You only spoke of them as more or less insignificant, but their names I will remember instead. For unlike you who died before seeing his nation free, with these youths I will build a country.