All posts by Carlo Marco

Interlude -The Franciscan 01

The Franciscan Father Bernardo Salvi had an acute understanding of sin. Sin was fundamentally a weakness – the flaw in God’s Creation introduced by the weakness of man and woman at the Garden of Eden.

He was born in the tail end of the Third Carlist War, and whether his father was soldier fought for the Liberals or the Carlists was irrelevant. He never knew the man.

What he saw was his mother coming home with bruises after work, and on being asked by her neighbors “Why do you keep returning to that man?” she could only reply “We need the money”.

So Salvi understood that pain was not so strong a deterrent to humans compared to the lure of money. This was why he chose to levy punishments in the form of fines to his subordinates. Money could be put to more moral uses, pain was quickly forgotten.

As a child he was able to find work as a sacristan, and he found solace in the solemnity and holiness of its labor. The Liberals had seized church properties saying the priests did nothing but to leech of the honest work of the townsfolk, but Salvi did not see them paying for any orphanages. For all the talk of the Liberals advancing Spain’s worth in the world, none of that filtered down to the streets. Only the industrialists and the petty nobles profited.

1 Timothy 6:10 – For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Bernardo Salvi moved through the world with an unhurried gait and sharp eyes, asking each and every one ‘What is your worth? For how much would you sell your soul?

Salvi trained himself to deal with money, but it was nothing to him, and for that though in the convent he was called a greedy miser the others knew he was scrupulously honest. Fines he collected were almost immediately put to the benefit of the church or into usable goods, there was little point in asking him for what has already been spent.

He deprived himself of luxuries, for they were a barrier to faith. Saints could live on faith alone, and how he tried!

Yet for all his disdain for mankind’s weakness, he had underestimated that other great instigator, the one that even caused angels to Fall.

Lust.

-x-

Salvi sat beside Padre Damaso’s bed, while the corpulent older priest sweated fitfully. The pains in his body from being thrown into the mudhole still had not faded, but perhaps it was more the dirty water he’d swallowed that left him feverish. Still he glared with what strength he could muster and said, “Is there nothing you wish to confess to me, Bernardo? Have you chanced to find anything of my old belongings left behind?”

“I know of no such thing, Padre Damaso.”

Since the hiding place was empty, the older priest could only squint with suspicion. “Even so far from San Diego, I have some meager influence. You would not want someone as me as your enemy, Bernardo.”

“We are all brothers of the cloth, Padre Damaso. I have nothing to hide from you.”

Padre Damaso was steeped in weakness, but Salvi did not judge. His weakness was of the flesh, and Salvi was coming to understand how much his vows could ache. If it celibacy was so easy, then there would be no point in the sacrifice, holiness does not come without effort.

It was at this point one of the sacristan dared to barge into the room.

“Padre, Padre Salvi! You’ve got to help!” the lad screeched. “Don Crisostomo is doing something strange in town again!”

-x-

At eleven o’clock on November the 10th, there was a procession for the Virgin of Peace.

The old and sweating gobernadorcillo led carrying the standard of Spain, followed by precious images, the Christian seven-branched silver menorah, and the venerable statue of Virgin clad in sumptuous satin blue and gold, each their own in silver carriages.

Behind the sanctified objects followed the Spaniards and the clergy, while the officiating priest protected by a canopy carried by the cabeza de barangay of the town, the poles straight and level on their shoulders as if they were spearmen.  A squad of Guardia Civil marched behind and around them to push aside anyone foolish enough to impede the procession. The townsfolk walked in two lines carrying lit candles behind them, with the marching band last in the procession. It was the middle of the day, and still fireworks saluted their approach.

The mass was conducted by Padre Salvi, but after the reading of the scripture the homily was said by Revered Father Manuel Martin, a distinguished orator and priest from Batangas, that province directly south of Laguna where they raise many bullocks and turkeys. Then the distinguished personages left with Padre Salvi to dine at the convent, while the even more distinguished guests from abroad and surrounding provinces were accepted at Capitan Tiago’s home.

In the center of town there was set up a stage. It was a larger stage than the usual, because the fiesta’s funding was also double than the usual.  The stage players from Tondo put it to good use last night, with their presentation of a play about a princess taken away by a giant – a kapre, in the local myths, a dark hairy creature who can also use magic – with much combat and swooning, all in Tagalog appreciated by the townsfolk.

The Spanish performances of the Insulares actors Ratia, Carvajal, and Fernandez, were only understood by the visitors and correspondents. Their subject was no less farcical however, interrupted by combat after every few minutes to keep the actors moving about and the play from looking stale. Shakespeare would not find much appreciation here.

Ibarra had suggested back at the town meeting that they should perhaps hold our shows first so that they would not be overshadowed by the professional theater from Tondo, but that was a mistake. He pricked their easily-mortified small-town Filipino pride, so instead the day after was the time for the local actors to show their talents.

The first show was a short play about Mariang Makiling and her three suitors – a humble Indio farmer, a Mestizo traveler, and a Spanish lieutenant. The half-caste plied Makiling with tales of his journeys abroad and if she chose him he would take her to see more than just these boring old forests and villages. The Spaniard gave lavish gifts and promised to keep her in luxury and ease for the rest of her life. The farmer, however, could offer nothing more than the meager fruits of his field and his vow of lifelong devotion.

She chose the humble farmer.

The two rejected suitors conspired to have him arrested and executed for sedition. Overcome with sorrow, Mariang Makiling withdrew to her mountain, never to be seen again. In a year, the two men would also die – the sophisticated mestizo traveler dying of dysentery in Manila, while the lieutenant is ambushed and killed by bandits. A fairly simple morality play.

The other play, the Gobernadorcillo, was about an old landowner who had troubles with people not paying taxes, clamoring for government money to support their projects and feastings, and the stupidity of his son trying to woo two girls at the same time. It was  a terribly hilarious farce.

No one laughed. For that was the defining quality of the Filipinos who watch stageplays, they do not laugh out loud or whistle or make cat-calls at the actors – they absorb it all silently, with an eerily somber politeness that discomfits foreigners; it feels as if they do not appreciate the productions, even in paid theaters.

But that was perfect movie-going etiquette.

Ibarra’s deranged laughter at the end of it was most distracting.

-x-

Don’t blink                                                                          Wag kang kukurap

Be brave                                                                               Maging matapang ka

Don’t be ashamed                                                           Walang hiya-hiya

Stand up with pride                                                         Igting tumindig ka

There’s only joy                                                                 Talagang saya-saya

When you breath anew                                                 Bugtong bagong hinga

There’s nothing you can lose                                       Walang mawawala

If you stuggle onnn!                                                       Kung mag-sigesige kaaaa!

 

Jumble jumble                                                                   Jambol jambol

Can you handle this?                                                      Kaya mo ba to?

Can you handle this?                                                      Kaya mo ba to?

Don’t be such a rock                                                       Wag maging bato

That you lose out!                                                             Para magpatalo!

Can you deal with thiiis?                                               Kaya mo ba toooo?!

 

-x-

“GOOOOOD AFTERNOOOOOON SAN DIEGO!” Ibarra screamed out. “How are you doing? Now, you might not know me, but surely you know our town’s good schoolmaster, Mister Navidad–“

“Uh… good afternoon everyone.”

“And I am Don Crisostomo Ibarra. Today we celebrate the feast of the patron saint that for whom our town is named. You’ve been patient watching our good actors under the hot sun, thank you for that. In this fiesta, among our amusements are contests. The palo sebo, the carabao race, and so on. But let us play one more game -”

Navidad explained that those who had come first and managed to get a seat were given a number. A tumbling raffle bin was brought out. Surely they were familiar with the idea of a drawing lots to win a prize. But that was too boring for Don Crisostomo.

Behind them were twenty young ladies of the town carrying twenty sealed white boxes. Inside the boxes were prizes, ranging from ten centimos to one thousand pesos!

“Gambling is bad,” said Ibarra. “But at the same time, I feel, luck is the smallest miracle. If God wants you to win, then you will win.” He reached into the tumbler and pulled out a wooden plate with a number. “Who has number 9?”

An old farmer hesitantly raised his hand. He was made to go up to the stage. It was humiliating to him, to be the focus of so much attention with his threadbare clothes.

“Tell us about yourself,” Ibarra commanded. He pointed a strange black stick towards the old man’s face.

“I am Mang Botog, and I till a farm around barangay Looban.”

“Are you a tenant farmer or do you own the land?”

The old man shot him a look that said ‘If I owned land, do you think I would be so shabby and weatherbeaten like this?’ “Why, I am a tenant for your lands, Don Crisostomo.”

“I see. Excellent. All right, you see these boxes? Please pick one.”

The old man thought about it, and picked number eight. The girl carrying the box brought the box over to a table nearer the front of the stage, then went back to her place.

“This is how it works. This box could have anywhere between a single centimo to a thousand pesos. When you picked it out, that tested your luck. Now we have fun trying to test your discernment.

I will give you… ten centimos. Do you take the kwarta, or the kahon?”

The band began to sound out a ragged heart-pounding beat.

At the old man’s silent confusion, Ibarra addressed the crowd instead. “How about you? What if you were the one standing here? Help him out! What do you think?”

“Kahon! Kahon!” someone shouted, an Ibarra retainer seeded into the crowd to get them to follow along.

“… Kahon, senor?”

“Good, that’s good,” said Navidad. “That is only obvious.”

“Then I will increase it to… ten centimos!”

The cries from below seemed to spur the old man’s courage. He chose the box again.

“Don Ibarra, for ten centimos, you might as well have been offering a slice of lechon,” added Navidad. To the old man, he whispered “Don’t give up too easily, at least get a week of good food out of Don Crisostomo.”

Ibarra snorted. “Man, why are you even complaining? You do not even eat at my house, we have been troubling Pilosopo Tasio all this time.”

“… Don Crisostomo, that is not something to be proud of. For someone so rich, so you are so cheap sometimes.”

Navidad was brave, to dare to insult his partron! But this was probably part of their comedia.

“Fine then! I will raise it to one peso!” Ibarra shouted.

“The chances are around half and half that you will get a sum higher than one peso” Ibarra admitted. “That could be useful. You have children, grandchildren, yes?  My father was a patron of the school, and as you can see with Mister Navidad here, I am happy to help with talented students who have real interest in becoming eductated.”

A hot flash of pain passed across the old man’s face. “I have… I have no children. I had a daughter… but she married… and she died of cholera.”

He lived in a simple shack with his old wife. His son in law and their family did not wish to have anything more to do with such a poor father-in-law. His milky eyes begged, please do not humiliate me any further! What did I ever do to you?

“One peso is enough,” said Old Botog. “May I go now?”

Ibarra looked unamused. “… no. I ask you to reconsider. I apologize for bring up bad memories. But perhaps this will make things easier for you.”

Navidad more gently said “Don Crisostomo, you should realize that having money means people will be asking you for money. Who has time for that?”

Ibarra nodded somberly. “Mm. Yes. I can see how having money can more trouble than it’s worth. Among these twenty boxes, there’s two chickens, a pig, a horse, and carabao. That’s one in four chances of getting an animal. Isn’t that better?”

”If you have ten pesos, you will have a line of people asking to borrow a peso. If you have a chicken, no one’s going to ask to borrow a chicken,” said Navidad.

“You can certainly borrow some eggs though?”

“And what, be repaid with two eggs?”

“Right, there’s no point in that,” Ibarra waved. “We all already have two eggs. Even you, grandfather, don’t let anyone take your eggs.”

The old man grinned slightly, showing his yellowed horselike teeth, and a smaller ripple of vulgar amusement passed through the crowd. Padre Salvi scowled, but such was the level of humor that appealed to commoners. Ibarra was not doing himself any favors by lowering himself to their level.

“So, in this white box, it could be money, or it could be an animal. While a chicken is not worth a peso, I will give you help to build a chicken coop. Same with the corral for pigs, goats, or a carabao. So, grandfather, what do you think? Kwarta o kahon?

The old man winced as the drums rolled.

Ibarra held up his hand and the band stopped. “Well?”

“… I will take the box, señor .”

“Are you sure? An animal would be good – a pony, while not as good as a carabao, you can rent it out to someone for a small calesa. It is a pity you do not have children with you, this would be a good job to start with. A carabao would be best for your farmwork. But what if you get money? One peso, ten peso, that’s fine. But a hundred pesos? What if you get a thousand? That will only cause trouble! Too much money is trouble!”

“… Don Crisostomo, are you trying to scare people by offering them money now?” Navidad said dryly.

Old Botog chuckled. “I am really very scared, señor!”

“See, teacher? You should respect the wisdom of the aged!” Ibarra turned to the old man again. “Don’t worry about the money. Whether it’s ten or a thousand pesos, I will also be donating twenty percent of a similar sun to the church, and another to the government! It will be taxes-free! If you get a thousand, the church will get two hundred pesos and the guardia two hundred! This is as sin-free money as you can get!

“One more time I will ask you – money or the box?”

“Uh…” The old man looked conflicted. “What do you want me to say?”

Ibarra grinned. “Grandfather, the fun in this whole thing is trying to get you to go one way or the other. So I am increasing the money to five. Five pesos!”

Ibarra lowered his hand and the drums rolled again. The maidens began to chant again “Kaya mo ba to? Kaya mo ba to? Wag magpatalo!” Then stop.

“I guess I will take the money, señor.”

Ibarra nodded sadly. “I can see why. It’s a low enough sum not to be troubling while you can get some comfort out of it.”

He looked off to the distance and then said said suddenly “What if I give you land?”

At seeing no response, he continued “I am serious. It is one thing not to be too greedy in life, but land is land. You are a tenant farmer, you work a hectare of land. I’ll give you another plot of fertile land closer to town. Sell it, farm it, rent it out to someone else, I don’t care.”

“… that is too big a jump from five pesos, Don Crisostomo,” said Navidad.

“Well, no, even I am not that crazy.” Ibarra slapped at the closed box. “Grandfather, you have one in four chances of getting an animal. But you know, you also need room for the bigger animals. If this box here contains an animal, I will give you land. Build a house on it, set it to pasture, raise vegetables, whatever you want. Everyone here is a witness! I will keep my word! Whoever messes with you, messes with me.

“But even in your age, you must have courage. Will you go to sleep easy tonight, going quietly into the dark? Or will you leave a mark on this town?

“So one more time – ”

The chorus and drums began to sound again. The old man looked away from Ibarra and down at the waiting townsfolk. Some were shouting “Kahon! Kahon! Kahon!

As Ibarra bid the band and the maidens to stop, he asked again – “Money or the box?”

“I… aah… I don’t know. I don’t know!”

“Grandfather, you are old enough that the only thing you should care about is being more comfortable in the twilight of your life. Let young people be greedy. But know this – at every age, one’s life can change. A small sum of money can be good for a week, but with land people will be nicer to you wondering to whom you should leave it.

“That’s the power of inheritance. We are all children of the soil. Land is power.”

“Take the box!” the people were shouting. “Don’t be a coward, Botog!” and “If you get a thousand pesos, lend me some money!” The old man began to laugh weakly.

 “I… I will take the box, señor.”

“Are you sure? I will ask you again. Do not let regrets rule your life.”

The old man took a deep breath. “I am sure this time. I will take the box.”

Ibarra raised his hand, and the band began to pound at their drums again. “Last chance. Do not take this unless you are ready for your life to change. Even I have no idea what is in this box.”

Old Botog made the sign of the cross over his face and steeled himself as if facing execution. “I am ready. Whatever happens… whatever…”

“Fine! Then let us see what you are getting!” The snare drums went into an exciting drum roll. Ibarra slowly began to open the box.

And then he stopped. “All right, I lied,” he said mournfully. ”Giving up land is fine for me, but a thousand pesos would still hurt. Are you sure about this, Old Botog?”

“Have courage, Don Crisostomo!” Navidad shouted.

The old man hesitantly opened his mouth “… aaaah…”

“Too late!” Ibarra yelled. The drums resumed, he opened the box, reached in and brought out… a wooden plate with a painting of a chicken!

“You get a chicken!”

People began screaming.

“Also, an ektarya of land,” Ibarra added. “Congratulations.”

“Don Crisostomo… Don Crisostomo!” the old man began to blubber out. “I will die, do not joke with me like this, Don Crisostomo!”

Ibarra slapped the old man’s shoulders. “Worry none about it. You worked for my father. If you are good to me, I will be good to you. That is how things work. My friend Simoun has the deed to the land, please go to him later.”

“Don Crisostomo, thank you! You are a saint!”

Padre Salvi grit his teeth.

“Haha, no, no I am not. I am not so kind. I am not one to forget an insult but not also one to forget loyalty. Give your thanks to Maria Clara, because she exists then I am kind! I am only doing as she wants to see. But to anyone who disrespect this kindness, the kindness done in her name, I will be as the devil himself!”

Wait, so your whole reason for showing off is simply to show off? Truly Don Crisostomo was a young fool! But the peasantry laughed, and no longer looked for the hidden traps of behind his generosity. For he was a young fool in a love, and a man in love was capable of anything.

‘He admits it! He admits it and they applaud!’ Padre Salvi snarled and turned away. Truly the road to damnation was easy, and paved with money. The little game continued, but the young priest had no further stomach for it.

Tonight Padre Damaso would make the sermon, and visitors were paying up to three hundred pesos for the privilege of hearing him speak. Salvi’s mind was already awhirl constructing the homily he would make after the older priest leaves his parish. For a whole week he would harangue them all about the wages of sin!

-x-

Padre Salvi sat down before Padre Damaso, his face still a mask of rage. “He admits it!” he shouted at the ill fat man.

“Who…?”

“That Ibarra! He admits to doing the devil’s work on this Earth! He is trying to buy favors… how despicable! How vulgar! Such… naked lack of morals!”

“Tell me what happened, Bernardo. It must be exceptionally vile indeed to see you so out of sorts.”

And after Padre Salvi recounted the events at the town center, Damaso said “Such a fool! The peasants will say whatever you want to say as long as you flash them coin! You cannot buy their loyalty! They will mob him, beggars will camp at his doorstep. What he will suffer for this imprudence, I almost pity him.”

 “Padre Damaso, this cannot be allowed. The danger to their morals- he is tempting them away from the light of the church. The devil himself!”

The fat friar nodded. “Be at ease, Bernardo. I can see it. Ibarra must soon die.”


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4.2 Fraternal Sins

I know very well that no leaf on tree may stir save at the will of the Creator; since he asks that I die in this place, His Holy Will be done.
-last words of Fr. Mariano Gomez

But I haven’t committed any crime!
-last words of Fr. Jose Burgos


“You speak like you expect to solve everything with money, Don Crisostomo.”

“Heavens no! I expect to solve things with the things that matter, which is everything except money. But if my ways drive people to think that they must control my flow of wealth in order to control me, it will be too late for them to realize how wrong they are about the real dangers.”

“Your diatribe last night about the United States of America and its ability to claim the next century belies your words.”

“The Americans are stupidly rich, but more than that they are immensely motivated. The Ottoman Empire is old, and fat, and in its demise will birth a litter of children with more wealth than sense, who will piss away the wealth of their lands in pointless wars and ostentatious displays.”

“What wealth? Even I know there’s nothing there but sand and camels. ”

“Black gold. Oil. In some way I thank that we do not have such a convenient source of national income, for it forces us to seek wealth in diverse endeavors.”

Although… I suppose after a hundred years it does help to jump-start economic diversification, if not to make it easier to paper over social issues. Oh, I am conflicted now. It is still only 1887… we can certainly try to press our claim to Sabah. Rizal himself attempted to emigrate there with his whole clan to create a Filipino enclave under British rule. Probably not worth it due to a majority Christian nation trying to press a claim to a majority Muslim kingdom, but that’s British North Borneo’s problem.

There’s few things to pick up a loyal Spanish citizen than the knowledge you’re doing something to inconvenience some fecking Englishmen by your mere existence this morning.

“For someone who claims not to value wealth, you certainly seem to extol its virtues overmuch,” Elias interrupts my thoughts, grabs me by a sleeve, and prevents me from walking into a ditch.

“I have Keynes and Friedman in the brain, I cannot help it.” (‘Cain is a freed man?’ Elias mouths out dubiously.) I cough and gesture with my cane to the coconut trees planted alongside the road. “Wealth is access to resources, this is true, and resources are tangible proofs. But wealth is also generated by the expectation and desire for these resources. Only fiat currency is capable of wealth generation on such scales; disentangled from the precious metal standard, which only have value in so far of their rarities and shininess; a representation of people’s future wants. A potato is literally more valuable in objective terms.

“Economists are literally magicians, it is by how we all simply pretend that theirs is a science that anything in world economics is repeatable phenomena. Wealth is not that important for the revolution, but it is all-important for everything after. Ah, we have arrived.”

It is early in the morning and we are having breakfast in Don Anastasio’s house.

Old Tasio’s servant does not hesitate anymore to allow me to simply barge in. It is in fact too early in the morning, it barely even bright out. My own servants are perhaps feeling a bit insulted that I don’t dine in my own house as much, and scandalized that I am preferring to do so in a house with an unmarried woman. Is it her cooking, and her other common points, that I’m after?

Elias remarks as we cross the threshold, “You give too much in answers to simple questions. I can see now why you might prefer the company of the town’s other known breathless commentator.”

Old Tasio blurts out on seeing me “Don Crisostomo! What happened to your face?!”

Oh. Right. I touch the bandage still pressed over my broken nose. “Elias happened to my face.”

“That infamous outlaw? Where and when did you encounter him?”

“Where, my great-grandfather’s grave. When? I am still encountering him.” I point to beside me. “Don Anastasio, I am pleased to introduce to you, the man known as Elias.”

Elias bows. “Good morning, Don Anastasio. Please forgive our intrusion. I will not apologize for my fist meeting Don Crisostomo’s face. It was well-deserved, I assure you.”

“I can believe that. You have punched him in the face, so must have proven him wrong. It is about time-”

I interrupted “I only said that being proven wrong was emotionally equivalent to being punched in the face. Do you people not realize I have not actually punched anybody in the face since I have arrived? Don Anastasio, you should have left behind you a mountain of men beaten into unconsciousness!”

“Ah, how I miss those quiet days when it was I that would go into other people’s houses to become a nuisance to their sensibilities.” He sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “Don Crisostomo. Why.”

“Why what?”

“Why anything.”

“Well, our friend Elias said that he has felt the Lord’s touch upon him many times, that he has lived many times before when he should not. So I said everything possible to get him to kill me, and I am still here! Obviously the hand of the Lord was upon us both! The angels have stayed his blade.”

The old man turned from me towards Elias, and even more plaintively asked “Mister Elias. Why?”

“… it has occurred to me that before I can save our nation from the priests, I may first need to save it from Don Crisostomo.”

“We have all had that thought at some point. Be welcome in my house at all times, young man! What I have is yours.”

“I thank you, Don Anastasio. Your trust fills me with the greatest happiness. I shall protect your home and all you hold dear with the last breath left in my humble body.”

“Yes, despite our differences, it seems we have found… as a certain someone says… a common interest. No, I had better say: a common predicament! I hesitate not to call you a brother in this.”

“I brought dried squid?” I mention as a peace offering.

-x-

 “But I must confess there is another reason that we have decided to have this discussion at your house, Don Anastasio. We have come to consult with you.”

“Oh what could it be apart from the lack of eager ears and swifter mouths?” the old man replies archly. “If you wish counsel for your works, I must first advise you – my bones are old, and I have little desire to see violence.”

“I believe that violence must in time come, for a soul long held down must at last break free, but I too must confess neither do I relish its approach,” says Elias. “If reform can stay the pains of a people clamoring for change, then I welcome this as well.”

Tasio replies: “If you, the youth, speak of revolution, then know that we have seen so many of them rise and fail before. We are not a country united, for in as much as you may find the abuses of the powerful cause the hapless to gnash his teeth in rage, many more are frightened of tyrannical force, or admire it and long to use it against their own enemies, and ape the mannerisms of their superiors.”

I respond: “The issue is Justice. When Britain conquered Manila in the year, and held the city and by default the rest of the country for two years with Spain unable to respond due to the clear superiority of the British Royal Navy, were not people astounded to see a court and justice system actually functional? For the first time ever in these isles, the officers gave no special favor for the wealthy or the influential. Theirs was a separate society, unwilling to compromise with the local culture. They gave no respect to the priests, that their claim to speak to the spiritual and moral should ever give them any extra voice to the legal.”

“They are Englishmen, after all,” Old Tasio muses with a smile. “Heretics.”

“The Church of England aside, in here we might see how we might reform the justice system. The courts must not be easily influenced, the judges should care more for evidence than oratory. They must not have a rooster in the game.

“The severity of punishment rarely a deterrence to crime. People in the grip of passion rarely think of the future, while those who deliberately seek to commit crimes believe they simply will not be caught. Specially in this society of ours, where there are too many lawyers and priests can get away with anything.”

I nod towards Elias. “I see that look in your eyes. And yet, one might say, there is one notable event where priests were punished with death.”

“Gomburza…” Elias breathed.

I nod. “And their crime was not rape, nor murder, nor larceny – but sedition.”

 Old Tasio gives out a burdened sigh. “I wish you would not speak of these things in this house. I have no spirit left in me for these things, you are young men; you will all do as you will in the end.”

“Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, the three priests implicated in the Cavite Mutiny. And yet, for all that, they might as well have been unconnected with each other.”

“Many people believe that they died as martyrs to the cause of reform,” Elias notes. “What do you truly know of their affairs?”

“Then-Governor Izquierdo magnified the situation of mere 200 soldiers mutinying over the loss of their promised privileges (such as the exemption to the tributes and polos y servicios and the loss of their pension), and the prohibition of the founding of school of arts and trades for the Filipinos, which the general believed as a cover-up for the organization of a political club; all into an uprising against Spain. Those poor souls in 1872 expected support which did not come, mistaking fireworks in the city as the sounds of other soldiers rising in revolt.

But what makes their execution a strong cause is that the priests tagged as the masterminds of the mutiny were innocent. It was but the word of one captive that implicated them, easily given under torture and promise of clemency. History makes of them revolutionaries at a time when their greatest sin was being too popular as voices for reform. Yet they were priests; and they died; the clergy devours its own. If they even were not safe from death, then no one is. This is message conveyed to all future dissidents.”

 “Are you not afraid then, of suffering the same fate?” Old Tasio asks. “I am old enough that the thought of leaving this world no longer frightens me as much as it should, for this reason I have not protested much your bringing this talk under my roof. What pessimism I can spare I have already surrendered in the light of the sheer blinding hubris that dares display itself before my eyes.”

 “I am not afraid for the simple reason that sedition is a crime, and as such as a future criminal I either do not believe that I will be caught or will be able to escape or mitigate the consequences of my actions. I shall fight for my accomplices greater than I would care for my own fate; fear not, for you shall have the exit strategy that I may not use for myself.

“Elias, I do not place much faith in a people’s court, for more they shall be prone to emotion – all who care called will be presumed guilty already, as we have seen in the Terror of Revolutionary France. The presumption of innocence and the right to a lawyer by all persons, with a prosecution that is driven by evidence and not political expedience, is the foundation of democracy that protects the people. But this requires a strong central government and men who are strong against corruption. And a strong central government requires a strong foundation.”

“Thus we return to your idea that we do require wealth before you will allow us to revolt.” Elias scoffs.

“Where do you think to take the money for such a noble enterprise?” asks Old Tasio.

“The priests have them, thousands of pesos they bedeck themselves and their domiciles, thousands of pesos in festivals and donations and masses they demand, woe be to the immortal souls of the poor who cannot pay! They shall be consigned to hell for their impiety, but in its fear they have already made their everyday lives a little bit of a hell.”

Old Tasio shakes his head. “I object to this.”

“For what reason, Don Anastasio? Do you think that the people will suddenly become impious or disorderly without the fear of the priests and their impunity of action hanging over them?”

“No, I object because such a wealth as you wish to seize only looks vast through the years of veneration. Take them all at once, and people will fear to give again; you cannot kill the bull twice. I understand Don Crisostomo’s view in this. What you seek is taxation.”

“But people, as a rule, are loath to pay taxes.” I turn to Elias and say “A revolution to succeed must involve all of the country, otherwise it is an arrogance forcing us to conquer our own brothers, declaring their direction of their lives for them. Elias, I understand your grievances, but is what the people ask for freedom, or is it justice?”

 “Without freedom, there can be no justice. The powerless and the powerful must be judged as the same under God! The more you ask us to delay, the more poor folk die under the lash; they are hauled off in the polos y servicios to work as little more than slaves, for though the law says they should be paid for the labor in public works, they are barely even fed! Women are taken by whoever fancies them, the rich grow richer while the poor suffer forevermore!

“To wait is only to your benefit, Don Crisostomo! Justice will not wait, sir!”

“If that is all you want, then you might as well wear a black mask in the night and wreak your dark vengeance!” I blink. “Wait. That… huh.

“Now that I think about it, while it would not work for me, that might work for you…

“I mean, we are both orphans. And for wealth as a superpower, I can handle that for you just fine…”

“Señor Ibarra…”

 “Leave him be, Elias. He will come out of this fugue on his own. He does this sometimes.”

“Some sort of… dark knight. No, not even that. We are after all a Spanish colony…. ”

-x-

After some time, Old Tasio asks “Have you come to your senses, Don Crisostomo?”

“Don Anastasio, I would like to posit a notion so basic to my beliefs that you might find nonsensical or heretical. That a nation has a soul.”

“It appears you have not.”

“Hear me out! And not in the sense of the collective lives of its people, or its culture, or its lands and history – but in something more, in the crossing of all of these, something inextricably and evidently its own. Existent and separate. Often times dormant, but sometimes can fill its people with a powerful resolve. Invisible yet tangible all through recorded history. It is a spirit born of mankind, but nonetheless divine – for the breath of life that God placed in us is one we can share with our works.

“Our lives, our loves, our passions! In time these will end. But as our loins beget children, our actions and longings beget history. Cultures shape other cultures, thought begets thought – and in the crossing of these forces, the dream becomes real.

“Elias, we have not finished our discussion from last night. Don Anastasio, to you I also ask; for this is a question that must first be resolved before any hope of reform or revolution can succeed.

“Are we a nation? Does this Philippines have a soul?

Elias stares at me with that dark penetrating gaze of his. The pains of his past and the cries of the present cannot be wiped clean by any amount of pretty words. His fingers drum upon the table. His purpose remains sure, but he has admitted last night that he has no clear answer.

Old Tasio leans back askance. “What a bizarre question!” he answers after a few moments in deep thought. “I could even say farcical, for to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can be argued endlessly. You have not even defined just how it is that a nation is born. How and when does a nation acquire its soul after its formation, what are the rituals of its affirmation; or is it simply a matter of recognition by other nations, a gift to be granted rather than achieved? Or does the existence of this soul presage its birth, the driving force to say ‘the time is right’? What more for nations departed and slain? The human soul is eternal, nations demonstrably not.”

“Through blood and fire a nation is born,” says Elias. “Always has this been, you must sacrifice in order to bring together a people; without the pains of birth, a nation will find itself weak of character.”

“Before Spain, we were a collection of fragments borne of individual tribes and petty kingdoms. We are Tagologs, Ilocanos, Visayas, people of different provinces and different tongues first before all. Spain’s dominance, there a rose the cry of regions and factions opposing Spanish rule, and pirates and foreign invaders attempting to seize dominion, but ultimate all of them failed. What sort of soul could be born from that?

“If our Philippines has a soul, then it is as a daughter of Spain!” exclaims Old Tasio.

“I agree,” and I lean forward to speak “Yet there are ways of peaceably gaining nationhood. Take Canada, for example. They exercise great latitude in their own affairs while officially owing fealty to the British Crown. One might imagine in time, that for ease of taxation and infrastructure, the Empire quietly lets them go to be their own nations to pay for their own works and armies that could still be volunteered to serve their parent.

“If the English had ever really decided to take control of the Philippines in 1762-1764 rather than sit pretty over their command of the countryside only within range of Fort Santiago’s guns, if the direct military aid promised by the British to Diego Silang had ever materialized, how would a new hundred years shape her character?”

“Yes, and though we may have felt betrayed and unvalued, to be cast off from Mother Spain would not create a new soul, if one were to imagine it. Are we a nation? This can be answered. We are not, we are a colony of Spain. Does this nation have a soul? Only you the youth who believe so can answer that!”

“I believe it,” Elias breathes out. We turn to look at him; and slumps to rest his elbows on the table, bringing his hands together to lace his fingers in an arch under his nose. “Don Crisostomo knows too many things, he is the greatest danger to the success of the revolution. The things he knows can harm so many of the innocent and the unwitting; if he were an evil man, the power he could amass would be more than considerable.”

“Yet you let him live, so it seems you do not think so,” Old Tasio replies. “But why do you entertain his fantasy of a nation-soul? He is perhaps knowledgeable, and in ways that are trustworthy, but Don Crisostomo,” here he turns to me briefly “forgive my callous and yet frankly cautionary words,” and back to Elias “is demonstrably also sometimes a lunatic. Were it not so that I realize how even the failure of his plan would help him more, I could think he wants to get shot at Bagumbayan.”

Bagumbayan being, of course, that section of Luneta Park where executions are carried out. There the three priests Gomburza died of garotte, and where Rizal himself would die by firing squad.

“Excuse me, honored sage! For I am also filthy, filthy rich,” I huff. “The word for this is eccentric.”

Old Tasio raises his hands. “Demonstrably.”

Elias glances at me. I shrug.

“Don Crisostomo did not convince me with words. He threatened, he postured, and when that did not suffice he used sheer naked force.”

Uh, Elias, could you phrase that a little better?

“In those dark woods I have been made to confront how a person’s choices might affect far more than just those around him, causing pain that through generations. His great-grandfather has caused mine a great injustice, but could I not in my callousness become an abuser to an orphaned child in return? It is easy to call for revolution when you are not the one who will die from it; I hold no such fear, but as a leader of men it will be my decision to make fathers die and families wither on the vine.

“Don Crisostomo is insistent on this point; I must lead! In truth, he is not the first. Already the leadership of a band has been offered to me after is founder goes off to fight and die satisfied for his vengeance. What next? Happy are those who die; those who come after them bear the burden of creating the nation. I have been given a glimpse of how he sees the world. We are a web of choices, and I no longer have the luxury of treating my own decisions as insignificant beyond the reach of my arms.”

I say “If you fight, people will suffer.”

He says “Suffering must end.”

I say “The ends cannot justify the means, we cannot be the evil we claim to fight. A revolution that never stops fighting becomes in the end merely bandits and thieves, the enemy of the people.”

“We must fight for the people’s benefit, not our own. Every death has meaning only if it saves the people from further misery,” he concludes. “Don Crisostomo, what must a revolution have for it to succeed? Is it wealth? Do you ask us to delay in order to amass arms and support?”

“No, the revolution is unavoidable. What you simply need is time, the right time to prevent Spain from landing twenty thousand troops and artillery to suppress yet another revolt; to prevent again using the Pampangans against the Batangueño, the Tagalogs against the Bisaya, or to ignore the Moro as a Filipino.

“Elias, the success of the revolution is inevitable! But even when we win, tell me, with all the resources we have available, what is there to prevent us from being conquered by a foreign nation again?”

“Our valor, the defeat of the European power will make others think twice.” Here Elias paused. “This is what I would like to say, but… as much as I believe you think in too grand scales that you miss the real reason why our people wish to revolt, I cannot fault that you wish only the best for our country. What is your solution, then?”

”Our ancestors fought with valor too, and they died. Because they were men with swords and shields against guns and cannons. Even if we throw off Spain, she is the weakest of the Great Powers. It means little.

We must first become united, to galvanized as a people from shore to shore, from island to island, that Spain must either come to understand that she must treat us as equals – as citizens of Spain with all rights, or we will leave her to wither on the vine! To do this, it is important that the people know that they are not alone – that their suffering is shared by other citizens, no longer merely Kapampangan or Cebuano, or Tsino and Indio, Insulares and mestizo, that all who are born and live on these islands are Filipino!

“In short, I ask that you give me at least five years. Three years to open the eyes of our people, two more years to see the wave of opinion and how the nations around us would be willing to recognize the existence of our nation.”

I reach into the satchel I had brought with me and lay down before them two books. It is a simple black book with gold-embossed title. RIZAL. “1888, 1889, 1900, one book every year. This is my solution. Against guns and cannon, paper is stronger still.”

And even stronger are pictures and motion pictures; I did not add. Soon enough it will be all made clear.

-x-

A little while later, teacher Navidad has come. “Don Crisostomo, what happened to your face!” he exclaims upon ascending the stairs leading up to the sala.

“Elias happened to my face,” I blandly answer him. “By the way, might I introduce you to my friend Simoun?”

“Simoun?” Elias echoes with a frown, as he looks up from the novel. Old Tasio is nodding, completely engrossed with the text, as if having a conversation with its characters.

“Simoun,” I repeat. “I trust Mister Navidad, but he is somewhat of an excitable sort.” I turn back to the teacher and smile. “Let us leave these two to their reading. Come, oh gallant instructor! Let us go forth and work our magic upon town!”

-x-

-x-

That was yesterday.

Let me ask you this, what sort of fool sets off a fireworks display at five-thirty in morning? Filipinos do. And it is not even in celebration or to wake people up for the morning mass. The fireworks are set off in the approach of the early morning procession.[*] Screw all those infidels who want to sleep in.

People march around town singing hymns behind a statue of the Virgin Mary, for it is the eleventh of December and it is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Peace. It is celebrated by the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. Between this day and tomorrow, the feast day of San Diego celebrated by the Third Order of Laymen of the Franciscans, there is somewhat of a competition in piety.

It is still dark outside. Yesterday several raised platforms were set up around town in the path of the procession. The fireworks were to be set off from these platforms – how convenient then, that someone had decided to place field cameras on the platforms as well, that a picture might be taken at the same time the fireworks illuminate the crowd.

And it is such a crowd, for though they were required to wake up at around four in the morning, it seems half the town is here. They will be obliged to do this again later tonight for the nine o’clock mass to conclude the Holy Mother’s Feast Day. The more uncomfortable it is, the greater piety, and because it is too dark to see the finery you wear, the greater pious rewards – no one might claim you are here simply to fulfill your rote duty, to be seen and respected. This is also why the crowd seems to be mainly women.

Pop. Pop. Go the fireworks. Click, I push the shutter up for half a second, click, back the shutter goes. A photographer must have the proper timing, for too much exposure of the dry plate would give a blurry image. From beneath the black mantle covering my head, shoulders, and the back of the camera, I pull out the sealed box containing the dry photographic plate, and insert another. I take another exposure, this time in the dimmer light only of the lamps around the platform and the paper lanterns of the townsfolk.

And then it is only time to pull back the lens and the bellows of the Anthony Fairy Camera into the box and direct a servant to bring it to my house. Beside me, Teacher Navidad yawns. We must now race ahead of the procession into the next platform.

The solution I have found to the bulkiness of this era’s cameras is simply to have multiple cameras pre-positioned to take photos of the events of the fiesta. I did not need to fear someone stealing away my cameras, for the other young scions of the town had volunteered the manpower of their servants to stand guard overnight in exchange for future goodwill. Unlike our fathers, we have not yet taken the time to turn small insults into lifelong enmities.

The servants are all invited to my house after standing guard for a sumptuous breakfast, of course. My own employees actually seem a mite annoyed that I haven’t been taking advantage of this pseudo-feudal authority I have, it looks to them as if I do not trust them or something. So, the more work I have them do the happier they are, which is a truly strange paradox considering how much Filipinos love to avoid work in this era.

As we walk briskly, I say “I am surprised you would be so willing to assist me this far, this early in the morning, Mister Juliano. As you have mentioned, you do not work for me. I am not paying you for anything.”

“It is all in the instruction of Don Anastasio. You need someone with you at all times.”

Ah. I nod. And of course, the teacher holds the sage in the highest regards. It is almost like that old chinese saying ‘a teacher for a day, a father for a lifetime’. “You both are exaggerating. My whims are not that dangerous, nor am I so constantly imprudent.”

Navidad shakes his head sadly. “No, it is because… Don Anastasio says, that you have no friends. You need someone you can trust, not someone you can pay off.”

I wince. “That hurts me,” I respond sardonically. “Mostly because it is true.” I am a stranger even to myself. My country no longer knows me. I fear rejection from all corners; Maria Clara had already rejected me once. I sigh. “May I call you a friend, then?”

The teacher chuckles lightly. “It would be an honor, Don Crisostomo, even though I fear you will lead me to Bagumbayan. Your enthusiasm is contagious, sir. I wonder how it is that you can perceive the world with so much delight in the midst of its pains and unfairness? So much so that it makes us want to see the world the same way you do! I too wish to see this tomorrow you speak of so brightly.”

I grin widely. “Break through, good man, break through! It is not something we can realize without effort.”

To have friends, be a friend, that is how the saying goes. I remain somewhat of an introvert, being all this cheery and active is exhausting. But the truth of that saying is actually – to have a friend, be genuine. You could have supporters if you keep telling them only what they want to hear, but they will turn on you when you fail to live up to the idea of you they have in their head. To have a friend, all you have to do is to articulate it – to say it – and make it real.

Will you be my friend?

Actions don’t speak louder than words, in this instance. Humans need to know for sure before we can trust it. It is saddest to me that the world of politics and high society is full of doublespeak and claims of friendship that mean nothing.

We walk along the dirt road, beside the masses humble in their devotions. As we pass them I belt out the cant “Aaaave! Aaaaave! Aaaave Maaariiia! Saaalve! Saalve! Salve, Regina!” Hail Mary, Hail Mary! Save us, Our Queen!

The world is full of misery, we cry out for salvation and mercy. But if we can stay strong, and just endure through these two decades, it will be worth it.

The world is cruel! The world is amazing! There is greatness waiting for you! Humility is rewarded, charity shall bear fruit! You walk in darkness now, but the dawn comes, and even then there is truth remaining in the shadows. The dark is not something to fear. Those who dare step out into the unknown shall walk with the saints. Carry your faith into the next century, my people. It is a more powerful thing than you might think!

I hum:

Huwag kang mangamba, (Don’t be afraid)
Mangalig ka, (Keep your faith)
Darating din ang umaga- (Come soon will the morn)

I do not want to walk past this road, into the falseness of the world of the so-called the powerful. The greatest of monsters are those who shine brightest in the light. Save us, Oh Maria!

“Don Crisostomo!”

I turn to the shout, to see a young woman gaily waving her fan at me, only to be sharply shushed by her elderly aunt. It is Sinang, Maria Clara’s friend. I doff my hat and bow at her. I point off towards Capitan Tiago’s house. She nods back. Yes, Maria Clara waits.

“Cheerful girl!” I comment to Navidad as we pass the procession towards the next platform in front of the church. “Would that our women be symbolized more like her; unafraid to be seen as silly, opinionated, adaptable!”

“I thought you were enamored with Maria Clara?” the teacher responds.

“Maria Clara is my one and only! But as much as I want to protect her and hold her true, the sampaguita, the jasmine flower, comes in purple too. Pure and chaste white fits our values for our national flower, but a purple sampaguita is just more active. I want a daughter that is unafraid and will be able to fight men in their arena of the mind.”

Maria Clara’s grace, and my intellect, and pampered by her Aunt Sinang’s lack of shame; let us raise the perfect politician!

Wait. Is that not just Miriam Defensor-Santiago?

“So you have thought even so far, Señor Ibarra.” Navidad murmurs. “Always about the nation. Always thinking on a higher level…”

That is terrifying!


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Interlude: The Chosen 01

A fugitive always had to mind the feeling of being watched. Elias had such a preternatural sense of it that he could walk through the middle of town with no one the wiser. He did not rely on any disguises any more complicated than a workman’s salakot on his head.

He had a handsome face, with long hair and a light mustache, but easily it could transform from striking to slovenly. Gone was the arrogant stride of a pampered youth, now he walked with the tread of an old man weighed down by regrets. With a shift of a shoulder he could intimidate brigands into choosing better prey, or become so beaten down like one the peasant masses that might as well have been invisible.

Yet for the past two days he had the lingering feeling of being watched. From the moment of waking, to deciding to sleep; be it in town or sneaking through the jungle; his uneasiness inflamed itself. In the end he felt it was best to leave San Diego for some time.

However, a gentleman does not leave a lady to worry. A young lass waited for him every day in her little home by the lake. If he left without saying farewell to Salome. it would pain her with the fear if he has died, or worse, simply grown bored with her. It was well she was being called to live with her relatives in Mindoro, for being associated with him put her in danger.

He was known to the people of San Diego as ‘the pilot’, a quiet but skilled navigator driving a boat through the not-so-calm waters of Laguna de Bay and the twisty bends of the Pasig River with but a single oar. Laguna de Bay was not a very big lake, yet it was large enough that pirates would attack steamboats. Small boats transporting goods were rarely attacked, for lake bandits preferred coin and jewels to having to sell vegetables.

At the moment he beached his boat into a secluded cove in order to proceed to Salome’s house, a young boy with a strange stunted-looking dog crossed his path, stepping silently out of the tall grass. There was something eerie in that child’s little smile.

“Señor Elias, you are the chosen one!” said the child. “Come with me. There things you must know.”

-x-

Elias could have ignored the child as typical of their overdramatic antics, were it not for his next words. Words that now brought him into this fetid lonely little nook in the woods. Now Ibarra bid the boy to leave, but Elias had no confidence that the boy would not be a witness to anything that may transpire. However, that would not prevent him from doing what must be done.

“Interesting. So you are the man they call Elias.” Ibarra stood up and raised his lantern high. It exposed his broad face and narrow nose, features handsome yet average, were it not for the eerie intensity of his gaze glinting under the dark hollow of raised brows. With his black suit it was difficult to pick him out from the gloom, leaving him akin to a macabre floating head.

He said: “All this time I had assumed that the man Elias would be older and more capable than myself, but it seems you are actually a bit younger. This certainly makes your… relationship… with that lass Salome, who is sixteen years of age, fair less disquieting.”

Elias, by contrast, had powerful physique and handsome features scarcely hidden by his old worn camisa de chino. “One more threat, Señor Ibarra, just one more in her direction, and only one of us shall be leaving this forest alive!” Elias retorted.

Ibarra recoiled. “Peace, my good man, peace! I certainly did not mean it as a threat, I apologize.”

“Is it not, señor? When your messenger said that not even Mindoro would be beyond your reach, you must have known I had no choice but to come here. He said I must follow in order to save a life, how could I run from such coercion? I fear nothing from men, but to stoop this low is vile, and I will not forgive it.”

Elias grit his teeth. Ibarra certainly was cunning, to use this information against him. As a fugitive he was well used to being chased, and moving from place to place. He had no home, but his attachment Salome was as much a danger to her as it was a weakness. He was no man to run while someone who cares for him so much is left in danger by mere association. There were so many terrible things that could be done to a young unmarried girl caught alone.

His own twin sister’s fate was proof enough of that. He had come to San Diego in the first place of the news that she had been found, now but a lovely corpse with a dagger stuck in her breast, after a flood in the rice fields bordering the shore.

“Aaah. That.” Ibarra shook his head and sighed. He put down his lantern after moving closer and sitting upon the stone fence. “Basilio has much less sensibility compared to his brother, or perhaps just some naughtiness in him, to parrot my words so literally. No, it is not a threat, but a truth. That boy – you might not yet believe it, but you will come to appreciate what it means. He has a unique power to find anyone, anywhere, at any time. Run from him no matter how far in the world, with that dog by his side no one can hide.”

Ibarra then shrugged. “It has its limitations, of course, he has to know either the full name or the face of the person, but this is no fantasy. After we talk things over, I invite you to test his ability.”

Elias scowled. “And so this is a power that works for you? I am not sure if I believe it, but let that be as it may. What do you want, Señor Ibarra?” Tell me your demands, that Salome may be safe from you. Tell me your demands, that I may know if it is best for all to simply slay you right here, as we stand as equals.

“Why, the same as what you have been told. I begged you to come and meet me here in secret, in order that you might save a life. My life, of course.”

Naturally, he responded, “I make no such promises.”

Ibarra opened his arms and bowed. “You are too suspicious of me, and that is my fault. I apologize. Please, only hear me out.”

Elias, still scowling and ready to draw his bolo, approached and lightly leaned against a standing boulder. Between the two men stood, in silent vigil, a stone angel above a closed and vine-encrusted mausoleum.

“Before we begin, I must tell you a little about my family. Were you aware that my father had been arrested for slaying a Spanish official, then held for false charges of heresy and sedition? He was well loved in town, and his arrest and death led to the removal of the town’s previous parish priest. Padre Damaso, whom people claim you have manhandled along the road.”

Elias said nothing, for if it was Ibarra’s intent to force a confession it would take more than that. The young man continued “Do you believe in justice? Is it even possible for justice to be granted, if not perfectly, then at least evenly? How can there be justice for both the poor and the powerless?

I ask you this, because what happened to my father is not justice – he died alone in his cell, and yet also not justice in the sense that he committed murder and would have not have been prosecuted at all for his role in the death of a man in saving a child (though if it had been just that, in a court of Britain or America perhaps he would have been acquitted or given a light sentence since it was accidental) but not so as long has he drawn the ire of the powerful and the greedy, ready to lay false charges. The charge of heresy alone dooms a man who fails to attend church, or the inability to produce a cedula for one who must still work. An arrest can always be made for anyone who draws the ire of the powerful.”

Ibarra clacked his tongue. “No, I ask you this, because our justice system in this land simply does not function. The rot is deep. The pus cannot be drained, the limb cannot be amputated, we must rewrite the laws and the culture of laws entirely.”

“Unlike your father, you do speak of sedition,” Elias replied carefully. For Ibarra was one of the powerful, and thus his words cannot be trusted as the truth. Honor was a thing many claimed, but little possessed by those who most professed it. “But in answer to your question, no, I do not believe that there can be man’s justice. I believe in only God’s justice.”

Ibarra raised both hands. “But then how do you get God’s justice? Is it enough to wait and hope that in time God will account for all in all balance? In olden times they had trial of ordeals, in which a defendant is subject to an unpleasant or dangerous experience. Trial by combat, trial by fire, trial by water, by cross, by poison, by boiling oil!

If they survived, or if their injuries healed, it was considered a sign of innocence. But is this reliance on miracles truly a way to find justice? Or will it not advantage the fit, the healthy, the swift, the lucky? Is the hand of god to be seen the same in the gambler’s dice as it is on the court of fire? Must we therefore believe in accidents?”

“Believing in accidents is like believing in miracles; both presuppose that that God does not know the future. What is an accident? An event that no one has at all foreseen. What is a miracle? A contradiction, an overturning of natural laws. Lack of foresight and contradiction in the Intelligence that rules the machinery of the world indicate two great defects.

But you misunderstand what I mean, for I too know what is written, that Jesus said ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God’’!”

“There is a place in the desert called Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, because they tested the LORD, saying, ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?’” Ibarra added.

“You also know your scripture well, sir. The scripture is not a shield to hide behind nor a sword to use against your enemies. When a priest condemns a man to death, he is no better. I say only this: when a man condemns others to death or destroys their future forever he does it with impunity and uses the strength of others to execute his judgments, which after all may be mistaken or erroneous.

I say to you: let God be the sole judge among men, let Him be the only one to have the right over life, let no man ever think to take His place!”

Ibarra stood up and opened his palm towards Elias. He moved it in a circle as if wiping a window. “If this is about the death penalty, then we both agree. Let me ask you something then, in theory.

Let us say that a man encounters a priest on the road. Why would such a man choose to strike down a priest, and yet in his anger choose not to kill said priest? If such a man of God is a hypocrite and liar, then why not just kill him and prevent him from causing more harm to others? Is it because such a man has decided that to kill with his hands, in a situation of unequal power, is to exert his own judgement above God?”

Elias raised his left hand to his face and clenched his fist. “A man might strike down a priest to see if one who speaks for God has truly the right to claim the life of another, may God strike down such a man for his impunity! Let even a priest be exposed to the same peril he prepares for others, may God smite them both down!”

“… and nothing happened.”

“A man like that regrets having done such a thing. It proved nothing but his the strength of his own fists, there was no justice there.”

“Considering how many priests and missionaries are killed and perhaps eaten by savages, and many saints die of painful martyrdom, it should be clear enough that God exerts no special protection for his clergy. The ones who display the least virtue are the ones that are the safest, one might even say. ”

“Humiliation may strike deeper than physical injury, for it cannot be spun as a sacrifice. It is the only thing that can touch him now.” Elias retorted, though it was clear in his tone he recognized he was searching for anything positive from the pitiful ordeal. Perhaps he grated against his principles in the end. The worst that could ever happen to a priest for his misdeeds is to be transferred to another parish, where no one might know he was a rapist. “I have to believe greatly in God, because I have lost faith in men. Many times have I felt his touch upon me, many times that I have found myself living where I should have died.”

Ibarra could see that this was a man whose experiences led him to refuse to recognize the right of man to judge his fellows, protested the use of force, and the superiority of some classes over the others.

“Elias, I know I have given you little cause to trust me, and we are hardly so close as to be friends, but would you be willing to tell me your story? What shaped you to be like this, and what can I do to prevent my boys from becoming bitter as you? I do not mean any insult by this-“

“And I take none from it, let the innocence of children be preserved for as long as possible.”

“I will tell you this, then – I have some knowledge of you, but that is not to know you. You are chosen, Elias, there is more to you than to be fugitive leading a band of tulisan-rebels. We must work together for the good of our nation, I shall lend my power to yours if you will yours to mine.

But first we must be able to trust. So let us talk.”

“I have not forgotten your implied threat against an innocent to draw me out, Señor Ibarra. Why should I trust you other than because you ask it? You have been in collusion with the creators of injustice in town.”

“Then allow me to rephrase that: if Mindoro is not too far from my reach, then even in Mindoro you and I will be able to protect her. Do not feel that to feel attachments is a liability, for it is that which makes life worth living! As for why I court the favor of the powerful – why not? If they are willing to allow the fox to guard the henhouse, then so much the better.”

“Where even do you find this confidence, Señor Ibarra? You speak grandly, and yet all I can see is that you will be crushed. Might you simply be naïve, and full of delusion in your own potency, as I was?”

“Perhaps. Tell me then, what makes you think that?”

Elias sighed. “If it will make you less bothersome, then I shall speak of some of it –“

-x-

Once upon a time in Manila, there lived a young man with a good life. He had a beautiful pregnant wife and a very young son and was employed as a bookkeeper for a Spanish commercial firm. One night for some reason the warehouse burned down, and the fire spread to the home of his employer and them to many other buildings. With such great loss, a scapegoat was sought, and the merchant accused him of being an arsonist.

Though he protested his innocence, he did not have the money to pay the great lawyers and was swiftly deemed guilty. In those times, not more than sixty years ago, they still used the punished called ‘caballo y vaca’ – horse and cow – in which the condemned is tied to a horse, followed by an unfeeling crowed, to be flogged publicly on every street corner under sight of men, his brothers, and the temples of god. Thus forever disgraced, and the vengeance of man sated by his blood, he must be taken off the horse limp as if dead, his soul exhausted by his cries.

How much better if he had died, and gone to God’s grace! But it is the refinements of cruelty that he was given his liberty. His wife begged from door to door for work, for alms, or aid for her sick husband and her poor son, but who would trust the wife of a criminal? All good people drove her from her sight. The wife, then, had no other resort but to become a prostitute!

-x-

“No, Señor, do not feel outraged for her sake; for them the disgraced and long head honor and shame no longer existed!” Elias exclaimed at the dark look of rage on Ibarra’s face. “Can you say things now are any better, now that such punishments are outlawed for the more civilized slavery of prisoners? Who truly suffers?”

“I fear to say that had your grandfather been a man of less honor, it would have affected him less. A habitual criminal would rejoice the pain of an afternoon rather than years taken from his life, to the better profit of his taskmasters.” Ibarra shook his head sadly. “It is not justice, and the object of criminal justice should be reform rather than revenge. But where public shaming and torture is the rule of the land, in deterrence, this also drives the townsfolk towards cruelty and treatment of the criminal as less than human. Which is better – out of sight, out of mind, cruelty applied by the government; or in-their-face, in shorter duration, to teach the young that violence is a fine measure? I would have to say, the former – for that we may yet reform.”

“Your words may be more exact than you know. I shall continue-“

-x-

In time the husband recovered from his wounds, and with his wife and child fled to hide in the mountains of this province. Here they lived several miserable months, hated and shunned by all. The woman gave birth to a sickly child, who fortunately died.

In time again she was pregnant, and fell ill in the advanced stages of her pregnancy. Unable to bear that misery, and less courageous than his wife, my grandfather hung himself. His corpse rotted in the sight of his young son, who was scarcely able to care for his mother. The stench drew the attention of the neighbors, and they accused the prostitute of being the cause of his death. Her swears of innocence could only be seen as perjury, her please to God a blasphemy, for a prostitute was capable of anything.

Yet in those times they had cruel pity of a sort. They waited for the birth of another child before they flogged her. Thus condemned, she could only curse the day of her child’s birth, which unfortunately was a healthy young boy. Two months later the sentence was executed much to the pleasure of the authorities and guardians of morality. Afterwards she then fled into the next province with her two sons, and there they lived, hating and being hated.

The elder of the two boys, remembering the misery of his childhood and yet the happiness of his infancy, became a tulisan as soon as he had strength enough in his arms. He took from the world with blood and fire the fitting revenge for how much they had taken from him. This bloody name of Balat spread from province to province, inspiring terror in the people.

-x-

“I know this name,” said Ibarra “for he had sacked the town of San Diego also in my grandfather’s time.”

“Do you care to guess from whom of the two brothers I spring?”

“I do not believe that sin is carried through the line by blood, so if you are the son of Balat it will not change my opinion. Indeed, it is the most Christian of notions to seek redemption. But in honesty, given your age, I think that it is the younger who is your sire, and that this story does not end in anything but violence.”

“Indeed, for in time Balat fell into clutches of the authorities, and they exacted from him a most agonizing sentence for all that he had wrought. More than that however, they laid further torments on the woman for having done nothing to raise him properly, perhaps in mind to terrify other mothers to mind their responsibility.”

-x-

One morning the youngest brother returned to find his mother stretched out on the ground, her hands digging into the earth, her eyes fixed and staring. He looked up to see hanging from a branch a basket, and in it the gory head of his brother.

Balat, they had torn apart, and his limbs hung in different towns. But the head, the best and most recognizable part of the person, they hung up in front of his mother’s hut!

The boy, finding nothing but death wherever he looked, fled as if accused and accursed.

From town to town and mountain and valley, he ran until he reached a place where he felt he was not known. There, in the province of Tayabas he hired himself out as a laborer in the house of a rich man. With thrift and labor and the gentleness of his spirit he acquired for himself the goodwill of those who knew naught of his past and some small capital besides.

In that town he also found the love of a young woman, but he dared not ask for her hand in marriage lest his past become known. But their love was stronger than their sense. To save her honor, he had to ask, but as he had feared his records were sought and his past came to light. The girl’s father was rich and had him imprisoned.

The woman gave birth to twins, but died soon after. They were raised in loving ignorance of their genealogy. They were sent to study in good schools – the boy in the Jesuit College, and the girl at Concordia. After their grandfather died, they inherited all his lands and servants, and their fields produced abundant harvests, and fortune smiled upon them. The girl was engaged to be married to a young man whose adoration she returned.

But the boy… ah, the boy was haughty in disposition, and in a dispute over money had incurred the enmity of a distant relative. One day said relative cast in his face doubt over his birth and the rotten nature of his descent. He…

-x-

“No, let me be plain from here on. I thought it was a slander, and demanded satisfaction. I challenged the relative to a duel, but being mocked further for my pretensions I brought the issue to court. And there, that putrid tomb of secrets and misery was opened once again, much to my dismay.

Furthermore, in our household was an old servant whom I had much abused, who always endured our whims and the jeers of the other servants – how that relative had known about it, but he had that old man summoned to court, and there he confessed, that he was but a man clinging in silence to his beloved children – our long-suffering father!”

Elias looked up at the night sky, brilliant and crystal-clear with the moon hanging low, and the constellation of Orion the Hunter suspended directly above them. He sighed.

“And so, out of my hubris, out of my youthful arrogance, our happiness faded away. We gave up our fortunes, my sister lost her betrothed, and with our father we had to flee and find refuge elsewhere. That he had contributed to our misfortunes weighed heavily on the old man’s days, but not before hearing from his lips the full sorrowful truth of our past.”

Elias slumped, but kept his hand on the hilt of his bolo. He spoke some more of the circumstances why he had first come to San Diego. Her despondency for her love abandoning her to marry another, her disappearance and her death, for which he could also do nothing.

The truth was out, he acted as he did now out of remose and bitterness. He was a man of both the principalia and the people, and he had taken for granted the graces and supposed moral superiority afforded by the wealthy. He was now utterly alone, with nothing to lose. His friends were bandits, who took to the hills to revenge themselves against those who used the law to punish the innocent in order to hide their own misdeeds.

“Since then I have wandered from province to province, and my reputation and history in the mouths of many. They attribute to my name many deeds, some to excuse their own.

Some… some deeds, I do not regret them, because I have seen that there is so much more misery, and that it cannot stand. There are more like me, awakened to the falsehood of what we call our social order. The sleep has lasted for hundred years, but now the passions of the people are stirring. What has begun in the sphere of ideas shall descend into the area, where they shall be dyed red and made true by blood.”

Ibarra nodded.

“We agree on this much. But violence alone is no solution; for if you had read of the terror of the French Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon; and the revolt in Mexico, and its own self-proclaimed Emperor, and the subsequent disastrous rule of the military, and even Spain’s own pains with their Liberals and their Glorious Republic – those who seek vengeance must dig graves for themselves. The revolution has a tendency to devour itself.

It is not enough to tear down the old order, but it is an even greater struggle to build a new one with justice and mercy for all.”

“Then allow the people to try. I have spoken to you of my past. Now speak to me plainly, sir, what is your intent?”

“Before you can judge what I wish for you to accomplish with me, I beg you to listen, as I tell you of my own family’s terrible secret.”

Elias grudgingly nodded.

And so Ibarra told him of his own great-grandfather, of Don Pedro Ebarramendia’s dark arrival and mysterious death, and pointed out the swinging rope where he had hung himself. He did not know for what reason the old man would choose the way of suicide, but what sins he bore must have weighed upon him at last. He was the one that had accused Elias’ grandfather of being an arsonist, the one to start this whole tragic tale; and yet, it was something that happened too often in these isles that it was difficult to believe it was regret for his false accusation that drove him to his doom.

Elias’ grandfather and Don Saturnino Ibarra must have been roughly the same age, but likely never to have met each other.

Crisostomo Ibarra put down the lantern and opened his arms. “And so my own grandather came to this town in search of his father, and buried him over there, and as he chose to settle here the name Ebarramendia became Ibarra. In this little copse it must still feel such paltry recompense for what your family has suffered.”

Elias gasped. “You… you dare? Do you make light of my family’s woes, señor?! Choose your words carefully if you want to live!”

“My own sources have been so far trustworthy in such matters, so I can say this – your family’s fall was started by one of our own. For this I can only beg for forgiveness. Though I believe each man must be responsible for his own choices – that like your own father there was a choice to do good or to become evil – we cannot move on unless we settle this debt of blood.”

He laughed! “Rejoice! In this little corner of the woods your journey for answers has ended. A new one awaits! Listen to the call of the blood in your veins, Elias! If it calls for vengeance, I will not stop you.” Ibarra stepped forward. “Do with me as you will.”

Elias raised his hand –

And punched Ibarra in the face.

“Oww raght inda schnoz!” he gurgled out. Crisostomo Ibarra bent over clutching his face.

The young man staggered back, for where he had spent most of his time studying and moving around Europe, Elias honed his body and spirit with honest labor and purposeful violence. The blow nearly blinded him.

“No. Whatever folly you have in mind, Señor Ibarra, I will have nothing of it. I am done with you. You have asked me to save your life, and so I have done so.” Elias grit his teeth and restrained the urge to lunge forward, and to throw the other man into the ground and grind his arrogant little face into the dirt. “Stay away from Salome, and do not seek to find me. For if ever we meet again, you shall surely regret it.

This is the one mercy I can give you. I was mistaken to hope one such as you, having seen the world, might feel sympathy about our plight and our people ready to change! What self-serving plans you have, I shall have no part in furthering your amusements!”

Elias turned around to leave the clearing.

Hollow laughter followed after him. “Ah, Elias. Good man, Elias. If this is what you have chosen, then I respect it. I respect your strength of will, and your sense of justice.

But the hand of the Lord is upon you. One more time, you are chosen. All your life you have run from the pain of your past, but now it is the future that will not allow you to escape!”

-x-

With unparalleled dignity and self-control, Elias strode away deep into the woods. He gave no more mind to Ibarra’s insane blathering. Carefully he trod through the undergrowth, alert to the sounds if he was being followed. He doused the light of his lantern, trusting in his practiced memory of jungle navigation to lead him past whatever trap Ibarra had prepared.

And he walked back out into the clearing.

-x-

Elias looked around bewildered and now drew his bolo. He was certain he had walked in a straight line. Yet there, directly in front of him, never having moved from his comfortable perch under that benighted balete tree, was Juan Crisostomo Ibarra!

Elias shouted, “What deviltry is this?!”

“No devils, sirrah. Angels!” replied Ibarra. In the dark only the white of his eyes and the blood-speckled red of his teeth showed in a Cheshire grin. “I told you, you are the chosen one. Fate is what we make of it, but this is one you will not escape. Angels shall follow your tread no matter how far you might run, and again and again they shall offer you their sword!

The nation needs you, Elias! Eliazar Domingo Morales y Baga! Your name means ‘God Has Helped!’”

And Crisostomo meant ‘Mouth of Gold’, but this Ibarra did not care to mention.

“Help me, Elias,” said Ibarra. “For indeed, you are this nation’s only hope. The Revolution cannot succeed without you.”

Elias’ blade flashed in the moonlight.

That shadowy glade was filled with nothing but deranged laughter.

Suddenly silenced.

-x-
Crisostomo Ibarra lay bonelessly upon a chair in his study, a room which also doubled as a chemical laboratory. It was lit harshly by the electric lamp, and from their shadows tall mocking specters danced on the walls. He sat backwards on that chair, resting his chin on the seat’s fluted backrest.
“Guu dif not haf to hit mu nosh agen!” he prosted while pressing a cloth over his much abused nose.
“Ah,” Elias replied gravely. “But I wanted to. I did not feel like killing you just yet.”
“Fehr enuf.”
“You have not exactly said what is it you really want from me.”
“Ang on, lemme gef a fing.” Ibarra reached over to a bookshelf and picked out a book. He tossed it over to Elias.
The fugitive glanced down at the heavily-bound leather book, with its gothic copperplate lettering, and replied “I recognize the letters, but I cannot read this.”
Ibarra took the cloth away from his face and spoke, in a voice unnaturally clear:  “In the name of God, the Father Almighty, and Jesus Christ His Son, Our Lord; by the hand of the Angels, by the sword of Uriel, and the Virtues through which miracles are worked upon the world- Uziel, Gabriel, Michael, Peliel and Babiel – and also Goghiel, the Keeper of Human Knowledge – I compel you!
I levy upon you the burden of understanding, and the duty to fight evil in all its forms. I bid you to hear all the voices of mankind, and never to fail to understand the intent behind all their works.
Now look down, and read again.”
Elias looked down at the book, and understood that it was  the
in the original German.
His eyes widened with the sudden realization. He could understand German now, despite never having studied it!
At his wide-eyed look, Ibarra commented “<I commend you to listen and speak in tongues, and see the truth of the world>” in unaccented Hokkien Chinese dialect. Elias understood the words perfectly well.
“… no. This… this is a trick of some sort!”
“I told you. I am not a prophet. I have been Chosen, and now so are you. An Angel stand by your side, by its sword you are charged to defend the weak and fight to protect what is right.”
Elias took several deep breaths and clenched his fists. He had expected Ibarra to ask him to lead a revolt or to fund raids upon his enemies using conveniently deniable ‘bandits’. Or to seek out charities. Not this. Not something so great in such a brightly-lit room of science. What holiness in such a place?!
But do you believe in God or not, Elias?! his mind screamed at himself. A miracle was right in front of him.  If he could deny this as much as he derided the priests for claiming to speak for God without proof of their words, then when proof is offered by someone who says he has the might of Angels behind him, what sort of man would think it from the Devil? Then one might as well trust nothing good, let all the world be the Devil’s work!
He grit his teeth and exhaled, and looked up.
Ibarra smiled. “I have said this to you before, I am not a prophet. When I say to you, there shall be a war like the world has never seen, with such fury and fire and shot that it shall shake the world, it is no revelation. The power of man and his tool science waxes, but the kingdoms of man are as greedy as ever, and war; war never changes. It is an inevitability!
Work with me, Elias, and this nation shall be a beacon for the lost and the suffering! And no one shall see it coming!”
Elias raised his fists. That ‘miracle’ was still so very much such the punchable face.

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4.1 Finding Elias

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The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car… a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little.
– Ben Sweetland

What is the sound of progress?

It is not a roar, nor a march, nor the bang-clank of metal on metal. It is a heartfelt sigh, a warm caress – it is the sound of steam. To be more precise, a somewhat *whiss-click* sound.

Within the square space in the middle of my stone home, is now emplaced a small Corliss steam engine. It is only about as long as an adult man is tall, its cylinder is oriented horizontally rather than vertically. Its flywheel spins hypnotically, as the piston moves back and forth with only a gentle hiss. Those two spinning balls of the centrifugal governor dance almost joyfully.

I must say, I am greatly surprised by how quiet this is. I have seen steam engines before, in my studies here and in Europe, but large ones meant to drive mills, and somehow the idea of a personal scale steam engine had escaped me. It is so quiet, so very quiet that I may allow it to run all night and still manage to sleep comfortably. It is also incredibly clean, the fires used to heat the water in the boiler less noxious than the exhaust fumes from a carburetor.

The boiler for the engine is a simple copper casket nearby. The amusing thing about this is that since we are burning things to heat up the water anyway, we have decided to use the ambient heat for other things. Someone has placed strips of squid to dry on a rack on top of the boiler.

I could understand why steam failed for mass transport such as cars, since rather than keep oil and water for motive power, just burn gasoline in one go. Even if we equalize thermal efficiency, less weight to carry means a smaller, more agile automobile.

Yet I must ask, people of the future, why did you stop using steam engines for home power? True, a gasoline or diesel generator is much more compact, but this steam engine of mine… behold its stately elegance! It is multi-fuel; coal, charcoal, eventually someone is going to figure out liquefied petroleum gas. It matters not how the fires are fed, only that it is lit. You will not have that annoying *chug-chug-chug* clatter that accompanies even the smallest ‘silent-type’ generator. A steam engine’s operating cycle is much gentler, which means longer span before it breaks down. I know that there remain working steam engines a century old in your time. Steam continues to drive your civilization, for what else do you burn coal and oil and harness the heat of the atom but to drive steam turbines?

Perhaps your children would remain more interested in engineering, in remaining in their country to fix it, if they continued to see such examples of genteel potency instead of rude efficiency? That world I glimpsed moves lightning-fast, a society that considers its appliances as more akin to magic boxes, if it is broken or outdated; throw it out, replace it! Steam exemplifies living for the long haul. Respect where you came from, lest you lose sight of why you strive so!

Ah, well. I do recognize that this a technology that works better the larger it is. The age of the internal combustion engine is a well-deserved supremacy. Ironic that battery-powered cars have actually been invented first in this era, which Ford and Edison even attempted to make mass-producible, but it is you who get to enjoy it. Ah, I criticize you because I envy you.

The flywheel spins, connected to a dynamo, producing approximately 40 volts in DC power, stepped down to 13 volts for my batteries and the pump for the nearby ice maker. I am producing one and half kilowatts of power, much more than I require.

The servants are still discomfited by the couple of electric lamps I have installed. Carbon-filament bulbs, for though Edison knew that eventually tungsten would be a better material, the technology for making such fine wires would only be breached by the Hungarian company Tungsram in 1904. In this era almost everyone is off to sleep by eight o’clock. With such unnaturally bright lights, a person might continue to write letters or extend leisure time well into midnight, as is normal in the world a hundred years from now. How much you take for granted this boon to productivity! These little dregs of power are less than a fraction of a fraction as that energy you expect to be available as your right, but in these times the greater energy will be found in blood and soil!

They might call me mad. Mad with power? No! Mad from lack of power!

But no more!

Aha.

Ahaha.

MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

“Wahahahaha.”

Wait. That… does not sound right.

I lower my hands and turn to see Basilio standing beside me. His arms are on his hips, his head thrown back in triumphant laughter. He stops to return my quizzical gaze.

“… why are you laughing?” I ask.

“You looked like you were having such fun, señor. I just wanted to try it out.”

Hmm. Yes. Basilio is another that continues to surprise me. He retains the sort of earnestness and strong sense of ethics that would aid his studies, but also acquired a strange form of serene acceptance for whatever comes his way. If we are to talk about sensibility, Crispin is a much more sensible child. He is fearful, he is hesitant, he is somewhat greedy, but these are all normal feelings.

I have no idea why Basilio has become so fearless and impudent. Any other boss might be irked by this, but he knows I mind it not. Even so it is not sensible to feel so secure given our disparity in age and social class. The Philippines is less of a racist society than a classist one.

Without future tragedies to shape his character, I wonder of his strength in the days to come. He would not meet now the kindly Tandang Selo, who should have nursed him back to health after being injured fleeing from the Guardia Civil for being accused of stealing. His disappearance would have led Sisa to think both her sons were dead and drive her mad; the next time mother and son would meet would be for her to die in his arms.

While that is something that is well avoided, now he would not also so naturally meet Juli, this Juliana de Dios, Old Man Selo’s grand-daughter and his future sweetheart.

“Don Crisostomo, you are doing that thing again.”

“What thing?”

“The one where you think you are using the inside voice but doing the outside voice instead.”

What? Oh. Well. “… how long have you been listening?”

“Since ‘they call me mad, mad with power? No, mad from lack of power!’, Don Crisostomo.”

Well, shite. You are too dangerous to my sense of normalcy, Basilio. Get out.

The boy takes a deep breath. “No.”

After a short while, he adds “If not meeting Juli means not acting like you when in Maria Clara’s presence, it is fine for me not to meet a girl so soon.” He clacks his tongue. “Not very soon at all, I hope not to act so silly at any point.”

“Hah, you say that now, child, but soon enough you will find yourself looking back on these words and laughing at your own naiveté.”

“I will not,” he replies firmly.

I continue to smirk down at him. “Then yours will be a sadder future.”

“My mother and my brother… they are alive today. Two good lives in exchange for a useless one, that is a good trade. Thank you, Don Crisostomo. You have already given us a better future, that is why I do not fear your intentions.”

My smile turns upside-down. “You do know that I had nothing at all, none whatsoever, to do with that, yes?”

“I do not believe you,” is Basilio’s even-tempered reply.

Tch. “Fine.” I reach into my vest to take out my pocket watch. “You are back early, Basilio. Have you already fulfilled your mission?”

“Yes, señor. I have found him. As you said, as long as I have Doggol with me, I can find anyone. Anywhere. None shall escape.”

“You are only lucky that Elias is a good man, he would hardly harm a child.”

Basilio only shrugs.

And who is this Elias, you might ask, and why is it important to find him? In the novel that Dr. Jose Rizal wrote about my life, the man named Elias was my direct opposite: where I stood in trust of the regime, he saw only things to burn; as I rely on my riches, he walks homeless and in humility; where I trust in education to advance the hope of the nation, its children, he applies strength against the  sinful and abusive.

And when, as Rizal had made prophecy of my life, I have forsaken all hope for the future and advocate only bloody revolution, it is Elias who would die in my place, mistakenly shot dead by the Guardia Civil as I would flee by swimming across the lake. A much worthier a man than I would become, jaded and vengeful in the passing of years; the jeweler Simoun, the agitator, the flatterer, the terrorist bomber.

Complementary opposites. As Moses needed Aaron, Holmes and Watson, as Superman and Batman exist in counterpoint,  and as Paul McCarthy and John Lennon show that the cultural myth of the lone genius doesn’t stand up to the power duo, so did I need someone who can stand on my level yet with a dissimilar skill set to accomplish that which I could not; so that we would not need to take more drastic and more merciless actions.

In some ways I asked this silently of Maria Clara too, to have the gentleness and common sense I cannot spare.

Basilio was still much too young to serve as my spymaster and army chief of staff.

Basilio smiles wryly. “It is better than your first plan, señor. It is a good thing you asked Crispin, who then told teacher Navidad to talk you out of the foolish peril of your ploy.”

I wince. There was no guarantee that Elias would still be the boatman if we went on that boat excursion on the lake, and Maria Clara has decided to postpone that to after the fiesta anyway.

I did know that he was sweet on a girl in San Diego, a young lady named Salome who lives alone in a house at the banks of the lake.

My plan was to wait there. Alone. At night. At her house. For him to show up. You know, for confidentiality’s sake.

Navidad’s reaction was to say “With all respect, Don Crisostomo, do you want to DIE?!”

If not Elias (literally), then Maria Clara (figuratively) would kill me for creeping about in the vicinity of an unattended young lass late at night. Crispin very sensibly suggested that if all I wanted was to talk with Elias, then let him approach me instead. A Don should not be off running after people, it was improper (servants exist and are paid well for that, as his own recent experience showed).

“Has he agreed to meet me deep in the forest where my great-grandfather’s grave lies?”

“… yes.”

-x-

I can feel enough of you as if saying ‘You should not be relying so much on children to point out your stupidity’. There is also a saying ‘mind of a genius, sensibility of a child!’ Those who maintain their sense of wonder shall find serendipity.Also, because of situations like this:

“Excuse me, what? You are asking me if I would like to buy your niece’s… children?”

Sendong, the caretaker of my father’s lands, nodded and explained. If I wanted more children to run around and serve, then it would be kind of me to bring those children into this home. They would work hard, he would make sure of it! It would not even cost me much, they will obey any order, he would rather they die than shame the family as useless mouths to feed.

Having many children is the only investment the poorest can make.

“I see. That… is certainly a thing.” I had forgotten that it was still a custom of these times for the poor to sometimes sell their children to their wealthier relatives or patrons for a sum. The children would then work as servants in their homes for a span of years. Technically indentured servitude, but even slaves had better protections. Remember, Crispin and Basilio are seven and ten, and are expected to work. If you do not work, you are not fed; if you cry, you are beaten.

For the Bible sayeth: Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Also: Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

As much as having spoiled and entitled brats given all they ever wanted in life like little lordlings is a problem, I am askance at the idea that parents in this time period believe that they totally own their children, that children have no rights and protections of their own.

Unfortunately my first thought, which I barely manage to suppress from being spoken out loud, is ‘So, are there any orphans we could use?’

And my next thought: ‘With enough orphans, and Japanese contract workers from Davao, could we make a village of ninja in the mountains somewhere? Starting early is the best way to build loyalty.’

I am sitting behind my desk with my hands laced into a bridge under my noise. I stare intently, yet emptily at the old man. My mind races with the simulation –

‘Basilio, bring your brother.’ He must serve the vital function of Number 12 in the Evil Overlord List.

Then Crispin would sensibly ask ‘What is a ninja?’

After explaining, with awestruck eyes, he would say ‘Let’s do that then!’

And Basilio would just go ‘Eh.’

The old man is fidgeting in place. “Don Crisostomo, if this displeases you, I apologize, I apologize a hundred times!”

Mmm. Yet there is also a net positive here, because children who grow up in other people’s homes, even if they are considered menial servants, eventually become a part of that family’s patronage system. In this century, rich people considered themselves well off by how many people they supported. The peasantry feel safer when they are under the command of a powerful family. It is all so terribly feudal, and yet I know it will survive in some form into the next century.

Such as it is, there is power in a web of obligations. You help the ones who provide for you, and in return they help you in your times of trouble. In theory. Well, at least I would be able to provide proper nutrition, decent clothes, and schooling. In a single generation, families could rise from poverty.

Perhaps as a convenient happenstance, the foundation for a covert intelligence apparatus.

But on the other hand, do I really want to encourage such a backwards system?

[Googol] is being astoundingly unhelpful on the question of whether or not to buy children.

In the last month in the year of 1887, is the portrait of a young man as a mad scientist.

A mad social scientist.

Elias, get your ass over here. I need to fill out my brain trust!

-x-

It is now the mid-afternoon. Juliano Navidad is here, and we are performing one final rehearsal for tomorrow’s presentation. Old Tasio is here as well, because it his house is the only place where we may discuss things in relative security. The old autodidact rubbed at his grizzled chin as inspected at the strange assembly of lights, lenses and wires. Steam, he was familiar with that technology, but this had no moving parts.

“Electricity is such an interesting phenomenon,” he muses. He points to a tubular device leading to a box, another assembly of magnets and wires powered by its own battery bank. “And this other contraption, you say, is a voice amplifier?”

“If tele– or ‘at a distance’ and phone– ‘voice or sound’ means to speak at a distance, while I very much want to call this the macrophone or to ‘to speak with excessiveness’, unfortunately it has already been dubbed the microphone. The concept was first put into use by the German physicist Johann Philipp Reis, but it was David Edward Hughes in 1878 who invented a much more practical and refined version. He also coined the term ‘microphone’, saying that it acted as much as the microscope does for light as it magnifies minute sounds.”

He chuckles. “And such a petty thing as unclear terminology annoys you…?”

“Words are the only magic we humans can use. It is how we define the world, how we define ourselves. This is the memory of our species.”

“And this thing, where the sound comes out – what would you call this?”

“That is the loudspeaker.”

The old man shakes his head sadly. “Forgive me if I do not have much confidence in your naming sense.”

“Don Crisostomo-“

I turn around to see Navidad sitting with his face in his palms. He gives me a dark look through his fingers.

“Are you not nervous at all about tomorrow? About anything?! I realize it may be too late to say this, but your prediction did come true. The Governor-General has indeed arrived. Tomorrow, though I will be standing behind them, it is too great an occasion for one such as me. What if I make a mistake while switching plates? I would ruin your speech! I am but a humble schoolteacher, it is not my place to stand with such luminaries.”

“If you do not do it, Basilio will need to take over. His young fingers at the end of stubbier arms will not decrease the chances of fumbling.”

“I would just like to remind you one last time that I am supposed to be working for the government, not you.”

“Ehh, soon enough that will make no difference.”

“Don Crisostomo, I would like to remind you one more time to please do not make such comments in public.”

“In that case, perhaps I had best find an Aaron to my Moses.” I raise my finger and point to the outside. “To answer your question, teacher, I am not worried about tomorrow because to speak to the rich and powerful is trivial. Greed and self-importance create worlds onto themselves. This is not an evil thing, this is merely… marketing.”

“You certainly do live in a separate world from the rest of us…” he mutters in return.

“Should something happen to me, YOU will make this million-peso speech! It is not for idle reason I had you memorize it along with the timings.”

“Please, no!” The teacher cringes and crosses his arms over his face. I am not a vampire, that will not work on me.

I turn away from this silly sight and ask “Tell me, Don Anastasio, has Padre Damaso returned to San Diego?”

“He has.”

“Did something happen to him along the way?”

The old man purses his lips and scowls at me. “Rumor about town has that Padre Damaso was struck down on the way to San Diego. Even now he is confined to his bed. They speak of it as the work of that infamous outlaw, Elias.”

“Elias? That fellow! Is he not the one who threw the Alferez into a mudhole?” Navidad exclaimed.

“That sounds interesting. I would hear more of this story.”

“They say it was a very rainy day in September, and the Alferez met on a narrow muddy path a man carrying a heavy bundle of firewood on his back. There being only enough space in the road for one person, the Alferez ordered the man to make way. Yet, the man seemed to have little regard for going back nor to be swallowed by the mud by the roadside, on account of the heavy load on his back, and so he continued moving forward.

As he approached, the Alferez, incensed, tried to slash at him with his sword. But the man snatched a piece of firewood off his back and struck his pony on the head with such force that the poor beast fell, throwing away his rider on the mud. They also say that the man went on his way with tranquility, without taking notice of the five bullets sent at his back by the Alferez, there who was blinded by mud and rage. The Alferez had no knowledge of this man, but he supposed it was that famous Elias who came to the province several months ago. The Guardia Civil know him in several towns for much the same actions.”

“Is he a bandit, then?”

“It is not certain, for he is also said to have fought off several tulisanes while they were robbing a house, and did not stay to be rewarded.”

“Hmm. How brave of this Elias, how capable! And yet how slovenly.”

“In what way do you think this was shoddily done?” Old Tasio asks with a strange lilt to his voice.

“Well, for someone to attack such august personages of town, it seems like someone carries a grudge. Yet to deal someone a medium injury seems a bit… pointless. Their hearts shall surely seek revenge. I would prefer to do someone a minor injury that can be redressed, or something so severe it would be impossible to recover from.

“Hence the mystery here, if it is indeed the man Elias who had gone and battered around two or more Español, why did not just kill them? It makes no difference, they will seek his death for such an insult anyway.”

“Perhaps he is a man who knows mercy,” Don Anastasio enunciates carefully.

“Then I shall hope he shows me a little more mercy than that, when we speak this night.”

“Don Crisostomo, no!” Navidad wails.

“Don Crisostomo, yes!”

-x-

It is now the deep of night.

It is not midnight, however, no matter how thematically appropriate that may be. It is merely a time when most are already asleep, and those intent with pleasant skullduggery can move with ease in the shadows. It is about nine o’clock. A fugitive such a Elias would not own a timepiece, and once the sun has set time seems to fly on by.

It is peaceful here, literally the peace of a grave, and unlike the poor graveyard of my town it is remains sanctified in its seclusion. I sit under drooping boughs of this cursed Balete tree, whose twisting and misshapen trunk and drooping vines seem like it could just swallow me up, if I blink the warped forms will come alive – exposing their true nature as unholy and hungry tentacular flesh beneath a hardened crust. The too-imaginative mind needs not the terrors of the dark, for it is always darkest in the unfathomable space behind one’s eyes.

Simply speaking, I am not a very imaginative man.

I awaited the appearance of my great-grandfather’s ghost, but I suppose as a good Christian I should not have expected anything to happen. No such excitement tonight, for the sin of suicide he should still be in Purgatory, and it is only during the Day of the Dead when the boundaries weaken and souls may cross over. If every place touted as haunted would allow such apparitions so easily, then there would be no point in saying masses for the dead.

There is no fear for the supernatural in me, unfortunately. That mystery is closed to me. If there are ghosts, let me welcome them. Come, spectres! Come, spooks! Let me do science to you!

There is only the noise of a living jungle. And the mosquitoes. God, this a horrible idea.

‘When you tried to talk me out of this, you should have used this much more comprehensible drawback instead of trying to frighten me about Elias bringing his bandit friends with him!’, I rail silently towards my advisors of some hours ago. Men of even darkest hearts I might persuade, but insects care nothing for social-fu!

Ah! Finally I espy a light through the trees. It is Basilio, carrying a lantern, and of course Doggol bounding happily at his side.

Behind the boy follows a man with mildly brown skin with a trimmed mustache and long hair, clad in simple peasant clothes that filled out with his powerful, martial physique. He wears a salakot, a wide-brimmed conical hat made of reeds, which hides most of his face under its shadow.

“Don Crisostomo,” Basilio bows slightly to me. “Elias,” he gestures to the man behind him.

I nod back. “Basilio.” Then to the visitor to my family tomb, “Elias.”

Elias does not look sure how to respond. A bolo hangs by his hips, and as they enter the clearing his hand drifts closer to the hilt. A man of actual violence and power to my being of implied violence and influence.


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Interlude: The Maiden 02

Maria Clara wanted to cry. Fear and grief and humiliation threatened to burst her heart, yet even so to her great surprise still her eyes refused to dampen. There was a blockage, somewhere within her, and as her emotions continued to surge unexpressed she feared she would die. Her vision misted, but in dizziness. She felt light-headed, and short of breath.

Even as she fell shaking into her Aunt Isabel’s arms, she could not cry, only painfully heave and hiccup. Perhaps if she were more like her friend Sinang, she would be able to weep unashamedly, and soon enough find relief.

The world closed in on Maria Clara. Thump, thump, her heartbeat thundered in her head, and she did not know why, but a part of her wondered; ah, if Crisostomo could see her now, he would find her too weak and pitiful. And that fed only her humiliation even further. Again and again she whispered “I’m sorry.”

Ibarra would have recognized that she was having a panic attack, and that would drive him into a panic, and guilt and make things worse trying to correct it, so it was probably just as well at this time he was off to throw himself into the lake.

Tiya Isabel stroked at the poor girls hair and crooned it would be all right.

That Ibarra was a dog, a scoundrel, and surely he shall be punished for what liberties he had taken. Who did he think he was? Capitan Tiago was more powerful still! Such villainy shall surely be punished, in this world and in the next.

“No, no! It was my fault, it was I that drove him away! Don Crisostomo had ever been a gentleman…” She recalled the glittering eagerness in his eyes, his naked longing, his smile open in boyish delight, and it warmed her. She had fallen in love with her memories of their times together, and the vision she had built up in her mind, but if one could fall in love all over again, then she had done so. She had expected a gentleman – not this ambition, this intensity.

She could burn.

There were two idealized stereotypes for women in those times. The first being prim, delicate flower – easily moved by emotion, possessed of charm and sensibility, but to swoon at horrid sights and uncouth behavior. She is the lady, the little princess, to be protected from the evils of the world.

The other was to possess an inexhaustible strength of a sort, against which not all the world can contend. She suffers in silences, smiles when her loved ones approach, and as long as they are happy, she is happy. She has made a virtue of suffering and seeks not to move from her place in the world – like Sisa, as we have seen. A stone mother, who bears the home on her shoulders.

Crisostomo Ibarra needed neither, she could see that. Maria Clara had spent most of her life hoping and waiting for marriage – ideally to Crisostomo, but more likely to whomever her father had chosen.

Maria Clara was left distraught, apologetic, and now wanted to call him back. But Ibarra had already left, and Capitan Tiago had this to say:

“Don Crisostomo said to me, that the fault is his alone. Causing you any distress is inexcusable. He will wait for at your convenience for however long you wish. He will not move, for you are the guiding light in his life, and all that you ask are his to give.” Capitan Tiago nodded approvingly. “You are my daughter after all. Do not make it too easy for him. Make him work to prove himself – unlike the rabble we are not so easily impressed by money.”

Aunt Isabel frowned at his lack of delicacy but gave no voice of complaint.

“I need… I need to go…” Maria Clara gasped. “I must go pray.”

“Good!” the old woman said. “Say a full rosary. Good child, the Blessed Virgin will guide you!”

-x-​

Maria Clara prayed not just one rosary, but several – but each bead and each Ave Maria gave her no comfort. The world still closed in on her, but at some point it stopped, and left everything in breathless shadows.

-x-​

Maria Clara blinked. The wind was cool and fragrant, sunlight flickered through the shade of tall trees, and birds sang merrily all around her. She was standing in front of an old weather-beaten hut. It stood on irregular bamboo stakes, and lacked a door.

The ground beneath her feet was at an incline, and she realized she was somewhere most of the way up a mountain. She turned around to see, past a small bough of trees, the lake of Laguna de Bay glittering like field of daggers. She could clearly see all three of its prongs, like a dragon clawed out a portion of the earth.

Maria Clara squinted and held up her hands over her eyes, stinging at the shattered reflections of the noonday sun upon the waters. She turned around again. The sounds of the forest had grown muted. She was possessed by a strong urge to enter that dark, open hut in the deserted slopes of Mount Makiling.

Barren.

It was the only word Maria Clara could use to describe what she found inside. Not empty, for through the murky gloom she could discern shapes that might be the comportments of a home – a small chest for one’s meager belongings; there, a standing tube that might be a sleeping mat; some vague roundish things that might be clay jars. There were no tables or tableware, for a peasant’s home rarely had one; they would eat on the floor, often not even with dishes but a mat of banana leaves, and squeezing rice and broiled fish in between their fingers. But Maria Clara could feel no such humility there.

The insides seemed livable, but in some way also lifeless.

Not unused, not abandoned, but barren. Barren in the way of a womb that cannot carry a child. Maria Clara’s hands went over her own. It was only then that fear began to stir. Though dark and in the middle of a cool forest, the insides of the hut felt unreasonably warm.

Then what little light that could enter the room dimmed. Maria Clara turned about, and found that her exit was blocked by the silhouette of a woman.

“Oh oh ohhh oh oh ho! A visitor, a visitor!” she sang out. “How very unexpected, in this day, in these days!”

Her voice had a particularly bright quality, like a mirror glinting straight into your eyeballs under the noonday sun. Or perhaps a school of silvery fish, darting to and fro in unison, whimsical and also full of predatory nature.

“P-pardon my intrusion, please,” Maria Clara said shakily, now for the first time dread touched her being. “I was just… I was just… I have no excuse. I should leave.”

The woman laughed gaily and stepped inside. The shadows pulled away from her feet. “Do not mind it, senorita, for this little dwelling is not mine. My friend had only asked me to mind it now and then, while she is away. Far away, far away, a strange woman in a strange land.”

She reached for some hidden window, and opened it, and with new light the room was cast into placid banality. What had been corners unfanthomably deep became bamboo corner posts. The breeze that entered was devoid the leafy scents of the forest.

The woman’s features were quintessentially that of a native, but in a way Maria Clara could not define. She was pretty, but in a general sort of way, and it hurt Maria Clara’s head to try and remember features should she see that face again later. She brimmed with youth, but somehow in a way that left Maria Clara feeling that this woman was a fair bit older than her. She was just that naturally blithe.

An overwhelming impression of … blue-greeness? That was her strongest sense about the woman. The woman’s clothes were likewise unremarkable. Where she moved, the place seemed a little bit brighter, more open than before.

There was a door now, leading into a small porch at the back of the house.

The woman pointed to the middle of the room. “Sit, sit. I shall make you some tea.”

“I would not wish to intrude,” Maria Clara demurred gently, yet insistently. “I should go.”

“It has been too long since there were guests in this mountain. Please sit, oh please sit. I shall make you some tea.” As she drifted on by her voice trailed off “… it can’t be that hard, surely not, surely not, to make boiled leaf juice…?”

There was no place to sit but on the floor. Gingerly Maria Clara folded her skirt and obeyed. A fire was set outside, and a clay pot set to boil. Water came from a cunningly-assembled little aqueduct of split bamboo taking fresh clean water from a mountain spring.

“Who are you, young miss?” the woman asked from outside. She found a small box of tea leaves and crudely just threw them into the pot.

“My name is Maria Clara, madam.”

“Ahaha, ahaha! I know you, I know you!”

“You do?”

“Of course I do, yes I do! I saw you by the lake, once before. They know you there, down in town. You don’t live here, so you love the lake all the more.”

Maria Clara nodded. San Diego was her family’s summer home. In many ways, she loved this place best; here was her best memories of freedom and childhood.

“Aba baba ba ba ba, I am ang babae sa baba” the woman from below “I don’t belong up in this mountain at all. So you may call me may call me… Baba Ye? Bayi? Yes, that will do. Call me Auntie Bayi.”

“If you’re sure? It is a pleasure to meet you, I think.” Maria Claria tried out the words through her lips. “Tiya Bayi?”

Bayi returned, laid out mats, and then a steaming clay pot of tea. With the lid on, she poured tea into two cut bamboo cups. She then dumped generously into each wild honey from another jar, stirred with a bamboo stick. She then placed one cup before Maria Clara. “Please,” she gestured.

Maria Clara drank, and tried to keep a grimace from her face. The water was still too hot. It was still too bitter, with the cloying aftertaste of honey overwhelming what natural flavors from the steeping. Not good tea at all.

“Good?” Bayi asked eagerly.

Maria Clara could only nod mutely.

“Now tell me about your love problems.”

“Um, what? Pardon?”

“A young lady such as you, in a place as this? How far you’ve come, how far you’ve gone! You are no woodsman off to rest after a hunt, so of course, you are here for advice.” Here Bayi sighed wistfully. “A man who lives so far apart, they call him wise, they call him a hermit. Ermitanyo sa bundok, wag kang mabubulok” Hermit on the mount, don’t so spoiled. “But a woman who knows her lore, who lives her woods, they’d call her a witch instead. Hmm hmm hmm hm hm hm,” she whispered under her breath “does she sink, does she drown?”

“Um… I really don’t recall… I should not be here.” Maria Clara glanced aside. Love advice? No, you go to a witch in the woods for an abortifacent! “I should go.”

“Sit. Sit and sip and sit and breath. Oh oh oh ho ho. Put your burden down.”

Bayi smiled benignly at her. Maria Clara wished for a fan she could use to hide her face, but there was nothing around. Only the bamboo cup, but then putting it close to her face meant she was obliged to drink from it. She sighed in surrender.

And so Maria Clara slowly began to speak of her regrets. Of Crisostomo’s plans for the future, and how deeply she felt ashamed for shying away. How she feared he could find someone better, some woman braver, as his bride. When she thought of their life together, she had only envisioned herself commanding her own little troop of servants, managing a store and the household finances. She would be parsimonious with expenses, so that her husband would always have loose money to spend for his own leisure. In return, she would be given her own jewelry and dresses and children to adore.

“Oh, the things in that boy’s head!” Bayi giggled. “Are you sure you have not simply been turned off by his hubris? Are you sure, are you sure, that that you chose to stand firm before his pressure?

Oh child, oh my child, I’ve seen so many eager young men come and go in the world. I’ve seen them roam, I’ve seen them die! It is very easy to speak big when you are young – if you die, you become a hero. If you live, you grow fat, you grow old, you grow callous, you go cold! Ever has it been in these lands, ever it will be, from mountain to the sea.”

“How… do you know of Don Crisostomo?”

“Oh, Maria Clara, why do you even need to ask? The moment that boy arrived, he has been showing off. A stone dropped into a pond ripples outwards. Silly boy, oh silly boy. Your suitor is like a rock, dense and big-headed, throwing himself face-first into the waters. ” Bayi tilted her head as if listening to something in the distance. “Repeatedly.”

She sipped at her tea. “More than anything, I think, a young man such as that needs, how he begs, how he aches; someone sensible to anchor him to reality.”

Maria Clara looked away. She recalled Crisostomo’s plaintive cry ‘No one will ever need you as much as I do.’

“I am still afraid…” she whispered. “I am afraid he will not be satisfied with me.” She had already resigned herself to the idea that, as long as her husband is discreet, his affairs will not be criticized. Having a querida was in those times even something of a status symbol among the rich men. It spoke well of their virility and ability to support more than one household. “But this is wrong… I am blaming him for sins he has yet to make! The fault is mine, and mine alone…”

“Tch’ah. Oh silly girl, oh silly girl; you are too kind-hearted. You can wrap him around your little finger, but you do not relish what power you do have, yes you have it, you do. Don’t believe he’s Mister Suave.” Bayi put down her cup. “Neither of you dare to be fools in love, fools in love. A marriage of souls, is not a contract, not a family pact! I blame the sisters at the convento for this. You have all reduced womanhood into sacrifice.

You don’t know how to be coquettish, how to be sly; you don’t know how to inspire your man to greater heights! Unlike the one who lived this house, I love ambitious people, Tagalog, Spanish, Chinese, British, I love them all to bits! A mountain of faith sits there and suffers, but a wise woman moves and wins!”

Maria Clara sat there half-kneeling with her hands on her knees. She was the very picture of chaste, beauteous docility. With her head downcast, she did not see Bayi curl her lips up instead at this pitiful sight.

“Would you like me to teach you?”

It seemed as if an eternity, and then soft as a kitten’s mewl, inside that hut was heard “… yes, please.”

She did not see Bayi positively hiss in delight.

-x-​

 

The next day, Capitan Tiago had to turn away many petty visitors. Nothing travels as fast as gossip, and when Maria Clara had sent away Crisostomo Ibarra in the mid-afternoon by evening the whole town knew that she had rejected his suit. Ibarra did not find many allies, much to her own dismay. He was rich, and he was generous, and yet everyone thought the worst of him. Perhaps, because he did seem like such a promising groom, it would take a great fault for Maria Clara to spurn him so.

Sinang (Constancia Del Rosario), Capitan Basilio’s daughter arrived to commiserate with her friend and report to her vital news about town. Apparently, Don Crisostomo has decided to make a nuisance of himself in lieu of trying to appear before her too soon to beg forgiveness.

It was the custom in those times that a courtship may be made through intermediaries, that other family members and friends may visit and speak well of the suitor to his intended. A Spanish insular from Cavite was speaking to Maria Clara about the virtues of his young cousin.

Sinang apologized for interrupting and reported “Don Crisostomo has set fire to another house!”

What? “I… was not aware he even had set fire to a house in the first place,” Maria Clara retorted.

The visitor seemed to have come to a sudden realization and hurriedly excused himself to leave.

Sinang reported:

  • Don Crisostomo had barged into the classroom and seized the teacher.
  • Don Crisostomo had forced his way into the gobernardocillo’s house and seized the old man.
  • Don Crisostomo had invaded the Guardia Civil barracks.

Maria Clara stared at her friend, doubting both her sanity and the veracity of her reporting.

Now Padre Salvi arrived, huffing and highly irate. Don Crisostomo had attempted to seize him on the way to Capitan Tiago’s house. Padre Salvi refused to even open a conversation, so Don Crisostomo pointed at him angrily and shouted “No freebies for you, then!”

Maria Clara had to attend to the priest’s visit, for he was a visitor Capitan Tiago cannot turn away for any reason. Gaunt and exuding an aura of hunger, he pressed her if she had ever heard anything of correspondence between Padre Damaso and her mother. Stiffly, she replied that she had no knowledge of any such things.

In the end, what uncomfortable conversation passed between them was his counsel for her to beware of immoral and arrogant young men who will lead her astray. She was wise to spurn his advances, she should look for a virtous person as a husband. After all, what does it gain a man to have all the world if he would lose his own soul?

Do not be tempted; she was told; sweet words and gifts were nothing compared to an eternity in Hell. The greatest wisdom was being true to the commandments, and to live a modest and sanctified life. Those who reach too greedily will surely find themselves paying the wages of their sin, in time.

Padre Salvi left her feeling more distressed than ever.

Don Crisostomo had not visited nor even sent anyone to plead in his stead. And she wondered, ‘Is this the face of his own rejection?’ He could not stop moving, he had put her aside because she could not keep up, exactly as she had feared. Exactly as she had arranged.

Maria Clara could only sit by the window, still as a statue; on the outside, calm and brave and inside a whirpool of regret and self-loathing. As much as she might want to call out to take it back, she was still Capitan Tiago’s daughter. No, of course not, she could not be so weak as to surrender so easily; it was the man’s job to prove himself equal to the expectations of the bride’s family. A woman must be pursued, she is the prize to be won, never to be the first to express her desires.

Of course she could not be so wanton a woman.

It was better that two ships pass each other by in the night, never to meet again, than to disrespect the boundaries of their station.

-x-​

“He is a rock. More than that, he is a man. They will miss all subtlety,”  was the whisper in the night. “Oh, oh, oh, You do not understand. You have his interest, you have his faith

This romance is so easy is it almost unfair. But it will not be so very easy for you, no, no, no.

The only one who can save these so many many lives is you!”

-x-​

Early the next morning found Maria Clara being visited by two young boys. They stood stiffly before her and saluted. Maria Clara heard a minute ‘crack’ from their worn yet laboriously starched and ironed shirts; the fruit of Sisa’s frantic labor, that they should look presentable.

“I am Basilio,” said the older, in a clear and spirited voice. “I am ten years old.”

“I am Crispin,” said the younger, in a much more wavering tone. “I am seven years old.”

“Pleased to meet you, I am Maria Clara. I suppose I have been expecting to meet you two. Don Crisostomo has spoken to me of you.”

So these were the two boys she was supposed to put under her protection? They did not look anything special. Their faces were round and flat, their skins a muted brown.

What set them apart from any other urchin on the streets were the bright blue vests that they wore. The indigo trade, Maria Clara remembered, that was how the Ibarra family distinguished themselves.

Most of the fields around San Diego that were clad in those pink and violent flowers were owned by Ibarra, and as a child she had found it so amazing that fields could be set to grow only flowers instead of her father’s own vast haciendas of rice. Even at the time few knew (or cared to know) that the brilliant insoluble blue of indigo were actually processed from its leaves, or that as legumes indigo plants were excellent for crop rotation.

What Maria Clara remembered was the focused light in Crisostomo’s eyes, peeling open everything in his sight to expose valuable secrets. These two children, there had to be a deeper reason for Crisostomo to go so far; in declaring his support for them so obvious, he also exposed them to danger from his own enemies.

The children wore rattan slippers while all other peasant children and even most adults went barefoot. They also carried a small pouch bag, and the strap went across their chests.

Maria Clara frowned slightly. “These… these are uniforms,” as she pointed to their garb. It reminded her faintly of the Guardia Civil. “Is Crisostomo putting you to work already?”

They nodded proudly. Maria Clara was left bewildered. What was the point then, in asking for her to protect them, if he was going to place them under his aegis anyway? What did Crisostomo really intend?

In this era, children had little time to enjoy their childhood, they were always ordered about by their parents and elder siblings; happy is the family where the children could contribute to its earnings. Perhaps this was why so many, upon reaching adulthood, gave in to indolence – for only now they could move (or not to move) according to their own will. Even Maria Clara had to compromise; in putting them under her protection, of course they had to be useful to her father’s household.

Basilio brought out a square pieces of paper, about five inches to the side. Crispin tugged at his sleeves apprehensively.

“Brother, do not do the thing.”

“Crispin, I am doing the thing. It would be a waste of the practice we had with Don Crisostomo.”

“Don Anastasio said you do not have to do the thing…” The young boy looked lost on whom to obey more. Old Tasio’s age and wisdom, or Don Crisostomo’s wealth and power? But even young Crispin could recognize this was more of Don Crisostomo’s foolishness.

Basilio shook his head again. “Don Anastasio cannot countermand Don Crisostomo about this. Only Senorita Maria Clara can.”

Maria Clara blinked. “Um. What is this thing…? You do not have to… do the thing? If you do not want to.”

“I want to do the thing,” Basilio firmly replied. Crispin put his face in his palms again. Maria Clara hesitantly bid him to continue.

Basilio carefully evened out his expression. He squinted, and set his lips into a tight, humorless line. He arrogantly jutted out his chin. It was the most serious of serious faces.

Maria Clara suppressed an unladylike snort and put her own palm over her own face. A little giggle escaped her lips. “Oh, Dios mio,” she gasped. That was an eerily accurate Crisostomo Ibarra impression. “Crisostomo, what are you making these children do?”

In his bright normal voice, Basilio said “Don Crisostomo has no face he can show you, Senorita. He does not wish to give you any distress.” Then in a lower tone of voice “Maria Clara! By the hands of the innocent, you will have the truths that you seek!”

Basilio swept his hand up. “Don Crisostomo will not force anything upon you, not even his ideals! He will take away from himself even the ability to preach.”

Basilio held out a piece of paper. “A quip. A droll observation. A spur of the moment response. In these little things, we may have a conversation.”

Basilio pressed the paper to his forehead. “People who communicate this way may be called Quippers.”

Maria Clara blinked. She blinked again. “What.”

-x-

“What.”

-x-

Among Don Crisostomo’s whirlwind of activities yesterday, he had also ordered that a billboard be set up at the town center. Four lock-boxes with a mail-slot were nailed to the board. The boys had identical keys to one of the lock-boxes.

One of them would stay with Don Crisostomo, the other with Maria Clara. In this manner, each only had to walk halfway to pass messages. On the hour, every hour, every day.

Maria Clara rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “Crisostomo… is this not but a telegram?”

She was met with uncomprehending stares. Oh, of course. She was speaking to peasant children. To their pitiful knowledge of the world: What even is a telegram? Crisostomo, why. Why this?

Maria Clara took a deep breath and held it. Wait. Surely… she is expected to respond as well? Every hour, on the hour, she must write back so as not to waste these children’s efforts.

Or, perhaps, she might just go and tell Crisostomo to stuff this nonsense? These children should own their own time. “Should you not be in school instead?” she asked them.

Basilio shook his head. “We are already learning from Don Anastasio. This is easy work for us. For most of an hour, all we have to do is to wait around.”

“Why can’t someone else just carry these messages?” Maria Clara suggested the obvious. “We do not lack for any other servants.”

“This much I understand. Don Crisostomo said: symbolism. We do not know Spanish, not yet, and we do not care for the contents of your messages. We owe too much to Don Crisostomo, anyone who wants to read your exchanges will have to seize it from our fingers.”

“I see.” And thus only someone willing to become an enemy of both Capitan Tiago and Crisostomo Ibarra. No, worse than that – she had already asked Padre Damaso to protect the boys as if her own body. As much as being around Padre Salvi made her uncomfortable, he had released the children from his service – he was not allowed to harm them. Crisostomo had somehow made himself an enemy of the priest, but he was plying the garrison commander with gifts. So not even the Guardia Civil should meddle with the boys.

Crisostomo, how?! Was this your intent all along?

Maria Clara only felt more discouraged. She would like to know more about Crisostomo’s thoughts, but her own life was far less interesting in return. What did she have to say? On the hour, every hour, it would only worry her so.

“Thoughts, feelings, whims, questions, anything,” Basilio suggested. “These are all quips. Would you like to see Don Crisostomo’s first message now?”

Maria Clara sighed and nodded.

Basilio handed over another square piece of paper.

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA 

Please do not be too angry at me, @MARIACLARA.

Maria Clara held up the paper to her eyes. “What? What even is this…” @? And IBARRA? Why did he combine her first names?

Basilio continued “Quips may be anything, but they also have rules.”

At being handed a blank square, she hesitated.

She wrote back:

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

I am not angry at you, Crisostomo.

That was it? Then she would have to wait an hour for a reply. That felt very… insufficient.

“You sound like you have something to say,” Basilio said again. “Why not just say it?”

‘Like what?’ she restrained herself from spitting out, ‘What can I say that is worth hearing about? My life is not that exciting, my wishes are small, my hopes are meager. I ask only not to be humiliated.’

Basilio continued staring intently up at her. She looked away, discomfited.

“Don Crisostomo has another message for you,” Crispin offered.

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA 

My breakfast was fried rice and one fried egg and dried squid. 
I think I am developing a taste for danggit.

 

Maria Clara squinted at the paper.

She sighed and told the boys “I truly do not want to make you walk for only trifling conversation.”

Basilio shrugged. “Don Crisostomo will make it all silly talk anyway. Why not just ask him what he is doing? I think, that is why he decided on this new… silliness… of his.”

Maria Clara pursed her lips and nodded. She wrote out her ‘quip’ and handed it to Basilio. The boy nodded and left. Maria Clara was left puzzled what to do with Crispin, who remained. The boy fidgeted under her gaze, and then after a while hesitantly took out a workbook from his bag.

“Don Anastasio said every time I sit, I should be learning something.”

Maria Clara asked to look through the workbook, and Crispin handed it over. It consisted of several tests in mathematics and history. She smiled. “Would… you like me to help you with this?”

“… please?” the boy replied in a small fearful voice.

Time passed. Aunt Isabel passed by and frowned disapprovingly at the little boy sitting at the bench, kicking his legs idly in the air as he tried to figure out the math problems. “You must be careful,” she whispered to Maria Clara as she moved theough the sala. “This boy is the son of a thief, he should not be left alone anywhere in the house.”

Maria Clara stared at the boy contemplatively, and at the hourglass by his side.

Soon enough, the sands ran out and he had to go. He refused to ride along in the made-up excuse for the servants to go fetch something from town. It was only a short walk away, he would lose at most fifteen minutes out of every hour.

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

We are building a new water tower and digging ditches. 

I AM HYGIENE!

 

Maria Clara held up the note to her eyes. The first part was written in Spanish, the last part was written in English. She did not speak English, but had a strong feeling that was not grammatically correct.

 

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

Where are you building? What about sanitation?
Are you trying to have running water like in Manila?

 

Some time later Crispin returned, slightly out of breath. Maria Clara chided him slightly, there was no need to hurry. Next time surely he should just ride with the servants’ horse cart. This was approaching cruelty to children, Crisostomo!

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

Indoor plumbing, yes. Water goes in. Waste goes out.
Fortuitously my home is near the river.
I am helping dig the channel to the river
.​

 

 

Maria Clara tried to imagine what that would look like. She replied:

 

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

An admirable goal, Crisostomo. But are you really
performing manual labor? 

Do you not have anything more important to do?
 
 

She agonized that it might sound too disparaging of his efforts, but if Crisosomo could not handle her raw thoughts, then why should she expect his inner truths in turn?

He replied:

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

Physical labor is nothing to be ashamed of, hard
work builds muscles and tempers the heart. 

It takes effort to look good for my sweet.

Once more Maria Clara held the note up to her eyes, as if it might suddenly erase and replace itself with something more comprehensible.

That note was snatched out of her hands, because it was at this time nine o’clock and her friend Constancia had come to visit. She tittered. “Ooooooooo! This? This is what you two have been saying to each other? How bold! How amazing, Maria Clara! I did not expect you to be this daring…!”

“I- I… I did not! Ah!” Maria Clara snatched up the paper and made as if to crumple it. She exhaled and then her gaze found Crispin. “Did you know what is this note? Crisostomo… to make children carry such…” she trailed off, unable to say something that might ruin any innocence.

“Do not worry. We do not understand Castila,” the boy replied.

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

Crisostomo! What words are you making children carry!
What are you trying to say? 

 

Sinang pouted at this choice of response. Then, she brightened up. She excused herself, and Maria Clara saw through it instantly. “Do not dare!” she screeched.

An hour later found the de Los Santos sala filled with giggling young women. Aunt Isabel scowled some more, for they might decide to stay for lunch. At least this gave reason for more trips to town, for which Basilio was ordered to hitch a ride.

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

I should wear trajes de luces when it is time
to serenade you.

 

“Why would anyone be wearing a bullfighter’s clothes when making harana?”, referring to the serenade, one of the young unmarried women of San Diego asked.

“Is he likening their courtship to the bullring? It is not the man’s place to weave and tempt, it should be the maiden who is the one whose mere gesture with a handkerchief drives men mad.”

“It is simpler than that, I think,” Constancia replied. “Tight. Pants.”

“Ooooh.”

“So tight it would like wearing nothing at all.”

Maria Clara had her face in her palms. She asked not to be humiliated, but this…

Constancia false-echoed “Nothing at all.”

Maria Clara grit her teeth. ‘Why is this my life now?’

 

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

Crisosostomo, stop.
Lewd! You are being too lewd, Crisostomo!

What sort of woman do you think I am that
you would say this?

 

And the reply:

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

Madam, I AM trying to seduce you.

 

The house erupted in high-pitched excited squealing. Crispin had to put his palms over his ears.

But there were two posts. Even without understanding the contents he cringed as he handed it over.

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

The sort of woman you are
is the woman I wish to be my wife.
I will have no other.

 

So loud were the young women screaming that Aunt Isabel stomped out to scold them all. “What is this about? Be silent! Young women these days, you have no respect! Do not bother Don Santiago with your noise!”

Constancia nodded eagerly, mumbling her apologies. The other young women of San Diego similarly made contrite pleas. The old woman frowned, wondering if she should stay to watch over the behavior of the visitors, but Maria Clara swore to maintain the peace of the household.

After Aunt Isabel left, Constancia went ‘bleh!’ and spat out the message containing the damning words ‘I am trying to seduce you’. The others congratulated her on her quick thinking. Maria Clara was just as relieved, and not a little disgusted.

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

Crisostomo, watch your words.
I am not longer reading these in privacy

Ah, how many women must you have known
in Europe, to be so wise in these ways.

And the response:

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

You would be surprised.
Not all grandmothers are prudish prunes.
One piece of advice given to me –
Is that all brides deserve an exciting courtship.

‘I should make sure Aunt Isabel does not see this’ was Maria Clara’s immediate thought. “Sinang, open your mouth.” She had not yet forgiven her friend.

“How cruel, Maria Clara!” she exclaimed dramatically. Then she folded the paper and inserted it into her mouth as if accepting the wafer of holy communion. She chewed. Smugly.

Maria Clara took a deep breath. “So be it. Since you are all here anyway… what should I write next?”

The sala rang again with suggestions and arguments, and Maria Clara had to shush them. Crispin waited near the stairs, far enough away from their conversation. Maria Clara chose to write in a scolding fashion:

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

Crisostomo, even an exciting courtship
should not be an improper one.

I will not elope
Nor forgive taking any advantage.

 

Crispin left with the message, but barely fifteen minutes had passed before he returned. First, he handed over the response to her message.

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

My only desire is to make you
the happiest woman on Earth

 

Maria Clara flushed. It is too soon to propose Crisostomo! while the other young women there could only tut-tut in scandalized glee. Then Crispin handed over another paper square.

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

For some mysterious reason
the young men of the town have come
to make a nuisance of themselves in my house.

They have insisted on lending the boys
the use of their carriages.

And one more:

It is nearly noon.
If you will permit, we shall resume
at one in the afternoon,
and every half an hour then?

“Ohhh! Oooohh!” the young women cried, some of them excitedly waving their hands with fingers splayed out in gigglish frenzy. Scandalous indeed! Not just anonymous love letters, but winsome notes that will be read by others. Cupid fires blindly, does the arrow know it strikes true?

-x-

Most of the young women of San Diego left to dine at their own homes, for they did not have the status to be invited to dine with Capitan Tiago’s family. Of course, the offer was raised in the name of hospitality, as was the custom, and even more insistently when they demurred. Only someone so shameless as to cop a free meal would only accept, and it would shame their family slightly to imply they they could not feed their daughters.

Only Constancia remained. She looked properly deferential and did not speak other than to offer thanks. Maria Clara had by this point forgiven her, for it was Sinang’s way to be flighty and easily fascinated in all the ways she herself sought the comforts of courtesy and social rituals.

“How goes your correspondence with Don Crisostomo?” Capitan Tiago asked.

Maria Clara stiffened. Was he angry? Was he giving her the rope to hang herself? A quick glance showed Aunt Isabel looking vaguely displeased, quite possibly still annoyed that a gaggle of young women were flocking about her sala. That he did not seem to mind seemed to prove he expected this to happen.

Maria Clara could only reply “It is going… well, father.” That was vague enough as to be absolutely useless, she figured.

-x-

The ladies returned half an hour after twelve, and Crispin returned a little after one-o-clock. It was a coincidence that they all arrived in time as few in the Philippines owned a timepiece and even fewer that respected it.

A @MATANGLAWIN compared Maya to flowers in summer, and @KABISIG spoke to a certain @PARUPARO about the whispers of longing above the golden fields. The young women preened, and hid their faces as they received more verses.

Don Crisostomo sent Maria Clara a quip about what lunch he had.

 

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

Crisostomo, have you no poetry in your soul? ​

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

Maria Clara, I have all the poetry


What sweet truths I wish to speak
are best whispered into your ears.

 

Maria Clara blushed. He was still doing that! With his … insinuations! Unforgivable!

But… if she could understand what he implied…? Did that not mean she too had a sinful mind? Maria Clara silently begged the Virgin Mary for forgiveness.

A few more exchanges, and then-

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

I have borrowed four young maidens from the town.​

 

What.

“How shameless!”

“Make him explain himself, Maria Clara! Not in half-an-hour, but immediately!”

“He is taunting you. Punish him.”

Maria Clara shook her head. Don Crisostomo was obviously trying to provoke a reaction. This was likely much more boring than it first appeared. Do not be coy, Crisostomo! That is my job, not yours!

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

Also, the marching band. They are here too.

 

@MARIACLARA to @IBARRA

What are you doing, Crisostomo?

 

@IBARRA to @MARIACLARA

Ask Crispin to demonstrate. 

 

Maria Clara lowered the paper from her face. The child fidgeted nervously under her carefully bland gaze. “I will have to ask to borrow four of your friends who can sing, miss.”

Constanstia eager raised her hand. “I will do it! Aaand…” she swept her finger across the circle of young ladies, “You. And you. And you!”

Maria Clara sighed and gave them permission to do whatever in secret in the next room over.

After a few minutes, Constancia returned, beaming impishly. They stood side by side in a line. The young women began to jig in place, pointing with their hands in an L-shape from side to side. They chanted happily

“Jambol, jambol –

Kaya mo ba to?

Kaya mo ba to?

Wag maging bato

Para mag patalo!

Jambol, jambol –

Kaya mo ba toooo!” 

And again:

Jumble, jumble

Can you handle this?

Can you handle this?

Don’t be such a rock

That you lose out!

Jumble, jumble

Can you handle thiiiiiiiiiiis!​

 

Cristomoooo what are you uppp tooooo?! 

-x-

That night, Maria Clara went to sleep with a smile on her lips.

Sure, eventually Aunt Isabel managed to talk Capitan Tiago into ceasing their Quipper exchanges, as a frivolous, noisy activity and a moral threat besides. Don Crisostomo did not expect the little diversion to last more than a day, for he was made to admit it was really nothing more than a telegram service for the town and if there was anything more he’d have to charge for it. The two boys were already too tired.

Maria Clara was a figure of envy , but all young ladies in town would have a more exciting courtship now. Don Crisostomo’s latest whim was not so expensive. If they wanted to outdo him, they need only to be more creative. Don Crisostomo lacked all subtlety.

The young lady closed her eyes, relieved that she was still so much desired.

She woke up to the smell of salt, and smoke, and paper, and oil.

After a few moments, she recognized the angular shadows as the insides of an office. It was night, and outside the works of man outshone the stars. The lights of the big city, even past midnight they could afford to keep the streets lit with gas. She moved towards the windows and marveled at the unfamiliar skyline of New York outside.

Though she had been set only last year, the Statue of Liberty was virtually invisible at night; according to newspapers her torch “more a glow-worm than a beacon” until later improvements in the next century.

Maria Clara had never before seen such a metropolis, but in a dream anything was possible. She glanced at the windowsill and her brows shot up in further awe. Beyond was a balustrade clad in a chalky white substance. Snow! She had never seen snow before.

“Is that all it takes to ease your doubts? He acts before you in all caprice like a child, and you only smile? Is that all you expect from life?”

A woman’s voice, flinty and domineering, and Maria Clara whirled about in alarm. She saw silhouetted a tall woman standing there, audaciously arms akimbo in the shadows. Her face could not be discerned, but she had long straight hair flattened against the sides of her head. She had on a pale blue shirtwaist with large puffed sleeves that cut her a mannish air.

She spoke again, and her voice crackled like the wind passing through a copse of bowing bamboo. “Bayi aims to teach you guile, in order to control your fate. But as long as you sit there with the leisure to wait, you are not one to command. You will only ever be granted allowance, a protected one.”

Maria Clara blinked, and then suddenly the woman was upon her.

“I refuse. I refuse timidity. I refuse weakness. I refuse stagnation. I refuse ignorance! If you cannot become the power to balance our exile-”

Darkness claimed Maria Clara’s vision as a hand cold as a the mountain mists slapped over her eyes. She felt fingernails digging at her cheeks, temples and scalp.

And those fingers began to squeeze. “Then why not just – GIVE – ME – YOUR – FACE!”

She felt bones yield, and a soggy feeling entered her brain.

-x-​

Maria Clara woke up screaming.

Her mouth tasted of burnt grass. It was now the day before the fiesta.


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Interlude: The Brothers 02

It was a balmy day at Paco Cemetery, and the ceremony was a fine one beyond the means of the departed’s family, seen there attending in their ‘finest’ threadbare clothes and wooden sandals.

The casket was made of fine white wood almost glowing in the sun, and more flowers adorned the scene that one might mistake it for an outdoor wedding instead of a burial. Two priests officiated the ceremony, the older one droning the rites in accented Tagalog as he sprinkled holy water about while the other whisked around a perfumed censer.

The people attending the burial looked bored. Even the pallbearers, the other men that Pedro could call friends, had come expecting that someone was getting buried in a wine barrel instead of a regular old casket.

Don Crisostomo was not there, thought it was an open secret that he was paying for the whole thing. Don Anastasio was there instead, and the old man’s presence and how Sisa and her family now lived at his house sent the country wives whispering with salacious natter. He was still an old man, but an unmarried one, and there was already thought of what inheritance he might leave.

In her face the neighbors offered sympathy, but at her back they called her a wanton woman, and then a woman putting up airs, and everything short of being called a whore. It was a good thing Basilio was likewise shut inside Old Tasio’s house when not assisting the teacher Navidad, or he would have found himself having no choice but to get into fights with older children repeating the careless taunts of their own self-righteous parents.

Even in death, Pedro could not help but to make things worse for their family; this was Basilio’s mind. Maybe some people are better off dead, he supposed, even as Narcisa wailed and threw herself upon the coffin as they prepared to lower it into the grave. Even at that final moment Narcisa was apologizing to her abusive husband.

“Brother, you are crying…” said Crispin.

Basilio reached up to touch his own face. Huh. So he was.

The younger boy’s face was twisted up and he kept rubbing at his eyes. “They say I cry too much… but right now, it hurts, but I can’t cry.”

Basilio put his hand over his brother’s head. “It is fine. Now go and embrace mother. She needs you more right now than that coffin.”

Crispin had never known his father as anything but an idle gambler, but Basilio – even as much as he detested his father as a wastrel, some part of him still remembered when Pedro could still be a doting parent. There was a time when as an innocent child, he only had trust and love for his father’s strength. He supposed that was lost the first time he saw his father beat his mother into being quiet.

Narcisa was always quiet at home.

Basilio clenched his young fists. “Some people are better off dead… right?” he insisted again to himself. He felt Don Crisostomo would have agreed.

Don Crisostomo would have been horrified.

——-​

Just last week Basilio had thought of a plan. Part of why he refused to admit to the theft and surrender his wages was that shortly enough none of it would matter.

He was going to stop being sacristan and approach Don Crisostomo for work. No matter that working in the Church seemed easier and more respectable, and the pay greater, most of it was often eaten up in fines and beatings anyway. Don Rafael Ibarra had been known to be kind to children, and his arrest for saving a child’s life was what turned the people’s opinions from Padre Damaso.

Crispin could study with Old Tasio. The old man had always been willing to extend a helping hand to those who wanted to learn, and inflict his knowledge to those unwilling. He could gather fruits from the forest and fish in the river to sell in town along with the vegetables from their garden patch. When older, he could hunt; when stronger, he would ask for Don Rafael’s son to grant him a small patch of land on which to plant sugar and corn, so that his mother would no longer go hungry and have to sew until midnight. Old Tasio had said Crispin was very intelligent, so then let him go to Manila to study; Basilio would work his utmost to support him into becoming a doctor. In a single generation the family would gain respectability. No sacrifice would be too great.

But then Don Crisostomo rode into town and upended everything like a typhoon.

Basilio could only watch on in mute wonder as everything in his life fell apart, then back into place, with but the merest gesture from the young man returning from abroad.

The poor family still stayed at Don Anastasio’s house, for Don Crisostomo had spoken with the elder and they both agreed that people would be far too busy in the week, and the old man needed someone afoot to prepare his hot baths and cook for him instead of just someone coming by in the early morning and then in the late afternoon. Although a ‘Don’, he could no longer afford to maintain a live-in servant. The old man usually took lunch in someone else’s house, for it was also the way of Filipinos to always offer a meal to visitors.

Now Juliano Navidad had taken to spending his free time in Old Tasio’s house as well. It was here that they practiced unveiling Don Crisostomo’s plan at the conclusion of the fiesta. Basilio did not like the way new way the teacher was looking at his mother.

“What is this that Don Crisostomo has you doing?” Navidad asked that same day while Don Crisostomo was visiting Maria Clara. Basilio looked at him for a few moments, then judged that he was genuinely interested.

Crispin brought in armfuls of blue and red handkerchiefs, while Doggol scampered happily at his heels. Basilio prepared the wooden frames with a silk mesh, and the bottles of paint.

“We are… screen-printing, as Don Crisostomo showed us yesterday.” It felt strange that for once he would have to explain things to an adult, but slowly he demonstrated the process. The stencil was a taut mesh of silk, through which ink was forced through by scraping motions by a rubber blade called a squeegee.

Basilio’s lips quirked. Squeegee. What a nonsensical-sounding word. Much like Doggol the Dog, or Asosso ang Aso (Dogogo the dog) or Perroro la Perro (Doggity of Dog). Don Crisosomo’s influence was clear in this.

Plain red and blue handkerchiefs were imprinted with a bold white silhouette of church, a decorated boat, in front, lines that suggest waves, and white text below:

FIESTA DE SAN DIEGO 1887

Estamos honrados de tenerte

Crispin would carefully take away and place the handkerchiefs onto a holding frame, while Basilio worked the inks and the squeegee. Each handkerchief took roughly a minute to print.

“Don Crisostomo says we may sell these at the fiesta.”

After the white ink on the handkerchiefs have dried, some of them would get a second layer of black for shading, then the opposite color to the base of the handkerchief for further detailing; white, black, and then blue over red and vice versa.

“It sounds simple enough. This seems a small, hand-carry-able way of printing textiles as they do those large patterned bolts of cloth,” Navidad mused. This was the sort of thing he could really use in making his own teaching materials. Certainly a much more convenient method than having to carve blocks for printing.

Basilio nodded. “Don Crisostomo said the problem is finding ink that will not crack or run when washed.”

Navidad inhaled roughly and massaged the bridge of his nose. “And presumably it does not matter to Don Crisotomo if people copy his process if he means to sell this method and maintain monopoly on the best inks.”

Basilio shrugged. It was a trade. If it was really this easy to be a printer, then he would not mind.

His mother suffered pricks and pains sewing into the dead of night. This repetitive motion – slather, swish, and raise – after a while, he could feel how it might become mindless. Instinct alone would guide him on how much paint to pull and how hard to press. He could do this all day if paid well enough.

But suddenly in mid-press, he paused. Doggol began to howl and run around. The corgi barked in panic, then jumped onto the table. Crispin shrieked and scolded the dog to get off their workplace.

Basilio only sighed and put aside his tools. The feeling of obligation settled upon his heart. Somehow, he had long been expecting this to happen.

“Crispin, let’s go.” Basilio winced as he stood up, for rather than sitting squarely on the bench he had been squatting, for he felt this gave him more sense of balance and strength for his young arms while working. Now his knees tingled with little needles of pain.

“Brother? What? Why?” The child looked uncertain at simply abandoning their job. He had endured being called a thief, but no more! Now he would not suffer being called lazy. He owed Don Crisostomo too much. The boy wanted to learn everything under Don Anastasio’s tutelage, if that was required of him. He wanted to be rich like Don Crisostomo.

Basilio kicked at the air and to get some feeling back in his legs and then beckoned. Doggol obediently leapt off the table to pad at the boy’s side. “We need to hurry. Don Crisostomo is doing something stupid.”

——-​

Some time later Crispin returned, shrieking “Teacher, teacher, come help us, please!”

Navidad and Old Tasio looked up from their draft of Crisostomo’s speech and saw the seven-year-old boy almost collapse with exhaustion. His clothes were soaked wet, and not with sweat. “What happened? What’s wrong?” the boy was asked.

“Please… send the carriage to the beach. Don Crisostomo needs help. He cannot return on his own.”

“Has Don Crisostomo been attacked?!” asked Old Tasio.

Crispin bared his teeth in anguish. “Y…. yeeees, something like that. Please, help. Brother said to show you the way.”

——-​

After some more time, they returned. Crisostomo Ibarra staggered into Old Tasio’s home, supported by Navidad. His black clothes were rumpled and soaked through, much like the two boys leaving soggy footprints upon the wooden floor. Basilio walked behind the two men, looking completely unconcerned, and wringing water out of the bottom of his shirt. Crispin tailed behind, hiding his face in his hands like the weeping angels of old.

Old Tasio leapt out of his seat. “What happened?”

It was Basilio that answered. “Don Crisostomo tried to throw himself into the lake.” After a pause, he added “It was a pitiful sight. He just would not stop, he kept trying to rush into the waters.”

“Crisostomo, why?!”

“M’fine…” Ibarra mumbled. “Meddling kids and their damn dog.”

Without remorse Basilio continued “Even with both of us trying to drag him back he would not stop. So I had Crispin find a stick and hit him on the head until he would listen.”

Crispin wailed. His dream was dead. Admitting to raising hand against his patron was an unforgivable betrayal.

Basilio faced the teacher and the old man with an unnatural sort of calm, which only further disturbed the men. Children often had too much energy, noisy, and innocently self-centered to a fault; but as much as adults praised dutifulness and good sense in a child, a ruthless sort of maturity was almost ghastly.

There was a weak, gurgling sort of laughter. Don Crisostomo laughed and waved their worries aside. “Saved my life. Heh. Didn’t expect Basilio to be this quick on the uptake.” He pointed at the dog. “I blame you for this.”

Doggol panted happily and then hid behind the boy’s shins.

“Basilio. Good work. Crispin?”

“I’m sorry!”

Better work. You are forgiven. I owe you both a big favor for mashing the stupid out of my skull.” The younger boy was crying all the while, but he still did it.

“Don Crisostomo, what were you trying to do? Please, tell us you were not trying to kill yourself!” Navidad asked.

Ibarra chuckled darkly and oozed back on his chair. He opened his fingers out and tapped at his forehead, as if he could just reach in and pull out soft gray handfuls of his own brain. “Sometimes… I get confused. There is so much in here now, I do not even know where I even begin anymore. I am a ship in the night, a storm raging around me, without her to light my way – I am lost.”

“Her? Oh. Of course.” Old Tasio huffed. “I too have forgotten that you are but a young man, Don Crisostomo. Of course even you would become consumed when it comes to your lady love.” The old man shook his head. “No, that tale that can wait, all of you get changed into dry clothes. Or you will catch a chill and die.” He went off to fetch and lend them his old clothes rather than call for a servant.

——-​

The boys were not invited to listen to Don Crisotomo’s woeful tale of romantic dumbassery, though they did hear an outburst from the next room going –

“I will punch in the face anyone who implies Maria Clara is too weak or too simple to understand our goals. And not in a ‘Here, I will prove you wrong about the inherent inferiority of women to men’, but ‘I am taking your teeth’ sort of way.”

“You are being needlessly dramatic, Crisostomo. I mean no such thing. You have overwhelmed the poor girl.”

There was a sound similar to someone punching himself in the face or slamming his head despondently on a table.

Crispin cringed.

“Are you still afraid? Don Crisostomo has already said he has forgiven you.”

“How are you not?! Don Crisostomo is still half-Castila, and even when they say they forgive they remember. I cannot ask him to teach me now…”

Basilio shrugged and carefully lifted the frame. “Don’t feel so sad that you make mistakes, now. That’s money you hold in your hands. If you want to be rich, then don’t turn a peso into a cuatro.”

(Sixteen silver reales were equal to one gold escudo.  Eight reales were one peso. Coins in copper were 1 octavo for 1/8th of a real, while a cuatro was 1/4th of a real.  A cuatro was approximately 3.1 percent of a peso, but could still buy some candy.)

Basilio hummed and nodded again. Just because there was an ‘incident’, that did not mean that daylight would burn any slower! They were guests in someone else’s house, there were still no such thing as child labor laws, and there was so much left to do until the fiesta!

——-​

Later that night after Don Crisostomo had gone home, with Don Anastasio feeling more secure that his old friend’s son is not about to do anything unwise, the old man called for the two boys. “Children, we need to talk.”

“I will accept any punishment, sir!” Basilio interjected. “Crispin was only following my command.”

“No, I accept that it is my fault this time! Brother, even if you told to me to do it, it was still my hands that hit Don Crisostomo over the head many times with a stick.”

Old Tasio covered his mouth to cover his grin. “Your loyalty to each other does you credit. It is not my place to punish you when Don Crisostomo himself has seen fit to reward you for it.”

The old man grew serious for a moment. “Don Crisostomo has a strange fondness for your family. Until now I have not asked why. Navidad believes that you are related to him secretly as an indiscretion by his grandfather or great-grandfather.”

Crispin looked up, immediately hopeful. Basilio punctured it just as swiftly with “That’s wrong.” Very plausible, but wrong.

Old Tasio considered each of their expressions. Crispin hung his head, fearful and repentant, Basilio faced him squarely with an utter lack of repentance that bordered on arrogance. It was a familiar one. ‘This boy is going to make so many enemies’, the old man thinks. ‘We are like a basket of crabs, because everyone that tries to rise above gets pulled down by the others for the insult of his existence.’

Of course it was also the expression that Crisostomo Ibarra wears. The unnaturally rich young man dared people to try and pull him down, as if saying ‘try to grab at my pant-legs and I’ll drag you down with me into Hell’.

“It is not important why Don Crisostomo trusts you. Do you trust him in return?”

“Of course!” Crispin replied without hesitation.

“No, not at all.”

“Brother, whyyy?!” Crispin moaned, aghast at his most trusted brother’s continuous lack of polite compromise torpedoing all roads to advancement.

Old Tasio only nodded sagely. “Then explain yourself, Basilio.”

“While Crispin ran to get the carriage, Don Crisostomo and I rested by the lakeshore. He was… half-asleep, but he told me some strange things about his plan. Crispin’s good sense is all-important. Any plan that he objects to must be again inspected, no matter what any more wiser heads say.”

Crispin looked up again. “Truly?”

“This he said to me, brother: you are trusted. Do not doubt what you know is good, for if you do then everything falls.”

Old Tasio let out a noncommittal hum. “And for yourself?”

“It is most important that should Don Crisostomo reach too far over himself, for Maria Clara’s sake, someone must be ready to destroy him. He said something… Caesar and momentum?”

Memento Caesar; es mortalis,” Old Tasio breathed. It was as he had feared.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man was king. In the land where all are mad, then perhaps the maddest one is the sanest among them all.


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3.5 More Cautiously, Maria Clara

“Love is like the truth, sometimes it prevails, and sometimes it hurts.”
—Victor M. Garcia Jr.

So, we are all caught up. Today is the day Maria Clara arrives. I am standing in front of a full-length mirror, slapping my face.

“All right, Crisostomo, you can do this. Relax. Relax. Smile.”

Oh hypothetical population of the hundred years hence, from whom I derive this future knowledge, how do you motivate yourself? You might recognize what I am doing very similar to training my Charisma as if I am a figure in the videogame The Sims.

Which is fair, I feel that way sometimes, as if this body of mine is but a shell driven by some ineffable purpose. When I imagine there is some green diamond gently spinning over my head, boredom ceases to be an issue.

“Fewer teeth when you smile, Crisostomo.“

Speaking to crowds? Easy. When it is not me doing it, but the constructed persona that they expect, the emotional energy I must spend is lessened. But Maria Clara requires much more than that, to her I bare my soul. The thought of saying the wrong thing to her terrifies me.

I am afraid that what you had done to me has made me much less of a genuine person as she deserves. Am I even a person anymore?

“Existential crisis later, Crisostomo. We must not be late.”

All right. Okay. Deep breath.

We go. To Maria Clara’s house!

-x-

Many visitors and well-wishers have already come to Capitan Tiago’s house, and as black coach stops by his door they quickly make themselves scarce. None of them are there for any business that is worth at least three thousand five hundred pesos.

Or to put it in the modern parlance: “Money talks. Bullshit walks.”

Capitan Tiago receives me warmly, but the joy does not reach his eyes. I assume that Padre Damaso had warned him against showing me too much favor lest he loses the favor of his own patron and protector. That closeness with the Church could so swiftly turn from armor into a dagger aimed at his exposed chest.

“People have been telling me to offer you advice about your philanthropy, Crisostomo!” he says to me with a tight smile. “Are you truly trying to follow in my footsteps?”

The rivalry with Doña Patrocino was annoying enough, but he cannot hope to outlive a young upstart. Even if I were to run out of money sooner or later, it would lessen the money available for his own pleasures if he must make more impressive gestures to outdo two annoying contenders one after the other.

“If I make a habit for paying half out of every fiesta, people will not find pride in what they do,” I wryly reply. “Oh, it would be grand to follow in your virtuous footsteps, Capitan Tiago, but alas I cannot afford it.”

“Good. Devotions to God is always a good way to spend your wealth, but giving to the pleasure of the people is the best way to waste it. They are shiftless, and greedy, and soon enough you will find that they expect things from you as if you owe it to them! They will curse you, they will slander you, they will make pretense that their lack of money makes them superior to you in virtue. Never obligate the happiness of others to your own, Crisostomo! Never trust the rabble, they are without loyalty – make happy God, or the people that matter.”

“As you say. As I cannot match your footsteps, then at least that much can be reserved to ensuring Maria Clara’s comforts.”

“Young Ibarra, you are a friend to whom I show much favor, but do not speak as if I had already decided to give my daughter’s hand to you!”

I cough into my fist. “Forgive me, Capitan, I do not mean to be so presumptuous. I only mean to say, that I will do anything to show that I am worthy of your trust. Nothing in the world matters to me as much as Maria Clara’s smile. You may trust that everything I can will be turned to protect Maria Clara’s happiness and well-being. To anyone in the world that would cause her any sorrow, I will not show any mercy.”

He sighs and rubs at his bald head in exasperation. “There are other, less savory rumors about you, young Ibarra.”

I smile at him beatifically. “I am quite sure I do not know what you are talking about. Capitan Tiago, by your leave, may I please speak with Maria Clara?”

He lets out an annoyed grunt and dismisses me with a wave of his hand. “The only reason you are allowed to converse without a chaperone is that being unable to speak with discretion would make Maria Clara unhappy. I give you half an hour, no more.”

“You are most gracious, Capitan. I thank you.”

  -x-

It has been five days since we had last seen each other, and it was like an eternity. As our eyes meet, it is as if power surges through my spine. It is said that the only people who can change the world are those not afraid to try; but no man can change the world if he cannot be brave enough to risk it all for love.

“Maria Clara…” You are my weakness and my strength, my dearest! Only speak to me, and for you nothing is impossible.

“Crisostomo…” she murmurs in wonder, as if trying to remind herself that what is before her is not a dream.

“Maria Clara…!” The only reality is the one in which you exist! I refuse all others!

“Crisostomo…” She shyly looks away, perhaps discomfited by the sheer happiness in my eyes; as if seeing a man lost in the desert, guzzling at an offered waterskin.

Capitan Tiago walks back into the room. “You two, get out of my sala. Go over there, by the balcony! I do not want to hear any more foolishness from you.”

We blush and hurry away to obey.

-x-

We sit by a window overlooking the placid waters of the lake. We speak sweet nothings to each other, our voices muffled by the cool December breeze.

But one thing you must also understand, romantic and sweet and gentle as it may appear on the outside, we are twenty-somethings with zero experience at romance. Oh, the movies you try to show in the brain, even Rizal’s own words; softer than the murmur of leaves and more fragrant than the aromas wafting from the garden; none of them quite conveys the fumbling awkwardness we try to hide from each other.

“You are the loveliest flower in all the country, Maria Clara. It should be me that should fear someone more worthy catches your eye. What sweet words a parade of suitors must whisper in your ears!”

“Don Crisostomo, I am insulted that you would think that of me! I am but a poor maid, I have no experience in such things, until recently my home has been the convento. The ways of high society are foreign to me. The ways of men are unknown to me, and I do not know what words to say in return… other than ‘thank you’.” She hides her face behind her fan. “In truth I have always been unsure about being praised for my beauty, it is not something I ever deserved.”

“Better than by having it, you feel that you deserve everything else just as effortlessly.” I try to keep my lip from curling up. “Entitlement. One of the worst delusions for a human to have.”

A low “Mmmm…” passes through her lips. “Entitlement, you say…”

I look up to see that her wide eyes are thinned with calculation. Like a metal shutter had slammed down between us.

And so it goes, as we have already seen in this tale –

“Crisostomo, have you been cruel? They say you beat an old gravekeeper near to death, and that you had sent the Guardia Civil to shoot a man dead.”

I let out a low groan and rub at my forehead. “Allow me first to tell you my side of the story-“

-x-

Imagine a puppy happily skipping by, chasing a butterfly.

And then suddenly a truck comes speeding by.

The puppy chases after the butterfly onto a road.

And the truck-

Goes speeding by, because there is an overpass.

IBARRA Constructions.
Working for Your Future, Today.

-x-

Sadly, it remains too late for me to become The Gravel Guardian, the President of Pavements, Supreme Commander of Roads and Commerce, the Great Concrete King! We may have missed a navigational cue somewhere.

Wait, what were we up to again?

“And so that happened.” I have finished recounting my side of the events over the past few days.

Maria Clara raises her palms as if she wishes to lay her face upon them, then claps them together instead as if in prayer.

“Maria Clara?” I venture to ask.

“Crisotomo…”

“Maria Clara?”

“Crisostomo…” She looks up, and her eyes are shining pools of mystery, pulling in all things as if by swallowing them they could be comprehended. “Crisostomo, do you even hear yourself?”

“Do I hear? Uhmm… aaaaahhh…” I vocalize, “Yes?”

She takes a deep breath and lightly rests her nose on the tip of her fingers. She closes her eyes and whispers a short prayer for patience. Then she sighs out softly “Crisostomo, you have changed so much, I almost cannot recognize you anymore.”

Ah! Why? That hurts me, you know?!

The silence, which had long been companionable, has suddenly become awkward. “I apologize, forgive me, Crisostomo, you do not deserve that… I have no right to rebuke you so.”

“Maria Clara, you have the perfect right. More than anyone else in this world, more than the priests and even the Pope in Rome, there are no words I would welcome.” I lick my lips nervously.

“No, it is not my place to criticize you. You have your reasons.”

“That-! That is one thing from you I never do wish to hear. To hear you speak as if there is anyone your better; to say that is to acknowledge that there are people to the lesser. That your worth as a woman is innately less than any man, no, I refuse that.” I shake my head.  “Your father might believe that, but do you?”

“I have always felt that we ought to be judged only under the eyes of God. I do not wish to quarrel with you, Crisostomo.”

“Never from me, Maria Clara. Always I would want to hear what you have to say.”

She looks away. “… in the convent, they told me, that the opinion of wives are welcomed at first, then soon enough she is called a noisy nagging woman…” She blinks. “Why are you smiling?”

I could not help it. “Eheheheee.”

Her eyes widen, belatedly coming to realize what she has said, and hunkers behind her fan as if it were a shield.

“Now, now, as happy as I am to finally know your true thoughts-“

Maria Clara snaps her fan shut. Her face is revealed to me, glorious in its blush half-embarrassment-half-anger, and begins hitting my shoulder with its ivory monture. “You-you-you…!” she puffs out.

“Ahaha-haha-peace, Maria Clara! Mercy!”

“Youuu…!” She draws back and huffs. She is doubly embarrassed now, for a Filipina maiden must be chaste and demure. “You- you have not won yet, Crisostomo.”

I can only smile and lean back with a hand on my chin. “Just being able to see you like this is victory enough, Maria Clara.” I am dancing inside. Half of you in my brain is saying that a lady is not something to be won, but the other half is saying bollocks to that, treat your girl like she’s a princess.

After some time, her gaze sharpens again.

“Maria Clara?”

“Crisostomo…” she whispers. “I do not know the truth of your mind.”

I nod. Somewhere across town a dog is running around and howling from the noise of invisible panic alarms. Where can I even begin to explain? The aggregate knowledge of humanity is useless white noise from all the conflicting advice. Maria Clara still has full faith in the religious institutions of our country. The confessional is no place for privacy, anything she says to a priest can and will be used against me and my purposes.

But the mere notion that I cannot trust Maria Clara galls me. I refuse that world too.

“Maria Clara… the truth is-”

I take a deep breath to stiffen my resolve.

I spread my legs open and slap my palms over my knees, as if ready to genuflect. Shoulders straight, a beatific smile like that of the Buddha on my face. Maria Clara hides her face again and pointedly turns away. She fans herself fitfully.

“.. There are certain things I cannot tell you, not yet, because it would ruin the surprise. I cannot tell you what I am going to do, but there is always a reason why, no matter how insane it may sound…”

Even though ‘It sounded like a good idea at the time’ does not in any way mitigate whatever insanity of the idea. My smile momentarily goes stiff. ‘Because I heard it on the Internet is a reason’, a stupid reason, but still a reason.

“Tell me, Crisostomo, for even I find your decision to be foolish. You make yourself a target, this is not the way to make friends – without humility, you make only rivals and sycophants. I do not understand if you are cruel or kind. I can understand what you have done to the old gravekeeper, for they tell me sometimes a man must rise to a great rage when insulted, but did you have to drive him out of town?” Her eyes flick back, and away. “If you do not do these things idly, then why?”

 I smile, and I begin to speak.

Less than fifteen minutes left, so let us be quick.

Yes, I was angry, but that was but a small part of the trick. I believe that all should be held accountable for their actions. A blow was struck as a reminder that even if the dead do not care, the living do. Impunity from bottom-up is as bad as top-down.

 Yes, I did forbid him to return – but I did also give him the means to start anew elsewhere. He might feel that he has nothing to his name, no skills that would serve as a trade, but if he stayed here with the dead – nothing would change. Among the graves a living dead. Sometimes one must cut chains in one’s mind to break through into tomorrow.

Regarding the fiesta, it is my belief that the money spent on religious festivals are not exactly wasted. Yes, much of it goes up in smoke or consumed in the feasting or thrown away in the decorations, but the flow of currency still meant that workers had money. We support farmers, we support craftsmen.

And that is another thing: a festival is a civic exercise. It do not want things to be like the big cities in America or Europe, where though separated only by a thin wall, families were complete strangers to each other. It is a small start, but if we can get more families to come to know each other, to visit each other, what we lose in expenses we gain back in morale and the feeling of togetherness.

It is not merely enough that the rich spend – ha! It is to be ridiculed, a failure of imagination! No, a grand fiesta demands that they go a bit further and participate. They must interact with the townsfolk. Some of them might even go further and risk humiliating themselves. There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. But when we start talking about how the town aristocracy meaningfully interacts with the town citizenry, we are looking at how people can be governed.

Civic activities, with no monetary reward at the end of it but a good meal, is the spirit of the bayanihan.

This festival is but the primer, a test case to see how well people might take my intrusion into their affairs. If they go all-out here, the thought comes – how could we better could we do any better next year, what if we had more time?

I cannot not tell her directly, only hint at it, but by this time next year I will have radio. It will be 1888, vaudeville is barely a thing yet, and no one knows of the procedures of the noontime variety show.

Yes, being so free with money would make me a target of ne’er do wells, but I will not provide loans. I can provide work. (At some point I am sure that some visitors will make me want to punch faces, but people being too afraid to ask for favors is counter-productive.) Loans require collateral and feelings of resentment, but an employer is responsible for the wellbeing of his employees. There are a lot of public works I could also see accomplished.

Ah, Maria Clara! Sanitation! Prayer cleanses the soul, but cleanliness saves lives! Our mothers… their deaths, their preventable deaths from cholera! I am infuriated now from what I had learned in Germany. Infection and foul waters… not spirits, not weakness, no fault of their own. Clean water to every home, a sewer system to lead the filth straight out of town instead of outhouses that contaminate the water table!

I begin to slap at my legs. Oh my God, all the saints, why, if anyone were to actually stand in my way for this, I ask for her forgiveness in advance, I am willing to get bloody about this. One does not need to be a doctor to save lives.

Maria Clara has lowered her fan and stares at me intently.

“I apologize for bringing up bad memories, but this is one thing I cannot let stand anymore.”

“I understand now that you are being charitable, but Crisostomo… I fear for you. Even good works can exhaust your wealth.” You are not as wealthy as my father, she implies. I pray you do not follow completely in his footsteps.

“Maria Clara, I have a dream.” I look off into the distance. “It is an achievable dream. I dream that someday, every child at least in our town will be able to read and write. I dream that someday, a family might be able to afford cheese every day, bacon once a week, and pick up cans of condensed milk at a corner store. I dream of my ice ships, sailing from town to town selling ice so that people can more affordably buy meat and fish. I dream of quality goods at the lowest possible prices.”

I explain and faster, as time runs short. “I dream of every worker being able to collect a pension when they are too old, and every person over the age of sixty should receive ten percent discount when buying anything from an Ibarra store. I dream of women working in factories, but not being fired when they get pregnant, but instead being allowed six months of half-pay even when not working.

I dream of the day our town is a host to foreign tourism, when our festivals instead of being considered a money drain becomes a source of revenue. I dream of my submarine, and the wonders I could show hiding just underneath the waves.

In ten years, all possible.

But words are just words, we should all be judged by our actions. I am not exactly a wealthy man. This is where they all misunderstand. What I have is a unique and transformative access to a variety of resources. Wealth – money – is but what society has decided to be the means of transfer.

Capital is nothing without labor. Which generates more capital. Unless the workers seize the means of production but that  is a complex issue we will not get into right now.  If I do seem in a hurry for this week it is because the Governor-General himself will be coming to the fiesta, if my guess is right about Capitan Tiago inviting him – and if it is not right, then I will be disappointed in your father’s level of influence and will have to take measures of my own to assist – and I like Governor-General Terrero.

He is a decent sort. Unfortunately, his term will not likely be renewed next year. So whatever I have to say to him, what arguments for policy I can make, the hopes that his successor will not overturn, it must be now. In the festival, I have made preparations – there I will to you and all reveal the fullest extent of my plan. It is a surprise. It aches, Maria Clara, but I cannot – must not – say anything until then. Not even to you.”

Though my diatribe Maria Clara had gone from looking away from me with her face hidden by her fan, to her fan lowering from her face, next held to midchest, and then finally on her lap. She now sits squarely facing me, her knees locked together. She no longer meets my eyes, but has her head tilted down staring at the floor. Her teasing air had faded to this aura of melancholy.

Maria Clara, what is happening?! Only say it, and I will do anything to fix it! Why are you sad? Am I making you sad? What? How? I am sorry. Please. Just communicate with me.

“Crisostomo…”

“Maria Clara?”

“Crisostomo, I understand. You are in a hurry. I should not be bothering you at a time like this.”

“You will never be a bother. There is the work that I have to do, and then there is that which gives meaning to it all, which is you.”

Not even the slightest twitch of a smile in her face. Whyyy…

“When you had come here, I had been braving to ask you to help with a simple little scheme… it has been too long since you had come home, and most of my time is spent in the convent, we are both strangers again to this town. So with our friends, I had hoped to get to know you again.”

“Some sort of excursion on the lake? We can still do that! Maria Clara, I had been extremely looking forward to that!”

“Crisostomo, that you would guess my father’s intent is explicable. How even would you know what I was going to ask?”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

“You have a grand dream, Crisostomo. Perhaps it is too grand for a simple person like myself. It would be unfair of me to distract you from what needs to be done. I… I am overwhelmed right now. I am not like you, Crisostomo…”

“Maria Clara, please! Never at any point believe that I consider you inferior by any means! I cannot say this now… but no man on Earth can possibly NEED you as much as I do.” I get down on my knees and try to catch her eye. “Maria Clara, please do not be sad. Do not get discouraged. For everything… I need you.”

She stands up and moves to place the chair between us. She leans upon it as if exhausted. “Crisostomo, I also ask, please. I need time to think. Please do not be too angry with me. If you love me, come back to me in a few days. Make the arrangements for the excursion if you wish… but for now, please leave.”

“Maria Clara…”

“Crisostomo, please.”

I suck in my breath. “… a… as you wish.”

-x-

Well then.

I guess there’s nothing for it now.

I must go drown myself in the lake.


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3.4 A Town Meeting

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“In a small town where everyone knows everyone it is almost impossible to believe that one of your acquaintance could murder anyone. For that reason, if the signs are not pretty strong in a particular direction, it must be some dark stranger, some wanderer from the outside world where such things happen.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden


All things have to begin somewhere; and the grandest works often require the most amount of people. Though we might think politicians as the scum of the earth, one must in the end participate in the political process if we want our voice to have weight. Otherwise, we are left helpless; others decide our lives for us, and those who do not cast their votes allow themselves to be enslaved by the whims of others. They are not aloof, they are not morally superior – the greatest shield of freedom is not a mighty army or a strong press; but a well-informed, well-motivated populace.

Also, Maria Clara will arrive tomorrow, so it is best we get these small-town antics over quickly.

Now, as we know San Diego’s actual rulers are the cura and the alferez, the religious and secular, and both of them self-righteous and prone to abuse how they the fear and veneration shown to them by the townsfolk. The other half of this situation is that real power means not having to bother with any trivialities. For this, the actual burden of governance is given to the local leaders.

Now the office of the Alcalde Mayor rules provinces. Below him are the Gobernadorcillios who rule small towns; and assisting him are four lieutenants – the Teniente Mayor (chief lieutenant), the Teniente de Policia (police lieutenant), the Teniente de Sementeras (lieutenant of the fields) and the Teniente de Ganados (lieutenant of the livestock). Below them are cabeza de barangays who handle the barangays and barrios, equivalent to the small villages that surround and make up townships.

The point of all this is that person over there – the Tiniente Mayor, Don Filipo Lino, leads what could be called a liberal party, if such a thing could exist, in San Diego. He is young, and wealthy, and well satisfied in his marriage, and we may return again to the Jeffersonian idea of the gentleman-farmer as the natural cultivator of social progress. He is nearly thirty in age.

Let us eavesdrop, shall we?

“The conduct of the gobernadorcillo fills me with disgust,” says Don Filipo to his friends. “It a foul scheme to put the discussion of expenses until the eleventh hour. Remember that we have scarcely eleven days left, and there is no time but to follow all dictates of the victor.”

“It does not matter,“ comes the reply. “We have all things prepared, just so that the old men do not have the majority.”

“I do not believe that will be necessary, for you see, I will instead be putting forth the plans of the old men.”

“What? Sir, what for do you abandon us at this hour?!”

“Listen,” he says in a low voice to the assembly of young men near him, “for I have just yesterday spoken with Old Tasio and Don Crisostomo.

The old man said this to me: ‘Your rivals hate you more than they do your ideas. Do you wish that a thing shall not be done? Then propose it yourself, and though it were more useful than an Bishop’s headdress, it would be rejected. But instead, once they have defeated you, have the least forward person in the whole gathering propose what you want; and your rivals, in order to humiliate you, will accept it.’ ”

“I understand now why you wanted me to speak after you.” speaks a young cabeza de barangay. “But what did Don Crisostomo say?”

“He said: ‘It is a good plan, as long as it is done quietly. I know nothing of local politics, so I do not dare interfere, but whatever happens afterwards, you can count on my support in carrying it through. I do wish to speak as well, but all other people have made their case.’“

“What does that even mean?”

“I do not care to guess, for he cuts a dangerous air.”

Another young barrio chief nods. “He is allied with the alferez now, it is said. He keeps a corpse like a trophy in his house. It might not be safe to draw him to our cause.” Oh come on! It has barely been two days. Will you people still keep on holding that over me five years from now?

“Well, whatever else, we need only our own wits and our own will. So I will propose the plan of our rivals and exaggerate it to the point of making it ridiculous! And hush- here they come, and with the schoolmaster!”

And so we all salute each other. Don Anastasio nods silently in greeting, and goes to join the group of old men. I demur from joining the group of this young men, but instead with the schoolmaster take a seat at outermost left wing of the front benches.

Soon enough arrives the Gobernadorcillo, a wispy and nervous old man named Bienvenido Barquero y Campos. Boatman, his surname means, and his ancestors must surely have grown through trade and owning a barge that goes up and down the Pasig River; or perhaps they made their wealth through building small boats, the banca used by fishermen and then expanding onto larger launches and sailcraft. It is also a common enough surname in Mother Spain, but wizened face and lightly tanned skin makes the degree of Spanish blood in his veins difficult to gauge. To me, that matters little – in this time, it is the most important.

The hubbub ceases. Everyone claims their seat as the old man crosses the room to sit in the armchair beneath the old painting of His Majesty, half hidden by faded old red curtains. King Ferdinand VII of course, Isabella II’s father, now fifty-four years dead. His decision about inheritance has killed so many. I wonder if he had good intentions to prove that his child would carry out his vision for the country more faithfully, of if he really just wanted to deny his brother the throne.

The Gobernadorcillo coughs four times, and begins to speak in a weak, croaky voice “Gentlemen – I have been so bold as to call you all to this meeting because – ahem! Ahuff! We have to celebrate on the twelfth of this month the fiesta of our very own patron saint, San Diego – cough! – but today is already the second, and – hugh!” Here his attempt was finally cut off by a fit of dry coughs.

A man of proud bearing stands up from amongst the elders, he is about forty years of age, this is the wealthy Capitan Basilio, a himself a former gobernadorcillio of the town, and an old rival of my father. He is the one who stated that after St. Thomas Aquinas had left, the world had made no progress, and that after he had left San Juan de Letran humanity had begun to retrograde.

Which one might consider nonsense, if one simply sees everything that has happened since the year 1200s; but consider that the Collegia San Juan de Letran was established by the Dominican friars, of which Aquinas was the very model, and in his life Saint Thomas refused being called philosopher. Philosophers; he saw as pagans “falling short of the true and proper wisdom to be found in Christian revelation”. To Capitan Basilio, all other arguments as chaff in the wind; he does not care to hear them.

He is about forty years of age. He is the head of the conservatives in the town.

As we have seen earlier, the liberal Don Filipo is thirtyish. How much difference a decade makes! It is said that one’s own character is shaped most in what they experience through early adulthood, and how they finally have the power to grasp their place in the world. This would make Capitan Basilio’s formative years in the 1840s – a decade which begun with seeing Hermano Pule’s religious uprising crushed soundly. A triumph of the true religious order against the pagan corruption of its teachings! He is part of the principales, the aristocracy of these isles, educated before the reforms of 1863. The natives are superstitious and easily misled; one had to be twice as resolute.

Meanwhile, Don Filipo’s formative years would have been through the 1860s, and the secularization movement. Most importantly, the rule of the very liberal Governor-General Carlos Maria de la Torre in 1869; the opening of the Suez Canal, and the opening of the Philippines to foreign markets.

We stand up at the near same time.

Capitan Basilio looks almost bewildered at this sheer effrontery. I glance from the sniffling Capitan Jose Raul Barquero and to the side, belatedly noticing his presence. How odd we must look; young and old, all in black and all in white; we cannot be any more different or opposed to each other. I tilt my head to the side and smile.

For through all this, he is not an evil man. Perhaps a bit too pompous and self-important, but he does not hold grudges unnecessarily. More importantly, his daughter is a good friend of Maria Clara, so this is a bridge I shall not see burnt. “I beg your pardon, honorable gentleman, I did not mean to interrupt.”

“You! You are… Don Rafael’s son, are you not?”

“That I am, yes. Crisostomo Ibarra, home at last. And you are Capitan Basilio! Though I have been long gone from these shores, now I recall. I remember well your oratoric gifts, good Capitan – and I apologize again, for it seems you were about to speak, and as well you should be the first! I bow to the wisdom of my elders and betters in this matter.”

His expression relaxes slightly. “I do not choose to speak first because it does not make one take first place, nor does one by speaking last makes them the least, but in order to ask humbly among all the notable persons that are present here for permission. If you have something to say, Señor Ibarra, then I will confess to not some small curiosity and will instead beg of you,” he sweeps his arm in a flourish towards the others “my distinguished friends and great worthies of our humble town, to allow this youth to speak.”

“I did not stand up to make a speech, Capitan Basilio, but also to ask permission. If I may?”

With a puzzled frown he gestures to me and says “Then you have my leave,” before sitting.

“Oh, Capitan!” I speak sharply to the gobernadorcillio, he jerks back in surprise and boggles at me. “Pray forgive my impertinence. May I approach you?”

“… Wh- what? Why?”

“I respect you and your office, and I did see that you were coughing. Please excuse me, but it just so happens that I have remembered that I always carry with me some medicinal cough drops. A soft and chewy pastille, not a hard candy like what they prefer in the Americas and Britain.” I take out from my pockets a small brass container. “You seem a bit discomfited, it is my duty to make your life more comfortable.”

“He would interrupt us for that?” I could hear someone whisper. “It is clear he does not know the gobernadorcillo at all.”

“It is true then, he is attempting to flatter the conservatives.”

While another says “So someone still knows how to show respect? We shall see. It seems frivolous to me, but it is a step in the right direction.”

“He does not realize he is only shaming the Capitan Mayor further in drawing attention to his weakness. This is still showing the ignorance of youth.”

The Gobernadorcillo squints and reaches up with his hands as if to shield himself. He takes a deep breath and squeaks out – “It is- I mean, I am fine.” He wipes at his forehead with a handkerchief and adds “It is not necessary- carry on… the meeting, that is, Capitan Basilio…” his last words come out in an intimidated wheeze. He spasms in place as he tries to suppress his coughing.

“It troubles me to see you so ill at ease, sir, and so in this instance I pray again you forgive my discourtesy, but I insist. Quite soothing and harmless, I assure you.” I shake the little case and then open it. I motion to the schoolteacher Navidad to take one. “Please. It troubles me greatly.”

He glances to the others, looking for support; he receives only disinterest. Get on with it; they imply. The stillness has become loud and uncomfortable, I am looking like a fool standing here with my arm outstretched.

So I go ahead and ignore all propriety and simply walk to him. I lay down the case on the battered old wooden desk. He looks at with trepidation, noticing the big red (BR) on the upper face, and below it the words IBARRA PHARMA – and curving around the bottom half of the case SOOTHING MINT PASTILLES.

“Safe. Delectable. Effective.” I say with another smile.

He blinks at me repeatedly, not comforted at all. I am not sure why.

Surely this simple bit of kindness will not backfire on me yet again.

————–

After that, the meeting went back on track as I had been forewarned by Rizal.

If anything, my interruption has given Capitan Basilio leave to make his opening speech even longer. “- and the previous Capitan, my venerable Don Valentin; my friend from infancy, Don Julio; and our celebrated captain of cuadrilleros, Don Melchor, and more personages whom for sake of brevity I must omit –

I am not among you the primus inter pares, but the first servant in truth,” What? But that is what prime minister directly translates into! He said it Spanish though; primera servidor. Thus he avoided any accusations of putting on airs while successfully praising himself in his own speech, taking full advantage of the ignorance of his peers. Such is the flower of eloquence in this era.

I tune out the rest of his words about imagining himself and the others as if in the midst of the Roman Senate; all as if taken from that happy pinnacle from whence humans might no longer return, and of Cicero who might have spoken in his place, who might in the end advise:

“-so I propose, in view of the short time left, and time is money as Solomon said, that concerning this important matter each one set forth his opinion clearly, briefly, and simply. I am finished.” He sits down.

He receives approving murmurs from his friends and glances over at me with a superior air. I nod in assent. Well done, for what it is worth. ‘Have I not spoken well? Ha!’ he silently conveys to the others in the gathering. He was still the first to speak, the first among equals, my words to the weak presiding Capitan did not count.

All that talk just to say: “Don’t waste words.”

There is a certain irony here, I can all but taste it, but I just cannot seem to identify why.

“Now, any one that might wish to speak may… (ahem) … may …” the gobernadorcillo attempts to say. As a renewed fit of coughing sends him doubling over, and he finally grabs for the cough drops. In between chewing, he coughs, but each cough weaker and weaker until finally he beams as it all stops. He pops a few more and chews contentedly, with his bushy mustache looking very much like a camel.

“Nyuu may du sho-“ he completes the thought.

And so Don Filipo stands up. “So then, with your permission Capitan, I now rise that I may present the very reason we have gathered here today – my estimate of expenses for the fiesta.”

“No!” the conservatives crow “this is not for you to decide! We will vote against it!”

“Gentlemen! Please! I have not yet made known the plan that we, the young men of our good town, bring here today. We are very certain it will be felt far superior to any plan our opponents will be capable of conceiving.”

This amazing presumptuousness, this arrogance of youth, so thoroughly irritates the old men to their very bowels that their hearts are ignited to present all opposition.

“Now, we have estimated that a sum of about three thousand five hundred pesos we shall be able to celebrate a fiesta that will eclipse in magnificence any that been seen before in our own or in the neighboring towns -”

“Humf! The town of Alaminos has five thousand, Biñan surely four thousand. Only three thousand five hundred in our own namesake’s festival? We are shamed!”

“Listen to me, gentlemen! Allow me this, and listen! I will convince you!” Don Filipo continues. “I propose we erect a theater in the middle of the plaza, to cost one hundred fifty pesos –“

“That will not be enough, it will take one hundred and sixty!” a conservative objected in reflex.

“Then write it down, Señor Director, we shall allocate two hundred pesos for the theater,” He gestures to the directorcillo, the town secretary. Don Filipo does not miss a beat. “I further propose that we contract a troupe of comedians from Tondo to make seven consecutive performances on seven nights! Seven performances, at two hundred pesos a night makes fourteen hundred pesos. Write down fourteen hundred pesos, Señor Director!”

Both elders and the youth stare up at Don Filipo with amazement, as one might behold a ship about to crash onshore. He proceeds heedlessly “I propose as well that we have magnificent fireworks; no little lights and fountains and pinwheels that so please the children and old maids, nothing of the sort! We want big bombs and immense rockets! We want to shake the night itself, we want to make such a sound as to frighten and deafen all who hear them! I propose two hundred of the big bombs at two pesos each, and two hundred of the big rocks at the same price. The pyrotechnics of Malabon shall provide.”

“Hmf, a two-peso bomb neither frightens nor deafens me, they should at least be the three-peso ones.”

“So be it, write down one thousand pesos for two hundred bombs and two hundred rockets.”

——

The schoolmaster leans aside and whispers to me “That’s one thousand two hundred pesos. With the fourteen hundred pesos from earlier… that gives two thousand six hundred pesos, already more than half of the proposed sum.”

“Plus the two hundred pesos for the theater itself, so two thousand eight hundred pesos,” I whisper back. “That leaves seven hundred pesos for the procession.”

——

But Don Filipo is speaking again “Moreover, that our visitors should see that we are a giving people with plenty of wealth, I propose that we appoint four hermanos mayors for the two days of the fiesta-” being the men appointed to direct the ceremonies, a position that carries great honor but also considerable expense, for he was also expected to shoulder a large share of the entertainments and feasting for the visitors; hence, the more, the lavish the celebrations, but also the lesser share of the honor “and that, each day, there shall be thrown to the lake two hundred fried chickens, one hundred stuffed capones rellenos, and forty roasted pigs, as was done by Sulla, a contemporary of Cicero, of whom our most scholarly Capitan Basilio has just spoken.”

“Like Sulla, yes, yes-” Capitan Basilio nods, flattered at the mention.

——

“I have no idea how much that is worth…” I whisper aside.

The schoolmaster replies “Another thousand, easy, but most of the cost will be borne by the hermanos mayor.”

Interesting. [Googol?]

The world-mind responds: [Census of the Philippine Islands: Taken Under the Direction of the Philippine Commission in the Year 1903, in Four Volumes]

· [Chickens: average price: 0.47 pesos]

· [Swine: average price: 5.40 pesos.]

Huh.

I must have been more influenced by future inflation and ready sums than I had thought. So it turns out two hundred pesos is not a trifling sum.

Given that rellenos are mixed minced meats and vegetables within a crispy crust, their prices are not usually given over to statistics. Let us assume a peso for each, the big ones, rivaling a block of ham. So, four hundred chickens, two hundred rellenos, and eighty pigs… at least eight hundred fifty pesos consigned to the deeps rather than eaten to one’s joyful fill.

“And so they should hate him.” Oh if only I already had a submarine! Such an offering to the chtonian depths might yet grant me luck in turn.

Perhaps to put things into perspective, right now in 1887 the silver Peso is worth 0.78 US Dollars. Don Filipo was aiming to literally throw away $2,600 – or in 2015 dollars, about $69,000!

——

“Also, since many rich people will be attention and each will bring with them thousands of pesos and his best game-cocks, I propose that the cockpit be open for fifteen days, and that all the gambling houses be free to provide games of chance, like the yampong, and games of skill, like cards, and so in some manner we recover the expenses –“

“Enough! Enough!” the young men of the assembly begin to shout.

“And finally, that we should not forget the pleasures of the soul-“

This mention of spirituality could not mollify anyone, the din only escalates. The old men could no longer bear to hear Don Filipo flatter himself as having planned the whole fiesta, and fight over themselves to be the first to speak. The young men are dismayed, feeling that Don Filipo had betrayed them, and now ready to vote completely against him.

——

And I can only think, ‘Wow. Do I actually sound like this but all the time?

I turn aside and ask. The utter lack of response from my companion seems enough of an answer. Well craps and sticks.

——

The gobernadorcillo sniffs, and makes as if to try and speak, and then only raises the brass can given him as to cover his face. He pecks at the pills within, one after the other, reminding me so much as someone munching on popcorn. No longer quite so overwhelmed by his own body, he still feels no courage in him to demand a return to order. He waits to for the tumult to peter out.

The captain of the town guards, Don Melchior, asks for permission to speak, and it is granted. But as the gathering focuses its entire attention upon him, he goes tongue-tied. Though Capitan Basilio had earlier pleaded that speeches be short and to the point, to say anything like it feels ridiculous. He sits back down again, confused and ashamed.

Fortunately, now it is Don Valentin who stands up – as mentioned earlier, the gobernadorcillio before this one – and his voice commands respect. “We cannot agree to what the Tiniente Mayor has just proposed, for it is so farcical as to be believed. What use have we for so many bombs and so many nights of the theater? It can only be desired by a young man, such as he, who can spend night after night listening to explosions without growing deaf. What for do we disturb the sleep of good folk and send children crying?

What need have we of four hermanos mayores? The visitors would go from house to house, and forget themselves. And what even is the meaning of those chickens and pigs thrown into the lake? Our visitors would only scorn us for wasting good food, and then we fast for the next six months, no! What have we to do with this Sulla and the Romans, that we should imitate their wastefulness? Have they ever invited us to any of their festivities? I certainly recall never having received any such thing, and as you can see I am already an old man!”

“The Pope lives in Rome!” Capitan Basilio prompts in a low voice.

“Ah, so I see. Then their festivals must be an observance of their fast, and the Pope must order them to throw their food in the sea, so that they will not be tempted to commit sin.” He calmly turns towards Don Filipo. “And yet, your plan for all of that is inadmissible, impossible, a complete foolishness! I have consulted here with the sensible men, and we reject it in totality! Is there one here who would speak otherwise?”

Not even the young men would protest, they shouted how much they concurred with this opinion.

“If that is what you feel, then I humbly withdraw my proposal.” Don Filipo sits down heavily, slouching in his seat.

And now that he is so resoundly defeated, a young cabeza de barangay asks for the floor. “I beg you excuse the boldness of one such as myself to speak before so many persons respected for their age, their produce, and their wise judgment in affairs, but as Capitan Basilio did request all to express their opinion, may his authoritative words excuse my insignificance.”

The old men more agreeably nod to each other, speaking of his modesty and sensibility. “A pity he does not know how to gesticulate well,” remarks Capitan Basilio.“But he is a young man and there is time yet. He hasn’t studied Cicero!”

The young man speaks “Gentlemen, if I do present to you any program or plans, it is not with the thought that you will find it perfect or accept it, but rather to show that we bow to the judgment of all, and that we wish to prove to our elders that our thoughts are the same as theirs, and that we take our ideas from those thoughts so eloquently expressed by our most esteemed Capitan Basilio.”

“Well spoken!” exclaims Capitan Basilio. “I would hear your words, young man.” The old conservative, while sitting, sweeps his arm around as to instruct the young headman how to make expressive gestures. He only succeeds in looking like trying to tread water.

“Thank you, thank you, señores. If you will permit, my plan is this… it is expected we make a grand spectacle, but spectacles such as these are already ordinary, seen many times before. Instead, we should seek to create programs that are uncommon, and endeavor so that money does not leave the town. This way, in some manner, it will be of benefit to all.”

And so he criticizes Don Filipo’s suggestions one by one. The Tondo theater, which would run one thousand four hundred pesos – what could they learn from a week of comedies? What about the kings of Bohemia and Granada, who ordered that their daughters heads cut off, or shot out of cannon, and the metal then smelted into a throne? “We are not kings, neither are we barbarians; we have no cannon, and if we should imitate those people, they would hang us in Bagumbayan!”

——

Wait, this refrain sounds eerily familiar. Life is imitative of art, correct?

People who [watch lurid plays] or [read salacious books] might be led into imitating the [perilous] contents within. People who [watch too much TV] or [play violent video games] might be led into imitating the [dangerous] activities they witness. Oh Lord. Really? I supposed we might reach all the way back into the Greek plays and find similar criticisms about the nature of entertainment there too.

There is a tingling at the back of my skull. [Googol] has additional information.

“That is a real method of execution,” I say aside to the schoolteacher. “Blowing from gun, in which the victim is tied to the mouth of a cannon, and then when the cannon is fired the hapless soul is torn into pieces going every which way. The nation actually most well known for this type of execution is not Bohemia nor Granada… but the British Empire.”

Navidad raises his brows. “Truly?”

When the British occupied Manila back in 1762 to 1764, those two years awakened the Filipinos to the eerie concept of a court system that actually functioned as intended and treated each case by its own merits, not through how well the judges might be influenced. In turn, many Sepoys, native Indian soldiers of the Army after the end of the Seven Years War in Europe decided to stay in the Philippines with their Filipina wives.

They are actually the source of the Filipino word ‘carinderia’ or ‘karihan’, an eatery serving meals buffet-style; fast food before the concept even existed. Not from ‘cariz’ or to look (or choose from prepared meals), but from ‘kari’, curry; and the new tantalizing but affordable tastes they introduced to the populace.

“The British Empire tends to use it as a punishment for native soldiers found guilty of mutiny or treason. The Great Rebellion of 1857 is perhaps the most notable, but just as recently as 1871 about 65 members of the Sikh Namdhari religious sect were executed in this manner.”

“Barbaric!” Navidad mutters. “But if it is for treason and mutiny, then the traitors would die of cannon either which way.”

———

The cabeza de barangay continues “and what do we learn from those princesses who mingle in battles, and scatter thrusts and blows about in combat, or who wander alone in through mountains and through valleys to be seduced by mystical creatures?” He shakes his head sadly. “Our nature is to love sweetness and tenderness in a woman, and it is most vile to us those who raise their hands to a woman- be they a prince or a countryman! And who would not shudder at taking the blood-stained hand of a maiden, even should it be stained by the blood of a giant, or a Moro, whom we all abhor?

Rather than give plays that offer no merit to our people, would it not be a thousand times better to give representation of our customs, that we may encourage our better qualities and correct our vices and defects?”

Murmurs of “That’s right” and “I should have thought of that” fill the room. He is asked, how he might accomplish this. It was one thing to offer an idea, but ideas are cheap; a man is known by his actions.

“Very easily,” he replies. “I have brought with me two dramas, which I feel sure the good taste and recognized good judgment of our most respected elders will find agreeable and entertaining. The first is entitled ‘The Election of the Gobernadorcillo,’ being a comedy in prose in five acts, written by one among those present here.

The other is in nine acts for two nights and is a fantastical drama of a more satirical nature, entitled ‘Mariang Makiling,’ written by one of the best poets of the province.”

Mariang Makiling. Satire. Ohh ho ho ohohoh no. This does not bode well. Normally, this would not be a problem. But now I, a supernatural existence, sits among you. People, you no longer can be sure she does not exist. You are not safe.

“Seeing as the discussion of preparations for the fiesta have been postponed, and fearing that there would not be enough time left, we have secretly secured actors and had them learn their parts. We did this not in presumption that our plan is the best and sure to be accepted, but because we sought to present such a display for the honor and delight of our great leaders. With a week of rehearsal, we hope there will be enough time to learn all their lines thoroughly, and introduce to volunteers parts that they may place. This, gentlemen, besides being a novel, useful, and reasonable, also has the advantage of being economical. We shall not need costumes, our wear as in our daily lives will already be suitable.”

“I will pay for the theater!” Capitan Basilio shouts excitedly.

“How much will this cost?” asks an obstinate of the old guard.”A week to learn lines, what sort of actor needs that much time? Why can we not hire a troupe?”

“Being volunteers who serve at the pleasure of this gathering, the actors ask for no pay other than a place of honor at the fiesta table. Though you might find it fit to doubt their skill, but never their heart. It is a theater of our own citizens, and shall present to visitors that we have talents of our own! They will surprise you!”

“Then, if your play needs soldiers, and guards, I shall lend you mine!” Don Melchior speaks eagerly.

“And – and – if an old man is needed…” another stammers, puffing out his chest.

“Accepted! Accepted!” the assembly cries. Don Filipo goes pale, and his eyes fill with tears. He grimaces, overcome with emotion, at the speaker. The old men think ‘He is crying from being so thwarted, then we should support this plan!’ and their voices add to din.

The young man continues his speech: “A fifth of the money collected may be used to distribute a few prizes, such as to the best school child, the best herdsman, farmer, fisherman, and so on. We can arrange for boat races on the river and lake and for horse races on shore, we can raise greased poles and also have other games in which our country people can take part.

I do concede will that because of our old established customs, we must have fireworks. Fire wheels and fire castles are very entertaining, but I do not think we need very many bombs as proposed by our previous speaker. Instead, with two bands of musicians, we will have sufficient loud merriment – and so avoid the usual quarrels of musicians who come to enliven a fiesta; but who often behave like fighting-cocks, thereafter to leave often poorly paid, underfed, and at times even bruised and wounded.

And with the left-over money, we might begin the construction of a small schoolhouse, for it is a sad state of affairs that our children should study in the cura’s stable.” The speaker nods towards the schoolmaster in attendance. But as I sit behind Navidad, our eyes accidentally meet, and he suddenly goes stiff with fright.

He looks away and concludes “Such are the outlines of my plan; the details can be worked out by all. I thank you all for listening, I am finished.”

Murmurings of pleasure run through the hall, for almost everyone agreed with this youth’s plan. Those who still objected to innovations were bid to direct their attention to Don Filipo; best to adopt it for the time being, and humiliate him.

As order was restored, all now turn to the gobernadorcillo. His approval is the only thing lacking for this unanimous, audacious plan. He wipes at his heavily perspiring face and neck with his handkerchief. In the end, he stammers out in a weak voice “I also agree, but-“

“But what?” asks Capitan Basilio.

“It is all so very agreeable, that is to say, I don’t agree… I mean, yes, I do agree-” he repeats himself and rubs at the back of his head“But the cura, you see… the cura wants something else.”

“Who is it that pays for this fiesta, ourselves or the cura? Has he given even a single cuarto for it?!” a penetrating voice cuts through the floor. It is Old Tasio, disdainfully sitting there with both palms over his cane, as a king might lean on his royal scepter.

“What does the cura want?” asks Capitan Basilio.

“Well, the padre wants six processions, three sermons, three high masses, and if there is any money left, a comedia from Tondo with songs in the intermissions.”

“But we don’t want that,” the youths and some of the old men complain.

“The curate wants it,” repeated the gobernadorcillo,. “I’ve already promised him that his wish shall be carried out.”

“Then why for what reason did you have us assemble here?”

“F-for the very purpose of telling you this!”

“Then why didn’t you tell us so at the start?!” protests

“I wanted to tell you, gentlemen, but Capitan Basilio spoke and I haven’t had a chance.” He sighs and looks down at the brass pillbox. It is empty. He speaks more firmly than before “The curate must be obeyed.”

Don Filipo stares at him dully. “The curate must be obeyed,” he repeats, and collapses his elbows onto his knees that he might rest his face on his palms.

“The curate must be obeyed, or he will tell the alcalde about us and have us jailed…” the old men morosely comment.

“Well then, obey him, and run the fiesta yourselves,” the young men exclaim, rising from their seats. “We withdraw our contributions!”

“E-everything has already been collected!” the gobernadorcillo replies quickly. He rises from his seat at well and prepares to flee.

Don Filipo slaps at his knees, rises, and approaches the official. To him he says bitterly, “I sacrificed my pride in favor of a good cause; you are sacrificing your dignity as a man in favor of a bad one, and you’ve spoiled everything.”

All the others in the assembly grudgingly and grumblingly make to depart.

And then there is only laughter.

Who is this ass, that he would take hilarity in such misfortune? Where is this sound coming from? Oh, wait. That is me.

Wait, no. Agh!

“Ahahaha.” Stop. “Angels above!” I shout. “How I have missed this! In Germany- which as you might know are mostly Protestants – though even in their Roman Catholic regions, they do not have fiestas as that we furnish.

Gentlemen! I beg of you, do not leave yet! Could you allow me a chance to speak, and perhaps that we do not leave this hall with bad feelings? Perhaps there is still a way for all of us to achieve mutual satisfaction – you, me, the cura, all of us.”

“Oh, Don Crisostomo. I have almost forgotten.” The gobernadorcillo looks at the empty tin of cough drops in his hand. He tries to return it to me, then sheepishly reconsiders giving me back only trash. “Would you happen to have more of these?”

“I do own a pharmacy in Germany. I have several boxes more at my house, for distribution at our local pharmacies.”

“You own a pharmacy, Don Crisostomo? In Europe?” Navidad echoes.

“…. yeeeees, but that is not important right now.”

“Everyone, everyone, let him speak!” Capitan Basilio shouts. He speaks to me with a chiding tone “Don Crisostomo, we find ourselves bound to a festival that is once again common and ordinary. Everything has already been decided for us, all we need to do is follow. What more needs to be said?”

“Gentlemen, you are being made to spend on command. There is a word we all know for a man who toils with no reward for his labor. I understand that with this, you might feel no enthusiasm in you to attempt to excel.

And yet, what if, I ask you – go and be excellent anyway? Could you make such a festival the best that San Diego had ever seen?”

“We could, but it would only please the cura! What good is it for us? It is not what we wanted, we want no part of it!” the young men shout.

“True, but think of this. Your plan is not accepted. But it is not the end of the world. There is always next year.”

“And then the next year, and the year after that,” Old Tasio snorts. “Don Crisostomo – hoping for that which may never come avails us not. The powerful, seeing their wishes obeyed so simply without complaint, treat it as what the people also desire; and so seek never to relax their hold.”

“I understand, but my friends, without your labor, what can be done? Orders are orders, but without the actual accomplishment of the task, one might as well be shouting at the air. And no! I do not mean by this that you boycott the event.

It is, after all, the feast of our patron. We live on the shores of Laguna de Bay, so of course we require regattas, and lights over the waters. And if we must have boats, then they should be beautiful boats.” I make as if I am stacking bricks. “You must already have realized that most of the festival will be devoted to this display, as you have done year after year. Your plan, which I laud and also wish to see accomplished, rewards the townsfolk well for their own labors both physical and spiritual.

It seems to me that this is a matter of three insufficiencies. The first: there is not enough money to do both as the cura demands and what you wish should happen. The second: there is not enough time to do both in equal measure. And the third: there is not also enough passion to attempt both with excellence.

Gentlemen, I would have you know that I was most impressed, very impressed indeed, but the ideas you have brought forth. This servant of yours only wishes to help in whatever small way to see it happen. To this ends, I propose… to solve two of these three problems, if you would care to seek to accomplish both of these goals to a mutual satisfaction.”

Don Filipo shrugs. “So, what plan do you have to solve our problems, Don Crisostomo?”

“Don Filipo, the budget for the fiesta is still three thousand five hundred pesos, is that right?”

He glances at the gobernardocillo from the corner of his eye; the older man flinches. “Thereabouts, I believe.”

“Then, if you will permit, I will double it. May the town budget for the feast of San Diego de Alcala be seven thousand pesos.”

This does not calm them. The young men only scowl, and further whisper “A puppet of the friars” and “he follows in the footsteps of Captian Tiago.” Someone whispers “But it is said that the children have long been promised to each other?”

“He seeks to claim all the notoriety for paying for the fiesta! That shameless cad!”

“Can you afford this?” Capitan Basilio asks. “Young man, it is the worst of habits to be too free with your money! No, I would dissuade you from this instead; be like your father and be more mindful of your own worth, and thus shall you build riches for your family rather than die poor.

As Cicero said, magnum vectigal est parsimonia – men do not understand what a great revenue is frugality!”

Others murmur “Yes, yes, we will not be part of this folly.”

“I do not dispute this wisdom. Yet, non quia difficilia sunt non audemus, sed quia non audemus, difficilia sunt, Capitan Basilio.” I reply. “It is not because we dare that things are difficult, but because we do not dare that things are difficult. This was said by Seneca, that great Roman mind born in the same year as our Lord, Jesus Christ.

My inheritance is not only from San Diego; I am given what I have that I might improve the lives and manners of my countrymen. Gentlemen, I do not wish to set myself above you; my wealth buys no virtue, nor expectations of loyalty. I wish to help, because I see in you greatness!

And also, I am being extremely selfish in this, not generous to a fault. I wish to see your dramatic arts realized, but also the best of your artisty in decorations and celebrations. I have brought with me from Europe a camera – several cameras, actually – and I wish to take pictures, many many pictures.”

I stretch out my arms and make the old photographer’s gesture, a viewfinder box in between by index and middle fingers. I squint through it with one eye. “This is the celebration of San Diego, these are its men. Words about the lavishness of a feast and unique qualities of Filipino festivals are vague and easy to forget; but you, Capitan Basilio, you, Capitan Valentin, you, you, our most esteemed gobernadorcillo, you, our elders who drive our culture, you, our youth who carry out its missions – good people! Let your works be commemorated not just in this province but through all nations!

A book need not be made only of words, these days you can make a book out of pictures. This is my selfish wish, gentlemen. I ask for no honors, my contributions are very little, not even worth mentioning. Much more precious is your time, and your efforts. Allow to me to soothe your concerns if just from this one corner, that you might better work wonders in another.

Never let it be said that ‘Ibarra paid for this festival’, oh no, never ever! Let the pictures stand as proof; these are the people who made the greatest contributions. And at the end of it, the cura too. Everybody wins, everybody gets what they want,”

Reluctantly Old Tasio says “And well one might also try to say Audentes fortuna iuvat – fortune favors the bold. You have wealth, so are you so greedy now for fame, young Ibarra?”

I shrug. “Fame is transient, I am about all the opposite of that. I repeat, I require no honors for this. No one owes me anything; I only humbly ask that you allow me to take photographs. Do not think of me so kind. If you shy away from the camera, I will chase you! I commemorate the victors.”

Capitan Basilio frowns, as if caught between considering me an ally or an opponent. “Seven thousand pesos for a fiesta… it would allow us to do more than our neighbors.”

“But to pay half, nonsense!” an old man speaks. “I will add more, we will accept no more than a third.”

“Gentleman, I deeply respect your positions, so I beg you to tolerate my impudence. Whatever the group may raise, I will double it. The grander the celebrations, the better for the pictorial. You could make it so grand Padre Salvi could choke on it, if you so want.”

One of the young men chuckles. “If he wants to spend, then let him spend! I will take his money.”

Don Filipo then notes “That is only one of our problems you promised to solve, Don Crisostomo. If we accept this proposal, then what of the other two?”

“Ah, good, yes, thank you for bringing it back to our attention, Don Filipo. The second problem, time, is more difficult to solve. We could achieve it perhaps by hiring more hands, but it is not one I am qualified to say. No, I am sorry to say that they say ‘time is money’ because money can only buy time with great difficulty. I am of no help here, you know your people best.”

“It is good that you understand your limits, money is no panacea. So, this leaves the third – how do you propose to motivate us? You have said we would be photographed, but that is not good. There are those of us who would prefer not to have our faces be shown all over, what of modesty and honor! No, it might even be said as an insult to think we would be led by mere lure of fame!” says Capitan Basilio.

“You are correct, Capitan, and that is why I must ask forgiveness again for my selfishness. No, for motivation, I beg for each of us to do our best – that we may not be shamed in the face of our neighbors, our rulers, and foreign visitors.

If what I have heard is correct, then Capitan Tiago plans to invite his Excellency, the Governor General Terrero himself, to his home and enjoy our festival. I too have sent out letters for some foreign diplomats and industrialists, that they might be hosted and entertained in our town, and afterward we might discuss our common interests.

I beg you, I truly beg of you, forgive my presumptuousness. At the worst, they would see just another fiesta, nothing any more memorable than any they have already experienced before in these shores. But you – today, you have presented to me the seeds of something great.

So this, I hope, shall ignite your passion. It is not just Padre Salvi’s approval you must gain. Exceed even his expectations, and greater shall be your merit. But if you fail… ah, to fail, we might find that another mediocre festival might not be so bad; only you have to live with the knowledge you have chosen not to do any more than the minimum required!

They would not insult us, saying that it is the blood of the Indios that makes one lazy, for the minimum is not worth mentioning at all. Only you will know, rather than take up the challenge, the test was avoided. You would lose face only in the next year, or in the next fiesta of the nearest other town.”

“Are you are insulting us right now?!” one of the young barrio chiefs shouts out, but from behind his fellows. “We should not be ashamed of being made to keep pretenses. You can keep your money, if you will just benefit for doing nothing!”

“No, I am not, because I know you will not fail. Seven thousand pesos and eleven days – what can you do with this? Friends! Let me see it, demonstrate to all who will come for our fiesta, your creativity, your insight, your power! Like in the plan proposed before, let everyone who works hard finally gain the recognition they so deserve!

The task before you is not easy. I offer no insult; but do not think I also plan on being nothing more than a leech! I do not wish to help only by giving money; day after tomorrow I too will be returning to Manila; what should I procure? Who should I contact? Who even are the artisans? I can hold a paintbrush as well as anyone, and craft paper flowers. We must all hurry! I know you can do this. Are we going to do this or not?

That is all I wanted to say about this matter. I am finished.”

I put my arms to my sides and bow. When I sit, however, my eyes are directed towards Don Filipo. He still looks uncertain.

After a while, he says “What you have all presented is better than my plan, I admit. I cannot dare to stand in your way now… do as you see fit.”

Much more enthusiastically, Capitan Basilio says “I approve! I approve! We shall do it all! We can have a stage built, but I fear that the people might not see the play so favorable compared to the actors from Tondo. So we should have them present it first.”

”By the way, might I say something about that?” I interrupt.

“What now, Don Crisostomo?”

“Well, if the people are not charged for seeing a play presented by our own citizenry, they might think; then what is so difficult about the theatrics of the city? Hiring a troupe costs for each show, but encouraging our own actors can be done any time. We could have this sort of thing done more than once, and rewards offered for the best new talent and new writers. You, all of you here, you might not realize what dramatic qualities are hidden inside you!

It is great that you esteemed colleagues have suggested this, presenting our own dramas. I think everyone deserves a chance to discover more about themselves. This is why I could not help myself, to see this bud trampled underfoot before it has a chance to grow. It is wonderful, truly wonderful! You are amazing!”

The cabeza de barangay from before beams and happily whispers to his friends. Don Filipo hides his face, that no one should see his smile.

“The play – does it need an old man?” asks one of the elders.

“It… it requires four?” the young man who proposed it answers. I can see that he is already frantic about the need for rewriting.

“Seven thousand pesos! Don Filipo, do not even think of trying to throw this food into the lake!” another says.

“No, no, I have learned my lesson. Let me have some lechon too.”

——

The assembly now collects into groups, grouping each person by their mutual interests. The gobernadorcillo stands apart, looking lost. He looks towards the door. I clap the schoolmaster on the shoulder and bid him to join the discussion in my stead.

“Capitan,” I nod in greeting as I sit on the desk. His attention is momentarily drawn again to the empty can in his hand. Furtively, like a shamed schoolboy, he puts it away into his pockets.

“Don Crisostomo. T-thank you.” He frowns at all the people who have their backs turned to him. “I am not sure the cura will like this…”

“He will have the minimum he has demanded, and more besides. Look at them, young and old, united in one common purpose. If he forbids this… well… unhappy townsfolk are less eager to place alms on the daily mass.”

He sighs. “Things are not so simple, Don Crisostomo. The cura… you do not understand, how powerful his office his. Look at me, I am gobernadorcillo, but I am not like Don Valentin over there or Don Basilio… they will not call me Capitan Banquo after this. If the cura says no to the name put forth by the luminaries of the town, then no one can be gobernadorcillo. If you are excommunicated…”

“I understand. It is hard, balancing so many things that people want, and they blame you for it. But I think you are stronger than you give yourself credit for, Capitan.” I smiled and look towards the distance. “It is not my youth that makes me unafraid of Padre Salvi, nor my wealth. It is because I have contacts, and influences, that he cannot even begin to comprehend.”

“I wish I had your confidence. Ah, such is luck. I am already an old man, none of this has happened to me. Becoming gobernadorcillo has not given me any power or security, I wish I had never been chosen by Capitan Valentin at all! Do this, do that, why have you done this, why have you not done that! As if I have a choice in the matter at all!”

“You are always being threatened or lectured to, Capitan? How unfortunate.” I point towards his predecessors. “They held their office with a mighty hand and a mandate, but all you need is to keep from rocking the boat and capsizing, in this matter you have also been trying to protect people.”

“I am afraid… I fear you are here to disturb the peace of this town, Don Crisostomo.” He pats at his pockets. “I do not wish to be involved, señor – please do not ask anything of me. Do not cultivate my favor, it will bring you nothing of worth.”

“There is plenty of worth!” I interpose. “You are a more worthy man than you might believe, Capitan Banquo. You only want to be done with this- ” and here I wave over at the assembly still talking, but some already leaving to return home and speak to others about their preparations “this aggravation. I understand.

I will ask of you no favors. But once you leave your post, know this – you might call on me, and I will provide for you a place – a place where there are few people and few noises, some authority that you would not need to walk or fetch things, but nothing demanded of you – a place that is cool and comfortable, and a task that pays well without having to go into meetings or to make hard decisions. Yet it will not be boring either, always there will be new faces, and new conversations. Day after day, the most that will be expected from you to make it the same as the day before.”

The gobernadorcillo shrinks into himself. “You are a little devil indeed. Such a place sounds too good to be true.”

“Yet it exists.”

“Go on then, tell me your temptation.”

“You are who you are, so how could it be anything less? A ship. A pleasure ship. A veritable mansion upon the waters – sailing from Laguna to Legaspi, from Cebu to Batangas.

You might fear that pirates might be too much excitement, but you will be provided with enough men to keep you well protected. And the beauties of our nation and the wealth of foreign shores, all first to flow between your fingers. You will be safe, you will be well cared-for, and you will be able to rest easy.”

“I- no, it is interesting, but I get seasick easily.” He looks so very crestfallen now.

“There are remedies for that. But imagine it, Capitan Banquo. Not a functionary, not an errand-man, but freedom.”

He winces. “No, it is too much. I do not want anything… I do not wish to be involved.”

“Capitan Banquo.”

“Don Crisostomo…”

“Capitan. Banquo.”

“Señor Ibarra, please.”

“The Capitan Banquo.”

“I know nothing of seakeeping! The real capitan of the vessel will only demean me silently in his heart…”

“Some of the greatest steamship lines are not actually owned by sailors, you know, this is not very much a hindrance. You are made for more than this Capitan Banquo.” I pat his shoulder, and he further shrinks into himself, then slowly uncoils like bound wire. “Someday, you will see… a horizon before you… and you are free, free from this trap of land and politics.

I will ask from you nothing; nor shall I obviously ply you with gifts that might have those powers above you, feel vindictive.”

“Then what do you want?”

“Nothing.” I shrug and continue, “To be more precise, all I require for you is to do nothing. Only that for the next year, you do not stand in my way.”

“Hieeee…” he sucks in his breath.

“I will seek to make your remaining time as gobernadorcillo as comfortable as possible.”

The old man is sweating heavily, and shakily wipes at his face and forehead. With uncommon swiftly, he leaps from his side of the table. “T-thank you, Don Crisostomo, but I really ought to be going.” The old man swiftly makes his way to the door, almost shoving away the young notables in his way.

Their eyes widen at the strange terror in the gobernadorcillo’s face. Then, eerily and as one, they turn their heads towards me. What.

Seriously, people what. What do you think I was saying? I was just trying to be helpful.


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*AN: This single-story building is probably very close to the image of the public hall as written by Rizal. Also, you are looking there at the main means of transport at the time. Not horses, oh no, that’s only for rich city folk. Behold the great Filipino supercar. Carabaos.

100% biofuels. Such green. Much fighting global warming.

3.3 In the House of Pilosopo Tasio

The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught,  as that every child should be given the wish to learn.
– John Lubbock

We have arrived at Old Tasio’s house. It is not a comparatively very big one, but the insides feel more like a large library than a domicile. We have been here once before, on the day of the dead. On that day I had also conveniently been away from my home so Sisa, Basilio, and Crispin could in privacy light candles in front of the barrel shrouded in purple satin.

In my back yard.

Even my father’s servants have dared to complain to me, “Don Crisostomo, we can no longer eat here! Please, Don Crisostomo!”

In Manila, you are honored to be buried next to the church, ah! And so, why then do the servants who work there have no problem with it? But fine. I gave them a promise of about two or three more days, and then I send the body away to Manila. If just on the matter of getting a burial, perhaps Pedro’s body could be donated to science, and then buried with the blessings of the Dominican priests after the handling of their students of medicine.

… it was just that I had no idea if this would only insult Pedro further and keep him from haunting me. Can you imagine if I were on my marriage bed and then there’s this ghost hovering nearby, leering and… no.

Just no.

What the hell. Is this some sort of ‘do not murder people for the sake of convenience’ preventative measure? There are a lot of dictators and mass murderers who do not suffer even a smidgen of this hassle. Though I presume they are only metaphorically embodying the soul of their nation.

Googol places a soft paw on my arm. All will be well, his grin seems to say.

He barks: Now speak to us about food.

————-

“Well, it can be said that while a nation is its people, in conjunction with the sovereignty of their territory, a nation’s soul is its culture! The expression of a nation’s soul can be expressed in many ways, through art and song, but none so great and lasting as its cuisine. Of course China has its noodles, in Zipangu they have sushi – raw fish wrapped in vinegared rice and seaweed, and Korea has its hot kimchi, spicy fermented cabagges. For us in the Philippines, adobo comes easily to mind – but of the second this is not a distant thought!”

Sisa, to show her gratitude, has decided to act as a housemaid in Old Tasio’s house until her house is rebuilt. I have asked for this lunch that they prepare bulalo – that is, beef bone marrow soup. While not a very demanding dish to prepare, Sisa gave it nearly fanatical attention.

Allowed to simmer for at several hours for a rich soup, what would normally be tough muscles still clinging to shanks becoming incredibly soft. Just fifteen or so minutes before serving, throw in round cabagge and pechay (leafy green chinese cabbage) and young corn, and seasoned simply with black pepper. It is a strong and hearty meal.

I behold the bowl with undisguised delight. “So simple the ingredients, yet you cannot believe how difficult to find in Europe. Batangas bulalo is said to be the best, but that is only a bit south of us, and our cows are not very different. Pechay and corn, without these it just does not taste right. What makes it most different is the quantity of the meat, how long you spend boiling the meat! If one wants bulalo for lunch, then one had best start boiling it before breakfast! Not too hot either, lest you steam away the flavor and melt the delicious bone marrow!

How I have missed this! Ah, thank you, Don Anastasio, for this feast! Thank you, Ginang Narcisa, for your labors!”

“It is of no matter, Don Crisostomo. It is my house, my responsibility, please do not insult me further by trying to pay for the food off my table.”

“Don Anastasio is truly kind! We have been nothing but a burden to you!” Sisa wails. She claps her hands above her head and bows, in a pose almost cringing. “And to you as well, Don Crisostomo!”

“No, I have only been a bother to your family. The padre cura, Padre Salvi, has for some reason decided were are to be enemies, which is… ehhh,” here I gesture in the air with my palm down “We are both young men, either it will pass or keep things interesting as we advance in years.

Don Anastasio, I apologize again for my careless words from yesterday, trying to pay for the ingredients as long as I entreated what specifically to put on your table. As you said, I am trying to accrue too much responsibility to myself, it is too arrogant and presumptuous, and futile besides. To share our troubles with others is what makes a friend!

My associations with you might be a hindrance, though I hope to improve our common situations in the long run.”

“Your humility does you credit. It reminds me much of your father, the world is poorer for his passing. Allow me to thank you as well, Senor Ibarra, for inviting me to this meal,” speaks a young man with a tired face to my left.

The meal was not just for Don Anastasio and me, but her also is the town schoolmaster. He adds “I owe everything to your father, and I cannot dare to presume upon you now.”

“You were the first to come to my house upon hearing I had returned from Spain, and showed me where to find my father’s resting place. This knowledge is more than service enough, and for this I owe you too one great favor.”

Sensing the conversation was about to head off to weightier matters, which Sisa’s character did not allow her to listen into, she asked to be excused.

She could not share the table, for not only was it considered improper at the time for the hired help to dine with their employers, she felt unworthy of it. Her departed husband was like her god whom she could not disobey in anything, except in that day she could only protest about her incapability of giving him what he wanted; and on that day he died and some irrational part of her felt it was a price for her disrespect.

The woman was the light of a home, a father its walls, and with her home burned and its walls literally gone, had she not her children to cling to she would have gone senselessly cold and lost.

“My thanks again, good woman. It is the cook’s privilege to set aside the best portions for himself or herself, please do not hesitate to eat heartily too. This much food should not be wasted. After we have all eaten, in an hour or two we all need to speak some more. All of us, including your sons, are included in my endeavors.”

“As- as you wish, Senor Ibarra!” she hurriedly replies. Away she goes, almost to flee.

I frown at her back, and seeing my disapproval, “Do forgive her, Don Crisostomo, the woman is still distraught.”

“No, in this instance I still believe I am responsible. I tried to be too clever by half, and well she might consider me her husband’s murderer. And this whole thing… though you might not care about it, surely tongues are wagging about her virtue as a woman. People who have literally nothing better to do with their lives…”

I sigh. “What I do now is not borne out of a desire to grant recompense, but it is very suitable if this family also benefits. But let us not speak of unpleasant things for now.” I turn to the other two men at the table. Don Anastasio is seated at the head, of course, so facing me on the opposite side of this rounded dining table is the teacher. “Let us eat?”

“Let us say our prayers first, do they not do this Europe?”

“… yes. Yes they do.” Oh, right. A part of me forgot that simply making the sign of the cross before eating was not enough. The future is ever in a hurry, but I have a full thirteen years before the century turns.

Losing sight of the present from being enamored with the future is one of the worst things one can do; gamblers lose themselves in this, not just at the tables but at the stock market, and whole families are lost when all you care about is the money to make their lives more comfortable.

———–

“Public education is supposed to be an obligation of the state. The Decreto de Educación de 1863 was signed by Isabela the Second, and it mandated that primary instruction be made free and that the teaching of Spanish is compulsory. Leaving aside whatever sentiments on her rule, right now it is her grandson on the throne and the law is the law. The Philippines is just so very very far away from Spain.”

We are all seated now in the sala, our bellies full and our eyes just a little bit drowsy. “You have spoken to me of your troubles, Ginoong Navidad, but I must ask you to speak of it again. It is one thing to air your problems in confidence, and it is another to speak of it in a more public setting such as this. Specially in front of a woman and children. However, and in this you have a perfect right to refuse, I believe it may help us achieve a certain perspective.”

Basilio looks terrified, while the teacher Navidad looks kindly upon him. During the time he was sick, only Basilio came to visit him, but to say why he too left school. He had become a sacristan, and he was told that it was not good for sacristan to frequent school too much, that house of secular concerns, for it reduced their esteem. The teacher clearly did not blame the boy.

“There is a certain common element here, which is the Sacristan Mayor who had gone off to flee. Padre Salvi is a relative newcomer to this town, in many ways it is the Sacristan Mayor who, in dealing face to face with the townsfolk, perpetuates the system. But now that he is gone, and Padre Salvi is burdened until a replacement can be sent, and this is bound to make him more irritable. Yet even so, is not Padre Salvi different from Padre Damaso?”

Juliano Navidad shrinks into himself, then nods. He is a man who had come into town without knowing anyone, without money or recommendations, because his predecessor had decided to go off and to the better vocation of selling tobacco. “I had once attempted to teach Spanish to the youth, not just because it was ordered by the government, but because it would be useful to them. Padre Damaso had me called to him by the Sacristan Mayor, and when I greeted him ‘Buenas noches,’ he laughed at me, and passed from laughter to insult-

Don’t use borrowed clothing with me‘, he said, ‘Be content to speak in your own language and don’t spoil Spanish, it is not for the likes of you!’ The shame and humiliation I felt then! I longed to reach out, and avenge myself, but burned only with my inability.

For how could I go against the priest, the first moral authority? Anything I might do would paint me vain, and arrogant, and a bad Christian, badly-educated and even anti-Spanish!

Though I might feel it is the law, and that it would be good for the students, under reproach one needs humiliation and resignation. Without the graces of the good cura, I could not even collect any of my pay. So I abandoned myself to my fate like a corpse upon the waves.

Don Anastasio was my succor in these times, and for this I can never repay. In this house, I was enlightened of how much more I was ignorant, and the pain of chastisement by Padre Damaso faded in the knowledge of my foolish arrogance over an incomplete understanding. And yet there remained the pain of knowing that if one does not start somewhere, one cannot get anywhere, and we are all denied even that.

Don Anastasio, you know how in my studies I have become horrified with the old system. Whippings have long been a distinctive feature of our schools, and considered the best way of making pupils learn – but instead of encouraging students to take the role of heroes, and reach out for greater possibilities in their life, instead they are robbed of their self-esteem.

When I had attempted to cease whipping students, they came to class more frequently, and when praised in the presence of their peers, were pleased and would learn more. Rather than fear being beaten for being wrong, they dared more to be correct. Again I was criticized for this! Parents told them that if I were to spurn the habits of our ancestors, children would be spoiled and become disobedient, they would learn nothing; and so they threatened to pull their children out of school.

Young Basilio, you have seen this happen! When I had begun to resort to beatings again, I had seen the betrayal and tears, and I wish I could have wept with you children! Yet the cura had threatened to tell the alcalde about me, and I could do nothing. I have tried to treat you all with all leniency as possibly, but the time for reform is long lost!

Yet even so what you say is true, señor, Padre Salvi is different from Padre Damaso. He did not scold me, but said to me that before other things my first concern should be religion; that before teaching children things like reading and writing, that they know from memory the mysteries, the Triduum and the Cathecism of Christian doctrine. I can understand why it must be done for the sake of their souls, but for children it saps their interest in the idea of schooling.”

“If I were to argue that Padre Salvi should support you in teaching the children to speak and write in Spanish, sadly now he would naturally oppose it.” I say to him. “I think, perhaps among others, this is also why Padre Damaso and my father fell out of favor with each other. Don Rafael approved of your reforms, but in the end even what he could do was limited to offering prizes to diligent children. The time was not ripe yet for reform, maestro Navidad, but it is now.”

I turn to Sisa and say “I hope to make you understand we are not being impious here, but that the very author of Doctrina Christiana, here made a textbook of instruction in 1863, Father Astete himself deeply wished for all servants of Spain to learn well and be united under the mother tongue. That a Spanish man might go from Philippines to Peru and be understood. Both the Law and the mother Church are one in this!”

“Yet what of progress?! There can be no such thing, better to let it all be washed away by a new deluge, to clean its lands of the people that plague it!” Don Anastasio snorts. “Foolish parents see no value in their children learning, only that they obey! As we have heard, when Navidad here attempted to slowly enlighten children with more useful works and treatises, even in Tagalog, the parents raised such protest that Padre Salvi had to take notice, and thus why even this gentle order cannot be refused nor amended for compromise.”

Maestro Navidad, children, Ginang Sisa, I will not couch my plan in mystery. I mean to build a school! Until a school is built away from under the roof of the convento, it is inconvenient and incommodious for all involved. Spanish and Spanish works must be taught, this is the law.

But Juliano, if there is the most useful thing I have learned in Europe, it is this! Being proven wrong is like being punched in the face. And I do not mean it feels like being punched; emotionally, being proven wrong is worse! Pain in the flesh is passing, the hurt from being shown stupid lasts longer.

That is why there are only two options for reform; gently, slowly and imperceptibly liberalizing even those who hold the opposite opinion, making it seem like it is their own will than your own… or with such forceful shock that they cannot resist!”

The teacher looks numb and wide-eyed at me. He blinks several times, then places a fist over his chest. “You are correct, Don Crisostomo, I had felt much the same way when my studies have revealed to me that I was an ignoramus, I had attempted to teach Spanish long before I had understood its virtues of the language and the society than produced it.

So go ahead, strike at me, sir! It cannot be worse than the indignity and weakness I have already suffered!”

“You had conviction but no power. You had a plan but no support! You acted too early, but this is no fault of yours, since the only alternative would be more of the same. You tried to break through into tomorrow, but your strength was not enough.

So how about this? The great failure of your project was that you acted alone as you are. Even if I were to attempt the same, even my wealth will do little. The great problem with this town’s instruction is that it has only one teacher.

The townsfolk feel brave enough to pressure you. Would they be so brave as to try and pressure a foreigner with white skin?

Filled with the progressive power and culture of Europe and the Americas; those who care about putting people in their proper places, do they dare pit their traditions against the colossi that bestride the world?

If you do not have power, then borrow the power of others! Heroes rarely appear alone – they are raised high by others shyer of the limelight!”

Money cannot buy loyalty. But enough money can draw the attention of even more self-righteous types (but of a more progressive bent) just aching to civilize the hinterlands, maybe to feel better about themselves in carrying the white man’s burden, maybe to prove stronger than the misfortunes of the world, maybe to do good simply for good’s own sake, and there is also virtue here. Much evil was done under this premise, yet also many good public works. It is a certain confident (to the point of arrogance) selflessness  that is different from the white guilt that permeates instead this similar epoch in the next century.

There are many who sit on the opposite face of the world, just as well as this teacher, all aching to burn with the fires of their own ideals. They only require the opportunity.

“So this, I ask you, you have tried so hard and swallowed your pride. Could you take not being the main teacher anymore, but merely the assistant?”

“Don Crisostomo, please punch me in the face.”

“… why?”

“It pains me that it would prove Padre Damaso is correct, it was not my place. But your plan is… much stronger than my own plan would have been, I admit. If it would please you at all, do it.”

Old Tasio is pointing at me with his jaw hanging open, his chin high in the air. He is halfway between laughing and a scream. “Oh you would do this? They would hate you. They would hate you so much. This is the second solution, is not? Punch them all in the faces, and they will not be able to stand up again! Ha!”

He opens his palms towards Sisa and her children. “And I suppose such a teacher would need a maid and helpers.”

Crispin looks up at me, with awestruck eyes. “I want to be rich…” he murmurs under his breath, even as he still pets and half-embraces Googol sitting by his side.

Basilio frowns at me, and then shakes his head. ‘You are not finished’’, he wants to say, but politely demurs.

And you would be absolutely correct, young perceptive one. But for that, we need to practice using certain equipment. I grin fiercely.

“Don Filipo, our Tiniente Mayor, has invited me to attend a town meeting later this afternoon. No, my plan requires all your aid in much sooner, much more direct ways. In eight days, there will be the festival of San Diego. We too have much to do, many works to prepare. It will all be revealed then.”


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3.2 Let Us Look Busy

E-mails, phone calls, Web sites, videos. They’re still all letters, basically, and they’ve come to outnumber old-fashioned conversations. They are the conversation now.

– Walter Kirn


The next day I spend writing letters.

In many ways, this is my actual job. A part of me still rails at the idea the art of letter-writing could ever vanish, yet another instinctively attempts and is puzzled at why I cannot backspace and rephrase my choice of words as I write things out by hand.

As I sit here in my father’s study, I ponder the notion of the gentleman farmer as an advocate for democracy. As a landowner myself, and a man standing at the precipice of a revolution, is this not naturally my own role?

Many of America’s founding fathers considered that the truly free man is one who can live in a manner becoming free – to have a certain amount of leisure, but also not enough wealth as to have it consume one’s attentions. The kind of wealth that comes from lands is one in which did not take up much of one’s time and could be left to properly trained subordinates, and leaving the man free to pursue his own curiosities for civics and science.

Perhaps the quintessential figure of the gentleman farmer in this era was Thomas Jefferson – author of the Declaration of Independence, the first ambassador abroad, activist, scientist, agriculturist, philosopher, polymath and visionary, he crafted with his life and ideals the model of American’s neo-classical virtues. He became the third President of the United States in 1801 to 1809 – a fine start to this century!

In many ways he opposed the establishment of a new aristocracy that aped the mannerisms of the British Empire; the corruption of the cities, banks, and all businesses which sought to curtail liberty in the name of profit; he mandated free education, free press, free voting; encouraged religious freedom and tolerance; and well did the United States model itself and its themes on the Roman Republic.

There was a romantic quality to the man who is chosen to wield absolute power, and to let go of it willingly to simply go back to the farm. Like Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the very model of civil virtue.

This, the yeoman republic, would not concern itself much with the pursuit of wealth or social ranks, but of moral insight. Above all things he valued liberty, and thought that even a standing army a threat to the freedom of its own citizens.

He said: Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.

Which is, after all, true. This is how colonization works. The suppression of the people’s desire to decide what is best for themselves, is a necessary foundation for the continuing and effortless enrichment of the distant entrenched few.

So how much bitter then, the resentment, for the enriched entrenched near?

He died in 1826, a full thirty-five years before the Americans fought the Civil War and his vision of the agrarian economy found its flaw in the crushing economic and industrial superiority of the north against the more agrarian south.

My spirit longs to emulate Jefferson, for the sigh of the barrios is the yearning call of the nation. A humble heart can be trusted, for it is to treat people as tools that is the beginning of evil. It feels a trifle arrogant to compare myself to a legitimately devoted polymath, but what else could I be with all this in my head? I am obligated to follow his example. I must feel deeply and truly for my people.

But also my brain rings with the lessons of a hundred years sympathetic to the more cynical Hamilton. A nation must be strong in itself, or shortly it shall cease to exist. The people can want things to happen, but there is nothing that says the people will not be wrong. Prejudice can be cured, but it takes long doing. The pitiless machinery of industry wins wars, but how then can we expect anyone to first pick up the rifle and shovel if the call does not empower them?

Slavery was not something he believed could be solved within his generation; and so it was in the next. Bloodily, brutally, but decisively.

No wonder so many are drawn to brute simplicity of the strong-man culture, the all-encompassing solutions of monarchism and dictatorships. If all people would just damn well cooperate in the plan, then in this life we might even create the egalitarian paradise.

Save for, of course, people inherently being predisposed to division. There is a strong tendency for dualism in society – the rich and the poor, the noble and the peasants, the oligarchs and the proletariat, the urban and the rural, white over black, man against woman, the norm and the degenerate, the oppressed and the enemy.

How so easy it would be to use the bigotry. Enflame the people’s passions, and you can make them do anything. As in the recollections of the psychologist Gustave Gilbert with Goering in the cells of Nuremberg:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

It is a compelling theory. Yes: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

The aggregate of minds within me really, really, really want to try out the campy overdramatic delights of a being a Dark Lord.

Which is why it is fortunate that I have decided to found a media company instead.

——

The second letter is to the Diaro de Manila, one of two daily newspapers in the country and the competitor to the La Esperanza, and widely considered the less boring of the two. Founded in 1848, it would eventually be closed in 1898 when the authorities found that its presses were being used to print revolutionary material.

I asked if I might submit to them a series of articles with illustrations. If necessary, I would pay for the extra printing expenses.

Perhaps something titled “Be ye The Sub-Mariner! How Man Now Braves the Depths for the Advancement of Commerce, Warfare, and Human Knowledge!

—–

The first of these series of articles regarding submarines would be about the three different types of underwater craft – the semi-submersible, the fleet submarine, and deep explorer.

The world did not yet have a proper submarine, most were simply submersible craft with limited depth, submerged time, and underwater navigation.

The submersible had as its advantage its speed, being made to travel above the waves for most of the time. It requires much less complex construction. Among these one might find certain torpedo boats, the Confederate David-class submarines of the American Civil War, and certain others. However, just as fitting would be light pleasure craft and smuggling vessels.

A proper fleet submarine however, was not a vessel for defense. Go further than just the thought of sinking the enemy’s ships at harbor or through the obvious passageways, it is for a silly ideal world and war is rarely ideal. No, the better to force the enemy’s action than to sit and wait! France’s Jeune Ecole, the “Young School” naval policy was a mix of fast torpedo boats and stealthy submarines, good torpedoes and other such devices to prevent the dominance of the battleship through a much cheaper force. But this has its undeniable flaw, that lives are not so expensive. Sailors must go out knowing they are disposable.

Unfortunately there were severe technological challenges that must first be overcome, but the fleet submarine, properly supported with its own submarine tender ship, can penetrate any rival nation’s waters with near impunity. While coastal submarines can afford to be lone hunters, proper fleet submarines were best used as their own task forces.

The simplest and with the most ability to stay underwater for the longest and deepest, was the bathysphere held steady by its mother ship above. This deep-sea diver was the larger, stronger and slower cousin of all submersibles.

One would have to be stronger than Atlas to bear the weight of all the oceans, it would take the very bravest and most patient soul to dare the slow descent in a globe of creaking metal. All submarines have a crush depth; beyond which the pressures could no longer be resisted be the geometry of metal and the air within. A needle would survive being dropped into the deepest point of the ocean, but any gap, any vain pockets of air, would experience a crushing fist uncountable millions of tons strong.

Thus, there were three main considerations for submarine duty.

· Speed, both surface and underwater.

· Endurance and ease of operation.

· Maximum depth.

The ideal submarine is thus a matter of compromises. What is most important to you?

To me, the knowledge that man could attempt it at all was worthy of celebration. Sure, to conquer the air, that is the dream of many. But what comes up must inevitably come down, it felt a bit simple. Balloons alone had allowed us to reach up into the sky blue, and true heavier-than-air flight requires stronger engines to allow for more than one or two passengers. Passenger airships are in our future, it is inevitable, and personally it held little mystery to me. It was a matter of technical limitations.

The lively depths of the ocean’s blue however, was a place so inimical to our air-breathing form of life we might as well be exploring another planet! It was so unknown, and so I love it!

There was so much more to discover about the ocean, it was its own world eerie and beautiful, and so important to every living thing on this planet.

The complexity of submarines, their relative slow speed, and their great utility for warfare means that few are the civilians who would be allowed to own them. Groups performing oceanographic research would find these civilian submarines be most useful in exploring shipwrecks and monitoring the natural resources available just off shore. They may dive into the abyssal depths and to behold the gape-mawed creatures that wait underneath, living where there is no light, glowing with their own uncanny luminance. Small hobby submersibles were within reach, as they are more for subsurface observation there is little need to enclose them in depth-resistant hulls.

Most importantly, mapping good fishing grounds and protecting fish habitats was the key to rich sustainable harvests of the ocean’s bounty.

All I required were some small waterproof motors and efficient screws so that the divers need to tire themselves out in their pleasant undersea voyage. The hull materials I could order forged or carved by local labor, and curved glass already on the way from America.

It was a pity that in the Philippines there was no factory for the production of batteries in large quantity, for which I would have an endless appetite, but it was just as well since sulfuric acid was so poisonous and corrosive when improperly handled.

Perhaps by next month, I would have ready the Ibarra Personal Submersible for a test dive in the Laguna de Bay. And then, if it works, the patent papers which I already have ready would be filed.

—–

Also, there was that a certain Enrique Lucio Eugenio Gaspar y Rimbau was at some point a correspondent for the Diaro de Manila. The year is 1887, and in this same year I expected him to publish “El Anacronópete” – Who Flies Against Time – a Spanish science fiction novel about time travel.

It predates by a year H.G. Well’s first story in said subject matter, “The Chronic Argonauts”.

From Diario de Manila,I could ask for more contacts for my mailing list.

————

The third letter is to young Señor Mata, expressing similar content as the letter prior. He had revealed to me that the next on his itinerary was mysterious exotic Zipang. More germane to my interests, while said land had rather lackluster iron, they were driven by a hunger for good steel. They imported raw ore and coal and produce some high-quality alloys – and I required a particular form of high tensile steel for my future submarines.

I included a quick sketch of what I thought the ideal shape for a fleet submarine, with their distinctive dagger prow. I wrote: ‘If you should happen to be shown the katana, the arming sword of their samurai warrior class, you will see why this makes perfect sense to me. Battleships are a hammer, these are my swords.”

There was little to fear from someone taking the hullform and making a better submarine with it rather than all the present bulbous designs, because it was an obvious development. If you want a bigger submarine, of course you would want to put the ballast tanks outside your main hull, and then wrap it up in a more hydrodynamic shape.

I doubt this would somehow butterfly away Tsushima, wherein the Japanese Imperial Navy would soundly defeat the Russian Empire’s fleet. It was the first victory of an Asian power against a white Western one, and established Japan as the sixth great naval power. With their skillful use of wireless communications for naval coordination, and emphasis on long-range fire by big guns, it ushered the grand old age of battleships and the almost literally mad phase of research, development, and construction of the post-Dreadnought era.

A nation’s number of battlewagons directly reflected its prestige, and nothing would compare to their mastery over the waves until the arrival of the carrier. But also a short while from thence only the pre-eminent role of the nuclear bomb would stand higher as proof a nation’s might. A mighty fleet tempts one into using them.

The Philippines cannot afford any part of that i̶n̶s̶a̶n̶i̶t̶y arms race, haha oh no.

————

Another to the Jesuits, for it was a Jesuit educated priest in Brazil that made the first voice transmission over radio in 1900, and the Jesuits run the Manila Observatory. I hoped to make an appointment to visit them, though this might sound a bit suspicious to the other religious orders in the country. The Jesuits do have a certain reputation for spycraft and intrigue.

There were many common scientific interests we could speak about. Perhaps they would be interested in oceanography and a theory of plate tectonics.  Where many orders in this country dealt with matters of faith and the practical, now only the Jesuits really considered science as a part of the Christian service.

————

My baggage has already arrived from Manila.

Included within the crates are some steel frames, piping, , a pump, and a large vessel with valves. Another contained bottles of liquid ammonia. These are the parts required to make a small ice maker.

Another crate had lead plates, bottles of sulfuric acid, and a ceramic casing. All the parts for several lead-acid batteries, separated for less complications during shipping.

Yet one more crate contained more steel piping, copper wires insulated with asphalt-impregnated cotton cloth, a dynamo, and a small steam engine.

The shipment is addressed as courtesy of the McEiling Valley Trade Company.

Yeees. This person was meant to be the recipient of the first letter I had written that morning. Well again I was relieved that this person was two continents away.

I can feel the unconscious stirrings across the centuries, some avowing that I was still better off doing this alone, while others saying that I should have asked for more advantages at the start.

Tiredly, my hand beginning to cramp up, I look down at Googol sitting at the floor. “So what do you think about McEiling? Can we afford to keep doing this?”

Googol only tilts his head to the side. He still has no sympathy whatsoever about anything. He rolls over to present his belly to be scratched.

I crumple up a page into a ball and toss it. Googol races after it to fetch.

————

Another letter to the Dominicans, specifically to Padre Sybila of San Juan de Letran. I could have written directly to the Archbishop of Manila, but this was not yet such an urgent matter. It was a simple question of doctrine.

So I wrote to him the events of two days ago. Then that Padre Salvi had refused the burial of a man slain by the Guardia Civil not just in his hometown, but anywhere. Does he actually have the authority to do this? Even common criminals have a long custom of being given a Christian burial.

True, we could simply have buried him somewhere, but without a priest’s blessing on the grave it is doubted that his soul would be able to find heaven. I was very puzzled with the declaration so I had ordered the corpse pickled in wine until we could figure out this doctrinal issue. But my good intentions are getting me strange looks from the townsfolk, so please, I would very much appreciate any counsel for this situation.

————

I sigh and look to the side. I am a man of science, ghosts do not exist. Unfortunately I seem to have forgotten that my mere existence is already a supernatural phenomenon.

Pedro, yes. We will have you buried, just wait a few more days.

The broadly muscular dark man with bloody clothes glares at me. Unlike what the Japanese legends say, ghosts do have feet, it is very notable to me that he is barefoot in death as he was in life. He is less transparent than just very blurry as if always in motion. Like wisps of matter being thrown off and then combining again.

Pedro, no. The ghost attempts to kick Googol who is snapping at his ghostly essence, but his leg just passes through the dog’s head. Not one of the corgi’s hairs are even disturbed. He just sits on his haunches with that stupidly pleased look on his face.

I guess all this could still be just a hallucination. I may simply be functionally insane, this an expression of my guilty conscience. And since this dog can see my hallucinations, you the crazy dog.

Jung. Jung. Jungjungjungjung. Jung. Jungjungjungjung.

Damnation, now I have that tune stuck in my head. [Googol] stop helping.

It is sad to think that I would probably be a lot more unhinged and even more prone to jumping the gun without a therapeutic pet. I wonder – as Freud lives in this era, maybe I should also ask his opinion about this.

——-

It is nearly noon. I have been invited to have my lunch again at Old Tasio’s house, that I might finally address the lives I have ruined with my nonchalance.


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