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