In the town of San Diego lived an old man who loved books, named Don Anastasio Manuel Marcao y Quesada. In his youth his mother had feared his studies of philosophy would lead to impiety and thus imperil his immortal soul. Seeing as he had no small ability in this pursuit nor lack of courage in expressing his view, there was indeed a strong danger of insulting the priests or veering into outright heresy.
Therefore she gave him an ultimatum; either he would take his talents to the priesthood, or quit his studies in college. He chose to abandon his studies for he wished to get married.
Yet it came to pass that in the same year he lost his mother and then his wife to illness. He then could only turn to books for solace, and thus freed from all obligations began to pursue his studies to the exclusion of all else; including his business. His obsession eventually ruined what wealth was left to him by his Chinese ancestors, leaving him with what was enough to maintain his lifestyle.
In town he was called Philosopher Tasio, Pilosopo Tasio by those who recognized the volume of information trapped within his mind. More called him Tasio the Mad, Tasiong Sinto-sinto, for his manners and ideas were peculiar and sacrilegious to the townsfolk.
He was, of course, a close friend to the late Don Rafael Ibarra.
So when the Guardia Civil approached him, he felt a touch of both fear and disdain. For these men exemplified the adage ‘give an inch and take a mile’, with a base cunning to exploit any display of weakness. The old man grit his teeth and stopped in the middle of the road as they approached. Even with the state of his financial affairs, he was still a part of the town aristocracy.
“Don Anastasio? The Alferez sent us to ask you for a small favor.”
“A good man will obtain favor from the Lord; but He will condemn a man who devises evil,” he replied. “Favors are the most weakest of currency among men; friends do not owe it to each other, and cannot be forced to action should the promise prove unwilling. If you have already done one favor, why not another? But the favors owed to men are not like the favor that God grants, they are heavy, and can too many granted puts the one giving them under the power of the one who asks. In this way kings have ruined many of their more annoying courtiers.
So tell me, for what reason does the Alferez want to put me in his debt?”
The Guardia Civil sergeant curled up his lips, and his bushy mustache drooped low over his chin. “We are simple soldiers, we do not understand nor care for these things. We have only our orders. Our orders are to find you, and ask your assistance leading us where the sabungero Pedro and his wife named Sisa live. They are not under arrest or to be harmed, so you might be able to calm them down and allow us to bring them to Don Crisostomo Ibarra’s house.”
The words ‘and why should I do this?’ died on Old Tasio’s lips. “Don Crisostomo? Not the barracks?”
“The Sacristan Mayor has accused the boys of Pedro and Sisa as thieves, but Don Crisostomo has shown that it was the Sacristan that was stealing all along. He has now fled from the church, but not before sending out the servants to find Pedro, implicating him as the thief.”
Old Tasio understood then, that it was not the Alferez behind this scheme.
Sisa’s house was a typical bahay kubo, a nipa house on stilts with walls and floors made out of split bamboo. Raising the house was clever in terms of sanitation, for rats cannot get up to the house and find places to hide, while dust and grime would fall through the slats in the floor to the shadowed area beneath. This area could be used to shelter animals, and ensured the home would be comfortably dry even during the worst floods. That the house is so lightly built meant it had little to fear from earthquakes, but of course more from being blown over by a typhoon. Fire was a rare danger, since homes such as these were rarely built side to side, but like Sisa’s with a fenced-in vegetable garden around it.
And from within issued a woman’s fearful wail.
“Do you think I should be thankful for whatever scraps you show me? I know what they say about me, that I do not care about this family, but I didn’t raise my children to be thieves! You did!”
“Please, it’s a lie! They would never!”
“Where is it, woman?! Where did you hide the money?!”
“Please… I haven’t seen them. For a week now, I haven’t seen my sons!”
“Those little pesos they give, do you think I give a damn? I care more for my fighting cock because a good bird can earn thirty, fifty pesos in a day! He’s worth more than a hundred pesos! He’s worth more than all of you! You scrabble for a couple of pesos, stupid! So many stupid people all around me, who know nothing, but still think themselves better than a mere gambler! Timid and useless!
And that stupidity you have given to your sons! They see something shiny and like stupid monkeys they pick it up!”
There was another loud smack, and the sound of cracking clay pots, and then only sobbing.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Old Tasio cried out. “We must help.”
For while it the neighbors might cross themselves and mutter about how wicked it is to beat a virtuous inoffensive woman as Sisa, even if she was your wife, none would bother to get up and interfere in the matters of another family. Much less the Guardia Civil. Beating your wife was not actually a crime, for if so then the Alferez would not
“You still have to bring them in, yes? Come on, let us at least interrupt!”
“… I suppose, but we are not under your command, Don Anastasio.”
Old Tasio shouted “Pedro! Enough! It is I, Tasio, and I have the Guardia Civil with me!”
“Putang ina!” was the panicked cry from inside.
“If something happens to your wife now, it will be on your head! Show your face and come with us, we will sort this out! Your boys have been falsely accused!”
“No! You – you’re just like them, Old Tasio, the Lunatic! You lie! I won’t be fooled – you want to kill me!”
“He is not going to show his face, because of course if we can see him we can shoot him,” the sergeant opined with a dismissive snort.
“If we charge in there, he could attack us with his bolo…” the soldier beside him said quietly.
“Well, he cannot stay in there forever!” the old man retorted.
The group stared up at the poor house. Only Old Tasio really cared about Sisa’s life.
“Maybe we could smoke him out?” said the young soldier from earlier.
It sounded crazy, but it could work. With such large windows, it would be easy enough to escape such a fire even if it spread quickly. Some of the walls were even woven sawali, split bamboo mats often used as bedding by the poor.
But the fire, kindled by gunpowder, spread alarmingly quickly.
There was a crashing noise, and a scream.
Pedro fled into the forests from the back window of his house. Old Tasio braved to enter the burning hut, and forced the two Guardia Civil to drag out the battered Sisa.
“Well, they do say the hen is more valuable than the chicks,” said the sargeant.
Old Tasio agreed. “Let us take her to safety, if you want to draw the boys out, then this might help.”
The hut burned merrily behind them, but the old man was relieved that it least the Guardia Civil did not need to shot anyone that day.
Yet less than thirty minutes later, blood spattered across the road.
“Is this your first time seeing someone be killed, senor?” asked the sergeant with a faintly scornful tone. “Fool rushed at us with his bolo, this a good kill. A good kill!”
Old Tasio stared from the body to Sisa, kneeling insensate on the ground. In the end, he wondered, had Pedro found again the will to care at seeing his wife being taken away, or had he merely been mad at rage at having his merry world upended so easily? He had followed them to ambush the group by the roadside, rather than flee into the next town as the trio had assumed.
His first swing could have killed the younger Guardia Civil had he not managed to bring his rifle up to block in time; the damage sure to get him scolded later. The officer shot Pedro in the chest with his pistol.
To rescue, or to revenge himself upon his tormentors – no one could say anymore. A Filipino’s blood can boil hot, and when running amok there is no sin.
“No such thing… no such thing at all…” Old Tasio whispered.
The Ibarra home was at the other end of town. Sisa was spared any more humiliation from being carried like an invalid into town by the arrival of Don Crisostomo’s personal calesa.
The Ibarra home, unlike the De Los Santos home of Capitan Tiago, was much less ostentatious. It was, however, a fair bit larger as befits the heart of a hacienda. The family of Ibarra did not own any other real estate beyond the town of San Diego.
Crisostomo Ibarra was aghast at seeing the Guardia Civil drag an unconscious woman into his house. “What happened?!”
Similarly ignoring the rituals of politeness, Old Tasio asked the young man “Don Crisostomo. What have you done? How did you know when to send the calesa as we needed?”
“I have just arrived from Manila less than an hour ago. I returned from Europe just yesterday! I have no idea why whatever is happening!” He pointed towards Sisa, now sitting bonelessly upon his sofa. He sent out the calesa as soon as the third member of the troop detached from the sergeant’s group had arrived at his home. “What led to this?!”
Old Tasio reported to him what happened. He was disturbed by the company the young man kept, but was calmed by how he still meant well.
“Wait, that is all it takes? Everything falls apart for a man’s vice? I had asked the Alferez for a favor, to send his troops out to find you that you might help to lower the tension.”
“… and I have failed at it,” the old man added feebly.
Ibarra sighed. “Don Anastasio, forgive me, it is my fault. I had meddled in things beyond my grasp.” The young man looked off to the distance. “Which is better – to know what is happening, but have no control; or not to know anything but still able to act? Ahh, this is the terror of the human condition.”
“What do you mean?” asked Old Tasio.
“The blood at the floor was chicken blood,” Ibarra said in a pained non-sequitur. “And it was Padre Salvi that broke the offering box, after his Sacristan Mayor had already fled.”
Old Tasio blinked, in dismayed realization that it was probably the loss of his prized cock that maddened Pedro so. Ah, to run amok over a cock. Only in the Philippines.