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How he tore them open. He flung himself on bed and no sound came from him. And he read on. Then he was crying. I had to close my door. The next day we got drunk together, that is, he got drunk and I helped him home.
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Then he was all right. Well, after the typhoon, I came to Manila and looked for Steve. Maybe he could help me decide whether to stay and if I stayed, could he help me get a job, or if he said I could go back to the States, could he help me get a visa? It was not hard looking for him. But, boy, you should have seen Doc, his room was filled.
And when the nurse smiled at me to ask whether I wanted anything, I said, I wanted to see Steve. Is it personal, she asks. So I waited and the patients came in and out of his room, and once I saw Steve push open the door for a fat dame, and I jumped. I waited long, but it was comfortable waiting.
Finally there were no more patients and Steve came out and told the nurse, well, that seems to be all for the day, and then he saw me. Oh, he said, thinking perhaps I was another patient.
Then I came over to him. He pulled me with him to his room, come on in, come on in, he says. Good, he said laughing, and for some time we sat there looking at each other. Maybe I looked different, too. Then, he said, why. He seemed serious suddenly, or kind of ashamed. So I told him my trouble about wanting to go back to the States, could he help me? He thought the matter for a while, then he asked, in what way can I help you?
So I hurried to explain that all I wanted was permission from the right people to go back to America. You should know some of the guys in the foreign office or in the American Embassy, I told him. Oh, sure, he said. So, when shall I see you agian, I asked him. Then he stood up, meaning I got to blow.
So I prepared to go, not knowing what to say. As I was going through the swinging door, he called. The nurse picked up a pen and paper and waited as I stood in front of her.
How do you spell that, she asks. Now Steve was dialing the phone. And thoughts kept coming to me. His voice had not changed, now he was talking: Darling, I should have called earlier, but I just got rid of a visitor. I said Pinoy just one of those Pinoys I had met in the States. You got to fix it up with Mr. Then I have no more friends here, really. Steve was one swell friend.
Do you know what I felt like doing as soon as I left the clinic? You see, out there, they got a custom among the rich. When a member of their family dies, the surviving members pay for an ad which says the guy is dead, how old he was, whom he left behind, and please to pray for his soul. I guess it works. So, I wanted to buy an ad in the papers which says, the friends of Dr. Esteban Hernandez, pray for his soul, he died today in his clinic while talking to a girl friend on the phone. He died without memories.
Pray for his soul.
But that would be a crazy thing to do. Well, you write me, Bob. Out here in this warm country, you do not remember the faraway summers. You do not remember period. I think it is better that way. You are commenting using your WordPress.
You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. The next day he came, at about three in the afternoon. There was a mild, ineffectual sun shining, and it was not too cold. He was wearing an old brown tweed jacket and worsted trousers to match. His shoes were polished, and although the green of his tie seemed faded, a colored shirt hardly accentuated it. He looked younger than he appeared the night before now that he was clean shaven and seemed ready to go to a party. He was grinning as we met.
But Roger, that's my boy, he believed me immediately. What's he like, daddy, he asks. Oh, you will see, I says, he's first class. No, no, I laugh at him, your daddy ain't first class. Aw, but you are, daddy, he says. So you can see what a nice boy he is, so innocent.
Then Ruth starts griping about the house, but the house is a mess, she says. True it's a mess, it's always a mess, but you don't mind, do you? We're poor folks, you know. The trip seemed interminable. We passed through narrow lanes and disappeared into thickets, and came out on barren land overgrown with weeds in places. All around were dead leaves and dry earth. In the distance were apple trees.
I got lots of 'em. I got an apple orchard, I'll show you. The trees are getting ready to die, and they show their colors, proud-like. That remark seemed unkind, I realized later. It touched him off on a long deserted tangent, but ever there perhaps. How many times did lonely mind take unpleasant detours away from the familiar winding lanes towards home for fear of this, the remembered hurt, the long lost youth, the grim shadows of the years; how many times indeed, only the exile knows.
It was a rugged road we were traveling and the car made so much noise that I could not hear everything he said, but I understood him. He was telling his story for the first time in many years. He was remembering his own youth. He was thinking of home. In these odd moments there seemed no cause for fear no cause at all, no pain.
That would come later. In the night perhaps. Or lonely on the farm under the apple trees. In this old Visayan town, the streets are narrow and dirty and strewn with coral shells. You have been there? You could not have missed our house, it was the biggest in town, one of the oldest, ours was a big family.
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The house stood right on the edge of the street. A door opened heavily and you enter a dark hall leading to the stairs. There is the smell of chickens roosting on the low-topped walls, there is the familiar sound they make and you grope your way up a massive staircase, the bannisters smooth upon the trembling hand. Such nights, they are no better than the days, windows are closed against the sun; they close heavily. Mother sits in her corner looking very white and sick. This was her world, her domain.
In all these years, I cannot remember the sound of her voice. He lived in the past and talked of honor as though it were the only thing. I was born in that house. I grew up there into a pampered brat. One day I broke their hearts. I saw mother cry wordlessly as father heaped his curses upon me and drove me out of the house, the gate closing heavily after me. And my brothers and sisters took up my father's hate for me and multiplied it numberless times in their own broken hearts. I was no good. But sometimes, you know, I miss that house, the roosting chickens on the low-topped walls.
I miss my brothers and sisters, Mother sitting in her chair, looking like a pale ghost in a corner of the room. I would remember the great live posts, massive tree trunks from the forests. Leafy plants grew on the sides, buds pointing downwards, wilted and died before they could become flowers. As they fell on the floor, father bent to pick them and throw them out into the coral streets.
His hands were strong. I have kissed these hands. Finally we rounded a deep curve and suddenly came upon a shanty, all but ready to crumble in a heap on the ground, its plastered walls were rotting away, the floor was hardly a foot from the ground. I thought of the cottages of the poor colored folk in the south, the hovels of the poor everywhere in the land. This one stood all by itself as though by common consent all the folk that used to live here had decided to say away, despising it, ashamed of it.
Even the lovely season could not color it with beauty. A dog barked loudly as we approached. A fat blonde woman stood at the door with a little boy by her side. Roger seemed newly scrubbed. He hardly took his eyes off me. Ruth had a clean apron around her shapeless waist. Now as she shook my hands in sincere delight I noticed shamefacedly that I should notice how rough her hands were, how coarse and red with labor, how ugly! She was no longer young and her smile was pathetic.
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As we stepped inside and the door closed behind us, immediately I was aware of the familiar scent of apples. The room was bare except for a few ancient pieces of second-hand furniture. In the middle of the room stood a stove to keep the family warm in winter. The walls were bare. Over the dining table hung a lamp yet unlighted. Ruth got busy with the drinks. She kept coming in and out of a rear room that must have been the kitchen and soon the table was heavy with food, fried chicken legs and rice, and green peas and corn on the ear.
Even as we ate, Ruth kept standing, and going to the kitchen for more food. Roger ate like a little gentleman.
The boy smiled at me. You look like Daddy," he said. Afterwards I noticed an old picture leaning on the top of a dresser and stood to pick it up. It was yellow and soiled with many fingerings. The faded figure of a woman in Philippine dress could yet be distinguished although the face had become a blur. I have often wondered who she is. It was a young face and good. The room is full of it. He showed me a backroom, not very big.
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