Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sink or Swim

Sink or Swim

“Look, she has hair on her kili-kili! Yecch! Blecch! Ewwww!” I whisper to my four-year-old sister Tisha, who is too busy splashing about in the water with her tiny little hands to care. “Yecch! Blecch! Ewww!” she squeals, followed by a fit of giggles. She’s copying the way I talk again. I don’t think she even knows what I’m talking about. But never mind. She looks so cute in her orange bikini I want to bite her.

Tisha hasn’t been listening to me lately. She should, because I’m her Ate, but these days she’s just been such a bad girl. Even Yaya says so. Suwail, she calls Tisha. Last year, in the sandbox in school, when I told her the Family Secret she just kept on shoveling sand into her little yellow pail. She was making a castle for her Princess Barbie doll.

“Tisha, I’ll tell you a secret but you promise not to tell, okay?”

“Okay.” She pressed her little palms to pack the sand into the pail and inverted it onto the ground.

“Swear to God? Cross your heart and hope to die?”

She crossed her heart with her left hand while patting the roof of her castle with her right.

“You know why Mom was crying again last night?”

“’Cause she was sad?”

“Yeah, but do you know why she was sad?’

Tisha just shrugged. She poured some water from her Thermos on her castle to make it more siksik. I wanted to scold her for wasting her cold drinking water but I was too busy telling her the secret.

“Dad had a child with another woman! We have a half-brother! His name is Diego!”

She didn’t even look at me. She scooped sand again into her yellow pail. Then, she got sand from the pail with her shovel…and put it into her Thermos! Into her drinking water! “Mwahahahahahaha!” she laughed an evil laugh like The Count on Sesame Street. “Sand Juice! With ice! Yum,yum! Want some, Ate Tanya?” She finally looked up at me and smirked.

Tisha isn’t listening to me either today on this very hot day at the Olympic-sized swimming pool at the YWCA, which is filled with lots of children who look negro already from their swimming lessons. The little girls’ bathing suits are not very nice, not like mine and Tisha’s, which Mom bought for us in Rustan’s. Mine is a pink one-piece with big yellow flowers and a bumblebee. Tisha’s is an orange bikini with plastic yellow rings that hold the bra in the middle and on each side of the panty. She chose it herself. She’s so arte talaga. The little boys are so magulo and their swimming trunks just look like ordinary pambahay. I think they go to public school because they’re not speaking in English. And the water smells funny, like Clorox mixed with sweat and rubber from their ugly black salbabidas. We’re on the side of the pool in the corner facing the street—me, Tisha and her—Diego’s mom, our swimming teacher, Hairy Kili-kili Woman.

“It’s okay with you?” I heard Dad say last week when Mom suggested we take swimming lessons with her. I almost said ‘Ewwww!’ out loud but I covered my mouth. “Why not?” Mom replied. “You’ve always wanted the girls to learn how to swim, right? She’s as good a teacher as any, I suppose. At least she’s someone we know,” she said. “Ang bait mo talaga,” he said and smiled.

She wasn’t always that kind to him about her. Last-last year, another one of Mom’s crying and fighting sessions with Dad woke me up. I ran to their room and saw her trying to grab a yellow Kodak envelope from Dad. “Let me see! Is that the kid? Let me see!” she yelled. I had never heard her shout at him before. I could tell Dad was very angry because his bushy eyebrows formed one straight line, like Bert’s in Sesame Street. “Give them back!” he yelled back at her. Their agawan became very rough. I got scared. Then, I got even more scared when Dad caught me peeking by the door and yelled at me, too: “Tanya! Go back to your room!”

Dad used to be nice, especially when he would tell me bedtime stories about Achilles and his heel and Medusa and her snake hairdo from his old brown Greek Mythology pocketbook. Or when he’d show me the great paintings of the world from the Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia like the “Mona Lisa” or the dark blue and yellow swirly one like in the song “Starry, Starry Night.” But lately, especially after Tisha turned two, he began to yell more and more often. Especially when we touched his things. Once when I got his giant brown Swingline stapler from his study table because I needed it to staple my assignment for English and I forgot to return it, he started screaming at the whole house. He yelled, “Sino ba’ng punyeta’ng kumukuha ng mga gamit ko?” and started throwing things. But I was only borrowing it! I just forgot to ask for his permission. I was too afraid to return the stapler, so I hid in my closet and buried it under my clothes until I was sure he was gone. Later, I returned it when he wasn’t looking.

Last February 14, Mom didn’t even come home at all. That day, we made greeting cards for our parents in art class with red art paper. I cut out two big hearts and glued them on top of each other and wrote “It’s Valentine’s Day!” on top of the hearts using red Pentel Pen. But when I got home and Mom wasn’t there, I got worried. So I wrote “Please don’t fight!” on top of “It’s Valentine’s Day” and put the card beside their dinner plates. I waited and waited for Mom to come home until I fell asleep. At midnight, I woke up and ran to the dining room. Their plates were still there, untouched. Maybe they went out to dinner together and didn’t see my card! So I got the card and went to their room. Dad was sleeping alone in their bed. Even if I was scared he might shout at me for waking him up, I tapped him on his back and gave him the card. I started to cry. “Where’s Mom?” I asked. “Don’t cry,” he said, “she slept in your Tita Alice’s house.” I didn’t ask why. He let me sleep beside him. When Yaya woke me up to go to school the next morning, Mom still wasn’t there.

Maybe Mom decided to be kind now because Tita Alice told her, “Just kill him with kindness,” when Mom confessed to her and my other titas, the wives of Dad’s brothers, that Dad had a kid with another woman. They were all in the garden pretending to look at Mom’s orchids. They thought I couldn’t hear them from where I was by the swing, but I could. I pretended to fix my favorite Raggedy Ann and Andy knee socks because their elastic parts were so worn out they kept rolling down. I had to put rubber bands on each knee and fold the top of each sock over to keep them up.

“Ang bait mo naman,” my Tita Mary said, “Okay lang sa ’yo?”

“Wala kong magagawa, eh. He’s always wanted a boy,” Mom shrugged. My other titas just kept quiet and looked away. “Eh, I couldn’t give him one. ‘Look o,” she pointed to Thea, our six-month-old baby sister in Yaya’s arms. “Another girl,” she sighed. “Wala akong laban.”

We are in the part of the pool near the stairs, and Hairy Kili-kili Woman is putting on her bathing cap. It’s like a shower cap but tighter and made of rubber. It’s bright green, matching her one-piece bathing suit with lots of leaves and flowers. Maybe her long, thick curly hair, which Yaya calls “kinky,” couldn’t fit into the cap, that’s why she had to wet it first to make it more flat. That’s how I first saw her kili-kili hair, which is also curly like the hair on her head, when she put her hands up to pile up all her hair on top to put the cap on. Ewwww. Her kili-kilis look like little curly porcupines. Maybe they need bathing caps, too. I imagine how that would look and start to laugh.

“First, we will learn how to do ‘bubbles’,” Hairy Kili-kili Woman tells us, leading us deeper into the part of the pool that says “3 FT.” The water reaches up to my kili-kili and almost up to Tisha’s neck. Tisha jumps up and down in the water and claps her hands. She loves bubbles. H.K.W. laughs, plants a kiss on Tisha’s cheek and jumps up and down with her. Ewwww. I flash Tisha a sungit look and try to make my eyebrows meet, but she doesn’t mind me. They’re holding hands in the water, and H.K.W. reaches out to me so I can join their circle, but I just stare at her and put my hands behind my back.

Okay, her name isn’t really H.K.W. It’s Amihan. Amihan Marquez. She’s a painter and a water ballerina. Mom told me this one night last year. I was on the floor in my room gluing pictures of flowers I cut out from her old Good Housekeeping magazines on bond paper for my “Flowers of the World” project in Botany. I thought she would get mad when she came into the room because I made so much kalat and spilled Elmer’s Glue on the floor. I was about to cover the gluey spot with a piece of bond paper so she wouldn’t see it when she suddenly sat down on the floor with me. She didn’t see the spot at all. Her eyes were red and she was wiping her sipon with a Kleenex. “Tanya, I have to talk to you,” she said, looking very serious. I wondered what I did wrong. Uh-oh, maybe I forgot to check if the magazines I was cutting were really old! Then, she got up and pulled me towards her. “Come with me,” she said and led me to the door. “Where are we going?” I asked. “To Aristocrat,” she said. “Let’s have a midnight snack.” It was only nine o’clock.

Mom, Tisha and I go to Aristocrat for breakfast every Sunday after hearing mass in Malate Church. It’s near our house on Carolina Street so we just walk. Dad stopped going to church a long time ago. Mom says he’s an atheist, which is someone who doesn’t believe in God. Mom says when he was a little boy he was a sacristan in their church, but when he became a grownup he stopped believing in God. That’s why Tisha and I study in the Learning Community where they don’t teach religion. Mom wanted us to go to a Catholic school like Assumption, but Dad said no. He said he wanted us to learn to think for ourselves and not according to any religion. That’s why when my cousins asked me to show them my First Communion picture and I said I didn’t have one, they laughed at me. Mom said not to mind them. She lets me take Communion anyway, because I like the taste of the Body of Christ.

“But Mom,” I whined, “I have to change first. I’m just in my pajamas and chinelas!” “That’s okay, let’s go, come on!” She almost yanked my arm off. That’s when I knew something was really wrong. She never allows us to leave the house unless we’re dressed nicely. We can’t even play outside in our slippers. We have to wear shoes.

I ordered my favorite Chicken Honey and a Choco-Vim. Mom wasn’t hungry. She just asked for tea. It was very different in Aristocrat at night. There were no children like on Sundays, no vendors in front selling balloons and colored popcorn and pet chicks and colorful maya birds in bamboo cages. Just negra-looking women in very short skirts wearing a lot of makeup, making landi to foreigners. I tried not to stare at them too much. I think they’re called Hospitality Girls. I see them hanging around the ago-go bars when the school bus passes by Mabini Street. While waiting for our order, Mom told me.

“You’re a big girl now,” she began. No, I’m not, I wanted to say, because when we form a line “according to height’ during flag ceremony, I’m just Number 2. “And you’re very smart for your age,” she continued. Oh, okay, maybe she meant I was only eight and already in Grade Four. All my other classmates were ten. “So I know it’s time for you to know,” Mom said, trying not to cry. She said Dad still loved us but he wanted a baby boy so badly that he had to find another Mommy for it. Mom said all she could make was girls like me and Tisha and Thea. But she said Diego, our baby brother, was very cute and we would meet him soon and he might stay with us during the weekends. She said not to tell other people, that it would be our Family Secret. Yaya later told me that Amihan was a kabit and Diego was an anak sa labas.

I tried to cry like Flor de Luna. I blinked my eyes very hard, waiting for tears to come out, but nothing came out. So I just embraced Mom and stroked her hair, which only made her cry more. I didn’t know what to do. The Hospitality Girls were looking at her. I said “Shhhh…” like I see in sad movies on TV. I felt like I was the Mommy and she was the baby. By the time my order came, I had lost my appetite, so Mom just told the waiter, “Take Home.”

Tita Amihan (Mom told me to call her that, but I still can’t say it out loud) is still smiling at me even if I’m suplada to her. Her teeth are very big and white, like her eyes. Maybe they look so white because her skin is so dark, not like Mom, who’s fair like me and has singkit eyes and short, straight hair like mine. We always have our hair cut in the same style in the beauty parlor, the Page Boy. It’s the same hairstyle in her wedding photo with Dad, where she looks so pretty in her Princess gown and he looks so handsome in his Amerikana, I swear they look just like a movie love team, like Susan Roces and Eddie Gutierrez or Gloria Romero and Juancho Gutierrez in the Sine Siete movies Yaya lets us watch every afternoon before our siesta.

Tisha looks more like Dad, dark and curly with big eyes. Yaya told me Tita Amihan looks like a Jeprox, like Sampaguita, because she’s always wearing long, loose clothes with no bra and doesn’t comb her hair whenever Yaya picks up Diego from their apartment every Saturday to bring him to our house. Once, when Mom heard me calling Tita Amihan a Jeprox, she got mad and said it’s not nice to call people names. She explained that Tita Amihan was an artist and probably a hippie, that’s why she looked like that. Mom said Tita Amihan was the one who painted the big blue and green painting in our sala. That’s what the A.M. in the bottom corner of the painting meant all along—Amihan Marquez! Well, it’s not really a painting of anything. It just looks like a jigsaw puzzle. Dad told me it’s called an abstract, but he didn’t tell me she painted it. It used to be my favorite painting in the whole house and I used to copy it all the time in my sketch pad with my Cray Pas—until I learned the Family Secret.

Well, I think she looks a like a bomba star. Like a negra Vivian Velez doing her sexy “Body Language” dance on Discorama on Channel 7. They have the same body, like in the rhyme the boys in school love to recite: “Wow sexy, Katawan Pepsi, Coca-Cola body, Lawlaw panty!”

Vivian Velez is also always bra-less. When she dances, she squirms and wiggles and her big boobs jiggle around, so Tisha and I laugh and copy her wriggly worm dance while singing, “When you’re moving next to me, I can feel your body heat, so come on move a little closer, let me feel your body heat…” Whenever we watch the show every Saturday night, Tito Boy, Mom’s younger brother, points to her nipples making bakat under her tube top and says “Hayop!”

Right now in the pool, Tita Amihan’s nipples are also making bakat under her wet bathing suit. She also won’t stop smiling at me. I hate her stupid smile. What’s she so happy about anyway? I suddenly remember that I haven’t seen Mom smile in such a long time. She’s always sad and crying or mad at Dad. “Okay, girls, who can show me how to inhale and exhale?” Tita Amihan asks. I raise my hand automatically like I always do when I know the answer in class. Tsk! Why’d I do that? Oh well. I won’t smile na lang. I show Tita Amihan and Tisha how, drawing in air through my nose and making my stomach small, then breathing the air out, making my stomach big. “Very good,” Tita Amihan exclaims and claps. “Now, we are going to make bubbles by doing what Tanya did—but under the water. Let’s blow out air through our nose and mouth. Let’s pretend we’re sea lions. Do you know what a sea lion is?” I roll my eyes. Sus! Of course I do! I learned it in Zoology. Does she know it’s a mammal? Tita Amihan sinks down into the water, and when Tisha sees bubbles form on top of her head, she gets excited and copies her right away. Soon, they’re both jumping up and down in the water again, making lots of bubbles and laughing when they come up. “Wow, Tisha, you’re a nachural!” she says, pronouncing natural with a “ch”. It’s just like the way Dad says pizza pie with a “ch” and supermarket and stupid with a “sh” instead of an “s”. They’re looking at me, but I just stand there with my arms crossed in front of me.

“Come on, Tanya, try it!” Tita Amihan calls out to me.

“Yes, Ate Tanya, try it, it’s fun!” Tisha squeals.

It looks pretty easy, but my feet are glued to the floor of the pool and I can’t move. It’s so noisy, I can’t concentrate—suddenly my ears have turned bionic and I can hear the kids in the pool talking, laughing, screaming and splashing water all at the same time. I stare at Tita Amihan’s curly porcupines. Maybe they’re baho like the anghit of the high school boys who play basketball in our school gym sometimes. I force myself to try. I bend my knees and crouch down until the water comes up to my chin, then I stop. I’m afraid to taste the water that’s been touched by her kili-kili hair, so I press my lips inwards very tightly to seal my tongue in, then continue crouching down until my head is completely under the water. But I forget to close my eyes! Ouch! The water goes inside my eyes and stings them, so I shut them very tight. I forget to exhale, so the water goes inside my nostrils, stinging them, too. Ouch! I jerk up and come out of the water. I start coughing and sputtering. My eyes are still shut tight and I’m pinching my nose because it’s so painful, like the time a grain of rice got stuck in it. Even my throat hurts. Tita Amihan rushes to me and puts her arm around me. “Oh no, Tanya, are you okay?” she asks. I struggle away from her grasp and grab the hand railing. “I’m fine, leave me alone,” I’m sungit to her again as I wipe the water from my eyes and smooth back all the clumped wet hair that’s all over my face.

I want to quit and leave the pool, but I can’t. I’m trapped. Dad won’t pick us up until five. I never wanted to be here in the first place, but I was afraid that Mom and Dad would fight again if I complained. Who cares about swimming anyway? Only Dad does. He says we have to grow up to be survivors. “One day, you’ll be on a boat that will sink. What if you don’t know how to swim? In life, you either sink or swim!” he always says. Dad grew up near Bauang Beach in La Union, so he learned how to swim at a very young age. He wants us to be like him, and even if we’re girls, he wants us to learn things like riding a bike and karate and sports. He got so angry last summer when Mom, Tisha and I came back from the YWCA and she told him she enrolled us in Hula and Tahitian Dance instead of swimming because all the classes were full when we got there. “Hula? Tahitian?” he screamed at Mom. “Ano’ng lecheng kaartehan na naman ‘yan? That’s not a survival skill! It’s just a waste of money. My money!” I got scared. He was already mad at Mom for enrolling us in ballet classes. Dad grew up poor and had to sell newspapers and shine shoes to put himself through school, that’s why I think he wants us to have a hard time, too. Whenever he sees us with a new toy or new clothes or shoes, he says, “When I was your age, we never had enough money for those things. We had to work to save up money for what we needed.” He says we might become spoiled brats if we get too used to special stuff. But Mom used to be a folk dancer, so she wanted us to learn dancing, too. She said we would have good posture and become graceful. I make sure Dad never sees me and Tisha practicing our dancing, and I always hide our ballet shoes and grass skirts under my bed. I know that if he sees them he’ll remember our dance lessons and get mad again. I’m always afraid to make him angry. He might get so mad and leave all of us and make a new family with Tita Amihan and Diego. These days, when I hear his car horn honking whenever he comes home early at night I grab Tisha and we run to my room and hide under my bed. But that’s not too often, because usually by the time he gets home we’re already asleep.

“Don’t worry, Tanya, you’ll get the hang of it before you know it! Let’s do something easier,” says Tita Amihan. She leads us to the gutter and tells us to hold on to it with both hands while stretching out our arms in front of us, then to let our legs float to the surface and kick our feet behind us. “Kick from your knees with your toes pointed,” she says. That’s easy, we learned how to point our toes in ballet. “Pretend the top of the water is the roof, and you’re breaking the roof from below with your feet.” she says. As Tisha and I kick the water-roof, I remember that Tita Amihan is a water ballerina. Mom told me she was an Aquabelle in Sulô Hotel, where there’s an underground restaurant with a huge glass window with a view of one side of the pool so the people eating could watch the Aquabelles do water ballet. I’ve always wondered if that’s how they met. Maybe Dad was eating there and saw her in the window like The Little Mermaid and fell in love with her. Or maybe he saw her nipples making bakat under her bathing suit. But I’m too scared to ask Mom. It might make her cry again. I wonder why Dad doesn’t want us to study ballet when Tita Amihan is a ballerina, too. Well, sort of. I want to be a ballerina, too, but the real kind, onstage.

“Now, girls, slowly put your face in the water, then try to release your hands from the gutter and kick backwards. Don’t worry, Tanya, you can close your eyes first. Inhale, exhale.”I look at Tisha. She’s doing it already—just like that, she can swim! Without touching the gutter! And her eyes are open! I can’t believe it. How can she be so brave? I’m surprised that I can even put my face down in the water, but I can’t let go of the gutter. Every time I try to let go, one hand at a time, just when I’m almost there I change my mind and cling to it again. It’s like I’m glued to the gutter with Elmer’s. What a scaredy cat!

Soon, my legs are tired. I stand up to see Tisha and Tita Amihan smiling again and looking at me. They must think I’m stupid and hopeless. “Keep trying, Tanya,” Tita Amihan says. “You can do it, Ate,” Tisha shouts. I roll my eyes. Why does she have to make kampi? Arrrggh! Why can’t I do it? I’m not stupid, I’m bright! In school they call me a prodigy. I can learn anything! Even this! Maybe if I learn this stupid thing we won’t have to see Tita Amihan ever again, and Dad will forget about her and our family will go back to normal. The sides of my tummy hurt. So does my head. I really just want to go home. But I can’t give up or she’ll think I’m stupid.

I shiver in the water but decide I will keep trying even if my fingers are all wrinkled like prunes and manhid. On my tenth try, just before I stand up to give up, I feel Tita Amihan’s hands on my stomach. “Relax,” she says, “relax your legs and put your face back in the water again,” moving me in the water towards the middle of the pool, “and let me teach you how to float.” I’m so tired, I have no strength left to put up a fight. Her voice is so gentle I feel like I’m being hypnotized. I become a very obedient girl and surrender to her. I can feel my whole body turning very straight in the water, touched only by the palm of her hand. Before I know it, my eyes have popped open without the water stinging them, and I can see the blue floor of the pool. It looks like a page from my math notebook. I imagine numbers on each tile and try to solve a math problem. But there are no numbers, just dark, skinny legs attached to ugly bathing suits running around underwater. All of a sudden, it’s very quiet. No noise from the public school children, no crying Mom, no yelling Dad. It’s like a very nice dream. In my head I can hear my favorite Church song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…” I always wondered what ‘peace on earth’ was like. Maybe it’s like this. Just me and the water and no noise. My body is moving forward like a slow submarine. Nothing is touching me anymore except the water, and I feel like I’m in a cradle. A water cradle that’s rocking me to sleep. I can hear someone saying “Shhhhh…” and it’s not me. It’s Mom! “Shhhhh…” she says, and I’m back to being the baby again. I make bubbles without even trying.

After a while, my eyes begin to feel very heavy so I try to make them open wider. The floor has become even bluer, and more peaceful. When I look around me, there are no more skinny legs touching the floor! Where did all the children go? I look to my right behind me and see green flowers and leaves…attached to a body… attached to arms…attached to armpits—with hairy porcupines! It’s not Mom who’s rocking me, it’s Tita Amihan! I wriggle away from her and move the opposite way. I look to my left and see “6 FT.” written on the wall. I panic when I remember that the last time I got measured in the doctor’s office, I was just 4 feet tall. I struggle to get up and lift my head out the water, but my body shoots downward like something’s pulling me from below. I drop lower and lower near the blue floor. I can’t breathe. I can’t make bubbles. I’m sinking.

I really want to cry but I can’t underwater. Then, from out of the blue, Aquabelle swoops down to rescue me from the floor like Aquaman on Superfriends. She grabs on to my waist and wrist and pulls me up to the surface zooming through the water like a torpedo. I gasp for breath, coughing and spitting out water. She lifts me onto the pool’s edge, where Tisha is dangling her feet in the water with a very worried look. “Are you okay?” Tita Amihan asks, throwing a towel around me. “Why did you panic? You were floating already! You were really doing well, Tanya! You didn’t have to worry. I was right there beside you. Just trust me, okay? Next time, you just have to trust me.” I just stare at her. Then, I look at the big clock by the lifeguard tower and say, “It’s almost five o’clock. Dad will be here soon. My Mom is waiting for us at home.” I get up and run to the ladies’ shower room, forgetting to bring Tisha along.

When we come out of the YWCA, Dad is already waiting in the entrance with Diego. His face lights up when he sees Tita Amihan in her loose, white backless dress. I don’t think he even sees me or Tisha until she runs to him and shouts, “I can swim, Dad! I can swim!” He smiles, then looks at me. “How about you, Tanya?” He looks back at Tita Amihan, who gives him a strange look like they have a code. I say nothing, except “Where’s the car?” He points to the parking lot across the street. He’s so busy looking at her that when I say “Can I have the key?” he just hands them over without looking. I leave them and walk towards the car. When I turn around, I see Dad and Tita Amihan holding a squealing Diego in between them, swinging him back and forth with their arms while they talk. I’ve never seen Dad laugh and smile so much. He looks so happy. Not mad like he usually is at home. Tisha wants to join them and tries to squeeze in, so I run back to get her and force her to come with me to our car.

“Tisha, get in the back of the car!” I order her. “Ate!” she whines but obeys me. I think of joining her in the back seat, but I worry that Tita Amihan might sit in front, and that’s Mom’s seat. So I sit in front instead. If she wants, she can stay with Tisha in the back. I sneak a look across the street again. I catch Dad kissing Tita Amihan on the lips. Then, she walks away from him in the opposite direction with Diego. Dad crosses the street to join us, alone.

When we get home, it is almost six thirty, and Mom is standing in front of our gate carrying Baby Thea, right under the lamppost. In the ray of light shining over her head, I can see a cloud of lamoks flying on top of her hair. She’s wearing her pink Chinese silk robe on top of her pambahay and just chinelas, and has a kawawa face—the kind Tisha makes when she knows she’s about to be spanked. She’s wiping her nose with a Kleenex again. I wonder how long she’s been waiting for us? She didn’t have to stand out there in the street—why didn’t Yaya just call her inside the house when Dad honked the horn? I suddenly feel very sad. We didn’t even think of buying any pasalubong for her!

I don’t care if Dad gets mad, I run out of the car to her and hug her tight. She smiles down at me and asks, “So, can you swim now?” I whisper, “I didn’t learn Mom, she’s not a good teacher!” And just before Tisha can shout from the car window, “I can swim, Mom!” I whisper to her again, “Please don’t make me take swimming lessons with her again, Mom. Please.” She kisses my forehead, then Thea’s, and nods.

This story won Second Prize for the Short Story in English in the 2006 Palanca Awards

Mahogany Water

Mahogany Water

Julian has had so many pets die on him (hamsters, fish, a spider, a bird) that I worried he, only eight, might think life so inordinately flimsy, full of sad surprises: someone you care for turning stiff. I sat him down once, talked about life’s bumps and grinds, about cycles and seasons along the endless line of time. I carried on like I was Ecclesiastes until he picked up a ball, bounced it off the wall and followed it out the door.

In October, with his birthday money he got himself a rabbit. Fine with me. White fur, twitchy nose. He is not discouraged, only resolutely more watchful. He put the new pet in an old birdcage where Eaglet, his maya, had lived and died.

He’d always named his pets with a kind of no-nonsense logic: the first pair of hamsters had been Hammy and Hammer, and then there were Hammy Jr. and Hammer Jr. The fish, just guppies in a glass bowl really, were Swimmy and Dive and Orbit and Slimy and Sharko; the spider’s name was Spy. (It’s not that he doesn’t have a vocabulary. He says ‘stupendous,’ ‘acquisition,’ ‘reverberate—Touch this, Mama, feel it reverberate. He’s a genius!) I suggested Snowball for this rabbit, as it tucks its head in and curls up into a ball when it sleeps, but he said, “That’s sissy.” And so he named it Buddy. Buddy Rabbit, like sinusitis.

We take Buddy with us, now two months old, to Punta Fuego. Takes me and Julian forever to get Francis to come along, a roundabout series of arguing and bargaining and cajoling, come-on-Daddy, please-Daddy, until finally Julian and I win, and we all go, for private Christmasing with Gracie and her kids. It’s the best time to go out of town, too; all those rabid holiday shoppers making traffic crazy, why deal with that? And Gracie is balikbayan—and not just back from the States, but back to her old self.

The last time Francis and I saw her was three years ago in McLean where she lived, when she was newly-divorced, losyang and pudgy and weepy. Not like her at all. She took us to Arlington cemetery in D.C. where she cried as if JFK was her ex-husband. Wiped her cry-snot with her pashmina like it was tissue.

What’s with your friend? Francis asked me, as if he needed establish whose friend she was.

“My friend just got divorced, heartless.” I said.

I took Gracie out to Red Box Karaoke the night of her arrival, just last week, the two of us. Her old shine is back; she looked sharp: jeans, tank tops, a short jacket, Blahniks. A fox! “Why are we singing alone in this tiny room?” she said. “Where’s the audience?”

We had big fun like we did when we were skinny and clueless and boy-crazy, back in the days of Mahogany Water, that song-and-dance trio we put together in our all-girl college to meet boys. I was Patti Austin; she, Pauline Wilson. The good-time, big-hair mid-eighties. Our third member, Weena, played guitar and did anyone from Roberta Flack to Whitney Houston, as well as, for laughs, Imelda Papin. We got the name Mahogany Water from Weena’s father who made us drink a concoction of steeped mahogany seeds he got from his caddy at Aguinaldo. Awfully bitter. The taste, we used to say, of boiled golf shoes. It was supposed to make us invincible. Weena’s daddy, 5-star general, what a quack! He stomped his feet—tiny little stomps, like a boy throwing a tantrum at a toy store—as Weena was being lowered to the ground. Dead at 21 from a steering wheel lodged in her chest. Vincible.

Gracie and I tour our borrowed Punta Fuego house, a humongous Rubik’s cube made of glass with some corner quadrants lopped off. It’s shamelessly large for a weekend retreat; eight huge bedrooms spread over three floors. The bits of detail—stone, wood, glass, leather—smell of over-the-top money. Every twelve-inch plank of wood makes me think of landslides in Quezon, but I don’t tell Gracie that, her sister owns the place, so I tell her, “it’s so L Decor.” I must admit it’s very pretty, though. The design is so open, as if the ocean and sky are part of the house, and darn it, I like it. I like it so much I attempt to compute how many million episodes of telekomedya and gag shows I have to write for ABS, how many thousand tax cases Francis has to lawyer for to buy us a trophy like this.

“Heeey. Does this make you feel like Master of the Universe or what?” I say to Francis, whom we find at the second-level terrace, standing in the hammering ten o’clock sun. He’s wearing his new shorts that Julian and I got only the day before (Look, Mama, Speedo Voyager swimsuit shorts!). Francis hasn’t gone swimming in years, and though he’d still fit in his old blue-and-white-striped Lycra trunks—and he’d wear them, too!—that would be too funny for Gracie. I mean, let’s be in vogue here, right? He has widened around the waist, just a bit—the practice of corporate law doesn’t make for much aerobic exercise and he’s near forty already. He’s looking out at the spectacular 360-degree view through Julian’s spyglasses and I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking God and binoculars. Magnificent and magnifying. He’s into humanities and gadgets and Discovery Channel. A giant boy in shorts loose like a skirt.

Across the water on the north side where the ridge curves, there is a larger house, large like Alcatraz even in the distance, and Francis points to it.

“Whoa, that one’s a biggie,” Gracie says. “Isn’t it weird, all these estates, and outside, those kids?”

In front of barrios along the stretch of highway leading to Punta Fuego we saw children, some half the size of Julian—they’re babies!—waving Merry Christmas placards, asking for money. A bit of in-your-face guilt they fling to the rich on their way in. Gracie’s half-American kids thought they were there simply for the goodwill, for the cheer! Like little brown ambassadors. You too, you too, Merry Christmas!

“That house has a telescope you can count moon craters with. Wohow, someone’s watching me watching him,” says Francis, stepping back. We see a flash of light from that direction. A glint of sun deflected from a mirror, maybe, or something flashy like a Rolex.

“Wave,” Gracie tells me.

“I don’t see him,” I say.

“Wave anyway,” she says; smiling brightly, her hands already up in the air.

Gracie has always been the most ebullient one, forever effusive and showy, not to mention the prettiest. She got the most attention, and, even as I’d rather drop dead than admit it, she was the chick; she was Mahogany Water’s main attraction. Back in the day, I had issues with that—called her names to myself sometimes. I remember Ricky. Boy-of-my-dreams Ricky, for whom I did all my tricks onstage at the La Salle College Fair, practically sang to his ear, and still he blew wolf whistles for Gracie. You’re the funny one, Beth, he said to me. Pucha! Weena had a few mishaps like this happen to her would-be loves, too. And this—this wide-armed lunatic openness to people is what puts Gracie ahead.

“Come on, wave!”

“Stop it already,” I tell her.

Gracie’s kids, Bianca and Kevin and Carlos, they look almost as American as their father, as Gracie is tisay to begin with, 25% Russian—don’t ask me how—with an unspellable middle name. “Ma, they’re foreigners!” Julian said when he met her kids. Now they are all splayed on the living room floor, looking in on the rabbit cage. I could make out their teeth in their reflections on the hardwood floor.

“Nobody take out Buddy from the cage,” Julian tells them.

“Why you the boss of the rabbit?” Carlos asks him. Carlos is four and must be dying to hold the pet.

“It’s his rabbit, Carlos,” says Bianca, running a forefinger on a cage grill. She is older than Julian by a year. “Why can’t we take him out? Don’t you ever take him out?” She has green eyes.

Julian turns, belly up, resting his weight on his elbows. He looks around, catches my eye for a moment and I give him a wink but his eyes are too fast, he misses it. He’s looking for potential rabbit hazards, so I look around as well, imagining his thoughts. Buddy can ram his tiny head on the huge glass windows all around, he can overrun the terrace and land in the swimming pool below; or, he might get blind from all this ocean-side light.

“I don’t know,” he says, standing up.

“I think it’s okay for him to run around here,” says Bianca.

“I don’t know,” he says again. “Pets die easy. ”

“No, they don’t. My cousin has a golden retriever and it’s two…wenty-four years old,” says Kevin. Hearing this, Gracie raises her eyebrows at me and grins. Kids embellish! They exaggerate!

“A retriever’s not a pet,” says my boy.

“It’s a animal,” says Carlos smartly.

Julian nods his head. He thinks for a bit and then he says, “A pet is something between insect and animal.“

My turn to grin. “Come here, Jaloosh,” I say.

“Why?” he mouths.

“Come here, gimme hug,” I say, and he walks over and wraps his skinny arms around my neck. “I love you, Jalooshkins,” I whisper to his ear.

“I love you too, Mamooshkins,” he says.

“But I love you more!” I say.

“Na-ah. I love you more.”

“That’s not possible,” I say, and he runs back to his rabbit, saying, “it’s possible, its possible,” as he goes.

“That’s cute,” Gracie says.

“It’s a script,” I say. We say the same lines to each other everyday like prayer.

Gracie is having it really good here: two yayas for her kids, a cook, a chauffeured SUV, pantry to put Santi’s Deli to shame, and this graciousness of her sister’s cascades down to me and mine. Having brought nothing but my Magic Sing and a bagful of kangkong for Buddy, I’m feeling like I’m queen of Sheba here, fresh from a swim, eating shrimp salad with a silver fork in the brightest dining room on the planet. The yayas have set up a kiddie table where the children are having spaghetti and fried chicken, and where Bianca, precocious like her mother, carries on like she was some chairman of the board. Or like Gloria Arroyo on a good day.

“We’re going to call us the Secret Society Club, and I’m the president and so you listen to me, okay?” she says. The curls of her hair bounce like coil springs.

“Who’s the boss of the rabbit now?” Carlos wants to know. A yaya wipes the edges of his mouth with a linen napkin.

“This is not about the rabbit, Carlos!” says Kevin.

“Okay,” says Bianca. “Julian, you’re the boss of Buddy the rabbit, but you have to let all of us hold him three times a day. Kevin, you will be the vice-president, so you have to follow me because I’m president. Okay?”

“Sounds like democracy,” says Francis. I reach over and pinch his arm to silence him, accidentally toppling a knife to the floor. The kids turn their attention to this little commotion in our table, and I signal Gracie to pretend to be oblivious, but she can’t help herself from giggling. When she giggles, her eyes squint as if to let the light into her face so that she glows, it looks like, from inside her skin. And she shows a lot of cleavage between the V of her turquoise top that I suddenly feel nervous, and pucha, I need to watch my husband’s eyes.

“We have to have a secret spot. Every secret club should have one,” says Julian, glancing at our table. “There are spies everywhere.”

“Yes, the billiard room downstairs will be our secret spot. And, we will always stick together, of course that’s our motto of the club.” Bianca is whispering now, though we can still hear clearly.

“Even sleeping time?”

“Sleeping time, swimming time, eating time, we’ll stick together,” says Kevin.

“Yes, no matter what happens, we will stick together,” says Julian, mouth bursting with enthusiasm and spaghetti. He’s a joiner. He likes clubs.

“We can’t speak when our mouth is full of pasta, Jool,” I say.

He looks at me from the corner of his eye then turns to his friends, says conspiratorially, “Unless problems, such as adults, happen.”

Gracie laughs hardest. I’m laughing, too, but then I see Francis’ eyes flit from her boobs to his shrimp and back again and I feel the room darken a bit. “We’re going to behave ourselves, aren’t we?” I say, looking straight at Francis with my eyes popped.

There is no access to the beach. Between the houses and the water is a scraggy ridge to negotiate which you have to be either a mountain climber with a rappel rope or a skydiver with—well, wings. No wonder there’s a swimming pool. This set-up, it’s funny—it’s all for show, a pretend beach house. The ocean? Untouchable! How jokey is that? Ooh, the rich and their funny vanities.

“I’m sure there’s a way down there somewhere,” Francis says. He is on a hammock, reading with his shades on, his six-foot frame bent like a pretzel. Gracie is face down on a mat beside the pool just a few feet away—an ogle away—the two swells of her butt peeking out of her bikini like twin blimps heralding the start a major adult problem.

“Why’re you here?” I ask Francis, pushing the rope above him with enough force so that half of him tilts in, then out. He lowers a leg to the floor, putting his swing to a stop. He takes off his shades and cocks his head to the side, showing the angle where he most resembles Julian, like he is Julian thirty years from now. He opens his mouth to speak but words don’t come out so he just gapes. I’ve seen this gape many times. It’s usually followed by something like, “What’s your problem, Beth?”

I don’t know where my panics come from. Wifehood, motherhood, they make me crazy. I stand at the gates of the grade school, picking up Julian, and a horde of them mini-Jesuits come charging out and they all look the same so I can’t tell which one is mine and that fills me up with dread. What if he doesn’t see me, and he panics and he runs all the way to Katipunan and gets run over by a maniac truck driver? “I won’t get lost, Ma, I’m eight,” Julian has said to me four times already.

I stay where I am, beside the hammock, blocking my husband’s view of Gracie. He is reading Clinton, and he says “I’m on the Lewinsky now.” I’d just showered and my hair is dripping on my dress, which is a beach tunic in blinding orange; it’s way too short. Someone’s pasalubong from Boracay. I didn’t think I’d ever wear it—it’s too Joyce Jimenez. But it’s something Gracie would wear. It’s a Gracie kind of look.

“Is that new? It’s nice,” Francis says.

“It’s a gift. Isn’t it too short? Too orange? Really, you like it?”

He reaches under the hem of it, slides his fingers beneath the lacy elastic of my panties. “Let’s go upstairs,” he says.

“Now?” It’s only half past three.


Sometimes after sex I think of my mother. I can tell she had sex all the time—she gave birth ten times, once every two years. Ten girls until she was fat and confused. Couldn’t say our names off the top of her head. But to imagine how she behaved in bed? I can’t! It must have been, what, facile? Perfunctory? As methodical as baking a cake?—Tonight, we’re going to try to bake a BOY. Was she even awake? I can’t think of my mother doing the things I do with Francis. No way.

I was the sixth girl, come at a time when the disappointment had given way to disgust: Babae na naman? Relatives, friends, the whole stretch of Pinaglabanan is saying the same thing. Another girl? The whole city of San Juan!

We were all mistakes. We should have been boys. My sisters and me were all screwed, trying all our lives to be the best disappointment Daddy ever had. Daddy with the stingy, stingy heart.

We had a spinster aunt live with us, what with all those girl-babies and wedding cakes Mommy had to make. Auntie Paz told me—she told me many times—that my father refused to look at me after I was born, left my mother at the hospital and got drunk and smashed somebody’s face, so that if I didn’t eat my sitaw my Daddy “will give you to the bumbay who will grind you into paper money.” And Daddy will not miss me. I swear to God that’s the first thought that came to my head.

A month before my wedding, I stopped speaking to Daddy altogether after my mother—what was she thinking?—did me some girl-talk, and said, “Anak, men are faithless.” She said I had better accept that as a fact as early as I could to save me a lot of misery.

“Was Daddy?”

“That’s beside the point.”

“Does he have a bastard boy?”

“That’s not the point, anak.”

What Francis does after sex is sleep. I leave him alone in his apnea and walk around the house again, dispelling the residues of passion, shaking off the happy guilt of broad-daylight sex in someone else’s bed. I see the yayas outside the billiard room like a bunch of groupies, banished by the Secret Society. They’re nibbling on butong pakwan, slipping the black spit-soaked peels into the pockets of their uniforms, afraid to make a mess. They won’t sit on the Italian-leather sofas.

Gracie, fresh from a shower, is talking to her sister on the phone, lying on a divan in the living room with both her legs up on the wall. “What are you now, a Lladro?” I say. I look up to the second floor veranda to see if by any chance she could be seen from our bedroom upstairs.

“Pee-la-teees,” she says, cupping the receiver.

The stairwell comes alive as four kids run up the stairs at once, a curious formation: Carlos and Kevin in front, Bianca and Julian at the back together, holding either end of the rabbit cage. What, she blinks her green eyes at him and he’s in love with her already? Three yayas trail behind, my lieutenant, yaya Lengleng, included, their rubber slippers flip-flopping on the wooden steps. I follow the kids to the kitchen, and I hear the tail end of a sentence being spoken by Bianca, apparently a suggestion (as can only come from a girl) to wash the vegetables before giving it for feed.

“Hey, baby!” I say.

Julian spins around, a clear ripple of disgust washing over his face. He mumbles that shush, he’s not a baby.

“Oh, sorry. I forgot, you’re an attorney,” I say, sing-song. They are raiding the fridge, Bianca giving orders to the others like a mother in a supermarket. “Don’t get that. Get this. Take that one.”

Without gel on his hair his bangs keep falling into his face and he jerks his chin up constantly to flip them away—the handsomest boy in the world. He keeps glancing at Bianca like a boyfriend, holding a bouquet of kangkong.

I will not have any other child. He’s enough. He’s plenty. Takes all my time, all my heart. “Come here, guapo, gimme hug,” I say.

“Tsk,” he says.

He approaches me, and I stoop down to welcome his embrace, my lips already puckered. But he goes for my ear and whispers, “Ma, can you stop please?”

When I go into shock my face feels numb and lines of songs go off in my head. I feel the earth move. Shake, rattle, roll. Say you love me. Shanananana.

Gracie and I keep in constant touch—I write her long emails full of exclamation points. We’ve been face-to-face only five times in fourteen years, and each time—but for the last—is a regression into an earlier age. (The last visit kept us in the dire divorce-wracked heaviness of her present.) With the kids caught up in their merriments and Francis watching the whole Godfather series on a wall-mounted plasma television, Gracie and I sing and reminisce and drink wine until well into the night. We have these little memory snippets like coins for a jukebox time machine that returns us to a time we are Mahogany Water again and we hate Madonna and everything disco. We are jazz. We are wearing penny loafers and smelling of Anais Anais and Weena is alive. The happy, the superkaduper fun parts. The days of giddy hope and pointless imaginings. We will all be, someday, in New York where Weena will hang her panties on Kenny G’s saxophone and I will marry Woody Allen and Gracie will be Grizabella in Cats.

The memory of all that.

The next day, Buddy is dead. Dead, it appears, from a couple of siling labuyo the children had fed him the night before. Dead from lethal ingestion, I whisper to Gracie. As hot as a Playboy buddy, Francis says. The kids are quick to point fingers, going into a vigorous exercise of blame and accusation that strains the fragile threads binding their day-old society.

“I told you he didn’t need a midnight snack!”

“I told you that wasn’t a baby carrot!”

“But you fed it to him first!”

“It’s not my fault.”

“I told you pets die easy,” Julian says solemnly and us adults stop joking around. This is the tender and exquisite grief of the young.

We have a burial ceremony for Buddy at noon in the vacant lot beside the house. We watch as Francis lowers what looks like a fur shoe into a shallow hole. Carlos is sobbing beside Kevin, who is wearing a scowl on his face, the top of his lips beading with sweat. Even Bianca is looking grave. She is murmuring something to herself, perhaps a prayer, the act of contrition.

I cringe with sympathy for him as I watch Julian’s quiet sadness. I haven’t said a word to him since he rebuffed me yesterday, and now he looks at me and our eyes lock for a while, a secret exchange of grief between him and me, a look that says all that needs said: I’m sorry, it’s all right, I love you.

He looks away first, looks down and starts pushing dirt onto the hole with his foot.

Buddy’s burial leaves me in a benign mood all afternoon. I have no wish to swim or crack jokes or make love. I sit alone on my borrowed bed and look at the sky through the glass walls and think of Weena—not the sunshine rah-rah Weena but the Weena in a box and all the grief it stands for. I remember the debilitating envy I had of her father’s love. Grieve. I can do this all day. Through the night, I could. I’m good at feeling sorry—I moped and cried and stayed in bed for weeks after Weena’s death—I can do this forever. But Francis comes in and takes me by the hand to the terrace. ”Look,” he says.

Julian and Kevin and Bianca and Carlos are playing in the pool, chasing, splashing, diving in and flapping about, screeching like dolphins, laughing like birds. Having fun. “They’d forgotten.”

At the rim of the pool, Gracie, queen of fools, dances to Jingle Bells. I look away. From the house across the water I think I see a glint of light flash for one brief moment and I wave. I fling my arms like crazy.

This story won First Prize for the Short Story in English in the 2006 Palanca Awards

Saturday, October 4, 2008

WANTED: A CHAPERON ( A one-act play)


Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero

To the memory of Amalia B. Reyes

First Performance: The Filipino Players, under the author’s direction, at St. Cecilia’s Hall, November 21, 1940


DON FRANCISCO (the father)

DOÑA PETRA (the mother)

NENA (their daughter)

ROBERTING (their son)


FRED (her son)

FRANCISCO (the servant)

PABLO (the mayordomo)

TIME : One Sunday morning, at about eleven.

SCENE: The living-room. Simply furnished. A window on the right. At the rear, a corridor. A door on the left Sofa, chairs, etc. at the discretion of the director.

When the curtain rises, DON FRANCISCO, about sixty, is seen sitting on the sofa, smoking a cigar He wears a nice-looking lounging robe. Presently ROBERTING, his twenty-year old son, good-looking, well-dressed, enters. He wants to ask some. thing from his father, but before he gathers enough courage, he maneuvers about the stage and clears his throat several times before he finally approaches him.

ROBERTING (Clearing his throat). Ehem-ehem-ehem!

FRANCISCO (Looking up briefly). Ehem


FRANCISCO (Without looking at him). What?





ROBERTING. Well, you see it's like this-

FRANCISCO. Like what?

ROBERTING. It's not easy to explain, Father

FRANCISCO. If it isn't then come back when I'm through with the paper

ROBERTING. Better now, Father. It's about-money.

FRANCISCO. Money! What money?

ROBERTING. Well, you see-

FRANCISCO (imitating his tone). Well, you see-I'm busy!

ROBERTING. I need money.

FRANCISCO (Dropping the paper). Need money! Aren't you working already?

ROBERTING. Yes, but-it isn't enough.

FRANCISCO. How much are you earning?

ROBERTING. Eight hundred, Father.

FRANCISCO. Eight hundred! Why, you're earning almost as much as your father!

ROBERTING. You don't understand, Father.

FRANCISCO. Humph! I don't understand!

ROBERTING. Don't misunderstand me, Father.

FRANCISCO. Aba! You just said I don't understand-that means I'm not capable of understanding. Now you say not to misunderstand you-meaning I'm capable of understanding pala. Make up your mind, Roberting!

ROBERTING. You see, Father, what I'm driving at I~ I want-er -I want-my old allowance.

FRANCISCO (jumping). Diablos! You want your old allowance! You’re working and earning eight hundred, you don't pay me a single centavo for your board and lodging in my house-and now you re asking for your old allowance!

ROBERTING. I have so many expenses, Father.

FRANCISCO. How much have you got saved up in the bank?

ROBERTING. How can I save anything?

FRANCISCO. So you have nothing in the bank! What kind of gifts do you give your girl-friend?

ROBERTING (Embarrassed). I-I-

FRANCISCO. Flowers? (ROBERTING nods.) Twenty-or thirty-peso flowers? (ROBERTING nods again.) Que hombre este! When I was courting your mother I used to give her only mani or balut.

(DONA PETRA, about fifty-five,. enters and catches his last words.)

PETRA. Yes, I remember quite well, If you only knew what my mother used to say after you used to give me mani or balut. "Ka kuriput naman!" she'd say.

FRANCISCO. Pero, Petra, this son of ours is earning eight hundred. He doesn't give us a centavo for house expenses, and on top of that he's asking for his old allowance. Where in the world have you heard such a thing?

PETRA I know a place where the children work and don't give their-parents any money and still ask for their allowance.


PETRA. In the Philippines.

FRANCISCO. Aba! How ilustrada you are, Petra!

PETRA. (To ROBERTING). You're not going to get a centavo.

ROBERTING. But, Mother-

PETRA If you've no money to ride in a taxi, take a jeepney.

ROBERTING. Jeepney to visit a girl! Ay!

PETRA.. (imitating him). Ay what? (ROBERTING goes out mumbling.)

PETRA. (Calling). Francisco!


PETRA. I'm calling the servant!

FRANCISCO. Demontres with that Servant! Having the same name as the owner of the house!

PETRA. I'm going to kick him out soon. He broke your plate again.

FRANCISCO. Again! I don't know why he always breaks my plates. He never breaks your plates, or Roberting's, or Nena's. No, he breaks only my plates?

(FRANCISCO, the servant, enters. He is a dark, tall, thin boy. He looks foolish and is. He has his mouth open all the time.)

SERVANT. Opo, senora.

PETRA. Did you make that sign I told you?

SERVANT. The one you told me to make?

PETRA. (Emphatically). Of course!

SERVANT. The one you told me to write: "Wanted: a Muchacho?"

PETRA. (irritated). Yes, Don Francisco!


PETRA. I'm talking to the servant. Well, did you do it?

SERVANT. No, senora. I didn't make it yet.

PETRA. And why not?

SERVANT. I forgot how it should be worded. I suddenly remember now.,

PETRA. Que estupido! Hala, go out and make it immediately! (SERVANT goes out.)

FRANCISCO. Where's Nena?

PETRA. Asleep in her room.

FRANCISCO. At this time? It's eleven o'clock.

PETRA Anyhow it's Sunday.

FRANCISCO. Has she heard Mass?

PETRA. I suppose she did at four

FRANCISCO, And so Nena went to the party last night without a chaperon?

PETRA. It was the first time.

FRANCISCO. I hope nothing happened.

PETRA. What could have happened? We discussed this already yesterday.

FRANCISCO. Yes, I know, but imagine a Filipino girl going to a party without a chaperon.

PETRA. After all, she didn't go out with Fred alone. She went with her friends, Lolita and Luding.

FRANCISCO. Yes, those two girls, since they arrived from abroad, they've been trying to teach our daughter all the wrong things they learned from those places.

PETRA. Wrong things? Ay, you exaggerate, Francisco!

(FRANCISCO, the servant enters with a sign in his hands.)

PETRA. Are you through with that? So soon?

SERVANT. I finished it last night, senora.

PETRA. Last night!

SERVANT. Opo, señora, but I forgot where I placed it.

PETRA. Estupido itong taong ito! Let me see it. (She takes hold Of the sign, reads aloud.) Wanted: A Muchacho." All right, hang it out there at the window. (The SERVANT hangs it out side the window sill but with the sign facing inside.) I said outside-not inside!

FRANCISCO. Ay, Francisco, he had to be my namesake! (The SERVANT, after placing the sign, stays by the window, making signs and faces to somebody outside.)

PETRA. As I was saying. Francisco--

FRANCISCO. Were you talking to me, Petra, or to the servant?

PETRA (Addressing the SERVANT). Francisco! What are you still doing here? Go back to the kitchen! (SERVANT goes out.)

FRANCISCO. You were saying, Petra-

PETRA. As I was saying, I think you're being very unfair to Nena. After all, she's grown up

FRANCISCO. Petra, my dear, virtue is ageless.

PETRA. I know that, Francisco, but chaperoning is rather old-fashioned.

FRANCISCO. Old-fashioned, maybe, in some other civilized countries.

PETRA. But isn't the Philippines civilized?

FRANCISCO. In many ways, yes,-but in some ways it's uncivilized.

PETRA. Ay. Francisco, if Saturnino Balagtas, our great patriot, should hear you now!

FRANCISCO. Where did you get the idea that Balagtas' first name is Saturnino? You mean Francisco.

PETRA. Saturnino-Francisco-both end in o.

FRANCISCO. Yes, that's why when you call out my name, Francisco the muchacho rushes in.

PETRA. Anyhow our women can take care of themselves.,

FRANCISCO. Are you sure?

PETRA. Especially if they've received an education. For instance, our Nena is, in her senior year in education at the University of Santo Tomas. She's even taking some courses in home economics.

FRANCISCO. I suppose that makes her immune from any moral falls.

PETRA. Moral falls, Francisco! Ay, que exagerada naman tu! No,. what I mean is that Nena is better educated and more enlightened to take care of herself.

FRANCISCO. (Annoyed). This Petra naman! You don't see the point. Education, even a university education, with all the letters of the alphabet after a graduate's name AB, BSE LLB, PhD, is not moral education. Training the mind is not training the heart.

PETRA. But if the mind is trained, why, the heart will be ruled by the mind.

FRANCISCO. No, Petra, if a person is intellectual, it doesn't ipso facto make' him moral.

PETRA. Ipso facto. That's very. deep for me naman, Francisco.

FRANCISCO. Very deep! Our daughter Nena will fall in deep water if you don't watch out!

PETRA (Exaggeratedly, just like a woman). Ay, you're so apprehensive, Francisco,. (The SERVANT rushes in.)

SERVANT. Did you call me, senora?

FRANCISCO. Hoy- you!

SERVANT. Yes, senorito.

FRANCISCO. I'm married to the senora, therefore I'm not the senorito anymore, but the senor, understand?

SERVANT. Opo, senorito.

FRANCISCO. I'm going to change your name. From now on you'll be called Francis.

SERVANT. Francis, po?

FRANCISCO. Yes, Francis, understand?

SERVANT. Why not Paquito, senor? Or Paco or Francisquito?

FRANCISCO. Because I don't want it! Now get out!

(SERVANT goes out. ROBERTING comes in.)

ROBERTING. Father, I couldn't get a taxi.

FRANCISCO. Your mother told you to take a jeepney.

ROBERTING. But I'm visiting my girl-friend.

FRANCISCO. Visiting girls at this time of the day? It's nearly lunch time

ROBERTING. She called me up. She says I must see her, right away. It's very important.

FRANCISCO. Roberting, you went to the party last night?

ROBERTING. Yes, Father, with Lia.

FRANCISCO. You went to the party unchaperoned?

PETRA. Does Roberting need a chaperon?

FRANCISCO. I'm not talking about Roberting! I'm talking about the girl he took out!

PETRA. Well, if you're going to lose your temper, I might as well be in the kitchen. (She goes out.)

ROBERTING. Yes, Father.

FRANCISCO. Yes, what?

ROBERTING. I took Lia to the party alone.

FRANCISCO. You young modern people. Do you realize that in my time when I was courting your mother, her father, her mother, her three sisters, her young brother., her grandmother, five first cousins and two distant relatives sat in the sala with us?

ROBERTING. But why so many, Father?

FRANCISCO, Because in those days we were more careful about a woman's reputation.

ROBERTING. But in those days-

FRANCISCO. Don't tell me those days were different. Outward things change, like the styles of women's dresses and men's ties, but the human heart remains the same.

ROBERTING. But in other countries, Father-

FRANCISCO. There you go, in other countries. The Philippines is different, my son. Our climate, our traditions, our innate psychology-- all these make our people different from foreigners.

ROBERTING. But my girl friend has studied abroad-- Columbia University pa. Filipino girls who have studied in other countries acquire the outward customs and mannerisms of people with traditions and temperament different from ours. But a Filipino girl can't easily change her temperament. It is inborn. (A knock is heard.)

FRANCISCO. Somebody's at the door. Francisc-er-Francis! Francis!

ROBERTING. Who's Francis?

FRANCISCO. The servant. I gave him a new name. (Calling again.) Paquito! (No answer) Francisquito! (The SERVANT tip pears. FRANCISCO stares at him.)

SERVANT. Yes, senorito.

FRANCISCO. No, no, my son Roberting here is the senorito, but I'm the senor! See who is knocking. Tell him to sit down.

(SERVANT goes out. ROBERTING and FRANCISCO go to their rooms. Presently SERVANT comes in, followed by PABLO. He is a fat, dark fellow. He is all dressed up-- wears a tie and everything He smokes a cigar. PABLO and the SERVANT stare at each other, the SERVANT open-mouthed as usual.)

SERVANT. what do you want?

PABLO What do I want? Haven't you got any manners?

SERVANT. I said whom do you want to we?

PABLO. Why don't you speak more dearly?.

SERVANT. What shall I tell the owner of the hour?

PABLO. Who's the owner of the house?

SERVANT. The senora, of course.

PABLO. Why, is she a widow?

SERVANT. Not yet.

PABLO. Tell your senora I want to see her.

SERVANT. Which senora?

PABLO. How many senoras do you have In this home?

SERVANT. There's senora Petra, senorita Nena-

PABLO. Gago! Call senora Petra then.

SERVANT. Opo. Sit down. Here are some cigars (SERVANT goes out. PABLO, looking about, gets one cigar-then a second--when about to get a third, PETRA comes in.)


PABLO. Good morning.

PETRA. Good morning.

PABLO. I saw that sign at the window.


PABLO. It says "Wanted: A Muchacho."

PETRA. Why, yes. Are you by any chance a detective?

PABLO. (Giggling). You flatter me, senora! A girl told me mw that I am very good-looking.

PETRA. Really? That is very interesting.

PABLO Women sometimes tell the sweetest lies.

PETRA. Do you mind if-

PABLO. Of course I don't mind. Go ahead and ask any questions

PETRA. Do you mind if I ask what I can do you –

PABLO (Blushing). I'm applying-

PETRA. Applying for what?

PABLO (After mustering enough courage). I’m applying for the job!

PETRA. What job?

PABLO (Pointing at the sign outside, significantly). That.

PETRA (Looking towards the sign and at PABLO. Incredulous). You mean-

PABLO (Joyfully). Yes, I'm offering my services

PETRA. You mean-you wish to be a muchacho?

PABLO. I wish you wouldn't be so insulting, senora, but I want to be what they call in Europe a mayordomo.

PETRA. A what?

PABLO. A mayordomo. You know-

PETRA. Oh. You mean-?

PABLO. Yes, that's what I mean.

PETRA (After giving him a dirty look). Well, for a minute I mistook you for an hacendero or a movie actor.

PABLO. That's right. I don't look like a muchacho~ er-mayordomo My mother always used to say I would amount to something. (Cupping his hand towards PETRA's ears.) Confidentially, my mother wanted me to marry one of the President's daughters.

PETRA. President's daughters? You mean the President of the Philippines?

PABLO. Yes, why not? Is there anything wrong in that?

PETRA. And you wish to work here as a-er-as a mayordomo?

PABLO. That's it!

PETRA. What can you do?

PABLO. I can watch the house when you're out, accompany the children, if you've any, to the movies or to parties.

PETRA. What else?

PABLO. I can do many other things. I can even sing.

PETRA. Never mind your social accomplishments. What's your name?

PABLO. I was baptized Marcelino, but my mother calls me Pablo because I remind her of her brother who spent two years jail. But my friends that is, my intimate friends. call me Paul.

PETRA. I'll pay you eighty pesos. including board and lodging.

PABLO (Jumping). I'll take the job! (PETRA stands up and looks at him frigidly.)

PETRA. Good. You Can start by washing the dishes.

PABLO. The dishes! But it's time for lunch. Haven't the dishes you used for breakfast been washed yet?

PETRA. No, because our servant Francisco always breaks the plates. So I told him this morning after breakfast not to wash them yet.

PABLO. I wish I had come after the dishes had been washed.

PETRA. All right, ask Francisco for instructions.

(PETRA goes out. PABLO lights a cigar and throughout the following scene drops the ashes everywhere. FRANCISCO enters.)

FRANCISCO. Oh, good morning. Have you been waiting long?

PABLO Staring at him insolently). No, I just talked to the senora.

FRANCISCO. Oh, yes. why don't you sit down?

PABLO. I will. (And PABLO sprawls Cleopatra-like on the sofa.)

FRANCISCO. Did you come on some business?

PABLO. Business? Oh, business of a sort.

FRANCISCO. That's good.

PABLO. That's a nice lounging robe you're wearing.

FRANCISCO. You like it?

PABLO. I certainly am going to buy one exactly like that

FRANCISCO. Thank you. Imitation, they say, is the subtlest form of flattery.

PABLO. Of course mine will be more expensive.

FRANCISCO. Undoubtedly. You must be a man of means.

PABLO. Of means? Well, sort of- Hm, I wonder what's delaying Francisco.

FRANCISCO. Francisco? I am Francisco.

PABLO (Laughing). You are Francisco?


PABLO. Well, if you're Francisco, the senora told me to ask you for the instructions.

FRANCISCO. Instructions? What kind of instructions?

PABLO. I suppose she meant the instructions for washing the dishes and all that sort of thing

FRANCISCO (Puzzled). Dishes-all that sort of thing? What do you mean?

PABLO. Aren't you the servant here?

FRANCISCO (Flabbergasted). Servant! I am the owner of the house!

PABLO (Jumping). Oh-the owner! Excuse me! (Gliding away.) I suppose this is the way to the kitchen! (He runs out to the kitchen)

FRANCISCO. Petra! Petra! (He exits, PETRA enters and arranges the chairs. NENA comes in. NENA is about eighteen, and she's wearing a nice-looking Pair of slacks. She obviously has just risen from bed for she keeps yawning atrociously.)

NENA. Where’s the Sunday paper?

PETRA. Oh, so you're awake. How was the party last night?

NENA. (Sitting on sofa). So-so. Mother, where's the movie page?

PETRA. Probably your brother Roberting is looking at it. -(FRANCISCO enters.)

FRANCISCO. You're awake at last. Have you had breakfast?

PETRA. Breakfast when it's nearly twelve?

FRANCISCO. How was the party?

NENA. So-so. (FRANCISCO looks for some cigars on the table.)

FRANCISCO. Aba! Where are the cigars, Petra?

PETRA. Why, I placed half a dozen there this morning!

FRANCISCO. Half a dozen! I've smoked only one s6 far!

PETRA. I wonder.

FRANCISCO. Hm- I'm wondering, too!

NENA. (Standing and yawning). I'm still sleepy.

FRANCISCO. Wait a minute, Nena. Sit down.

NENA. What is it, Father?

FRANCISCO. So you went to the party alone last night?

PETRA. This Francisco naman! I told you she was out with Fred.

FRANCISCO. Anyhow I hope that’s the first and last time you go to a party unchaperoned.

NENA. But there's nothing wrong, Father. After all I’m an educated girl. (NENA yawns so desperately that she looks like an acrobat. PETRA and FRANCISCO stare at each other.)

PETRA. Yes, Francisco. She can take care of herself. Can't you see she's educated? (FRANCISCO gulps and wonders if his wife is crazy. ROBERTING enters.)

ROBERTING. (To NENA.) So you're awake! How was the party last night?

NENA. So-so.

FRANCISCO. Why are you here?

ROBERTING. I couldn't hire a taxi. No money.

PETRA. I told you to take a jeepney.

ROBERTIlNG. Anyhow I can see her this afternoon. Incidentally I met Fred's mother a short while ago.

NENA. Fred's mother?

ROBERTING. She was near Martini's taxi station.

PETRA. What were you doing at the taxi station?

FRANCISCO. Trying to get a taxi on credit, I suppose.

ROBERTING. Anyhow Fred's mother-

NENA. What about her?

ROBERTING. She said she was coming today.

PETRA. What for?

ROBERTING. She didn't tell me.

FRANCISCO. Fred's mother? You mean the young fellow Nena went out with last night?

ROBERTING Yes, Father.

NENA Did she say why she was coming?

ROBERTING. No.. But she seemed sore at me. In fact she seemed sort at you, too, Father.


ROBERTING (Imitating Dolores' voice) . She said, "Tell your father Kiko I'm going to see him!"

FRANCISCO. She called me Kiko?


FRANCISCO. Didn't she say Don Kiko at least?

ROBERTING. No. She simply said Kiko.

FRANCISCO. Aba! (PABLO's head is seen sticking out by the door)

PABLO (Shouting at the top of his lungs). Dinner is served!

FRANCISCO. Hay! Don't shout that loud! (PABLO exits.)

ROBERTING. Who's he, Mother?

PETRA. The new mayordomo.

ROBERTING. Mayor what?

PETRA. He's the new servant!

(They all go out. But NENA lingers for a. while, and there's an expression of worry on her face. Then she exits. PABLO and the SERVANT come in.)


PABLO. What do you mean hay? My name is Pablo. You may call me Paul.

SERVANT. My name is Francisca The senor calls me Francis, but I prefer Paquito. I once had another amo who used to call me Frankie.

PABLO. What do you. want?

SERVANT. The senora wants you in the dining room

PABLO. What for?

SERVANT. To serve the dishes.

PABLO. That's your job. I'm not a muchacho! I'm a mayordomo!

SERVANT. Didn't you. answer that sign over there at the window-"Wanted: A Muchacho"?

PABLO. Yet why?

SERVANT. Then you're a muchacho, like me!

PABLO. (Threatening him with his fist) I want you to understand that I am not a muchacho!

SERVANT. Hal You look like a common muchacho to me

PABLO. (Threatening him with the cigar he holds) Don't let me catch you using that word again!

SERVANT. Soplado! (PETRA enters.)

PETRA. What are you two doing here? Don't you know we're already eating? (PABLO and SERVANT go out. Presently NENA comes in and goes to the window She sees somebody coming, and runs out. Several knocks are heard. PABLO is seen crossing the corridor Then PABLO enters first trying to cover his face, followed by DONA DOLORES, a fat arrogant woman of forty, wearing the Filipina dress and sporting more jewels than a pawn shop. Her twenty-year-old son FRED follows hen FRED is so dumb 'and as dumb-looking nobody would believe it. PABLO is still trying to hide his face.)

DOLORES (Fanning herself vigorously). Where's Dona Petra?

PABLO. She's eating. Sit down.

DOLORES. Call the senora-and 'mind your own business! (Recognizing him.) Che! So it's you! You-you! Working here! How much are you earning?

PABLO (Insolently). Why?

DOLORES. After treating you so well at home as a muchacho, now you come to work here without even leaving me a farewell note. Che!

PABLO (With arms akimbo). I'm not a muchacho! I am a mayordomo!

DOLORES. Mayordomo! Mayor tonto! Che! i(PABLO, who is now all sprinkled with DOLORES' saliva, gets his handkerchief. PETRA and FRANCISCO enter)

PETRA. You may go, Paul.

DOLORES. Paul? (PABLO leaves.)

PETRA. Good morning.

FRANCISCO. You wanted to see me?

DOLORES. Yes! You and Petra!

PETRA. Won't you sit down?

DOLORES. I'd rather remain standing! Che?

FRANCISCO. This-this is your son Fred, I imagine.

DOLORES. Don't imagine-He is my son!

PETRA. Ah! So he is your son!

DOLORES. Supposing he is- what's that to you?

FRANCISCO. I was just thinking he doesn't look a bit like you.

DOLORES. Certainly not. He's the spitting image of my third husband!

PETRA. Do sit down.

DOLORES. Are you trying to insult me by implying I've no chairs at home? Che!

FRANCISCO. What can we do for you?

DOLORES (Pointing to FRED). Ask him!

PETRA What is it, Fred?

FRED (Pointing to his mother). Ask her!

FRANCISCO. Speak up; my son!

DOLORES. Your son!. Your son, eh? So you and your daughter Nena have designs on my son, eh? Well, you won't hook him!

PETRA. What are you. talking about?

FRANCISCO. Call Nena! (Aloud) Nena! Nena! (ROBERTING appears.) Roberting, call Nena! (ROBERTING goes out.)

FRANCISCO. If you don't mind, I will sit down.

PETRA I will sit down, too. I'm tired. (FRED tries to sit down too but his mother yanks him out of the chain. NENA, wearing a sports dress, comes in; followed by ROBERTING)

FRANCISCO. Nena, this lad? wants to talk to you.

DOLORES (Nudging FRED). Tell her!

FRED Ten: her what?

PETRA What is all the mystery about?

DOLORES (Ominously). My son-and your daughter-.

FRANCISCO. They went to the patty last night, didn't they?.

DOLORES. Of course they went to the party. But how did they go?

FRANCISCO. Has your son a car? Maybe they went in his ear.

DOLORES. My son has a car, and it's all paid for. But that isn't the point!

FRANCISCO. What's the point then?

DOLORES. That's what I came to find out!

PETRA. Nena, what happened?

NENA. Happened?

DOLORES. Yes, last night!

NENA. What happened?

DOLORES. I'm asking you!

PETRA. What happened, Nena?

NENA. Why. nothing, Mother

PETRA. Nothing?

NENA. Nothing, Mother

DOLORES. Nothing. che! A girl going to a party unchaperoned and nothing happened!

PETRA. What really happened, Nena?

NENA (Approaching DOLORES and practically screaming at her). Nothing happened and you know it!

DOLORES. Che! How dare you shout at mc!

FRED. Don't talk to my mother like that, Nena!

NENA (Approaching FRED). Bobo! Estupido! Standing there like a statue!

FRED. Statue? What statue?

NENA. The statue of a dumb-bell, dumb bell!

FRED. Gaga!

ROBERTING. (Approaching FRED and holding him by the neck) Hey, you! Don't start calling my sister names!

FRED. She started it!

PETRA (Approaching DOLORES). Your son took my daughter out to the party last night

DOLORES. Why do you allow your daughter to go out alone?

FRED. Nena insisted there was nothing wrong! But my intuition told me it might be wrong.

DOLORES. Shut up, Fred!

FRED. Why, mama?

DOLORES. (To PETRA). Why do you allow your daughter to go out alone with my respectable son?

NENA. What's respectable about him? (DOLORES gives her a poisonous look.)

DOLORES. People saw them come and go unchaperoned. Yes, unchaperoned! Imagine-imagine a girl going to a party alone!

FRANCISCO. (Advancing). She was with your son, wasn't she?

DOLORES. Unfortunately!

FRANCISCO. Then if my daughter was with your son, what danger was there?

DOLORES. People are talking about last night-

PETRA. But what happened?

DOLORES. (To FRED). What happened, Fred dear?

FRED (Tearfully). Nothing, mama!

DOLORES. Try to think! Something must have happened!

FRED. Nothing. nothing! (DOLORES notices that the group's hostile eyes are fastened on her)

DOLORES (Pinching FRED, but hard). Torpe!

FRED. (Twisting with pain). Aruy!

DOLORES. You-you-you son of my third husband! Why didn't you tell me nothing happened?

FRED. I’ve been trying to tell you since this morning, but you gave me no chance.

(Embarrassed, DOLORES tries hard to regain her dignity.)

FRANCISCO. (Approaching DOLORES). You mean to tell me you came here and raised all this rumpus when nothing, absolutely nothing, happened?

DOLORES. Well! I wouldn't be too sure about absolutely nothing! Besides, I have to be careful- yes, very careful-about my beloved son's upbringing.

FRANCISCO. Your son! Your Son is very stupid!

FRED. What!

DOLORES. My son stupid!

PETRA (Shouting). And definitely!

FRANCISCO. As stupid as you are!


PETRA. And positively!

FRED. (Approaching NENA). It's your fault!

NENA. What do you mean my fault, dumbbell!

FRED. I'd slap your face if I weren't a gentleman; (ROBERTING flies across the stage and faces FRED.)

ROBERTING. I'll slap you even if Mother says I'm no gentleman at times!

DOLORES. (To ROBERTING). Don't you dare touch my son! Che!

NENA. (To DOLORES). You can have that human jellyfish! Coming here to say what might have happened! (NENA grunts so savagely that DOLORES retreats in terror.)

DOLORES. (To FRANCISCO). You should advise your daughter to stop going to parties unchaperoned! People gossip and include my son!

FRANCISCO. Mind your own business! (Raising his fist to her head) Tell your son to stop looking dumb!

DOLORES. Che! I never saw such people, che!

FRANCISCO. Get out of here before I call the police!

FRED. The police! Mama, the police!

DOLORES. We're going, che!

PETRA. Paul! Paul!

FRANCISCO. Who's Paul, Petra? (PABLO appears.)

PABLO. Yes, Don Francisco?

PETRA. Paul, kindly escort these-- these people to the door!

FRANCISCO. Roughly, Paul, roughly!

DOLORES. (Facing PABLO). Canalla! (To PETRA.) I suppose you enticed my muchacho to come here!

PABLO (Touching DOLORES on the shoulder). Hoy, I am no muchacho! I'm a mayordomo! Furthermore, Dona Petra gives me eighty pesos a month while you used to give me fifty pesos only!

DOLORES. Eighty a month! Where will they get that much!

PETRA. Dona Dolores! Dolores de cabeza!

DOLORES. Eighty a month! Che! (Going to the door.) Che! (Turning again.) Che! (She comes back to recover her son who has remained like a statue.)

PETRA. Can you imagine! The insolence! Che! (Everybody stares at her.)

FRANCISCO. That's what Nena got for going out unchaperoned. I was already telling you, Petra-

PETRA. How could I, know this Dolores would make all that awful fuss?

ROBERTING. You want me to break Fred's neck?

FRANCISCO. You should -have done that when he was here. Your muscle reflexes are tardy in working, my son.

ROBERTING (Unconsciously). Che!, (They all look at him. NENA has sat on the so/a and begins to cry.)

PETRA. Don't cry, Nena. It’s over.

NENA (Between sobs). Making all that fuss for nothing! The truth is that I quarreled with Fred during the party and left him.

PETRA. Left him! Where did you go?

NENA. I came home with Luding and Lolita. Fred's mother had been trying to interest me in her son-that's why-he told his mother-and—

FRANCISCO. Ay, hija mia, go in now and let this be a lesson to you.

NENA (As she's near the door-unconsciously) Che! (They all stare at her and at each other.)

PETRA. Finish eating. Roberting.

FRANCISCO. Incidentally, Roberting, I hope nothing happened with you last night.

ROBERTING. Last night?

FRANCISCO. You went out with Lia, didn't you?

ROBERTJNG. Yes, but nothing happened-- I think.

PETRA. You think! (PABLO comes in, smoking a cigar.)

PABLO. I escorted them out already. senora. What do I do now?

PETRA. You may wash more dishes.

PABLO. Ha? (He is about to go.)

FRANCISCO. Hoy! Where did you get that cigar?

PABLO. Ha? Er-why, somebody gave it to me.


PABLO. Francis, senor.

FRANCISCO. So! Mayordomo smokes owner's cigars. Owner kicks mayordomo out. (He makes a gesture of kicking PABLO, but the latter runs outside into the street. The SERVANT is seen coming in from the corridor. He disappears and comes back with a coat which he throws out of the window.)

SERVANT. Hoy-- your coat! Mayordomo-mayor yabang!

PETRA. Get back to the kitchen, Francis!

SERVANT. Am I still the servant here, senora?

PETRA. Yes, I suppose we'll have to bear with you for a while.

SERVANT. I won't have to put out the sign anymore-"Wanted A Muchacho"?

FRANCISCO. No! Make another and put "Wanted: A Chaperon"!

PETRA. Wanted a Chaperon?

FRANCISCO. Yes, for our daughter Nena.

PETRA. Que verguenza! I, her mother, will chaperon Nena (She stares out the window. She sees somebody coming.) Roberting! Roberting! (ROBERTING appears.)

ROBERTING. What is it, Mother?

PETRA (Pointing outside). Isn't that your girl-friend Lia?

ROBERTING. Why, yes?

PETRA. And who is that old man along with her?

ROBERTING (Swallowing). That's-er-that's her father!

PETRA. And he's carrying something!

ROBERTING. Yes-yes! He's Carrying-a gun!! (Running outside.) Tell them I'm out!

FRANCISCO. Ay, Petra! We need two chaperons! Che! (PETRA stares at him.)


Friday, September 5, 2008


How to analyze Short Stories/Novels?
I. In literature and in writing it’s important to understand the subject and the theme and also be able to identify key points and create your own opinion. When analyzing a novel, you need to discuss the following literary elements that are interwoven together seamlessly to create the great themes and plots.
Setting (When and where the story takes place)
Mood(The overall feeling created by a writer’s use of words or the tone of the novel)
Main Characters(Names, descriptions and events associated with them)
Main Conflicts(The main disputes in the novel that move the story along and create the plot)
Climax(The greatest tension in the story, a battle between the protagonist and Antagonist)
Conclusion(The resolution after the climax)
II. You also need to understand a story plot begins with exposition, introduction to characters, setting, rising action, turning point, climax and conclusion.
III. The following elements are also common in novels:
Foreshadowing-is giving hints or clues of what is to come later in a story.
1. Imagery-is the use of words to create a certain picture in the reader’s mind. Imagery is usually based on sensory details.
2. Irony-is using a word or phrase to mean the exact opposite of its literal or normal meaning. There are three kinds of irony:
a) Dramatic irony, in the which the reader or the audience sees a character’s mistakes, but the character does not;
b) Verbal irony, in which the writer says one thing and means another.
c) Irony of situation, in which there is a great difference between the purpose of a particular action and the result.
4. Point of View-is the vantage point from which the story is told.
5. Theme-is the statement about life that a writer is trying to get across in a piece of writing. In most cases, the theme will be implied rather than directly spelled out.
6. Symbolism-is a person, a place, a thing, or an event used as a technique in literature to represent something else in order to support your writing.
7. Characterization-is the method an author uses to reveal characters and their personalities.
8. Protagonist-is the main character or hero of the story.
9. Antagonist-is the person or thing working against the protagonist, or hero, of the work.
10. Paradox-is a statement that seems contrary to common sense, yet may, in fact, be true.
11. Flashback-is returning to an earlier time (in a story) for the purpose of making something in the present clearer.
12. Stream of Consciousness-is a style of writing in which the thoughts and feelings of the writer are recorded as they occur.
IV. Use the following: the names of the main characters, favorite quotes, while reading because this will be useful for an essay or book report.

How to Analyze Short Story Characterization
Characterization is the means an author uses to describe or develop a character for the reader. The brevity of a short story insures that there will be few characters. The main character is the only character who is really developed, so characterization in a short story is fairly easy to analyze.
Step 1
Name the main character. Sometimes in a short story, the main character will be the only character. Other times there will be a few characters but only one who is mentioned repeatedly throughout the story. Your analysis of characterization needs to focus on the main character.

List the main character's physical attributes. As you read the story, keep a running list of any physical descriptions of the main character. The author may reveal the character's height, age, hair color, style of dress or other things about his appearance. Since the story is short, the author won't have time to describe everything about the main character. Therefore, the details he does reveal are important and will probably give you clues about the character. For example, if the main character is described as having a sinister smile, the writer is not only using alliteration to color his writing, he is pointing out that there is something evil about the character.

Identify character traits the main character displays. An author can reveal character traits in a description of the character's appearance or in how he acts and what other characters in the story say about him. Characterization in a short story is usually somewhat one-dimensional. The main character may be evil, unpleasant and unhappy or helpful, caring and giving. She won't usually display contradicting qualities.

Consider the source of your information when deciding how accurate it is. What another character says about the main character may be more reliable than what he says about himself.

Notice how you learned about the main character. Writers have different ways of describing a character in a short story. They can use narration to describe the character, dialogue to reveal her attributes, or some combination of techniques.

How to Analyze Short Story Plot
Plot is an element of fiction that consists of the stages of action leading up to the climax of the story. A short story does not afford the writer much time to develop an elaborate plot. A short story plot is rather simple and can be analyzed by following a few steps.

List the events. A short story usually has one main character around whom all the action takes place. Your list of events for any short story will probably consist of the movements of the main character. Also make note of mental or emotional events that take place with respect to the main character, such as he learned how his mother died, he understood why his mother left him, and he stopped feeling sad.

Create a timeline. Take your list of events and put them in chronological order. Sometimes a short story begins with a flashback, in which case the events of the story are presented out of order. Arrange your list of events in chronological order, even if that isn't the order in which they took place in the story.
Identify the conflict. Conflict is what compels the reader to continue reading, so all well-written short stories have a conflict. It may be as obvious as a struggle between two characters in the story, or it can be subtle, like the main character's internal struggle to decide what is right. Identifying the conflict will help you understand the plot, since the plot is the main character's journey toward resolving the conflict.

Find the climax. The climax of a short story happens when the tension heightens just before the conflict is resolved. In a mystery, for example, the climax is just before you find out who the killer is. The climax of a short story takes place shortly before the end of the story. After the climax, the writer ties up the loose ends and the story is over.

1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
2. What is the predominant element in the story - plot, theme, character, setting?
3. Who is the single main character about. whom the story centres?
4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. external?
b. internal?
5. How is the conflict resolved?
6. How does the author handle characterization?
a. by description?
b. conversation of the characters?
c. actions of the characters?
d. combination of these methods?
7. Who tells the story? What point of view is used?
a. first person?
b. omniscient?
8. Where does the primary action take place?
9. What is the time setting for the action? Period of history? Season? Time of day?
10. How much time does the story cover?
a. a few minutes?
b. a lifetime?
c. how long?
11. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
12. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
13. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
14. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
15. Does this story create any special mood?
16. Is this story realistic or true to life? Explain your answers by giving examples.
17. Are the events or incidents of the plot presented in flashback or in chronological order?
18. Was the selection written as a short story or is it a condensation or excerpt? Is it taken from a collection of stories?
19. What is the general theme of the story? What is the underlying theme? Can you name any other stories with a similar theme?
20. Did you identify with any of the characters?
21. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
a. symbolism?
b. incongruity?
c. suspense?
d. surprise ending ?
e. irony?
f. satire?
22. Was there a villain in the story? a hero? a dynamic character?
23. Can you find any examples of figurative language?
a. simile?
b. metaphor?
c. personification?
24. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the read er? If so, what?
25. Name one major personality trait of each leading character, and tell how the author makes the reader conscious of this trait.
26. Does the story have a moral? If not, what do you think the purpose of the author was?