Monday, September 1, 2008

First Snow of November

First Snow of November
Adapted from the short story “The Day the Dancers Came ” by Bienvenido N. Santos


FIL ACAYAN 70 (1980) and 50 (1960) years old. Has frequent memory lapses.
TONY BATALLER 55 years old. Fil’s flatmate. Has an inexplicable skin ailment.
THE DANCERS They are between 18 to 21 years old. They number between 8 and 12, and divided equally
between boys and girls.


The play will begin and end in the living room of a Chicago nursing home, but everything else in between will take place in a small apartment and a hotel hobby. It’s up to the director, the production designer and the lighting designer on how they will show this. They may use a minimalist approach.


The play will begin and end in 1980, but everything else in between will take place in 1960. This could be presented through the use of songs: Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” for 1980 and Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River” for 1960. It’s up to the musical director or sound director on how they will show this.

Lights fade in on stage. The living room of a nursing home appears. It is clean and orderly, but without people, save for one man: FIL. He sits beside a table, and above it are several cassette tapes and a portable tape recorder. The song “Sailing” (or any appropriate song the musical or sound director chooses to use) can be heard from it, but briefly, softly. It’s on radio mode. FIL switches it to tape mode. He puts a tape inside the deck and plays it.

FIL (Thinks. To himself.) The door at the post office, opening and closing.

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks. Irritated.) The bathroom faucet, leaking no end.

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks. Briefly laughs.) I’m hiding behind a tree at the time. Two of them, lovers,
rowing a boat along the coast of Lake Michigan.

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks. Smiles.) Mr. Herschell’s granddaughter, the one with the rosy cheeks.
What’s her name again? Ah oo, Lucy!

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks. Becomes sad.) Last month’s rain—or the month before?

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks longer than usual.) While I was sleeping? No, I snore. Teka. When I visited
Tony? (Shakes his head.) What is this? How annoying. (A beat. Talks as though he’s
speaking to someone.) When I started this, I thought: if I recorded a thing, a sound,
and afterwards play it, would I remember the day, the year, what I felt when I first
recorded it? And I would remember it. How good it is to remember. (Pause.) But, as
time passed, I started using my “magic sound mirror” (Glances at the recorder.) more
and more. I used it once a week then. Now, it’s everyday.

He suddenly hears a gust of wind from the tape recorder.

(Face brightens.) I know! The wind that brought the first snow of November! (Laughs
like a child. Slowly becomes quiet and smiles.) First snow of November. They came
when the snow first fell that month. Ten—no, wait—twenty years have passed since
then. Tony was still here then. We were livingin a small apartment here in Chicago. I
was so excited to see them. It’s like they came just for me. Only for me.

While FIL speaks, the nursing home is transformed into his and TONY’s apartment. (This can be done through the shifting of lights.) Morning. The apartment is colorless; so are FIL’s clothes. He seems as if he is going somehwere. The song “Moon River” (or any appropriate song the musical or sound director chooses to use) is heard from the tape recorder. He stands up and begins cleaning and fixing up the furnishings. He does this over and over. There is a room in a corner. TONY is inside, sleeping.

(Looks outside the window and notices the snow. Smiles.) Snow! It’s snowing!

TONY (Wakes up.) What’s that?

FIL It’s snowing! Diyos ko, they’ll love this, they’ll love this.

TONY (Irritated.) Who’d love that?

FIL The dancers, of course. They’re arriving today. Maybe they have already arrived. They
will walk in the snow and love it. Their very first snow, I’m sure.

TONY How do you know it wasn’t snowing in New York while they were there?

FIL Snow in New York in early November? Are you crazy?

TONY Who’s crazy? Ever since you heard of those dancers from the Philippines, you’ve been
acting nuts. As if they’re coming just for you. (Laughs softly.)

TONY comes out of the room. He’s in white. His face and hands are whitening, as though the skin is slowly peeling off, or slowly recovering from various burns. He looks as though he didn’t sleep all night.

(Looks at his hands.) I’m becoming a white man. (Laughs softly.)

FIL (As though insulted by TONY’s laugh.) I know who’s crazy. It’s the sick guy with the
sick thoughts. Ikaw. You don’t care for nothing but your pain, your imaginary pain.

TONY You’re the imagining fellow. I got the real thing. Look, Fil, look! (Goes to FIL and
shows him his hands.) God, what have I retired for?

FIL You’re old, man, old, that’s what, and sick, yes, but not cancer. (Walks towards the
window and watches the snow fall.)

TONY I know what I got. (Face slightly crumples in pain.) Never a pain like this. One day,
I’m just gonna die.

FIL Naturally. Who says you won’t? (Keeps quiet, as if trying to remember something.) All
of us will die. One day, a medium bomb marked Chicago will fall here and this whole
dump is tapus, finished. Who’ll escape then?

TONY (Walks towards the window.) Maybe your dancers will. (Watches the snow.)

FIL Of course, they will. The bombs won’t be falling on this night. And when the dancers
are back in the Philippines—(Pause. In a sad voice.) But maybe, even in the Philippines
the bombs gonna fall, ano?

TONY What’s that to you? You’ve got no more folks over there, right? I know it’s nothing
to me. I’ll be dead before that.

FIL (Face saddens.) Let’s talk about something nice. (Forces a smile.) Tell me, how will I
talk, how am I going to introduce myself?

TONY remains silent. FIL stares at him.

Walanghiya, I wish I had your looks, even with those white spots, then I could face
every one of them, but this—(Holds his face.)

TONY That’s the important thing, your face. It’s your calling card. It says: Filipino, countryman.

FIL You’re not fooling me, kaibigan. (Holds his face again.) This says: Ugly Filipino.
Oldtimer. Muchacho. Pinoy. Bejo.

TONY It also says: stupid fool! Why do you want to invite them? And here, of all places? Aren’t
you ashamed of this dump?

FIL It’s not a palace, I know. But who wants a palace when they can have the most
delicious adobo here and the best chicken relleno? Yum, yum!

TONY Yum, yum, you’re crazy. Plain and simple crazy. Look, you’ve been living on loose
change all your life, Filemon Acayan, and now on a treasury warrant so small and full
of holes, you still want to spend for these dancing kids who don’t know you and won’t
even send you a card afterwards?

FIL Never mind the cards, Antonio Bataller. Who wants them? But don’t you see, they’ll
be happy; and then, you know what? I’m going to keep their voices, their words, their
singing and their laughter in my “magic sound mirror.” (Points to the recorder.) Halika.

FIL goes to the tape recorder. He ejects the tape from the deck and puts in another one. He plays it. Their voices are heard:

Aba, you look sharp tonight, Tony Bataller. Where will the sharp-stinged bee land
tonight, eh?

TONY On my favorite calachuchi, my favorite flower. (Laughs maliciously.)

FIL Take me along with you, kaibigan.

TONY Look for your own flower. (Laughs maliciously.)

FIL (In a sour voice.) Titi mo!

FIL stops the recorder.

TONY God, I can’t believe you even recorded that.

FIL (Looks out the window.) Go on, snow. Keep it up. Blanket the whole of Chicago.
(Looks at TONY.) I’m going out very soon. As soon as they accept my invitation, I’ll
call you up. You don’t have to do anything, but I’d want you to be here to meet them.

TONY I’m going out myself. I don’t know what time I’ll be back. (Pause.) You’re not working
today. Are you on leave?

FIL (Nods.) For two days. While the dancers are here.

TONY It still don’t make sense to me. But good luck, anyway.

FIL Aren’t you going to see them tonight? Our reserved seats are right out in front, you know.

TONY I know. But I’m not sure if I can come.

FIL Ano? You’re not sure?

TONY I want to, but I’m sick, Fil. I tell you. I’m not feeling so good. My doctor will know
today. He’ll tell me.

FIL What will he tell you?

TONY How should I know?

FIL I mean, what’s he trying to find out?

TONY (A beat.) If it’s cancer.

TONY frowns, as if something is hurting his stomach. He holds it. FIL quickly attempts to help him. TONY refuses his help and returns to his room. FIL follows until he reaches the door.

FIL (As though he’s talking to someone.) Tony had been sick for two years then. He had
consulted so many doctors, yet none of them could tell him for sure what his illness was.
I didn’t know if that doctor had something new to say to him that day. (Silence. As if
trying to remember something.) Back then, I often heard him groaning at night. It only
stopped when he called for me and I would ask him: What’s happening to you, Tony?
But afterwards, he would scream in pain. Even if he buried his face in his pillow, I could
still hear him. He would shoo me away if I ran to his side. At other times, I would see him
in bed, his posture like that of a fetus. (A beat.) Like a fetus inside a bottle filled with
formaldehyde. I would see that bottle everyday when I was still working at the hospital.
I often had nightmares about it. It only stopped when I became a special policeman at
the post office.

TONY (From the room.) Can I borrow your sweater, Fil? I can’t find mine.

FIL (Returns to his senses.) Oo, sure! (Looks at his clothes. Fixes himself immediately.) Well,
I’ll be seeing you. Try to be home on time. I shall invite the dancers for lunch or dinner
maybe, tomorrow. But tonight, let’s go to the theater, ha?

TONY I can’t promise, Fil. But I’ll try.

FIL (As though he’s talking to someone.) That’s what he said. He’ll try. (Pause.) I tried to
invite the dancers that morning. I went to the hotel where they were staying. The—what’s
the name again?—wait—ah! That’s it! (Smiles.) The Hamilton!

While FIL speaks, the apart0ment transforms into the hotel lobby. (This can be done through the shifting of lights.) Everything in the lobby is colorful. The DANCERS enter one by one. Their clothes are colorful and gleaming. They are divided into four groups, depending on their number. Some are sitting; the rest are standing. All of them talk in English and are taking pictures of one another.

I saw them at once when I entered the lobby. At first I thought I was running out of
breath from what I saw. I thought I had died and went straight to heaven. They were
so young and beautiful, especially the girls. Oh, I forgot how beautiful Filipinas are. I
wanted to look away, but their loveliness held me. I closed my eyes instead. Their
laughter grew louder in my ears, but they were not the only ones I heard. The melody
of the rondalla playing at fiesta time. The pealing of the bells after the Simbang Gabi. The
wind slapping against the ricestalks in the fields.

A pause. FIL suddenly comes to his senses. He takes a deep breath, and again and again until he calms down. He smiles constantly at the DANCERS. They smile back, but briefly. He tries to greet and talk to them. But he becomes tongue-tied or acts as though something is covering his mouth at every attempt. He notices that he’s at the center of the lobby and becomes conscious. A DANCER comes his way. FIL extends his hand. He looks at it carefully, finds it ugly, then withdraws it. He touches every part of his face. He becomes embarrassed.

(To himself.) I wish you were here, Tony. You’ll know what to do. I’m sure you’ll
charm them with your smile and with your words. (Pause.) Naku, what am I going to do?

FIL glances at his wristwatch. He becomes tense. He looks around. He sees a vacant chair. He looks at it for some time, and seems as though he’s silently debating with himself. (A single stagelight slowly fades in on him.) He takes a deep breath. He goes to the chair and stands on it. The DANCERS will not notice him.

(In an oratorical voice.) Beloved countrymen, lovely children of the Pearl of the Orient
Seas, listen to me. I’m Fil Acayan. I’ve come to volunteer my services. I’m yours to
command. Your servant. Tell me where you wish to go, what you want to see in Chicago.
I know every foot of the lakeshore drive, all the gardens and the parks, the museums,
the huge department stores, the planetarium. Let me be your guide. That’s what I’m
offering you, a free tour of Chicago, and finally, dinner at my apartment on West Sheridan
Road—pork adobo and chicken relleno, name your dish. How about it, paisanos?

The DANCERS stare at FIL blankly, as though they don’t understand him. They react in Filipino. He suddenly comes back to his senses. (The single stagelight slowly fades out on him.) He shakes his head. He quickly steps down from the chair and returns to his former spot. He retrieves his handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his face. He looks around. He notices a group of DANCERS. He takes a deep breath, then approaches them.

Magandang umaga. I’m Fil Acayan. May I invite you to my apartment?

The group treats FIL with some respect. They smile, but they look as though they find FIL’s appearance filthy. Two of them speak:

DANCER 1 (Stands up.) Ah, sir… (Looks at his companions.)

DANCER 2 Excuse us, please.

The group walks away from FIL. There are several female DANCERS standing at one corner. They are talking to one another. He approaches them.

FIL May I invite you to my apartment, ladies?

DANCER 3 (Sees FIL’s hand. Tries not to show her disgust.) Thanks for the invitation…

DANCER 4 … but we have no more time. (Slowly pulls her companions away.)

FIL approaches another group of DANCERS. They are sitting in a sofa.

FIL May I take you all for a stroll along the lakeshore drive?

DANCER 5 Lakeshore drive? I know the place! (Turns to her companions.) Everyone, follow me.
(Stands up. Looks at FIL.) Excuse us, please.

The group walks away. FIL looks a little discouraged, but brightens up when a male DANCER seems to be waving at him. He waves back. Someone is tapping FIL’s shoulder. He turns around.

DANCER 6 (Holds a camera.) Could you step aside, sir?

FIL realizes that he’s in the way. He quickly steps aside. He quietly watches them take pictures. He sits in the sofa. A bus is heard in the background. The faces of the DANCERS lighten up and they exit the stage. FIL stays behind. His face shows defeat. The bus is heard moving on and moving away. The lobby shifts back to being the apartment. Afternoon.

FIL (As if talking to someone. Looks and sounds sad.) I told myself then: Let them have fun.
They’re still young and far away from home. I have no business messing up their schedule,
or force myself on them. (Pause.) I didn’t know how I’ll tell Tony of my failure when I
went back to the apartment. But he was not there. I didn’t know why, but I felt sooo tired.
I wanted to explain everything to Tony…

FIL slowly closes his eyes, but he does not lie down. He is dreaming. TONY enters, and looks as if he has some great news. He approaches FIL.

TONY Hey Fil! Listen, I’ve discovered a new way of keeping afloat.

FIL Who wants to keep afloat?

TONY Just in case. In a shipwreck, for example.

FIL Hayaan mo na iyan. I must tell you about the dancers.

TONY But this is important! This way, you can keep floating indefinitely.

FIL What for?

TONY Say in a ship… I mean, in an emergency, you’re stranded without help in the middle of
the Pacific or the Atlantic, you must keep floating till help comes…

FIL Even better, find a way to reach shore before the sharks smell you. You discover that.

TONY (Loses his excitement.) I will.

TONY exits, but FIL speaks as though he’s still there.

FIL There they were, who could have been my children—or yours, Tony—if I—or you—had
not left home. But by the way they had acted earlier, it was as if they had been briefed too
well: Do not talk to strangers. Ignore their invitations. Be extra careful in the big cities
like New York or Chicago. Beware of the oldtimers, the Pinoys. Most of them are bums.
Keep away from them. Make sure you stick together at all times. Entertain only those
who have been introduced to you properly.

(Silence.) What do I have to do? Scream out my good intentions? Beat my breast to prove
to them how harmless I am, how I love them? Oh, but I love them. (Pause.) All I wanted
was to talk to them, guide them around Chicago, spend money on them so that they
would have something special to remember about us here when they return to our country.
They would tell their family and friends—

The DANCERS come out on stage, one by one, before FIL finishes talking. They are all wearing costumes. They linger around him. Some face him; others group into twos or threes, talking to each other as though talking to a family member or friend back home. They will divide the following lines among themselves:

THE DANCERS We met a kind old man, who took us to his apartment… It wasn’t much of a place. It was
old—like him… When we sat in the sofa, the bottom sank heavily. I think the springs were
already broken… No, it’s just because you’re so fat!… Now that’s too much! But what a
cook that man was! And how kind! We never thought that rice and adobo could be that
delicious. And the chicken relleno!… Oh yes, the chicken was truly delicious! Never had it
tasted like that!… When someone asked what the stuffing was, he just smiled and said—

FIL (Touches his forehead and presses his chest.) From heaven’s supermarket.

THE DANCERS He had this tape recorder which he called a “magic sound mirror”… And he had all of us
record their voices.

FIL Pakiusap, say anything in the dialect. Sing. Please, sing out kundiman.

The DANCERS sing a short kundiman.

THE DANCERS Oh, we had fun listening to the playback. Over and over!… And then he told us—

FIL When you’re gone, I shall listen to your voices with my eyes closed and you’ll be here
again. I won’t ever be alone, not anymore, after this. From now on, I won’t ever be alone.

THE DANCERS We wanted to cry… But he looked very funny!… So we laughed… (All at once.) And
he laughed with us!

The DANCERS leave the stage one by one, their laughter trailing behind them. FIL continues laughing until he becomes short of breath and holds his chest. He opens his eyes. He glances at the tape recorder. He looks at it carefully. His face lights up.

FIL (Laughs.) Tama! It’s still possible! (Grabs the tape recorder and kisses it.) Mabuti’t naisip
ko! A great idea! I still have a chance!

FIL returns the tape recorder to its place and begins fixing himself, as if he’s going somewhere. Evening. An auditorium seat appears onstage. FIL grabs the tape recorder again.

(As though talking to somebody. Excited.) Even if I wasn’t able to invite the dancers, I
can still record their performance. I’ll bring my “magic sound mirror” to the show. (Walks
to the seat.) I’ll sit right up at the front. (Sits.) I’m sure it’ll be easy for it to capture
their songs and dances.

The show begins. The first group of DANCERS enters. As the music begins they start dancing the wasiwas (or whatever folk dance the director wants to use). They perform a shortened version of it. A healthy round of applease greets them once they finish the dance.

The first group of DANCERS exits; a second one enters. As the music begins they start dancing the tinikling (or whatever folk dance the director wants to use). They perform a shortened version of it. A strong round of applause greets them once they finish the dance.

The second group of DANCERS exits; a GUITARIST and a VOCALIST enter. They perform a shortened version of “Lagi Kitang Naaalala.” Afterwards, thunderous applause.

FIL (Stands up. Applauds.) Thank you, my children! Maraming salamat!

The GUITARIST and the VOCALIST bow before they exit. FIL leaves the seat and returns to the table in the apartment. He puts the tape recorder on it. He sits. He plays the sounds he had recorded at the show. The volume gradually rises. In the room, TONY is sleeping.


TONY lets out a loud groan, startling FIL. He becomes confused for a moment. He embraces the tape recorder very tightly. He accidentally rewinds the tape and starts erasing its contents. He is unaware of this.

FIL (Recalls something.) What did the doctor say, Tony? Ano’ng sinabi niya?

TONY does not answer. FIL enters the room.

What did he say, Tony? What did the doctor say?

TONY (Pause.) So they didn’t come after all?

FIL (More insistent.) What did the doctor say, kaibigan?

TONY I knew they wouldn’t come. But that’s all right. The apartment is old, anyhow. And it
smells of death.

FIL How you talk. In this country, there’s a cure for everything.

TONY I guess we can’t complain. We had it good here all the time. Most of the time, anyway.

FIL But I wish they had come. Pwede ko sila—

TONY Yes, they could have. I could have seen them, but they didn’t have to see me. Tell me,
Fil. What do they really look like?

FIL They’re beautiful, Tony. All of them, but especially the girls. Their complexion looks
so smooth; and their long hair, so shiny. Their sparkling eyes seem to say things to you.
Their lips are as red as roses; and their teeth, like pearls. And their scent is like the scent
of the calachuchi, your favorite flower.

They look at each other. They slowly break into laughter.

Ikaw kasi, eh. It’s too bad you didn’t watch them. But no matter, I was able to record
all their—

FIL begins to hear a strange noise, faint at first, as though something is gnawing on something. He tries to find the source. He notices the tape recorder. He sees that it’s erasing the tape.

FIL becomes frantic. He flies out of the room and runs towards the table. He stops the tape recorder. He rewinds the tape, then plays it. No sound comes out of it, except for a faint, static-like sound. He rewinds and plays it again and again; the result remains the same. He covers his mouth. He looks defeated.

(Looks towards the room.) They’re all gone, Tony. Wala na.

FIL bites his lips and forces himself not to cry. He notices the light from the window. It’s already morning. The living room of the apartment gradually becomes the nursing home again. He sits. He looks at the tape recorder.

(As if talking to someone.) Tony was gone when spring arrived. His illness grew worse a
few days before—wait a minute, mali yata—after Christmas. From the start I wanted to
bring him to the hospital, but he refused. He was so stubborn. But in the end I finally
convinced—or was it forced? –-him. He never came out of the hospital since then. (Pause.)
The wake lasted for only a few days. Only few came. Few also attended the funeral. Most
of them were his former colleagues from the station. He had worked as a porter.
His tombstone was simple: Antonio Bataller. 1905—or 1906?—to 1961. In loving memory
of a friend. (Pause. Thinks aloud.) Is it really like this? Is this what we got for being
American? (Shakes his head. Smiles a little.) I don’t think so. Hindi, hindi. (Pause.) But
I’m afraid. At first, I had a hard time remembering dates. Then, the names of my
companions here. Just the other day, I woke up and was disturbed to find that I’m having
a hard time recalling how my parents looked like. Natatakot ako. I’ll meet with Dr.
Thompson tomorrow. Tomorrow, or the day after next? (Pause.) I hope he brings some
good news.

FIL looks at the tape recorder. He ejects the tape from the tape deck. He replaces it with another one, then plays it.

(Thinks.) College kids? Oo. Singing Christmas carols. (Pause.) Wait. Is it “We Three
Kings?” Teka, mali. “The First Noel.”

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks. Smiles.) Fireworks during the Fourth of July. Hold on—was it this year’s? Or
maybe last year’s?

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks. Becomes sad.) Excited children on their way to school. Hindi. On their way
home from school. (Nods.) That’s it.

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape, puts in another one, and plays it.

(Thinks.) Birds chirping outside my window—or was it at the park? Teka. No. At the
cemetery? Oo. The cemetery yata.

He stops the recorder. He ejects the tape and puts in another one. He looks outside the window and notices that it’s starting to snow. He smiles.

Lights fade out on stage.


This play won First Prize for the One-Act Play in the 2005 Palanca Awards

1 comment:

Anthony Anastacio said...

Hi! Where can we contact the representative(s) of Alfonso Dacanay?