Tuesday, April 9, 2013

DON PU SOI'S TREASURE ( A SHORT STORY)

                                   
PART ONE - THE LEGEND

Rene Quinto had always heard the story since he was old enough to know his left hand from his right. There was a treasure buried under the foundations of his wife Clara's family's ancestral home, the one which, by virtue of her  being the eldest daughter, they now made their residence.
This was one of those old classic Philippine houses called bahay na bato, the type built during the Spanish colonial times by men who were wealthier than the rest of their neighbors. The house had two levels. The first level had supporting walls of blocks of coral. It had a hard-packed earthen floor. In olden times, the produce of the fields were stored here: sacks of rice stacked to the ceiling; bales of tobacco and demijohns of coconut vinegar; jars of rice wine and dried copra. Here the carriage was parked, and when that horse-drawn conveyance's usefulness had passed, the automobile. The smell of that dark space was dank, earthy and appetizing at the same time.
That was then, back in the 18th century, when this house was built. Subsequent heirs to the house  had subdivided it into smaller rooms. One room  housed the maids. Another was the sports room, equipped with a billiards and a mahjjong table. A larger space had been turned into a lanai with sliding glass doors that led out to the back  lawn beside the stream that flowed behind the  property. Clara  loved orchids, so she planted them in profusion everywhere there were branches or tree ferns to hang on to.
Clara's  family was of consequence in those days. Her great grandfather had been a Chinese adventurer  named Pu Soi from Amoy China. He had journeyed from Amoy across the straits to Taiwan, then called Formosa, and from there made his way to  the northern tip of Luzon. After a year of wandering, he eventually found himself in the  island of Leyte,in the town of Ormoc. Back then Ormoc was really just a village with a large Catholic church built of the same coral from the island across the bay and elsewhere on the mainland.The church served both as a place of worship and as a fortress in which the locals huddled to protect themselves from the marauding Moro pirates  who swooped in periodically from the sea. The red volcanic earth of Ormoc proved ideal for the cultivation of sugar cane. Pu Soi had some expertise in the boiling of cane juice and spinning it into muscovado, that dark-brown sweet sludge that hardened into sugar, packed into coconut shells or shaped into cones. He  found employment in  one of the small sugar mills, known as intusan outside the town. He also sold bolos and other farming implements to the local farmers on credit. When the farmers couldn't pay their debts, Pu Soi, a very shrewd businessman despite his impecunious appearance, accepted small bits of land as payment for their debts. In this manner, he amassed a considerable number of tracts of farmland which he leased back to their original owners, effectively making them his tenants. Thus began the wealth of Pu-Soi, whose name was later simplified into the unflattering Visayan word "pusoy" by disgruntled debtors. Although this hardly applied to the Chinaman, "pusoy" meant "loser".
Enriched with money contributed by the poor people of the land, Pu Soi decided to build a house in Ormoc. He decided that it would be grander than the gobernadorcillo's. On the first floor he had for retaining walls coral stone hewn from the rocky cliffs of Camotes island facing the town across the bay. The blocks were laboriously floated across the dangerous tides of Ormoc bay on a gigantic barge of wood and bamboo lashed with abaca rope, to the people's astonishment. For the flooring and beams of the second floor he procured  sturdy mahogany and ebony trees logged from the thickly-forested Magsanga mountains on the opposite arc of the bay. He had obtained, through the usual means,  a good-sized piece of land outside of Muelle Can-Adieng, across the stone bridge spanning one of the two rivers that bisected Ormoc City. The house was on an intersection facing the sea beside the road leading to the cemetery.  A fast brook ran behind the property, a ready source of water for laundry and other household duties. During Pu-Soi's era, the water in that stream had been pure and clean, originating as it did from the virgin forests above the city. Now, it was dirty, polluted by the garbage of squatters who had begun occupying and defecating on the banks upstream.
The years after Pu Soi died saw Ormoc and the entire Philippines, first in the grip of the Philippine revolt, then the American occupation, followed by the disastrous Japanese occupation during World War Two. This period also saw the house that Don Pu Soi built rise up in magnificence and fall into inevitable decay. With it went the fortunes of the Pu Soi family. The axiom that the first generation builds wealth, the second one expands it, and the third one wastes it stood true for the Pusoy family. A series of calamities both  natural and man- made had deprived the family of their lands and wealth. Now all that remained was the bahay na bato and with it the legend of its buried treasure.

Rene sat with a forlorn air on a chair in their back lawn. He had just signed away the last bit of land he owned in the sitio of Oac to a land developer. He was in a large measure responsible for the loss of their properties.For Rene was an inveterate gambler. He bet and lost thousands of pesos on cockfights. He also had a passion for the Chinese game of mahjongg. He frequented casinos in Cebu and Manila and contributed a lot to those establishments' coffers. He borrowed money to cover his losses and put up his properties as collateral. His wife, accustomed to a life of luxury, did not realize how much they owed until they received a notice of eviction from the bank. Rene, it turned out, had collateralized their ancestral home without his wife's knowledge. It was only by dint of the efforts of an infuriated and panicking Clara that they were able to save the home.She swallowed her pride and  borrowed money from her two younger brothers,  Frankie and Aaron, who, despite the loss of their great wealth, still managed to support themselves quite well  as professional cockfighters.  They were openly contemptuous of Rene's run of bad luck in business and gambling.
"We warned you," they told her.
"Please,  we'll lose the house if we can't make payment by next week," Clara had pleaded. "This is our ancestral house, remember?"
"It's your house now so what do we care?"
"I'll give up the rest of my share of papa's land in Mahayahay."
"Done."
__________________

Rene looked up when Clara joined to sit beside him .
As they sat in the backyard lawn overlooking the creek, they took stock of their situation.
"I'll make it up to you, inday, I promise," said Rene.
Clara's plain face was pale and ashen. She gave him a cold, unsmiling look.
"You've said that so many times if I got paid every time you said it, I could spend the rest of my life shopping in Hongkong."
Rene did not reply to her rebuke. He understood his wife's disappointment. There was no use arguing with her.
A rooster perched on the roof of his small shed crowed confidently to the world. Rene had planned to enter him in next month's derby in Valencia, the town near Ormoc that had a large cockfighting arena frequented by many wealthy breeders  from all over the Visayas region. That plan was now in the gutter.
"I should just wring that rooster's neck and make a stew out if it tonight," remarked Clara bitterly as she rose up to leave him on the lawn.
Rene said nothing. He knew he was guilty: guilty of losing thousands of pesos three derbies in a row, guilty of taking out too many loans from the banks, guilty of not thinking enough about what her wife would say when she found out that instead of paying back the loans as he promised her, he had spent the money they obtained from the bank at the Waterfront Casino in Cebu. What a disastrous night that was!
There has to be a way, he thought.
He looked at the old house. They had given it a fresh coat of white paint but that didn't disguise its dilapidated condition. One hundred years had been unkind to the ancient relic. He had suggested that they tear it down and build a modern house in its place. Clara would hear nothing of it. It was her ancestral home. What would her younger brothers say? She would hear no end of their jeering and "I-told-you-so's'". The bahay na bato stayed the way it was, creaky, decrepit and sinking slowly into the ground.
 He looked with leaden eyes at the rooster as it strutted across the lawn.
Then a thought struck him.
"I wonder..?"
He broached the topic to Clara at supper.
"Are you mad?"she shrieked at him. The maid nearly dropped a tureen of the chicken soup she was serving. She fled into the kitchen as soon as she had laid down the bowl, fearful of getting in the line of Clara's fury.
"I'll make sure it will be done properly," said Rene soothingly. "I'll ask Alfredo to supervise the excavation."
"That doddering old fool? What does he know about digging up a house? And that idea of yours....que barbaridad! I won't have it. Who knows if the house will collapse after you've dug around it?"
"If for nothing else," persisted Rene,"we can verify the truth of that cursed story. It's been driving me crazy the way people keep mentioning it to me. We should at least explore the possibility of the treasure under this house.If we find it, then who knows? That can certainly help us, considering that Gondoy wants to study in UP."

Gondoy was their only son who was in Cebu at the moment but was scheduled to arrive in a day or two for vacation.

"I will have to ask my brothers," said Clara, softening up a bit but still skeptical of the proposed enterprise.
"Why tell them?" asked Rene. " We'll keep it a secret. We'll just say we're having the house renovated. Surely they can't object to that. And they don't own the house. You do."

Clara stared at Rene. Her plain face looked even plainer when she did not wear any makeup. To Rene, she looked like a woman whose every joy and happiness had been sucked out, and in its stead was a stranger he identified as his wife, but not as his lover. Thank goodness for Mercedes, he thought, the obliging young fifteen year old maid. Otherwise, he would have to content himself with the prostitutes in La Suerte massage parlor, none of whom were too shy about broadcasting the identity of the men who patronized their establishment.
"Well," Clara finally said," I suppose there's no harm in trying to find out the truth."
Thus encouraged,  Rene called up Alfredo, the white-haired, dark-complexioned and parchment-skinned land surveyor who doubled as an architect, a not very good one. He was just two years shy of  seventy and, as Clara had stated, a doddering old fool.
"What a wonderful idea!" cried Alfredo. "Dig up under the house to find the Pusoy treasure!"
The surveyor paused to puff on a foul smelling cigar then said:
"And what will be my share if we succeed in digging up your treasure?"
Rene looked at Alfredo with a wounded look in his eyes.
"You know I'm going to take care of you."
"Good enough for me," said Alfredo. "When do we start digging?"
___________________________

The legend of Pu Soi's treasure went like this: When Pu Soi built the house,  he was said to have secretly buried a number of Spanish gold coins in the foundations of the house. This was to insure that his household would continue to enjoy prosperity in the future. Nobody   knew how much gold he buried or whether he really did bury them because  it was  such a long time ago. However, considering how the Chinese were such a superstitious people, obsessed with feng shui and good (or bad) luck as they were, the people of Ormoc believed that there had to some truth to the legend. Additionally, it was also rumored that the old Chinese had, over time, buried several boxes containing coins and other valuables as a hedge against bad times, such as getting robbed or attacked by sea-borne pirates. In the end, nobody dared make any attempt to dig up the alleged treasure. For like most treasures, it had a curse attached to it. A verse in the Visayan dialect floated around that was purported to be the Pusoy curse. It said:

                      Kung imong kawaton
                     Ang itlog nga gilumlum
                     Mangisog ang pusoy
                     Ug sa itlog bitayon.

Roughly translated, it meant:

                      If you go stealing
                     The egg incubating
                     Pusoy will get mad
                     And hang you by your gonad.

 This could have applied to other situations,of course,  since pusoy meant somebody who was luckless or a loser in general. It could, for example,  have been a metaphorical warning to a man not to steal somebody else's wife or else suffer undesirable consequences. It could also have been  an actual warning not to steal the eggs laid by someone's hens in those woven baskets that used to hang on people's rafters before the invention of hatcheries. Over time, the people of Ormoc  accepted this rhyme as the language of the curse. No man, (for most thieves were, with some exceptions, men), risked losing their balls over a pot of gold, real or not.
              
__________________________________
             
Alfredo recruited  two laborers to do the digging.
"Where shall we begin?" Alfredo asked Rene. Looking on was a skeptical Clara. She had sworn the maids to secrecy until it was proven that there was in fact treasure under the old house.
"The west side seems a good place to start," said Rene, "the side nearest the stream. Nobody can see us from there."
The stream itself was several feet below the foundations of the house. A cement dike had been built to buttress the banks, so even during typhoons and heavy rains, the house itself was safe from the rampaging flood.
Alfredo located the foundational posts and determined where to dig. The men shovelled the earth slowly and methodically. They piled the earth they had extracted outside in the lawn. They buttressed the pits with rocks and cement blocks. They were not about to let the house collapse on them.
What they discovered upon digging was that the posts had been sunk deeper into the earth than they had imagined. In fact it seemed that old man Pu Soi had uprooted entire trees and buried them halfway down the earth.
Alfredo shook his head.
"We have to dig deeper," he said. " This is harder than I thought. We may have to tunnel down at right angles."
Rene looked at Alfredo with determination in his eyes and said: " Do it".
He was thinking of the banks to whom he had collateralized the house, ready to pounce on it when he missed his payments. He was thinking of Clara's demonic brothers who were as arrogant and unhelpful as can be. He was thinking of the people of Ormoc who at this moment were making fun of him and his misfortunes. There had to be gold under the house. He must find it if only to prove them wrong.

On the second day of the excavations, Gondoy, the son, arrived from Cebu City.  He was tall for eighteen,  fed as he was with a diet of fastfood and sugary drinks. He had an absent air about him, as if he'd rather be in a different century than in the one he was living in. He was  taken aback by the upturned soil and general mess.
"But why, dad?" he protested. "Everybody knows that's just a legend."
"Don't tell me what to do, " replied Rene testily. " I'm doing this for you".
Gondoy was studying architecture at San Carlos University in Cebu, but what he really wanted to do was study music at the University of the Philippines in Dilliman, Quezon City. Rene and Clara tried to dissuade him from pursuing that line of study because they knew that there was no money in it. Gondoy was adamant. They had relented and agreed to enroll him next year, with the implied promise by Gondoy to return to a more fruitful line of studies, say, accounting, if music turned out to be a dead end. For this of course, they needed money. Manila was not a cheap place by any measure.
Gondoy shut his mouth and locked himself in his room listening to Beethoven.
The men continued digging, carefully buttressing the trenches to prevent soil collapse. On the third day of the dig, one of the men struck something metallic. They all excitedly rushed to find out what it was. It turned out to be a ceramic bottle of 19th century gin, its contents long gone. Perhaps the workers on the original building had drunk from it.
Alfrdo sadly shook his head. Rene looked away annoyed. Clara looked disgusted. She had hoped it was a piece of jewelry.
"I think we should stop this now " she hissed.
"Just a few days more, mahal " Rene pleaded.
"Three days more, " she agreed," but after that, you must cover those holes again."
The dig continued.
Gondoy would venture out of his room now and then and observe the doings of the men with a frown on his face, but otherwise he kept his peace.
****************
On the fourth day of the dig, one of the men let out a yell.
He held something up for the others to see.
It was discolored green, but there was no mistaking what it was: a coin that had somehow escaped corrosion.
With trembling fingers Rene rubbed off the clay encrusting the coin . Through the oxidized surface and grime he could make out the figure of a woman with a torch and a shield. On one side of the coin were the words: Firme y feliz. On the other side: Por la Union.
Trembling with excitement, and feeling extremely vindicated, he rushed up to the second floor, to their bedroom, and startled Clara who had just come out of the shower.
"Look, Clara!" His voice came out in a dusky hiss. "Look what we found!"
He handed here the black coin.
"Is that what I think it is?" cried Clara.
"The story is true," he replied, breathing heavily.
Clara peered closely at the coin, then gave her husband a stern look:
"So what are you waiting for?" she said. "Find the rest of them!"

                                END OF PART ONE 





                           PART TWO - THE FLOOD


How does a rumor start? It starts with somebody telling his wife about finding an old Spanish coin while excavating the earth under the old Pu Soi mansion. That somebody was the architect of the dig, the white-haired engineer Alfredo, who confessed to his wife about the discovery. His wife, unable to hold a secret, had announced the finding of the coin to her mahjong partners, who promised to keep their mouths shut. They in turn told their family members about the discovery of not one, but several coins, nay, a chest of gold coins, under the Pu Soi house.

It was not long before Clara’s own brothers finally heard about the discovery of treasure under their ancestral home. They were livid with anger, not so much because Rene and Clara did not tell them about the did, but that they found something that could make them wealthier than anyone else in  Ormoc. On the sixth day of the dig, they came to Clara’s house unannounced. They insisted on entering and looking at the dig, despite Rene’s protestations.

“My God!” blurted Frankie. “What have you done here?”

“And where is this treasure I’m hearing about?” demanded Aaron.

‘Come up and we’ll talk about it,” said Rene. Clara’s face was pale with apprehension. She knew what her brothers were capable of. 

“You have a lot of talking to do, that’s for sure,” warned Frankie.

“Look,” said Rene,” we were only digging to see if the legend was true. Yes, we should have told you earlier, but we were concerned that if nothing came to light, it would not go down very well.”

“But you found the treasure, right?” asked Aaron with some eagerness in his voice.

“We found a coin," confessed Rene. " It’s an old silver Spanish coin. We haven’t found anything else yet.”

“A Geiger counter would help a lot,” suggested Aaron.

“And you’ll tell us if you do find the rest of the treasure, right?" asked Frankie sternly.

“Of course,” said Rene “Isn’t that right, mahal?”

“Of course,” said Clara in a voice that was close to a disappointed whisper. She was right all along. She should have told her brothers. Now the cat was out of the bag.

Before departing, Frankie said: “We’ll keep tabs on the dig. We will know when you really find something more. Depend on it.”

When Rene, feeling like a dog with its tail between its legs,  went down to the dig, he was surprised to see his son Gondoy  standing there  in his overalls.  His hand clutched a spade.
“What are you going to do with that spade,Gondoy?” he asked.
“Yes, son,” chimed in Clara, “ what are you going to do with that?”
“I heard what my uncles said,” Gondoy replied. “ I am going to help you find that treasure  once and for all!”
Despite  Rene’s admonition, even orders, Gondoy would not be dissuaded. He took his place among the other two diggers and proceeded to dig and dig and dig till he flopped down, exhausted. So far they had not uncovered anything aside from the Spanish coin. Nothing but dirt and an increasing sense that the whole town of Ormoc was now scrutinizing their enterprise with ever more growing suspicion and obtrusiveness.
    Even the DENR got wind of  the   enterprise and sent a representative to check on their activities. Rene was more successful this time in preventing him from entering the house.
“It’s my private property,” he yelled at the DENR representative, a thin man with sun-burned skin and glasses that perched precariously on the edge of his equally thin nose. He did not seem to flinch at Rene’s show of temper. He had confronted illegal  loggers in the upland forests who threatened him with something worse than a scolding.
“Nevertheless, Mr.  Quinto,” said the DENR man, “ if you are digging under your house for whatever reason, you will be compromising the land around you. “
Clara came out and joined in Rene’s protests.
“We’re not doing anything wrong!” she  cried. “Leave us alone!”
The DENR man raised his right hand to calm the couple.
“As you wish, but you have been warned,” said the  environmental representative and left.
As they went upstairs, Clara sighed.
“He’s right, you know,” she said.
“About what?” asked Rene.
“This dig. It’s destroying us. One coin, that’s all we have. Let’s cover  the pits before  they swallow this house.”
“No!”
The sound did not come from either of them. It came from their son Gondoy, who had overheard what they said as he came up the stairs from the dig.
“We cannot stop until we find the treasure,” he insisted.
Rene stared at his son with surprise. He did not realize he cared that much.
“There has to be something there,” continued Gondoy.
“There is nothing there,” replied his mother.
“How about you, father,” asked Gondoy,  throwing his father a fierce look. “What do you think?”
His father looked out the window. It had suddenly grown dark, and he could hear thunder in the mountains. Rain started to fall in little drops, then invaded the room, propelled by gusts of  wind.
“Edna!” yelled Clara at her maid. “ Close the windows! It’s raining!”
The maids bustled into the room and closed the capiz-shell windows. The rain beat a tattoo against them. It was going to be a wet night.
“We’ll stop the dig,” said Rene. “I’ll tell the boys to go home  to rest and come back tomorrow so we can properly cover up the pits.”
Gondoy sniffed in disappointment and turned briskly into his room, slamming the door behind him.
“I’ll go tell Alfredo to stop now,” said Rene as he made his way downstairs. He barely gave a glance at his wife, such was his disappointment at his decision, the only sane one that he could make given his wife's discouraging opinion, the unholy interest that his dig was whipping up in Ormoc, the brothers' meddling, and most of all, his wish not to see his son Gondoy digging in the earth anymore , but playing a Chopin polonaise on a  Steinway Grand.
++++++++++++++++++++++
That night, the rain fell with  a ferocity that the people of Ormoc  hadn’t  experienced in a long time. In fact,  only those who were alive and conscious fifty years ago would have  realized on hindsight that there was such a rain then which caused immense floods, but no casualties. At that time, Ormoc was just little more than a sugar depot and the trees in the mountains had not been logged almost to extinction. Now things were different. There were more people living in the city. The old-growth trees that soaked up the rainwater  and prevented flooding had been cut for timber and exported to Japan and the US. Ormoc, with its twin rivers that described its western and eastern approaches still had second-growth trees that grew scantily amid the burnt-out kaingin patches  that allowed rainwater to slide over them and erode the hillsides.
The rain went on into the night and into a grey dawn. The colorless sky seemed to pour sheets of rain into the hapless city without let-up. The ground, soaked up with water, could no longer accept more. So cataracts fell into the two rivers and the numerous little creeks that snaked among the houses of the city, including the one that ran at the back of the Pusoy house .
It was the maid Edna who sounded the alarm with a heart-stopping shriek. Rene, Clara and Gondoy came rushing out of their rooms.
“What’s the matter, Edna?” demanded Clara.
“Senora,” sobbed the terrified maid,” the first floor! It’s flooded!”
They all rushed down to see floodwater starting to seep  and collect into the pits that they had dug in the fruitless search for treasure.
“Madre de Dios!” cried Clara. “ We have to leave now!”
Rene looked out at the back and saw that the water of the creek had risen above the dikes and were now spilling rapidly into their back lawn and into the excavations. He watched in horror and fascination as the earth crumbled at the floodwater’s assault. If  it went any further, the water would soften the foundations under the house and bring it crashing down.
“You’re right!” he  agreed immediately. “We must tell everyone to go now!”
Outside their house, the floodwater was  quickly rising, a phenomenon they had never seen before. If they could see what was happening in other parts of Ormoc, especially the sections closest to the rivers, they would have seen the same ominously rapid rise of the waters that, not properly controlled with dikes, was spilling out into higher ground.  At one river, the Anilao, the rain had softened the earth upriver, causing it to collapse  and create a temporary dam that threatened collapse at any moment, something that not a single soul in the city was aware of.
At the moment that all of them---maids, Clara, Rene—started  piling into the Toyota van, Gondoy froze and looked back in the direction of the flooded first floor.
“What  are you looking at?” demanded his hysterical mother.
“Yes,” asked Rene. "What is it?"
“I see something there,” said Gondoy, in a calm voice, despite the gusts of wind and the pelting rain.
“There is nothing there,” yelled Clara in panic,” it’s all going down!”
“What do you see, son?” asked  Rene, his curiosity piqued despite his growing panic.
“That  thing floating there, where we dug yesterday,” said Gondoy. Without waiting for a response, he quickly alighted from the van and waded into the flooded first floor. Clara  shrieked in terror.
“Where are you going, Gondoy!” she cried.
“Wait here, Clara,” said Rene. “ I’m going to get him back.”
Rene jumped out of the van and went after Gondoy. The water was now waist-high.
“Gondoy! Where are you going?” he cried.
Gondoy looked back at him, pale and shaking with excitement.
“Don’t you see what I see? There!” he pointed at an object that was bobbing on the water.
Rene  tried to focus his eyes in the dim light.  It was a chest. A wooden chest with iron clasps. Pu Soi’s treasure. It could not have held anything else.
Gondoy lurched forward and tried to grab the side of the chest. Unfortunately, in his excitement, he had forgotten how deep the pits they had dug had been. He took one step and disappeared into the muddy water. Horrified, Rene  paddled forward and tried to find his sunken son.  Instead, he was able to grab hold of the clasp of the chest. Of his son, he saw no sign.
The water continued rising steadily, rapidly and remorselessly.
There is a meteorological phenomenon, often observed, which create disastrous results for any locality that was both near the sea and a river. This was the  wedding of high tide  and flood conditions. While a flooding river can, of itself, cause destruction, the addition of the sea rolling into that same river during high tide can create extraordinary flooding that can cause more death and destruction than normal.
Thus, on the morning that Rene Quinto had decided to terminate  his search for the elusive Pu Soi treasure, the same morning that that the rain fell in such quantity that it caused the Pusoy creek to overflow and flood the excavations and  surprisingly, wonderfully even, extricated and floated the chest that Gondoy saw and was convinced contained the fable Pu Soi treasure,  the same morning where a despairing Rene saw his son Gondoy disappear in the swirl of muddy waters that invaded the pit-pocked soil beneath the Pu Soi mansion, on this morning, the  waters of the Ormoc Bay and the waters of the rivers met. And as they met, the temporary dam that the fallen soil of the Anilao River had created up near its source, suddenly could not contain the weight of the collected waters anymore  and collapsed, creating a  tidal force that bore, not inland, but outward towards the roaring sea. When ocean and flood embrace, the force of their union tore trees from the banks, floated trucks, cars and giant container vans that rammed into houses and people,  threw logs and debris into the roiling waters, broke huts and houses from their flimsy foundations and carried everything  into the sea with one great, murderous rush.
The Pu Soi mansion that had stood  a century in the same spot, its foundations weakened by Rene’s hapless digging, collapsed , its roof, walls and timber falling down on the Toyota van with the screaming Clara  and her maids still in it. To add insult to injury, giant waves of the sea came in, borne by the magnetic pull of the moon.  It boiled over the street fronting the Pusoy mansion and carried away its ruined heap, leaving  nothing but a piece of muddy ground from which two or three ancient wooden pilings and portions of the coral wall remained.  Thus did  Pu Soi's bahay-na-bato, the grand mansion he built from money earned by selling goods and exploiting peasants, meet its end.

                                                  EPILOGUE
A week later after  what they called the Ormoc  Flood Tragedy, where close to eight thousand  people perished in flashfloods and mudslides, with so many of the victims carried out willy-nilly into the sea and lost there forever,  Rene’s body, bloated, decomposing and barely recognizable  washed up on a beach  one hundred twenty two  kilometers away in Maasin. When they tried to open his rotted hand, they found, partially imbedded in the flesh, a  rounded piece of rusty metal that was later determined to be a portion of a metal clasp that was part of a lock of a baul, or chest.

Of Gondoy, Clara and her maids, and even their Toyota van, no trace was ever found.




                                                                  THE END





 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Coming Home to Friends

I am of that rapidly vanishing breed of people  who believe that books are among man's best friends. They tell you of stories, of foreign lands and wondrous sights, and are great companions in your solitude.  When I was a small kid growing up in this  speck of a city  in a speck of an island in a third world country blessed with eternal summer but cursed with eternal tyrants wearing disposable masks, I found a little book in the house my father had purchased that was left behind by a former occupant. It contained pictures of little mice and a snippet of a theme that turned out to be the Waltz from the Sleeping Beauty Ballet. That book opened my eyes to the world of beauty. I loved that book, Naturally I started reading more serious stuff. The ones that thrilled me most were travel books: titles like "Iberia" by James Michener (about Spain), "Aku-Aku" by Thor Heyerdahl (Easter island), and more National Geographic magazines than you can shake a pencil at. Now I am back home, back where I started dreaming of going to see castles in Spain, the statues of Easter Island and the dome of St. Peter's. The same books that I read and that inspired me are still there, a bit dusty and mostly unread.  I pick them up and try to tell them, as one tries to tell friends, that I've gone to  all the places they told me about and that maybe they can tell me what to do now. I think of all the children around me, so distracted and enmeshed by digital culture, and feel sad that maybe they won't ever feel the same feeling I have now of coming full circle: from reading entire books to going to the places they described to coming home. It is somewhat disheartening to realize  that none of my grandkids seems to have read any book of any sort, aside from their textbooks. The times, they are a-changin, and all I can do is to try  to convince my little ones that books -- the real ones, the tangible ones with pages that you flip and that turn yellow with age-- and not just PSP's or iPhones, can be their best friends. If I can get them to read on a Kindle, I will take it.