Iamd1’s Scribbling Desk

Telling Tales

Anna’s Pasyon

“Ma, look at what Mano did to my doll!” Isa said in a tearful voice. “He wanted to take it away from me because he said it is ugly!”

“Come, let me take a look at it.” I took the dark-skinned doll which belonged to a set of Barbie’s friends. “Okay, don’t cry anymore, I’m going to fix it later. You can get Barbie and play with her. I’m going to scold your Mano Kurt and give him an ear  pinching!”

She dried her tears and happily went out to get her other doll.

I glued the shoulders and returned the doll’s head back to where it should be. Then I let it stand on top of the dresser so the glue would set. I looked at it and was suddenly reminded of Anna, our neighbor from a long time ago.

I had forgotten all about her, more so that she brought back memories of a past that was best forgotten. But that had been nearly forty years ago. I have since reached maturity and acquired an adult’s discernment over circumstances that inevitably would have brought the same end.

The scenes that reel off in my mind are like those of a telenovela, more graphic and real because I was part of the story. I can even recall the small details of what I saw, heard and felt that time. Now, I am trying to knot all the threads together so I can come up with Anna’s story in its entirety.

I met Anna in the summer of ’64. Her husband, Man Jess brought her to live in the house of his older sister who owned an auto repair shop. This was a two-story wooden house with a nipa thatched roof. It was partitioned for four families, one of which was Man Jess’. Their living quarters could be seen through our living room windows. Our lot was unfenced except on the front street side and only a four meter space separated us from our neighbors. With that close distance, we could even hear them whisper. Sometimes it was irritatingly noisy – with the cries of children, loud laughter and arguments and at times, even screams from the adults. It worsened when they were drunk because there would also be quarrels. If one ignored the noise they made, they were quite good neighbors, especially Anna who was very friendly.

Anna was morena complexioned and  her lovely facial features were enhanced by hair that was waist long and black as midnight. It served as a frame for a face made more beautiful by deep-set eyes curtained with thick lashes. Her lips were naturally rosy and when she smiled or laughed, her teeth were like pearls. She was petite and had a well-shaped body. Man Jess looked like a giant beside her, making people wonder how such a mismatched pair got married.

Man Jess was a big man – tall and muscular. He was neither ugly nor handsome. His long curly hair was shoulder length and tied up with a rubber band. One would think that he was a wrestler. He helped out at the repair shop and on Sundays, he was a sentenciador at cockfights. In between, he was a parahilot, a therapeutic massager of sprained muscles and joints.

There was a well in the corner of our front yard where the neighbors would fetch water for their washing and cleaning. They fetched their drinking and cooking water from our faucet. Sometimes, it was Anna who’d go to our house to fetch water, but it was near the well where she did their laundry that we became fast friends. She was eighteen years old to my eleven years.

School vacation had just started and it became my daily task to water my mother’s plants. Anna would always help me draw water from the well that was ten feet deep. We’d always chat during these times and I learned many things about her life. One time she told me how she got married to Man Jess.

She was the barrio belle and many men courted her. In barrio socials and dances, the men folk would always flock to her side.  She didn’t take them seriously because she had dreams of pursuing her studies so that she would be able to better her station in life. But coming home one evening from a dance at the plaza, Man Jess followed her. He took her to a secluded place near the riverbank and forced himself on her.

The next day, his parents asked for her hand in marriage. She couldn’t do anything because her honor had been tarnished and her conservative parents would no longer accept her. If she had any misgivings, she kept them to herself because Man Jess truly loved her.

We had noticed this devotion of the man to his wife. Early in the morning, we often heard him grating coconut so Anna could apply its milk to her long hair. This was what made her hair smooth and glossy, even glittery when hit by sunlight. Man Jess also did most of their housework. He pampered her and treated her like a princess.

His daily earnings were just enough to make things meet. So they planned to go to Manila to seek jobs with higher wages. Anna started vending peanuts, candy and cigarettes at the bus terminal near the wharf so they could save up for their fare. She’d do this everyday after lunch except Sundays. Her husband would leave on Sunday mornings for the cockpit where he was a sentenciador – the one who’d check on the condition of a cock after a fight and pronounce the winner. Sometimes he’d come home bringing a defeated cock which was cooked  in coconut milk for supper.

It was a sweltering Palm Sunday. My mother and I sat on the seats of the pergola which was overhung with a profusion of yellow bells. It was cool and fresh there for we also got shade from the giant acacia trees that lined the street across our house. We had brought stuff to read – the day’s newspaper for my mother and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for me. Then Mana Pura, our neighbor passed by.

“Hey!” my mother called her. “Come over and let’s talk a while.”

“It’s so cool and fresh here,” the woman said. “You can even take a nap here.”

“It’s always like this when Holy Week comes – it gets overly hot!”she said. “Are you going to start the Pasyon today?”

“Ay! Yes. Perhaps you might want to join us. Just come over to the house tonight. Anna will sing most of the parts.”

Anna passed by at that very moment dressed up like she was going to a party. She waited for a jeepney across the street.

Mana Pura called out to her, “Where are you off to Iday, you seem so pretty today.”

She answered, “Lily invited me to her birthday party.”

When she had gone, Mana Pura said, “Hala! Jess will surely get mad if he comes home and she’s not yet here.”

“Why?” Mama asked and looked to see if I was listening to their conversation.

“Agi, Mana. Sometimes we doubt if she’s really selling peanuts. We’ve been hearing talk that even her ‘peanut’ is part of her wares. We’re really scared that this gossip willreach Jess.”

“Is that so?” Mama turned to look my way again before continuing their talk in hushed voices.

I pretended not to hear, that I was fully immersed in my book. During those times, children were supposed to stay quiet and not join in their elders’ conversations.

There were times when Anna and I would sit here and she would tell me where she went in the afternoons when everyone else thought that she was vending peanuts and cigarettes at the bus terminal. She had met a painter who had hired her as a model. She couldn’t tell anyone, more so that she sometimes posed in the nude. It would have a raised a lot of eyebrows in our neighborhood, besides her husband would never allow it. But she reasoned out that what she was doing was for art’s sake; besides, she was being paid a lot for every session. Their ticket fare to Manila would be faster earned.

I understood her because I had read a lot of art books and seen some art exhibits as well that included nude pictures. That’s why when I was listening to my Mama and Mana Pura, I told myself that if they only knew, they wouldn’t be talking about her this way.

In a short while, Man Jess came home holding a headless rooster with its neck still dripping blood. Mama and Mana Pura wrapped up their chat and the woman went home.         That evening they started the Pasyon – the annual ritual of chanting the events of the life of Jesus Christ before he was crucified on the cross. I’ve been hearing this for the past ten years and I could almost memorize it. There were times when I found it monotonous because of the repetitious chanting. But that night was different. Anna gave it a melodious interpretation.

The next morning, we heard Man Jess grating coconuts. It took him long to finish for he wasn’t just grating the coconut for Anna’s hair conditioning, he was making oil out of it, too. It was the practice of the parahilot to gather herbs in the forest on Good Fridays. They would boil and afterwards pound these and then mix the poultice with coconut oil so they would have liniments and ointments to use in their healing.

When we were having lunch, we heard voices arguing. It was Man Jess who didn’t like the idea of his wife vending when it was Holy Week. We heard Anna say that she’d be doing so up to Holy Wednesday because there were a lot of outbound passengers at the terminal and that would mean more buyers. Her husband was convinced only when she promised that it would be her last day for the Holy Week.

In the afternoon of Wednesday, Anna and I went out of our homes at the same time. She waited for a jeepney and I went to the store. There were plenty of guys there who were about to start their drinking session. They were grinning maliciously and when Anna had left, I heard them talking.

“Porbida, it’s already Holy Wednesday and Magdalena’s still plying her trade.” said one.

“And we’re supposed to abstain from eating flesh.” Added another.

“Maybe she eats sea food!” quipped the third fellow.

Then they started laughing boisterously.

Man Virgie, the store owner scolded them. “Hoy! You’re so noisy and vulgar! You pagans!

She turned to me and said, “Bear with these people who have nothing better to do with their lives.”

I bought what I needed and rushed home pissed off by the vulgarity of the men even if I didn’t understand what they were saying.

In their house, Man Jess was looking for empty bottles for his coconut oil in the cabinet where they kept their tableware. He saw a small covered tin can behind a stack of plates. When he opened it, he discovered a thick wad of money which surprised him because he knew that his wife would not be earning so much from selling peanuts. He mulled over this and a seed of doubt was planted in his mind. He didn’t believe, nor couldn’t believe that his wife would be fooling around. But on further thought, he felt that it was possible, so he made plans.

It was late afternoon when Anna returned. The couple was not able to talk much to each other. Man Jess was busy bottling his oil and she had to clean up the place because it was almost time for the Pasyon.

The next day, Man Jess got up early and told his wife that he would be going home to their barrio to spend the night and  from there walk to the forest to gather herbs  on Good Friday. He also told her not to expect him till Saturday. After a couple of hours, Anna bathed and dressed, then left their house. She didn’t have an inkling that her husband was already at the terminal hoping to stalk her. When she got there she immediately rode the car that was waiting for her and it sped away. Her husband saw all this  and he felt that his suspicions were right. He did not go home that night.

That Thursday evening, the Pasyon was all about the last supper of Jesus with his apostles. It told of the washing of the apostles’ feet and moved on to the betrayal of Christ by Judas. Then the road to Calvary started.

It was stifling hot that Good Friday. The street was quiet. Everyone seemed to be inside their homes praying or meditating. We were almost done with lunch when we heard the sound of violent quarreling from the neighbors’ house – raised voices, screams and even the sound of a wooden stick being whacked.

“Enough….please, have pity…” a woman’s voice whimpered.

Then a loud angry voice, “This is what’s good for someone like you!” And we heard something fall on the floor with a thud.

In the ensuing silence, we heard the announcement over the radio that the Siete Palabras would soon be starting.

Then, “Mano, Mana!” a hysterical voice was calling my parents.

“Please, come help us. Something’s happened to Anna.”

“What?” my Mama asked, fearing the worst.

My father felt the gravity of the situation and hastily called up the hospital for an ambulance and the police station for policemen. Mama went with Mana Pura and in their anxiety, failed to notice that I followed them.

The brothers of Man Jess were gathered at the closed door. No one dared open it because they were afraid that he would run amuck. It was Mana Pura, the oldest sibling, who opened the door. A most horrifying sight met us – Man Jess was sobbing where he sat on the bed cradling Anna’s head which was still dripping blood. Her body was there at his feet, the sharp bladed knife at her side. Everyone who saw the macabre scene was shocked and in the heavy silence, the voice of a priest intoning the first of the Siete Palabras was heard over the radio from our house –

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I ran out of the room and nearly bumped into my father who had an ambulance personnel and a policeman with him. He took me by the hand and led me home where I vomited. That night I couldn’t sleep and I got the thick brown envelop that Anna had given me the previous night.

It was the first time that I had joined the Pasyon and then after the prayers, Anna called me aside and handed me an envelop.

“Nina, this is for you. Just a small token of our friendship and something to remember me by.”

“Oh! Thank you! But why are you giving me a remembrance? Are you going somewhere?”

She merely smiled her unforgettable smile, then softly said, “Basta. That’s yours. Keep it very well.”

I opened the envelop and found her note. It said – ‘I’m giving you this as  my way of thanking you for the understanding and  friendship……’

The other papers in the envelop were pencil sketches of her in different poses, as well as preliminary drawings of background scenes. They bore the signature of the painter at the bottom. They had been given to her  as a gift at the end of her modeling sessions. As I looked through the drawings, I felt guilty for not telling anyone of the real work that she had been doing. These sketches would have saved her life. They would have proven that she had not been unfaithful to her husband.

I got sick during the remaining weeks of school vacation. I slept poorly and had no appetite. My parents thought that they should bring me to a psychiatrist. When the day came for my appointment with the doctor, I told my parents about Anna and showed them the contents of the envelop that she had given me. After that confession, I started getting healed. The truth had set me free, as it would perhaps, have done for my friend Anna.

At the end of summer, we moved to a new house far from where we used to live. Many years passed and I forgot about the Holy Week that showed me the bestiality of men – until now, when Isa’s doll brought it all back. I couldn’t help thinking that dolls were better off since they could be put back together while man, if he gets beheaded, can never be made whole again.

Isa rushes into the bedroom and say, “Oy! She’s fixed already! That’s good because Barbie’s getting lonely for her friend.”

She looks at me. “Have you been crying Ma?”

“No, there’s just dust in my eyes. What’s the name of this doll?”

“I haven’t baptized her yet, but Mano Kurt says that her name’s Black Beauty.”

I laugh and tell her to call the doll Anna.

“Okay. Oh, Ma, here’s your magazine. The newsboy just delivered it.”

She goes out bringing the doll and I start to leaf through the magazine. My eyes widen when I come to the article on Amor Seco – the nation’s leading woman painter. I read that she would be holding an exhibit at the mall tomorrow entitled – The Many Faces of Eve. I go on to read the whole story and find out that she is looking for a woman named Anna who had posed for many of the paintings in the collection. She wanted to buy back some of the sketches that she had given her. I take note of the time when the exhibit would open and start looking for the brown envelop in a treasure chest I have kept all these years.

I go to the mall the next day and study all the beautiful paintings on exhibit. There is a portrait of Anna looking the way she did when she gave me the brown envelop – a bit pensive but radiating a smile that one will always remember.

I wait for the painter who is holding a press conference. When it ends, she invites me to lunch at a nearby restaurant and makes me tell her Anna’s story. She gets teary eyed at the tragic end of her beautiful model. Afterwards, she asks for the envelop and looks at the sketches. She gets some of them and then hands me a check. I return it to her after seeing the big amount written, but she insists, saying that the sketches are rightfully mine. As I leave, she asks me to write Anna’s story. She will be publishing a coffeetable book of her paintings and she wants her story to be in it.

So I thank her and tell her that I would be going back to our city. I planned to seek out Anna’s tomb and have it fixed. I would have masses and novenas said for her, too. These are but small gestures for my friend – Anna.

I take a last look at her portrait and couldn’t help but feel the irony of life – the circumstance which caused her death, is the very same one that is going to keep her alive.

*  *  *

(originally written in the Waray language….)

8 Responses to "Telling Tales"

Excellent story Meldy. Rich in tradition and culture. Damo nga salamat!

The version in Waray is more textual – if you have the patience to read the original, just tell me.

I enjoyed reading the short story Ding. Lovely story, well written. It’s almost like reading Shakepeare’s Othello. The transition to the flashback is well crafted. The beginning and end connects. Great writing!

I’d like to read the Waray version please.

Congratulations again.

thanks Dinah – I needed that…. I just hope that the judges of the short story contest that I submitted it to will also feel the same way. 🙂
This is my first real attempt at short story writing and I had the nerve to send it as an entry (the Waray version….)
I’ll send the MS of that in an e-mail. I’ll probably post it here later on.

Imelda
Your story reads with authenticity and sincerity. Any truth to it? Best of luck with the contest and thanks for Shari g it with us.
Joy Bellis

The story is fiction, Joy.
thanks for coming by. I’m happy to share my work with you and the others in class.

Hello,I just want to ask who is the real author of this because it is very important to us to know the authors background because it’s part of our project.That’s all thank you

I am the real author. Thanks for reading.

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