"He's not here," I answered, staring at him, challenging him to know my name.
I ignored his question. I was the only one home and I was wondering if I could grapple him to the floor if he forced his way. The war had just ended and houses left standing in Manila were being broken into during the day. Before the war, we never locked our doors.
Looking at my knee pants (I was not yet fourteen) the man took a step forward, allowing the woman to stand beside him on the porch. His face was long, too lean for his short body. It was easy to see that he would get fat again; that his dull skin would become shiny like that of wine proprietors.
I felt displaced when they began talking about my brothers, wondering when they came back from Bataan, comparing them to their own sons and remembering how they all played together as children and how they fought. I could not recall the things they remembered about us. They could have been making it up, I thought, part of their game to make me trust.
While the sun shaped the man's ears, outlining them against the sky, I recalled that my brothers sat humped in the back of the bus that was taking them to war; that they smiled but did not wave; that I wished I were going with them. Everyone being left behind was crying. Their raised hands, intending to wave, clawed the air. When I raised my hand as my brothers' bus found its place in the long line, I found I was still holding on to the chicken adobo that was to be their baon in the war. We walked back slowly across the river. My mother appeared dazed walking on the Colgante that swung over the waterlilies flowing towards Manila Bay. The sun seemed to float on the round leaves.
Distracted by my memories I had failed to see the visitors move to the chairs set against the house. Could their accomplice have entered through the back porch? Without asking me to confirm their stories, the two mentioned the green sofa and the curtains my mother sewed, the Philco above which hung my parents' wedding pictures, almost life-size in their pose, their teeth hidden behind their smiles.
"The sooner we are recognized, the better. Fake guerrillas who never left Manila, who even bought and sold war materials, have put in their claims. As I see it, America knows exactly how many helped defeat the Japanese. If the fake ones get ahead, those who really served will lose out." At this he hung his head and waited for my mother's reply.
It did not come. Though she had been listening carefully, she could not decide without my father, who was in Porac to save the coconut trees his parents left him when they died in the war. My mother, who expressed an opinion on very few things refused to sell the house and return with all of us to Porac. "Wait at least until the children have finished their education. It was a sly refusal to leave for it would take Alicia fifteen years to become a doctor. Anita who liked to read was to become a teacher. I was to be an engineer.
Finally, my mother found the words she wanted to say: "Antonio is not here. He will return in two months." Then she looked down on the floor, which had dried and splintered by being long unpainted.
The woman dropped her shoulders and the beaded dress sagged with her body. The man reduced his plea for room. "Just this porch. The men will not enter the house. You can keep that door locked. Only this porch and I will pay thirty pesos a month."
One afternoon while I was stripping a length of bamboo with an army knife, the Colonel came to the back porch surrounded by his aides. His face was shiny. His cap was freshly braided and there were insignias on his shoulder straps. Proudly he offered my mother the use of his jeep and driver. "Don't hesitate." He urged her. "Anytime I'm not using it."
Overwhelmed by this generosity, my mother started to brew coffee; but the Colonel said they were going out to Dewey Boulevard ― across from the American Embassy ― for coffee and sandwiches. "Stella is looking for a house to buy," he said.
"One thing more, Cousin," the Colonel turned from walking away. "Perhaps you will let me stretch a piece of canvas from the front porch to the fence so the men can wait in the shade. I will have your flowers moved to the side of the house. My men will be careful."
The Colonel took off his cap, trying to absolve himself for making her cry. "But it's only a garden. Tell the men where you wish to move it." Looking at his aides, he smiled as if he had humored someone who was being unreasonable.
Bio: Linda Ty-Casper is a highly-acclaimed Filipino writer. She was born as Belinda Ty in Manila, Philippines in 1931. Her father worked in the Philippine National Railways; her mother was a school teacher and textbook writer. It was her grandmother who told her stories about the Philippine struggle for independence, a topic she picked up in her novels. She has law degrees from the University of the Philippines and Harvard. However, erroneous and biased statements in books at Widener Library converted her into an advocate, through faithfully researched historical fiction, of Filipino's right to self-definition/determination.
Her numerous books are generally historical fiction. The Peninsulars centers on eighteenth-century Manila; The Three-Cornered Sun written on a Radcliffe Institute grant, deals with the 1896 Revolution; and Ten Thousand Seeds, the start of the Philippine American War. Contemporary events, including martial law years, appear in Dread Empire, Hazards of Distance, Fortress in the Plaza, Awaiting Trespass, Wings of Stone, A Small Party in a Garden, and DreamEden.
Her stories, collected in Transparent Sun, The Secret Runner, and Common Continent, originally appeared in magazines such as Antioch Review, The Asia Magazine, Windsor Review, Hawaii Review, and Triquarterly. One short story was cited in The Best American Short Stories of 1977 Honor Roll. Another won a UNESCO and P.E.N. prizes.
She has held grants from the Djerassi Foundation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Wheatland Foundation. She and her husband, (literary critic and professor emeritus of Boston College) Leonard Casper, reside in Massachusetts. They have two daughters.
Linda Ty-Casper's three novels set in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship (Wings of Stone, A Small Party in a Garden, Awaiting Trespass) --are available in Kindle (Amazon.com) and Nook (Barnes and Noble):
tags: Philippines, Philippine, literature, fiction, historical fiction, short story, author, writer, Linda Ty Casper