Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Philippines: Remembering Super Typhoon Haiyan & Bohol Earthquake

At around this time last year, two disasters struck Central Philippines, where I was born and raised.

First was the Bohol Earthquake with 7.2 magnitude that caused damage to 73,000 structures, including historic churches; second was Super Typhoon Yolanda (or Haiyan) that stunned the world with its ferocity. Yolanda (or Haiyan) claimed some 6,300 lives, with 65,000 listed as missing in Google Person Finder.

There was a fundraising anthology put together by Dean Francis Alfar, Outpouring: Yolanda Relief Anthology, and which is available in e-form from Amazon.com and other places. The anthology included work that I had just finished then, a chapter from my novel-in-progress, which I am now rewriting -- "Pilar Echeveria"

Today, I'm sharing an excerpt from "Pilar Echeveria":

Pilar Echeveria (from a Novel-in-Progress)
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Copyright 2013 and 2014 by Cecilia M. Brainard, all rights reserved

It was the same observation that came to Ines that Friday afternoon when their carriage rolled into the Echeveria hacienda. There, near the end of the dirt road, stood Pilar with a group of children under a sprawling acacia tree. She was a toothpick-of-a girl wearing a pink cotton dress, her long brown hair tied in the back with a matching pink ribbon. Seated on benches eight children listened attentively to her. Pilar widened her eyes (indeed, she had large eyes with long eyelashes) and clapped her hands. “All right, class, catechism next week, at the same time. You can have your juice, but be careful not to break the glasses,” she said, pointing to a nearby table with two pitchers and hand painted glasses.
Ines had never seen these glasses in the Echeveria house, so Aphrodite must have acquired them. They were exactly like the glassware used by the kindly spinsters who lived in the mansion near Ubec’s plaza. Something happened to Ines as she watched the children guzzling their juice and running their fingers on the painted images of wild animals — she was whisked back to the May days of her youth when she and other children drank tamarind juice from the same type of glasses. Oh, how tender the memory was of those beloved glasses with painted zebra, lion, giraffe, and the unforgettable tiger!
Ines, who had been predisposed to disliking Pilar, now felt an unexpected warm feeling toward the skinny girl. Ines watched the children swarm around her as they said their goodbyes. Pilar hugged and kissed them before sending them on their way. Pilar then turned her attention to the three women who were getting out of their carriage. She kissed them on the cheeks, and she addressed them cordially as well — “Lola” to Blanca, and “Tiya” to Ines and Melisande.  Linking arms with Blanca whom she knew well, Pilar led them to the house. The young girl explained that she was preparing the children of the hacienda workers for their First Confession and First Holy Communion. She spoke in a clear voice, direct and devoid of artifice.
Ines and Melisande exchanged glances — the girl seemed very amiable. Melisande smiled, but Ines couldn’t shake off her worry about Blanca’s agenda. Ines considered asking her mother to please allow her and Melisande to speak first, to ask for the statement from Pilar, but she could tell from the way Blanca’s jaw jutted out with determination that she was going to pursue the crazy matter of marrying off Pilar to Andres. Ines’ only hope was that Echeverias would laugh off the idea.
Upstairs in the huge living room, Pilar helped Blanca settle down in a settee. Pointing at nearby chairs, she asked Ines and Melisande to please feel at home. 
Ines had known this house from her childhood days but things had changed. For instance, her favorite nipa hut under the flame tree outside was gone — she had quickly glanced out the window. The living room seemed more cluttered with elaborate furniture that Ines had never seen. A side table had a bronze statue that was also new to her. Ironically, it was Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, the sight of which made Ines heave a deep sigh and think of her own burdens.
            “I’ll call Papa,” Pilar said in her crystal-clear voice, and she gave a little curtsey before leaving.
“And your grandmother,” said Blanca.
Pilar nodded before leaving.
            It didn’t take long for the three Echeverias to appear – Santiago, Maria Christina, and Pilar. Blanca and Maria Christina gravitated to each other. The two looked like sisters in their muted gray clothes and understated jewelry — daughters of Chinese merchants who always thought twice about flaunting their wealth. They huddled together on the settee and started whispering to each other.
A servant girl appeared with lemoncito drinks and some tortas, and Pilar supervised her and made sure the tea cart was within reach of the guests. Afterwards, Pilar sat down next to her father. The circle of six carried on an obligatory chit-chat, even though everyone knew there was something serious looming. That was how Ubecans did things. The niceties had to be exchanged. One had to complement the other about their looks, their dress, the house, the curtains, any pleasantry at all. And there were some questions to Melisande about the latest fashion and light discussion about the upcoming carnival. The tete-a-tete had to come to pass. No one ever simply “got to the point.”
            While the exchange went on, Ines composed herself and tried to focus on securing the statement first and foremost. She decided she would talk first before her mother spoke up. But when the chit-chat petered off, it was Santiago who said, “Ines, it’s good to see you here. It’s been a long time since you’ve visited our home. I never told you, but I’m sorry about Pablo’s passing. I apologize I couldn’t go to the funeral, I was in Manila.”
            Ines said nothing; that was water under the bridge; there were now more important matters to deal with.
Santiago sipped his juice before continuing, “I’m glad you’ve come to your senses, Ines. To tell you the truth I don’t need the Miehl, but for old time’s sake, I’m willing to get it off your hands. I knew it would be a matter of time before you’d come around and give up the Imprenta Rosario. It’s not a business for a woman, certainly. Let me assure you that I will pay you best price I can —“
            It took Ines a few heartbeats before she could answer, “Santiago, you misunderstand. I am not selling the Miehl, not to you nor to anyone else. I am now in charge of The Ubec Daily. It will continue.”
            Santiago looked befuddled. “I see. May I ask why you are here then?”
            Blanca stepped into the conversation. “It’s very complicated, Santiago, it has to do with Pilar and Andres. They were together. Just the two of them. Alone.”
            Maria Christina placed her right hand over her heart. “Blanca here just told me what happened, Santiago. Isn’t Carmen supposed to chaperone her at all times? That is why we sent her to Ubec, to watch over Pilar,” she said.
            Blanca reached out to touch her friend’s arm. “Maria Christina, don’t worry; we are here to right this wrong —“
            “Mama, stop!” Ines said. “Santiago, I have to discuss something very important to you. You see, I ... they… Andres…” She fumbled for words.
            Melisande took over. “There is something that happened. It has to do with the dead priest. Your paper wrote about it.”
Santiago nodded, “Father Zafra, of course. We ran that issue with Tonying Borja’s picture in the front page.”
            Ines found her voice. “Well, your friend, Tonying Borja came to the house and arrested my son.”
            “Andres? Now, why would Tonying do that? He told me he wouldn’t be surprised if the American monsignor did it. The American and Spanish priests have been fighting over power, the Spanish wanting to keep their Friar lands of course, and the American priests obliging the new American law.”
            “Tonying thinks Monsignor Logan killed the priest?”
            “Priests are not all saints, Ines. Just last night, we were talking about the murder of the Rector Provincial in San Pablo Church in Manila. He was stabbed to death in a chapel in the second floor.”
            “I never heard about this. Did this happen last month?” Ines asked.
            “No. Back in 1617.”
            Ines rolled her eyes. She wanted to remind him to stick to the issue at hand, but held her tongue. After all, she was here asking for help.
Santiago kept on talking. “Some friars thought of a way to catch the murderer whom they believed was still in the monastery. They laid out the dead Provincial’s corpse in the small chapel where they had found the body. They arranged his arm and hand so he was pointing at the door.  These friars sat by the doorway and observed the other friars who were obliged to pay their respects to the dead Rector. One friar panicked at the sight of the dead man’s accusing finger and ran out of the chapel. He was caught and hanged in the church courtyard.” Santiago sat back, pleased with his story.
            “That happened almost three hundred years ago. What is your point, Santiago?” Ines asked.
            “My point is that the religious are not immune to committing murders.”
            Everyone in the room watched them, especially the two mothers who had, in some distant past, hoped these two would marry.
“Then have Tonying investigate the Monsignor and tell him to release my son. He had the nerve, Santiago, to show up yesterday and arrest Andres. I protested, but there’s no arguing with Tonying, you know that. Ever since we were children he was impossible. Attorney Jose Vargas said we can get Andres out quickly if we have a statement.”
            “A statement.” Santiago sat forward. “From me?”   
“No, not from you …” Then taking a deep breath she blurted out, “From your daughter.” Ines threw a glance at Pilar who sat quietly with her hands folded on her lap. Blanca and Maria Christina started whispering to each once again.
             “Pilar? What does she have to do with all this?”
             “Andres was with Pilar,” Ines said.
            “Pilar was with your son? When?” Then, “Is that true, hija?” he asked Pilar who stared back without answering. “Hija, my Pan de Sal, answer me, this is a serious matter.” (Pilar’s nickname “Pan de Sal” came about because she was the size of a loaf of bread when she was born, and her mother’s untimely death caused a lot of tears.)
            “Santiago, I know it’s upsetting,” Ines said, “I, too, was upset, but right now my son is in jail and we need a statement from Pilar that she was with Andres on the night of January 3. A simple notarized statement, that is all.”
            Blanca interrupted, “I have been trying to say all along that we are here to correct this wrong. To clear her name, if it is necessary for them to get married —“
            “Mama, please. The night the priest was murdered, three boys serenaded Pilar in Ubec; two left, and Andres and Pilar were by themselves. We need a statement from her so Andres can prove he did not harm the priest.”
            All of them turned and stared at Pilar who maintained her quiet composure.
            Santiago said, “Hija, my Pan de Sal, is this true? If your mother were alive, she would be very upset.”
            This time Maria Christina spoke up, “Santiago, I’m having palpitations. My granddaughter’s name is ruined. The Echeveria name is ruined. Blanca is right, there is no choice but for the two to get married.”
            And here the slight seventeen-year-old girl stood up and said, “Papa, Lola, this whole thing sounds like a comedy. First of all, Tiya Ines, I will give you the notarized statement that you need; and second of all, I have something to say to you, Papa and Lola.”
            Santiago and Maria Christina exchanged glances.
            Santiago stammered, “Well…ah…Pan de Sal…go ahead…”
Pilar looked straight into her father’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Santiago shook his head. “Never, my Pan de Sal, but …”
“And I’ve never given you any headaches at all, Papa, have I? Ever since I was small I never wanted to add to your burden of Mama’s early death. I’ve stayed out of your way; I’ve done my best in everything. Have I done well in school, Papa?  Have the nuns ever complained to you?
Santiago shook and nodded his head, in response to Pilar’s questions. The crux of it was that he agreed that Pilar had never given him any problems.
Now Pilar addressed her grandmother, “Lola, I’ve loved you and obeyed you. I bathed, ate, slept, did chores as you told me to, Lola.”
Maria Christina nodded her head.
“Papa, Lola, I love both of you very much, but it’s no longer the 1800s, it’s now 1909. It’s no longer the “Spanish times” it’s now the “American times.” Things are different now. We have to move with the times. We can’t get stuck with how things were twenty years ago. Now, a girl and boy can be by themselves to talk. That is all we did. Carmen was in the house, Lola. Don’t be angry with her, but she was asleep. Andres came over with Mario and Jesus. Jesus played the guitar and they sang a few silly songs. Afterwards, we had something to eat and drink, after which Mario and Jesus left. By this time, the rain had stopped, and Andres and I wanted to see if the stars were out, so we went out to the verandah and looked at the sky. And we talked. And that was all that happened.”
“But my Pan de Sal, propriety is a necessity of civilization,” Santiago said.
“Papa, what is propriety?” She paused and looked at Santiago and Ines. “You two have been so busy fighting each other, and everyone in Ubec knows about this feud. Andres and I have had to sneak around so you two won’t know we’re seeing each other. Yes, Papa, I’ve been seeing Andres for six months now, ever since his class and my class went on a field trip to the leprosarium. We were there to give the lepers clothes and food.”
It was so quiet that everyone heard the tinkling of the overhead chandeliers when a breeze blew into the living room.
“Papa, you have done everything you can to hurt the parents of Andres. And Tiya Ines, forgive me, but you have been hostile to my father and me for as long as I can remember. You always look so strict, I’ve been terrified to greet you.”
Ines lowered her head. She felt angry that this young girl would talk to her in this way, but at the same time she felt shame. Deep in her heart, Ines had to agree with the girl — she was strict. She had always been that way, and she didn’t know where she that trait had come from.
Pilar’s voice grew louder as she continued, “You have no idea, either of you that Andres wants to be a lawyer so he can work for real changes in our country. And I, Papa —“ She gave her chest a little thump — “I want to be a doctor so I can help our people. I want to help the lepers; I want to help pregnant women, and little children. Are you aware, Papa, that half the children of our workers die?”
Then Pilar sat down, looking exhausted. Shaking her head, she said, “No, no, you do not. You don’t even know their names. All Andres and I want is to make life better for our people. Can’t you see how poor people are compared to us? Have you looked at our workers? At their children? Have you asked yourselves why they are poor and we are not? No, you haven’t because you’re all too selfish. I don’t even know why I have to explain to anyone what Andres and I did that night. You will never understand.” And then tears started falling down her cheeks. Her little body quivered as she wept silently for a long time.
No one moved or said a word. Some sparrows that roosted under the eaves of the windows started twittering, and the sound must have brought Pilar back to the room and she took several deep breaths. Using her lace-trimmed tea napkin, she wiped away her tears. Even as she struggled to control herself, she addressed Ines in an honest voice, “Tiya, I will get the document needed on Monday. The Notary Public will be open then. And Tiya Melisande, I will help you with the carnival. I’m sorry I have to go now, but the nurse at the clinic is expecting me.”
And with more grace than an adult woman could muster, the seventeen-year-old girl left the room, leaving everyone mortified.

 ~end of excerpt~
Copyright 2013 and 2014 by Cecilia M. Brainard

Read also
Cecilia Brainard"s "Childhood in the Path of Typhoons" - CNN
Jews in the Philippines - 1940-2013
A Northern Cebu Couple's Story of Survival

Tags: Haiyan, Yolanda, Super typhoon, supertyphoon, earthquake, Cebu, Bohol, Philippines

This is all for now,

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