Often, one life can't begin until another one ends.
Tina still didn't want to roll her windows down, even though the view from the winding road was spectacular: little waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet down jagged mountain sides. She didn't want to consider herself "there" until she saw the famous stone lion at the side of Kennon Road, and when she did, she shut off the air conditioner, opened the old-fashioned quarter-windows of her 1973 Dodge Colt, and the cool air immediately swirled into the car, tousling her dark, wavy hair. So, she was almost there: Baguio City, elevation 4,900 feet.
Professor Louie Coronel had hinted in his last letter that, in these his final days, he would finally allow her to see his unpublished manuscripts. Tina thought it quite a privilege: Professor Coronel had not shown his fiction, poetry and plays to anyone in, how many, fifteen years? No one, that is, except Bando, his fair-haired boy--fair-haired only in the figurative sense, of course, this being the Philippines. She knew from Professor Coronel's lyrical letters that Bando had brown eyes ("that twinkle in faintest candle's light") and brown hair ("that only sighs silkily through my fingers as I touch it"); and his description in a relatively recent letter of Bando's "deeply-muscled, brown buttocks" could still make her ears burn red. That last phrase was memorable for its indelicacy; it was with some surprise and dismay that she read these very words not much later in Salman Rushdie. Still and all, Tina had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the description. What was more, she was quite willing to take Professor Coronel's word for it.
Tina had never quite mastered her discomfiture at Professor Coronel's relationship with Bando despite the years. This, of course, had nothing to do with her Catholicism; like everyone else in her circle, she was lapsed, anyway. The old scandal still echoed gleefully in the memory of the oldtimers in the English Department, but the new teachers, those who came in after Tina, expressed little interest in discussing it. Professor Coronel's reputation as a lion of literature and drama went into decline rapidly after he left, thanks in no small part to the veterans who were left behind, who did a thorough hatchet job on the pedestal on which he had stood. There is nothing professional about professional jealousy. Tina mused on whether, in the end, Professor Coronel's reputation would someday be revived. Who knows? Perhaps, one day, his poems would be read again, his plays, adaptations and translations performed again for their own sake, without interest in his work being initially prodded by the prurient, extra-literary aspects of his life. Tina thought highly enough of the man that she honestly believed that the scandal would, in the future, be a mere footnote, a non-issue.
For her own part, Tina still could not gloss over the corporeality of that relationship, for she had had a ringside seat to the whole thing all these years, although she stayed in Quezon City all this time, and Professor Coronel and Bando in self-exile in Baguio. Eventually she had quite a bundle of letters from Professor Coronel, to each of which she dutifully replied. She did look forward to his letters, for his wry comments on the teaching life helped her regain perspective after a factional spat with another teacher in the Department, or another night spent checking occasionally cringingly incompetent student essays. She knew the letters for her were special, in that the remarks and observations he made therein were only for her, and were not replicated for general consumption in the clippings of his weekly column that he sent her faithfully. Tina had effectively become a stand-in for the daughter that Professor Coronel would never have, receiving bits of his motherly wisdom which came to her dipped at turns in metaphorical brandied sugar, and in wormwood and gall--and sometimes, more often than she would like, in likewise strictly metaphorical body fluids.
In one of his letters, after she complained of the younger instructors intriguing against her, he had given her this piece of advice: "Noli Permittere Illegitimi Carborundum." She wrote back asking what it meant, but he ignored the question. She tried looking the phrase up in the back of her Merriam-Webster, but it wasn't listed under "Foreign words and phrases." Finally, she had to go to a European Languages instructor who could translate.
"I'm just a garden variety English Lit graduate," Tina said humbly. "I can't read Latin."
The instructor was likewise puzzled. "It's certainly like no Roman author I've ever read: it's cod-Latin for `Don't let the bastards grind you down.' "
She arrived in Baguio, with her radio picking up the local FM stations. They seemed to play an awful lot of country music here, which she hardly ever heard on Manila stations. She guessed it was the influence of the Americans in Camp John Hay, but the Americans were now long gone. Several times she passed the occasional Igorot walking on the street in ethnic costume, but regretfully there was a jeepney tailgating her, and she couldn't slow down to goggle at them. She inhaled the smell of the Benguet pine trees, savoring them: the trees never grew in the hot lowlands. The fragrance, unexpectedly, made her remember something about Baguio that she thought she had long put out of her mind.
Professor Coronel's house was in a shabby neighborhood, small and off the beaten track, chosen, she surmised, for its low rents. His house, like the others flanking it, was made of wood, with doors and windows that needed no mesh screens. Each house boasted a small lawn overgrown with crabgrass. A hand-woven doormat, now shabby, bade her welcome to "Baguio--City of Pines." Professor Coronel opened the door to her knock, and each of them volubly and expansively expressed unfeigned surprise at the other's appearance. They had long neglected to send each other the occasional snapshot, she out of inertia despite her diligence in letter-writing itself; he, out of vanity.
If it were possible at all for an aging queen to have gravitas, then he had it. He still had all his hair, but it had been white for years; and in his old age he was only making himself older, with the chain smoking and nightly vodka that gave his voice an even deeper, raspy resonance. She noticed that he had slowed down considerably, speaking more slowly and circumspectly, and when he gestured with his hands it was with less of his former vivacity, and with more dignity. He still held his head steady in the old way, while the rest of his body swayed underneath it, although now there was less of that, too. "My God," he said, "I barely recognize you! Come in!" and they kissed each other, mmmmwah, on the cheek. He was unshaven, and his grizzled stubble grittily grazed her face.
Professor Coronel, for his part, now saw before him a mature young woman that he had first met so long ago as a fresh-faced, naïve English Lit graduate, intimidated by the thought of facing typically pilosopo--smart-ass--U.P. students. They had known each other for six months before the scandal broke, and during that time theirs had become the fastest of cross-generational friendships. "Call me Mommy," he had said back then. "Everybody on the faculty does. Yes, dear, I'm not too vain to admit I'm old enough to have earned it."
She came in. The house had a low ceiling, but there were no electric fans, because Baguio was blessedly free of jungle-like lowland humidity. There were no computers in the house, either, not even an Apple II or an XT, but there was a big old office-model Underwood at least 30 years old that might have dated back from Professor Coronel's U.P. days. Second-hand books, hardcover and paperback, lined the flimsy shelves which creaked under their weight. The air inside the house was close, for the cold climate, the envy of the rest of the country, now disagreed with the old man, who kept most of the windows shut. The house might have been an underpaid U.P. professor's cubbyhole of the 1960s, rather than a writer's home and office at the close of the 1990s.
The room in which she was to stay was a claustrophobically small one, and by fiction belonged to Bando. Professor and protégé kept up the pretence of separate beds in deference to the feelings of the old housekeeper who, under the Professor's wonted arrangement, did not live in the house. This room had a window that had no view at all, looking straight out into the neighbor's shuttered window.
Later, she sat on the tattered leatherette sofa in the living room, while he settled down on the mismatched club chair to one side of her. The old housekeeper served them weak coffee in chipped china cups.
"So," he said to her as he lounged back in the club chair, his bermuda shorts displaying his wrinkled knobby knees to Tina, "are you still keeping your knees together? Not a good idea. Nowadays Mr. Right is definitely going to want to rehearse the catalog of marital prerogatives before he lets a plain gold band around his finger cut off his circulation forever."
Tina flushed in embarrassment, and that unwelcome memory came up again, but there seemed to be no one else who would have heard. The housekeeper in the kitchen probably didn't understand English, for Professor Coronel had addressed her in Ilocano, which, old man that he was, he had nevertheless managed to learn in the time he had been in Baguio. And Bando, whom she felt she almost knew intimately without ever having set eyes on him except in fuzzy photographs, was not in sight. But there was evidence of his habitation: a set of weights and an exercise bench to the other side of the sofa, in the direct line of sight of the club chair. Beside them, leaning against the corner of the walls, was a spiffy, weird-looking electric guitar. A small black amplifier with the word "Marshall" in white cursive script on it peeked from behind the guitar.
"Dear child," Professor Coronel was saying, "I really don't want to go on about this, but time is running out for you. If you don't mind my saying so, you're well past the calendar"--meaning she was over thirty-one--"and it's dangerous to have a child after thirty-five. Tell you what: When I'm gone, you can have Bando. I bequeath him to you. He's quite a handful, but worth it."
And this time Tina flushed even more redly, face and ears. "I wish you'd stop talking so morbidly, Mommy," she said. "You're still all right--all things considered," meaning the cigarettes and the vodka.
"My dear," he said, "it may be any time now. I feel it. My first heart attack might just be my last."
Then their talk wound down to a going-over of the things they had recently written to each other. After a while, Professor Coronel spoke inconsequentially about Kafka, and about how it was the gloomy novelist's wish to have his papers destroyed upon his death, and if not for Max Brod's disobedience, the world would not even have heard of Joseph K. and Karl Rossman and Gregor Samsa and the rest of the anomie-ridden lot.
Then, he remembered something that made him perk up. "Just after my last letter to you, I found out something. Bando's nearly finished with something really big, something that quite surprised me when I found out after he left his drawer unlocked. He's actually written an opera--mind you, not some middlebrow musical or pretentious rock opera--a full-blown opera, libretto and music, the boy is a veritable Wagner writ small. And he never told me. He's still polishing it. Self-taught genius, he is. Taught himself to read music, like that Zappa fellow, whatsisname, the one who posed on the toilet bowl. Bando based it on one of Nick Joaquin's short stories. Of course the devil of the thing is that we haven't actually talked to Nick about it. But he'll give us permission, he'll give us permission. Nick's an old friend."
"I was wondering about the guitar," she said, indicating the Gibson Flying V.
"Dearie, if I could play an instrument," the Professor said airily, "it would have to be the violin. You certainly cannot touch the souls of hearers with such a grotesque implement as that." And he sank into recollection. Finally, he said, "God knows where he got the money to buy that thing."
In his days as a U.P. professor, Professor Coronel had run a boarding house for several male students, in a separate building at the back of his own little house, which U.P. provided its senior professors. The arrangement was that his house had to be given up upon retirement, to make way for another U.P. prof with lower seniority, and the waiting list was decades long. Two maids took care of the needs of both Professor Coronel's house and the boarding house, cooking, cleaning, washing.
Then Professor Coronel took in a small, dark, handsome boy of eleven or thereabouts as a houseboy. The boy was from one of the poor families living in nearby Barrio Cruz na Ligas. When the summer vacation came around, Professor Coronel dismissed the stay-in maids and ejected the boarders by not renewing their contracts. Now a new housekeeper from another neighborhood came in in the morning to cook and clean, and left, like any office worker, at the end of the day. It was not long until the boy's father found out about it and went wild. The father went to Professor Coronel's house with a machete with a blade three feet long, and hacked away at the doors and windows, screaming abuse until the University Police Force arrived to take him away.
Professor Coronel chose to brazen it out, but the Chairwoman of the English Department was an old enemy, and she bayed for his blood. The Philippine Collegian ran the story of the spat and its causes but uncharacteristically treaded carefully; after all, the dignity and name of the University were at stake. On the other hand, the national papers, which picked up on it, gleefully named names. Professor Coronel had to leave U.P., and a young rising star in the faculty happily moved into his house.
He went to Baguio, bringing the boy with him. Luckily for him, the father, after the scandal, didn't want his son back, and didn't press charges over his abducting the boy. But when he arrived in Baguio, St. Louis University and the University of Baguio turned him down; his notoriety had preceded him, thanks to the newspapers. So Professor Coronel turned to writing under a pseudonym, and over time built a local reputation as a respected critic and reviewer of plays, musical performances, and the art of the thriving colony of bohemians performing and/or painting in the clement weather of Baguio. In addition, he did commissioned work--writing the occasional coffee-table book on the history of some small parish or other, or glorifying some self-regarding family's patriarch. He wrote much, all of it hammered out on the Underwood, with insight at a furious pace. It's wasn't much of a living, but it paid for the roof over his--and Bando's--head.
Bando came in, bringing a bag of groceries, wafting the scent of after-shave into the house with him. The last photograph of him that she had seen was of him at age nineteen. Now Bando looked younger than his twenty-six years, while Tina was sure she looked every year of her own thirty-five. More than the fact that he was tall, broad-shouldered and muscular, with a strong jaw and high cheekbones, there was something else entirely that intimidated Tina. It was his eyes, which burned with anger even when the rest of his face was calm and impassive; that was something that never came across in the snapshots, or in Professor Coronel's letters.
They were introduced, and Bando was coldly civil. He spoke softly to Professor Coronel, as if he were used mostly to speaking confidences not meant to be overheard: a report of his expedition to the grocery, what in the shopping list was and was not available. He disappeared into the kitchen, and Tina didn't see him again until he came out an hour and a half later to announce lunch.
That afternoon, while going over the books on the shelves with keen interest, Tina noticed a small hole in the jamb of the main door. As Bando came in from the kitchen, she asked him what the hole was.
"Nothing, really. Some months ago a gun accidentally went off while he was cleaning it."
"Was anybody hurt?"
"No. But the neighbors heard the shot, and the police came to investigate. Bit of a problem there, because the gun was unlicensed." Bando's Taglish--Tagalog and English--was as idiomatic as any burgis graduate of the country's best schools, although she knew Bando's formal schooling to have been limited to the woefully substandard public schools.
"So what happened?" Tina asked, afraid that she was getting on Bando's nerves. Bando, however, showed no sign of irritation, just the apparent composure that hid untold reserves of anger. "Was a criminal case filed for illegal possession, or anything?"
"No. The policemen said something about the gun being an unlicensed firearm, and what a fine one it was too: a teeny weeny Walther PMS or P-P-something. In return for not reporting the incident, the policemen," and at the word Bando mimed a policeman's characteristic beer belly, "got to keep the gun. End of story."
Tina grew uneasy at this. Professor Coronel, wildly indiscreet at the best of times, had said nothing about this in his letters. But the gun was gone, and that was good enough to set her mind at ease. Turbulent relationships were always good breeding grounds for plenty of melodrama.
That night, before going to bed, Tina stepped out of the house to enjoy the air. She thought she had long put behind her that episode, that one time she had come to Baguio when she was seventeen. It had been with her boyfriend, a Bio major about her age whom she had met in a GE course. They had secretly driven from Quezon City to Baguio one Friday afternoon, when their classes had ended for the week, and had taken a room in the Hyatt. But when the big moment came, she discovered that he had no intention of using protection--in honor, he said, of the occasion, it being her first time. Tina freaked. All along she had had misgivings about the whole trip--her boyfriend ("Jerry, Jerry, damn it, that was his name, I didn't want to remember it, his name was Jerry") had always hemmed and hawed when she talked about marriage in general, even if she made it clear she meant it to be several years down the road. She was going to be compromised, for worse than nothing--disgraced, unwed, and a mother before her debut had even come around. Luckily for her, she still had her clothes on ("blue jeans and denim jacket buttoned up"), and when her boyfriend, already stripped bare, wrestled with her on the bed, she was able to fend him off. She locked herself in the bathroom and stayed there all night, crying. In the morning, she yelled through the door that she was going home, alone, by bus. He could drive home by himself. She tried so hard to forget it ("Forget Friday, July 18, 1980") but then, like it or not, being assaulted by a naked man is always memorable. So over the years she tried to look at it positively, and thought of fending off an attacker as--an achievement.
The following year she tried a little self-cure psychotherapy, and organized an all-girls trip to Baguio for a weekend. Someone had once told her that, if she ever got into a car accident, the first thing she had to do right afterwards was to drive a car again; otherwise, the trauma of the accident would mean that she would never drive again. So for this outing, Tina deliberately suggested the Hyatt, and the trip passed remarkably well. The group did all the things that tourists were supposed to do in the Honeymoon Capital of the Philippines: horse rides, boat rowing in Burnham Park, trips to the Crystal Cave, pictures taken with an Igorot in ethnic costume (G-string despite the cold, feathers in headdress, iron-tipped spear). The girls had a field day at the market stalls, giggling over and buying up the kitschy, risqué handicrafts for which Baguio was famous: like a wooden ashtray, decorated with a phallus obtruding from the rim over the ashtray at a forty-five degree angle, so that the whole object looked for all the world like a sundial with the queerest of gnomons; and a seven-inch high figure of a smiling man in a barrel--lifting the barrel revealed the man's huge, spring-loaded, fabulously out of scale weapon. For herself Tina drew the line at an ordinary wooden key chain with "Baguio" etched on it. There was no need to go overboard with the therapy.
Despite that, since that incident she had distrusted all the boys and men who had made passes at her. The thought of voluntarily submitting to an attack was simply beyond comprehension. Eventually they stopped coming around with their protestations of honorable intentions.
Now she was standing on the little lawn in front of Professor Coronel's house, wrapped in a jacket (she hadn't worn one in years) and taking in the cold air to which she was unaccustomed. She kicked at a few pine cones on the ground, and made a mental note to collect as many of them as she could to take home to her mother, who enjoyed making Christmas wreaths out of them. She turned around to look at the house. The lights in Professor Coronel's--and Bando's--bedroom were on, and the shades were up. They seemed to be burning sheafs of paper in a metal wastebasket. The smoke was pumped out of the room by the overhead ventilation fan that was used to clear out cigarette smoke. There seemed to be the air of solemn ritual about it, rather than the mere disposal of garbage. Sheet after typewritten sheet they fed into the flame, as Tina watched, worrying about fire catching in the room, puzzled as to what was going on. When they finished, she went to bed, and later did not mention it to either of them.
Days passed, and Professor Coronel had not so much as given her a peek at his work, or even mentioned it. Out of delicadeza--since Professor Coronel's reason for wanting to show it to her was the fear of his coming death--she did not bring it up, either.
Just as Tina began to worry about almost using up all her vacation time, the Professor passed into glory in the wee hours of the morning. Bando was with him when it happened. Just as the Professor himself had feared, it was his heart that did him in. Tina, normally squeamish about death, had loved the old man enough to bid him goodbye with a kiss to the corpse's clammy forehead. Later the funeral parlor took him away, and she felt an irrational fear that he might still be alive, just in a coma, and would wake up on the mortuary slab. She felt numb and hollow, as if it were her mother or father who had died. What it would be like to lose to death a husband, or a lover, she had no idea; she thought it would be something like this, too. Bando, she noticed with something like disgust, seemed to be taking it all very well.
Bando left all the arrangements to the funeral parlor, telling the staff that a little mass should be said over the old man, if only because Bando was comfortable with the ritual. He told Tina that it made his skin crawl to think of a nondenominational ceremony with a professional funeral orator going on and on about a man he had never even met; he thought it far better to hear the familiar platitudes about bringing nothing into this world, and bringing nothing out of it. In the event, only Bando, Tina, and Professor Coronel's editor from the local newspaper--sent by the paper only as a matter of courtesy--were at the funeral, held in one of the marmoreally grim chapels of the funeral parlor.
"So what are you going to do now?" Tina asked Bando. It was the evening after the funeral. They were sitting acrossea from ch other at the kitchen table, with the bare light bulb burning yellowly overhead, although there was still enough daylight by which to see.
Right now the fire in Bando's eyes was gone. In its place was something else, something that ever so faintly suggested the mischievous twinkle that Professor Coronel once wrote about so rhapsodically. With an equanimity that annoyed Tina, who was being hammered by waves of grief, he ticked off his options. He could move to smaller quarters, a boarding house, maybe. He could probably take over the professor's column in the local daily; heaven knew he had already been writing much of his stuff for him for the past year and a half. "I'd like to erase Louie--Professor Coronel--from my life, but I can't. If anything, the most I can do is step straight into his shoes, in everything that the man used to do, theatrical reviews, column, coffee-table books, and all."
"But you can't just do that, step up and admit to being his ghost-writer and expect to be taken in," Tina pointed out.
"I'll trot out my credentials: `Sir, I was the man's protégé and, incidentally, his catamite.' Otherwise, I'm unemployable. I can make you obscene propositions in four different languages. I can discourse exhaustively on all three books of Dante's Comedy--infernal, purgative and celestial. I can set The 120 Days of Sodom to music. Or perhaps you'd care to discuss the technological anachronisms in Paradise Lost? But I don't have a high school diploma. Who'd hire me as a clerk?"
He held a letter from the landlord, a formal one demanding that the lessee pay six months' arrears in rent.
"What are you going to do about his things?" Tina asked.
"I'm just leaving everything behind, and good riddance."
Tina was too scared to bring up the topic of the manuscripts. She didn't want to think that what she had seen them burning was the work of the past fifteen years. Images flashed through her mind: images of the Sibylline Books, the Lost Sonnets, the vanished Sapphic poems. But she was running out of time. She would have to go back to U.P. soon to prepare for the new school year.
The following day, Tina told Bando that she would be leaving. She waited for him to volunteer information on the manuscripts, but he received the news passively.
Bando was gone all that day. Tina left a thank-you card for Bando, and, secretly, some grocery money with the housekeeper. Sometime around three in the afternoon, with her clothes packed into her bag and flung into the back seat, and still hating her own pusillanimity over the manuscripts, Tina tried to start her car. To her horror, a flat click was all she heard from the starter. She would have to have the car sent to a repair shop, and heaven knew how long that would take. But at the back of her mind, she was relieved at this little bit of bad luck. Somebody--Terpsichore, or Melpomene, perhaps--was trying to tell her to do her duty.
Bando came home at around one the following morning, surprised to find Tina's car still parked in front of the house. He had his young friends with him, two women, and three men with long hair, all carrying luggage. One of the women clung to his arm possessively, as an apologetic Tina came out of her room, still in her day clothes, to explain that she would have left already but for her car. Bando was in high spirits, and not put out at all by this little hitch in his arrangements--for he had changed his mind about leaving, and had asked his entire barkada, his gang, to move in with him to share the rent while he figured out what to do about a job. From the guitar cases that some of the men were carrying, she guessed at how they made their living.
Bando spoke loudly, his words coming out rapid-fire. And not just Bando, but the whole group seemed to be bustling about with frenzied activity. Shabu, Tina guessed: methamphetamine hydrochloride.
"No problem." Bando was saying. "Dindo here is a good hand at engines," and here he waved a hand to indicate one of the long-haired musicians. "He'll look at it in the morning."
"I think I'll just go to a hotel for the night. I'm crowding you out." Tina was beginning to feel frightened.
"No, no, don't go. You're quite welcome to stay on." Bando's voice boomed out over the sound of activity. Tina worried about the noise they were making, the slamming of the doors of the taxi in which they had arrived, the thud of luggage and guitars on the floor, people laughing and hollering at each other in the dead of night.
"I'll just go to the Hyatt," she said.
Bando's girlfriend started laughing. So did Bando. Tina thought that they had gone temporarily insane. But then Bando started to explain.
"Tina," he said, using her name for the first time since they had met, "don't you remember? The Hyatt collapsed in the earthquake ten years ago. It was in all the newspapers. Look, it's really all right. You can stay." And he introduced her to his friends. He was speaking too fast for her to catch all the names. The only ones she retained were Dindo's, and that of his girlfriend, an emaciated, sunken eyed waif named Iza.
Bando left the two of them to talk. Tina, curious about the girl, managed to have something of a conversation with girl, who couldn't keep still. A fidgety Iza explained that she was an architecture graduate, but never took the board exam. She painted still-lifes instead, and her work was hung in the local cafés. She had managed to sell several of her works, but it was no way to make a decent living. Tina figured that Professor Coronel had known about her all along, and, perhaps grudgingly, had given Bando some liberty in the matter. Now she had made her home in the house of which Bando was now master.
After a decent interval, Tina retired to her room, but the barkada carried on in the rest of the house. She could hear their voices clearly. Occasionally from the neighbors' houses there would be hisses of annoyance, which would be ignored.
"Admit it," Iza was saying in English, "you think she's pretty."
Bando laughed, and made a reply in Ilocano. The tone was mocking. She caught the words, in English, "fag hag."
Morning came, and after a quick chilly shower that left her blue all over, Tina had a slice of buttered toast and tea by herself. Dindo was awake, and returned her timid "good morning" with a gruff wiggle of the eyebrows. Dindo and one of the men had spent the night in the living room; that other one was still asleep on a blanket next to the sofa, still fully dressed in last night's clothes, down to his thick-soled sneakers. Which meant, Tina realized, that the four others were sharing the master's bedroom. Two couples, sleeping together in the same room.
The old housekeeper arrived, and was appalled when she learned that the house now had seven people in it, counting Tina. Tina tried to explain to her, in Tagalog, that she, Tina, wasn't going to stay. This somehow failed to mollify the housekeeper.
The noise of the complaining housekeeper brought Bando out of his room. As he closed the door behind him, Tina got a glimpse of the bare flesh of somebody, male or female Tina couldn't tell, padding about naked inside the room.
Bando greeted Tina and the housekeeper. He didn't seem to notice that the housekeeper was in a dudgeon over something. He spoke to Dindo, and came back to Tina. He told her, "Dindo's fixed your car. All it needed was a cleaning of battery terminals."
"How much do I owe him?"
"Nothing. He's not a mechanic. He's a musician. Don't insult him by tipping him." Bando had gotten over the shabu, it seemed, but he was still cheerful in a way that she had not seen when Professor Coronel was still alive.
Tina went over to thank Dindo personally. She got the same sullen wiggle of the eyebrows in response. She resolved to leave some more money for the groceries with the housekeeper. That is, unless the housekeeper resigned in a huff that very morning.
And still she could not bring herself to ask Bando about the manuscripts.
It was getting close to noontime when Tina started her car. She had already said her goodbyes to everyone in that strange household of indecorous bohemians, and Bando continued to say nothing about any manuscripts. They've been destroyed, Tina thought. Everything has been lost.
Just as she was about to put the car into gear, Bando came out of the house. He had a thick folder of loose papers in his hands. Tina's windows were open, and Bando reverently placed the folder onto the front passenger seat. Putting his head through her passenger-side window, he said, "That's pretty much everything he wrote. Plays, poems, essays."
Tina took this in. Then she said, "But I saw you two burning manuscripts."
He rested his arms on the window sill. "You were meant to see that. These are copies I made--preliminary drafts, photocopies, some stuff he didn't even remember writing. Frankly, you're not missing much. By and large he just reprised all his old stuff over and over again, even though he did it better the first time around. I suppose he went on and on with you about `the beatniks who left their poetry pinned to toilet stalls as they traveled the highways of 1960s America'--he didn't? Then he probably lectured you on Kafka. Ah, yes. If you ask me, he was more like D.H. Lawrence, endlessly rewriting that dirty book of his, not knowing when to quit."
"But he told me about one new play. He said it was autobiographical."
Bando snorted. "I was afraid he would. Yes, it was autobiographical. It was all about himself. And me. All the filthy details of the things that he made me do. Even used my real name, made such a big thing about the irony of my being named Servando. He liked to flatter himself and me over it. He said he was Verlaine to my Rimbaud, and he kept saying that he was only portraying honestly my cruelty to him. He wrote it after that little matter of his firing his gun at me when I tried to leave. I'm sorry he missed. He was drunk at the time, and so was I. The man had no shame whatsoever. Oh, pardon me, I'm speaking ill of the dead."
Bando said, "You don't expect me to let you have that one, do you? That, I've since burned, too, all the notes and drafts down to the final version, along with my whole musical oeuvre. In front of his eyes. It was the last thing he ever saw in this life. He's diddled me enough in life, I'm not going to let him do it to me after he's dead." Bando hesitated, and then gave voice to something to which he seemed to have given much thought: "At best, biographical entries dealing with him will gloss over that little contretemps that forced him to leave U.P. At worst, people will read about it but they won't remember my name. I'll be a blind item in literary history, like the boor who interrupted Coleridge at his writing."
Tina had one question: "Was the play any good?"
Bando said, "Something the old man didn't realize until recently: he did his best work only when he was horny. Like the early Jean Genet, he used to say."
"Was it any good?" Tina repeated.
Bando appeared to be turning something over in his mind. Shortly, he said, "Yes. It was the best thing he ever wrote in his life."
The front door of the house opened, and Iza stood in the doorway. Bando turned away and began to walk towards Iza. Tina was keeping the engine on idle, and Bando, as if to close a door on the whole thing, turned around and called out in the distance between them, "I'd like to say I'm sorry, but I'm not. Goodbye."
Tina saw the haggard Iza chuck Bando under the chin affectionately. In reply, Bando jammed his hand between Iza's legs. There was a shriek of laughter, and the couple disappeared into the house.
Armand Gloriosa (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Philippines-based lawyer who has stopped trying to make a living, and has instead tried to get a life. Some of his other stories can be found on his Web site.
InterText stories written by Armand Gloriosa: "Widow" (v8n3), "Amanuensis" (v9n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 9, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1999 Armand Gloriosa.