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Wednesday, April 20, 2011


[Image above is a Clip art courtesy of, and licensed from, the Clip Art Gallery on, via URL:]

THEY WERE NOW back home. After having a raucous party. It was actually a dinner, a celebration of sorts. For him. Given by his mother and his cousins, aunts and uncles. They were very proud of him. Now resting on his bed, he heard his mother call him. He went out of his room and descended the stairs.
“Yes, Mom?” he asked. He saw his mother seated at the table, holding what appeared to be a letter.
Her eyes moist with tears, she looked at him. She extended a hand, holding the folded paper.
“For me?” he said, walking toward the chair beside hers.
She slightly nodded.
“A letter?” He was wondering who the heck would still bother to write letters in this age of emails, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, laptops, tablets. He seemed hesitant, but then eventually took the letter.
She bent her head, resting her forehead on her clasped hands. “It’s from your father,” she softly said.
He froze, looking at her fearfully. “But how..?” Silence then fell.
She was now weeping gravely, silently. “Just read, son.”
With trembling hands, the young lawyer gently unfolded the paper. It was already yellowed, evident of its age. He could feel the hollow on the surface of the paper caused by the dot matrix-printed words. The signature scrawled at the end of the letter had made a dip also on the surface. Slowly, his eyes ran on the contents that read:
Dear Joseph,
I know the intoxicating euphoria you are now having. I, too, experienced the same feeling back when I passed the bar exams. I knew beforehand that you would make it. I had no doubts at all. Why? Because you’re my son, that’s all! But kidding aside, I really felt you have the fire, the determination, the steel will to get over, or rather, overcome any obstacles thrown your way. Back when you were still a kid, I always felt amazed at how you were able to hurdle all those barriers and impediments that I thought would be very hard for you to conquer. But then, you did, son, you did.
Now that you are a lawyer, be very, very cautious in performing your job. Being a lawyer is not easy, you know. There are times when you would have to grapple first with your conscience before discharging your work. If that happens, don’t act hastily. Ponder. Give it a thought. Or give it a second thought. Ask others, like asking your mother or your friends. Getting advices from others is a best way for you to decide wisely. More importantly, and I say above all things, get help from our friend above, He is the source of wisdom and strength and of everything else. Pray a lot. And you will be guided all through your life. Don’t forget this, son, don’t. Because I know. And I have not failed in my job.
As a lawyer, what do you intend to do? You can join the government and be content to go to work every day seeing red tape and, well, corruption at its best. Or you can join the private sector and become an in-house counsel. Well, this choice affords you greater benefits and perks than what you will receive from a government post. But, of course, you will have to give your loyalty to your boss or bosses in your company. Come hell or high water. You have to cover their asses, if I may use that term. Naturally since they are the ones paying your salary.
Or you can be a trial lawyer.
Son, in choosing this last option, you have to be always on guard. In every move that you make. Don’t be blinded by the gold or silver or even the treasure trove offered by rich clients. For all you know, they may turn out to be a fool’s gold. See to it that what you fight for is always for just cause. For justice. For fairness. For equality. Sounds ridiculous, right? I know, son, I know. In this age of ours, nothing seems to be just or fair. We are now living in a world where wrong is being presented as right, where unfairness is being shrouded to appear as fair. Don’t be deceived, son. Don’t. But I know you won’t, son. I know deep in my heart you won’t fall into the pit of deception. Your mother, I know, will be there to help you out. She is your guardian angel. Remember the times when, back when you were still a kid, she would always be there at your side? When you were sick with some serious ailment? (I think it was dengue fever, right?) When you got hurt after falling from a bicycle which was too big for you? Your mother really loves you, Joseph. She could not have lived without you by her side. And she will always be there for you every moment of her life. Be thankful that you have her. She loves you, son.
I have written too much, son. You may now be tired. Me, too, son, I got tired writing this letter. But anyway, I hope, son, I hope, that I was able to instill to you some words which will, or may, perhaps be of help to you in your journey through life.
With much love,
Your Dad
(Sgd.) Jose Santiago
At this time, his mother was now furiously mopping her face. He moved near her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Her body was now shaking. In front of her, crumpled pieces of tissue lay near the tissue box.
“Please stop crying, Mom,” he pleaded silently.
She lifted her head. “Maybe I should not have given you that letter, Joseph,” she said softly.
Placing the letter on the table, he stood up and looped both arms around her. “No, Mom,” he said in a hushed tone. “You were right in giving me that.” He took a step, then sat down again on the chair.
“Son, I…”
He stopped her in mid sentence. “But, Mom, how did..? When did he write this? I mean…I’m confused.”
She told him. The letter was written years back. Back when he was still in grade school. Grade school? Yes, his mother repeated. His father, then a judge in Manila, had wanted him to be a lawyer. His mother, however, wished otherwise. She wanted him to be a doctor. But they both agreed that it would be up to Joseph to decide eventually when the time came for him to choose which profession he liked.
His father, according to his mother, had a reputation of being a “straight” judge. One who was incorruptible. There had been many instances where big shots had approached him, offering huge sums of money just to have the cases pending before his court dismissed. His father, however, ignored the offers. “Why, can I take them with me in my grave?” his father had told his mother. There had been threats to his father’s life, though. But according to his mother, his father just shrugged them off. “If what you’re doing is right, what do you have to fear?” he again said to his mother, telling her that those threats were just empty ones designed to intimidate him in doing what he thought was right. “If I were to live my life in fear because of these threats, then do you think I will have a meaningful life to enjoy?” he laughed when he said this to his mother. “Let them throw these threats to me, and I will show them who they are dealing with,” he mockingly told his wife.
Though it was a time of fear and panic for her (she would always dread the approach of evening when his father went home, for there might just be some hired gun waiting for his father), they thoroughly enjoyed their lives in their humble abode. His father liked very much her cooking. She delighted in the way his father gave her his full attention as a loving husband and a caring father to their only child. She loved, too, his sense of humor. There would not be a day without her having a stomachache due to his jokes and funny antics. At times when she would be ill, his father would take time from his work just to give her his “TLC”—“total loving care.” No, money was never a problem. His father had inherited huge pieces of land from his grandfather. His father had disposed some sizeable portion, the proceeds of which he put in several banks. It was from these deposits where they sourced their everyday expenses. Given the very small amount of salary which judges earned at that time, it was plainly impossible for them to rely on his father’s paycheck.
Trouble began when his father became close to a magistrate who occupied a very high position in the judiciary. She seemed to have noticed something in his father’s behavior. She, however, paid no mind to it, thinking that his father, brave and determined, was someone who could not be cowed or bullied by anyone. But then, there were nights his father practically had not had any sleep at all. She started feeling worried. She knew his father too well; his father would not have displayed such kind of behavior had the matter that bothered him was something he could handle.
She was right all along. He opened up. The magistrate was a very powerful man. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The “Chief”, as his father had referred to the man, had called on him one day. A week later, they sort of struck some kind of friendship (they were, in turned out, province mates). Who was his father, a mere lowly judge in a lower court, to ignore such a big shot? Besides, it could pave the way for a possible jump by his father to a higher post in the judiciary, specifically in the Court of Appeals. But the Chief, as his father would later know, had an agenda all along. Now that they were buddies, the Chief asked his father if he (the Chief) could ask for a small favor. His father replied affirmatively, thinking it was something outside of his duties as a judge. But his father was wrong. It was about a case, a very big case involving a multi-billion peso parcel of land located in Manila, which was being heard by his father in his courtroom. The Chief asked if his father could dismiss the case. Very simple. His father hesitated, making no commitment. He added he would have to study thoroughly the matter. The Chief got the message. It was a flat refusal of his request. From then on, his father never heard anything anymore from the Chief. No longer did his father bother about the case. For his father could decide on the big case on the merits, fair and square, based on what the law was.
Until one day.
He received a subpoena from the Philippine Senate. It was issued by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The matter being investigated by the committee was corruption in the judiciary. His father had been named as one of the witnesses. There were other witnesses, one of whom had testified against the Chief, the titular head of the judiciary of the country. This witness used to be a confidential attorney of the Chief in the Supreme Court. There apparently was a falling out between the witness and the Chief. And now the witness was spilling the beans. This witness was present when his father met the Chief. The witness heard the conversation. They were inside the room then occupied by the Chief; it was in a five-star hotel in Makati. And the witness had identified his father as the judge whom the Chief had approached regarding a big case.
Initially, his father ignored the subpoena, thinking he was immune from such kind of legislative investigations. He had consulted some of his colleagues and some lawyers about it. They were certain that a member of the judiciary, like his father, could not be summoned by the Senate.
It was a bad decision, his father later learned. The powerful Senate committee issued another subpoena to his father, threatening him with contempt and arrest and detention should he still ignore the subpoena.
His father talked to his mother. They discussed at length his father’s predicament the whole night. The next day, a decision was made. His father would attend the hearing before the Senate committee.
And he would tell everything.
The date of the hearing was a week after. His father had thoroughly prepared himself. He would be accompanied by a lawyer, a friend of his, to act as his counsel before the Senate committee. His father woke up early on the hearing date. Assuring his mother that everything was all right, his father said that after this event was concluded, they would go on a tour abroad. His father bid her goodbye, asking her to wish him luck. “Just stay glued on the TV, and don’t forget to record it,” he said with a wink, saying he wanted to see the video once he got home in the evening.
That was the last time his mother would see his father.
His father’s car had just gone out of the subdivision. When the car turned at the corner block, a motorbike suddenly blocked his father’s path. It was a split-second affair. The helmeted man pulled out a small gun. Gunfire broke the morning calm in the neighborhood. Certain that the man behind the wheels was dead, the assassin sped away.
Inside the car, the man was still breathing. He was able to dial his cell phone, informing his wife that he had been shot.
Terror-seized, his wife went out of the house, frantically asking a neighbor to help her get to her husband whose car was just a few blocks away from the subdivision gate.
When Joseph's mother got there less than five minutes later, his father’s bloodied torso was limp and lifeless. The cell phone was now on the floor; it bore a gunshot too.
There was a second assassin. A backup to the first. He went to the car and pumped a few more bullets to the dying man inside. The mobile phone caught a bullet. Seconds later, Joseph’s father was dead.
The cold-blooded murder drew front page headlines. Suspicions were thrown at the Chief for the death of Joseph’s father. Investigations were conducted. Nothing, however, came out. No evidence whatsoever was produced that would link the Chief to the murder. It was revealed that Joseph’s father had for a long time been receiving a lot of threats to his life, a fact confirmed by his mother.
Joseph was then an eight-year-old grade schooler. He could remember distinctly the wake of his father. And the burial. But he vaguely understood why he was murdered. “There are bad people in this world,” his mother had told him. “And these bad people kill the good ones. That’s why they killed your father, Joseph. Your father was a good man.”
The tears, the wail, the grief, the untold suffering. Joseph could remember seeing his mother totally devastated.
More than seventeen years ago. That fateful event. Joseph grew up fatherless. It had made Joseph a determined man.
“Mom,” Joseph said. “It’s been years. I don’t want to see you cry again, Mom.”
Blowing her nose on the crumpled tissue, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, son. It’s just…”
“Because of this letter?”
“Yes, son.” She took another piece of tissue.
“I don’t understand, Mom. When did he write this letter? And how did he know that, well, I would pursue law? That I would pass the bar exams?”
Dabbing her eyes, she looked at him. “I actually didn’t know that he wrote this letter. It was after the burial, a week after, when I rummaged through his things. I stumbled on this letter.”
“But how about…?”
“That you’d be a lawyer someday?”
“I didn’t know too. I wanted you to become a doctor, right? Don’t you remember?”
“I remember.”
She paused for a while. Then she said, “I guess he knew that. Maybe he was a clairvoyant, son.” She gave a small smile.
“Would you know when did he write this?” he asked, looking at the letter.
“I really have no idea, son. But I can only guess. Maybe on the day he was murdered.” She pressed a tissue again on her eyes.
“But why? Did he know that something would happen to him?”
“As I look back, son. I think he knew all along. But he never said that to me explicitly. He was saying some things with fuzzy, indistinct meanings. Like, I remember him saying to me the night before he was gunned down that, ‘Be sure you convince Joseph to take up medicine. Because even if I’m not here, I know he’ll be a lawyer. Wanna bet?’ But I just ignored it. Knowing your father.”
Silence again intervened.
She rose, her hands on her face. He stood up, turning to her.
“I love you, Mom.”
She embraced him. “I love you, too, son,” she breathed.
“And thank you for the letter. I’ll keep it safe. Better yet, I’ll have it framed. I’ll mount it on the wall.”
She smiled at him.**

[Grab a copy of the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]

Thursday, March 31, 2011


HE LOWERED THE newspaper he was reading. Looking at the man who had just stepped in front of his table, he smiled. He had been waiting for the arrival of the man who was now staring down at him.

“Attorney! So sorry for keeping you waiting,” the man said as he adjusted his wide black tie that almost reached his worn leather belt.

“No problem, Arnel. I have a free time today, no court hearings at all. You just arrived?”

Arnel beamed in a sheepish manner. “Yes, Attorney. Too much traffic along the way. Ah, what do you like to have, sir?”

The lawyer checked his watch. “The longganisa breakfast meal, is it still available?”

Nodding his head, Arnel said, “Oh, yes, sir. OK, what else would you have?” He turned his head, waving his hand at the counter.

“Coffee and hash brown, too.”

“OK, attorney. How about orange juice? McMuffin sandwich, sir? The longganisa meal might not be enough,” Arnel offered.

Thinking for a while, he folded the newspaper, then placed it on the edge of the table. “OK, OK, orange juice and McMuffin. Just pack them for carry out, just in case I don’t feel like consuming them, OK?”

“Yes, sir, just five minutes,” said Arnel, pulling a chair.

“OK, Arnel, so you may now start, Arnel,” the lawyer said.

Arnel, who had summoned one of the service crew to come over, said, “Wait, sir, I’ll just get your order done.”

Saying that, Arnel sat on the chair opposite the older man. “Well, sir, there was this old lady who came here last week. According to some of my people here, she’s a regular customer who comes here to eat often. That particular morning, she came, then sat there with her food,” said Arnel, his hand pointing to a corner table beside a life-size statue of Ronald McDonald.

“Old woman? Like how old is she?”

Breathing a sigh, the younger man replied, “Well, the crew here said she appears to be in her sixties.” As he was saying this, a service crew wearing a red McDonald shirt and a dark blue cap arrived who took the order and then left.

“OK,” the lawyer said. “Narrate exactly what had happened.”

Arnel told him. The old woman was quietly eating in the corner table. As she was almost done, there rose a commotion. A woman’s voice was in the air, seizing everyone’s attention. She was shouting at somebody. At a man. Everyone then came to know that he was her husband. She was bawling, screaming on top of her voice. Her fists dug at his chest, his belly. He tried to ward off her assault. She was stepping forward in her attack, he retreating back. Not seeing his direction, he blindly struck a table when he made a sudden step behind him. The violence of his movement was swift, catching the old lady who was seated at the table off guard. She seemed to have been oblivious to what was happening until that very moment. Maybe she was sort of deaf given her age, Arnel thought. That was why she did not appear to have been aware of the tumult. But at the time she probably came to realize what was going on, it was already too late. She tried to stand up from her seat, but the retreating man went off-balance; he fell, his back crashing against the poor old lady. Her body obviously frail and weak, she toppled down the floor. Suddenly, the man was lying on top of her. Horrified shrieks and cries shot up; everyone scrambled to help the fallen woman. For a moment, she appeared unconscious. Fortunately, she came to, was given water, and was carried by the able-bodied male customers to the nearby East Avenue Medical Center.

They were interrupted when a service crew member came bearing the lawyer’s ordered food. Setting the tray down on the table, the crew member asked Arnel, his supervisor, if there was any order still pending. The lawyer shook his head as he gently pulled the tray near him. Arnel, looking up, nodded to the crew member, who then left.

“The woman, the scorned wife. Where was she?” asked the lawyer. He opened the Styrofoam clamshell box which instantly emitted the strong garlicky smell of the fried sausage. Swiftly, he grabbed the plastic utensils, mopped them with the tissue and then started to jab and cut the longganisa in small pieces.

Shaking his head, Arnel smiled. “She disappeared suddenly. Maybe she sensed she would be blamed. She left behind her husband, who was profuse in his apology.” He tried to look away, ignoring the older man who, every time he chewed, gave out a loud, munching sound. Arnel’s eyes wandered around him, looking left and right, then drumming his fingers on the table.

“So, what happened next? What happened to the old lady?” asked the lawyer, his mouth continuously open as he crushed and ground the fried rice and sausage in his bulging jaws.

Arnel scratched his head; he was now looking at his thumping fingers. “We think she was OK. When I sent somebody to the hospital later that day, he was told that the old lady was discharged a little after lunch. Somebody fetched her. But then, a day after, we received a demand letter from a lawyer, well, from her lawyer, asking for damages for the pain and suffering that she supposedly underwent.”

His eyebrows raised, the lawyer said, “And for how much?” He slowly gripped the steaming cup of coffee, then brought it up. The slurping sound he made was even louder.

A wry smile appeared on Arnel’s face. “Half a million pesos, Attorney.” There was a feeling of embarrassment he suddenly felt when he heard a glugging sound. The man across the table was now taking large gulps of the orange juice; he purposely did not use the straw that was lying beside the juice cup. Arnel, hearing the older man give out an audible burp, raised a hand, turned his head and scratched the back of his neck.

The older man blew a soft whistle. He was holding the juice half-raised, his eyes wide, unbelieving at what he just had heard.

“We were stricken with surprise, sir. Actually, we were not expecting that. Heck, we never caused her any harm. It wasn’t our fault, right? How did we know that it would happen in the first place?” Arnel’s surprised eyes quickly stole a glance at the empty Styrofoam clamshell now being closed by the lawyer.

Smiling, the lawyer knitted his brows, looking sternly at Arnel. “It may not be your fault, but, you see,” he began as he unwrapped the McMuffin, “the lady does not care whether or not you had anything to do with the distraught wife who ran amok here. Thing is, it happened here, in your place.”

Arnel stiffened, raising a palm. “But, Attorney, it wasn’t our…”

“Listen, Arnel,” the lawyer interrupted. “It doesn’t matter whether it was your fault or not,” he repeated. He took a large bite of the sandwich, then began a new noisy munching ritual. He paused in his discourse, then leaned back, his tongue licking the corners of his mouth.

“But, Attorney,” Arnel began to repeat his protest, his elbows now resting atop the table. “We did not…”

The lawyer abruptly tapped the table with a hand, cutting Arnel short. “We have this thing called ‘tort’, Arnel. It’s a technical term in law, but, to tell you briefly about it, it’s a wrongdoing committed by someone. The person harmed by that tort can sue the tort doer. If it happens that the tort doer commits his act in some private place and someone gets injured, like what happened here, well, both the tort doer and the owner of the place can be sued by the injured person. Get it?” He crumpled the McMuffin wrapper in his hand as he expelled another loud belch.

Arnel, his eyes locked on the lawyer’s, breathed deeply. “So, I guess, we’re looking at a possible case here, a case against us.”

The lawyer nodded. “Exactly. I mean, if you don’t pay her the damages she is seeking. Of course, if you pay up, then this matter is finished.” He looked down on the tray, eyeing the soggy, greasy hash brown.

A moment of hesitation passed. Arnel, his eyes following the lawyer’s hand which had grasped the oily shredded, pan fried potatoes, began to ask, “How much do you charge, Attorney, if ever we hire you as our lawyer on this matter?”

The older man flashed a broad smile at Arnel. Leaning forward, he said, “Since you’re a friend, plus,” he raised an extended finger, “I like your place a lot, I’ll give you a discount.”

Beaming, Arnel replied, “Oh, great! How much would it be then, Attorney?”

Resting on his back, the lawyer pushed the tray away from him, gently gripped the table edge with both hands, saying, “I’ll charge you half of my usual acceptance fee. You’ll be paying me only ten thousand bucks. But, of course, you’ll have to pay the appearance fee for every court hearing that I will attend, that is, if this matter reaches the court.”

The smile on his face fading, Arnel softly asked, “OK, but how much the appearance fee then? For every court hearing?”

The older man nodded, saying, “Yes, for every court hearing. I’ll charge you only one thousand pesos per court appearance. But,” he again lifted an extended finger, “mind you, that’s already discounted. I usually charge twice that amount as my appearance fee.”

Arnel was examining the tray, not knowing what to say.

“Don’t worry, Arnel. This matter won’t last long,” the lawyer said in a reassuring tone. “I guarantee you, that lady will think twice, even thrice, once she and her lawyer receive our response to their demand letter.”

Showing a forced smile, Arnel said, “OK, Attorney, I’ll let you know tomorrow. You see, I still have to relay this matter to our head office.”

“You mean,” the lawyer suddenly asked, his voice rising a notch, “you weren’t authorized to handle this matter?” He was glaring at Arnel.

“I, ah, actually am authorized,” Arnel said, his voice now stuttering. “It’s just that, well, when it comes to the amount of fee, there has to be approval from the head office. An SOP. You know, Attorney, we have to follow some procedure.”

The lawyer scooped up the newspaper from the table. “I see. So tomorrow, I’ll just come back here.”

“Ah, yes, Attorney, I’ll meet you…” he stopped, turning his head toward the direction of the counter. “Oh, I have to leave, Attorney, I’m now needed there,” he said, pointing to the counter.

“OK, see you tomorrow. Wait, how much do I owe you for this?” the lawyer asked, his gaze at the food tray.

“No, no, Attorney. It’s on us.” Arnel had now half risen from his seat.

“All right,” the lawyer said, “could you give me a copy of the demand letter?”

Taking a folded paper from his breast pocket, Arnel said, “Here, Attorney, a photo copy.”

“By the way,” the older man said as he grabbed the folded paper from Arnel’s hand, “I’d like to have one order of chicken meal. It’s now available, right?”

“Yes, Attorney. For carry out?” Arnel asked.

Nodding his head, the lawyer stood up. “Yes, Arnel. How much?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

Smiling thinly, Arnel said, “No, no, Attorney. It’s on us. Part of our arrangement. I’ll have the food brought here. Just wait for a while, sir.”

As soon as he got his packed meal, the lawyer hastily left the place, ignoring the cheerful “Thank you for coming, sir!” parting salutation uttered to him by the security guard at the entrance door.

Striding toward the parking lot, he suddenly stopped and pulled out his cell phone. After reading a text message, he took some more steps. He was now near the crude makeshift stand beside an old acacia tree that stood on the roadside. Looking at the newspapers and magazine displayed on the stand, he checked his watch. A moment later, he walked off, whistling. A minute or two, he stopped, then went inside a small internet café...

[Read the entire story in the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]

Monday, February 14, 2011


IT’S HIM AGAIN. This is his third call already, he said to himself. He grabbed his mobile phone. “Hello, Ariel. Yes?”

The voice on the other line sounded tensed and scratchy. “Jeric! I’ve been calling you for a number of times earlier. Did you get it?”

“Yes, I did, Ariel.”

“You’ve read it?” Ariel asked.

“I just skimmed through it. I’ll read it when I get home,” Jeric said, his hand rubbing his chin.

“You’re fine with it?”

Jeric sighed. “I’ll tell you tomorrow, Ariel. What’s the hurry?”

“Really sorry to bother you, Jeric, but ah…”

“Could you call back, Ariel? My son’s calling me,” Jeric interjected.

“Yeah, sure, Jeric. I’ll just wait for your call.”

Jeric almost threw the phone to his table. He silently rebuked himself for answering the call. He sat back to his table and tried to get back to his work. His eyes now glued back to the monitor screen, another sound disrupted his concentration. It was another call. He grabbed his mobile phone.

“Yes, Chief,” he said as he heaved another sigh.

“Jeric, are you finished with the draft?”

“Ah…actually,” he said, then paused, coughing out violently. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, Chief.”

“You feeling well?”

He cleared his throat again. “Yes, yes, Chief. Ah, as I was saying…I have actually finished the draft, but I need to review it again.”

“When can you give me the draft? I need it by tomorrow.”

“All right, I’ll give it to you tomorrow afternoon.” He felt another urge to cough, but tried not to. Then, abruptly, he felt a strong itch in his throat.

“Are you feeling OK, Jeric?” the Chief repeated.

“Yes, yes, Chief.” By now, his voice sounded hoarse. There was a frog in his throat.

He was cursing again as soon as he ended the call. “I should have turned off my cell phone,” he was muttering to himself. He bent down, and spat out the phlegm into the thrash can below his table.

It was already half past ten of that Sunday evening. And he still had not eaten his dinner. He stood up and stepped around his table. His hands on his hips, his body straight, he inhaled deeply, then exhaled. He did this breathing exercise for two minutes. Yawning, he began to feel sleepy. He looked back at the pile of papers on his table, then gently shook his head. “They’re really unbelievable. Hypocrites. They’re good at it, showing off their immaculate appearances. Deep within, they’re full of worms!” he said silently. He walked to the window which overlooked the business district of the city. He loved this view of the city. Every night before going to bed, he would peek through the window, standing there for at least half an hour. His eyes would roam throughout the business streets of the city, admiring the shapes and lights of the modern buildings, or skyscrapers as they were now called, that lined Ayala Avenue. The city had, indeed, made great progress in the twilight decades of the last century.

Jeric had been living in the city for five decades already. He knew the city like the back of his hand, its ins and outs, its viscera, its entrails, its good side, its darkside. He knew its history. He knew the city’s original inhabitants as well as those who had transplanted there. And he was a witness to the city’s rise as a financial powerhouse.

Back in the sixties, the avenue consisted of just a few mid-rise buildings. Almost all the areas surrounding it were full of bushes or grasslands. At the southern tip of the avenue, which bordered the circumferential road-highway, formerly known as Highway 54, later re-named EDSA, there were already a cinema, a supermarket and some trickling of establishments. Beyond this area, across the highway, there lay the residences of the aristocratic, the private subdivision named after an American, William Cameron Forbes, a governor-general in the early 20th century Philippines. Forbes Park, as it came to be known, was the home of the powerful and the mighty, the prominent and the wealthiest. This gated community was the first village developed by one of the most powerful families in the land, the Ayala family, whose ancestors descended from Spain. Already well-entrenched in business as early as the onset of the Spanish colonization, the family displayed tremendous amount of foresight in developing the areas—which it owned—that were adjacent to the posh village. Thus, nearby villages were created as exclusive residential communities too; they were later populated by the rich and famous. In the vacant grasslands, careful, thorough and ambitious planning was done on how to develop and transform these wastelands into a bustling center of business activity. The best engineers and architects were hired to put into reality the blueprint of a modern financial centre—the hub of business, the home of banks, stock markets and other financial markets. In the seventies, huge corporations, businessmen and investors took notice. Soon, first class or five-star hotels found their home in the city’s best confines. Big businesses put up modern edifices in the sprawling business and commercial district. Shopping malls began to rise. In the eighties and the nineties, almost all major businesses in the country found the force of the area’s magnetic field too overpowering to resist. To be located in the city’s business area was synonymous with prestige. Near the turn of the century, the family developed the city’s center (known as “Ayala Center”) as a “mixed-use industrial development” flanked by the major business avenues (Ayala Avenue, Makati Avenue, Paseo de Roxas and Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue)—this had come to be officially known as the “Makati Skyline.”

Well into his late sixties—he was a widower—Jeric had decided to live the remaining years in his life in the city. While most of his friends, who were of the same stature and age as him, opted to live somewhere in the quiet atmosphere of high-end subdivisions away from the choking traffic flow that engulfed the major thoroughfares during rush hour, Jeric chose the opposite. In fact, he loved being caught in traffic in city; he loved seeing the hordes of the city’s workforce driven to madness travelling to or from work—he loved seeing the multitude of reactions displayed by ordinary labor force during that particular hour of the day. These were the scenes he enjoyed best. At times, when he found himself wedged in gridlock, he would—after commanding his chauffeur to just proceed home and meet him there—climb out of his car, then walk leisurely along Ayala Avenue, like strolling in the park. The daily sidewalk crowds at the famed avenue were something of a kindred spirit to himself. Oddly it might seem, Jeric drew strength out of the scenes he would behold along the way. He also would join groups of commuters that crowded around a street food cart parked near a covered bus stop, partaking of the mouth-watering fishballs or squidballs and relishing their tastes. Once he reached home, which was at the posh condominium that stood at the corner of Ayala and Sen. Gil Puyat avenues, he would dismiss his chauffeur (who would report back to him the next morning) and proceed to spend the rest of the evening alone in his condo unit at the 20th floor.

His mobile phone suddenly rang again. He swung around and strode to his table. It was his chauffeur. A missed call. He put the phone down, deciding it was time to sleep.

Monday morning, start of the work week. He arrived early in the office, intending to finish the task he had promised to give to his colleagues. Around lunch time, he stopped; they were to have a meeting at around half past one in the afternoon. He had already printed the paperworks needed. But then, his cell phone rang. He grabbed it, talked to the caller, then decided to leave. He would not attend the scheduled meeting. He talked to his staff personnel, informing them of an urgent matter he needed to attend to. It was an emergency. He directed his confidential assistant to relay his message to the Chief. He left his chambers in a huff, dialed a number on his mobile phone. In a minute, he was at the drop off area in front of the lobby of the imposing building of his office. Soon, a late model metallic gray Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class appeared, slowly entered the courtyard and rolled to a stop. He grabbed the door and quickly plodded inside.

“Get me home,” he barked. It was already twelve noon. As they sped along Roxas Boulevard on their way to Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, his mobile phone rang. It was the Chief.

“Where are you, Jeric?” The Chief’s voice sounded irritated.

“Something came up, Chief. Sorry, I won’t attend the deliberation.”

A pause intervened. “Where’s the draft?”

Jeric smiled. “Almost finished, but it still needs some revisions.”

“Mind telling me if you’re up to it? I could ask another to do it, Jeric.” The exasperation in the Chief’s voice was mounting.

“No need to, Chief. Tomorrow, I’ll give it to you first thing in the morning, all right? I’ll try to call you later—” Jeric stopped when he realized the line had been abruptly cut. He cursed.

As they neared the Sen. Gil Puyat-Chino Roces intersection, he ordered his chauffeur to stop near the McDonald’s store outlet at the corner block. “I’ll buy a burger. Just wait there along the edge of the street,” Jeric said.

“But, sir, there are traffic enforcers there. They don’t allow cars to stop and wait along—.”

Jeric cut him short. “All right, all right! Just proceed home, wait for me there, OK?” he said as he slammed the car door shut.

Jeric left McDonald’s half an hour later, after consuming his burger-and-fries lunch. As he started home, it was only a ten-minute walk along Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, he received a text message in his cell phone. It was from his friend, a doctor who worked at the nearby Makati Medical Center. Since the hospital was just along the way, he decided to visit his friend.

He reached home at past two o’clock, finding his driver at the lobby of the condominium tower.

“Sir, somebody came. She was looking for you,” the chauffeur said.

Jeric frowned. “Who? Did you get her name?”

The chauffeur shook his head. “I think the security guard at the lobby talked to her.”

Suddenly, something flickered in his mind. He checked his mobile phone. He almost cursed himself when he discovered it was shut off, its battery already drained. He raced to the elevator.

“Donita! Hello!” he said. He was now pacing in his condo unit.

“Oh, hello, sir,” came the voice at the other end of the line. “Sir, I was trying to reach you, but it seemed your phone was off. So I decided to come over, but…”

“Yes, my apology, Donita. Maybe we can meet later again, here at my place. Are you free?”

“Ah, sir,” Donita said, “is it OK if I go there at around four?”

Jeric looked at the big clock mounted on the wall. “Yes, four is fine. See you.”

TAGUIG LIES AT the south of Forbes Park. It once thrived on fishing, being bordered by the shores of Laguna de Bay. It was not until the close of the last century when Taguig—which was not unexpected it being a neighbor of Makati, the country’s financial center—began to rise as a major residential, commercial and industrial center. This was primarily due to the rapid development of the area known as Fort Bonifacio, an erstwhile army camp. Christened as the Bonifacio Global City, the newly developed area now boasts of upscale residential condominiums, ultra modern office buildings, trendy restaurants and a host of store outlets that sell pricey items. The same powerful Ayala family is one of those behind the quantum-leap rise of this modern hub now known as “The Fort.”

As the business world now eyes Taguig as the new premier financial hub, big businessmen have begun a feverish scramble to get every piece of idle property that lies in the surrounding area. This was exemplified in their mad struggle to gain possession of a large prime property that lies at the back of the posh Forbes Park subdivision, the 40-hectare area formerly known as JUSMAG compound, which stood for the “Joint United States Military Assistance Group.”

Years back, this land served as the housing area for active and retired military officers. At the onset of the nineties, with the transformation of the area now known as The Fort, the JUSMAG land naturally became the object of interest of investors, property developers and big corporations. But then, as the property was entangled in a legal battle between the retired military officers and the government which claimed to own it, the businessmen waited. Finally, when the courtroom smoke cleared with the occupants being finally evicted, the government conducted some sort of an auction as to whom the right to develop the prime property would be given. The most powerful businessmen in the land joined the auction. Eventually, the winning bidder, a rich business tycoon, began to mobilize his resources after getting the government nod. It would not be long before this idle land would be transformed into another focal point of business and commercial activity in Taguig.

Another area these ever hungry big businesses had “stumbled upon” was the vast idle land, also inside Taguig, that adjoined the JUSMAG property, whose size is much larger, almost double than that of JUSMAG’s.

This “newly discovered” prime land was actually a part of vast Hacienda Kakalsan that formed part of the Rizal province whose territorial area in the middle part of the past century extended to this part of what is now Taguig. The land’s original owners, Don Jose Kakalsan and Doña Genoveva Kakalsan, bequeathed the land to their two children, who were brothers. However, neither one of them attended to have the property formally halved and, thus, to have each child’s respective share registered in the Register of Deeds. It was not until the demise of the younger child, Mario, that appropriate action was made by the older son, Lauro to title the entire land—in Lauro’s name only since Mario had died single, without leaving a wife or child.

It turned out, however, that Mario had had relations with a woman before he died; this woman subsequently bore a child, an illegitimate child. Soon after Lauro had obtained the title to the land, Mario’s wife and child filed suit in court to get the child’s share. This was in the late part of the 1950s. The case dragged on until the 1960s when the trial court dismissed the case for alleged failure of the child to prove paternity—there was simply no evidence that the child was indeed the son of the deceased Mario.

In the late 1970s, the child’s heirs revived the case. Trial again ensued. In the late 1980s, the trial court decided in favor of the child’s heirs, ruling that these heirs were entitled to get a share in the land. An appeal was made by Lauro’s heirs in the higher court that sought to overturn the trial court’s decision. For one reason or another, the appeals court’s decision came out in the late 1990s, almost a decade from the time the appeal was made. The appeals court revoked the decision of the trial court and ruled that the child’s heirs could no longer revive the case.

It was in the year 2000 when the child’s heirs brought the case to the Supreme Court where the legal battle continued. No decision had yet been issued.

Business moguls—powerful men that virtually control the country’s economy—kept constant watch on the developments on the case. Each of them had vowed to get this huge piece of property no matter what it would take.

“JERIC, WHERE THE hell are you?” the growling voice demanded at the other end of the line. “You failed to come to work yesterday. You said you’d be coming today. Still, you’re not here! Anything wrong with you?”

“Chief,” Jeric sighed, “I’ll get back to office tomorrow, I’m just not feeling well since Saturday.”

Short of cursing Jeric, the Chief spat out a few profane words directed to no one in particular. He repeatedly asked if Jeric would still want to write the draft decision on the Hacienda Kakalsan case, insinuating that, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it was well within his power to take the case from Jeric, the assigned associate justice, and re-assign the case to another associate justice. When Jeric gave the assurance that he would submit the draft decision by Monday, then and only then did the Chief relent on his insistence.

Jeric knew the stakes. He knew the Chief had already received a huge amount from one of the parties to the case, which precisely explained the great deal of interest being shown by the Chief.

“You dirty bastard,” Jeric shouted as soon as he dropped the phone on the couch. He was watching a DVD movie in his condo’s living room when he got the Chief’s call. “You’ll get your comeuppance, Chief! Just wait, just wait,” he blurted out.

It was already two o’clock of that Thursday afternoon. He had just taken his lunch and his medicine. Earlier, he had received a visitor. Donita, who had failed to meet Jeric the other day, came back. They talked at length. It was almost lunch time when Donita left. They would be meeting again the next day.

IT PRIDES ITSELF as an alternative to the mainstream media. Organized as a non-profit media outfit some two decades back, it specializes in investigative journalism, funding investigative projects for both the print and broadcast media. Where the mainstream media fails, this media outfit—Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism—dares to go beyond the day-to-day media reportage. Its own journalists go deeper and deeper, much wider, than the ordinary journalists’ efforts, purposely to show the larger, broader picture.

The media center’s office, which is somewhere in Quezon City, closes usually at eight in the evening. At times, though, the closing time gets extended when the person in command, Donita, decides to stay a little longer.

And so it was on this particular night: Donita, who had arrived late in the afternoon, was still aborbed in the task of writing an article she had started to work on some two weeks ago.

“Donita,” called a voice.

Donita looked up. “Yes, Lalaine?”

They were the only ones left in the media center’s office. Donita, it seemed, would be the last to leave the premises on this Thursday night.

“It’s already 9 P.M. You have plans of going home?” Lalaine asked. She was standing in front of Donita’s table.

“I’ll be off at ten. Just need to finish this. It’s due on Monday.”

“But, Donita, you have enough time tomorrow,” Lalaine said, her face showing deep concern.

Donita, though her eyes tired and her face haggard, managed to let out a smile. “Tomorrow’s a big day. I won’t have time. Remember?”

“Oh!” Lalaine gasped. “That’s tomorrow! But you think Justice Jeric would be true to his word? Remember, he himself is a member of the Supreme Court, it still is unbelievable on the supposed stunt he will do tomorrow.”

Donita’s smile broadened. “I’m sure, very, very sure, Lalaine.” She stood up, grasping Lalaine’s shoulder. “If I get ‘electrocuted’ here,” she was now laughing, “I’ll resign as the Executive Director come Monday morning.”

After Lalaine bid goodbye, Donita sat back behind her desk, her mind pondering on Lalaine’s remark. What if indeed she got ‘electrocuted’? If Jeric failed to appear the next day, what face would Donita still have? She definitely had to step down as the media center’s executive head.

After coming out of the bathroom, she decided to leave. It had been a tiring day. She needed to have a full night’s rest for the next day’s affair.

CLUB FILIPINO IS a social club that came to exist at the twilight of the 19th century. It was formed by elite members of society. Located in the heart of San Juan, a city east of Manila, the club is the most chosen for venue of historic or notable events in the country’s history. It served as the venue where Corazon “Cory” Aquino took her oath in 1986 as the new president of the land in the aftermath of the “People Power Revolution” that overthrew the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

When he was asked by Donita as to where he wanted to conduct his press conference, Jeric’s reply was immediate, almost out of instinct. “Club Filipino,” Jeric said. To Jeric, what he intended to do had the trappings of something “historic”, something that would rival the significance of Corazon “Cory” Aquino’s taking her oath of office in 1986.

Presently, Donita was having a tough time reaching Jeric on his mobile phone. She had taken a few cups of decaffeinated coffee in the club’s Café Amorsolo earlier, trying to stay calm and composed. Afterwards, she gulped a glass of red wine at the club’s Calle Alix bar. Eventually, she decided she just would wait in the function room, the Centennial Room, where the press conference would be held.

As the reporters from most of the print and media outfits arrived one after another, Donita’s pulse throbbed violently. Almost all of them, who were her friends, were full of anticipation of the momentous event that was now bound to transpire. Surely, the executive head of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism would not invite them over to attend a press conference that would delve on something less than earth-shattering.

What if Justice Jeric does not arrive? What if he has a change of mind at the last minute? What I get ‘electrocuted’ this time around? Donita’s mind was packed “what ifs” scenarios. She now wished she had not organized this event, that she had just simply written an article about it and published it in the broadsheet newspapers.

It was exactly a minute before 2 P.M. when Jeric Arbitado, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, strode into the now topsy-turvy function room. A sudden silence enveloped the people inside. They were not expecting a magistrate of the highest court in the land to be there. Up to that very minute, the hordes of press people had no idea what the press conference was all about.

A Supreme Court justice holding a news conference? Everyone struggled for breath; everyone’s eyes were gaping wide. What on earth is this? They had been accustomed to see politicians, famous celebrities like movie stars, singers, sportsmen, etc., conduct press conferences, talking incessantly about themselves, about events or scandals where they are involved or about their achievements. But not a justice of the Supreme Court. Just what the heck is this? everyone was asking himself. This was certainly odd, if not bizarre.

Jeric flashed a comfortable smile as eyed the inquisitive stares of the press people now frozen to their seat.

Donita, who had begun to feel relieved when she had caught sight of the Jeric, sat beside the now seated Jeric and slowly grasped the microphone.

“We are all gathered here to hear the Hon. Justice Jeric Arbitado speak.” There was a slight quaver in Donita’s voice. She cast a look at Jeric, her eyes ranging over to the media people. “First of all, I thank you for taking time to come here. Though I actually arrange this press conference, it was all upon the instruction of the good Justice Jeric Arbitado...”

The dozens of cameras kept flashing; the TV video cameras of the big news organizations remained focus on the seated lady and the curmudgeon-looking man beside her.

“I will not hold you in suspense anymore,” Donita continued saying. She again glanced at Jeric, who remained calm and unperturbed. “Justice?” she asked as she motioned to Jeric the microphone now resting in front of him.

“By the way,” Donita suddenly said, interrupting Jeric. “Please, let the good Justice speak, do not interrupt him. Let him finish his statement. Afterwards, when he’s done, then he will try to answer all the questions you wish to propound. Is this understood?” Donita abruptly felt like being a gradeschool teacher when she heard a collective “Yes, Ma’am” reply to her question.

“Good afternoon,” Jeric began. His wrinkled hand seemed to tremble. “Again, my gratitude for your presence here in this event.” He nodded his head to the statue-like figures now peering at him. “I am here to talk about the corruption in the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.”

[Read the entire story in the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]

Monday, February 7, 2011


THE CARDBOARD LOOKS old and cheap. Dirt and dust have already stuck to it. Some of the letters written on it are noticeably fading. It stands along the grimy sidewalk, resting on the concrete column near the corner block. Once in a while, the “massage service” advertised on the cardboard, reading:


[Literally translated as:

Sprained ankles
Body pains due to cold weather
Strained hips
Headaches and
Numbed feet and hands]

does catch the eyes of some of the sidewalk pedestrians passing by.

This is what exactly happens, right this very moment.

The curious passer-by approaches, his eyes lock on the sixtyish man who then abrutply rises from the old worn-out office chair with broken caster wheels. With practiced dexterity, the older man begins to preach the instant cure and comfort his kneading brings to the pained muscles, aching joints, sore backs. He answers the “how much” query with a ready toothless smile: “For 25 pesos only.” “It’s not much if you consider the prohibitive prices those in the spa and massage clinics charge”—the prepared words he spews out as a follow up.

The inquirer pauses, ponders for a moment, then checks his watch.

Not wasting time, the toothless masseur gently places a veined hand on the asker’s shoulders and guides him to sit on rickety backrest-less office chair.

Once seated, the now officially deemed client drops down the rubberband-bound bundle of folded papers on the pavement in between his feet. He bows his head, closes his eyes and relaxes, trying to feel soothing rubbing on this back and shoulders.

While his kneading hands press and squeeze and pinch, the old masseur’s eyes roams. He looks ahead, searching the faces of the hordes of sidewalk amblers, trying to make eye contact with them. He nods his gray-haired head, raises his eyebrows, gestures with the slight jerk of his head to the oncoming pedestrian who may have unintentionally met wandering eyes of the masseur.

The passing pedestrian, however, appears to ignore the toothless man’s gesticulation. As he passes by the seated patron who is now tilting back his head in reaction to the masseur’s gentle pressing of the tender area around the neck, the pedestrian shoots a glance at the sidewalk massage session. He has hardly taken a few steps past the masseur when, suddenly, he stops and steps back. He watches the kneading session, then abruptly feels the pain on the small of his back with a hand. He looks around, then approaches the toothless masseur. He gazes down at the cardboard sign that is now lying flat on the pavement, dwelling for a while on the price of the massage service. As he peers at the seated customer who is now stretching wide his arms, the prospective client digs deep in his pocket. He fishes out a crumpled 20-peso bill, asking the toothless masseur if he can have the massage service at a reduced fee.

The reply comes out of instinct: the wizened old masseur beams, then utters a “no problem” remark. “If you could just wait for a while, sir,” he says as he gives his present customer some gentle slaps on the back, the concluding part of his massage service.

As the new client takes a seat on the wobbly office chair, the sound of rapid footsteps approaches. Somebody is running along the avenue, at the periphery of the sidewalk.

The toothless masseur freezes momentarily. In a few seconds, he bends down and rises, throwing something into grubby garbage can that stands beside the concrete column which is just inches away from where the new client is seated. He strikes up a small talk, discoursing something on the need of tired field workers to get once in a while some calming and relaxing massage. “For better blood circulation, muscle relaxation,” he adds.

Some seconds more, a commotion of some sort grabs the massage customer’s attention.

“Snatcher? A pickpocket?” he asks nonchalantly as he slightly contorts his body in response to the rubbing his small back is getting from the masseur’s gnarled hands.

“Could be,” the wizened toothless man replies. The 15-minute massage session now concludes; the masseur stuffs the bill in the pocket of his week-old, unwashed trousers. He shakes his tired hands, rapidly clenching and unclenching them. He paces the sidewalk, surveying the area with his bloodshot eyes. He goes back, takes a seat on the decrepit office chair and then fixes the cardboard sign back to it proper position. Legs crossed, hands folded across his lap, the toothless masseur takes a breather from his work to allow his hands to rest and recharge.

Not far from where the sidewalk massage clinic stands, a rusty pedicab remains stationary at the corner block. The driver is inside the “cab” of the taxi bicycle, dozing off. He has not had any passenger for more than an hour already. Suddenly, he gets startled, roused from his slumber. A canned beverage has just been thrown at him. As he climbs out of the cab, he sees her casting a frown at him. He responds with an upraised hand, with the middle finger extended, and spits out an expletive. He goes back inside the cab, depresses the lid of the can, and drains the cold beverage. The minute he gives out a burp, he throws the empty can down to the clogged gutter. He pokes out his head, straining his eyes toward the area of the sidewalk that fronts the abandoned moviehouse.

She sees the pedicab driver’s head, notices his scowl, but decides to ignore him completely. She is munching a gum she has begun to chew for more than an hour already. She pushes the strap of her wrinkled dress back to her shoulder. She is uneasy; she has been standing there in her spot for several hours already, yet she has not had any customer. She decides to take a seat on the old shaky plastic stool near the lobby of the deserted moviehouse. Once seated, she reaches back, grabs her grimy bag and pulls out a lipstick and an old vanity makeup mirror. Tenderly she rouges her dry, cracked lips, then licks them with her scarlet tongue. She sighs as she stuffs back to her bag her things. Then she senses something. An approaching pedestrian. She looks up, her eyes displaying a winking-cum-flirtatious gesture. Parting her lips into a half smile, she lets one strap of her dress slide down her shoulder again. Alas, the effort proves futile. The passer-by cracks a smile at her, but hurries off. She watches the man walk away, her lips curling, her face frowning. A check on her watch: it is only four in the afternoon. Maybe later, she tells herself, when night falls. She stands up and walks, her legs inching forward in a semi-crisscross way, in the distinctive manner of fashion or catwalk models. Some passers-by catch her attention, but then she ignores them this time. She stops after a distance, peers down at the crude stand that displays cigarettes and candies and newspapers. Her slender hand gingerly grasps a pack, takes out a stick of cigarette and stuffs it in her mouth. The teenage vendor looks up at her, then hands to her a disposable plastic lighter. Turning around, she looks ahead: the usual throng marching to and fro in the sidewalk. Maybe in the evening, she assures herself again. She raises her head, puffing out rings of smoke in the air. She still chews on gum.

There is another deserted moviehouse in the nearby building along the avenue. In the area fronting it, two women are sitting, one on a decrepit chair and the other on a low crudely-built wooden stool. They occupy a portion of the sidewalk that does not obstruct the pedestrians’ path. The older woman (she appears to be her sixties too) who sits on the wooden stool is busy scraping the dirt off the toenails of the other woman whose foot is now perched on sixtyish woman’s lap. Once in a while, the sextagenarian would dip the scalpel-like steel she holds in the small bottle of cuticle remover resting near her feet. Then, she mops the scrapings that have accumulated on her client’s toes off with a small dirty cloth. In a little while, she will be painting a new nailpolish on the cleaned toenails. An income of fifty pesos for a combined manicure and pedicure service along the sidewalk beauty salon will help her fill her and her brood’s stomachs later in the day. It is not really a bad day for her today; she now has her sixth customer. The previous day, she had only two. Right now, she has finished the task; she begins to assist her customer in putting on her sandals. Her hand clenched on the folded 50-peso bill, the old manicure artist stands up, pushes both the chair and the wooden stool near the concrete wall. With her slippered foot, she shoves the gathered dirt against the wall. It is her station, her work station; she has to make it clean and appealing to the next customer. Right now, she arranges the cardboard sign that she, too, has; she sets it resting at the bottom of the concrete wall where it displays the service she offers:


But then, she feels a pang at her stomach; she still has not eaten her lunch. She has been busy with too much customers. Hands on her hips, she looks over at the corner block where she sees a parked fishball vendor. She starts to march toward the block, but then she pauses. Looking over at her work tools, she is undecided to leave her work station. After a minute, she walks, certain that nobody will take interest in her articles of commerce. Her belly now filled, she walks back, her eyes searching out the faces of the pedestrians on the sidewalk. Checking her watch, she feels suddenly tired, her back aching. Time to go home, her mind tells her. She ponders for a moment. This day is quite good; there may still be a number of customers around. She decides to stay for a while; now in her work station, she stands and waits, trying to make eye contact with the passers-by.

The dusk is now gathering. Across the avenue, some of the shops have already begun to bring inside the merchandise they have displayed all day long on the sidewalk. Chances of further sales at this time of the day are now slim. By now, those marching along the avenue are hurrying for home, wanting to catch their rides on the elevated trains and on the jeepneys plying the avenue.

In the avenue itself, the cars and jeeps and taxis crowd every inch of the asphalted street. The bulk of the commuters gather near the intersection; it is there where they want to get their rides than in the designated jeepney stops. The traffic enforcers continue to bark and blow their whistles at the stubborn jeepney drivers who drive at a snail’s pace. Once they see that their jeeps are already filled, the drivers then and only then begin to hasten their pace. They punch and blast their horns, their faces abruptly showing impatience at the turtle-moving jeepneys ahead.

Then, too, getting a piece of the action are the “barkers” who populate the spots where the commuters are gathered. Their job being to “bark” to the commuters—informing them of destinations where the jeepneys are headed and prodding them to “go get inside the jeepney”—these “barkers” have become regular features of the avenue. They earn a clean living out of the thousands of jeepneys that traverse the avenue: their efforts are recognized by the jeepney drivers, and for their services, they are rewarded with a couple of coins, depending on the volume of commuters they are able to “deliver” inside the jeepneys. In one day, a “barker” can generate a hundred peso income, or even more, depending on how much time he spends at their “work stations” and on how generous the jeepney drivers are in giving the rewards.

Also, the avenue is not complete without the presence of the ubiquitous ambulant cigarette vendors. They roam the area at will: they stay and wait at the corner blocks or at the intersection, their arms cradling a rectangular wooden box stuffed with packs of cigarettes, candies, chewing gums, peanuts packed in small plastics and a few pieces of cold bottled water. Their eyes are trained on the jeepney’s rear. Once a jeepney stops, the cigarette vendor races hurriedly, as if he too is scrambling to get inside the jeepney. Once the last passenger gets inside, the cigarette vendor, in a boastful show of his fast reflexes, makes a mighty leap, his feet landing on the rear steps of the jeepney, his hand grabbing the rusty steel handhold. He, too, “barks” to the seated passengers: “Sir, cigarette?” Once in a while, he does get a customer. At times, he does not. Once his business inside is done, he stands back on the rear steps. Seconds later, he releases his grasp on the handhold and springs upward, his feet making a forceful touchdown on the pavement just inches away from the oncoming jeepney. Then he scurries back to the intersection. Some vendors, though, decide to stay on the street area: they raise an extended finger, making an inquiring signal to the jeepney drivers if they want to buy a stick. At times, the commuters themselves patronize these vendors: they receive some sort of royal treatment: the vendors bring up and gently stuff the cigarette stick into their waiting mouths. In half a second, the vendors’ swift hands whip out a lighter and light the cigarette tip.

[Read the entire story in the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]

Saturday, January 29, 2011


IT WAS SUPPOSED to be a representational image of the national hero. But it barely appeared to be. The face hardly resembled that of the depicted hero’s. Only when one got a closer look at the concrete figure could he be convinced that it was a sculpture of Jose Rizal. For one, the statue struck a pose similar to the one found in Luneta. For another, there was the man’s name engraved at the bottom of the statue. Actually, it was not a sculpture in the true sense of the word; rather, it was one created using the old fashion statue mold. Which explained its crude-looking appearance. Mounted on a concrete base that measures roughly around five feet high, the statue towered over the townsfolk.

There it stood in the middle of an octagonal-shaped concrete space in the center of the town’s main intersection. The very heart of the town—the town’s plaza.

The hardly resemblant Rizal figure was put there a decade ago upon the initiative of the town’s mayor who had grandiose dreams of beautifying the town. Back then, the statue, sporting an immaculate white hue, provided some novel view in the otherwise dreary community. Everyone passing by would marvel at the sight of the imposing structure. Being the first of its kind in the town, it was an awesome sight that inspired feelings of nationalism and patriotism to the townsfolk. For this reason, everyone regarded the statue, and the very spot where it stood, with a great amount of reverence.

In just a year’s time, however, the town’s populace began to show a gradual change in the way they held their esteem toward the hero’s statue. The image having become an everyday sight, its novelty had worn off. The townspeople would hardly bother to cast a glance whenever they passed by the statue. If ever they happened to catch a relative or a friend or an acquaintance passing by or loitering or otherwise spending some leisure moments in the plaza, they would just go about with their exchange of pleasantries or small chat or conversation or gossip-swapping with nary a thought of darting a glance at the crude concrete figure that towered above them. Then they would, as evidence of their stay, leave behind trash, like candy wrappers or cigarette butts, something which scarcely happened back then.

In just about the same time, too, the structure’s once spotlessly white color had by then become a messy sight what with the dirt and dust that had stuck to it and the peeling paint due to the ravages of heavy rains and the sun’s scorching rays. Then, also, proofs of defacement on the statue, like scrawled graffiti or letterings or small cracks or chipped edges, could be seen about the concrete base and the statue itself. No, the town’s officials showed neither attention nor interest restoring the structure back to its former condition.

Making the already bad situation even worse was the neglect in keeping the plaza clean and sanitary as only once in a week (at times, once in two weeks) would the lowly town hall cleaner bother to visit the plaza and sweep away the piled rubbish.

It was evident that maintenance of the plaza, or the statue itself, was scarcely in the minds of the town’s officials.

As if in conspiracy with the town officials, fate itself had shot a destructive arrow of misfortune at the statue. For, a month earlier, a severe typhoon struck the town. Heavy rains and strong howling winds toppled the statue to the plaza’s pavement. It broke when it hit the concrete ground, nearly causing the head to be severed from its body. Only the contoured iron support inside the statue prevented the head from totally separating from the cracked body.

A sorry fate to the national hero’s statue.

As he now looked down on the lifeless concrete figure lying on the cold ground, it occurred to Dencio that he had been waiting here in the deserted plaza for almost half an hour already.

Where are they? he wondered. It was already close to nine in the evening, yet they still hadn’t arrived. No, he wouldn’t wait for them any longer.

He was already a few meters away from the plaza on his way home when he heard Berto’s loud voice.

“Sorry, Dencio,” came the apologetic voice of Berto. “I had problems looking for our carabao in the field. Father wouldn’t let me leave without the carabao being found and securely tethered.”

“All right,” Dencio said as he noticed a crudely bound bouquet of flowers held by Berto in his hands. Behind Berto was Pendong who was carrying a guitar.

“Where’d you get them?” Dencio asked, his eyes fixed at the flowers. He was smiling at Berto. “You’re really smitten, huh?” Dencio said as he examined the flowers.

Berto flashed a shy smile. “I am, Dencio. She’s the only girl that I will love.” He held the boquet near his face. “This cost me a fortune.”

Pendong laughed. “What do you mean a fortune?” he said in a mocking voice. “We just scooped them up at Mang Tinoy’s backyard garden.” He jerked back and tried to evade a punch playfully thrown at him by Berto.

“All right,” Dencio said. “You ready?” he asked as he grabbed the guitar from Pendong. He started strumming the guitar strings, adjusting the tuning keys at the guitar’s head. “Sounds all right.”

Berto let out a heavy sigh. “Always ready, Dencio,” he replied. “What about you?” he asked.

“Of course, I am. I’ve been doing this a thousand times,” Dencio boasted as he winked at Pendong.

“Would you want a brief rehearsal before we go there?” Pendong asked Berto. He noticed the sudden seriousness that had seized Berto’s face. “You seemed to be jittery, Berto.” He inched closer and abruptly touched Berto’s clammy, ice cold hands.

Berto instinctively pulled back his hands. “What the…” he said in a surprised voice.

“Whoa! Just as I thought!” Pendong snapped. He laughed, saying, “Maybe we should turn back, Dencio. Look at Berto. He’s overstrung and trembling! He’s scared stiff!” He instantly drew back in an effort to avoid another fistic blow from Berto.

“Knock it off, Pendong,” Dencio said as he stepped in between Berto and Pendong. He was grinning, pushing Pendong away. “We haven’t got much time, it’s getting late,” he said to Pendong. He turned and draped an arm around Berto’s shoulders. “You can do it, buddy,” he said reassuringly. “We better go now.”

They left the plaza and strode down the road under the pale moonlight. A multitude of stars stabbed the cloudless sky. From the thick shrubbery that flanked both sides of the road, a variety of insect sounds filled the air. Once in a while, high-pitched chatterings by monkeys hidden in the trees would echo. And then the tree tops would sway in the night breeze, causing the thick leaves to brush the other leaves. After some distance, they turned and took a detour, traversing a patch of prairie. Along the way, there were bushes that grew thick, forcing them to part the undergrowth that blocked their way. When they reached a clearing, they hastened their pace, following a trail. The leaf-strewn path led them to an unlit road lined with thatched roof bamboo houses. There were some people who stood by the roadside in front of some huts and gazed at the three strangers who slowly passed by them.

“This is it?” asked Dencio, referring to the narrow street. There was a slight nod from Berto.

Pendong pointed to the far end of the dark road. “Over there,” he said.

The nipa-thatched hut stood at the street corner. It was a small bamboo-walled house erected on thick wood posts with a space underneath occupied by a flock of chickens. Beside it was a dense coppice that reached waist-high.

When they reached the front space of the hut, they positioned themselves near the closed window. Dencio held the guitar against his chest, his left hand gripping the guitar’s slender neck. Berto, clutching the bouquet in his clasped hands, stood beside him. Pendong was standing behind them. Then, suddenly, clucking sounds emerged from under the house: the fowls had been roused from their slumber. As the noise rose, a dog began to bark from somewhere in the back of the hut. Berto looked at Dencio, who gazed at him inquiringly. As Dencio nodded his head, Pendong nudged Berto.

“Common, sing,” Pendong whispered.

Gently, Dencio stroked the strings, producing a melancholy tune. He took a deep breath, glanced at Berto and began to sing:

O, ilaw
[O, light]

Sa gabing malamig
[In the cold night]

Wangis mo’y
[You’re like]

Bituin sa langit…
[A star in the night…]

Pendong repeated the same word that Berto belted out, Pendong's voice creating an echoing sound that harmonized with Dencio’s singing.

The serenading men then sensed some movements inside the shuttered hut. From the small holes or slits on the bamboo wall, they made out the pale lamp light that had begun to shine inside the hut. And then the framed nipa pane that covered the window began to move: it was gently being pushed out. A figure slowly was emerging.

Pendong gave another nudge at Berto’s back. Berto abruptly shoved backward his elbow, hitting Pendong’s ribs. All this time, Dencio went unperturbed in his singing:

O, tanglaw
[O, light]

Sa gabing tahimik
[In the silent night]

Larawan mo, Neneng
[Your image, Neneng]

Nagbigay pasakit. Ay!
[Has caused pain. Oh!]

It was at this juncture that the figure’s image clearly stood out in the window: it was an old balding man with a frown on his face. He was clutching with his two gnarled hands what appeared to be an orinola (chamber pot) in the manner of one ready to spill out its contents outside the window, directly to the serenaders.

For an instant, Pendong, seized by a sudden instinctive fear, gripped Berto’s arm. Berto tried to appear calm at what he was seeing. Dencio’s eyes widened; he then turned and shot a glance at Berto. This notwithstanding, Dencio continued with his song:

Gising at magbangon
[Awake and arise]

Sa pagkagupiling…
[From slumber…]

All of a sudden, another figure appeared in the widow: a middle age woman with tousled hair. She was pushing the bald man away.

A light smile stretched Berto’s lips when he saw the bald man totally push out of the window frame. Then, the image of a smiling young lady came to appear in the window. Beside her stood a boy, who appeared no more than ten years old; he was yawning and rubbing his eyes with both hands.

Berto’s grin then began to widen, almost touching his ears, when he finally saw the young lady start waiving her hand at them.

Dencio, who was enjoying the scene, continued uninterruptedly, the words of the song smoothly flowing out of his mouth:

Sa pagkakatulog
[From sleep]

Na lubhang mahimbing
[so very deep]

Buksan ang bintana
[Open the window]

At ako’y dungawin
[And look out to me]

Nang mapagtanto mo
[For you to understand]

Ang tunay kong pagdaing
[My true lament]

It was after Dencio concluded his performance with a final gentle strum on the guitar strings that the dog, which had been barking at the back of the house, suddenly came near them. As the dog neared the three men and bared its fangs, its barking became fiercer and harsher.

Taking instant fright, Pendong, after letting out an “Oh my God” scream, abruptly leaped from where he was standing and clung on Berto’s back. Pendong draped his arms around Berto’s neck with his legs coiled around Berto’s waist. Berto nearly lost his balance.

“Get down, you foolish coward!” Berto hissed as he vainly struggled to free himself from the clutches of Pendong’s shaking arms. Pendong’s tight hold caused Berto to drop the bouquet of flowers to the ground.

Though seized with fright, Dencio stood his ground and tried to brandish the guitar in an attempt to ward off the dog’s slow advance.

“Father! It’s bantay!” the young lady shrieked. “He got loose!”

Another female voice rang out: “Pedro, you get bantay!”

It took a minute to lapse before the bald Pedro came down from the wooden staircase that connected the hut’s doorway to the ground level. By the time the old bald man dragged the dog toward the backyard, Pendong’s heavy sweating had drenched Berto’s back. Pendong jumped back to the ground.

“Look what you did, you bumbling fool!” Berto murmured to Pendong, Berto’s hand pointing to the crushed flowers beside his feet. He had involuntarily stepped on the fallen bouquet in his futile effort to untangle himself from Pendong’s grip. With smouldering eyes cast at Pendong, Berto hissed, “Wait ‘til I get my hands on your scruffy neck!” Dencio watched in amusement as the Berto’s hands hardened into a clawlike appearance in the manner of one about to strangle another.

“Oh, gentlemen,” called out the sweet voice of the young lady, “would you want to come up for some hot salabat?”

Inside the hut, Berto introduced his friends to Neneng, the young lady they had serenaded. A shy, dusky village lass with flirty eyes, full seductive lips, Neneng’s rich black hair flowed down on her slender shoulder. Both Pendong and Dencio, seated across Berto and Neneng, couldn’t keep their eyes off Neneng.

“Did we disturb you?” Berto asked silently. He was taking a sip from the cup of steaming salabat. “I really hope not,” he added.

“Not really,” Neneng replied demurely, her eyes examining her fingernails. “We had just started to lie down when you came,” she said. “That was a nice song,” she said. “Did you still come from afar?” she asked, her eyes now fixed at Berto.

“Yes, we did,” Pendong intervened. He blew the steam from his cup. “In fact, I got hungry when we reached your place here,” he added, oblivious to the murderous stare thrown at him by Berto. “Were it not for your dog, which made my heart jump…” he stopped; he felt the slight blow of Dencio’s elbow at his side. Dencio continued slurping his salabat, ignoring Pendong’s inquisitive stare.

Neneng was giggling. “You really are funny,” she said, a dimple becoming visible on her cheek, making her look lovelier. “Would you want to eat, too?” she asked Pendong as she began to rise from her seat.

“No, no, no! That would be too much,” Pendong said, adding, “but if you insist, well...”

“Hey,” Berto snapped, “look at that, outside the window, a big bat!”

“What?! Where?” came the voice of Neneng as she immediately stood up, wanting to look in the direction where Berto had pointed.

It was swift and surreptitious. When Neneng stood, her body made a sudden pivot; she was now peering outside the window. With her back thus facing Pendong and Dencio, Neneng did not see the quick slap of Berto’s hand that landed on Pendong’s forehead.

“I don’t see anything,” Neneng remarked.

“Maybe it had flown fast,” offered Dencio. “Big bats have big wings.” He was grinning at Pendong.

“Something’s wrong, Pendong?” Neneng asked; she had noticed Pendong’s reddened forehead when she sat back again.

“Ah, nothing,” Pendong replied nonchalantly, “I bumped into something when we got here,” he added, feigning a smile. He was rubbing his hand on his forehead.

“Ah, this is a different matter, Neneng,” Berto butted in. “Would you be attending the procession on Sunday?”

“Oh,” Neneng began, her face suddenly confused. “I’m not really sure because we’ll be coming from Manila.” She straigthened her body, brushing away the strands of hair that had gently swung on her face. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, nothing really,” Berto said. “I just thought you might need some flowers for the procession. I could bring you some,” he added.

“Yes, Neneng,” Pendong snapped. “Like the beautiful flowers we brought earlier.”

A look of surprise stole on Neneng’s face. “Flowers? You brought flowers? Where are they?” She was now looking at Berto.

Pendong grinned. “Berto dropped them, then accidentally stepped on them when your dog came near us and…” he stopped; he suddenly felt another shaft of pain at his side. He had caught another blow from Dencio’s elbow. This time harder, making Pendong cringed.

“Ouch! Uh, ah,” Pendong blurted out, his face grimacing. “I, ah, actually, was,” he stopped, catching his breath. “I was the one who actually stepped on them.” He was now massaging the side of his body.

Neneng again was giggling. “You really make me laugh, all three of you.”

Berto was about to say something, but he stopped when he heard something.

“Filomena, what time is?” The voice of Pedro. He was in the kitchen.

The three men froze; they looked at each other. Then they looked at Neneng who flashed an embarrassed smile.

“I’m sorry, my father had a hard tiring day today,” she said.

Berto set the cup back to the small bamboo center table. “No, don’t be apologetic. It’s us who should be expressing apology to you. For the disturbance we caused to you.”

As they stood up, Neneng’s mother suddenly burst through the doorway that led to the kitchen. “Oh, young men, you’re leaving?” she said pretentiously.

Pendong grinned. “It’s getting quite late, ma’am,” he looked at Neneng. “But if you insist we could stay a little…”

This time, the pain stabbed Pendong at his back. It was a stinging blow from the clenched fist of Berto who was standing behind Pendong.

Dencio made a quick remark, grabbing the attention of Neneng’s mother, who was oblivious to Pendong’s flinching reaction. “No, ma’am, we really should be going.” He extended a hand to Neneng’s mother. “Thank you very much, ma’am, for you kindness.”

“Yes, ma’am, our gratitude to you and to your husband. And of course,” Berto said as he looked at Neneng, “thank you, too, to your lovely daughter.”

Her face flushing, Neneng lowered her gaze.

“All right, gentlemen,” Neneng’s mother began, “we really appreciate your visit.” She stepped near the three men. “You take care in going home,” she said as she led them to the door.

Barely had they stepped on the street that fronted Neneng’s house than Berto’s hand suddenly grabbed Pendong’s collar.

“What were you doing there? You acted like a jerk, didn’t you know that?” Berto growled.

Pendong swatted away Berto’s hand. He started to run, then when he was a distance away, he burst out laughing.

“Nah, Berto,” Dencio said, “I think Neneng enjoyed Pendong’s antics. Didn’t you hear what she’d said?” He was laughing.

It was a beautfiul December evening with the silvery moon casting down its nocturnal shine. As they walked home, the night breeze blew above, refreshening Berto. He was now in high spirits. He had feared visiting Neneng alone; he never had the courage to do so. It took some prodding from Pendong, his wild and wacky childhood friend, before he finally decided to visit Neneng at her house. It was Pendong who sought out another chum, Dencio, convincing the latter to go with them. Dencio immediately agreed, and since he knew how to sing and play the guitar, he offered to serenade Neneng on Berto’s behalf. Finally, Berto was making headway. He was now, in fact, making plans to marry Neneng once they became steady. Of course, if Neneng agreed. But he sure would try with all his might, he vowed to himself. At twenty, he felt he was already old. His two brothers, who were still in their teens, were already settled, having gotten married at the age of seventeen. Berto felt he was being left behind.

They were now traversing the same route they had taken earlier. It was in the middle of the thick bushes when they heard footsteps marching toward them. They stopped in their tracks, looking at each other. Then they were gripped by fear.

No, it can’t be, Berto suddenly told himself.

It was at this instance when Berto remembered what his father had told him days ago. About the news of the impending Japanese invasion of their town. But then, Berto had dismissed his father’s warning. He had never believed the invasion would reach their small town, their small insignificant town. Not at this time anyway. It was too early. Not after Manila had been invaded. Sure, they had heard days before of the shocking news about the bombing by the Japanese planes of Pearl Harbor, the American naval base in Hawaii. But to Berto’s mind, it could never happen to the Philippines. Not now! No! It can’t be possible! Berto had firmly said to himself. Suddenly, he wished he had listened to the old man.

Dencio lifted a hand, with one extended finger pressed on his lips. “My God! They have now come!” he whispered. “Ducked!”

They abruptly fell to the ground, lying flat on their stomach. But then, it was too late! The marching footsteps grew louder and louder until the sound stopped. When the prostrated men lifted their heads, what they saw were dozens of rifle guns with bayonets pointed at their faces.

Are we in a bad dream? Berto was telling himself. Looking at the Japanese soldiers, at their guns leveled at them---it was incredible, mind-numbing. For the first time, Berto was looking at how the Japanese soldiers looked like. With their mean, belligerent mien, their precise movements, their sophisticated-looking weaponry---their presence was out of this world. What are they doing here? Where did they come from? How did they get here? What is happening now? Has war really come to their small town? What will now happen to them? To him? To Dencio and Pendong? To his family? To Neneng? To the lowly people of his town? My God, this could not be happening!

The realization was slow to come to Berto. He abruptly felt like being transported into a weird, surreal world where he was seeing strange men from some bizarre world.

Tachiagaru!” (“Stand up!”)

Strange voice, strange words.

They remained frozen to the ground, their eyes fixed at the strange man with eyes teeming with rage, who spoke out the harsh, unintelligible words.

For some reason, Dencio’s hand moved near the guitar beside him. Then, swift as lightning, a violent kick abruptly struck Dencio at his side, making him shrink into an embryo posture, a pained cry slipping out of his mouth.

Tachiagaru!” (“Stand up!”) A repeat of the harsh, odd-sounding words.

Still they did not move.

Pendong’s face was full of sweat; he was shaking furiously. He looked at Berto, wanting to know what had just been said to them. But Berto himself was confused, not knowing what to do. A bayonet suddenly jabbed lightly at Berto’s back. This made him recoil in pain. Then he saw Dencio slowly stand up. Pendong, who was now crying, was hauled up by one of the Japanese soldiers, who slammed a balled fist at Pendong’s jowls.

Berto felt being grabbed by the collar. The next thing he knew, he was being lifted powerfully on his feet. A heavy slap suddenly stung his face.

Anata no atama no ue nit te!” (“Hands on your head!”) came another stern order.

Dencio was able to get the message when he saw the soldiers’ bayonets point to their heads. Both Pendong and Berto put their hands on their heads upon seeing Dencio lift his arms.

Ima aruite!” (“Now walk!”) the voice roared.

The bayonets’ pointed tips poked the three men’s backs, prompting them walk and follow the Japanese soldiers marching in the direction of the town plaza.

[Read the entire story in the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]