Sunday, December 26, 2010
IT IS ALMOST dusk, yet she still has not arrived. Something must be wrong, he wonders. He looks at the clock mounted on the wall; it says 6 o’clock. He has been sitting there for almost an hour now. Alone in the corner table. The man at the counter has been eyeing him for quite a while. But he just ignores the man. Instead, he pretends he is reading the newspaper he has brought with him. He sees the muchacho who has approached him earlier go back again to the counter. The muchacho has been summoned by the man at the counter. He can see the man barking some orders to the muchacho, who then nods his head. The muchacho looks from one side to another, then looks at him, in his direction. He gets the cue and starts to fold his newspaper. When the muchacho stands in front of him, he rises to his feet.
“Señor, nuestras disculpas. Pero si usted no tendrá ninguna orden,” the muchacho meekly begins, his voice subdued. ¿Sería tan amable de dar paso a otros clientes que acaban de llegar?” the muchacho politely asks. (“Sir, our apologies. But if you won’t have any orders, would you be kind enough to give way to our other customers who have just arrived?”) He gestures with his hand to the Chinese couple who are standing near the entrance door.
“Sí, por supuesto. Lo siento. Yo estaba esperando a mi compañero. Pero tal vez no podría venir más,” Pedro replies. (“Yes, of course. I’m sorry. I was waiting for my companion. But maybe she might not be coming anymore.”) There is a tone of dejection in his voice. As he picks up his creased newspaper and shoves his chair away from him, the muchacho calls out to the couple who are expectantly waiting for a signal for them to stride over to the table now being vacated.
The voice, feminine and sweet, startles the muchacho. He spins around. There is a look of surprise that crosses that muchacho’s face.
Pedro waves a hand, motioning the lady who has just called him to come over.
“Señor, ¿sigues yendo?” the confused muchacho asks as he takes several steps away from Pedro. (“Sir, are you still leaving?”) The couple has stopped in their tracks; they stand a foot away from the muchacho.
“Creo que no. Mi invitado, puedes ver, ya ha llegado. ¿Puede darnos su menú, por favor?” Pedro says as he tells his guest to take a seat. (“I believe not. My guest, you see, has already arrived. Can you give us your menu, please?”)
“Oh, sí, señor, en un momento.”(“Oh, yes, sir, in a moment.”) Saying that, the muchacho leaves, goes over to the couple and leads them back to the waiting area near the entrance door.
It is Friday evening. At this time of the week, Clarke’s Restaurant is crowded.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Pedro,” she says. She is conscious of the curious stares now being cast on her by the other customers.
“It’s all right, Barbra. What would you have? You sure look hungry.” Pedro leans forward, his elbows atop the crumpled El Diario de Manila. He claps his hands in mid air. In a matter of seconds, the muchacho arrives and hands to Pedro the menu.
“Bueno, nos gustaría tener un plato de tamales con relleno de pollo, y ah, éste, el Camarones al curry, las gambas grandes,” Pedro says as he browses through the menu. (“All right, we’d like to have a plate of tamales with chicken filling, and ah, this one, the camerones curry, the large prawns.”) He looks over at Barbra, inquiringly raises his eyebrows. He knows she likes the local prawns. When he sees Barbra nod, he brings his gaze back to the menu. “Y también, ¡ah, éste,” he continues as he runs a finger on the menu, “los peces Macasar rojo con cebolla frita, y también un plato de anchoas españolas.” (“And also, ah, this one, the Macassar red fish with fried onions, and also a plate of Spanish anchovies.”) As he gives back the menu to the muchacho, he says, “Dos platos de arroz y dos vasos de jugo de coco.”(“Two plates of rice and two glasses of cocoa-nut juice.”)
Barbra is studying her folded hands on the table when Pedro looks at her. She tilts back, digs in her bag and takes out a small fan.
“Something’s wrong with you?” Pedro asks. He can sense Barbra’s uneasiness.
She peers around, and then looks at him. “I had just come from Intramuros,” she begins slowly. She is toying with the fan. “From the church in Santo Tomas University.”
“You met someone there?”
She lifts her gaze. “Yes, I went to see Father Santos.”
Pedro rests on his back, his hands slightly tapping the table. He then straightens his body and props his elbows on the table, his jowls resting on his folded hand. He, too, is feeling restless. “I see. You had a confession?”
A slight nod is the response. Barbra adjusts the starched pañuelo that hangs around her neck. She tightens the brooch that holds the corners of the pañuelo in front of her chemisette decolletee. “Yes, Pedro. It’s been months since I had my last confession,” Barbra softly says.
Pedro is abruptly seized by shame, by guilt. He has not expected that Barbra would do it. He can see now a change in her demeanor, in her manner, in her appearance.
“We really have to end our relationship. It’s not right, Pedro. I'm sorry.” Barbra is now sobbing silently. She takes out a kerchief from her bag and gently dabs her eyes. She brushes a few strands of hair that hangs on her forehead. Her hair, her blond hair, is brushed back; it tapers off into a chignon near the back of her neck. She covers her eyes when she senses somebody is approaching.
Shoving the folded newspaper aside, Pedro watches the muchacho lay down the tableware and the food in front of them.
“¿Podría traernos algunos lanzones, también?” Pedro says, knowing Barbra delights in having the local fruit as the final course of her meal. (“Could you bring us some lanzones, too?”) It has an exotic appeal to her, she has told Pedro a number of times.
The muchacho flushes when he sees Pedro looking at him with slight contempt. He has been caught by Pedro looking intently at Barbra. He moves back and bows his head. “Oh, sí, señor. De inmediato,” he awkwardly says. (“Oh, yes, sir. Right away.”) He leaves quickly.
For some reason, Pedro has still not grown accustomed to the habit of some people—rather, a great number of people—looking at them with curiosity, if not with bafflement. He has tried to ignore the inquisitive stares that meet him and Barbra whenever they go out together. But he just cannot shrug them off. Barbra has told him that, well, it is, indeed, rare to see a male native walking side by side with an American woman. Atypical couple. And since it is something that they cannot do anything about, she has further told him, he should just pay no heed to it.
Pedro keeps trying hard, mighty hard to obey Barbra’s advice. At times, Pedro is successful; at times, he is not. He realizes maybe because of the different circumstances, of the attendant circumstances. Just like now. It surely is annoying to see the muchacho gawking dumbly at Barbra.
“Are you sure of your decision?” Pedro asks in a sullen voice.
There is no answer that immediately comes. Instead, he sees the kerchief becoming damped with her tears. She gently rubs her misty eyes.
He is about to say something when the muchacho arrives with a tray of lanzones.
As they silently eat, Pedro feels a searing pain in the pit of his heart. He is losing Barbra. And no, nothing can be done about it. It is not a decision of hers. It is destiny’s. He should have known it beforehand. Even before they started their relationship. That he can never marry her, she can never be his wife. He can never own her. She belongs to another man. Her husband. After a long time, her husband is finally going back to Manila, his stint in Mindanao having finally concluded. And from Manila, they will travel back to America. There they will live. Back to their place. In their own home, in their own world.
His eyes becoming blurred with moist, he slowly stands up. “Would you excuse me? I’ll just relieve myself,” he says.
There is a slight nod from Barbra.
When he comes back, Barbra is enjoying the small roundish pieces clustered in tiny, wiry branches.
“You really love lanzones, don’t you?” Pedro grins.
For the first time since she arrived, Barbra smiles. “Oh, I really love them. I hope I could bring some to America.”
Pedro feels enraptured when he sees Barbra beaming. He has not seen her smile for a long time, in fact, for almost half a year. How he loves seeing her face give out such cheerful disposition. Suddenly, it brings back the time when he first saw her some three years back. There at the office of his superior, William Notting, an American lawyer (abogado Americano), at a modern building along Escolta.
... ... ...
“Here, Pedro, have some lanzones,” Barbra now offers. She has squeezed a piece of the fruit with her fingers, popping open the fruit. “They’re really sweet-tasting!” she says as she extends to Pedro the peeled fruit.
“They’re my favorite, too,” Pedro says.
There is a sudden noise that they hear. It is coming from the door that leads to the kitchen. It is a voice; a man’s voice that is booming loud. The kitchen door swings. A stocky huge man bursts out.
“Hey!” The stocky man bellows to the man at the counter. “Where is Mr. Clarke? Has he not arrived yet?”
Barbra looks at the stocky man with surprise. “Why, he’s a Negro!” she hisses.
“Keep it low,” Pedro cautions her. “He’s Tom, Tom Pritchard, the head cook here. He’s the one in-charge of everything related to the food preparation, cooking.” Pedro’s mouth is half-full of lanzones.
She continues to peer at the stocky man. “This is the first time I see a Negro here in the islands,” she says.
“Me, too. He’s the first Negro I saw. But he’s great at cooking. He’s the reason why a lot of people flock to this place. Really great food.” Pedro leans back. He sees the stocky man go back to the kitchen door.
“Are you now done?” Pedro notices the heap of lanzones peels on the tray. “You didn’t leave a single piece, eh?” he laughs.
She beams at him. “They’re too precious to be wasted.” She looks at the clock on the wall. “Should we now leave? It’s way past seven,” she says.
Pedro claps his hands. As he takes out his wallet, a muchacho arrives. Pedro examines the small paper given to him by the muchacho. It is the list of the food they have consumed.
“¿Te gustaría firmar un vale para esto, señor?” the muchacho asks. (“Would you want to sign a chit for this, sir?”)
Pedro shakes his head. “No, no. Voy a pagar en efectivo,” he says. (“No, no. I will pay in cash.”) He extends two crumpled bills to the muchacho, who then promptly leaves.
Barbra asks, “I thought they had already discontinued to use the chit system.”
Pedro is wiping the corners of his mouth with the table napkin. “In a way, yes. But for some valued customers, they still observe this,” he says. He starts to laugh and says, “Mr. Clarke was complaining to me the other day that some of his customers who had accumulated huge debts had run off. Debts that ran in the thousands. He couldn’t find them anymore. He has since then stopped offering this I.O.U. thing. He showed to me bundles of chits signed by his errant customers.” Pedro is shaking his head. He starts to rise upon seeing the approaching muchacho bearing the change from his payment.
A little later, they are standing a few steps away from the restaurant’s door. They are in the street waiting for a carretela to take them home.
“Maybe we should walk. There, let’s go there,” Barbra says. She points to a corner block. “Too much people here at this time. Rush hour.”
Near the corner block, two pubescent-looking girls are squatting against the wall. They stop chattering upon seeing Pedro and Barbra. One girl, who has thrown the cigarette she was puffing, stands up. She hurriedly marches toward Pedro, her hand extended.
“Señor, billete de lotería. Por favor, compre uno de mí,” the girl pleads as she pushes her extended hand to Pedro. (“Sir, lottery ticket. Please buy one from me.”)
There is something that ached in Pedro’s heart upon seeing the girl. He examines her, his hand reaching deep in his trouser pocket.
“Look,” Barbra says, pointing to the feet of the girl who has remained hunched against the wall. “She’s a leper,” she whispers.
Pedro flinches when he sees the girl’s badly deformed feet. He plucks out several coins and hands them to the girl bearing the lottery ticket. “Manténgalo,” he says to her. (“Keep it.”) “No, no, hija,” he adds when the girl tries to give to him the ticket. (“No, don’t, child.”) “Mantenga también.” (“Keep it, too.”) He fishes out another coin and throws it in the direction of the girl with the leper.
No sooner have they gotten past the corner than they hear a continuous ringing of a bell.
Pedro swirls his head. “There’s a tramvia,” he tells Barbra. “Maybe we should ride there. It’ll take some time before we could get a carromata here. Too much crowd at this time.”
Barbra looks back. “I thought you don’t like being stared at?” she asks. “Look,” she points to the streetcar, “it’s crowded.”
The tramvia slows down; it stops in front of Clarke’s Restaurant. After a few passengers get off, the tramvia starts to run. A ringing bell sound emanates anew from the tramvia.
“I think it’s better if we walk farther. Over there,” Barbra says, pointing in the distance.
“I thought you still couldn’t walk that much?” Pedro asks. “It’s quite a distance. That’s the busiest part here in Escolta, too much crowd there. Near Plaza Moraga.”
Barbra slightly shakes her head. “I’m all right now, Pedro. I need to buy something there, at the Spanish Hat Store. For my husband. He’ll be arriving tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? Pedro is stunned, feeling suddenly struck by a bolt of lightning. He stops, turning his head to her. “Tomorrow? Why so sudden?” he blurts out. Abruptly, he becomes aware of a multitude of emotions crowding his mind. Surprise. Anger. Pain. Sadness. Fear. Helplessness.
Realizing the slip of the tongue she has made, Barbra freezes, finding herself shocked. She drapes a hand on her mouth, her eyes wide. “I’m sorry,” she says, looking at him. “I forgot to mention John’s arriving tomorrow.” She snatches Pedro’s elbow.
He looks down, trying to scrutinize his newly polished leather shoes. “So, this will be our last meeting. I won’t be seeing you anymore?” he silently cries. His distraught voice pierces Barbra, penetrating the inner realms of her physical and mental being. “Why, Barbra? Why?” he asks.
Barbra falls silent, her eyes plunging to the pavement. She has felt it: the vicious and painful prick of torment in her soul.
Aloft, the rhythmical stacatto sound of a horse’s footfalls rises, joining the nocturnal din of the shops and stores and cafés and restaurants that line Escolta on both sides. The small bony horse pulling the rickety quelis gallops at a measured pace. At a distance not far behind the quelis, a carromata is at a standstill, just in front of a Tagal-manned store that sells expensive European wares. The carromata’s pilot, the cochero, has climbed down, waiting for the passengers who are still handing their payment to the store-owner. Not far behind, at the foot of Escolta near the Plaza Sta. Cruz area, a number of carromatas has begun to appear, making a slow trot on one side of Escolta.
Pedro gravely looks at Barbra. He gently frees his elbow off Barbra’s hand. He sighs, swatting away Barbra’s hand when she tries to grasp him anew. He looks in the distance, tears suddenly springing into his eyes. All of a sudden, he pivots, turning his back on her, and starts to walk, leaving Barbra behind.
Barbra goes after him, trying to keep apace. “Pedro,” she begins to say, “no, Pedro. I’ll still see you. I promise. Please understand me. Oh, please,” she pleads. Her voice is deeply agitated
Some passers-by walking near them hear her voice; they cast their curious eyes on her, and then, they dart their gaze at Pedro. Barbra ignores them. She is now tugging at Pedro’s arm.
“Pedro, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she implores.
Pedro pauses; he gives her a hard, searching look. Finally, he speaks. “I don't know, Barbra, I don't know.” He is amazed at how suddenly his voice sounded. The anger has subsided; the emotion he now feels is one of sadness. Pained sadness. He rubs the corner of one eye and then the other. He blinks.
They have reached the lower end of Escolta and are now near the Puente de España (the “Bridge of Spain”) that crosses the Pasig river, the bridge that connects the north and south sides of Manila.
The carromatas and quelises that have just crossed the bridge are slowing down as they near the corner junction. A slow moving carabao-drawn rig moving out of Escolta has caused some traffic turmoil in its wake. In the sidewalks, feet shuffle endlessly. It is the usual feverish Friday evening shopping galore: thick crowds comb through the shops and stores. Merchants, expectant of earning a killing at the end of the day, are on hand, ever watchful and attentive to the shoppers’ needs and queries. The tumult of noise in the air is made worse by the presence of ambulant vendors--some Chinese, some Tagals—that occupy spots in front of the stores and some lingering along the narrow footpaths. They shout and try to buttonhole shoppers and passersby who, in turn, ward off with slight contempt the vendors’ extended hands. Then, too, vying for attention are some beggars who match, if not rival, the vendors’ obstinacy.
Just a few feet away from where they are standing is the Spanish Hat Store. Pedro shoots a glance at the thick crowd inside the hat store. Then he looks at Barbra. The finest creature he has ever seen in this world. Right there, beside him.
“Would you still want to buy?” Pedro asks in a silent, grave voice. He stuffs his hands inside his trouser pockets.
Barbra peers at the hat store. Pedro returns his gaze at her. He then turns, casting his eyes on the watch store that stands adjacent to the hat store. Above the watch store, a signage hangs, reading:
AMERICAN WALTHAM, SOL & CRONOMETRO VICTORIA
The American Watch
the best in the world
Only Agent for the famous Watches
ALL KINDS OF JEWELLERY
Corner of the Bridge
“I’m now feeling tired, Pedro. Maybe we should leave.”
ESCOLTA IS A narrow, crooked street. Its paved roadway does not go beyond thirty feet; its narrow sidewalk can hardly accommodate more than two people walking side by side.
Escolta is “The Bond Street” of Manila. It is “The Broadway” of Manila. It is “The Fifth Avenue” of Manila. It is in this “fashionable street” where one can find a congregation of the fashionable boutiques, classy millineries, stylish haberdashery stores, high-end emporia, shops that sell articles for the sophisticated and the discerning, drug stores that offer premium quality items. Also along this famed street are the offices or clinics of famous Spanish doctors that offer pricey services, storehouses of stationery, shops that house and sell imported periodicals and books, studios where photograph services are available, and picture and music stores. After exhausting oneself in lavish shopping spree, the shopper can partake in some delectable European- or American-styled dish offered by the finest chefs in town: first class restaurants are just a heartbeat away. Or, he can spend his idle time in some elegant cafés or “wet his whistle” in some neat liquor-rooms or buy some tasteful sweets from confectionaries purposely established for the high-income consumers. Clubhouses for the rich and famous abound in the area, too. Then, too, it is in Escolta where one can find the offices of well-known businessmen or firms.
Where does one get to hear salacious gossips or intrigues of the day, those involving the aristocratic, the landed gentry, the high social class, the upper class, the lordly, the patrician, the blue-blooded? In what place could one get a whiff (or even an earful) of schemes or stratagems of the business tycoons, the industrialists, the moguls, that dictate on, and thus, rule the islands?
Only in Escolta.
It is on Escolta alone where the mighty, powerful, the famous, the legendary, the eminent, the rich, the fashionable, the classy, the trendy, the snobbish, the haughty, the arrogant, the polite, and the humble meet. It is also a magnet for the lowly, the poor, the beggars, and the crippled: for them to set foot on this famed street is to have a taste of heaven.
Escolta in the 19th Century
[Image is courtesy of Clipart ETC/University of South Florida with website at http://etc.usf.edu/clipart]
[File Name: 57445_manila_escol; Description: The City of Manila, or simply Manila, is the capital of the Philippines. Seen here is Escolta Street in Manila; Source: Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper's Ency- clopedia of United States History (vol. 6) (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912); URL link at http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/ 57400/57445/57445_manila_escol.htm]
History is vague as to exactly when Escolta came to exist or how it exactly got its name. Legend has it that the famed street got its name from the Spanish word "escolta," which means an “escort” or a “guard” or a “convoy,” in reference to the “escorts” of the Spanish General (who was quartered in the nearby Santa Cruz headquarters that was attached to the rectory) who passed everyday in the street. Back in the early part of 1842, a U.S. naval officer, Charles Wilkes, who was in the American warship that visited Manila, observed with amusement the outburst of activity he beheld in the “longest and main street” in the Binondo suburb or district, indicative of the vibrant life of Escolta, and thus already in existence, in the early 19th century. In 1856, Escolta was listed in that year’s edition of the Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer, a respected and leading geographical dictionary journal containing a list of geographical names or places in the world published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An Englishman, Sir John Bowring, who came to the islands in 1858, got informed that the average number of vehicles that passed through Escolta daily amounted 915. Some three decades later, the figure quantum-leaped to 5,000 vehicles per day. By then, the European merchants had conquered every nook and cranny of Escolta, forcing their Chinese counterparts to transfer their (the Chinese’s) tiny quaint shops in the parallel Calle Rosario.
Just as Bond Street located in the fashion district of London has been mentioned in some well-known works of literature (among which includes Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway), so does Escolta figure in local literature--in the famous twin novels of national hero Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
When the Americans took possession of the islands, Escolta became even more extragavant and grandiose. The pavement on the road has been much improved, structures have been greatly rebuilt and refurbished, the stores have become even more radiant, resplendent, fascinating and glamorous. It is the sun, the star in the center of Manila’s solar system where all the segments of society revolve. It is the most prominent feature in Manila.
Manila is not Manila without Escolta. Manila is Escolta. Escolta is Manila.
PEDRO HAS JUST left the lobby of the classy movie house in Escolta, the Capitol Theatre. He enjoyed thoroughly the movie, starred in by his granddaughter, Julia Santos, a rising star in the local moviedom. Now in his early seventies, he goes out alone. Though he has considered himself retired from his profession, he still has a trickle of litigation cases that makes him busy for a while. “To prevent my brain from becoming rusty,” he has reasoned out to his daughter, who now lives abroad with her American husband.
His only child, his daughter, Bernadette, has left in his custody her daughter Julia, a lovely 20-year-old lass. Bernadette grew up without a mother, and it was Pedro alone who attended to her from birth up to the time she finished college. She was working in a local bank when she met a client-depositor, an American businessman, who must have fallen in love the instant he laid his eyes on her. From then on, the American began to stalk her, to follow her wherever she went; he stuck to her like her own shadow. Initially, Bernadette feared the American, voicing out to Pedro that the American terrorized her as he would always burst from nowhere and try to talk to her, to be with her. When Pedro came to meet the American, it was then that Pedro understood that the American had good intentions on Bernadette. The American admitted his everlasting, eternal affection for Pedro’s daughter, adding that he was willing to wed Bernadette in any church in the country; heck, if Bernadette wanted that they wed in all the churches in the archipelago, the American would gladly do so.
And so, after a whirlind courtship, the couple got married. Eventually, Bernadette gave birth to a bouncing baby girl with angelic features. After more than a decade of living in Manila, the couple decided to leave for America. Bernadette’s husband had to return there; he was being re-assigned back to their company’s mother office. By then, Julia was already in her late teens; in a year or two, she would be graduating from college. So as not to disrupt Julia's studies, the couple decided to ask Pedro, if he could possibly take custody, and thus, take care of Julia until she finished college. Pedro, still strong and healthy despite his age, willingly agreed.
Early last year, while Pedro and Julia were having some refreshments at Botica Boie along Escolta, someone approached them. He introduced himself and expressed his interest in Julia. Pedro initially took offense. Protective as he was of his granddaughter, he frankly replied to the “rude and fresh and saucy” man (a man with mestizo features who looked already in his 50s) that Julia, his granddaughter, was still too young to entertain suitors. “Back off,” Pedro told the man. The man, flustered, apologized and said he was misunderstood. He fished out a business card from his wallet, and politely told Pedro that he wanted to make Julia a movie star. Pedro suddenly was seized by shame; he read the business card. It was then that he realized the man was the famous Jose Nepomuceno, a movie director and producer, one of the giants in the local movie industry. All this time, Julia was frozen to her feet. She could not believe what she had just heard. After some conversation over some refreshments, Pedro promised that he would give the Jose Nepomuceno a call.
The rest was history. Acting proved to be no tough task for Julia. She is good at it. No, excellent is the correct word. Pedro now acts as Julia’s manager, aside, of course, from his law practice.
Julia has finished his third movie in just one year. From what Pedro is hearing from the showbiz circles, Julia is destined to become one of the biggest stars looming in the horizon.
As he now walks along the sidewalk of Escolta, Pedro becomes suddenly nostalgic. It has been decades since that fateful December evening.
In that classy restaurant, Clarke’s Restaurant. He remembers it too well, the spot where Clarke’s had stood. A new structure is now standing there.
He looks in the distance. Ah there, at the end of Escolta, near the junction. Near that area. The thug. The white man. William Notting. The old man. His father, surrogate father. Were it not for him, he would not be having a favored life now. How destiny, how fate, has been good to him. Did he not owe some gratitude to the thug that tried to mug William Notting? he now wondered. Well, were it not for him. Pedro sighs. William Notting. No, not once did the old man show any anger, any wrath on him. Not even when he found out that he was living in with Barbra.
It was one evening. Notting had waited for him to get back to office. Notting asked him if the rumor Notting had heard was true. Pedro confirmed. Notting blew a whistle. Then Notting began to talk, cool as a cucumber, telling Pedro that it was his life, his decision. It was beyond Notting to interfere in the personal life of others. But as his surrogate father, Notting emphasized, he had this duty to feel concerned about Pedro, to give him some fatherly advice. He said that Pedro should be aware of the consequences that Pedro faced. There was no telling what was in the horizon; only time would tell, Notting said. But Notting made one thing clear: Pedro should leave the office: Notting was certain of the adverse repercussions the law firm faced. Notting, however, exhibited magnanimity. Pedro was free to bring with him the cases he was handling so that Pedro would have something to tide him over in the coming “difficult days” ahead.
Pedro was seized with shame and guilt. For the briefest instant, he thought of jumping out of the window (the office was in the second floor). He wanted to express his thoughts, to tell Notting of the reasons why Pedro chose a life with Barbra. Notting, however, broke him off. It was not necessary, Notting said. Notting then gave Pedro an embrace and wished him luck.
It was the last time Pedro would see Notting.
The next year, Notting’s clients began to dwindle. The upshot of Pedro’s affair with Barbra. It was a pure and simple sexual affair, so condemned the conservative society. The judgment was harsh, the punishment was harsher. One by one, the clients deserted Notting. By the end of the year, only one or two faithful client stayed. No, this could not go on, Notting told himself. The following year, Notting left Manila and went back to America.
It took Pedro months to discard the excessive guilt feelings that tormented him. The anguish, the agony---what had he done? he had asked himself a thousand times. He never heard anymore about the old man, the old white man. He prayed hard, asking for forgiveness. Foregiveness from God. Forgiveness from Notting.
All because of Barbra.
Pedro is now at the corner junction of Escolta, near Plaza Moraga, near the bridge. What before was the Bridge of Spain is now known as Jones Bridge. Pedro looks around. The spot where the American watch store had stood. He could still make out Barbra, her image, her beautiful outline. Her face, the finest creature he had seen. Her voice is still fresh in his ears.
I’m now feeling tired, Pedro. Maybe we should leave.
They were the last words he heard from her.
Her face slices through his mind again...
Shattered into the sudden realization of his loss of Barbra, Pedro found himself thrust in a state of dysphoria.
After getting some medical advice, and after some counselling from the nuns, Pedro found courage to live his life. He took his daughter from the convent and moved on.
It was a new life for him and his daughter. He vowed to spend all his time and attention and energy to their child, whom he named Bernadette. He had tried to find another woman, to marry and have a companion. But he never did. And he never found the reason why. But despite all this, he found genuine happiness in rearing Bernadette. A joy in his life.
A favored life.
Indeed, it has been a good life, he has told himself countless of times. With Bernadette, and now, with Julia. He could not have asked for more.
Pedro keeps looking around. The usual crowd. Topsy-turvy. Disorderly. Escolta. The beehive of activity. The place where the action is. After a minute, he decides to walk, back to where he has come from. There it is. His car. Rather, his granddaughter’s brand new car. A sporty two-door two-tone (green and white) 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. It was given by the movie producer as part of Julia's professional fee. Parked in front of the Capitol Theatre. As he now drives the car out of Escolta, he is still nostalgic. Escolta will forever be imprinted on his mind. Escolta was his life. It is his life. He is now in the twilight of his life. But Escolta, vibrant as it is, will live, he now tells himself. Escolta. Vivacious. Pulsating. He knows deep in his heart that Escolta will live long. It has lived through the centuries. It will live through the coming centuries. As long as Manila is there, Escolta will likewise be there. As long as there is effervescent life in Manila, there will likewise be a sparkling, bubbly life in Escolta.
THE ROARING TWENTIES. A decade of affluence. The economic boom in America stretched beyond its shores. Being an American territory, the Philippines was a logical recipient of the beneficent American prosperity.
Manila flourished under the favorable conditions of the time.
In no other place could this be evident than in Escolta, the nucleus of Manila’s life. The control center. The shops, the stores, the cafés, the saloons, the restaurants, the drug stores. The big offices. The clubhouses. The daily life. The nightlife. The flashy, trendy clothes, shoes, the bags, the hats, and other personal accessories. The outburst of new products and technologies, like the radios and the phonographs.
And the automobiles.
Along Escolta’s edge were parked expensive and gaudy automobiles imported from America. A show of wealth and might by the opulent and flamboyant rich and powerful. They were the regular hoipolloi of the famed street. It was there where they forged huge business deals, fashioned business enterprises, planned the future of their riches and other wordly possessions. It was there where they huffed and puffed after an endless shopping spree, indulged in endless bragging, traded scandalous gossips, lounged the day away, loafed away their lives, bummed around, stagnated in boredom.
Though in the Thirties, America succumbed to the “great depression,” in Manila, no economic downturn of such magnitude was felt. Manila continued to enjoy its good life. And so did Escolta.
Along Escolta, a high class cinematograph theatre was built, the Capitol Theatre. And a host of other modern earthquake-proof structures were built on both sides of the famed street.
In the Forties, a desvatating war raged across the globe. Suddenly, Manila woke up one morning to find its life in the throes of an impending demise. Escolta still throbbed with activity, though under the close watch of the distrustful eyes of the Japanese invaders.
Then came the day of liberation. The endless American bombing of Manila to pulverize the ruthless Japanese army left the city with death and destruction. It was in ruins. No one was spared, not even Escolta.
Determined to rise from the ashes of the war, Manila spent the next half decade of the Forties rebuilding itself.
By the time the Fifties arrived, a resurging Manila pulsated with a vigorous life, with a vibrant hue.
A rebuilt Escolta was casting off a vivid and bright light again.
When the Sixties came, a new generation came. The “Swinging Sixties”. The “High Sixties”. The “cultural decade”. The effects of the significant events that took place around the globe were felt in the Philippines. Especially in the fashion trends. The rock and roll music, the Beatles. The hippie movement. The mini-skirt. The hairdos. The movies.
On the local political front, a self-proclaimed war hero, who topped the bar exams some decades ago while reviewing in jail, notched the highest position in the land. He would steer the nation, as the events later showed, in the depths of the abyss. In the next two decades that followed, the nation would earn the appellation “The Sick Man of Asia.”
Little did everyone expect that the famed street Escolta was itself starting to feel the symptons of a “sick man” during the twilight of the “Swinging Sixties.”
By the advent of the Seventies, the marshlands, the morass, the wetlands that adjoined Manila were being transformed into residential and commercial lands. The rise of modern structures in these quondam wastelands spelled a shift of activity, of attention. No longer did Escolta have a monopoly of power: it was fast losing its grip on the rich, the powerful, and even on the commoners, the working class, the great unwashed. The symptoms were progressing.
In the Eighties, Escolta had started to become really sick: it was already the “sick man” of Manila. One by one, the shops, the stores, etc., were closing up; the big businesses were transfering their offices elsewhere (notably in the new business or financial district, the Makati area). People were finding the Escolta area old and outdated and dull. In the last moments of the decade, the famed street was gasping for breath.
In the Nineties, Escolta had become a virtual ghost town. Though there still remained some offices or establishments on each side of the famed street, they no longer bore resemblance to anything powerful or mighty.
At the turn of the 21st century, Escolta remained a ghost of its former self.
Nowadays, one can still see some flurry of activity along Escolta. Aside from some run of the mill business offices and small time cafés and fastfood restaurants located there, there are street vendors that pass through it. Some banks and pawnshops are also there. Then there is a school. A drugstore has opened a branch there. Some convenience stores occupy the corner blocks. There is still a clothing store which you can visit, an ukay-ukay store that offers secondhand or used clothes imported from China. Along the sidewalks, you might stumble upon some makeshift stalls which sell cigarettes and candies or which offer shoe shine polish or duplicate key services. Then there are vagrants or beggars loitering around. And also, cars, passenger-type jeepneys, motorcycles and pedicabs can be seen parked along Escolta’s edge.
Where can you find the lost grandeur of Escolta?
Try to spend a little time in front of the computer screen and try to “Google” it. There you will find Escolta, romanticised in a number of blogs or blogsites, the personal websites of those who were fortunate enough to have tasted the magnificence, the splendor of the famed street in its glory days.
Escolta, right now, is a state of mind. Just a state of mind.**