Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Revenge at the Pasig River

“Hurry Lucrezia, it’s low tide. Manong (our chef) is going to make the most heavenly clam soup,” cried out cousin Heinzie.

The swift currents of the Pasig came up to her ankles. It was difficult to stand on the riverbed. Countless tahong clams had attached themselves to flat oval stones. She scooped up a handful.

“Who wants pandanus baskets for the clams?" asked Satya, one of their Sikh bodyguards.

Always adventurous, seven year old Lucrezia lay down among the circular pebbles.

“Ooh! I can see tiny blue and red fish swimming around me. I love it. They are kissing me softly on my head and feet,” she exclaimed.

She had an ascendancy over most of her cousins because she was tall, bright and beautiful. Nine children plopped down on the water oohing and aahing. It was captivating to be spread eagled in the limpid waters of the Pasig River.

Casa Rizalina, their Grandmother’s historic Filipino mansion in Tanay was a thirty-meter walk. It was a picturesque town with clean air, golden sunshine, and not a concrete house in sight. The green hills of Tanay cascaded into the streams and tributaries of the Pasig in Rizal province, two hours by car from Manila.

“I’d better gather as many tahong as I can. The tide’s not coming in till dusk, but I don’t want to ruin the magic just yet

“Come! There are huge silverfish here,” yelled cousin Freckie some distance away from them, hidden among the tall bamboo trees.

Trust pestiferous Freckie to do that
All the cousins jumped up and ran towards him. ”Show us,” they cried out.

I’m staying. I enjoy these moments alone with nature.

”Don’t tarry Lucrezia. Your bag will overflow with tahong just the same where the milkfish are swarming,” said Satya.

"I’ll be right behind you," she replied. She slid from pebble to pebble filling her hands with tahong and slowly letting them fall into the bag. The sound of the rushing streams reminded her of a symphony of crickets.

She heard enraged men shouting and cursing from the opposite bank. Their prey, a man with nothing but a hemp loincloth staggered into the stream. His chest heaved from the exertion. He ran past her and the crimson water from his torn feet splattered her.

I’ve never seen such large beads of sweat. He is grunting as loudly as a pig, poor man.

The hunters close held bolos, parangs, and krises. She recognized them; people from Tanay and friends of Grandmother Esperanza.

“Did you see the man? Where did he go?” She pointed towards the left in silence

“Makapili! Surrender! The animas cannot rest until they are avenged. Wala kang pag-asa.” You have no hope.

I know what Makapili means. Everyone does. They are the ones who betrayed Filipinos, Americans and Europeans to the Japanese during the war. Makapili turned in Great Uncle Alcibiades and other friends and relatives of our clan including babies. We never saw them again.

The Makapili threw himself before Lucrezia. He clasped his hands as if in prayer and sobbed "Patawarin, Patawarin.” Forgive me.

She froze on the spot. A twisted knife ran through her spine.

He is a wicked man. I pity him. Would I help him if I had the power? I don’t know.

Two men approached him from behind. One beheaded him with the Kris so ferociously his head flew upwards. The other caught it in midair and placed it inside a large hemp basket. In silence, they bowed and placed their hands over their hearts before Lucrezia. Then without a glance at his headless corpse they walked away.

A stunned Lucrezia walked like an automaton to her Grandmother’s mansion. Her family sat in animated conversation in the veranda.

"I just saw a Makapili beheaded," she announced loudly,

“Where Nina?” asked her grandmother meeting her mother’s gaze.

"In the stream not far from Casa Rizalina where we gather all the tahong.”

“We must recite novenas to Saint Jude Thaddeus. That poor wretch will need all the help he can get," declared my grandmother.

“Who is Saint Jude Thaddeus?”

“He was a cousin and an Apostle of Jesus. When we need help in missions which are impossible we pray to him," Camilla, Lucrezia’s mother told her.

“Indeed, Saint Jude is the Patron Saint of the hopeless and the helpless,” affirmed my grandmother.

We recited the novena for the repose of the soul of the Makapili, Herminio Cruz every afternoon for thirty days.

I never thought about it again until the day I revisited Tanay twenty years later.

The crystal waters of the stream had turned murky. Cholera and typhoid lurked relentlessly. The tahong were now an endangered species.

“The beheading of the Makapili, which you witnessed, took place in 1946, long before you were born. We never spoke about it. It must have been a sighting or a vision on your part,” revealed my aunt Allegra.

I began to weep for all the dead that had passed through my life and would continue to do so for as long as I lived. They all enriched me in some way.

“We are all endowed with various degrees of prescience, my Lucrezia. Your mother, Dahlia and I have it. Your grandmother has powerful friends from the spirit world. The tycoon Don Cesar read people like books. Your paternal grandmother Zorayda conversed with beings from other dimensions. Because of our wealth people call us eccentric. Never mind. Our gifts are to be used only for the good of our family and clan. They are never to be revealed to outsiders,” murmured Aunt Dahlia enfolding me in her arms.

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