Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fray Paco Goes to the Office

The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 3: Don Alcibiades - the Banker
Chapter 3: Fray Paco Goes to the Office

Don Alcibiade opened his eyes to the jangling “cocka-doodle-doo” of the tone-deaf rooster Dona Ibon had brought from her family’s hacienda in Batangas. Every day he cursed the rooster silently.

Why can’t someone teach him to sing on pitch? Couldn’t he hear the other roosters? What do the chickadees think about that? He can’t be much of a success with the females, that’s a fact. Who ever heard of a rooster who couldn’t get his cocka-doodle-doos right?

Then Don Alcibiade would calm down and consider: How many human beings had he run across who had such an inventive, shocking, colorful vocabulary to match Fray Paco’s? Besides, he never complained to Dona Ibon or to anyone in his household about any thing concerning her family. It was a sensible thing to do. Batanguenos were known for their fiery tempers; that’s why the Spanish army had garrisons in Pampanga. They had not only tasted their sharp tongues, some of them had lost their necks. The Americans followed the example of the Spanish after their foolish soldiers had seen legs, arms, heads fly with a swish of their bolos (particularly-shaped machetes). The banker made a slow careful sign of the Cross after his silent curse and said two quick Pater Nosters, one for forgiveness and the other to ward off the buisit, the negative forces brought on by the hoarse rooster who could not sing in tune.

Don Alcibiade was filled with excitement. After a cold shower, which left him stimulated and ready to face Fray Paco, he was going to breakfast on two duck’s eggs (hardboiled and salted), pieces of calamansi and chunks of cut guava mixed with acacia honey plus two cups of strong chocolate. He liked to see two hot cups of chocolate on the table, which he would drink in tandem, the one on his right would be picked up by his right hand, the cup on his left by his left hand. His future father-in-law had questioned his only daughter Dona Ibon about this puzzling habit but Dona Ibon’s mother, a strong-willed Batanguena, had wanted the match so she explained to her husband before Dona Ibon could innocently reveal that with a dirty talking bird with the name of a priest and a Saint as an exalted member of the Ortigas Nieto clan anything was possible … “he’s always in a hurry, his family own banks, ships and I don’t know what else. The young man works very hard, his only luxury is courting our daughter.”

Today he would bring Fray Paco to the Banco Hispano- Filipino, into his narra paneled office in Intramuros and then to the wild Pansiteria Wak Nam.

Don Alcibiade had awakened resolutely at the cry of the gallo (rooster) around 4:00am, putting the household into a spin, to sneak Fray Paco into his office before any of the employees entered the bank and certainly before the clients walked in to deposit their palanca (a colloquial Spanish low-life expression for dinero or money).

“Why are you sneaking Fray Paco like a thief in the dawn into our own bank?” Dona Ibon asked, as she tried to be dainty drinking from her porcelain cup of Arabica coffee with both of her diamond-studded hands.

“Because, my dear,” Don Alcibiade slowly replied, “if Fray Paco came in all his absolute and complete mad glory during working hours we (and he accented the we) are going to lose at least 30 minutes of work between the Ooohs, Eees, and Aaahs.”

“How did your uncle do it?” Dona Ibon queried, still holding her cup with both hands.

Uncle Torquato had the attendants smuggle him through the building next door, which we don’t own but which we hold the mortgage. Then Januario and Severo would carry the beast all the way to the azotea (a terrace on the top of buildings). All the buildings in Intramuros are connected through the azoteas.”

Dona Ibon tried to keep a straight face as she did not wish to disrupt her husband’s composure - Don Alcibiade was a stickler for la bella figura - yet the thought of Fray Paco rattling and raving in the loudest voice he could muster (“it could drown out ten drunken Marines,” Uncle Cesar bragged) “Hola! Hola! Hijos de la Gran Chingada” Hello, Hello, children of the Great Fuck, to the clients and customers as they primly and properly queued up to deposit their hard-earned pesos was too difficult to resist and she spat out her coffee as she started to giggle and shake with barely suppressed laughter.

Don Alcibiade looked at his wife with glee, having read her thoughts. “Now do you understand why I have to steal furtively into our own bank by 5:30 this morning?”

Fray Paco had never been in a car. Uncle Torquato was frugal (“That’s why he’s so rich,” people would whisper) and used calesas (horse and carriage). “We have to be prepared for any eventuality. Don’t worry, my dear, everything is under control. Gracias a Dios Tirso is a careful driver.”

Dona Ibon said a prayer in her mind. ”Have a fruitful day,” she told her husband.

“I’ll tell you every detail when I come home for dinner. My dear,” Don Alcibiade smiled confidently, “everything will be fine.”

Don Alcibiade understood his wife’s concern. He had been gifted with an almost unfailing intuition, which he followed without too much introspection. He didn’t know exactly what would happen, but it would definitely be interesting.

A sprightly take-charge Esperanza was waiting for her uncle in her small comedor (the dining room used every day). She was drinking hot chocolate from cacao beans, which were harvested in the Batangas hacienda of Dona Ibon’s family. Dona Ibon gave the chocolate to all her panguinge-playing friends. Esperanza was smoking a small Tabacalera cigar and holding it in her left hand. She was dressed in a rather short dress (it showed her knees) made of pina. The child Matthias was with her.

As Don Alcibiade walked past the orchid-jumbled veranda, he heard Fray Paco chattering gaily. So far, so good, he thought. He asked Macario, the majordomo, “Is Fray Paco in a good mood?”
“He’s always in a good mood until someone says something that upsets him.”

“Like what?” the banker retorted.

“Quien sabe? Who knows, he shrugged.
“Is Fray Paco talking to himself?”

“Oh yes, Sir, he often likes to do that even when people are around him.”

“What are you doing up so early? You should be in bed,” Uncle Alcibiade said as he walked into the comedor and spotted his great-nephew sitting next to his mother. Esperanza stood up with the small cigar still in her hand.

“When we were young, we never smoked in front of our elders,” Don Alcibiade began.

“You smoked behind their backs! Oh, Tio! Don’t be so old-fashioned. These are the Roaring Twenties,” Esperanza replied, as she gave her uncle a peck on his hand. Matt went toward his great Uncle, bowed his head and put his head to his great uncle’s proffered hand as a sign of respect.

“Good morning, Tio,” Esperanza said, blue eyes shining brightly. We had Moros en la costa last night, and inclined her hand towards her son.

“Chiquito, were you the only one out there listening?” the banker asked his great nephew seriously.

“Oh, yes, Uncle. No one was spying except me.”

He liked the direct simplicity of the child. “Try not to do it again, will you?” the uncle asked, knowing that the child would do it again.

When Don Alcibiade was Matt’s age, he also used to eavesdrop. He learned the most intriguing facts about the family, their friends, enemies and current world events. Then he became interested in girls, went away to the University and became involved in his career.

What a great pity! There is a gap in my knowledge. We’ll have to do something about it, he thought.

“Let’s get started,” Esperanza interrupted his meanderings. “I’m going to check on Fray Paco and this hakot (move).” Esperanza left the room briefly to coordinate the trek.

“By the way, chiquillo, why were you spying on us?” Uncle Alcibiade asked disarmingly.
“I was curious and I like Fray Paco,” the child stated.

“Matt,” his mother reminded him as she re-entered the room, “try not to like ese loco Fray Paco (that crazy Fray Paco) too much.

I am only his temporary guardian until Uncle Torquato comes back.”

Matt sighed sadly. “Then Fray Paco will go back to live in Uncle Torquato’s home?”

“Yes, hijo, and it can’t be too soon if you ask me,” his mother said.

Fray Paco was being carried on a twelve-inch perch (not his usual one) but Januario had made a makeshift one which would fit into the Model T Ford. The two yayos would accompany Don Alcibiade. The word yayo was invented by Matt from the Filipino word yaya (nanny), which was really Hindi for Ayah. Yayo would stay in the family and other families would use it as the masculine equivalent of yaya.

Fray Paco looked solemn. He was rarely quiet.

What a strange looking procession, Uncle Alcibiade thought. But then, to him, all processions were eerie, his father having been an anarchist, every one in the family murmured in toleration and understanding.

“Let’s see,” Uncle Alcibiade suggested, as they all walked single-file to the car. “I’ll sit next to Tirso, the yayos in the back with Fray Paco on his perch across them.”

“Tio, Fray Paco will get bored looking at the back of your head the whole time. That won’t work!” Esperanza articulated.

‘It certainly won’t, hija. I don’t want to be stabbed through the nape of my neck! What then?” puzzled Don Alcibiade.

“Januario, who’s the thinnest, should sit in front next to Tirso with Fray Paco on his lap. Tirso will drive ever so slowly and Fray Paco will enjoy the view.”

Don Alcibiade did not bring up the topic of Fray Paco being bored and slicing through skinny Januario’s private parts as they drove slowly to Intramuros. “What about me?” he asked instead.
“No problem, Tio. Just climb in the back seat with Severo. It’s simple and pronto.”

“Climb?” That was the correct word. Don Alcibiade declared, chagrined, “It’s too small.”
“Then the yayos can squeeze in front with el loco Fray Paco between them. Vale?”

Uncle Alcibiade looked embarrassed. “I am going to use muscles I haven’t used in thirty years. If you ever report what you are about to see, Esperanza, I won’t leave you anything in my will.”

“Tio please don’t be dramatic. Just try to be flexible, relax, and we’ll find another solution tomorrow.”

“Like what?”

Matthias giggled. His mother gave him a “if looks could kill” expression. “I don’t know yet, Uncle. You’ll think of something; you always do.” She tried to act naturally as her uncle, major shareholder of the Banco Hispano-Filipino, a figure of dignitas, as the ancient Romans called it, squeezed inch by inch into the backseat.

“Ooomf! Harumph! Harumph!”

“Are you comfortable, Tio?” Esperanza realized it was not an intelligent question.
“I’m inside by some miracle. It’s not so bad.”

“Is everybody ready?” Don Alcibiade queried, with his field-marshal-back-in-charge tone.
“Yes, Sir!” affirmed Tirso.

“Here we go guys!” charged Don Alcibiade.

“Vaya con Dios, Tio,” waved Esperanza and little Matt.

A voiceless Fray Paco watched in awed silence as the lights and lamps of Manila flickered. He watched buildings and trees passing by. In some deep recesses of his mind, he remembered (faintly now) flying like a messenger of the gods, the winged Mercury, to swoop down on a sparrow, a baby rabbit, mice, hapless wild hens and small snakes. The scenery in the forest was beautiful, but monotonous - the same tall trees reaching up, up, up into the sky; the damp, rainy forest, constantly wet and moist. His coat was always shiny. Every one there was out to get you. Men were trying to catch you for big bucks, starving tribesmen looking for a quick meal, poachers who would kill you for your feathers so a frumpy cow of a woman could wear a silly hat. The worst were his cousins, the eagles, the hawks and peregrine falcons - they were relentless! They had slain his parents.

Fray Paco had never seen the scene unfold so slowly before his eyes. The noise was coming from this strange looking carriage. It was going rrrr, rrrr, rrrr instead of klip, klop, klop. Where were the horses? He could see in front of him. When he turned his head to the right, beyond the yayos, he could see buildings, coconut trees, and tall palm trees. When he turned toward his left, there was this man turning something round and round, and beyond that, the sounds of the sea. Fray Paco was so captivated, he did not open his beak. He was having the greatest fun!

“Ha!” thought Don Alcibiade, “just as I surmised. You are tongue-tied. A pity this had to be a covert operation, or I would have wagered thousands of pesos on you with the cousins.”
“Sir, we are here,” informed Tirso, stepping out of the car to open Don Alcibiade’s door.

“Gracias a Dios, without any incident. Bravo! Bravo!” Don Alcibiade thundered. He slithered ever so slowly out of the backseat and he leaned a bit on Tirso to step out.

“Where to, Jefe? (Boss)” Tirso asked.

He turned around to see the yayos Januario and Severo carrying an inquisitive Fray Paco. “To my private office on the second floor. Did you bring his padded abaca restraints?” the banker asked Fray Paco’s attendants.

Tirso was holding the restraints. “Here they are.”

Don Alcibiade had never been to the bank at 5:30 in the morning! The Sikh guard, Madanjeet, had been on his rounds when he heard voices out in front of the building. He had come running to investigate. Madanjeet was an intimidating sight. He towered over Don Alcibiade and his retinue, Tirso, Januario and Severo. “With his moustache and turbaned head and his brown kurta and kameez, he had the physique du role of a movie star,” reasoned Don Alcibiade.

“Good morning, my good Madanjeet,” Don Alcibiade voiced, “would you carry this apparition called Fray Paco into my private office?”

The handsome Sikh guard Madanjeet took Fray Paco’s perch from the two yayos who were introduced to him as “Fray Paco’s yayas and attendants, Januario and Severo and, of course, you know Tirso.”

He smiled and said, “Namaste,” the greeting of peace in Sanskrit, though Madanjeet as a Sikh would speak Punjabi.

Don Alcibiade, his heart in his throat, prayed, “Please, please don’t let Fray Paco tell Madanjeet to fuck his filthy mother, get his throat cut or catch leprosy or something equally horrifying.”

“I saw one like him in Bombay once,” Madanjeet said, looking at Fray Paco with his kajal-rimmed eyes. “The poor bird lived in the temple with his sad guru. I felt so much pity for him.”

Don Alcibiade asked, “Was the bird very talkative like Fray Paco?”

“No, someone had cut off his tongue and because his guru had taught him prayers which they disapproved of, the guru’s tongue was cut off too.”

“Dios mio!” Don Alcibiade was outraged. “Did you hear that?” he asked Fray Paco, who kept mum and kept looking at his surroundings. “Aren’t we all fortunate to be living here?” he asked.
Every one agreed. Fray Paco assented, “Por Dios, hombre, si” and they all laughed as Madanjeet carried Fray Paco into Don Alcibiade’s office. Don Alcibiade noticed how adept and strong Madanjeet was in handling Fray Paco’s perch, the never ending jangling of massive keys, conversing with him in Spanish and how many other languages did he speak? he wondered.
Manila was such a melting pot, Don Alcibiade concluded.

El loco Fray Paco que es un sabeme lo todo (the crazy Fray Paco who is a know-it-all) stared back at Don Alcibiade, an inquisitive look in his sharp brown eyes. Januario and Severo had found a round metal pipe nearly a meter long, about three inches wide. They covered the pipe with abaca hemp rope and attached the pipe to nails they had hammered to the ceiling. It was placed diagonally across Don Alcibiade’s desk. In a few minutes, Fray Paco had discovered the pipe could swing; he could turn himself over upside down, his talons firmly clasping the rope.
The Sikh guard Madanjeet asked the attendants if he could sometimes feed Fray Paco mangoes.

“Sure,” they answered, looking at Don Alcibiade, “he pigs out on mangoes.”

“He has no teeth so he can’t bite the hand that feeds him,” stated the banker with humor.
“Dogs bite the hand that feeds them all the time,” said the Sikh guard.

“See here, dogs are not as clever as Fray Paco,” the banker replied. “Take away his appalling, repulsive and disgusting language and he’ll be a regular nice fella.”

Do you mean that? his inner voice queried. Certainly not. I like Fray Paco because he is not boring, respectable, mediocre or hypocritical, Don Alcibiade told himself.

He was alone with Fray Paco, who was gracefully doing somersaults, minding his own business, and ignoring Don Alcibiade.

“Hola, chico! Que tal, hombre?” he greeted Fray Paco. I’m el Jefe, the Boss. My name is Alcibiade as you know because we have been acquainted since I was 18 years old.
El loco Fray Paco continued turning around over and over, oblivious to the banker.

“It isn’t important,” the banker said out loud, “just don’t go decent on me when prized customers come, is that agreed? This is a bank, Fray Paco, not a church. People should feel cozy. That’s why I brought you here, so you can help me out.” Don Alcibiade paused. The blooming cockatoo was listening! He was very still, waiting for the next word from the banker. “Should I get closer? Better not invade his space; I don’t know him as well as Uncles Cesar and Torquato did and he doesn’t know me either, you’re strangers, right?”

These thoughts came quickly to Don Alcibiade. He stayed put. “Look, amigo. I know this place is not like the opium dens, fantan parlors and whorehouses, I’m sorry, bordellos and savage bars you got used to.”

Fray Paco was still eyeing him. “Is that a grin or are you grim?” He went on. “I also know this office is not like Uncle Cesar’s study, with all the expensively bound books, and it certainly is not your tranquil and serene jungle room. Allow me to summarize. It’s not like the pious Uncle Torquato’s library or the Quiapo courtyard, and finally, dear Fray Paco, it’s not the veranda choked with orchids of my niece Esperanza and the naughty but nice great nephew Matthias in your makeshift abode, ok! Don’t get me wrong; most of your family were not so blessed as you. In fact, you and I are both blessed. A large part of humanity lies in misery. That is not a good thing. That is, in fact, unacceptable. Can you or I do something about it? Quien sabe, Fray Paco? We’ll discuss that some other time. Enough speeches for one day. Phew!” Don Alcibiade stopped. Fray Paco was still gazing at him. The banker thought he saw some sympathy flash through his ever alert eyes. He reached for his Havana cigar, opened the silver match box on his desk, struck the match against a raw piece of kamagong wood he kept on his desk for that purpose, huffed on his cigar as the match touched the unlit end and spoke through the cigar. “Aah! Querido Fray Paco, every man thinks God is on his side before a battle, only the victors know He was on their side after the battle has been won. Is that not so?”

“Hola Don Alcibide, Don Jefe. Hello Don Alcibide, Don Boss. Tutto e vero. Everything is true. Tabaco! Tabaco!

“Bravo!Fray Paco,” Don Alcibiade was so thrilled he choked on his cigar smoke and coughed and sputtered loudly.

Yes! This was going to be a very interesting day indeed.

The banker had left word with Tirso to inform Miss Naomi Javier, his private secretary, of Fray Paco’s presence, particularly the fact that Fray Paco delighted in vocally abusing women, howling and hurling wolf whistles at them (on his good days). He had a litany on his bad days, which the banker could safely swear Miss Javier had never heard nor would she ever hear them in her lifetime unless Fray Paco exposed her to those words.

Miss Naomi Javier, or Miss Javier as the banker called her, was in her late twenties (he guessed), industrious, bright, good natured, took good dictation, typed excellently, and was nice to look at. What more could a boss ask for? She was also very correct, never flirted with him - that quality alone Don Alcibiade found priceless.

1 comment:

  1. Buon giorno, Isabella,

    I came to the end of this chapter too soon! I wanted it to go on and on. You have a knack of making the smallest incidents become important, and the reader really gets involved in the action.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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