Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lucrezia's Best Buddy

The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 5: The Indomitable Lucrezia
Chapter 2. Lucrezia’s Best Buddy

I know I’m supposed to have an invisible angel looking after me. It must be very powerful to protect me the way it did on the day of the ambush in Montalban. No. I must never forget Montalban or avoid using other words in place of it. I am curious to know why my guardian angel proved to be stronger than the others? Why was my angel so strong and who gave my angel that strength?

“Nena! Nena!” rasped Fray Paco.

She smiled, blew him kisses and replied in a whisper. I was brooding over the Massacre Fray Paco. I need to do that to know more about what really took place. I must make myself remember every detail.

His intense dark as brown velvet eyes looked into her blue eyes. “Lucre, you arrr not okay,” he pronounced softly.

“No Fray Paco, I am not, but I want you to know that you make me smile and laugh. You comfort me. And that means so much to me right now."

And so in the trying days and weeks after the ambush, Fray Paco became Lucrezia’s most trusted confidante – the only one she conversed with verbally.

Fray Paco was a rare white cockatoo with a majestic three-plumed white-as-fresh-snow crest. He was now close to who knew exactly? 75 years? 90 years? It was a mystery. Over the years he had become ever more feisty, smart-ass, irreverent and rapier tongued.

“Fray Paco is more intelligent than most people,” Lucrezia told her incredulous classmates at the College of the Holy Ghost.

“That’s silly Lucrezia, we all know German Shepherds and big poodles are smart, but chimpanzees are the smartest,” said Hazel categorically.

“That’s just it. We don’t know because cockatoos like Fray Paco have not been studied by scientists, ” retorted Lucrezia with finality in her voice.

“Why ever not," Anne Marie demanded to know.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it sometime,” replied Lucrezia.

She studied Fray Paco closely. His talons clicked –clicked on the narra floor of her bedroom. She placed a thick woolen cloth across her shoulder and gave herself three pats. That was his signal. He flew up and alighted on her shoulder.

Fray Paco had definitely not mellowed with age. That was for human beings and other mediocrities and insignificant creatures, she reflected.

He had lived with the Ortigas clan since 1907 when Don Alci (as Fray Paco had called Don Alcibiade, the banker) found him chained to an ylang ylang tree during the nightmare typhoon on New Year’s Eve. After a tumultuous introduction, it had been love and camaraderie at first sight between the Tycoon Don Cesar and the cockatoo Fray Paco.

Since the end of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in February 1946, Fray Paco enjoyed several hours of conversation and dialogue every day with friends and family. He made his social rounds in Santol Mansion, Dona Esperanza’s house. When the topics and especially the people bored him to hysteria, he would head back to his jungle room.

“Adios Muchachos. Talk is very shitty boring.”

Fray Paco, as a rule, did not like children and he avoided them when he worked a room.

They are too unruly, boisterous, and badly brought up. Not more than pesky insects if you ask me. They always try and fail to out yell me and worse than that Porca Madonna! Those creatures try to steal my thunder. Their goal is to take the center of attention away from me. How dare they? With the Life I have led. With all that I had seen and heard? With every disaster, calamity and misfortune that I have been through? The only child I am fond of and deign to visit is Lucrezia, thought Fray Paco.

Dona Esperanza had observed this phenomenon when Lucrezia was six months old. She had given Fray Paco the most beatifically dimpled smile he had ever seen in his long life.

“Hola! Nena” he screeched with pure joy at her joy. Before anyone could make a move, Fray Paco flew towards Lucrezia and pecked her the sweetest kiss on her big toe. Lucrezia squealed, giggled and laughed. Amah Ah Wei remained frozen and then broke into chuckles of relief. When Lucrezia was 2 years old, Fray Paco put his fearsome beak on her lips and kissed her. He tickled her earlobes with his beak, taking care not to scratch her. Lucrezia’s ears were pierced and she often wore small pearls or diamonds. Sometimes he would bellow “Guapa!” (Beautiful) when she wore a particularly splendid party dress.

Fray Paco turned into her best critic when Lucrezia started piano lessons at the age of three.

“Aaach!” he bellowed when she hit a wrong note and when she made a mistake. He complimented her with “ Brava Lucre” when she played well.

Dona Esperanza and the older members of the clan linked the child’s aplomb, presence, intelligence, and strong will to that of the Tycoon, Don Cesar.

“I think we can say with absolute certainty that the principal reason why Fray Paco took to Lucrezia immediately is that she has been gifted with the natural charisma which, Don Cesar had possessed in abundance,” said she.

“Mama, are you not yourself on the Charismatic Ortigas Nieto List together with Don Alcibiade and now Lucrezia?” pointed out her good and kindhearted son Matthias.

“True enough Matthias. But aren’t you forgetting the bond between you and Fray Paco which was forged during your early adolescence?”

“Ah yes Mama. I shall always remember those lovely and naughty years, which I shared with Fray Paco. I learnt more from him than he from me I’m afraid.”

Lucrezia reminds me of Papa Cesar and of all the memorable and marvelous adventures we lived and experienced. I can see Don Alci - Don Alcibiade the Banker, in her mischievous nature. How I miss him and the bank’s beautiful office by the sea in Intramuros. Don Torquato was a loving man who taught me the entire Pater Noster ad other prayers to Jesus. I don’t know if I shall ever see them again. I think they, like my parents dropped their bodies and their spirits flew away.

The Panciteria Wak Nam I have not lost and it has not been taken away from me. How I love Don Wak Nam. He must be very old, maybe as old as I? Everything that came before is mostly dead. Nevermore will all the marvelous adventures come back. Lucre is forceful and willful just like Papa Cesar was. She is going to grow up to be a taller version of Espe (Dona Esperanza) and carve new milestones.

The past was dead but it was never quite laid to rest in the Ortigas Nieto clan. They looked back continuously, reminisced about it endlessly, commemorated their dead with sacral devotion and yet … and yet … they Ortigas Nieto clan lived very much in the Now and created project after project in their homes and businesses as if they would never die.

I am attracted to all animals and I am aware that I have a way of communicating with them. Fray Paco fascinates me the most because he is bright and he talks back. He is never at a loss for words. I think he is a democratic creature. He doesn’t care how important or rich a person is, if they utter stupidities he tells them.

Dogs were sweet; cats fun, monkeys sneaky, and horses regal, but none of them are as multi-talented as Fray Paco. No one is freer spirited and independent than Fray Paco. He is like my grandmother and I suppose I am taking on some of his traits. Our souls must have met before somewhere in the Universe.

Fray Paco flew into Lucrezia’s room to give her his morning kisses and coos. She was sitting at her desk with the sheet music of Muzio Clementi’s Sonatina in A minor before her. Her long fingers followed the notes on the narra wood. Fray Paco alighted on the desk and began his playful greetings. In between caresses he winked at Lucrezia and cracked, “Hola! Kid. Amorrcito, amorrcito. No okay?” He repeated, “No okay? Why?”

Fray Paco was a polyglot. When he came into Don Cesar’s life and into the Ortigas clan, he cursed and blasphemed in Latin, Castilian, Italian, and Portuguese. The pirate and bandit Don Pedro de Freitas, had acquired Fray Paco from the head-hunting Naya tribe on the island of Nias. The warrior Kanango had captured him in the rain forest after stalking him for 29 days. The Naya considered cockatoos such as Fray Paco their God Belisanko’s favorite. It was a rite of passage to hunt and seize the Cokatua.

Lord Tung Lok, warlord and head of a secret society had coveted the best talking bird money could buy. He had been the true instigator of Fray Paco’s capture. Lord Tung Lok also had important dealings with the Li Chen Chi Society, a secret Triad group from Southern China, which controlled the opium trade in Asia. The cockatoo had picked up the most colorful Chinese profanities in the opium parlors and in the bordellos in the Chinatown sections of Manila, Guangdong and Fujian.

England, France, Russia and the United States governed and administered the coastal cities of China. Shanghai was the jewel in their opium crown. The Chinese, in their own country, were not allowed to live where they chose. Most of them were kept in forcefully defined areas called “Chinatown,” “the ghetto,” or the areas known as "Sang leys", from a coarse generic expression in the vast Chinese underworld.

The Spanish colonizers in the Philippines called then sang-leis. When America took the country disregarding the objections of the masses they created an alliance with certain groups of sang-leis in the province of Cavite which lay just across Manila Bay, less than 30 minutes away by a motorized boat and 60 minutes by banca. They established a naval base at the point where Cavite meets the bay and called it Sangley Point. The inhabitants of Cavite were an exotic blend of Filipino and Chinese - dexterous with money as well as with the Filipino martial arts known as Esgrima Kali and the ever-present Kung Fu.

The Tycoon Don Cesar had forged an alliance of friendship and mutual financial benefit with Kung Wak Nam, extraordinary Hakka Chinese who owned a small panciteria (noodle parlor) in Manila’s Chinatown and also plied diverse mysterious trades in Cavite’s Chinese district, which was situated outside the Naval base of Sangley Point.

When Don Cesar was wounded in the first attempt against his life by the De La Rama clan, he turned to Tung Wak Nam for protection.

“My friend Tung, my family and I are going to need information and protection for as long as there is envy and greed. Pinong, my calesa driver is my only line of defense. He and I can be easily out numbered by sicari and vicious assassins. I need you now and after my death, I pray that the descendants of your descendants will always be with us in our times of need,” said Don Cesar solemnly as he handed over his seal in Imperial jade.

“Cesar, We have made a pact. As a sign of our mutual trust, here is my seal. Time will never erase this pact. I shall provide you with more than a dozen men dressed as peddlers, street vendors and small calesa drivers to be your shadow men, fighters and spies,” replied Tung Wak Nam deeply moved.

This practice lasted until the Japanese attacked Manila. General Douglas MacArthur had declared it an Open City. In plain language it meant "Enter with your armies and take the city. The city is yours. You have no need to bomb civilian targets.”

The Mitsubishi zeros savagely bombed much of China town and the suburbs fronting Manila Bay.

“Don Alcibiade and Dona Esperanza, more than half of our enclave have been consumed in a holocaust. The dead are too many to count. The spies, shadow men and fighters Don Cesar and you relied upon, have perished,” an anguished Don Wak Nam told them.

When the war ended in 1946 Dona Esperanza reflected that they needed more Security in their homes and offices. So she turned to their Sikh guards and their friends and family. Uncle Cesar trusted their Sikhs with his ships and properties now she would do the same with the clan’s lives.

The gallant men who had fought against the Communist guerillas during the ambush at Montalban had been Sikhs. All 15 of them had been cut down.

Fray Paco entertained Lucrezia with his mutilated Latin. Don Cesar had rounded out Fray Paco’s education in the classics by teaching him with patience and with humor his favorite expressions in Latin.

Julius Caesar’s “Jacta Alea Est (Let the dice fly), was the tycoon’s favorite expression. During decisive moments of his life he had unfailingly used “Jacta Alea Eest”.

This was apparent to Fray Paco who would interject and screech loudly “Jacta alea est” when he had made up his mind about something he considered important. “Querro brandy! Jacta Alea Est (I want brandy) I want Tai – yen (opium) Iacta Alea Est
When Fray Paco worked the room during the frequent meetings and parties of the Ortigas Nieto clan, as he was complimented with “Bravo Fray Paco!” he would yell, “Vulva! Veni, Vedi, Vici (for the unwary it means vulva; I came, I saw, I conquered).” Julius Caesar had written this letter to one of the Roman senators announcing his spectacular victory at Zela that ended the arduous Pontic campaign.

Don Cesar was fond of the Roman poet Horace. Fray Paco took to his poetry immediately. Latin had all those lovely R’s, which Fray Paco could wildly roll around his tongue

“Ira furor Brevis Est (Anger is a short madness)” sounded “IRRRA Furor brrrevis.”

“Concordia Discors (discordant harmony)” turned into “Concorrrda dicorrrs.”

Fray Paco enjoyed mangling one of Horace’s most profound aphorisms. “Num tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet (For it is your business when the wall next door catches fire)” to “Num tua res agitur, fugit! (When the wall next door catches fire – run!).”

Over the years, Fray Paco had developed into an irreverent and profane observer of people, places and things. He referred to himself as “Frrray Paco! Magnas interropes inops (Fray Paco, Beggar amidst great riches).”

Before the massacre and before Lucrezia left for school each day, she would run to Fray Paco’s jungle room.

“Carrrpe Diem Lucrrre! (Carpe Diem – seize the day)” he always yelled as she blew him kisses.

“See you later my darling Fray Paco.”

Her envious cousins Freckie and Dolly stuck behind Lucrezia during this early morning rituals. They made ugly faces and stuck out their tongues at him, crossing their eyes and tilting their heads the way Fray Paco loved to do, mocking him and Lucrezia.

“Stupidos! Idiotas! Crrretinos!” Fray Paco would scream at them.

Zeno, the majordomo, shooed them away. “I am close to the end of my patience with the two of you. This is my last warning. If this happens again, I shall have to report you to Dona Esperanza and to your parents.”

"Why does Fray Paco ignore us and insult us?" queried Dolly.

"How come there is no one else in the world as far as Fray Paco is concerned except Lucrezia?" Freckie demanded to know.

“There is Dona Esperanza, don't ever forget that," Zeno explained calmly. "Fray Paco loves her."

"She's our Grandmother. We’re fine with that. There are dozens of cousins and six of us live in Santol Mansion. Fray Paco only loves Lucrezia. Why?" Persisted Freckie.

"I don't know. I'm Zeno, the majordomo, not the philosopher or a zoologist. Fray Paco is more hardheaded than a mule. Right now, he has appointed himself Lucrezia’s Companion. Continue with your antics and one day he might just lose his temper and gouge your eyes out Dolly and tear out your little Willie Freckie. Now stop this and go on to school, children."

1 comment:

  1. Buon giorno, Isabella,

    Fray Paco is endlessly interesting, entertaining and a joy to read about. He is almost like a person (actually, better than most people). I love his vocabulary and multi-lingual sayings. What a charming companion. So much history and local color, such a fascinating family. I am in awe.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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