Saga of Fray Paco
Book 2: Don Alcibiades - The Banker
Chapter 4: Miss Javier
There were some secrets men confided only to their secretaries. Miss Javier knew the most confidential matters pertaining to the banker and other businesses. She was in the trenches every day with El Jefe. Miss Javier was aware of Don Alcibiade’s foibles; unlike his wife, she had not vowed “till death do us part.” These days many men thought secretary snatching was a more challenging enterprise than wife snatching.
When Naomi Javier was fifteen years old, her father had died of galloping tuberculosis. He seemed to be well and strong one day and suddenly he started coughing up torrents of blood. Before Naomi could grasp the full implications, he was a corpse. She dropped out of Holy Ghost College, where she was an honor student, to work as a humble typist at the Banco Hispano Filipino. Her mother, who took in sewing at home, needed extra income to put her little brother and sister through elementary school. Since Naomi was impeccably bilingual in Spanish and in English, she quickly came to the attention of Don Torquato.
“Miss Javier, you speak and write better Castilian and English than most of us except for the Jesuits who don’t count as they are supposed to be learned. I think you should be our confidante and private secretary.”
By the time Naomi Javier turned eighteen, she was working closely with both uncle and nephew.
She was very good. Don Alcibiade spoke in staccatos and crescendos; he never paused except to breathe. This did not unnerve Miss Javier; she continued scribbling like the virtuoso she was. She would also take the liberty of revising his sentences because words dictated sometimes looked differently when they were on paper. Neither Don Torquato nor Don Alcibiade ever protested. Miss Javier noted that all the letters were signed.
Don Alcibiade liked to poke into people’s lives out of genuine interest in gaining knowledge of them in particular and of human beings in general. He would rather not mind his business if he had a choice.
One day Don Alcibiade dictated fifteen letters in a row, talking as fast as Fray Paco. “Miss Javier,” Don Alcibiade asked as she was leaving his office, “I don’t mean to pry…”
Nonsense, of course you do, thought Miss Javier.
“How did you master Castilian and English?”
“My Father had copies of Jose Rizal’s books, ‘El Filibusterismo’ and ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and Charles Dickens’ ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘Edwin Drood’. I read them over and over.
Don Alcibiade was amazed. What an attainment! he thought, too bashful to compliment her out loud. So he said nothing except “Gracias, hasta luego (Thank you, till later).”
Miss Javier had noticed the look of admiration in Don Alcibiade’s eyes. It gave her a great deal of satisfaction that her boss, probably the one who would become cacique appreciated her work.
Cacique was an Aztec word - properly from their language called Nahuati - meaning Chief. Since the 16th century, unbelievably rich Spanish galleons went on never ending voyages, unless they were sank by typhoons, hurricanes or by pirates, between Mexico, in the cities of Acapulco and Vera Cruz, and the Philippines, in the port of Manila and Cebu. The galleons were weighed down with gold, silver, hemp, sugar, coconuts, tobacco, rum, coconut oil, ivory, cotton, linen and pina fabrics, tequila and pulque (an Aztec drink made from a hemp plant belonging to the same family as the abaca plant).
The Ortigas Nieto Clan had owned fleets of merchant ships for over a hundred years. These ships still sailed to Mexico and Chile. Since the American “Occupation”, known as “the Administration” or “the Manifest Destiny” by the folks back in the United States, an increasing number of Ortigas ships were crossing the Pacific to unload cargo in San Francisco.
Don Alcibiade was still ruminating about Miss Javier’s pursuit of knowledge. Jose Rizal’s work was hardly read by anyone, though the name Rizal was on everyone’s lips when one spoke of freedom. Every school child in the Philippines had been taught about Jose Rizal. In Spain his name was synonymous with intellectual freedom and reform of the institutions of Church and State. In Barcelona and in the revolutionary circles of Madrid, one called a person who eloquently and charismatically wrote for and advocated reform a “Rizalista.”
Jose Rizal was the national hero of the Philippines – a Malay-Chinese martyr, reformer, and a fearless freedom fighter who used his pen to attack and denounce the corruption in the Church and in the government. The intellectuals in Spain, Mexico and Cuba as well as in South and Central America read his passionate works avidly and it inflamed them. The corrupt Catholic Church and the Spanish administrators who ran the Philippines were targets of his excoriating works. Thus, he wrote only in Castilian. Rizal was a Kantian philosopher, an ophthalmologist, a polyglot, an illuminated thinker, quite possibly a Free Mason as Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Miguel de Unamuno, Giuseppe Mazzini and Goethe all were.
The dashing, young, poetic man was shot in a public execution in Luneta Park on orders of a wooly-minded, empty-headed and cruel Spanish Governor General, Polavieja. His do-nothing politics at the depredations committed by his cronies spurred Jose Rizal to ever more daring written attacks against Spain.
This cack-handed execution ignited the Filipino (more a Tagalog) uprising, which quickly grew into a revolution.
“Jose Rizal” became the incandescent cry of the revolutionaries who fought against Spain.
They were Tagalog mestizos (of Spanish, Chinese, German, Portuguese and Mexican origin). Indian Sikhs also joined the Revolution. By now the Sikhs considered themselves Filipinos after they fled India during the Sepoy Revolt and settled in the Philippines.
Don Alcibiade knew a thing or two about Jose Rizal. Uncle Cesar, the tycoon had refused to attend his public execution at Luneta Park. He remained at their home in silent contemplation of the obtuse and stupid attitudes of government.
“This day, 31st of December 1898 marks the end of Spain’s presence in the Pacific. God help us for we are going to face some hard and painful choices,” said Don Cesar, who was a secret supporter of Rizal.
He had been generous in his donations to the Katipunan - a secret Masonic organization involved in the struggle against Spain. It was Don Juan Pardo de Tavera who had involved Don Cesar in these clandestine activities.
“The rich must always have a financial, moral and intellectual stake in their government and in their Leaders. It is stupid and careless to only concentrate in creating wealth without any concern for the human condition.”
Had my father (Don Mamerto) not been an Anarchist? Yes! He did go to Luneta Park and joined a silent procession of protestors and mourners even before Rizal was shot by a firing squad.
He was impressed with Miss Javier. “How strange life is,” he mused. Young Miss Javier had made the most out of a few magnificent books. Just a fleeting opportunity but she had taken it. What was opportunity after all? Did it just come in? Drop by? Fly from the sky? Did one seize opportunity…or even better, did one make one’s opportunities as the Roman poet Horace wrote?
Don Alcibiade had been cogitating all these things on Fray Paco’s first official morning at the Bank with him as its CEO. The cockatoo began to mutter a continuous strange language… no! It was familiar; it sounded like a nursery rhyme in English. At that precise moment the door was opened a crack by Miss Javier.
“Good morning, Don Alcibiade,” she said cheerfully through the crack.
“Has Tirso told you?”
“Yes Sir. I know Fray Paco by sight from his performances at the Quiapo courtyard.”
The Parish priest at Quiapo Church had banished Fray Paco in the courtyard of the Church. Nothing swayed him, not even offers of large donations promised in secret by Don Alcibiade.
“Don Torquato is a devoted and principled Christian but I’ll not have that bird with his heinous language inside the House of God,” decreed the tyrannical and humorless priest.
Thus the Ortigas Nieto clan avoided Quiapo Church as they did syphilis.
"Uncle Torquato is the only one who goes to that Church. That’s because he is parsimonious and refuses to buy a car. He walks to church or takes his calesa on rainy and stormy days,” said they.
Fray Paco stayed in the courtyard with his attendants Januario and Severo, while Don Torquato attended Mass inside the Church.
He had a captive audience in the Chinese street peddlers hawking dried tamarind, mangoes, santol and guava. Other Chinese peddlers sold freshly made tofu with dollops of fresh honey. Su-niu-nay- soya yoghurt mixed with honey was scrumptious and only Hakka peddlers sold them. The Moros/Muslims dealt in pearls and other gems from the Sulu Sea. The street urchins trafficked in cigarettes from Java made from cloves and nutmeg. They hawked Marijuana and ganja quite openly. The gifted wood carvers, furniture makers and sculptors of saintly statues also spend time with the cockatoo. American soldiers off duty from their garrison on Arlegui Street, which was about half a kilometer away, stopped by to chat and carouse with Fray Paco. Most of all the people of Manila loved him. The oldest member of the Ortigas Nieto clan reveled in the spotlight.
The hapless Parish priest’s name was Father Patrick from Brooklyn. Fray Paco referred to him as “Patrick duck muck and cock.”
He was a womanizer because he was tall, blue-eyed and handsome. Women offered themselves to him.
Back to the present. I hear that attendance has dropped at his Church since Fray Paco moved uptown. Worse for that Pharisee, mused Don Alcibiade.
“Well, come in then Miss. We’re all decent in here.”
A purposeful Miss Javier walked into the banker’s office with her pencil and notepad and sat down in her chair opposite Don Alcibiade with her back towards Fray Paco. It had happened so quickly Fray Paco had no time to react or to open his nasty beak.
“Miss Javier, we need to talk.”
She nodded, hands serenely on her lap.
“You see, from now on, any client or friend who needs to discuss anything, to chat, gossip, commiserate or analyze any topic with me is going to need an appointment. They’ll do that through you.”
Miss Javier was jolted. “But, Sir, the custom is to just stop by the bank to see you. If you’re occupied, they either leave to do other chores; if not, they socialize with the other clients.”
“That, Miss Javier, is about to change.”
Fray Paco started muttering his newly learned nursery rhyme over and over and over. “Rrrring arrround the rrrroses, pocket full of poxes.”
“Don’t mind him; it will get worse so we’d all better get used to it.”
Miss Javier said impatiently, “Sir, it’s a pocketful of posies.”
“What? What is a pocketful of what?”
“The nursery rhyme Fray Paco is reciting, Sir. The word is posies.”
Don Alcibiade looked up at Fray Paco. “Bravo! You got it right. The word is poxes! The pox on you too. I’m trying to get some work done here.”
Fray Paco started to bellow.
I’ll explain what my dialogue with Fray Paco was all about later, but let’s get back to the part things are about to change. Here’s the scenario. The client and friend knocks, thinking I’m going to be at my desk discussing some business or something interesting, hopefully with someone he knows, so he can talk about it afterwards. This is not smart in the long run. Everybody is always mixed up with the other fellow’s business. I’m talking money matters. That is not a good thing.”
Miss Javier could not agree more. “But what about Don Torquato? He liked things the old fashioned way?”
“This is a secret, Miss Javier,” and he motioned her to get closer but the clamor from Fray Paco was getting louder - “Rrrrring! Rrrrring! Arrrrround! Arrrrround! Arrrrround!” - so the banker simply related his fears. “I’m afraid Don Torquato is not coming back.”
She looked distraught.
“No! No! No! There has been no unpleasant news from Barcelona; it’s just a pakiramdam (intuition). If we are prepared and start the changes now, it won’t be a shock if something does happen to Uncle Torquato.”
“So, sir, what will happen when the client opens the door of your office?” back-to-basics Miss Javier asked.
“I won’t be here. He’ll see an empty space obviously; except Fray Paco, my factotum will be here in my place. Think of it, Miss Javier.”
“I am thinking about it, Sir,” she countered. “His language! It’s atrocious!”
“That’s just it! They’ll love it! All men are hypocrites. Who hasn’t wished they could say what Fray Paco declares with impunity? The fat cat clients will forget the fact that I wasn’t here. Fray Paco will entertain them and in a few minutes, you come in and say, ‘Would you like an appointment with Don Alcibiade who’s away on urgent business?”
“Where will you be, Sir?” Miss Javier looked worried.
Don Alcibiade took a deep breath, remembering his niece Esperanza’s reaction when he said he was going to work quietly from the Pansiteria. Esperanza was almost gasping from laughter. “Well! I shall be working out of a small office in the Pansiteria Wak Nam.”
Miss Javier stammered, “In Chinatown?”
“Do you know any pansiteria that is not in Chinatown?”
“Nobody goes to Chinatown,” Miss Javier persisted.
“You mean none in my so-called High Society social circle?” Don Alcibiade questioned his secretary. Before she could reply, he added, “Many go to Chinatown to play fan tan and mahjong, to watch esgrima kali (martial arts using balisongs, bolos and kris in a highly stylized manner autochthonous to the Tagalogs). They frequent and visit the ‘houses of tolerance’ (the bordellos) to watch lewd dancing, to drink rum or pulque or fiery Chinese wine/mai tai all night. They also gorge themselves on Chinese food. But no one in my circle of friends, acquaintances and enemies has been inventive enough to have a proper office in Chinatown.”
The banker cringed at the word “proper.” He considered the Pansiteria Wak Nam an elaborate machination on his part to work unmolested, to toil on his top-secret papers and documents and more importantly to keep them stored in a safe place in the Panciteria away from the prying ill-meaning eyes of the American Colonial Banking and Tax Masters. But no one who had his coconut in one piece (an island colloquialism for head) would ever use the word “proper” to describe his thrown together Robinson Crusoe office at the Panciteria.
Fray Paco was yelling “Pockets of poxes! Rrrrring! Rrrrrring!”
“So I shall make appointments for you, Don Alcibiade,” Miss Javier continued unperturbed.
“No, you’ll suggest an appointment. If the clients truly have something genuine to discuss with me, they’ll say ‘yes’ and I shall be content to be at their disposal. On the other hand, those who are simply time wasters, fat chewers, lateros/genital breakers in other words, will say ‘no’ or mumble some flustered ‘I’ll come back some other time.’” The banker lifted his palms upwards. “That’s it! Good riddance!”
Fray Paco was outyelling the sound of the many tugboats chug-chugging in and out of Manila Bay. “Eu querro, Eu querro, Eu querro un platano (I want a plantain, a species of banana) in Portuguese.
Over the noise of Fray Paco’s “Eu quero’s” Don Alcibiade yelled, “This arrangement of setting up appointments will be a positive strategy in bringing order and discipline, albeit slowly, into the bank and then perhaps it will trickle over to all our other enterprises.”
“Sir,” Miss Javier yelled back despite herself, “where will you receive the gatos gordos (fat cat clients) with regular appointments?”
“Right here,” Don Alcibiade said, pointing his forefinger towards his desk, smiling with mirth, “with my factotum and Man Friday, Fray Paco.”
“Of course, Miss Javier,” the banker explained, “the word Man Friday is redundant. In the story of Robinson Crusoe written by Daniel Defoe an excellent businessman after my own heart, Robinson Crusoe is stranded on a God-forsaken island.
He finds a bright native on a Friday. That’s condescending of Defoe, bright native indeed, but never mind. Time is money. Let’s continue. Not knowing any language except English (very ignorant that), he names the man Friday. I can tell you, without Friday he wouldn’t have survived. Now if one were to say Girl Friday, that would be another kettle of fish and it would be used properly.”
Miss Javier told him, “I saw a silent film about Robinson Crusoe with Paul Muni. I didn’t know it was based on a book.”
“Oh, yes! The author Daniel Defoe belonged to the Establishment, so called of course. He wrote brilliant, scathing commentaries dripping with acid on the social conditions of his time. I might have a copy; I’ll lend it to you.”
Then Don Alcibiade glanced at Fray Paco who was repeating strange words, then back at Miss Javier.
He said, “Don’t worry, hija. I’ll know soon enough if the gatos gordo’s projects are doable. If so, we’ll thrash out the details in one of the private suites at the Manila Hotel. You see, only the most persistent ones with money to burn and invest will prevail because the brouhaha from Fray Paco here in the office will disinterest those with half-hearted proposals. Miss Javier, on your way out, would you ask Fray Paco’s attendants to please bring him a plantain? He deserves one for his exemplary behavior.”
“Adios, lista y chica fea,” Goodbye you bright and ugly girl, belted out Fray Paco.
“I spoke too soon,” Don Alcibiade said good-naturedly. “That is not so unwholesome coming from such a rotten scoundrel.”
Miss Javier prudently ignored the cockatoo, having been forewarned by Tirso. She walked out of the room with nonchalance with her head high and her shoulders erect.
“Bravo! Bravo! Fantastico! Fabuloso!” the banker told Fray Paco.
“Hombre, you are authorized to entertain my clients or anyone who enters these doors during my deliberate absences. You are my Friday, esta claro chato? Is that clear flat nose? The clients will be too bamboozled to react. They’ll love your insults and come back for more. Amigo! You are going to be worth your weight in De Beers diamonds! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
A one-tracked Fray Paco screeched, Vale. Callate, Crrretino! Querro meu platano! (All right but shut up you cretin! I want my banana!).”