FLOG entry for inkstains "Unmasked" thingy
warning: racist characters using racist slurs
notes below the story.
It only happens once every hundred years, my grandmother said. Please do this for me.
Fine, I said. Okay.
“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?“ asks the wolf-face in the top hat as he grabs me and turns me around so gracefully the wine glasses on my tray don’t even tinkle.
“Serving liquor, “ I answer, as the music stops. “And I’m a boy.”
“Oops, sorry. Didn’t notice, “ he says, winking, “ The tail and the beads got me confused.”
A golden-gowned swan hits him on the head with her fan. “Stop annoying the help, “ she says, thwacking him on his hat. “Go dance with the banker’s daughter, she’s the vampire with the ill—fitting nightgown of flimsiness at the corner.”
He nods, bows, and blows me a kiss as he runs off. The Swan turns to me, and says, “Sorry about that, Lobito is always annoying when he’s had too much to drink. Peninsulares are such a pain,” she sighs, “but they’re the ones with money, and after having money for a couple of hundred years or so, they’re considered de buena familia, and so must be invited. “
I smile and don’t say anything. It’s not my place.
“I don’t recognize you, though, “ she says, and now it hits me. She’s the organizer and hostess, the Hermana Mayor, the eldest daughter of an old family from the outskirts of Madrid, last haciendera scion of the sugarcane plantations on the island.
“Grandmother could not make it, señora, “ I answer quietly. “She’s getting on in years, and her joints now ache when it rains.”
“Ah,“ she smiles and I look, amazed at how beautifully golden she was. “ I know you now! Ruben! You're all grown! Didn’t we send you to the city to study engineering?”
“Yes, señora, thank you very much.”
“The one that graduated summa cum laude?”
“Yes, señora. I’m working at the local office of the Department of Public Works now.”
“How wonderful! I must introduce you to the governor!” she turns around, grabs my waist and hustles me off towards a grim-looking gargoyle, talking with an equally grim-looking camel (dromedary?) who was smoking a brown cigarillo and flicking the ash in a brass saucer held up by a four-foot tall (on his hind legs) cat.
I finally recognized the cat as the parish priest, the cura paroco. I almost didn't recognize him with the marmalade-marked fur covering his tonsured pate. But he gave me a beating once, when I was small, and I never forgot those knuckles. Oh well, I'm bigger than him now.
“We must do something about the indios and their uprisings, “ the gargoyle was telling the dromedary (camel?) as the cat yawned boredly. “The indios are getting uppity.”
My swan-sponsor thwacks his head with her trusty fan. “Get with the program, Carlitos! There hasn't been an indio uprising since 1898. Besides, it’s their island now! We sold them to the Americans a hundred years ago, don’t you remember? “
The camel nods and harrumphs, “And those idiots set them free. “
“Hush, we have an indio in our midst, “ my swan-sponsor said, “This is Ruben, the son…son...?”
“Grandson, señora,” I mumble.
“Grandson of Corazon, my upstairs maid. He’s working in government now. “
“Can’t be an indio, if he’s Corazon’s grandson, “ the cat purrs. El cura obviously didn't recognize me. “ She came with my family on a ship from the Motherland, remember?”
This triggers another discussion of the good old days, when the indios and chinos knew their place, and the Church was still Head of State, and no one cared if a priest had sons and daughters and no one gave a whit if indios disappeared in the tall grass only to be found later with their hearts and livers missing.
I slip away, it wasn’t my place to be there, listening to their bitter, mean conversations.
I used to hate them when I was little, but I realize now how pitiful they were, these insulare snobs. Their days of money and power were long gone, replaced by the bumbays, chinos and indios they detested.
Let them have this night, it happens just once every hundred years anyway, and only when the moon and planets are just right.
Tomorrow they will have to put their masks on again, hobble along with their canes or be pushed in their wheelchairs like the pitiful old people I see in mass at the Iglesia Catedral every morning. And sooner or later, die the lonely deaths of homesickness and heartsickness on this godforsaken island where La Madre España exiled them.
I make my way to where my place was, behind the curtains, near the kitchen, and peek out once in a while, amazed at the sight of wolves dancing with vampires, and horse-headed men dancing with ebony-haired pale women with only skeletons for backs, whirling and twirling gold, silver, purple and maroon.
The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1521-1898. Spanish words are in the Philippine colonial context: insulare is a Spaniard born in Spain, while a peninsulare is a Spaniard born in the peninsula (the Philippines here), and thus considered 'noveau', an indio is a native Filipino often of Malay or Indonesian descent.
bumbay, chino (or intsik) and indio are derogatory terms for Indians, Chinese people and Filipinos