A couple years ago my sister said she’d pay for my plane ticket to visit our mother in San Francisco. Our mother was going blind, she said, and wanted to see us while she still had some vision left. My sister doesn’t have a United States visa. You know how hard it is for single Filipinas to get a tourist visa. The consuls at the embassy always think the moment you land in the States, you’ll go looking for an old American to marry so you can stay the country. Or become a TNT, tagongtago illegal immigrant. But that’s not fair. We’re not all like that. And it’s not like their economy’s what it used to be before the global bust they caused, trading in all those paper shares and fooling around with commodities.
Anyway, I had a multiple-entry tourist visa so my sister said, You go. At least Mom will be able to see one of us – while she still can.
I didn’t want to make the trip. There’s a gap between me and my mother that’s an ocean wide and an ocean deep for a lot of reasons, mostly to do with painful stuff that happened while I was growing up. I don’t want to talk about that right now.
I said, I don’t want to talk about it.
But I knew I was going, even if I didn’t want to see my mom. Family, you know. That’s really big for us Filipinos. It’s practically a racial imperative.
I made a deal with my sister. I told her I’d go if I could drop by Los Angeles and visit my old boyfriend. She’d have to pay an extra hundred dollars on the airplane fare, though.
Him? She scoffed. Your first boyfriend, from Leveriza, in Pasay City? The one who dumped you for no reason?
Yes, him, I said patiently. We lost touch and reconnected lately on Facebook. We haven’t seen each other in ten years. We could still be friends. We keep a great many of each other’s secrets.
All right, she said. Go. Get it out of your system.
I knew I’d have a bad visit with my mom, and I was glad when I got on that plane to Los Angeles. Ray was waiting for me at LAX. He looked the same as before – his face, I mean, except that he was heavier. As I was. Time changes all of us.
He crushed me in his arms. Is it really you, he said. I can’t believe you’re here.
Yes, I am telling you where I got the knife.
Ray put me up in their apartment in downtown LA, near Beverly Boulevard. I stayed with him in his room. I met his mother and sister. They remembered me from before as Ray’s girlfriend, the tiny one with the big ears that she tried to hide with her hair. The one who’d always eat a lot of the tokwa’tbaboy Nanay used to cook in her kitchen in Leveriza.
Where’s Tatay? I asked. He always called me “Minnie Mouse” because of the ears. The last I heard, I told Ray, you were all here in the US, your entire family. Your brother Jay, too.
Jay moved to Sacramento, Ray said. He’s a cop there.
Just like Tatay? I said. Cool. Where is he, by the way?
There. Ray pointed to a large alabaster vase on the mesa-altar by the door. He died last year. Lung cancer. We had him cremated.
See, I knew you’d find this story interesting. Tatay used to work security for the late mayor of Pasay, the one who had a movie-star daughter. Oh, you’ve heard of Tatay? He was well before your time, I expect.
Anyway, Ray and I spent the days after his work taking in the sights. Getty Museum. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Grove. It’s a huge mall, better than our Mall of Asia. They have a Borders there. Or was it a Barnes and Noble? One of those chain bookstores with a Starbucks inside. I could stay for hours in there.
One afternoon, before his mother and his sister came home and we were back at the apartment early, I brought up the subject of Tatay again. I was curious.
How did he die? I asked.
He got sick. That’s it, Ray said. He died, gasping for breath. Emphysema. That’s the oxygen tank he used, behind the door. What else is there to tell? About his life? He spent it as a cop in Pasay before coming over here as a retiree. He had a desk job. But he had friends in the field. They did the dirty work. The stories they told me when I was a kid, I can’t shake them. They stay with you. They mess with your head.
Tell me, I asked.
No. They’ll mess with your head.
Please, I said. As a journalist, I’d pounded my share of beats, the police beat among them. I was assigned to the Western Police District for a while. Because I was a girl, the male members of the press corps tried to keep from me as much as possible the more gory crime stories, but I knew stuff. I kept an ear to the ground.
I bet there’s nothing you can tell me that I haven’t already heard, I said.
All right, said Ray. Here’s a story Tatay’s friend told me. You heard about the Silva case?
Yes, I said. He disappeared. His common-law wife reported him as a missing person to the Pasay City police, but they never found him. The police told the wife that maybe Silva had moved to the probinsiya to be with a girlfriend.
Pasensiyana, misis, they said, or something like that.We can’t find him. You’ll have to accept that he’s probably moved on and making babies now with some sexy chick.
She cried. Men. So insensitive. Chauvinist animals. But what else could she do? For the cops, it was case closed. She sobbed into her handkerchief. Her 13-year-old daughter, all skin and hair and bones, put an arm around her shoulders. Tama na, Ma, she whispered. Enough. Stop crying.
Hang on a moment. Can I have a glass of water, please? My throat is sore. No ice. Thank you.
So. The girl, I was told, was not Silva’s but another man’s – the woman’s husband. She had left him because he was beating her. Late one night she crept out of their shack carrying only a duffel bag of clothes and her young daughter; hitching up the skirt of her duster, she got astride Silva’s Yamaha motorcycle and off they sped into the night and a new life. Only for him to disappear mysteriously five years later.
Ray said, but that’s not what really happened.
You mean Silva didn’t run off with another woman?
No, said Ray. Tatay’s friend told me this:
Boyong Silva was a neighbor of theirs. He was a drunkard. He spent the days getting soused with cronies, who, like him, relied on their wives to keep them fed and sheltered in the barong-barongs, the shacks of scrounged wood and galvanized iron that littered their community like rat’s nests.
He’d come home late. The wife would be asleep. She took in laundry and would be tired to death after a day bent over a washtub, scrubbing clothes by hand, the chemicals in the harsh detergent bareta eating into her hands, pitting the rough brown skin with red wounds that stung when she immersed her hands in water. After that she’d iron the dry clothes. The damp, the heat, the hard labor, they take a toll.
Silva would come home and want sex. One night, seeing his woman snoring on the mat, mouth open, slack in fatigue, he wasn’t attracted to her as much as he was to her daughter, who was young, fresh, innocent. Defenseless.
He crept over to where she lay, and forced himself upon her, breath stinking of gin and beer and chicharon bulaklak. He clapped a dirty hand over the child’s mouth, waking her. He put a knee between her legs, and whispered, don’t tell your mother, or I’ll kill the both of you. Whimpering, the girl complied.
He used her over and over again that summer. Roughly. She had just turned 13. She lost weight; her eyes bore a haggard look. There were bruises on her thin arms. The women in the barangay began to notice. Some of them had heard the moans from their shack. They figured out what was going on. They told Tatay’s friend, the cop.
Ray, I said. The poor girl. The words stuck in my throat.
He said, you’d know how traumatic it was for her. You understand. Now do you want me to finish the story or not?
I waved at him, go ahead.
Ray said, Tatay’s friend took a couple of friends to Silva’s one day, picked him up in an unmarked car. I’d ridden in it. It was a blue Toyota Corolla DX with green security plates, not the red government plates. It was banged-up, nothing to look at twice. Nondescript.
Silva knew there was no use denying what he had done. He blubbered and asked the cops to have mercy. That he wouldn’t do it again, ever. That he’d go away, and the wife need never know what he did to her daughter.
Did they take him to jail? Book him and all? I asked.
No, said Ray scornfully. He was a child molester. Bubuhayin mo pa ba yun? Would you allow him to live? What if that was your child he’d raped? Imagine yourself as the mother or the child, both powerless to do anything. What if you had a chance to take revenge? To eliminate a monster from your life? You of all people should know the answer to that.
Shut up, I said. What happened next? Where’d Tatay’s friends take Silva?
To a motel, Ray said. One where they knew the manager.
What’d they do?
First, they told him what they were going to do to him and why, in great detail. He kept wailing, making a lot of noise. The people in the rooms beside theirs might have heard. So they gagged him. Next, they pulled down his pants and sodomized him.
I feel sick, I said.
Ray said, they used the handle of a mop they found in the bathroom. They wanted him to feel what he’d done to the little girl. They had daughters her age, you see. He bled from the rectum. There was a lot of blood. They must have pushed that mop handle farther in than they meant to.
Then one of the cops clubbed him in the head with a nightstick, knocking him out. After that they dismembered him in the motel bathroom, starting with the head. Then the limbs. I forgot what they did with the torso and how they got rid of the body parts. But the bottom of the trunk of that blue DX was always covered with newspapers; until then I thought it was for their muddy boots. It was then also I understood what they used the knives in their holster belts for.
But if he was merely unconscious when they began cutting him up – I said.
That’s what Tatay’s friend told me. Unconscious. Not dead.
But the pain…! He must have screamed –
He was gagged, I told you. Pay attention. They said sawing through the bones was the most difficult part.
It was a summary execution, then, I said. So that’s what happened to Silva. No wonder they never found him.
What? Are you calling me a liar? Look, I’m just telling you what Ray told me. It’s no use telling me cops don’t do that sort of thing. I wouldn’t know, would I? Why shouldn’t it be true? He’s a policeman’s son, after all. He should know.
Anyway. Ray said, Tatay’s friend told me that’s what they did to all the rapists and child molesters they came across.
Was Tatay ever with them, at all? I asked.
That’s it, Ray said. No more stories. I don’t want to think about them anymore. Let’s go shopping for your pasalubongs. What else do you want to buy while you’re here?
I said, I want a Lamy Safari fountain pen. We don’t have them in Manila yet. Maybe if I had one, I’d write better stories.
You don’t need all that! he said impatiently. You can write well enough. I wish I had half your talent. That’s your very own mojo.
Well, I still want one. And a Spyderco knife. A friend of mine has one and she uses it to whittle the bamboo chopsticks they give away at Chinese restaurants into dip pens. She dips them into ink and makes line drawings of robots and dragons. Sometimes their mouths drip red. I only want the knife, I said, because that’s the closest I’ll come to being like her. I know I’ll never draw as well as she does.
I know where there’s a fountain pen store in Westwood, and another in Monrovia, Ray said. We can go now. It’s still early.
I bought a lipstick red Safari for myself and a Lamy Al-Star for Ray, along with a bottle of blue ink for him. Then we had dinner somewhere. When we got back to their apartment, his mother and sister were asleep.
He opened the coat closet and rummaged inside, emerging with a battered blue knapsack in his hand. From the depths of the bag Ray pulled out a folding knife and handed it to me. There, he said. That’s yours now. It was Tatay’s.
I could not believe that what lay on my palm was real, and that it was mine. It was a Spyderco, an Endura with a partially serrated edge and a black handle of fiberglass reinforced nylon. The blade was ATS-55 performance stainless steel. It costs over a hundred dollars, rather too pricey for me, which is why I hadn’t bought one sooner.
Like magic, Ray had produced one just for me.
It’s beautiful. But I can’t take this, I said. It belonged to Tatay. I knew how much Ray idolized his father.
Shouldn’t you be giving this to your son? I asked Ray. It’s an heirloom of sorts. It’ll remind him of his grandfather.
No, he said. It’s not for Jake. I want you to have it. Put it away now. Just be careful what you use it for.
I said, it’s yours.It’s not something for my son to have.
Thank you. I’ll always treasure it. If you’re quite sure you don’t want it for Jake…?
Huwag kang makulit, Ray said, which we know can also mean, shut the hell up already. He turned his back. The conversation was over.
I brought the knife back to Manila in my check-in luggage, wrapped in a sock and stuffed in a souvenir Starbucks plastic tumbler that says “Los Angeles” and that’s got palm trees on it. I also collect Starbucks tumblers, you see.
So that’s where I got the knife.
Ray told me it hadn’t been blooded before. Somehow I don’t think that’s true. You can tell this knife’s got history and it’s been through a lot, from the way the paint on the metal clip is almost all worn away. And there’s this the nick on the nylon handle – see? – like it came up against something sharp. What made the dull marks on the edge of the handle, I don’t know – teeth marks? I really can’t say.
Maybe Tatay kept the knife shoved anyhow into his holster belt? Pulling it out and pushing it in would wear away the paint on the clip.
Maybe Tatay’s friends crammed this knife into the mouths of the criminals they dispatched, to shush them while they were being carved into pieces. That would account for teeth marks, wouldn’t it?
Maybe Tatay was with them, after all.
I think that’s why Ray didn’t want Jake to have this knife.
But then I’ve used it myself. That’s another reason it looks worn.I always carry Tatay’s Spyderco in my bag, wherever I go. Taught myself knife-fighting, for self-defense, you know. Internet tutorials. Girls like me and my two daughters, we need to take care of ourselves. Times are bad. The past couple years,with that knife on me, I’ve felt pretty safe. Felt pretty capable of taking care of myself and my girls.
Yes, that’s the same knife I pulled on the man. He was harassing my eldest. Following her around, Peeking in our windows at her. Hanging outside our gate. She’s only 14. So when my youngest and I came home that night from picking up her report card, and I found him on top of her, and her struggling beneath him, screaming…
I know how it feels.
Stop the tape, I need to puke. Where’s the ladies’ room?
I’m fine now. Where were we? What’s that? The young man died in the ICU?
What? I’m not sorry. He deserved it.I’m just sorry you came along before I had a chance to cut him up.
I think that’s why Ray gave me the knife. I can feel Tatay’s spirit in it. He’d be proud I blooded it again.
May I have it back now, please?
Jenny is a Palanca Award-winning writer (First Prize, English Essay, 2011). A multi-tasker, she writes opinion and horseracing columns in English for Manila Standard-Today and a horseracing column in Filipino for Bandera, co-hosts a weekly radio show on DWIZ, and works for a GOCC. She is halfway done with her PhD dissertation for the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. Once in a while she gives spoken-word performances. This story is one of her few forays into fiction.
The above image is from here.