April 23, 2024

(Editors’ note: The Midland Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on Dec.30, 2007.)

Mario woke up late the next morning. After taking a quick shower, he hurried down to the kitchen for some breakfast, and found his father sitting by the dining table sipping coffee and reading the day’s paper.

“There’s a pot of steaming coffee on the stove, but you will have to fix breakfast yourself. Your mom has gone to the market to make sure that your favorite dishes will be served for lunch.”

Mario smiled. His mother’s cooking had no equal in the world, and it was one of the things he sorely missed in all the time he was working abroad.

After pouring himself a cup of coffee, Mario sat on the chair across his old man, knowing his father would continue his education about wives and women.

“You remember Tina,” his father asked, gazing at Mario to see how he would react at the mention of her name.

“Sure,” Mario answered, “the last I saw of her, she had just graduated from high school, no longer a girl but not yet a woman.”

“Well, you will be surprised,” his father continued, “she is now a fully grown woman, in the right places too, and she teaches college in one of the local universities.

“Her mother, Mrs. Lee, is celebrating her natal day today, and we have been invited to her birthday bash later tonight.”

Mario couldn’t quite figure out what natal and birthday had to do with the other, so he just asked his dad what time will they be going to the party.

“About seven,” his father replied. “As I recall, Tina had this schoolgirl crush on you, and the poor waif cried her heart out when you left for the States.”

“Fifteen years is a long time dad, I am sure she must have forgotten me by now,” Mario mused, not really wishing it were so.

There were a lot of people at Mrs. Lee’s party. Some Mario recognized, others he have never met before.
Mario saw Tina talking animatedly to a good looking young man, and when she turned to look in his direction, it was if he was a total stranger – not a smile from her, not even a flicker of recognition.

Then Mario heard a woman’s voice calling out his name, and when he sighted her, Mario was dumstruck. Despite her age, Mrs. Lee was still as beautiful as ever, sexy even.

Exchanging kisses on the cheek, Mario was surprised to see his father frowning.

As soon as he had the chance, Mario’s dad pulled him out to the back lawn of the Lee mansion, visibly angry.

“Mario,” his father said, almost shouting. “Stay away from Mrs. Lee. I don’t want you talking to her anymore, and forget the beso-beso. Don’t think I didn’t see the lust in your eyes when you were doing that.”

“You have it all wrong Pop,” Mario tried to placate his dad. “It wasn’t anything at all like that.”

“But why are you so furious? Don’t tell me you are jealous.”

“You are damn right I am jealous,” his father shot back, no longer as composed as Mario knew him to be.

“I have been lusting for that woman since she got widowed a year back, so keep your eyes and hands off her.”

Someone hiding in the shadows was listening to the seemingly heated exchange between father and son, and he smiled wickedly to himself.

“You are too late boys,” Pedro, the Lee family driver, muttered, not loud enough for anyone to hear.
Stone-drunk, Pedro went on with his little soliloquy, talking to no one in particular.

“I have my own eyes on her too, you know, but it seems Mr. Lee, her late husband, fathered a few kids outside of the conjugal abode, and all of them want a piece of his estate, including deposited in the bank.”

“So, guess who Mrs. Lee is going to bed with? Who else but the judge hearing the case filed by the Lee illegitimate children.”

“I have to hand it to His Honor, he has the best of two worlds, sharing her bed and fortune, the lucky bastard.”

Mario woke up in a cold sweat. That was some bad dream he just had.

Well, dream or not, he decided to fly back to the States the next day.

Seeking out his mother in the kitchen, Mario told her what he intended to do, not giving any explanation for his sudden decision.

“I understand son,” Mario’s mother gently responded.

“Your Christmas vacation has been one traumatic experience. What was it you said after doing the round of the city – “nothing has changed.”

“You are wrong hijo, everything has changed.”

“The old values are gone, and we are a new breed of Filipinos obsessed with money and power.”

“Promises, even sacramental vows, are no longer taken to heart, honored more in the breach as they say.

“In the days of the revolution, all the way up to the Japanese occupation, the women were just as heroic as the men. Today, the women are just as bad and greedy as the men.”

“Life here is all pretense, like your father pretends to love me while lusting for that whore, Mrs. Lee, like politicians pretending to love our country, and yet abuse and ravish her at every turn.”

“Go home to the States, son, and never come back, but remember always that you are a Filipino, brown of skin but pure of heart and spirit.”

“Now let me help you pack your things.”

Mario tightly hugged his mother, perhaps for the last time.

Just before Mario boarded the plane, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, her voice trembling with emotion, Mario’s mom whispered into his, “Go and do your mother proud, as you have always done me proud, do your country proud, do us all proud.”

Little did Mario know that one day he would become a famous writer and author, never forgetting his roots, writing under the pen name Ibaloi Cruz.

His parents’ marriage eventually fell apart, and his father later married Mrs. Lee, who continued to sleep with the judge, but Pedro would have his share when the two were not around.

Enormity has its rewards.

And according to the boys, Tina was truly her mother’s daughter – in more ways than one.

Mario’s mom never remarried, and went on to live with Mario’s sister Martha, whose family welcomed her with open arms. The happy glow on her face until her last day on earth is said to sum up her single blessed life, a doting grandma to Martha’s children.

Happy New Year!