Randy Ford Author- E. CONQUISTADOR Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen

Then, he was fastened to a seat attached to a post and waited for the turn of a screw. How many turns of a screw would it take? Would it happen slowly, or would it happen fast? It happened very fast. With sparkling eyes, she sensed his desire but never guessed his heart. For other men, even Carlos, Felicia had been a rake’s dream.

So Felicia saw him locked to a post. She saw a white, motionless figure locked to a post and watched as an executioner twisted a screw. Knowing who it was … knowing it was Tan, Felicia prayed for mercy. She prayed for mercy and that death would quickly come. A part of her wished she hadn’t come and hadn’t been part of this spectacle, during which each person jostled for a better view. She cried, while she watched a priest hold a crucifix in one hand and sprinkle Tan with holy water. Tan’s palms were tied together, as if he were praying. She cried, while she watched an executioner twist a screw. She had to force herself to watch, as she sobbed, so much so that those near her moved away. She didn’t want to watch, but forced herself. She couldn’t believe it was happening but saw that it was. She watched as a prison official give a signal, signaled with his sword, and watched an executioner give a screw a violent twist. When his back snapped, a slight forward movement of Tan’s bare feet went all but unnoticed.

Felicia stood at the edge of a killing field. Nothing ever upset her more. The ritual seemed misplaced, like a curtain fell between the world and God. By the time it was over, Felicia knew that somehow she would avenge Tan’s death.

She approached the platform, until a soldier stopped her. A script called for Tan’s body to be left out in the hot sun until noon. She stood there the entire time. She stood there until they removed Tan’s body.

After a long voyage, perilous in those days, Felicia arrived in Manila. She knew no one in Manila and hadn’t met anyone she trusted. On the ship, only the captain befriended her. He directed his crew to leave her alone. He considered her his, and she encouraged it. So he gave her a cabin that rivaled his. She requested it and paid top dollar for it. Most of the time Felicia wore a chemisette of pineapple fiber, finer than the finest cambri and as transparent as a veil. It wasn’t practical, but she saw the affect it had on the captain. She saw the affect it had on the crew. Still she wore it. She saw the affect it had and knew what she was doing. She saw how eyes became buttery and melting with desire. She saw the affect she had on him. She saw the affect it had on all of the men. She used men in this way. It was something she cultivated but kept in reserve. It was like having money in a bank.

With her baggage taken care of, she navigated a crowded gangway. She came back for her baggage once she found a place. And as she hurried and hoped she wasn’t too late, she took a cascas (sitting in a hen-coop-like compartment) up the Pasig river for a mile or more to the great pier-bridge (or the Punte de Espana), opposite low and dingy warehouses. She was in the heart of the European business district. Her search took her into the heart of European business district. Her search took her all over the city; but she didn’t know how close she came to Tan. She didn’t know how close she came, as she passed Fort Santiago. She didn’t know that she came within a few hundred yards of Tan. She didn’t know that he was held in the fort. Nor did she immediately learn anything about him.

Meanwhile, Tan slept in irons and on wet straw. By then he was imprisoned in an underground dungeon; and his dreams were limited to nightmares: “thorns and prickles, biting dogs and crows and vultures and was damned and constantly obliged to ascend and descend a tree armed with sharp thorns, and drink putrid gore.” Because of these nightmares, he rarely slept.

How long was he held in this hell? “Dong Kanus-a ka man moyaya?” Or, “Friend, when will you set me free?” Tan endured red-hot rocks. This was when he broke down, pleaded for mercy, and prayed for beatings to stop. This was he confessed.

With its old stone walls and antiquated cannons, this black hole, as a symbol of oppression and repression, had long been part of the nation’s consciousness. In the future other countries would take the place of Spaniards. Other countries would use the fort. Other countries would use it for a prison. But collective voices of martyrs like Tan’s were never suppressed.

But sometimes the future promised a respite. This time, corresponding with Felicia’s arrival, there were reasons for feeling optimistic. There were reasons to celebrate and reasons to think that people might not be fooling themselves.

Decorations were beautiful. They turned sadness into something splendid and brought pride back to the city. It didn’t matter that most of the trimmings were artificial, that most flowers were made of paper. For a short while people forgot that with the end of the galleon trade that it was also the end of a long history with Mexico. They temporarily forgot about loss trade. They temporarily forgot uncertainties that came with having to rely on different people, and a new government, as Spain tightened it reign, so festivities couldn’t have come at a better time.

As a start, a new governor general was appointed. Out with the old and in with the new, and the new man wanted to make sure everyone became involved. Out with the old and in with the new, the new man had a new agenda but like the old man it was his agenda. So some things never changed, and an example had to do with time and energy. Organizing and preparation still consumed more time and energy and was more elaborate than actual events. But the show went on, just as such events were needed. They all needed them, and each time people of Manila were given an excuse to dance and drink (not that they needed one) and for a short while they forgot how powerless they were.

Felicia heard a band play. North of the Pasig, she saw that commerce of freer Binondo had slowed. She saw that fewer people were doing business, and people were drinking and dancing. Shops of Swiss and Berliners, English emporiums and German chemists, and offices of Spanish physicians and Spanish tobacco dealers were all closed for the celebration. Instead, streets were packed. Instead, people were drinking and dancing. And there were flowers everywhere. As a spectacle, nothing rivaled it. And in spite of rain, they shouted, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” and they considered themselves lucky to be living in such a great age. Felicia couldn’t join in this celebration because she had nothing to celebrate about. She couldn’t celebrate or at least not until Tan was granted clemency.

The voyage took too long. Maybe it was too late. Agitated, Felicia couldn’t get Tan out of her mind. By coming to Manila she risked a great deal, and now she didn’t know where to start. Felicia also never recognized that the way Tan treated her bordered on cruelty. This she never saw. He treated her better than Carlos did, so she never saw it. Far from the powder and paint of the “singsong” house, she was hard and unyielding in her purpose. She was unyielding in her purpose for a person who didn’t treat her very well and who was truly a mercenary. Bowing to money, Tan charged high prices for his adopted daughters and sold information he got from them. He was a traitor. Treason came naturally to him.

A few days after the Balls of Monjigangas (which were theater acts staged by Chinese actors, honoring and recreating the journey of the Portrait) and facing execution, Tan finally took responsibility for his crime. However, he wouldn’t go as far as repudiating his sins and saving himself. That part of the opera Felicia missed.

She got her bag yanked out of her hands. She didn’t have energy enough to chase after the thief. Then caught by darkness, and caught without a place to stay, she wandered from Binondo to Intramuras, and from Intramuras back to Binondo, then walked down a promenade, where each evening Spaniards and foreigners came looking for amorous intrigue. She worried about becoming conspicuous. She did stand out. She couldn’t help but stand out before she found a place to stay.

To stay out of trouble, Felicia had to maintain a favorable dossier and become friends with gobernadorcillos, friar-curates and other principals of the city. To stay out of trouble and stay in the city she had to pursue a legitimate occupation. And to get an endorsement of a friar, she attended mass.

Felicia found a room just off of San Jose de Trazzo Street. San Jose de Trazzo Street was filled with flesh peddlers and had the biggest choice of prostitutes in Manila. But many men who picked up women there were filthy; and diseases were always a worry. Unlike men who visited Tan’s “singsong” house back in Jolo, men here were filthy and disease was a worry. But this “new cholera” didn’t come from dirt, fleas or rodents. This “new cholera” was spreading throughout the city and was considered one of the major social ills of the age. It was spreading and creating havoc and panic, and it continued to spread until authorities rattled their sabers.

Anyone new to the capital had to petition the governor general’s office for a credula. This was a document and a form of registration that listed a person’s address and profession. People needed to carry a credula at all times. They needed a credula to keep from getting arrested as an indocumentado. Then too anyone with the right credentials …. an array of documents, decorated with expansive seals … .in spite of their true character and identity, could pass for a person of integrity. Since Felicia entered Manila (hence the country) illegally, she had to find someone to forge papers for her. A neighborly tendera provided this service.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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