Maria came from the provinces. Since she came from the provinces, she didn’t have many choices. Yet she chose to leave the provinces and come to Manila. And coming from the provinces led to her downfall.
Her downfall cost her, but she also profited from it. And as a fallen woman, she was able to rise to the top of her profession. She knew what to do, knew how to do it and became a professional. She was sought after and rose to the top of her profession because she learned tricks of the trade. She learned to use fantasy, flattery, and exaggeration. Using fantasy, Maria created a new persona. Using flattery, she made men feel good, and she used exaggeration to give them pleasure. She was in the pleasure business and never shied from it. She assumed a persona of a fox spirit, an extremely beautiful and seductive temptress, who loved to prey on old men who wanted to be treated like novices. For their benefit she specialized in inversion or sex with a woman on top, another example, as she was fond of saying, of “a world turned upside down.” She also impressed old men by treating them like boys.
At first Marie didn’t pay attention to a rash that went away and came back. She didn’t pay attention until it came back. It didn’t itch or hurt, so she didn’t pay attention to it at first. She didn’t pay attention until rough, reddish brown spots appeared on both palms and she got a fever. She knew she was sick when she got a fever and her lymph glands began to swell. She was also tired and her muscles ached. Her muscles shouldn’t have ached because she didn’t do physical labor.
In her business, she couldn’t afford such grief. In her business, she had to always maintain a clean bill of health. She had to appear healthy. She couldn’t afford to have a rash and spots on her hands. She couldn’t afford blemishes.
People knew then where rashes and spots like she had came from, or thought they did. People knew and knew it came from sex. Then who? Which bastard was it? Who? When? When and who? But she knew that she had no one but herself to blame. Still Maria wanted to know who the bastard was.
Maria and Felicia placed each other. They knew where they saw each other. They knew when and where and the circumstances. They knew it was in the governor general’s palace. Maria was picked out of a crowd and taken to His Eminence’s apartment. She probably had syphilis before then. When she was taken to the governor general, she knew and covered up blemishes as best she could.
Each evening, the governor general sent for a whore. He would say, “I want Yu Chi or Wildfowl again,” each a professional, who brought with them novelties. He looked for perversions, such as “grandes cocottes,” straight from Paris, or something that was done in carriages at Longchamps. Yu Chi and Wildfowl reached the top of their profession by providing novelties, and it certainly wasn’t surprising that the governor general returned to them. But once, when Yu Chi or Wildfowl were unavailable, he said, “O good lord … get Casanova and tell him to get me a true whore, a cigarilla.” Maria’s ano then told the governor general’s man that he had “a naughty little thing.” He could only hope that governor general would be delighted with. Maria. He could only hope he found Maria’s voice charming and hoped he loved her seductive manners. And he had nothing to fear because Maria knew how to reduce men to putty.
Felicia somehow knew that the governor general wouldn’t get away with Tan’s murder. She somehow knew it, or hoped he would be punished. She wasn’t religious but thought God would punish him. God worked in mysteries ways, or maybe in the governor general’s case it wasn’t mysterious. Felicia learned through Maria that he was infected and that Maria knew because she saw a rash around his penis. A rash around his penis … they laughed about it, though it wasn’t a laughing matter. And she recognized it because it looked like a rash she had. But who infected him? And it wasn’t long before the horrible consequences were widely known.
After he became infected the governor general (at the time Jose Pinggol) became furious with prostitutes. He was furious when he should’ve only been angry with himself. Around this time venereal diseases were on the rise in Manila and Jose Pinggol blamed prostitutes. An epidemic of venereal diseases caused great concern and led to closer surveillance of prostitutes. There was an increased awareness of syphilis, and this awareness meant that syphilis couldn’t be ignored, while no bacteriologist had yet identified the spring-like and beautiful helical shaped Treponena Pallidum under a microscope.
Around this time, Jose Pinggol, who was soon replaced and who unlike his successor came from Spain rather than Mexico, agonized over his rashes. He knew something was wrong. He knew something was wrong and knew what it was. He knew something was wrong, terribly wrong, and knew he needed to see a physician, preferably a Spaniard with a Naval Surgeon’s Diploma. Accordingly, when contagion showed up in his mouth, he assumed it was from kissing. And perhaps if he had only syphilitic lesions in his mouth, he could’ve blamed his cook, for mixing his spoon with ones she used for tasting. Or on the ear, from kissing and biting. But, given a hundred different possibilities, there was only one explanation for rashes on his penis.
Now to have an upright citizen, a maker of laws and regulations, infected was a sign of how contaminated society was. The governor general, therefore, believed that rules had to change and that protecting the public from debauchery and syphilis fell to him. But deporting prostitutes wasn’t a solution. Deporting prostitutes to Mindanoa, Palawan, and the Sulus never curbed syphilis in Manila. But then, not knowing it wouldn’t work, a desperate Jose Pinggol gave each governadorcillo forty-eight hours to furnish information about each suspect. They were then ordered to find out whether these women were included on a list of taxpayers, whether they had previous encounters with the law, and whether they were known prostitutes. Into the Hospital de San Juan de Dios went infected women (never mind infected men), while other prostitutes were incarcerated in the Carcel de Bilibid. Procedure required an accused woman to be detained and subjected to hard labor appropriate to her sex. Then deportation!
For poor Jose, mercury (bugbear) was prescribed. Yes, mercury, and goodbye to his teeth, goodbye to his hair, and his bones gave way (yet mercury was regarded as remedy par excellence for syphilis). He was losing his hair anyway, losing it from syphilis. In mercury, more than syphilis, in a cure more than disease (consider here the revenge Felicia sought), for nothing harmed him more than mercury, inflaming his mouth and a hundred other disasters, such as ulceration, gangrene, severe lesions of bones; numerous visceral afflictions, especially nephritis; phthisis and nephritis; stricture of the rectum; nervous phenomena, such as tremors, pains, apoplexy, paralysis,. hebritude, epilepsy and insanity.
In Hospital de San Juan Dios, Maria longed to communicate with her friends, longed to communicate with friends among them Felicia. She was sent to the hospital, where she recuperated among groans and shrieks of mad women and other prostitutes. Her expediente also showed she suffered excommunication. There were many women who deserved excommunication and deserved it more than she did. Murderers or who themselves cut off their husband’s heads deserved it more. Since when were prostitution or lust crimes? You didn’t see men deported. Maria was deported, and a gap between who she was and who she wanted to be remained.
Often, Felicia felt consoled by a “living” Tan. His words came to her in intervals. His words came to her in intervals especially at night. At any moment she expected to see him. Then she would wakeup with a start and relive his execution. She also dreamed of returning to Jolo…to spirals of incense and clicks of divination chips in her own home (previously Tan’s). Maybe they would smoke opium, maybe not. Dreaming offered her an escape.
As for Maria … well, any prostitute, regardless of her past and her status could be redeemed with a good name by marrying someone. It didn’t matter if a husband were chosen by lottery. A mere contract sufficed. Her past didn’t matter as long as she was married. Meanwhile, deported to Zamboanga, Maria’s marriage was prearranged by the Archbishop, and her new husband met her at the pier. Neither one knew what the other looked like. There was no way she could reject a fresh start.
And as for Felicia … well, she definitely wanted Carlos back. She needed Carlos, deserved his attentiveness, and allowed him to think that he was boss. She considered herself lucky and thought that she couldn’t have found a better mate. She needed a husband after her experiences in Manila.