Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen

Further reports made this situation urgent. Bleak and gloomy news seemed very gloomy indeed. Sultan Mohammed Budderdoo died. Raiders took 1,000 natives prisoner. Moros fell upon isolated towns, destroyed pueblos and took many captives. Then raided adjacent coasts. What a disaster!

The last of the Beaujolois made the governor general more melancholy. And he seemed farther from Paris than ever. Paris, where streets seemed never ending; where streets were straight and wide; and where there were shops and stores everywhere.

“Find those thuds and shoot them!” he shouted.

April came, May, June. Carlos turned her out. Sultan Mohammed Budderdoo had just died. Carlos turned her out, and Felicia never wanted to be a slave, never wanted to be her husband’s slave; but, as a divorced woman, she stood under a darker cloud. Tossed aside, tossed out, Felicia now had to rely on her own resources. And she hoped she could still count on Tan.

Her move involved children. They followed her as she carried luggage down to the Chinese pier, where with Tan’s help she expected to find a place to live. Running around her, children didn’t mean to be cruel but didn’t fully understand her predicament. They didn’t mean to be cruel and didn’t understand, yet they made it difficult for her. Carlos was nowhere in sight. He didn’t help her. Instead he convinced Omar to go hunting with him.

Having gained status and acting like a minor Datu, Carlos spent much of his time (when he wasn’t dazed from opium) cultivating friends and allies and, because of their shared experiences (their first encounter and surviving a typhoon together), he knew he could count on Omar. Still he was careful. He knew he could count on Omar, but he didn’t want to cross him. As a Spaniard in Jolo, he knew his situation was tenuous, even perilous. He had to watch his back. He had to have friends, so maintaining a close relationship with Omar was essential. And such a delicate affair kept Carlos on his toes. And, on this day, of all days, hunting together seemed a good way to nurture their bond, a bond they both valued, a bond and obligation they both felt. With bodyguards, the two friends struck out early in the morning, first on horseback, then on foot, with rifles ready, ready. They were ready to enjoy themselves. They were ready to kill as many birds as possible. In triumph, at the end of a long, successful day, they brought their feathered trophies home.

When Felicia and her entourage reached the Chinese Pier, she found that everyone was waiting for her. (Or it seemed like everyone.) Sadly and slowly, she walked through a crowd. She hadn’t anticipated so much attention. Here were Chino merchants and traders. Also here were Moro women, who were fond of bright colors, scarlet and green being their favorites. Many of them she knew. And many of them acknowledged her sorrow. It was like many of them shared her fate. Not far from there was a slave market and all the horrors of separation and loss: profit for some, loss for others. Luckily, it wasn’t where she was headed.

As she slowly walked through a crowd, she luckily had an address and a place to go. Once again she came to a pivotal point in her life, and once again she was in control. Though filled with heavy emotions and unavoidable pain, she was in control. She held head up. Though she was in pain, she held her head up and preserved her dignity. Somehow she maintained her composure.

Brown Moro boys dove off the planked walkway and swam in brown water. They tried to get her attention. As she watched them, she could focus on something else other than uncertainties. They got her attention for a moment, and it was enough to distract her. And thanks to her resolve, she survived this. She survived because she was secure in herself and possessed unbridled spirit. At last, she could be herself. No longer restricted by Carlos, she could be herself.

Even adults pushed each other. Their numbers filled the pier. For more than five years, this woman had been a celebrity. Her husband and this woman were celebrities, so she drew a crowd. Her husband gave her status. Now she was on her own. And everyone could see she was on her own. Everyone could see he threw her out. As a wife of a member of the Sultan’s inner circle, she enjoyed many perks, perks of royalty, privileges these people could only imagine. Now she was one of them.

Call on Jesus. “O great preserver, almighty one, God the compassionate, who art alone shielder from all harm, protector from evil, bountiful and generous.” Help her enter this unfamiliar world, filled with temptations, temptations of the flesh. Call on Jesus to give her strength. Help her avoid gluttony and the use of opium; protect her from neurotic patterns of self-abuse.

A Catholic, Carlos struggled (as Adam struggled) not to sin. Divorce wasn’t easy for him either. Divorce was never easy. He wanted to think that he wouldn’t miss Felicia, wanted to think he didn’t need her, and that he could run his home without her. He certainly hoped his misfortune would end when he divorced her. However, events didn’t bear it out. He came to realize how much he depended on Felicia. He didn’t immediately realize how much he depended on her, but he eventually realized he threw away his greatest asset.

As with all illusions, early dreams of love evaporated. And it was impossible to turn back the clock. But Felicia knew she could take care of herself; and as far happiness? She’d have to wait and see.

She found the right door. Knocked. They let her in. Tan set it up for her. She naively believed that any love she found wouldn’t be centered on her body. Her plan hadn’t called for exploitation. Exploitation. Having been exploited before, she worked to make certain that it didn’t happen again.

Felicia learned that most women in her new home came as slaves to Jolo from Christian Visaya and Manila but were officially freed. Tan freed them. He freed them when he didn’t have to. Long before Felicia came, Tan opened his pleasure house. But he was different from other brothel owners.

Saddled with contempt for his customers (something women who worked for him agreed with), he encouraged faked orgasms. He encouraged fooling customers. Called Blossoms, his barrio girls played games as well as prostitutes anywhere, but they faked orgasms, faked everything. And Tan scripted it.

First sit customers down to pots of hot tea … spiked tea … but not overly spiked. Ingratitude was considered ugly, a fact when one was sober. But coyness was seductive and part of a game. It didn’t matter when customers were drunk. None of it mattered when customers were drunk. One came to admire merchandise. From stiff-backed, carved chairs one could admire merchandise, breathing in anticipation but one never expected to find eagerness in Tan’s establishment. Loud giggling upstairs teased the uninitiated. Teasing was all right. And now as Tan’s madam descended a well-worn stairway with her crew in tow, a voice within Felicia said, “Brave girls they are, and nothing can take away their beauty. In spite of leering, nothing could take away their beauty.” Their laughter made music. Then as they walked upstairs, Felicia said, “They’re in control. Thanks to Tan, they’re in control.”

To those who have never visited Tan’s brothel, where for a price you get a small room with an immense bed, a place smelling of tobacco and cheap soap, and a guaranteed rash, it might seem strange to find a woman like Felicia there. But in those days divorced women in Jolo didn’t have many choices. She knew from the start that divorced women didn’t have choices. She also learned to wear a mask. Like all other women there she wore a mask of a painted manikin. And she learned to fake orgasms. To hide true feelings in this dream world, with its magnificent red pillows and temple-like decor, Felicia always wore a mask. But she still felt disappointed, and particularly disappointed with Tan, as she struggle day by day to keep from becoming a commodity.

Felicia wanted more from her next lover than she ever got from her ex-husband. She craved tenderness, which she never got enough of. She loved to be touched in a tender way. She hated roughness. She was like must women. Most women loved to be touch in a tender way. But other women in the brothel unfortunately gossiped about her, and Felicia soon felt like she simply exchanged one bad situation for another. Only now she had to be wary because she generated jealousy, and it continued to grow.

More than anything else, Felicia didn’t want upset Tan. She couldn’t afford to upset him. She couldn’t afford to because she didn’t have any other place to go. She couldn’t go back to Carlos, though she still loved him. She often thought about Carlos. How could she not think about him? How could she still love Carlos after what he did to her? Carlos divorced her, hadn’t he? There wasn’t anything she could do about it when he divorced her, was there? Did she have a choice? And she knew where Tan’s love lay, and it wasn’t with her. So where did it leave Felicia?

Actually Felicia knew very little about Tan. She knew nothing about his more shadowy activities. She didn’t know about his dealings with Britain and Holland and his trips to Zamboanga, a short hop by boat even then. Trips to Basilan, a shorter hop. She knew he was a successful Chinese trader but didn’t know that he represented a piratical establishment and exchanged guns and powder for slaves and opium. He was not only responsible for crimes against Manila, and hence Spain, but he also ran a vast web of trade and exchange that not only exploited tropical resources but also humans. She didn’t know that he was considered a criminal in other parts of the world and had a price on his head in other parts of the world. Then, with hundreds of vessels calling on Jolo every year, why did Tan ever leave the island? Why did he risk everything by being involved in even more shadowy activities?

A knock at the door at that hour only meant trouble. Using darkness, Spanish agents came ashore and singled out one person. They moved quickly. They had to move quickly. They had to move quickly because they wanted to keep their identity hidden. They knew where they were going. They wanted to keep their identity hidden and to surprise Tan. He wasn’t hard to find. An impressive ornamental gate gave him away.

Even at that hour Tan didn’t anticipate trouble when he heard a knock on his door, nor did he anticipate trouble when he opened it. He often conducted business with foreigners in the middle of the night, so seeing three Spanish gentlemen standing there didn’t alarm him. He acted like he expected them. He could’ve expected them. Or he just got careless. Maybe he got careless or was tricked. Thought he enjoyed immunity. Where were his bodyguards?

Tan answered the door in bare feet and a knee-length camisa de china shirt. He was confused by how serious his intruders were. He didn’t know these men, so that also confused him.  What did they want? And why had they come at such a ridiculous hour? He wasn’t expecting anyone. And where were his bodyguards? It confused him. He waited, half expecting a ridiculous sermon, but to his consternation, they placed him in chains. Where were his bodyguards? In shock he tried to resist. Where were his bodyguards? Where was his army of men? He should’ve been guarded. Make no mistake he was confused. Surely there was some mistake. Then before he could say anything, they silenced him and had him out the door without anyone witnessing it.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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