Desperate, Felicia stood inside the governor general’s palace, unsure which of two staircases to take. The two staircases were indistinguishable, so she didn’t know which to take, or where each went. She didn’t know where she was going, but she had to speak to someone, preferably someone at the top. Without disguising her frustration, she chose the one to the right.
Indeed, her anguish and frustration grew, as days went by. Each blind lead magnified a sense of panic. And as allusions evaporated, she became painfully aware of her own limitations.
She finally decided to go to the palace and plead Tan’s case. It was a big step for her. It would’ve been a big step for anyone. It was a big step because she didn’t know how things worked. She didn’t know where to start and knew nothing about protocol and went up stairs that led to His Excellency’s apartment. Instead of going to his office, she went directly to His Excellency’s apartment. On the second floor, she had to face a senor captain. Someone of a lessor rank wouldn’t do. Someone of lessor rank wouldn’t have been stationed there. Blindly, she climbed the stairs for it took all of her attention; and the Senor Captain wasn’t paying attention like he should’ve been; or before he could react, the door to the main apartment sprung open.
Then and there Felicia came face to face with two people, male and female. And Felicia guessed that the man was no less a dignitary than the governor general. She guessed it. She guessed it from the senor captain’s reaction that it was the governor general. How she got so close to the governor general and quite by accident came within a few feet of her goal she never knew. But the sight of lechery she recognized, and it stopped her. It stopped her instead of the senor captain because she recognized lechery, lechery with a prostitute. And she hadn’t anticipated seeing the governor general with a prostitute.
Alarm propelled Senor Captain forward. He couldn’t have anticipated what happened. With his job on the line, he had only a second to react.
There was no retreat for Felicia or the governor general, the governor general with his friendly escort. Another tendera; or was she a consturera, a ladandera, or a cigarerra? By forgery or by misrepresentation, she could have been any of those. Felicia shouldn’t have been surprised. It shouldn’t have surprised her. Given her experience in Jolo, it shouldn’t have. But shouldn’t the governor general be governing instead of whoring, or more specifically be looking into Tan’s case? She stared (“leered” would be more accurate).
An elderly gentleman, a long time aid who knew when to appear and disappear, intervened and offered his services as ombudsman. Downstairs, therefore, they went, which gave Felicia some encouragement. He looked like he knew what he was doing and that he would clear all obstacles. He looked like he was in charge, and it seemed like she would now avoid long waits and red tape, etc.. It seemed like he was very helpful. A stop at the administrator’s office, into which the two stepped, where upon her nodding escort scratched off what was apparently an order.
And thus, on a day that marked a beginning of a long nightmare, began her ride on a bureaucratic merry-go-round. An administrator glanced hastily at a note handed to him, and picked out the word “particular,” which changed what would’ve otherwise been an “order” into a personal request. Hence the “order” wasn’t worth the paper that it was written on. Without an “order,” an administrator could sit on any request and, saying he was sorry, he told Felicia to take a seat. She remained hopeful when he told her to take a seat. He then told her that he was sorry but he could only honor requests written on official paper. Therefore, she had to sit and wait her turn; but he unfortunately didn’t tell her that her business fell outside his jurisdiction. He could’ve told her this before he had her sit down, so she sat there a long time before someone did. By then it was getting near the end of the day, and she was no longer trying to put forth a brave face. And only then, after she had grown tired of sitting, did an administrator, graciously and in rather a pedestrian manner, directed her to the Archbishop.
With good reason the Archbishop had been on her original list of contacts, for there were times when the head cleric acted as the head of state. There were certain matters that fell under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop, and there were certain matters the governor general took care of, but it wasn’t clear who was in charge of what. This priest or padre, a polished, scholarly and adroit prelate-politician wheeled a great deal of influence and power. This was clear. But Felicia didn’t know that he could have any governor general recalled, and it wasn’t made clear that this was what made this prelate an ex-officio notary, whose attestation legalized, among many other things, executions. So any order signed by him commanded respect. To be sent to the Archbishop filled Felicia with some hope, particularly since she didn’t know how he really felt. She didn’t know that he didn’t think instruments of death and torture weren’t used enough, machines that were preserved in convents since the early days of the Holy Inquisition.
Felicia didn’t know when to get off the merry-go-round. She didn’t know when to say enough was enough or when she was taken for a ride. By Felicia’s own account, she said she felt awkward crossing the thrown room in the palace of the Archbishop and on attaining entry to his Reverence’s chamber. Of many things they talked about (from birds of Mindanoa to Philippine literature, over sherry which seemed to warm the cockles of his heart) nothing caught Felicia more off guard, and unfortunately reflected his bias, than his question: “young lady, aren’t you too inexperienced for politics?” For she didn’t see past his warmness and that he wouldn’t offer any more than friendly advice. At any rate, he listened to Felicia. At least he listened, and that was more than other officials did; but it was after she finished that he told her that civil magistrates weren’t answerable to him, so he rarely got involved in judicial matters.
The whole time they drank Spanish sherry. Now the Archbishop knew Spanish sherry too well. Even in its weakest form Spanish sherry was too strong for the uninitiated but in small doses, it could be sipped continuously and, with a cigar, made for a pleasant half-hour, the half-hour he gave Felicia. An audience with the Archbishop, in itself, was unusual, when one normally was turned away with words such as “impossible,” “next week,” or “he’s ill;” so her experience with the Archbishop wasn’t a total disappointment. He gave her a few suggestions (very definite ideas).
The commandant had to make sure that she wasn’t a threat and that she really had the Archbishop’s blessing. She went to the Commandant more than once.
With each stop she lost precious time. She knew she was losing time, but not how precious it was. The amount of time she lost at each stop depended on the official. It seemed like policy varied from official to official. But at both palaces, even with native clerks and clerics, and those who refused to budge without an order, she was treated with courtesy, which she became less inclined to reciprocate.
Meanwhile, newspapers ran stories about Tan. Otherwise she would’ve missed his execution. Because of newspapers and hype she didn’t miss it. But she wasn’t prepared for the way Tan died. Nothing prepared her for the way he died or prepared her for the spectacle. Spending so much of her strength going from office to office, she didn’t have much in her. Literally, as a consolation, death seemed preferable. If she could’ve, she would have exchanged her life for Tan’s.
Even with garroting, he died with dignity. This she saw, as she gazed at the white motionless figure. And a band played its best. This she saw as a band played its best and she asked herself, “Was his crime some horrible deed?” Most people didn’t know. Most people didn’t know his crime. Most of them only knew he was being executed. Jeweled Spanish ladies stood up in their carriages and waved their handkerchiefs, but they didn’t know what he did. In that day and age, enthusiasm, indeed applause and cheers, along with music at executions, wasn’t considered vulgar. Tan’s execution brought people out for a much bigger celebration; but Felicia couldn’t participate in it.
Felicia recognized a face, as she walked home. It was a pretty face of a woman among many women practicing their profession on the sidewalks of San Jose de Trazzo Street. She had seen this face before, and she knew where she saw it. Both of them knew where they saw each other and because of it became friends.