The other man….the other life…another time

June 24, 2017

Somewhere along the endless serpentine laterite road between Davao city and Zamboanga in the Mindanao – during the evenings when men would sit along the long bench under the wan and hiss of cordite lamps to get high on Barangay hooch fermented from coconut and yam. On the last call when everyone is high as a kite and the only satellite TV in the village is switch off – and men have all but run dry of topics to keep the conversation rolling on…someone may ask, ‘do you all remember Padil?’ And all the men would smile knowingly and fall so very silent….the legend of Padil like all legends in the timeless labyrinth of the shanty towns of Barangays comprised of one part truth and usually two parts make belief…he’s real name wasn’t really Padil. They all just called him that, as he looked so much like that much beloved bad boy action hero actor Robin Padilla. Others believed he might have been a third generation mestizo as he often mangled his Tagalog with Spanish sobriquets terms – a habit common to the landowning gentry of the Ayala’s, Osmenas and Arjuno’s. Others believed he had once worked for the CIA as a spy responsible for reporting on the secret construction of the largest covert military airstrip in the Mindanao in General Santos funded by bluefin a USAID front – then of course, all knew of the story when Padil had spotted an abandoned vine riven villa once build by a Spaniard Chopra merchant somewhere along the Cotabato mountain route to the West on Saragani on a hill – they said, he had stood there and looked at that ruined for so long like a man reminded of happier times in his past life in Africa and so Padil decided to stay and grow bananas right there.

The landowning gentry especially the ladies of the Wednesday club in the Marina Bay regarded Padil with a mix of fascination and endearment whenever he visited metro Manila – they were equally enamored by his impeccable manners along with his rumored illicit association with Gringo Honasan and the ease at which he was able to walk freely in and out of Abu Sayaff territory untouched…like an angel dancing on fiery clouds of death..they all whispered as they look on – but to the old men, the European Spanish power brokers who prided themselves with their purity of will in the same manner they kept their lineage entirely Spanish since Magellan landed on the shores of Cebu…the one’s who bank rolled noisy senators and pulled all the strings in Malacanang unseen by all, who were always content to play bridge and sip extremadura in the Rizal room sectioned off from the rest of the erudite crowd below – despite their collective suspicion for Padil. They found him useful and continued to give him land concessions…as Padil despite his youth and cavalier attitude, whenever he didn’t drink to much seemed to posses an uncanny ability to appreciate their reality of how power and politics could only be perpetuated by maintaining the tenuous relationship of mutual coexistence between the Christians and the Muslims thru the lost art of La Convivencia…..if anything good would ever come out from that God forsaken place where there was no semblance of law and order…that black heathen splotch…the old men all referred too as el terra diablo.

In the Barangay’s that dotted the edges of Padil’s banana estate – the kids knew his legs and pricks of his hairline moustache. He wore only mirror polished ankle high boots with flared ridding jodhpurs. As for the men, they looked on curiously with fascination at his habit of sporting a shouldered holstered revolver. As it was general knowledge, Padil the nocturnal marauder in a lawless land where only the law of the gun rule supreme – was renowned for his disdain of firearms and much preferred that other elegant weapon of antiquity, the Moros feared which they referred to as the whispering death – the bow. On one occasion, legend has it Padil single handedly picked off ten brigands on a moonless night who ambushed a bus of nuns. Or was it twenty or maybe thirty depending on how many bottles of San Miguel had been uncapped during the recount of the story. For effect Padil left cards on each man he killed. They all said, he once saw it being done in a movie and so like the movie star that he was…he did the same for la effect ..as for the ladies – they giggled all the time behind closed shutters while their mothers looked on pensively bitting their prayer beads, as it was widely rumored – only a man who is in league with the devil himself was not afraid of the Moros and that Padil could steal a woman’s soul with just one fleeting look. For most of the time, when the sun dipped below the ochre colored barren mountains. Padil installed himself on a rocking chair and nursed a Montecristo till nine and retired before ten. On the first Monday of every month, he wore a pristine creme suit complete with black and white spectator shoes and a creme Montecristi and visited the only bordello in Davao city which also doubled as the Sanfirono club for the rest of the week – Padil sat all by himself usually in the verandah overlooking the square as he played solitaire all by himself sipping neat whisky thru the night….he never ever seemed interested in what was on offer, except maybe to look up from time to time with a curious mix of having being so near yet so far from experiencing the prophetic whenever the madam of the parlor brought in a new girl only to return to his game of cards like a man searching fervently for something once lost….as if the only thing he ever wanted out of the evening laid somewhere in that other far and distant mythical realm that could only be discovered in the infinite randomness of the universe of cards – where chance and serendipity danced and all that Padil could do was to search….search….and search for her, for Padil the man who would usually sit all by himself from evening till the break of dawn, it seemed the only woman he was ever interested in was to find his mythical queen of hearts in a game called solitaire…but it always ended the same….no matter hard he searched…Padil could never find her…..’

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