Mano Po, His first short stories


In the eye of the storm. 1
Palawan. 9
Caños de Mecca. 19
Romance in the Kasbah. 36
The trouble with Eustace. 44
The Djebel. 56
After the battle 63
Tarifa. 65
The spirit of the Caminos. 70
Fishing 82
Alfredo Lopez de Atunes 88
Memories of Apocalypse Now 93
Calamansi 98
Charlie. 103
The cave. 109
Temba 125
A Rant 129

Story One, In the eye of the storm

She had hair, so long that she could step on it. Something had happened to her at the birth of her child, something which nobody would tell me about, it may have been trivial and blown up with family judgements or superstitions, but it was of sufficient importance to her to make a promise, a promise not to cut her hair or the boys for that matter. I used to call him Fu, for Fu Manchu, as his long hair was tied into a plait or a pony-tail. It wasn’t good, he looked like an old man, and her hair was weak, you could see where it was starting to fail at her hairline with resultant little gaps, nothing much, but quite telling. I told her to cut it and she would get cross and unhappy so I desisted. One day I arrived at their home and found Trance sitting outside fiddling with a painting.

“Where is everyone?”

“Cooking”, he pointed, I could hear them chatting. So I grabbed him, with a conspiratorial grin and a wink and ran off to find a Tuk-tuk(three-wheeled taxi).

“This is Mrs. Mariola´s grandson? the barber asked, his mother is Mrs. Cherry? ( some Filipino names are derived from the mottos written on the noses of American aircraft, Cherry for Cherry pie. I met one girl named Usnavi, I couldn’t believe it.)” Does Mrs. Mariola and Mrs. Cherry know the boy is having haircut?”

“Yes of course” I lied, I was just fed up with seeing the poor little blighter running around looking like an old man.”

“They will kill you, they will beat you up, jejejeje,” he giggled as the boy’s locks went tumbling to the floor and the boy giggled and I joined in and soon the whole of the tiny shop was giggling.” No money, no pay he said, keep the money for a doctor after beating.”

Story four, Romance in the Kasbah

A woman walking several steps behind a man, in the way her sex demanded of her, passed by, head held respectfully low. She was tall slender but shapely, and as she went you could somehow visualize from her manner that her legs were long and her buttocks full and sensual. Her eyes locked with mine, and in that brief instance, I imagined it to be a look of terror and pleading. That I had received a hidden message, a dumb crying out. Then she stumbled and muttered indistinctly. The man stopped, turned around, and took two steps towards where she had also stopped, and as she cringed before him, to my utter consternation and anger he backhanded her viciously across her face. She staggered
backward a step and fell to the ground. I jumped up with an angry shout. But men pulled me back. “Don´t interfere, brother, he´s her father”. I was struck, sickened, and saddened by the animal brutality I was witnessing. Some onlookers, amongst them women, were shouting their approval, even urging on this father who was brutalising and humiliating a young girl publicly. Other more reasonable men had gathered around the attacker trying to convince him to cool down. He shouted back in guttural Arabic, and as a toing and froing of words developed, took a flying kick at the girl who was lying prostrate on the ground. At this, I could no longer contain my anger, I threw off the men holding me back and went for his
face. He was a very big man, probably from the country, and hard. His head was big and woolly, a hooked and flattened nose, eyebrows as thick as two fingers, and shoulders that looked as if they had spent a lifetime pulling a plough across fields. He saw me coming and suddenly there was a knife in his hand. I was committed, plummetting forward roaring my
venom, with no idea at all of where to hit the bastard. Suddenly, as out of the blue, the head of a younger man whizzed past me, there was a thud and a loud clack, blood flew from the erstwhile father’s face and nose and he collapsed in a heap. Sirens could be heard over the general mayhem that had been unleashed all around us, and to add to the din the muezzins
suddenly spluttered out from the mosques in their staccato metallic sound calling the faithful to prayer. I shouldered my way to the girl started to lift her gently and found the head butter doing the same. We hoisted her up between us and ran.

Story Nine, Spirit of the caminos

“They don´t love anyone or anything, not even themselves they don´t know how,” Fransisco told the mayor in an aside. “Life has twisted them; too much false love nodiscipline, strong ignorant mother weak or no father. One of the father´s drinks the other ran off. The kids are ok they need a strong stick as a support in the same way as we prop up a tree growing, and in danger of being permanently twisted by the wind”.

Every weekend Fransisco began to go with children from the pueblo to the park and started to teach them to do all sorts of things, sweep, dig holes, prune and when the sun began to set he would practice a ritual of body movements, of exercise, stretching, kicking outwards and upwards moving rhythmically round and back, leaping like a tiger and always
roaring like a lion with his every letting out of air. The children were mesmerised, they just sat and watched his every move until the red Spanish sky went down behind the distant mountains. The mothers would come out from their homes, many of them dressed in the
black of mourning, to call the children who would slowly trudge homewards with constant backward glances at a solitary figure moving gracefully and purposefully, cutting and kicking, slicing jumping and spinning whilst the curtain of night slowly dropped on the blood
lit horizon, and then he was gone. The next evening when the sun began to mark the close of another day three figures could be seen silhouetted against the darkening sky and as the days and the weeks went by the group grew until it became a tiny army moving and jumping
in unison as would a troupe of Russian ballet dancers and the park of the pueblo transformed by their intensity into the majestic hall of a St. Petersburg salon.

Some of the parents were happy to abdicate their responsibility for the children´s behaviour although they took no interest at all. Others criticised, very much out of ignorance as they had nothing real to say or allege. There were also those children who were abused by their fathers in that they were made to work in the family fields from sunup to sundown. And there were cases of boys and girls who were being or had been abused physically but about which no one said anything. The family was so important to the people of the pueblo that such things would be kept quiet and settled within the family itself. Well, Fransisco gave the
children permission to come to him, each within the framework of hours that would not clashwith a reasonable allocation to their family work or duties. For reasons that no one understood, not even the bad ones amongst the parents made any objection, his word was respected.

He was a quiet unassuming gentle and humble man with a ready smile for everyone.

Talked often and quite a lot but just about pleasant things or telling funny story’s. There were story’s, more like legends emanating from “the bad town “nearby. The old men were fervent when they told people that there were good towns and bad, and this one nearby was bad. Well, the legends went on to say that men from the bad town would roam the dark roads in gangs robbing and killing travellers. It was rumoured that they stopped only after having run-ins with “a dark man” a traveller who turned on them and called up spirits of the darkness. No doubt he had the help of dark forces as he was in many places at once. An attack on three and four men happened all at once, it came from everywhere. Yet they only
saw one man. This man broke legs and elbows wrists and even a neck they say, all the while screaming devilish incantations. So they stopped wandering at night, they became afraid of their prey.

Story Eight, Tarifa

The man sat on the sand. He shielded his eyes and looked out to sea his hand cupped to sharpen the blurs. If he held the position long enough the hand helped him to see the actual waves as they broke on the horizon, There were boats out; a sailing vessel with a swollen spinnaker reminded him of a well pregnant colourfully dressed skater. A fishing boat and a
couple of smaller craft hung listlessly well below the horizon, out fishing for the day. Close to the shore a pedalo, and a lone figure braving the chill swimming in the choppy water. The man stayed a while Just sitting listening to the sea, feeling the strong caress of the breeze and the warming rays of the sunlight. He seemed mesmerised just gazing seaward, but in fact, he was thanking God for the wonder of his daily creation. The moment would arrive spontaneously when he would stand up and go into the ocean for his daily swim. It was always good if someone was swimming before him, not for any particular reason; it just
made him feel better.

He waded in treading gingerly on the stones which had been washed ashore by the storm of the night before, together with occasional piles of driftwood. There was a small step, and as he went down it, he jumped forward into the wave and screamed to lessen the effect of the sudden cold encompassing his body. He swam aggressively for the first twenty metres using a breast style with his arms low down in the water, cupped hands pulling him along powerfully so that half of his back and his shoulders rose out of the water with every stroke.
He flipped over at the end of a move into a gentle but intense backstroke and pulled his way through the sea rapidly for some one hundred metres. He stopped and just lay there, floating, his body now adjusted to that of his momentary environment, his heart beating gracefully, at rest. When he turned into the next wavelet to resume his swim, he swam into the vivid gold of the sun shining off the water; you needed to be in the sea to see it. It came in sheets all moving together it was like being immersed in one endless composition of floating, leaping dancing sheets of gold, a giant field of incandescent burnished lustre. It blinded him as he was looking directly into its brilliance, uninhibitedly, glorying in the wonder of creation. It was the sort of blindness that created phantoms, floating black spots, and objects.

Story Twelve, Alfredo Lopez de Atunes

“What difference is there between you and these señoritos, now, today, this one day when you are dressed like a peacock?” asked Pete.

“Firstly, only a handful of these are true señoritos; the rest are fantasmas (show-offs), cantamañanas (blusterers) and some catetos (Hicks) dressed to deceive. Even if the monkey dresses up in silk clothes, he remains a monkey. Now, I, have the blood of the dons, of Caballeros running in my veins. I am indeed known mainly as a drunk, due of course to my
unfortunate malaise, but you notice that in my sober state none dares to challenge me because they, as much as I are fully aware of who I am in the traditional scheme of things.

“But surely amongst this quite substantial group, there must be some working-class family or some burger who has made good for himself?”

“Well yes and no,” Retorted Alfredo, the stranger, whose sudden appearance in such magnificent attire and polish, a total contrast to the rags or stinking clothes and hand-down old boots he usually wore, seemed to have brought about a metamorphosis in his overall persona. ” You see, the Spaniard, and moreover the Andaluz are natural-born protagonistas and señoritos. The lowest born and greatest enemy of the señoritos, in fact crazily admires them, envies them, and the moment he enjoys any success championing the social underdog and attacking the señorito, he will use that success as his springboard to become a señorito
himself. When he takes power for himself, he will be yet one more, indeed the most corrupt member of society. ”

“But Alfredo you cannot paint all with the same brush. There are a great majority of noble and wonderful Spaniards and Andaluces, and I know, I have been dreadfully sick amongst
them and they have looked out for me. I can only speak great things for the medical and nursing profession in this country.”

“I grant you, Mr. Pete, there are those amongst them who have hearts and souls, but you would need to sift many kilos of sand to find the one glittering morsel hidden amongst the thousands. And as for the medical profession, you are a `private patient, so your treatment would be privileged. I am in no way biased, just saying what I find day to day.”

“Señorito, señorito some pesetas to buy food we are hungry, the little ones, my sisters have not eaten.”

As Pete reached into his pocket for change to give the gypsies, Alfredo leaned over and stayed his hand.

“Trifling pesetas to buy them off, to satiate your guilty soul? No sir, adopt their cause, commit yourself. Children” he shouted,” This extranjero (foreigner) wants to adopt you,” All the plaza was looking, and the skinny waiter was stopped in mid-flight, his tray in the air and his head twisted around uncannily, to look at them.