From the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. published by the San Diego Asian Journal
“Remember Bong? Erics brother Eddie, who had just arrived from a two-week Philippine vacation asked him.
“Bong of Platerias? Eric asked to clarify.
“Yes, Mandos son.
How could Eric forget Bong? When he was a kid, Bong and Benny were his playmates. Benny was the son of a beauty parlor owner across the street from their apartment on the second floor of his fathers printing press on Platerias Street in Quiapo, the downtown area of Manila. Benny would chew a piece of Bon Bon chocolate, throw it on the ground, step on it with his slippers, and Bong would pick it up and put it in his mouth. He would chew the chocolate despite it being covered with dirt and little stones and would happily show his toothless grin, with the gooey candy and dirt sticking to his gums.
Benny would throw another piece on the ground, step on it just for fun, and Bong would pick and eat it up because it was the only chance he had to eat such precious and tasty candy. It was like a freak show in a carnival. Eric would watch with his other playmates as Bong and Benny performed their act.
Bong was the son of Mando, a pimp, and Anita, a prostitute. Anita worked in a brothel two doors away from the beauty parlor. Bong had a younger brother, Mario, a curly-haired, crossed-eyed and dark-skinned kid. Mando, Eric was told, used to be a well-off customer of Anita. No one knew how Mando had lost his fortune and became a common-law husband of a whore. When Eric and his family moved to Quiapo in 1957, Mando was already a pimp, his wife a prostitute, and their two sons street-wise kids learning to survive in the jungle of the big city.
Occasionally, they would see Bong running away from business owners on Platerias Street, committing mischief and stealing. Whenever his father caught him, he would smack Bong on the head and bring him to the business owners to apologize. Like a criminal version of “Dennis the Menace, Bong was able to “terrorize the neighborhood even when he was still a kid. On Platerias Street, legitimate business owners learned to co-exist with the prostitutes and the pimps in the same way the authorities had turned a blind eye on the illicit activities, presumably because they were on the take. Neighborhood children like Eric and his siblings also learned to take things for granted, befriending and even playing with the sons, daughters and sisters of the prostitutes. While Eric, Benny, and their Chinese playmate Manuel would ride their bikes around, Bong and his brother would wait on the sidewalk and ask to ride when they were finished.
WHILE ERICS FAMILY EVENTUALLY MOVED TO THE SUBURBS of Quezon City, they maintained contact with the people of Platerias Street. Their printing business continues operating on the same street to this very day, fifty years later. During his childhood, Eric would see the children of the prostitutes come and go. Bong, he was told, was in prison after graduating from mischief to petty crime years later after the family moved. Though short like his father, Bong had nothing to lose and as a result was never afraid to pick a fight or get into trouble with the law. Benny and his family also moved out of Platerias Street. Eric heard Benny turned out to be gay and died of AIDS in Los Angeles, California. Manuel now owns and operates a branch of his familys pawnshop in the Cubao area while his younger brother still lives in their familys building on Platerias. Manuels two sisters married well – one even owns a huge department store. Some of their female playmates, who were daughters of prostitutes, later became prostitutes themselves.
Erics younger brother, Eddie, eventually became a lawyer. When Eddie was on his way to a trial in a court in Manila, he heard somebody calling his name. It was their other childhood playmate, Mark, who was shackled together with other prisoners as they squatted on the floor of the stairs while waiting for their own trial to begin.
“Eddie, Eddie, help me, he called.
Eddie was surprised because Mark was the last person he expected to be in prison. His grandmother was rather affluent. It was even suspected she owned the brothel as she lived with her grandchildren and daughter on the second floor of the building where the house of ill-repute was located. In fact, the common-law husband of Marks aunt was a Manila policeman.
“I will come back for you, Eddie told Mark as he also had a trial to attend. The trial lasted for three hours, but when he returned, the prisoners, including Mark, were gone. A few years later, they heard someone had stabbed Mark to death in prison during a jailhouse riot.
ONE TIME, BONG TURNED OUT TO BE A BIG HELP FOR ERIC. Eric was walking on the sidewalk of Carriedo Street towards Rizal Avenue at seven oclock one evening when he saw a university classmate of his, Michael Salustiano, standing by a shoe store. Michael looked happy, extraordinarily happy to see him. Eric thought it was weird since they were not close.
“What are you doing here? he asked Michael.
“I am waiting for my girlfriend, Michael answered. “She works here as a saleslady.
Eric was quite surprised because he did not expect a college-educated person like Michael to hook up with a lowly saleslady. But when he met the girl, he knew why. She was pretty, very pretty.
He was about to leave when Michael asked him to stay with him for a while. It turned out one of the girls suitors was watching Michael from a distance. And he was with two other friends. And they looked like they were ready to gang-up on Michael.
“Stay with me, Michael pleaded. “Lets pretend they are not intimidating us.
“Why we? Eric protested. He wanted to tell Michael it was not his fight and he didnt want to get involved. Would he get a share of the girl if he lent a helping hand? Besides, he was not the type to get involved in a physical confrontation. Cerebral participation was his forte. But he was embarrassed to tell Michael what was on his mind. He did not want him to think he would be cowardly enough to abandon his classmate in his time of need, although the thought of the two of them beating three determined, seemingly battle-tested guys seemed farfetched. Then Eric saw Bong coming.
“What are you doing here? Bong asked him.
Eric explained to him his dilemma and pointed at the three guys. Without any warning, Bong walked towards them and roughly shoved the guys. He brandished his knife to their faces, telling them to leave or else. The three scampered away in fright.
It was in 1970. That was the last time Eric saw Bong.
Michael, an activist, escaped to the United States to avoid being detained upon the declaration of Martial Law by the dictator Marcos. Eric read in a Filipino-American newspaper that Michael became a divorced father and an insurance agent in New York City. In 1986, when Marcos was deposed, Michael returned to the Philippines together with the other members of the anti-Marcos movement in the U.S. and was rewarded with a juicy government post.
“SO WHAT ABOUT BONG? Eric asked his brother Eddie.
“Hes back in Platerias Street, Eddie answered. “He does some errands for Elsa (their sister who now operates the printing press) occasionally to earn money.
“I thought he was long dead, Eric said.
“So did I, Eddie replied. “Do you know that Bong now has a thirteen-year-old daughter?
The daughter, according to Eddie, goes to school but lived on the street. She showed Elsa a term paper she wrote about how she was sometimes embarrassed to ask building security guards to let her use the bathrooms so she could bathe before attending classes.
“She writes well and seems to be a good student, Eddie said. “But she is dirt poor since Bong can hardly support her, and I doubt if she would be able to finish her studies despite her strong determination.
Indeed, it was a long shot. But the fact they had long given Bong for dead only to come back to Platerias Street decades later makes Eric feel that somehow, Bongs daughter can make it. And if she does, she would be a surprising legacy to a pimp grandfather, a prostitute grandmother, and an ex-convict father. Certainly, her success would be a triumph of the human spirit. Maybe God, after two generations of criminals, will give her family a break. Eric hopes she succeeds because hers will be an interesting story to tell and will have a good moral lesson to learn from during these times of apathy on the plight of the poor children of God.
No. Bong wont pick up and eat Bon Bon chocolate candies pressed on the ground anymore. AJ
(To order a copy of the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. send email to firstname.lastname@example.org)