The Afternoon Tryst
From the book “Betel Nuts & Other Stories” by Simeon G. Silverio Jr.
“Pagamit ng telepono ninyo, dali (Let me use your phone, hurry), Teddy asked Eric as Teddy grabbed the office telephone of the printing press without waiting for permission.
“Papunta na si Mr. Lam, umalis ka na (Mr. Lam is on his way, you better go), he hastily told the person on the other line.
Mr. Lam was the Chinese owner of a shoe store in Carriedo, Quiapo, downtown Manila. Teddy was warning his friend, Kardo, to leave before Mr. Lam caught him in the shoe stores storage located on the second floor of a three-story building on Platerias Street. Kardo was meeting his girlfriend, Binyang, who worked for the store.
After only ten minutes Kardo was already in Platerias Street, handing Teddy a five-peso bill. He had an arrangement with Teddy to watch out for Mr. Lam if the Chinese shoe storeowner were coming, Teddy was supposed to warn Kardo by phone. Apparently, Kardo escaped through a window at the back of the building, down a fire escape and went out on P. Gomez Street. He went towards Carriedo, turned left, and again turned left on Platerias Street to meet Teddy. Like his friend Eric, Teddy was fourteen years old at that time in 1962. He lived on P. Paterno Street while Eric lived with his family on the second floor of their printing press on Platerias Street.
Every afternoon at around two oclock, Binyang would leave the shoe store to pick up some stock from storage. Her boyfriend, Kardo, would wait and go up to the storeroom with he, where they would take advantage of her 30 minute absence from the store by making love the whole time.
Kardo had contracted Teddy to be the lookout for Mr. Lam. On few occasions, Mr. Lam would go to the storage and Teddy would warn Kardo. It was a neat arrangement that enabled Teddy to make money and the lovers to consummate their affair.
When Eric found out about the arrangement, he demanded a cut from the money paid to Teddy.
“Are you crazy, why would I share the money with you? Teddy asked him with disdain.
“Because I wont let you use our phone otherwise, Eric replied.
The enterprise thus became a joint venture between the two friends.
BINYANG WAS PRETTY for a shoe store sales lady. Her cream blouse and light orange skirt, the uniform she wore every time, complimented her silky white skin. Her hair was always coiffed high like a beehive, which was fashionable at that time. She reminded Eric of the Scandinavian Airlines stewardesses he saw in the color advertisements of Life Magazine.
The arrival of Binyang early in the afternoon was always a momentous and eagerly awaited event for adolescent boys like Eric and Teddy, who were at the peak of their puberty. She would strut like a gazelle, with high heels, long legs, thin waist and ample breasts. Her elongated neck complimented her angelic face as she walked like a runway model, unmindful of the eyes always following her with admiration. As soon as she reached the door, Kardo would come from nowhere, flash an “okay sign and a mischievous grin at the boys and enter with his girlfriend. What happened next upstairs was always left to the vivid imagination of the two boys.
One time, Teddys parents sent him to the province for a weeks vacation. Kardo asked Eric to take Teddys place as lookout for Mr. Lam during his trysts with Binyang. During the first three days, everything went well as Mr. Lam never came. On the fourth day, a Thursday, Eric decided to watch out for Mr. Lam near the corner of P. Paterno and Platerias Streets. From there, he could still see Mr. Lam coming from Carriedo Street. Eric also chose this post because on Thursdays, his familys subscription to Liwayway, a vernacular magazine, was delivered. He and his siblings would try to beat each other to the first to get a hold of the new issue. Eric was looking out for the arrival of the newsboy from P. Paterno Street; at the same time, he was looking the opposite way towards Carriedo Street for Mr. Lam. He was watching every person who passed. When he glanced towards Carriedo Street, he suddenly saw the newsboy about to reach their printing press. Eric had not noticed the newsboy when the newsboy passed because Eric was looking on the other side of the street. He panicked and ran after the newsboy. The newsboy was about to hand over the magazine to Erics sister when he rushed in from behind and took the magazine. He was gasping for breath, exulted and relieved – he got the magazine first! His sister desperately tried to get the magazine from him, but he held it high with his hand as the newsboy smiled at them with amusement. Eric stepped out of the printing press and into the sidewalk, with the magazine secured in his possession. As he looked across the street, he saw Mr. Lam about to open the door of his storage place. Eric ran towards the telephone to warn Kardo, but his sister was already talking on the phone with her pal.
“Give me the phone, give me the phone, hurry! he begged her.
But that was not the right moment to ask a favor from his sister. He had just pissed her off by beating her to the magazine. And the slight was still fresh in her mind.
“Give me the phone, give it to me, hurry! Eric once again pleaded.
But the sense of desperation in his voice made her hold on to the telephone more. She held the phone tightly with her two hands, and stuck her tongue at him. Realizing he was digging himself deeper into a hole the more he showed his desperation, Eric surrendered the magazine to her in exchange for the phone.
He called Kardo right away. The phone kept ringing until he saw Kardo dashed out of the door and into the street, wearing only his pants and no shirt and shoes. He ran towards Carriedo Street.
Eric not only lost the chance to be the first to read the new issue of Liwayway Magazine, but also did not earn the five-peso “lookout fee from Kardo.
The next day, a short, fat and ugly saleslady from the shoe store, wearing the same uniform, started picking up the orders of shoes from the storage room. The two boys no longer enjoyed the afternoon ritual performed before by the beautiful Binyang. Erics enterprising arrangement with his friend Teddy, who kept blaming him for weeks for his mistake, also ended. The burden of guilt for breaking up the couples love affair also hounded Eric for years. Because of negligence on his part, what would have been a great future for the couple was forever ruined.
A FEW YEAR LATER, Eric went to Bacolod, a city hundreds of miles south of Manila, to witness its Mascara Festival. During the middle of the parade, he got bored and decided to walk around the market place. He entered one department store, looked around and saw a familiar face behind the counter. He walked towards her and he could not believe his eyes. She was an older, much less beautiful Binyang. He almost did not recognize her, as she was not wearing any makeup. The years had taken a toll on her looks, especially since she was just wearing a very simple dress.
“Binyang, he called her just to make sure his hunch was correct.
She looked at him trying to recognize his face.
“Yes? she answered.
“How are you? were all he could say.
“I am fine. Who are you?
“I am a friend of Kardo, he replied.
“Oh, I see, she said.
“How did you meet him? she asked, perhaps noting the big age difference between him and Kardo.
He proceeded to tell her his role in the disastrous encounter between Kardo and Mr. Lam in Quiapo in 1962.
“Ah, ikaw pala iyon(So it was you)! Binyang blushed while smiling.
“Did you ever see him again? he asked.
“Of course, she answered. “Hes my husband.
“How is he? he asked.
“He is okay she said. “He just left to pick up some products from our storage place.
“So he is still at it, ah! Who is he going to meet there this time?
They both laughed.
“Do you own this place? Eric could not help but ask.
“Yes, she replied shyly.
“So you and Kardo did well, he said. “I am very impressed.
Before she could answer, he heard a womans voice coming from the front door of the store: “Binyang, pasok mo na ang papa mo (Bring your papa inside).
The voice was that of Binyangs mother, an elderly Filipina woman who was pushing a wheelchair where an elderly Chinese man was seated.
The man was Mr. Lam. – AJ
(To order a copy of the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories” by Simeon G. Silverio Jr., send email message to firstname.lastname@example.org)