The Beauty And The Best From the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories” by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
hey might not exactly be “beauty and the beast”, but one must admit that Amang was not quite the dashing prince who could possibly win the heart of a beautiful princess like Clara. But he did win the heart of the most beautiful girl in town, not as a handsome young swain, but instead as a patient and dedicated Lothario. This achievement would not have been possible without the help of an unfortunate turn of events that could aptly be a classic example of a blessing in disguise. But that is getting ahead of the story.
When he was seven years old, Amang’s mother died. She was the second wife of his widower father. Amang had a step brother and three step sisters from his father’s first wife, four full siblings, and five more from his father’s eventual third wife. All in all, his father had fourteen children. Amang and his other siblings first stayed with an aunt when his mother passed away. His father was a water district inspector who was assigned from one town to another. Eventually, the children from the second wife were reunited and lived with those of his father’s first wife.
Amang remembered his step brother Imo, the eldest, promising to buy him a new pair of shoes whenever he would return to his job in Manila after spending his Sundays with them in the province. Imo worked at the Bureau of Printing then where he acquired the skills that helped him succeed in his printing business.
“Your father would even trace the contours of my feet in a piece of paper,” Amang once told his nephew Eric, Imo’s son. “But as soon as he got in the bus, I suspect he would just throw the piece of paper away because he didn’t fulfill his promises until after a year had passed.”
At that time, Imo could barely make ends meet. His meager salary was put toward supporting his siblings. However, he just could not stop himself from promising his younger brother a pair of shoes as he did not have the heart to turn him down. After making numerous broken promises, he was eventually able to save enough money to end the weekly disappointments of his beloved brother.
When Amang was in his teens, Imo was able to put up his own printing business. Imo only had one Minerva letterpress printing machine at the beginning. Amang came from the province to work for him. Amang would pull the brace at the back of the machine up and down, enabling it to operate without electric power, thereby saving electricity.
The business grew until it eventually moved to Platerias Street in Quiapo, downtown Manila. When the business bought a Heiderberg automatic helicopter type letterpress machine, Amang and his cousin Carding, were sent to another printing press for a week to learn how to operate the machine. When the new machine was delivered a month later, however, Carding happened to be sick and was absent from work. Amang was the first to operate the machine and never let it go. He operated it daily for the next thirty years of his life. Carding was so disappointed he eventually transferred to another printing press.
AMANG’S SECOND GOOD FORTUNE IN LIFE came when he met and fell in love with a beautiful girl from a barrio. She lived five towns away from his family’s house in Bulacan. Judging by how he looked, one would think he hardly stood a chance. The girl, Clara, was a legendary beauty with suitors from all over the province.
“One could put all the names of her suitors in each leaf of a folding fan,” Amang once told his nephew Eric, “but the leaves would not be enough as there were more names to write.”
To win her affection, Amang would visit Clara at her home every Saturday evening. He would stay and work in Manila the whole week. By four o’clock in the afternoon on Saturdays, an hour before quitting time, a shoe-shine boy in Platerias would pick up Amang’s shoes for polishing. By five, Amang would bathe and put on his neatly pressed pants, shirt and shoes. After picking up his salary for the week, he would take a jeepney to Grace Park and from there a bus bound for Clara’s town in Bulacan. By eight in the evening, he would be seated across Clara in her living room together with the other suitors. Amang had been courting her for six months but could hardly make headway. With various rivals for her affection, he never had a chance to be alone with her and profess his love. During that time in the late 1950s, it was typical for a suitor to court a girl for a year or two before he would know whether he succeeded or failed in his quest.
What Amang lacked in good looks, he made up with the gentle way he carried himself. Although he may not have been as handsome as some of his rivals, it was clear he dressed well. His fate was uncertain until an unfortunate turn of events became a blessing in disguise and cleared his way to Clara’s heart.
IT WAS ANOTHER TYPICAL SATURDAY EVENING, and Amang was on his way to visit his beloved Clara. The karetela(horse carriage) that would take him from the town to Clara’s house in the barrio, however, was full. So Amang agreed to sit on the right side of the rig driver, with his left foot hanging outside. The narrow, rural road was dark, and the karetela had no lights. The driver was relying on the soft glow of the moon to find his way in the road ahead. Suddenly, a loud noise and an anguished cry from Amang erupted the stillness of the night. A jeepney coming from the opposite direction smashed into Amang’s leg. Without lights, the driver had not noticed the oncoming jeepney and came too close when it passed through. With blood flowing from his leg, Amang fell to the ground. Somebody wrapped the leg with a shirt serving as a tourniquet to stem the flow of blood. Barely conscious, Amang was taken to the hospital. The news reached Clara the next day explaining the reason why one of her ardent suitors failed to make his weekly visit.
Amang was eventually brought to the National Orthopedic Hospital in Manila for an operation. He stayed in the hospital bed for months, a screw holding together his shattered thigh bones. Clara paid him a visit a few days after the operation, and the two had an opportunity to talk in private. Perhaps it was out of pity or perhaps Clara already harbored a budding affection for Amang, but what his persistent weekly visits failed to do, the accident successfully accomplished. It took a year before Amang could walk and return to work at full capacity. But during that time, the weekly visits with Clara brought the two close together, and she finally felt the way for him as he always did for her.
When his wedding with Clara was set, his thirteen brothers and sisters contributed in different ways. Winning the most beautiful girl of her time over to their family was not a small feat, especially with the way their brother Amang looked. They would like to believe, however, it was not a match between the beauty and the beast, but rather, between the beauty and, err, the best.
And just like in the classic fairy tale story, Amang and Clara lived happily ever after. – AJ
(To order copy of the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories” by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. send email message to email@example.com)