Friday, May 27, 2005

vignette: slish-slash

The union of my mother and father was determined by Heaven long before they met each other. The marriage was arranged by a professional matchmaker, consulted by both sets of parents who wanted to increase the trickle of blessings that fell sparingly upon both their houses. My parents’ birth signs combined foretold much wealth and harmony and both families rejoiced.

But sometimes Heaven is wrong, or more properly, what is written in the sky can be misinterpreted by matchmakers who did not want to stand in the way of so much hope. The year my father planted me in my mother’s womb was the same year he began to spend more and more time in the other provinces, trying to add to the family coffers, but spending more at various teahouses whenever he returned. In an area the size of Lújìng Béishú words travel faster than horses, fueled by jealous lips and zealous tongues.

All the Tsino in Cuidad Manila dwell in one place. The Ispancialo call it L’Averia du Tsino, the Tsino Enclave; to us it was Lújìng Béishú, the House That Chose Its Own Path. We were separated from the rest of Ciudad Manila by high stone walls surmounted by stone sentinels; stones that were brought, I am told, from the distant land of our ancestors when our people first came to this land. Within the area encircled by the walls stood hundreds of beautiful houses, temples, gardens and ornamental lakes.

Three gates stood open or closed depending on the season and the time of day, permitting or denying entry into our city-within-a-city: the Gate of Ten Thousand Wishes faced the west, where the Tsino merchant vessels came and went, bringing goods both mundane and mysterious from the other parts of Hinirang’s vast archipelago; the Gate of Tranquil Hope faced the south, leading to the Bridge of Seven Steps – beyond that were the shanty towns where strangers and those who came from the distant provinces lived, beguiled by the promises of the great city; the Gate of Unbound Prosperity opened to the east, where the vast markets of Ciudad Manila upheld the virtue of commerce night and day. Lújìng Béishú has never had a northern gate, because every civilized person knows that only an evil wind blows from that direction.

I remember the day that my mother was summoned from her gardening by a stoic Keeper of the Peace to identify my father’s remains. She stood up, dropped her pruning scissors and left me alone with the dozens of orchids she loved.

She found him in a pool of his own blood, the price exacted by too many unfulfilled promises made to a young serving girl, who had also taken her own life in despair.

“She cut out the pieces of his heart that belonged to her,” my mother told me when she returned. “Slish-slash, just like you do to a pig.”


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