TITLE: A Father's Heart (Part 2), March 28,1915
By David Brooks
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For one year they lived with Carmen until Fernando sold her only carabao to bet at the cockfights. He fretted whether those memories were just as fresh in Carmen’s mind. The image of her stout figure and balled-up fists planted on her hips made him pull out his last cigarette. He held it between the fingers still stained with shoe polish. Earlier that morning he cursed when he couldn’t remove the polish from his skin. He flung a towel on the table then noticed the boy hide behind a chair. He grabbed the chair and banged it on the floor several times to warn the boy not to mind him. Tiling flew into him like a cock with feathers spread, ready to fight.
“Just teaching him a lesson!” Fernando protested.
He played with the cigarette. If he smoked it now there would be no more for the rest of the day.
"Go ahead, be a man, don't let her dictate to you?" A familiar voice whispered inside his head.
Fernando needed it. When the jeepney stopped, he leaned out the window and called a man sitting next to a dirty copy machine, and selling candy and cigarettes. Fernando held out the cigarette, which the man limped over and lit. Tiling shook her head and looked away.
The boy was watching again. Though it irritated Fernando, he wondered what went on inside the child’s mind. But the cigarette distracted him from his worries, so he puffed it proudly. He would just have to scrape together enough change to buy more. It shamed him to have to ask Tiling for money.
One Sunday when Fernando slipped away, Tiling discovered the family’s stock of rice missing. It wasn’t the first time something disappeared from the house. Though she never caught him leaving with the sack hoisted on his shoulder, Fernando figured she knew about his trips to the cockfights. When he came home, she picked up a stack of peso bills from the table and demanded all of the money in his pockets. Of course, Fernando denied he was gambling. He looked her straight in the eye and said that. Despite his protests of innocence, he could not dissuade her from her decision. She would dispense the money to him as he needed—as she saw he needed. Blood rushed to his head. He thought he would burst and raised his hand to slap her.
Tiling didn't flinch. "Go ahead! I'll report you to the barrangay officials."
Fernando thrashed about like an angry carabao. Finally he pulled out the money. She also told him she would handle the earnings from the stall. Fernando saw the boy peeping from behind the curtain pulled across the doorway to the sleeping area. Fernando muttered a curse and started to slam the door on his way out of their place when he heard Tiling say, “Your father is acting crazy again.” Fernando retreated to Mon's jeepney. His friend sat with him for awhile, but Fernando didn't feel like talking. Mon squeezed his shoulder then left. Fernando slept outside that night.
Fernando's drinking partners, minus Mon, started calling him Fernandolito in high-pitched voices, imitating Tiling. They uttered guttural laughs whenever she looked out the door when he was out too late. His silent rage built until their taunts provoked him to brandish his Batangas knife at the assailants of his masculinity.
The jeepney stopped again and a man holding a cock boarded. Fernando looked at the bird’s size and feathers. Could it stand against another. Was it a good bet? If I had the money, would I buy it? He sized up cocks so often he was unaware of doing it. Tiling's face simmered like stew in a clay pot.
Fernando wondered why she couldn't understand he would win big some day and buy her a house. Maybe they could even afford a hospital delivery instead of a mattress reeking with sweat. He saw a tear reflecting the sun on her cheek. She rubbed her stomach, and he reached for her hand to alleviate her pain and seek some sort of forgiveness. But she withdrew her hand. “So much for the Golden Rule, Father God!” Fernando flicked the cigarette stub out the window.
After a while, he fidgeted in his seat again, cracked his knuckles, scanned the other passengers—and the nurse. The jeepney ride gave him an unusual gift of time, but he didn't know what to do with it. There was no radio to listen to, no one to talk to. He needed another cigarette. Mon used to sell cigarettes until a Christian group demonstrated how to grow vegetables in containers using scrap materials laying around. Now Mon and his wife grew enough for themselves and to sell in front of their house for extra income.
The jeepney left the side streets and nosed its way into the main flow of traffic. They passed a church after a few blocks. Fernando crossed himself, and the boy did too. Tiling's smile faded when she noticed Fernando's and turned to fix the towel sticking out the back of the boy's shirt.
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