CHAPTER FREE ONE – MANO PO:“The First Collection of short stories“


By Paul O´Garra


The Barangay councillor kept coming to knock on the door of my room.

“Sir Paul, Sir Paul,” that was me, they liked calling me that,”


“Sir, the typhoon is coming, we have a level four warning, the soldiers are here with lorries to evacuate all the people.”

“OK, OK Mr. John Benedict( that was his name), thank you but we are not going,” then I shouted it out “ We are not going,” he didn’t reply. Then silence, we had just been given up as stupid.

I had played my “ cantankerous old git, bit for weeks, they were so, so nice it was beginning to get on my nerves.

We just lay there under the mosquito net, intertwined, it was hot but the air conditioning blasted its racket and its cold air straight onto us. It was romantic in an unusual sort of way. I despised true luxury and preferred an element of discomfort in all glossed over things. The beautiful thing is that we were in love. It seemed mutual to me although the world told me otherwise, but then, what the hell did the world know? Cynical bastards. I was a bit older it´s true, but all my life I´d thought young, acted young, laughed a lot, and as long as I was in a Sane country, where it was not a capital sin for a girl to be feminine and tender, and for a man to act like a man, with protective broad shoulders(metaphorically speaking of course), and a desire to love and be loved by a young girl, girls tended to seek me out. Also, she would fall asleep in my arms at the slightest pretext, I loved it, her sweet innocence and total trust, but then she began to bring the boy with her, and they would both, simultaneously fall asleep in my arms. She was a young mother at twenty-three and the kid was just four. He hated me for the first few days whilst I wrested the mobile phone off him and he screamed and cried and punched me often even when he was asleep. Anyway, I got him some books and I´d read to both of them. At that precise moment in time, we were in heaven, all three of us.

Then I was invited home by her mum and family. We all sat around a long table and made polite conversation.

“And how old are you exactly Mr. Paul? the mother ventured cautiously during the meal whilst the conversation was warm and intense. Silence reigned.

“Just twenty-eight last may” I replied for want of anything more intelligent to say, after all, I couldn’t admit to being sixtytwo. The silence was broken only by the sound of cutlery against plates and the little boy, Trance.

“Are you really twenty-eight’ he piped up, my teacher is twenty-eight and he looks different?

“He´s foreign, and maybe he´s smaller than I am.”

“He looks older than you,” said Trance,” I could have hugged the little hero, In fact, they were all amazing, not an eyelid was batted, they just continued decorously with the meal and the light banter. The younger brother excused himself and moments later the sound of raucous laughter could be heard from down the corridor where the loo was.

She had hair, so long that she could step on it. Something had happened to her at the birth of her child, something which nobody would tell me about, it may have been trivial and blown up with family judgements or superstitions, but it was of sufficient importance to her to make a promise, a promise not to cut her hair or the boys for that matter. I used to call him Fu, for Fu Manchu, as his long hair was tied into a plait or a pony-tail. It wasn’t good, he looked like an old man, and her hair was weak, you could see where it was starting to fail at her hairline with resultant little gaps, nothing much, but quite telling. I told her to cut it and she would get cross and unhappy so I desisted. One day I arrived at their home and found Trance sitting outside fiddling with a painting.

“Where is everyone?”

“Cooking”, he pointed, I could hear them chatting. So I grabbed him, with a conspiratorial grin and a wink and ran off to find a Tuk-tuk(three-wheeled taxi).

“This is Mrs. Mariola´s grandson? the barber asked, his mother is Mrs. Cherry? ( some Filipino names are derived from the mottos written on the noses of American aircraft, Cherry for

Cherry pie. I met one girl named Usnavi, I couldn’t believe it.)” Does Mrs. Mariola and Mrs. Cherry know the boy is having haircut?”

“Yes of course” I lied, I was just fed up with seeing the poor little blighter running around looking like an old man.”

“They will kill you, they will beat you up, jejejeje,” he giggled as the boy’s locks went tumbling to the floor  and the boy giggled and I joined in and soon the whole of the tiny shop was giggling.” No money, no pay he said, keep the money for a doctor after beating.”

Trance was beautiful, I mean he was a really good looking kid with soft beautiful features, like his mum. But I was just seeing the boy for the first time. His hair was cut to just above shoulder length and was starting to curl a little, he looked like a boy, a real boy. I took him home and they were still chattering in the kitchen. I sat down outside waiting for a result as the boy sauntered into the fray with a sideways smile at me. It was all silent for a moment and then Cherry lurched out of the kitchen crying and went to her room. Trance came out and brought me a book, he sat with me so that we could read together. Shortly after I gave him a big hug and I left.

“Speak with her he said, speak with her don’t go,” but I went.

I didn’t want to go, I wanted to hold her and reassure her and tell her how great the kid looked, and that he looked like a normal boy now, but that would have been like criticizing her. So I went. I went back to my hotel by the river and sat on the balcony and watched the River-men go in their canoes up-river loaded with Korean visitors. And I heard the banging on the roof as the ripe Lanzones fell, sometimes they fell at night and woke me with a start, but then I would smile and dream good dreams of rivers covered in waterlilies, and boatmen, and waterfalls and being in love. Someone came up behind me and covered my eyes with their hands, I could tell from the smallness of the hands and the smell of gum and the excited breathing and such things that it was the boy.

“It´s the police they´ve found me, they´ve been looking for me since I took Mrs. Mariola´s grandson and chopped off his hair, they want to shoot me.”

And then there were different hands, they changed gently thinking I would not notice. These were a little bigger and they smelt nice, of pineapple and Kalamansi. And then the kid started to get bored so he began the tickling and I tickled back blindly and I kept my eyes closed and started to tickle them both hoping against hope that it was Cherry and not Mrs. Mariola who had brought the boy, the stuff of nightmares, but we tickled and hugged and kissed and the boy jumped up and down on top of us and it was all ok. And then we went along the terrace and drank Kalamansi juice and braved the toads who were just starting to appear as the sun set.

And then I swam along the little, but very long, lake of clean virgin water, and Trance came with me so that I had to swim with him on my back, he holding onto my shoulders and streaming out as I went. Often I would swim with both of them on my back. If this paradise went on for a long time I would develop shoulders like Ya Ya Binks.

Well, the typhoon came nowhere near the area we were in, the barangay councillor came to tell us.

“There are no typhoons, it´s just a story,” I said.

“Better that way, much better sir, I hope you never have Typhoon on top of you, Sir.”

Well, I knew they did happen, but that the people liked to exaggerate for the sake of visitors like me.

We were lying in bed with the airconditioning machine roaring away. She was talking about having a holiday.

“We are on holiday,” I ventured,

“That’s all I am to you, a holiday,” She turned away from me, so I grabbed her and gave her many little kisses around the back of her neck.

It was seven so I unhooked the overhanging mosquito net and took her hand pulling her with me and holding the net over both of us.  The Dengue mosquito was out and searching for victims at this hour. It was our daily ritual, greeting the boatmen as they returned downriver from the falls, but we needed the net or we would have got the fever. She had wrapped a towel around her top, and the balcony surround covered the naked part of her. They were very discreet and private with their bodies never showing them in public, although the fact that she had taken an older man as a lover was smiled upon and seemed to be very popular. She carried on about the holiday, she had never had a real holiday just going to visit her grandmother in the mountains, she said, and she was just a kid and,

”What the hell, a holiday in a holiday.”

“When can we go. Where shall we go,  I love you again, I love you, tomorrow?” Somehow she had read a yes into my exclamation

“Cherry sweetie what about the boy?

“Mama will look after Trance, he won’t mind, they want me to have a holiday.” She had it all planned, and the family bullied into coercion, poor little cow, all she´d been through, a single mother in a Roman Catholic country.