TREE AND OTHER STORIES: A collection of 19 great tales by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR.

Nineteen great tales from the author of “You Filibini?” Stories And Other Writings. Soon to be available at the local bookstores near you.

Tales that are as timely as today’s headlines, as theatrical as the soap dramas played on primetime TV, and as entertaining as the cinematic movies one gets to see these days. Tales that are populated with a variety of colorful characters whose lives are interwoven with tragedy, murder, mayhem, deceit, scandal, humor, love. From the dirty sidewalks along Manila’s decaying avenues (Claro M. Recto and Avenida Rizal) to the stinking, garbage-strewn waters of Tondo’s Isla Puting Bato; from the state-of-the-art Hong Kong airport to the famous J. Edgar Hoover offices of the FBI in the US; from the ever peaceful city of Riyadh to the unrest-stricken cities of Egypt; from the world’s cyber-scam capital in Nigeria to the haven of scammers involved in internet dating services in Russia; and from the glory days of the famed centuries-old Escolta street of Spanish Philippines to the time of the occupation of the islands by the ruthless Japanese army and up to the 20th century life in the modernistic city of Makati—the reader is taken to a virtual rollercoaster ride to behold the battles faced by the protagonists in these collected stories.

EXCERPTS:

FROM THE STORY “RAPE”:
 
Nighttime. The veil of darkness has fallen. A pall of deep silence. There he lurks. In the shadowy, sinister corner. He rises. Then he begins to move, walking stealthily, with premeditated steps. He sees her. There she is, lying on her back. In peaceful quiescence. Perfect. As soon as he gets near, he swiftly sits astride her belly and covers her mouth, his hand firm, steellike, stiffly holding her head down. The sudden force shakes her from slumber. Her eyes abruptly stricken with fear, she tries to rise. But her effort is in vain. For he has already clamped her: his knees have cuffed her arms. The weight bearing down on her is simply too much.  He says something in a soft voice. She turns her head on one side. He suddenly grimaces. Her teeth have sunk on his hand. He swings back his other arm and brings down a clench fist, which crashes savagely on her abdomen. She goes limp, the massive pain numbing her body. She is groaning. He quickly stands up and drops down his trousers. She doubles her body in an embryonic position. He goes down again and grabs her arms that are shielding her chest. Another fierce blow to her belly. She is now in near-lifeless form. His frenzied arms rip her upper clothes. He grabs them, the two mounds of exposed flesh, mashing them hard, viciously. He half-rises, grips her lower clothes and hurriedly pulls them off, revealing the delicate, triangular area. The sight of lush hairy growth lets loose from the bonds of sanity his raw hunger. Animalistic. Beastly. Brutish. No time to waste, his bestial instincts tell him. He rapidly obeys. The dark dastardly deed now over, he quickly leaves, his wicked shadow trailing him.
 
…     …     …
 
“Appearances?” Judge Senye’s mentholated baritone voice evokes the rumbling sound of thunder. One is reminded of James Earl Jones, the voice behind Darth Vader. His goldfish eyes, thick eyebrows, huge, beaklike nose, sagging jowls, thick, droopy lips and wrinkled facial skin create a ghastly, if not a terrifyingly horrible, countenance that scares the hell out of lawyers appearing before him. Seeing this man, one gets to think that this five-foot stocky man may have just come out straight from a mixture of some Hollywood flicks: Nightmare on Elms Street, Night of the Living Dead and Tales from the Crypt. During court sessions, the scene gets doubly terrifying: the rumbling thunder’s decibel level reaches a higher altitude, the facial countenance attains horrific proportions destined to cause an intense, painful feeling of repugnance, of fear. Rendo oftentimes hears from other lawyers that they have just attended a hearing in the Courthouse of the Undead, presided over by “His Horror.”
 
 
FROM THE STORY “MERRY CHRISTMAS”:
 
A few minutes passed, Eddie came back with a tray of food. Chonalyn and John paused in their chatter, purposely to wait for Eddie to leave them. While John was enjoying the fruit salad, Eddie appeared again, holding a wooden box. Chonalyn knew what was at hand. 
 
Eddie sat at the other couch opposite to where they were seated.
 
Say, how old are you, John?” Eddie brusquely asked; he set the box atop the side table beside the Christmas tree.
 
“Ah, sir, I’m…I’m eighteen, sir,” John said in a voice that could barely be heard as he suspiciously eyed the box.
 
Eddie unlatched the cover of the box. Soon, he was taking out a shiny .45 Automatic Colt Pistol. From his pocket, Eddie pulled out a crumpled hanky. John felt his heart jump. Suddenly, John could feel a film of sweat appearing on his forehead.
 
“Dahddeeh…” Chonalyn uttered in a voice with endearing charm similar to what she would always do in a naïve, enchanting way when asking for something from her father.
 
“You’re my daughter’s boyfriend?” Eddie barked again.
 
John gulped as he mumbled a “Yes, sir.”
 
Chonalyn’s cheeks started to cave in; she was suppressing her laughter.
 
“Will you marry my daughter?” Eddie grumbled as he continued to mop the pistol.  John’s blinking eyes were glued on the gun. He was now conscious of a rhythmic pounding on his chest.
 
“Dahddeeh…” Chonalyn’s endearing voice prevented John from replying back.
 
Eddie slammed the pistol on the table that jolted John. Perspiration was now heavily building on John’s back. The next minute, Eddie was taking out from the box a pistol magazine and some bullets.
 
“Ah, sir…ah,” John started to say through quivering lips when he heard Chonalyn’s mother’s voice who had burst into view.
 
“Eddie! What are you doing?” she snapped.
 
“Oh, nothing, just cleaning this stuff. It’s kinda dirty, you know,” Eddie replied nonchalantly.
 
Chonalyn’s mother was stricken with disbelief. “On Christmas day?! In front of the visitor?!” A towel was still wrapped around her head as she stuck her hands on her hips. “My goodness, Eddie, do it upstairs not here!” Chonalyn’s mother was frowning. She added, “So sorry, John, about this.”  John was trying to say something when he noticed Chonalyn’s silent guffaw…
 
 
FROM THE STORY “ESCOLTA”:
 
Escolta is a narrow, crooked street. Its paved roadway does not go beyond thirty feet; its narrow sidewalk can hardly accommodate more than two people walking side by side.
 
Escolta is “The Bond Street” of Manila. It is “The Broadway” of Manila. It is “The Fifth Avenue” of Manila. It is in this “fashionable street” where one can find a congregation of the fashionable boutiques, classy millineries, stylish haberdashery stores, high-end emporia, shops that sell articles for the sophisticated and the discerning, drug stores that offer premium quality items. Also along this famed street are the offices or clinics of famous Spanish doctors that offer pricey services, storehouses of stationery, shops that house and sell imported periodicals and books, studios where photograph services are available, and picture and music stores. After exhausting oneself in lavish shopping spree, the shopper can partake in some delectable European- or American-styled dish offered by the finest chefs in town: first class restaurants are just a heartbeat away. Or, he can spend his idle time in some elegant cafés or “wet his whistle” in some neat liquor-rooms or buy some tasteful sweets from confectionaries purposely established for the high-income consumers. Clubhouses for the rich and famous abound in the area, too.  Then, too, it is in Escolta where one can find the offices of well-known businessmen or firms.
 
Where does one get to hear salacious gossips or intrigues of the day, those involving the aristocratic, the landed gentry, the high social class, the upper class, the lordly, the patrician, the blue-blooded? In what place could one get a whiff (or even an earful) of schemes or stratagems of the business tycoons, the industrialists, the moguls, that dictate on, and thus, rule the islands?
 
Only in Escolta.
 
It is on Escolta alone where the mighty, powerful, the famous, the legendary, the eminent, the rich, the fashionable, the classy, the trendy, the snobbish, the haughty, the arrogant, the polite, and the humble meet. It is also a magnet for the lowly, the poor, the beggars, and the crippled: for them to set foot on this famed street is to have a taste of heaven.
 
History is vague as to exactly when Escolta came to exist or how it exactly got its name. Legend has it that the famed street got its name from the Spanish word escolta, which means an “escort” or a “guard” or a “convoy,” in reference to the “escorts” of the Spanish General (who was quartered in the nearby Santa Cruz headquarters that was attached to the rectory) who passed everyday in the street.  Back in the early part of 1842, a U.S. naval officer, Charles Wilkes, who was in the American warship that visited Manila, observed with amusement the outburst of activity he beheld in the “longest and main street” in the Binondo suburb or district, indicative of the vibrant life of Escolta, and thus already in existence, in the early 19th century. In 1856, Escolta was listed in that year’s edition of the Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer, a respected and leading geographical dictionary journal containing a list of geographical names or places in the world published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An Englishman, Sir John Bowring, who came to the islands in 1858, was told that the average number of vehicles that passed through Escolta daily amounted 915. Some three decades later, the figure quantum-leaped to 5,000 vehicles per day. By then, the European merchants had conquered every nook and cranny of Escolta, forcing their Chinese counterparts to transfer their (the Chinese’s) tiny quaint shops in the parallel Calle Rosario.
 
Just as Bond Street located in the fashion district of London has been mentioned in some well-known works of literature (among which includes Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway), so does Escolta figure in local literature–in the famous twin novels of national hero Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
 
When the Americans took possession of the islands, Escolta became even more extragavant and grandiose. The pavement on the road has been much improved, structures have been greatly rebuilt and refurbished, the stores have become even more radiant, resplendent, fascinating and glamorous. It is the sun, the star in the center of Manila’s solar system where all the segments of society revolve. It is the most prominent feature in Manila.
 
Manila is not Manila without Escolta. Manila is Escolta. Escolta is Manila.
 
…     …     …
 
The Roaring Twenties. A decade of affluence. The economic boom in America stretched beyond its shores.  Being an American territory, the Philippines was a logical recipient of the beneficent American prosperity.
 
Manila flourished under the favorable conditions of the time.
 
In no other place could this be evident than in Escolta, the nucleus of Manila’s life. The control center. The shops, the stores, the cafés, the saloons, the restaurants, the drug stores. The big offices. The clubhouses. The daily life. The nightlife. The flashy, trendy clothes, shoes, the bags, the hats and other personal accessories. The outburst of new products and technologies, like the radios and the phonographs.
 
And the automobiles.
 
Along Escolta’s edge were parked expensive and gaudy automobiles imported from America. A show of wealth and might by the opulent and flamboyant rich and powerful. They were the regular hoipolloi of the famed street. It was there where they forged huge business deals, fashioned business enterprises, planned the future of their riches and other wordly possessions. It was there where they huffed and puffed after an endless shopping spree, indulged in endless bragging, traded scandalous gossips, lounged the day away, loafed away their lives, bummed around, stagnated in boredom.
 
Though in the Thirties, America succumbed to the “great depression,” in Manila, no economic downturn of such magnitude was felt. Manila continued to enjoy its good life.
 
And so did Escolta.
 
Along Escolta, a high class cinematograph theatre was built, the Capitol Theatre. And a host of other modern earthquake-proof structures were built on both sides of the famed street.
 
In the Forties, a desvatating war raged across the globe. Suddenly, Manila woke up one morning to find its life in the throes of an impending demise. Escolta still throbbed with activity, though under the close watch of the distrustful eyes of the Japanese invaders.
 
Then came the day of liberation. The endless American bombing of Manila to pulverize the ruthless Japanese invaders left the city with death and destruction. It was in ruins. No one was spared, not even Escolta.
 
Determined to rise from the ashes of the war, Manila spent the next half decade of the Forties rebuilding itself.
 
By the time the Fifties arrived, a resurging Manila pulsated with a vigorous life, with a vibrant hue.
 
A rebuilt Escolta was casting off a vivid and bright light again.
 
When the Sixties came, a new generation came. The “Swinging Sixties”. The “High Sixties”. The “cultural decade”. The effects of the significant events that took place around the globe were felt in the Philippines. Especially in the fashion trends. The rock and roll music, the Beatles. The hippie movement. The mini-skirt. The hairdos. The movies.
 
On the local political front, a self-proclaimed war hero, who topped the bar exams some decades ago while reviewing in jail, notched the highest position in the land. He would steer the nation, as the events later showed, in the depths of the abyss. In the next two decades that followed, the nation would earn the appellation “The Sick Man of Asia.”
 
Little did everyone expect that the famed street Escolta was itself starting to feel the symptons of a “sick man” during the twilight of the “Swinging Sixties.”
 
By the advent of the Seventies, the marshlands, the morass, the wetlands that adjoined Manila were being transformed into residential and commercial lands. The rise of modern structures in these quondam wastelands spelled a shift of activity, of attention. No longer did Escolta have a monopoly of power: it was fast losing its grip on the rich, the powerful, and even on the commoners, the working class, the great unwashed. The symptoms were progressing.
 
In the Eighties, Escolta had started to become really sick: it was already the “sick man” of Manila. One by one, the shops, the stores, etc., were closing up; the big businesses were transferring their offices elsewhere (notably in the new business or financial district, the Makati area). In the last moments of the decade, the famed street was gasping for breath.
 
In the Nineties, Escolta had become a virtual ghost town. Though there still remained some offices or establishments on each side of the famed street, they no longer bore resemblance to anything powerful or mighty.
 
At the turn of the 21st century, Escolta remained a ghost of its former self.
 
Nowadays, one can still see some flurry of activity along Escolta. Aside from some run of the mill business offices and small time cafés and fastfood restaurants located there, there are street vendors that pass through it. Some banks and pawnshops are also there. Then there is a school. A drugstore has opened a branch there. Some convenience stores occupy the corner blocks. There is still a clothing store which you can visit, an ukay-ukay store that offers secondhand or used clothes imported from China.  Along the sidewalks, you might stumble upon some makeshift stalls which sell cigarettes and candies or which offer shoe shine polish or duplicate key services. Then there are vagrants or beggars loitering around. And also, cars, passenger-type jeepneys, motorcycles and pedicabs can be seen parked along Escolta’s edge.
 
Where can you find the lost grandeur of Escolta?
 
Try to spend a little time in front of the computer screen and try to “Google” it. There you will find Escolta, romanticised in a number of blogs or blogsites, the personal websites of those who were fortunate enough to have tasted the magnificence, the splendor of the famed street in its glory days.
 
Escolta, right now, is a state of mind. Just a state of mind.
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