Martes, Agosto 5, 2008

How Rosang Taba Won a Race by Dean Francis Alfar

For Sage
One afternoon a long time ago, when our country was ruled by Spain, a small party was held at the mansion of the Governor-General and his wife, Carmen. The occasion being celebrated was the defeat of a small force of insurgent natives north of Manila, and the hero of the hour was the young commander of the Spanish forces, Jaime Villareal.“Certainly the lovely Senora can see,” Jaime Villareal said, looking at Carmen directly in the eye. “These natives, these indios, are not much of a threat at all -- certainly not for the flower of Spain. They are lazy, boorish and unorganized. They have no courage, no morals, no civilization.”“I don’t think so, Senor Villareal,” Carmen met his gaze evenly. “If they were given equal opportunity, then I suspect your words would be emptier than they are now. Any one of them is your equal.”“I can defeat any one of them in anything. At any time, anywhere,” Jaime Villareal boasted. “They are like animals.”“I could beat you in a race.”They turned to see who had spoken. A very fat serving woman, carrying a tray of cold refreshment for them, was biting her lips in despair.“Forgive me,” she spoke in halting Spanish, “I did not mean to speak my thoughts out loud.”“No, no,” said Carmen, gliding to the woman’s side. “But did you mean what you said?”“Opo, Senora ,” the woman replied, “I want to show the gentleman that we are certainly not animals.”The Governor-General, impressed by the fact that the woman had courage to speak, gestured to her to come closer. “What is your name?”“I am called Rosang Taba, Senor. I am one of the house servants. I thought you would like some more chocolate,” she said, glancing at the cups and saucers on her tray.Jaime Villareal’s lips lifted in a sneer. “‘The Fat’. How appropriate.”“And do you think you can actually defeat Senor Villareal, in a… ?”“In a race, my lord.”“A race? And you are certain of this?”“Opo, Senor.”“Then you shall have your chance.”Jaime Villareal raised his eyebrows. “Your Excellency, certainly you jest! This, this obese woman is no match for me in anything, especially in a race!”Carmen fixed him with a glance. “You can beat her, yes?”“Of course I can!” Jaime Villareal nearly shouted. Carmen simply smiled.Rosang Taba cleared her throat timidly. “I just ask two things, Senor. As the noble gentleman has said, I am hardly fit. May I ask him for a head start of fifteen paces?”“Take fifty paces!” Jaime Villareal offered, laughing at the absurdity of it all. “What is your other request, that I race blindfolded?”“No, Senor. But that you allow me to choose where we shall race.”“Then do so. We shall race tomorrow afternoon. Let me know where,” Jaime Villareal said before bidding Carmen farewell. “I cannot possibly fail the Senora’s expectations.”“Who said I’m wagering on you?” Carmen smiled coldly at him.After Jaime Villareal left in a huff, the Governor-General wagged a finger at his wife and moved to comfort his favorite commander. And Carmen, without looking directly Rosang Taba, whispered words only they could hear.“Win.” * * *Word about the impossible race spread throughout the districts of Manila, and the extraordinary crowd that gathered to watch divided into two camps alongside the Plaza Binondo, one of the oldest places in the city.On the side of the Spanish, rich velvets, silks and fine brocade created a sea of color, punctuated by gaily hued parasols and glittering jewelry. The entire Cortes was present, resplendent in their hastily constructed pavilions that shimmered in the afternoon sun. The Mother Church, foreign envoys and diplomats, visiting artists and the most decorated members of the Guardia Civil added to their numbers.Across from them, those they called indios stood shoulder-to-shoulder -- uniformed tradesmen, laborers and servants, forming an expanse of white, blue and red camisa, brown salakots and lilac bellos. Hawkers moved among them, offering bibingka, turon and cassava cakes, as the crowd’s collective heart beat in fervent anticipation of the incredible event.When Jaime Villareal arrived, dressed in turquoise doublet and breeches, the Spanish crowd burst into a thunderous applause.When Rosang Taba made her appearance, dressed in cloth and colors of her father’s mountain tribe that magnificently displayed her unabashed health, the Spanish began to laugh. But the spontaneous cheer of the Filipinos robbed their laughter of its cruel power and shook the very foundations of the Plaza.The Governor-General approached the two contestants. “Rosa,” he said as the crowd strained to listen. “I assume the Plaza Binondo is the start of your race course. You will now tell us both the middle and the end.”“Opo, Senor,” said Rosang Taba replied. She raised a huge arm and pointed eastwards. “Senor Villareal and I must go through the length of the Street of Lost Hope and return here.”A gasp escaped the side of the Filipinos. Rosang Taba’s father began to laugh, and was almost immediately followed by another person, and another and another and soon all the crowd on that side was laughing with tears in their eyes.The Spanish did not know what to make of it. The Governor-General raised his hand for silence.“Senor Villareal, do you understand the course?”“Of course, Your Excellency,” Jaime Villareal bowed. “That street over there. No doubt it loops back to this Plaza.”“Very well. Proceed to the mouth of the street. You may then take your fifteen paces, Rosa,” the Governor-General instructed them. “At my signal, the race will begin.”“You are a foolish woman,” Jaime Villareal told her as they moved towards the mouth of the Street of Lost Hope. “You have chosen an appropriately named street for our course.”When they reached the street, Rosang Taba counted fifteen steps from its beginning and Jaime Villareal, the pride of the Spanish, realized that he would lose.The Street of Lost Hope was the narrowest lane in all of Manila, averaging five hand spans in width. It was so slender that no more than one person could navigate its length at a time. And Rosang Taba was no ordinary person.Rosang Taba ran as fast as she could, and Jaime Villareal, with an animal roar, quickly closed the fifteen pace gap. But he could not pass her -- so tightly was her bulk wedged along the constricted path that he could not even see where they were going. She endured his curses and threats, squeezing through the wickedly narrow lane. Her shoulders began to bleed as she scraped roughly against the walls.“Let me pass, you animal!” Jaime Villareal cried, savagely planting a boot in her back.“No!” Rosa shouted, biting back the sting, refusing to allow even one tear to escape her eyes, as she fought to maintain her position and balance.“Let me pass!” Jaime Villareal screamed, as he attempted to clamber over her, only to be frustrated by the low ceilings formed by the lane’s old arches.Each time he struck her with his fists or feet, Rosa voiced her passionate denial of his demands. He tried pushing her, biting her, clawing at her, ramming her, tripping her, entangling her, everything he could possibly do, but she was a natural bottleneck all the way around and back to the Plaza Binondo where they began, to the deafening roar of the Filipinos and the stunned silence of the Spanish, sparkling mutely in the sunset.With the gift of gold given to her by Carmen, the Governor-General’s wife, Rosang Taba did three things: she purchased her family’s freedom, visited a mountain that figured constantly in her dreams, and married a man who could not drown in the irrepressible bounty of her heart. She never raced again.Se?or Jaime Villareal left on the next outward bound galleon and vanished quietly into the sea.